Eating and Drinking Your Way Around Ireland!   

by Evan McElligott, CTA, Owner of Independent Ireland, which specializes in customized FITs and small groups

This is Part Two of a two-part series on the changing face of tourism in Ireland. Part One addressed shopping and entertainment.

I can’t think of another nation that has turned dining on its head as much as Ireland has in the last decade or so: a narrative that involves its past, as much as its future. But what lies ahead for this little island nation will prove Ireland to be a world-class destination in the global gastronomic scene.

Ireland’s Reinvented Gastro Identity

First of all, cast aside everything you know about the Irish culinary scene. Forget stews, forget pies—shepherds or otherwise—forget corned-beef and even forget potato mashed with cabbage. This is a leaf out of a recipe book from a time when our parents and grandparents left a country in the middle of a famine. They didn’t have a choice; we do. Of course, that’s not to say this cookbook cannot be a source of inspiration to a modern-day chef, but, if you are visiting Ireland nowadays and eating only “traditional” food, you’re literally leaving an incredible experience on the table.

Think about it: an island surrounded by ocean, with a mild climate, nutrient-rich fertile soil and plenty of year-round rainfall and sunlight. Makes sense the island would yield a variety of flavorful, rich foods well beyond the age-old Irish food stereotype, right? Well, world-class chefs, producers, and purveyors seem to think so. And many are even betting their livelihoods on it.

Cattle eat lush green grass, farmers milk these same cattle, and the magic happens: think milk, cream, cheese, butter. YUM! Then think beyond that to smooth, creamy, delicious ice cream! It’s incredible. Think free-range, grass-fed, non-GMO meats. It’s the only way meat was ever supposed to taste. Now think grains (the bread is to die for), herbs, and seasonings. I think you’re getting an idea of what I’m talking about here.

If travel is about anything, it’s about discovery and being adventurous. Trust me…your clients are going to thank you for putting them onto this. Suggest they visit local markets and pack picnics. Suggest The English Market in Cork or any weekend market anywhere. Suggest planning a trip around a food festival or doing a food tour or cookery lesson. Then be sure to recommend restaurants that know what they’re doing and aren’t serving up 200-year-old slop.

I’ll have a pint!

That used to mean only one thing in Ireland: a pint of plain…a pint of the Black stuff. Nowadays, it’s a bit more complex.

Yes, Guinness has been very good to the island over the years, and those fresh ingredients I mentioned earlier have been very good to the Guinness family in return. So much of Ireland’s story is interwoven into the Guinness story, and visiting St James Gate feels like a pilgrimage to many. There is just something about it.

But some brewers quickly learned that those same fresh ingredients also make other lovely beers, and the island’s tastes and preferences are evolving. Nowadays, a pub’s lineup is as likely to have many locally sourced craft beers available, and each County also is likely to have its own popular beer—or many of them! Sharing this valuable information is a great way for your clients to feel connected to the place, and they, in turn, can support and contribute to the local economy and small businesses while visiting.

Finally, diving back into the history books and opening up the chapter on whiskey can be a bit of a rabbit hole, but we can’t deny the excellent reputation that Irish Whiskey has around the globe. This story itself is the topic of many books—and debates! Beyond the distilleries, there is a Whiskey Museum in Dublin that will shed a lot of light on the topic. Jameson produces a wide variety of what we now see internationally; Bushmills also has its fair share. But it also is wise to keep our eyes on some small (and some not-so-small) distilleries sprouting up all over the country. Time will tell as they all age and mature, but there are a few beauties currently out there. Teeling, Clonalkilty, and Dingle are a few that spring to mind and remain Irish owned, all offering a great visitor experience. If your clients are in the Limerick region, be sure to send them to the Home of Irish coffee in Foynes.

We hope you’ve enjoyed these two columns, giving you a fresh perspective on Ireland. To learn more, register to attend Evan’s Ireland: Beyond the Blarney webinar presented TODAY! This session qualifies for two CEUs.

Also, be sure to check out our all-new Northern Europe Destination Specialist course.