A New Life in the Emerald Isle
After 15 years of living in New York, Lisa Walsh McGee packed up her family and headed to Ireland
Before my first visit to Ireland in 1998 my vision of this island was dominated by leprechauns, shamrocks, pints of Guinness and “twee” little Irish sayings on tea towels. Fast forward 17 years and I’ve now called Ireland my home for the last 8 years and those clichéd visions of this island have disappeared almost completely and a beautiful country has revealed her true self to me.
I remember one of the first few days after moving to Ireland I was walking into town with my six year old daughter Sophia it started raining for the third time that day and she said to me, “Does it ever stop raining?” While we had more than our fair share of rain that first week in mid-July 2007, yes it does stop raining in Ireland but the rain is an absolute necessity for this Atlantic island to remain so green all year round.
After living in New York for 15 years, my former husband and I made the decision to move to his hometown of Nenagh, Co. Tipperary to make a better life for ourselves and our six year old daughter. I had visited Nenagh several times before the move and in fact, Sophia was christened in St. Mary’s of the Rosary Church when she was six months old so the move, while slightly daunting, was a relatively easy transition. I’d actually lived in England as a young child from the age of eighteen months until I was about seven and my grandparents were English so even when we moved back to the USA in 1976 I still visited them each summer. I’d always wanted to return to Europe so when the opportunity presented itself, I was excited about the change.
The town of Nenagh has a population of about eight thousand people. It is located in County Tipperary made famous by the song “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary”, a British music hall song immortalized during World War II. It is less than a two hour drive to Dublin and only half an hour from Limerick City right in the heart of the country. Nenagh is known as “Stranger’s Paradise” a term I was introduced to by my husband’s late uncle and I’ve always felt quite at home in the town. It did take me about a year to relax and get the New York City pace out of my blood but it is never too late to adapt to a new way of life and start to make new traditions as long as you are open to it and eager to embrace them. I was.
Since moving to Ireland, I’ve spent a great deal of time travelling up and down the country. My daughter and I have a passion for food and photography so the two make for a great mother and daughter past time. We particularly love attending food festivals and over the years we’ve met many food producers and chefs who continue to inspire us with their amazing creations. It was through these travels that I slowly peeled back the clichéd layers of Ireland. I found that the food here is nothing like St. Patrick’s Day bacon and cabbage, although I have had a fantastic version in Kerry that changed my view on that dish forever.
One of our first proper food experiences together was when Sophia and I went to the Slow Food Festival in Co. Clare in May 2012. We stayed at the Wild Honey Inn in Lisdoonvarna, Co. Clare, a town made famous by the annual Match-Making Festival for two weeks in September but also home to The Burren Smokehouse run by Birgitta and Peter Curtin. Our weekend started off with seaweed foraging on the coast of Clare followed by an amazing seven course meal hosted in Hotel Doolin. The menu was created from all the local bounty available in County Clare starting with Atlantic Oysters and Wild Smoked Salmon, followed by Linalla Summer Berry Sorbet and then Pan Seared Fillet of Hake and Free Range Inagh Pork and to wrap it all up a Chocolate and Chilli Soup and Iced Baileys and Brown Bread Parfait.
This festival truly opened my eyes to what was happening in Irish cuisine and it became a real passion to jump in the car every weekend and travel to a festival to taste local Irish food and bring it home to cook with at home.
What is so appealing to me about Ireland is thatit is a tiny country, about the size of West Virginia. Each county offers different food, different dialects and expressions and different landscapes. Tipperary, where we live, is a farming county mostly dairy and beef. Nenagh was originally a market town and we have a creamery in town along with a 13th century castle. We are located very close to Lough Derg which is Ireland’s second largest lake and there are many charming towns and villages in the locality. But for me, who is used to driving long distances, a visit to Belfast in Northern Ireland is equally as easy and is a trip I’ve made at least five times in the last few years.
My Irish friends often comment that I’ve seen more of Ireland than they have and they’ve lived here their entire lives. Maybe it is the fact that I am a “blow-in” and I can see all the magic that this island possesses in new eyes. Every day I am inspired by the way the light falls on the green hills or after a rain a rainbow lights up the sky. I am inspired by the local markets and fresh vegetables sitting in crates just pulled from the ground. I love trying local apple juice, beers and ciders made by small artisanal producers who put their heart and soul into their product. I love meeting artists and craftspeople who can turn a slice of a monkey puzzle tree into a beautiful bowl or work with local clay to create beautiful pottery. Ireland has truly become my home.
All images: Lisa Walsh McGee