North by North West

Traffic Jam in Mayo

I haven’t been very well for the passed three weeks, a bit of a dose I often get in Spring, people say it is the change of season, I blame the “put the clock forward for a bit of light” malarkey; this messes me up big time! I mean, seriously? Who had the brain wave? A former French President claimed it was to save energy, I think there is something much more sinister behind it, a hidden agenda… I told you I was feeling feverish. Anyhoo, instead of taking a good rest, I went gallivanting in Killybegs with a healthy stock of paper handkerchiefs, and the week after my colleague “Murph” and I had planned to visit a few customers out west, and a cheese and wine tasting in Letterkenny. It was on the card for a couple of months, and the sensible thing would have been to stay at home; I really wanted to go, helping my colleague of course, but I also wanted to see what was happening out there. Sniffling and coughing I went, stubborn like a pig headed Breton, delusional like a teenager who keeps believing that “it’ll be alright”! Thinking about it, I must have been a charming traveling companion, trumpeting like John Coltrane one minute, sounding like a husky hoarse Barry White an other. Our first stop was in Oughterard, a lovely shop in the heart of the town, O’Sullivan’s…

Sullivan’s in Oughterard, Co. Galway

Lovely fresh breads, coffees, croissants and pains au chocolat for breakie, cheese and meats, a cook’s oasis really, with a lovely gift shop at the back. I have a fond memory of Oughterard, in 1991; my friend Sergio and I, still teenagers, just got a lift from the local priest in Galway on a rainy February afternoon. We were heading for Clifden, but the weather was so horrible that he insisted for us to stay. Gave us the key of the house, a nice lady showed us our room and he just said: “They are great pubs in town, enjoy your stay in Oughterard!”. Nice people! And the getaway to Connemara… After that, things started to get serious.

Flan tartelettes in Oughterard

I was recalling this anecdote to “Murph” as we traveled the bumpy road through the Bens and alcaline lakes of Connemara, telling him about little stories during my chimney cleaning in 1995, where the “Quiet Man” was filmed, or the day I got a lift in a van full of “Crusties” during Clifden’s Blues Festival… “What’s a Crusty?” Murph said. “Seriously? You don’t know what a Crusty is?”… “Haha… Look at you! The Breton Man telling the Irish lad about Ireland!”. We laughed as we entered Clifden, there is after all twenty years between us, sobering thought really. We were starving and I started to picture what I would like for lunch; nice fresh salads, or, or, fish and chips! “Yeah! Fish and Chips would be deadly!” We found exactly that on the Main Street, before heading to Connemara Hamper, a nice little food shop on Market Street…

Connemara Hamper – Clifden
Connemara Hamper with “Murph”

I realised that it was nearly 3:30pm, we still had to go to Castlebar in Co. Mayo, 80 kms away to visit the notorious Rua, shop and restaurant, and the roads of North Connemara can be as beautiful as unpredictable. We headed towards Leenaun, driving along Killary Harbour, enjoying the drive, snapping away…

On the road…

Capturing the unusual…

So it says….

And of course the traffic hazards one might get this time of year…

On the road to mayo….

We made it just in comfortable time to visit “Rua”; a bit of an institution in the town of Castlebar, great shop and café/ restaurant, the place was vibrant and busy and a cooking demo was being presented that very evening… What a buzz in the place! I am less familiar with this area, I was very impressed by their set up.

Rua – Castlebar, Co. Mayo
Rua upstairs


At 7:30pm, we finally arrived at our boutique hotel in Strandhill, Sligo. Surfers’ Mecca, nice little town by the sea. It has changed a bit since the last time I was over, but there is a good feel to the place. Just time for a bite to eat, a beer maybe and then off to bed.

Strandhill Sligo

I was glad when the next morning came; what a sleepless kind of night, coughing! I went to a chemist down the road for a bottle of cough syrup; the guy asked me if I was French and I wondered how relevant this would be to his prescription!!! He explained that French students were here before me, and were looking for specific French medicine. I replied that I have been living in Ireland longer than I was in France, and that any non drowsy cough syrup will do! My nose wouldn’t stop running either, so I went to the strand and remembered that old trick from home; snorting a bit of fresh sea water is the best remedy for for this kind of annoying ills. Once again, it did the trick! I was also pleased to see that some Brent Geese were still around before heading back to Greenland!

