The Emerald Isle

Anglo-Normans, the incomers are holidaymakers, both from home and abroad, with Rosslare harbor, a major port for ferries from Wales and France, being the first sight of Ireland for many of them. Centuries ago, the majority of Viking and Anglo- Norman invaders of Ireland, as well as at least one Christian missionary before them, also had their first glimpse of the country from the St. George’s Channel and the Celtic Sea. They chose to come this way because the natural harbors and river estuaries of the southeastern coast offered, via several fine river valleys, direct routes into the heartland of Ireland. The Vikings found a land with few towns (the Celts were herders of cattle and growers of crops rather than town-dwellers) but with a well-established network of Christian monasteries. St. Declan is reputed to have first set foot in Ireland at Ardmore in County Waterford a generation before St. Patrick returned from France in 432. At that time, control of the countryside was in the hands of the Celtic kings and although the Vikings destroyed many monastic and other religious foundations, many more survived. Outstanding among these were the monastery and chapel built on the great limestone outcrop, the Rock of Cashel, on the Tipperary plain, which was also the seat of the kings of Munster and is today one of the important relics of the early Christian period in Ireland. Three of the five present-day counties in the region, Wexford, Carlow, and Kilkenny, were at one time part of the ancient province of Leinster, whereas Waterford, while also a part of Leinster at one time, was for most of the period of the kings of Ireland part of Munster, along with Tipperary. It was a 13th-century king of Leinster, Dermot MacMurrough, who “invited” the Anglo-Normans into The South & Southeast CREAMY MUSSEL SOUP Mussels are abundant around the coasts of Ireland and are a cheap, delicious and nutritious food. There is also an increasing trade in farmed mussels, grown on ropes in sheltered bays and coastal waters which, although they are larger and appear more succulent, have a little less flavor. INGREDIENTS: 1 1 ⁄ 2 lb/700 g fresh mussels in their shells 2 tbsp butter or olive oil 1 onion, finely chopped 1 stick celery, finely chopped METHOD: 1. Scrub the mussels in fresh running water and scrape away the hairy beards. Rinse again and drain, discarding any mussels that are cracked or open. 2. Heat the butter in a large pot and sauté the onion, celery and garlic together until translucent. Add the wine, stock and mussels, cover tightly, and leave to bubble for about 5 minutes or until the mussels open. Discard any that don’t. 3. Add the cream, seasoning to taste, and the parsley, and simmer for another 2–3 minutes. Serves 4 Irish Food OPPOSITE: Part of the ruined monastery and seat of the Kings of Munster. It is known as The Rock of Cashel and is located in County Tipperary. OVERLEAF: The Blackstairs Mountains lie along the border between County Wexford and County Carlow. 112