Powerscourt Estate and Gardens, County Wicklow, Ireland

By Julie O'Shaughnessy
on April 11, 2017

Powerscourt fountain and House

Last spring, my husband and I traveled once again to the beautiful Powerscourt Estate and Gardens in County Wicklow, Ireland. As many times as I have been there (and I’ve visited a lot!), I never tire of stepping onto the grounds of this gorgeous country estate.


I love the ‘house’ if you can even use that term. The building is actually a medieval castle that was made over into a grand mansion by the 1st Viscount of Powerscourt. And the gardens...so stunning! Anytime I’m missing Ireland’s beauty, which seems to happen more and more, I take out my travel journal and read the entries I’ve written.


Here are a few excerpts from our last time at Powerscourt:


This morning, we drove from Dublin out to the Powerscourt Estate. As usual, we stayed off the M11 and just took our time, weaving our way through the winding roads, over cobbled streets and passing by numerous pubs of course! The green spring Irish landscape surrounding the little towns was breathtaking as usual and I never get tired of taking it all in. Even though the drive from Dublin to Powerscourt only takes a half hour, of course we had to stop along the way to look at interesting shops and just admire the landscape.


We arrived at Powerscourt around lunch time and as usual, Mark was famished. I was a bit disappointed to find that Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant that was located here is now closed, as my husband and I had really been looking forward to having dinner there. For lunch, we decided to go to the Avoca Terrace Café. The place was packed as usual but because it’s informal buffet style, we really didn’t have to wait long at all. The weather was simply perfect, and we couldn’t resist stepping through the tall French doors and sitting in the warm spring sunshine on the terrace with its simply splendid views of the surrounding green countryside and distant Sugarloaf mountain. So lucky to find an empty table this time, especially since the weather was so nice.


I love a good Caesar salad, so I had the Avocas Cajun Chicken salad and Mark had the Sweet Chili Salmon on a bed of Asian noodles. The fish was perfectly cooked and fortunately, he was in the mood to let me have a taste! We ordered a bottle of the Elderflower with Raspberry Juice to share. The juice is wonderful, but I have to admit I couldn’t resist the look of the clear glass bottle with its elegant D.P. Connolly & Sons, Merchant Family label.


The desserts are displayed in a shiny curved glass case that makes them irresistible, so I had the lemon tart and Mark chose the double chocolate cheesecake (how could you go wrong with that!) We finished our meal off with two steaming cups of freshly brewed coffee with cream which perfectly set off the rich sweetness of our desserts.

After lunch, we headed toward the shops located in the mansion itself. Naturally, Mark and I couldn’t stay away from going upstairs to the Design Loft, with its Irish designed jewelry and crafts, all showcasing local designers and artisans. Then we headed back downstairs to the Avoca store to drool over all the locally sourced jams,  homemade bread and made from scratch cakes. By this time and after all that food, we decided we definitely needed a walk outside. The Powerscourt Gardens have to be experienced to be believed and I love coming here in all seasons, but especially spring.

Powerscourt

I think what I love most about the Gardens is the variety. There is almost too much to see and every time I come here I can never decide which of the gardens to see first or which one is my favorite. There’s the Italian garden with its terraces and the lake, partially covered in water lilies floating on the surface. I love the Japanese garden too, with its stone lanterns and central pagoda. And there are more gardens as well, the Walled Garden and the Dolphin Pond, as well as terraces and statues.


But today we decided to go to the left side of the lake and take the shaded path to the Tower Valley and Wicklow Gardens, where the Pepper Pot Tower is located. Turns out that the eighth Viscount, who was the Chief Scout of Ireland, built this tower in 1911 based on the shape of one of his small pepper pots, which sat on his dining room table! We climbed the winding steps to the top and as always I was amazed at the lovely view of the main House and the Gardens. There were very few visitors today and Mark and I had the top of the Tower all to ourselves for quite awhile. Mark loves the cannons guarding the top of the tower. Standing there on the flat stones, I felt like I was an Irish Queen surveying my green ancestral lands below.


I love animals, so I never visit Powerscourt without stopping by the Pets Cemetery where the beloved pets of the Wingfield and Slazenger families who once owned the estate are buried. The pets include dogs, cats, horses and even cows! Today we stopped by one of my very favorite stones, which marks the resting place of Tommy the Shetland pony who died in 1936 at age 32. Engraved below Tommy’s details are the words “also his wife, Magic died 1926.” There is something sweet and sad and at the same time lovely and comforting in remembering the Shetland pony who was apparently devoted to his female companion Magic.

