I have a question for you. Where can you get a good feed of bacon and cabbage at 11pm on a dark St. Patrick’s Weekend night?
Why in Kilcrohane on the Sheep’s Head Peninsula, that’s where. I kid you not; just when you might be thinking of calling it a night after a day ‘wetting the Shamrock’ (as I once overheard an American tourist say), there at the end of the bar in the Bay View Inn you will find steaming plates of Ireland’s national dish waiting free of charge.
But more about this later. First, let me tell you about one of the best restaurants in Ireland, a restaurant that serves only the freshest, seasonal, locally-sourced food this part of West Cork can provide, a restaurant that is guided by Carmel Somers, a woman possessed with a passion and skill few Michelin-starred chefs can outshine. All this and on the Sheep’s Head as well. Ladies and gentlemen, may I present Good Things Café.
Now, before you think I am over-selling or gushing too much about what, in my humble view, is a restaurant with few equals on this Island, let me assure you that I am not doing the experience of eating at Good Things justice with what follows. I’ve eaten at three-starred Michelin restaurants in Paris and London but for me nothing compares with an evening spent at Good Things Café, sipping some wine, eating great food (try the Ahakista lobster) and watching the sun set over Dunmanus Bay.
Over the years, August was the traditional time for our Good Things pilgrimage. Travelling from the city for the annual Ahakista Regatta, I have to admit that I am always more interested in what’s on the menu at Good Things than watching the boats race in Dunmanus Bay. My first trip to the Peninsula, all those years ago, shocked me. It was an unusually hot August, the Sheep’s Head in all its glory looked like a green slice of the Mediterranean, the temperature was in the high twenties (that’s the high seventies for our friends in the USA – a heatwave by Irish standards), the sky was cloudless and the water in the Bay was crystal clear and so calm that it looked like someone had placed a huge mirror between the peninsulas. Sun, warm sea, birds singing and Good Things Café. This is what my then girlfriend introduced me to when she said ‘Come and meet my family in Durrus’. One look at the place and I decided to marry her. It took me a couple of more years to break down her defences but finally, and if you will forgive the angling reference, I landed my West Cork flower. So you see, Good Things has a very special place in my heart. For me, the restaurant encapsulates everything that this part of Ireland is all about, scenery, fresh local food and good company.
Our latest edible adventure at Good Things saw us dining on nettle soup, fresh prawns and scallops landed earlier that morning from Dunmanus Bay, wonderful salad leaves from Gubbeen Farm just down the road in Schull and brown sugar meringues with rhubarb. An excellent way to spend Mother’s Day.
Meanwhile, back in Kilcrohane preparations for St. Patrick’s Day were well underway. As if a switch had been clicked somewhere, Kilcrohane began to emerge from its winter slumber. The sun was shining and the village was alive with children and holiday home owners returned to their little piece of heaven after an absence of many months.
As you know, this is my first time living in ‘rural Ireland’ and my experience of St. Patrick’s Day normally involves a few drinks and a day off work. However, in Kilcrohane there seems to be a deeply-engrained competitive streak in preparing for our national day. This competition isn’t centred around the number of pints you can drink before passing out or the number of rebel songs you can sing before your voice gives up; no, in Kilcrohane it is all about shamrock and the amount of this green foliage you can wear. Some people looked as if they were on manoeuvres with the army.
Indeed, as the day progressed my wife asked one of the ladies how her bush was holding up, I haven’t felt comfortable leaving the house since.
So, after a day celebrating the fact that a Welshman came to Ireland, banished the snakes, found a use for an innocuous weed, upset the druids and climbed a mountain, if you’re lucky enough to find yourself in Kilcrohane, you can get a free plate of bacon and cabbage from Mary in the Bay View Inn at 11pm. After that you will be ready for the rest of the night when the singing and dancing get underway. Just be sure to leave your bush, sorry, shamrock outside.