Two short flights and an hour in a hire car and the hurly burly of TEFAF is a long way away. Not before the ghastly Ryanair have managed to add a new twist to their reasonably priced torture. The wretched fanfare they play on landing now, I realise, is also aimed at waking you with a start when you are trying to catch a few zeds after a criminally early start. Cunning devils.
I am in Ireland. I make an annual pilgrimage here to the West, to Co Mayo. I have done this trip with my family for over 18 years and for a week or two, sometimes, the world stops. Long walks on the beach are rewarded with local fish and simple vegetables. The fire becomes an activity in itself, needing constant fiddling and tweaking. Sleep is a full time job. Early to bed and late to rise and a nap in the afternoon. Here the batteries are fully disengaged, taken out. They can be recharged elsewhere and at another time.
One of the most wonderful views in the world can be enjoyed from one of the most depressing pubs in the world. Dalys in Mulranny has it all. It is a petrol station, a grocery, a restaurant and a pub. It sits beside the road with the natural bay of Mulranny below it and some of the many small islands of Clew Bay further off. In the distance you can see the Holy Mountain of Croagh Patrick. Come rain or bright sunshine the view from the massive picture windows at the back of Dalys is majestic, breath taking, humbling. However, the pub is the deadest place I have ever entered.
You enter to a small outer bar by the road - there is no one there, ever. Then you enter a sort of intermediate bar, where you have no view of either the bay or the road. No view of anything at all except a few faded posters of fish breeds and an old signed picture of a Gaelic football team that has hung crooked for as long as I have been going there. Here in this inner sanctum the die hards gather. There are never more than three - I think there must be some sort of rule here. They are never the same three but there are always three. As you pass they emit an ambiguous grunt. It could be a curmudgeonly welcome. It could be a death threat. It is impossible to say. Having made it to the vast back room you order your Guinness and bag of crisps. It can often take quite a few minutes to be served. They don't like coming to the back room. The view captivates and enchants as it always does, but the cold and the emptiness get to you after about 20 minutes and you leave. It is an annual ritual.
In the nearest town, Newport, there is a masterpiece. When we are not consuming the local black sole, we are eating produce from Dominick Kelly's. The black sole is a breed of fish I have not encountered elsewhere - it is very like plaice but the locals insist it is definitely sole. I like to think there must be some sort of religious irony or pun in the deliciousness of eating black sole. It is a very refined fish and the skin on one side is very black. But the meat is lily white, delicate and soft with just a hint of the bite you get in sole. When you have the opportunity to buy it, it comes twitching fresh and needs no accompaniment other than a hot grill, a knob of butter and a knife and fork. It also goes down well with a glass of Powers whiskey, whose peat and pepper taste perfectly enhances the fish.
But Kelly's is a dream of a shop. Owned and run by the family name over the door they have provisioned the west with a dazzling array of very individual meat products. They make multiple award winning black and white pudding. Once when my son was about four he was caught in the kitchen with what we thought was a chocolate biscuit in each hand. I chastised him for his naughtiness taking away the biscuits. Only then did I realise he had raided the fridge and had a slice of black pudding in each hand. I was very surprised but he has loved the stuff ever since, even raw!
But Kelly sells sausages too, which are delicious and very old school. They have lots of bread and mysterious whatnot in them and cook in the most erratic way but are a byword of yum. He makes chicken burgers, which sound pretty grim but again the boys fight over them. He also has access to the most amazing chickens that taste different to chickens I eat elsewhere and eggs that are bright orange in the yolk and sit up in an almost flirtatiously buoyant and springy way when fried. All in all Kelly's is a wonder of a butcher and the brothers Sean and Seamus and their sons who run it always seem to be laughing and joking and the place is spotlessly clean. The older brothers have short grey hair and are quite round in a healthy and ruddy cheeked sort of way. They bustle about directing and serving and I am sure there must be some sort of pixie magic in their twinkle.
Given the chance the world would be run on Kelly's produce. Certainly my family runs better, just yesterday we had an omelette and a fry-up of pudding, mushrooms and their wonderfully strongly flavoured back bacon. I have rarely seen food disappear so fast.