Powerscourt tower
We thought about driving out to see the waterfall but decided not to do that today, as it’s nearly a four-mile drive. The waterfall, set at the base of the Wicklow Mountains, is magnificent though and I remember the first time I saw it many years ago. The falls are the highest in all of Ireland at 398 feet and the drive there is lovely, through flat peat fields with mountain views with the road eventually meandering through beech and oak as well as pine, larch and other trees planted some 200 years ago. The cascading water spreads out over the side of the mountain and comes down in a wide stream, resembling a shimmering, living bridal veil. Our children have always loved visiting the falls, as the park has a playground and in the summer they can even get hot dogs and ice cream from a small stand on the grounds.


After a full day we were in the mood for some really great food, so we headed to the Sika Restaurant in the Powerscourt Hotel. We stepped into McGills Pub at the hotel for a cocktail before dinner. I love the warmth and ambiance of the place. I smile every time I think about what is written on the cover of their drinks menu: McGills Pub - Slingers, Slammers and Cocktails with Manners. I ordered my favorite, their Blueberry Mojito made with Bacardi Gold, fresh mint, a dash of soda and of course, fresh blueberries. Mark had a Smoked Old Fashioned made with light Bulliet Bourbon, maple syrup, angostura and orange bitters and sugar syrup.

 

Then on to the Sika for dinner. I was so let down when I found out Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant at Powerscourt had closed before I had a chance to try it, but we had heard good things about Sika as well, and we were not disappointed. The Sika Restaurant is named after Ireland’s sika deer, introduced into the country by Lord Powerscourt in 1868. Apparently, today the Irish deer is a cross between the Japanese Sika and the Irish native red deer.


Sika’s dining room was warm and inviting, the staff friendly and welcoming and I liked Sika the moment we walked in. We started with an appetizer of chicken liver pate spread on toasted brioche with a savory fig chutney. I had the roast cod, with parsnip puree, smoked bacon, pearl onions and chanterelle mushrooms. Mark chose the 8-ounce sirloin, with roasted carrots, mushrooms and watercress and served with a Bearnaise sauce. After the main course, we indulged in dessert; a warm apple fondant topped with toasted almond ice cream followed by cups of rich brewed coffee with cream.


Normally we stay at the Powerscourt Hotel, but because we were visiting friends in Dublin and were driving back there after dinner, neither of us had any more alcohol. I adore the lovely crescent sweep of the hotel, with its stunning views of Sugar Loaf Mountain across the valley and its Palladian-style architecture. The spacious rooms are richly appointed befitting its five-star status.


After dinner, as we walked to the car for the drive back to our friends’ house in Dublin, I thought to myself that life couldn’t get much better. The night was cool and the stars sparkled overhead. Powerscourt Estate and Gardens, as well as the whole of Ireland, has my heart. Can’t wait to get back here!

Red Garnet – January’s Birthstone

By Julie O'Shaughnessy
on April 09, 2017

Red Garnet – January’s Birthstone

Although the origin of the birthstone goes back thousands of years and is shrouded in mystery, birthstones are thought to originate from the stones set into the breastplate of Aaron, the high priest at the time of Moses, symbolizing the twelve tribes of Israel. And Noah was said to have used a glowing garnet lantern to guide the ark in the dark of night.

 

While these stories are intriguing, our modern birthstone designations were adopted in 1912 by the American National Association of Jewelers, with the exception of tanzanite, later added to December.

 

There are many myths and stories about the healing power of birthstones. For example, a birthstone’s healing power is amplified for those born in the month matched with the birthstone and is strongest in the actual calendar month corresponding to the stone.

 

Regardless of your belief in the healing power of birthstones, there is something undeniably beguiling about wearing a piece of beautiful gemstone jewelry, especially when that stone is associated with the month of your birth. Although each birthstone is exceptional, the garnet, January’s birthstone, is universally admired, not only for its exceptional beauty, but also for its many practical uses.

 

Most people think of a red gemstone when they see the word garnet, but garnet is actually found in many vibrant colors, including green, orange and pink. Garnet’s industrial uses are many and include applications in industrial cutting, abrading and filtration.