Brent Geese in Strandhill

Our next stop was in “Shells” café; I was looking forward to the visit, as I have heard a lot of people speaking about it. Coffee shop and food store, it also has a neat quirky gift area. There is a clear surfing community feel to the place and it says “cool” all over! Murph had the eggs Benedicte, I had some beans and avocado on toast, with a nice homemade fruit juice. It is great to see the area so vibrant and full of life especially this early in the year; young mums and babies, students, local workers and a few tourists were all enjoying a late breakfast or early lunch. When I lived in Sligo, Strandhill was a a quiet place this time of year. I was pleased to see how well it has changed! And how clean it was!

“Shells” – Strandhill
“Shells” shop area

Before hitting the road to Donegal, we went into Sligo Town; we dropped into “Kate’s Kitchen”, another funky spot for cooks and foodies, but I also wanted to show Murph one of Sligo’s oldest institutions; Cosgrove and Son is a great spot, the ancestor of “Gourmet shops” or fine food stores or whatever you want to call them. I love this place. We used to buy dried sausages there, and munch on them with a pint of stout in “Shoot The Crows” pub across the road. From cheeses to meats, teas, bulk dry beans, it has it all, packed in a tiny shop. My kind of heaven!

Cosgrove and Son – Sligo

We took the N15 to Letterkenny, another 110 kms North, final destination of our trip; we crossed Barnesmore Gap, just North of Donegal Town, and we arrived in Letterkenny in the second part of the afternoon, just in time for a quick meeting in the lobby before the cheese and wine talk later that evening…

Barnesmore Gap – Donegal

We met Olivia and Richard Finney, owners at “The Counter” in Letterkenny, clever mix of artisan beers, independent wines, cheeses, sourdough breads and a lovely café area, a fresh and cool place to visit, lovely folks, lovely staff. We were made welcome straight away, and started preparing some cheese for the evening…

Richard and Olivia from The Counter
Great wine selection
Ready to go

“Murph” gave the talk, as my voice was giving me trouble, but we bounced off each other in a very relaxed atmosphere. The people attending the evening were interested and interesting, the wine selected by Richard and Olivia matched well our cheese selection…

Cheese talk


We finished the evening with a couple of drinks and a few laughs. I remember driving that road from Donegal to Letterkenny when I worked in Glenveagh. I couldn’t stop thinking what twenty years did to the food culture in Ireland! What a revolution! Breads, beers, chocolates, cheeses! You name it! And the day I got excited when I found the first baguette in Sligo’s Quinnsworth; it came to mind when Richard gave me a loaf of sourdough bread made outside the town and that they sell in the shop… The quality is just incredible. Looking forward to the next twenty years Ireland, watch this space!

Don’t get me started with coffee!
The Counter – Letterkenny

Heading home…

photo (11)
Murph and Hungry Breton
On the road to mayo….

Keep Well and Eat Happy

Slán Tamall


9 thoughts on “North by North West

    1. Hi thank you! ( well, I can’t really complain) yes, much better today and finally. I started to get frustrated with it! I love those little trips, meeting new people, a nice experience! Keep well my friend!

  1. Shells! I’d love to be there right now. Great spot. And good call with the Eggs Benedict. Just one thing: alkaline lakes in Connemara? Would they not all be fairly acidic with the peaty bog water coming down off the hills? I’m such a pedantic fucker at times…

    1. Hey man… It was you who told me about Shells first. I was thinking about you when I had breakfast there. You might be right about the lakes, I need to dig further, that stayed with me. Maybe I thought about the smaller ponds in Connemara, not much life in them… Thank you!

  2. The insidious bug spreads south and east did you know? I’ve been sick as a parrot for 3 weeks but getting a slice of Ireland and remembering the adorable lady who worked in my cheese shop once upon a blue moon called May from Mayo has been balm to my spirit. Thank you Franck. I needed that!

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