Happy St Patrick’s Day to you all!

Well, today is St Patrick’s Day, a day of parades, celebration and general cheer in Ireland, and many other countries. Evidence of the imminent party was clear around the country with flags flying, banners out and a host of events advertised. It is our fourth St Patrick’s here in Ireland and each one has been different. The first was under lockdown and the most festive we got was the consumption of a range of cakes, most of them layered in green icing. The next year was marked by the repeated firing of a shotgun just over the road as a local farmer roared around in a digger. A rather odd way to celebrate, we thought. Last year was quite a warm day and passed off peacefully. We wait to see what today brings, especially after the success of the Irish rugby team yesterday.

We’ve been out and about these last few weeks, the first time since we arrived. For our first trip we went to Cork. My Irish ancestors came from a small village in Co. Cork and I was curious to explore the area. Jacqui found a very nice looking holiday let that was willing to take all three dogs, once the host saw how small and cute looking they were. It was a bit of a journey as Cork, in common with much of rural Ireland, doesn’t seem to believe in signposts. Hooray for Google maps and eircodes – they saved the day.

The Bird House was everything Shelley, our host, had promised and more. It is warm, welcoming and decently equipped, with comfortable beds and a huge sofa the dogs loved. We set to and covered said sofa with the throws we’d packed and made ourselves at home. The (very big) TV had Netflix, a novelty for us, and there were books to read and a pool table and bar on the ground floor.

The weather was not quite as welcoming however and turned very windy and stormy overnight. As the forecast was more of the same for the next few days we decided to try a trip to Ballinhassig without delay, to see if I could find any trace of long-lost family. The route took us over the striking bridge to Kinsale, a town lauded as a beautiful place and gourmet heaven. We didn’t tarry however and probably the rain and wind didn’t show it at its best. As far as gourmet heaven went, we found a Lidl up the hill and picked up some supplies. Not quite gourmet but the food quality was extremely good, as it generally is with supermarket chains having contracts with local producers.

Ballinhassig itself is tiny. Like much of Ireland, the name refers to the village, the two parishes, church and civil, and a chunk of land around too. For a novice without detailed information this is extremely confusing. We stopped at the Gala Supermarket and An Post where a very kind woman put us in touch with Mary, the parish secretary. She had some very useful tips for us and after another Google map we were ready to set off. The few records I’d been able to find refer to my great grandfather’s baptism and this was apparently at the church in Goggin’s Hill. It was locked but we walked around the outside. The graveyard, always a good source of information, was relatively modern Mary said. Any relatives were probably in Ballinaboy, which was several miles away. That’s a trip for next time. We did find a famine memorial on the wall surrounding the church. My great grandfather would have been about eight or nine when he lived through that – a sobering thought.

Jacqui had a look around the Gala Supermarket before we left and discovered local cakes being delivered, still a bit warm from the oven. They were from “Louise’s Kitchen” and they are absolutely heavenly. It was getting cold and raining quite heavily but I wanted some pictures of the famous Fairy Garden, a playground across the road. I dropped into The Kabin, a café and coffee shop opposite and got Jacqui a coffee to keep her warm in the car whilst I ran around the little park. The coffee was as good as the cakes and the food I saw being served looked excellent too. The Kabin has a small library around the side walls as Ballinhassig is too small to have a branch of its own. I left a copy of “Puppy Brain” as a thank you for all the kindness shown by this little community.

The weather deteriorated further the next day and we stayed in, rested and indulged in some more Netflix. Despite the unseasonable storm we had a very happy stay and can recommend The Bird House to any visitor. Shelley is a lovely host and her two children loved the dogs, visiting a couple of times. We had booked this through Air BnB, our first encounter with this company and I sincerely hope it’s our last. The whole business was confusing and obstructive and they almost cancelled our stay despite the fact we’d paid in full and just wanted the address. No address without downloading the app apparently. Jacqui worked her way around this, thank goodness, and we saw we could use another site next time. Shelley was a marvelous host, it’s a lovely place and not well served by Air BnB at all in my opinion.

Now we are back, recovering from the journey and looking forward to spring and all that brings. Our mower is away being serviced but on its return we will start work on the land again. We can now walk right round the wood without breaking an ankle and are hoping to select our new trees for the cleared land next week. The trees in the orchard are starting to show signs of life with tiny buds on the branches. And last week I opened the back door to find a young frog on the step. Yes, it’s St Patrick’s Day and spring is finally on the way.

Thank you for reading, a happy St Patrick’s to you wherever you are, and I hope to see you again in a couple of weeks.