 

While all of the various colors of garnet are beautiful, it is the deep red garnet that is most universally cherished as January’s birthstone. After all, the word ‘garnet’ comes from the Latin word for pomegranate with its red, jewel-like seeds. Long considered a symbol of love and friendship, the red garnet was often exchanged between friends in the hope and expectation they would soon meet again.

 

In the Irish Celtic tradition, there is a lovely term called Anam Cara, Gaelic for ‘soul friend’ and meant to convey the deep enduring bond that forms between two souls who have come to completely trust each other. There is perhaps no more beautiful expression of this affection than a sterling silver Irish Claddagh ring with a rich, ruby red garnet set as the heart.

 

Of course, the deep red garnet looks simply stunning in other Claddagh birthstone jewelry settings as well, including pendants and earrings as well as rings.  The red garnet not only makes a memorable January birthday gift for a loved one (or even yourself!) but is also perfect to commemorate a couple’s second wedding anniversary or to celebrate a new or enduring friendship.

St. Patrick’s Day Celebration - The American Way or the Irish Way?

By Julie O'Shaughnessy
on April 09, 2017

St Patrick's Day Parade

If you are of Irish heritage and living in America, you’re in good company! There are some 35 million Americans who are of Irish descent or who have some Irish blood running through their veins. And of course, like any good Irish man or woman living in the U.S., you’ll likely be celebrating St. Patrick by wearing plenty of green, enjoying a hearty meal of corned beef and cabbage and perhaps even attending a St. Patrick’s Day parade. Plus, if you are Irish or not, many Americans celebrate St. Patrick’s Day by visiting their favorite Irish pub and downing a few pints of Guinness or other Irish beer.


But what about the Irish who reside on the Emerald Isle? How did they traditionally celebrate and how do they celebrate today? In honor of this most Irish of all holidays, I thought it would be fun to look at the history of St. Patrick’s Day and to compare how the Irish in Ireland and in America celebrate this day. But first, let’s go back to the beginning and find out how St. Patrick’s Day originated.


St. Patrick’s Day or the Feast of St. Patrick is observed on March 17th and is both a cultural and a religious celebration honoring Patrick, the major patron saint of Ireland. March 17th is the traditional death date of St. Patrick and the holiday is known in the Irish language as Lá Fhéile Pádraig or ‘the Day of the Festival of Patrick.’


You may not know this, but Patrick was not born Irish! Perhaps this is why so many people identify with his holiday, even if they don’t have any proper Irish heritage to claim. Patrick was actually the son of a Roman soldier who lived with his family in Roman England. His Romanized name was Patricius, but he later became known as Patrick. When he was a boy of 16, Patrick was captured by pirates in south Wales and sold into slavery in Ireland, where he was imprisoned for six long years.

Saint Patrick image


One day, he managed to escape and he got away to Britain and then to France, where he joined a monastery and studied for twelve years under the tutelage of St. Germain who was the bishop of Auxerre. Finally, Patrick became a bishop himself and as a bishop, he had a life-changing dream. One fateful night, he dreamed the Irish people were calling to him begging him to return to Ireland and to tell them about God.


He received the Pope’s blessing and set out for the land in which he had been imprisoned. He was very successful at winning the Irish people’s hearts for God and converting them from paganism. He was an active preacher and traveled throughout Ireland, even converting some among the Irish royal families. Of course, this did not sit well with many, especially the Celtic Druids and Patrick was arrested several times. Every time, he managed to escape and he made his way all through Ireland for twenty years, setting up numerous monasteries, schools and churches.

Some of Patrick’s writings survive including his Confession, several letters and most notably, the Lorica or Deer’s Cry also known as the ‘Breastplate’ a famous hymn which is also used as a prayer but which may have been written at a later period.


By the 7th century, Patrick’s exploits had become the stuff of legend and those legends, all with a core of truth, continued to expand. For example, Patrick placed a strong emphasis on the Holy Trinity, and it is said he used the three-leaved shamrock to illustrate the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

 


Another legend has it that Patrick put God’s curse on all the venomous snakes of Ireland and drove them into the sea. Indeed, except for zoos, there are no venomous snakes in Ireland. In fact, there are no snakes at all in Ireland, although scientists believe this had more to do with the timing of ancient geological events than with St. Patrick.


