Oh, how I long for those quiet days of yore.
Back when I was just an everyday hack making his way in the world of news stories and features. Back when all I had to worry about were disgruntled politicians, annoyed parish priests, vengeful pork barons or the many, many chairpersons of local committees who didn’t like what I dared to write (or more to the point, who felt I hadn’t given them enough of a high profile in some piece I had published).
Ah yes, those were the days.
I was able to walk the streets (at night) mostly unmolested, stand relatively unknown in the bus queue, and have a quiet drink in my local pub. Alas, it seems these days are over.
I blame the Sheep’s Head Peninsula. All I had to do was settle in, enjoy the scenery, the food, the community, the weather (well, not the weather so much) and keep my mouth shut. But what did I do? I told the world about Kilcrohane, Ahakista, Durrus and Dunmanus Bay, not once but over and over and over again.
I suppose it had to happen – looking back on it now it was only a matter of time. You see while I know that the blog has followers right across the globe, I never thought my ‘fans’ would come visiting.
And that’s just what happened a few weeks ago. There I was, minding my own business, settling into the new house in Durrus, getting used to my new office, when my sister-in-law arrives from Pennsylvania. Now, her visit was not unexpected, Marian runs a tour company called ‘Yanks Guide Ireland’ and we knew that she was bringing a group over to spend a week experiencing what Ireland has to offer.
What was unexpected was that the tour consisted of fans of the blog who were very eager to visit the Sheep’s Head and experience all the wonders I should have kept to myself and…they wanted to meet me as well.
So, for a couple of days my wife and I were treated like celebrities. Caroline cooked some Irish soda bread and some of her carrageen moss pudding and I was quizzed about places and subjects I had written about in the blog. It was all very flattering.
Although Dunmanus Bay, Eileen’s Pub, and Kilcrohane were all on the must-see list, food and especially food from the peninsula was, I was delighted to hear, high on the agenda for the Yanks who were now eating their own Sheep’s Head.
Of course, Good Things Café was top of the list but first a trip to meet Jeffa Gill at Durrus Cheese was called for. While there, the visitors, after tasting the wonderful cheese, decided to buy some to enjoy back in Pennsylvania.
More about the plan to bring back artisan farmhouse cheese to America later but for now our visitors were relaxing into all that the peninsula has to offer. After a tour of Durrus Cheese, it was time for the group to head for Kilcrohane and Eileen’s pub.
Now, I wasn’t on hand to witness what happened next but like all good reporters I have my local ‘sources’ who let me know exactly what occurred in Eileen’s.
Eileen’s was as always very warm and inviting, the fire was crackling nicely, one or two locals were sitting at the bar enjoying a mid-afternoon drink when the yanks walked in.
After the usual welcome, the drinks were served and the yanks relaxed and enjoyed the unique atmosphere of an Irish rural pub. Then, according to my reliable source, our visitors were called on to sing a song. A common enough occurrence in an Irish pub you might think. And you would be right.
However, it transpires that our guests’ choice of song left the locals a little bewildered. While the standard song choices on occasions such as this include lyrics of love and loss, hardship and revolution, famine and emigration, our American visitors decided that a round of ‘Row, row, row your boat’ was just what was needed.
I believe ‘Row, row, row your boat’ has become a hit in Kilcrohane since.
After the musical interlude in Eileen’s, it appears that a trip to Ahakista to sample some wine was in order. I suppose singing can make ones throat very dry. It was in Ahakista that the yanks met the wonderful Harro and Gisi. That is Harro and the fearless Gisi of the pheasant plucking event that left yours truly rather green about the gills.
This time, it was not pheasants but wine that was on offer and after tasting one or two (or three) of the delicious wines in Harro’s wine shop the yanks returned to Durrus heavy with wheels of cheese and clinking with bottles of wine.
With the cheese and wine safely deposited at the accommodation, it was on to Good Things Café where Carmel had prepared a fantastic Friday night supper of blue cheese and roast pear, a choice of roast duck or a growers’ plate with local asparagus and, for dessert, a prune clafoutis.
After all that good food, wine and convivial company, it was time to say goodbye to our American friends who were off to Dublin to soak up the atmosphere in the capital city before boarding the plane and heading back home to Pennsylvania.
I know what you’re thinking, what happened to the cheese and wine? Did the yanks eat it all before they left the peninsula? Did they drink the wine before heading for Dublin? Surely they didn’t attempt to carry the cheese, Durrus Cheese, back to the USA in their luggage?
Well, this reporter can now confirm that the Durrus Cheese, and we are not talking about a small amount here, made it back to the USA without incident thanks to a lot of luck and an old smuggling trick.
Let me explain. For those of you yet to try Durrus Cheese (and you should), let me start by saying that for taste you’ll not find a better example of Irish artisan cheese on this small, wet island. However, like all good handmade cheese, Durrus has a very, shall we say, distinctive aroma. A small amount wrapped well would be no problem to transport in an airtight container, placed in a bag, tied well and then placed in another airtight container.
But in this case we are talking about a large wheel of Dunmanus, a raw-milk semi-hard cheese, a couple of small Durrus Ógs, and a few wheels of the original Durrus Cheese. All of this travelling thousands of miles in luggage, not under refrigeration, through airport security?
Good luck with that I thought, I could hear the latex gloves snapping already.
Now if you love your cheese, like these yanks certainly do, you wouldn’t allow a small thing like a smell that could, given enough time and expertise, be weaponized, stop you from getting through a heavily guarded airport.
So the wrapping of the cheese began. First in plastic bags, sealed tightly. So far so good. Then wrapped in another plastic, again sealed tightly.
I know what you’re thinking: a hot, cheap hotel room in Bogotá, a bare light bulb above the bed on which is arranged packages wrapped tightly, all awaiting the arrival of some poor unsuspecting ‘mule’ to smuggle the illegal contraband out of the country.
It was by all accounts, so my well-placed source tells me, very similar, apart from the bare light bulb and the fact that there is no way the yanks could swallow a wheel of Durrus Cheese.
So another method was devised. And if you ask me, somebody knew far too much about smuggling contraband for the next part of the plan to be just a lucky ‘hunch’.
With the cheese now wrapped in plastic, it was then put into another bigger bag that had a large amount of coffee and, get this, charcoal powder loosely sprinkled inside it. This bag was then sealed and the packages placed evenly throughout everybody’s luggage.
I watched the international news feed with a sense of fear and excitement.
I imagined the headlines on Fox News ‘A group of Americans returning from Europe have been caught attempting to smuggle a large amount of a yet unknown substance into New York. Experts at the FBI bio-terrorism section have advised residents in the area to stay indoors and close all their windows’.
So we waited and then after some time with no mention of a huge smuggling ring apprehended at JFK, I assumed that the dastardly plan had worked.
It had, and very well too it seems. There were no calls to the FBI, CIA, NSA or the White House. No citywide evacuation, no strip searches, no latex gloves, nothing.
It seems the old smuggling trick really worked. I wonder where they picked that up – the TV I suppose…