Perfect midlands day
Van Morrisson’s song Coney Island , describing a perfect day on the Co Down coastline, prompted me to consider whether one could have a similar day in the midlands. What would be the equivalent of his potted herrings in Ardglass and bird-watching at St John’s Point?
If it was a Saturday in the midlands, I’d head first to the market in the old railway warehouse at Sheridan’s cheesemongers outside Kells to pick up picnic supplies – a loaf of Martin Sawcki’s Polish sourdough, some Durhamstown Castle tapenade, a clutch of John Rogan’s whiskey smoked sausages and Richard Hogan’s sea buckthorn juice.
From there, I’d drive 10 minutes cross country to Loughcrew, turning uphill to the Neolithic passage tombs with their symbolic carvings still vivid after 5,000 years. Right beneath the cairns are Loughcrew gardens with a 17th century yew walk and an adventure course featuring archery, treetop zip lines and assault courses.
From Loughcrew, I’d drive 15 minutes through Oldcastle to the 1,000-acre Mullaghmeen Forest in north Westmeath, and stroll up past flax pits, famine fields and a booley shelter through one of the largest planted beech forests in Europe to a cairn looking out across Lough Sheelin into Cavan. At a dizzying 258 m above sea-level, it’s the highest point in Co Westmeath.
Next, I’d swing through the time-warp village of Fore with its 7th-century St Feichín’s church and the imposing Fore Abbey in a marshy, cow-grazed valley. then I’d head straight to Tullynally Castle for a walk amongst Thomas Pakenham’s beloved trees and some cake in the gorgeous courtyard café and gallery . The only hard decision would be where to spend the night: Lough Bawn House overlooking Lough Bawn, and Lough Bishop House nestled in the timeless valley of Derrynagarra are both restored Georgian farmhouses overlooking pastoral landscape.
Lough Bishop House is at the forefront of the slow food movement and so breakfast would be impressive: their own apple juices and conserves . But Lough Bawn House is run by a former elite caterer from London and serves things like compotes of red berry and star anis. I’m not sure how to choose between them, unless you ignored both and spent a bit more money to stay in the sumptuous Mornington House in the village of Multyfarnham, which has two good restaurants, An Tintáin and Weirs.
Evening entertainment would depend on the time of year, either a trad session in The Seven Wonders bar in Fore, or classical music in Tullynally Castle, or an entire opera in Loughcrew. The Midlands have everything except the ocean – and potted herrings. We’d probably even have a Coney island somewhere; there’s one in Cork, Sligo, Derry, Donegal, Fermanagh, Armagh, even Brooklyn, after all. And we certainly have enough coiníní (rabbits). Would jugged rabbit do, Mr Morrison?