After twenty years of service to his adopted Ireland, Patrick died on March 17th, AD 461 and March 17th became his Feast Day, which was originally a Catholic holy day set to both honor Patrick and to celebrate the baptization of Ireland by this remarkable man who was a former slave and prisoner.


Gradually, especially in America, this religious Feast Day has evolved into a more secular celebration with parades, green beer and partying. But for the Irish who remain in Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day has remained a much more sober observance than that of their American counterparts.


Traditionally, pubs were closed in Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day and the holy day began for most people with a visit to church. The Irish held to the ‘pubs closed on St. Patrick’s Day’ rule for a long time with pubs in Ireland finally allowed to open on St. Patrick’s Day in the late 1970’s. But you would be hard pressed to find much green beer in Ireland as the Irish leave that to the Irish pubs in the U.S. and Canada.

Irish Pub
In Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day begins for most Irish who are practicing Christians with a visit to church, as it is a Catholic Holy Day of Obligation. Some sixty Roman Catholic and Anglican churches and cathedrals in Ireland bear St. Patrick’s name. Instead of wearing all green, many Irish will wear a small bunch of shamrocks pinned over their right breast. After church, a meal of meat and vegetables with roast and mashed potatoes is generally served. And no, corned beef and cabbage are not on the menu! This tradition got started in America by poor immigrants who substituted the cheaper bacon and cabbage for the traditional meat and potatoes of their homeland.


Although St. Patrick’s Day parades were never a part of Irish celebrations in the homeland, their popularity eventually spread from the U.S. back to Ireland. The first St. Patrick’s Day parade was held in New York City in 1766 and it was many years later in 1995 when the city of Dublin adopted the practice to encourage tourism! The Dublin celebration has become a five-day St. Patrick’s festival featuring many events such as plays, concerts and art exhibits as well as a parade.


In the United States, the St. Patrick’s Day fun and festivities get underway, sometimes many days before the actual holiday, especially in cities where there are a large number of Irish immigrants such as New York City, Boston and Savannah, Georgia. The good people of Savannah take their Irish heritage seriously and the city’s official St. Patrick’s Day parade committee page even sports a countdown timer to the next parade!


Celebrations in Savannah include a greening of the fountain in beautiful Forsyth Park a week before the actual holiday, as well as a parade on Tybee Island, twenty minutes outside of the city proper. The Sunday before the holiday, a Celtic Cross Mass is observed and another Mass on the Feast Day itself, followed by the main parade through the streets of Savannah, rain or shine! Savannah’s parade is the third largest St. Patrick’s Day parade in the United States.


A St. Patrick’s Day Festival on River Street as well as City Market gets underway in the three days surrounding the actual holiday with restaurants and bars, beer and food vendors lining the cobblestoned passageways with samples of green goodness to consume. By evening, the streets are filled with happy celebrants enjoying Irish music from multiple stages beginning early in the day and continuing all night. If you would like to get a taste of Irish music and you can’t make it to Savannah this year, the Irish and Celtic Music Podcast is featuring a special episode in honor of St. Patrick, with special highlights of the Best Celtic Music of 2016.


If you want to bring some real Irish cooking to your table this St. Patrick’s Day, try this recipe from Epicurious for Bacon and Cabbage Soup. Their recipe was adapted from chef Paul Flynn of The Tannery in Dungarvan, Ireland. You will need:


1 (1/3-pound) piece Irish bacon (available at specialty foods shops) or Canadian bacon

3 tablespoons unsalted butter (I love Kerrygold butter from Ireland!)

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 large Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into a 1/2-inch dice

5 1/2 cups chicken stock or low-sodium chicken broth

4 bay leaves

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 small head Savoy cabbage, cored, thinly sliced, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces


Just follow these simple instructions to make this creamy, delicious Irish-inspired meal for your family.


And however you choose to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day...with a visit to a church, a hearty Irish meal, listening to some great Irish music or indulging in a Guinness or a fine Irish whiskey, I’m sure Patrick would approve! Happy St. Patrick’s Day and Erin go Bragh!

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Powerscourt fountain and House

Powerscourt Estate and Gardens, County Wicklow, Ireland

April 11, 2017

Last spring, my husband and I traveled once again to the beautiful Powerscourt Estate and Gardens in County Wicklow, Ireland....

Read more →