The Emerald Isle

Glasnevin Cemetery, more than 90 miles (145km) away, can be seen, although much of the view is of farmland and quiet, green tranquillity. The country of these six Midland counties is characterized by grassland and peatland, or raised bog country (as distinct from the blanket bog of the west of Ireland), especially in County Offaly, set between Boora Bog in the west and the Bog of Allen in the east. It is dotted with many loughs, while part of the borderland between Laois and Offaly is fine hill country, popular with walkers and hikers, the main range of which comprises the Slieve Bloom Mountains. Legend tells that these were formed when the music of a west Laois piper caused the trees and rocks to jig vigorously up and down. Although the mountains are not very high, the highest point, Alderin, reaching only 1,735ft (530m), the country is rugged and desolate enough to give a real feeling of a wilderness. Try walking the 20-mile (32-km) circular Slieve Bloom Way, one of a couple of dozen well signposted walks in the mountains, and you will encounter woods, moorland and bog, trace a section of one of the old high roads to Tara, and follow the bed of a pre-Ice Age river valley. If you are lucky, you may also see such wildlife as the Irish hare, the rare pine marten, fallow deer, and even mountain goats, as well as many species of birdlife. Hill country of a different kind, being the small, rounded hills known as drumlins, shaped by the ice and The Emerald Isle IRISH STEW This is one of the best loved of Ireland’s deliciously simple and tasty dishes. The stew consists of lamb, potatoes and onions and to be authentic, no other ingredients should be added. It is best to make it a day in advance when any fat that has risen to the top can be removed before reheating the dish in a hot oven, browning off the potatoes at the same time. Irish Food INGREDIENTS: 2 lb/1 kg middle neck of lamb 4 large carrots 2 large onions, sliced 1 1 ⁄ 2 lb/700 g potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks Salt and freshly ground black pepper 1 tbsp each of parsley and thyme METHOD: 1. Layer the chunked meat, carrots and onions, with plenty of seasoning and the herbs, in a large ovenproof casserole dish, finishing with the potatoes. 2. Preheat the oven to 300F/150C/Gas Mark 2. Pour on 2 ⁄ 3 pint/275 ml of water and cover the casserole with a tightly-fitting lid or foil. Cook for at least 2 hours or until the meat is very tender and the potatoes soft. 3. The stew can now be chilled and kept in the fridge for 2 days, when the excess fat can be skimmed from the surface. Reheat in a moderate oven to slightly brown the potatoes. Serve with soda bread and good Irish butter. Serves 4 OPPOSITE: Athlone Castle is located in Athlone, Westmeath. It dates from the 12th century. In recent years the castle has undergone a multi- million-euro renovation. OVERLEAF: Cloughoughter Castle is a picturesque ruined circular castle on a small island in Lough Oughter east of the town of Killeshandra, County Cavan. 155