Tony Eklof, originally from New England, has settled in Clonakilty after a career as a librarian at University College Dublin. His knowledge and passion for wine has been inspired by frequent visits to the wine growing regions of the continent, particularly Italy and France.
Kinsale, the starting point or finishing line for the Wild Atlantic Way — depending on which way you are attempting it, and Kenmare, just a few kilometres over the West Cork border into Kerry are two of my favourite Irish towns. Both have stunning waterside settings and attractive town centres with more than their share of good restaurants, shops and pubs.
Both towns are also steeped in fascinating history.
I got to know Kenmare a bit better on a recent visit there for a birthday celebration. What tipped the balance in favour of Kenmare is that our favourite restaurant over recent years, Packie’s, is located right in the middle of the town on Henry Street. The menu has not changed much over the years — why should it when it is so good? I had the signature Roasted Cod in Lemon, which is divine. My dining companion had Dover Sole stuffed with Baby Prawns. Because it was a typical August night in Ireland, in other words wet and cool, red appealed more than white, and we chose a lovely reasonably priced Rioja Muriel, which actually went really well with the fish dishes, so don’t be afraid to experiment with your wine and food matching.
We stayed in Shelburne Lodge run by the former chef and current owner of Packie’s, Maura Foley, and her husband Tom. They make gracious hosts, the Lodge is well located and a great example of an old (Georgian) residence with modern facilities. The breakfast was exceptionally good. For an American, I was fascinated to learn that the building belonged to Lord Shelburne, Prime Minister of Great Britain for a short period and famous for negotiating the Treaty of Paris ending the American War of Independence. He was subsequently popular with the famous American independence leaders but less so with the British populace who promptly voted him out of office. The same Lord Shelburne commissioned the original design of modern-day Kenmare.
We couldn’t resist visiting The Park, one of Ireland’s most famous hotels while in the town. It is owned and run by the celebrity Brennan brothers.
We had drinks in the lovely piano bar and I enjoyed perusing the extensive (and expensive) wine list, stopping short of ordering the Chateau Petrus at around €3,000. Our night was made when Francis himself waltzed through the bar.
One more attraction Kenmare offers is a genuinely independent wine shop, Eugene’s, run by the friendly and extremely knowledgeable Alain Bras who selects all his wines, (mostly French) while engaged on his extensive wine travels. Alain recommended a gorgeous red from one of the least known of the twenty Italian wine regions. Molise is a small mountainous area well off the beaten tourist track and just south of the much more famous Montepulciano d’Abruzzo growing area. Lonely Planet describes Molise as ‘one of Italy’s forgotten regions’. However, aside from having the potential to be one of the up and coming wine regions, Molise boasts a wild national park complete with wolves and bears, a pretty seacoast town, Termoli, a small Albanian enclave of villages, and Saepinum, one of the best preserved Roman sites. Finally an important Palaeolithic site was only just discovered in 1978.
A final treat was the short drive back from Kerry to West Cork, travelling up through the famous Druid’s View in Bonane between the Ring of Kerry and the Beara Peninsula, a truly spectacular experience.