A Grand Irish Day

The woman squinting through the narrow crack of Broom Cottage b & b's front door does not immediately strike us as the embodiment of Irish hospitality. Those thin, pursed lips have surely never been within kissing range of the Blarney Stone. "Yes," she grudgingly concedes, "there is a vacancy," but she looks dismayed when, horizontal needles of rain stinging our legs, we ask to come in and see the room.

Leading us upstairs, her angular shoulder blades as sharp as her welcome, she tells us: "We don't do evening meals, mind." Then she adds enigmatically: "You'll be next to the hot press". This, it transpires, is merely an airing cupboard and not the fevered group of journalists of my imagination.

Amid the usual chintz, a red and black tin stands conspicuously on the dressing table. "Missionary box. You'll be wanting to donate your spare change." Spoken in tones that brook no argument.

A laminated notice tells us that breakfast is served between 7.30 and 9am, but this is insufficiently precise for our host. "What time is it you'll be coming down?" Our suggestion of 8.15 is met with much hand wringing and the anguished admission that room four also want to eat at that time, so could we therefore arrive between 8.18 and 8.20. "And the kitchen'll need to know tonight how you want your eggs."

"Eggs Benedict?" I suggest.

"Eugene. Boiled, poached, fried or scrambled."

My husband timidly inquires about a place to eat this evening. Miss Congeniality perks up briefly.

"Did you pass a yellow pub just before the bridge? Hanging baskets? Thatched roof? They do great home-cooked food." We nod eagerly, before she delivers the killer blow: "But they're closed Mondays, so you'll have to go into town and take pot luck."

The view from our bedroom window next morning is an impressionist painter's dream: soft smudge of golden gorse, blur of grey rocks and iridescent flash of distant stream on a canvas of rain-washed green. Having synchronised our watches, we hover diffidently outside the breakfast room, only to be greeted by a different female: sparkling eyed, broad of hip and smile.

"Welcome, welcome! Come away in. It's grand to see you. Did you sleep all right? Sorry you got left with Dolores from across the way last night. Suffers terrible with her nerves, though her soda bread is to die for. But what with Sean's wake and the match both yesterday, you see. Tea or coffee? No rush, no rush. I'm Orla and that there's Eugene."

The latter waves a spatula and grins amiably from the kitchen, from which delicious smells waft.

"Now, make yourselves comfortable. The full Irish, is it? Would you just look at that sky! I always say if there's enough blue to make a cloak for Our Lady it's going to be grand day."

We smile in agreement. The day is indeed turning out grand.

© Moira Ashley
This article was winner of the 'Just Back' travel writing competition in the Daily Telegraph for September 2011 and went on to be voted overall winner for the year 2011. (link to external site)
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