Sometimes they are passive-aggressive battlements discouraging visitors. And at others,can be understated and maybe even carefully neglected, but nearly always give some indication of what might lie within.
White concrete eagles on pillars as likely to fly as one of the cannons at Charles Fort, metrosexual stallions rearing on pillars smaller than themselves, all point to a particular frame of mind. Fibreglass columns like those Scarlett O’Hara used to lean on when she felt a swoon coming on, to another. Wrought iron gates incorporating crossed hurleys or electric guitars, profiles of Daniel O’Donnell (honestly) or — in Kilkenny — mute but purring cats, another.
Large, electric gates are now so common that they are almost a leitmotif for the excess, vulgarity and presumptions of another time. They seem a wonderfully Irish mixture of imagined security glazing over insecurity. Those populated by large, in-your-face dogs — the free range electric gates of another time — hardly ever suggest charming or easygoing residents.
Religious iconography, like the beliefs it celebrates, means different things to different people and is best ignored.
The entrance to the magnificent Blairscove restaurant can only be described as a hipster gateway; different but common, speaking volumns but not saying anything unique. Only for the signage you could be forgiven for imagining that it was just another Irish farm, cutting a bit of silage, squeezing a few moderately productive cows, all the while counting the days until the Single Farm Payment cheque arrives in a little green van.
Hanging on one pillar is the kind of five-bar gate often sold by travelling salesmen. It has been, em, rearranged and I’m happy enough to bet by someone trying to get in rather than out. Had its injuries suggested otherwise, and this conclusion has been reached without any input from the famous detectives of West Cork, it might not have been encouraging.
Inside the gate is a longish farm passage that at one point becomes a causeway across a bog that seems to set the place apart from the world outside. Of course none of this would be apparent if you arrived in the dark, nor would the wonderful views over Dunmanus Bay and the lines of oyster farms, marking the bay in lanes like an Olympic swimming pool, but more of that later.
DW and I arrived for a seven o’clock table hoping we’d see a seascape sunset, but we were seated away from the seaward windows. However, we could concentrate on the food. Rather than a list of starters on a menu, Blairscove offers “one plate of starters from the buffet” and what a lovely experience it was. DW chose cold meats — the tongue was exceptional — and pates, a little salad and a turkey and anchovy mixture that was a real stand out. I chose fish and shellfish and enjoyed the best rollmops I’ve had in Ireland. This wonderful dish — raw, marinated herring — seems unloved here and that is our loss. When done properly, when they’re not just a conduit for vinegar or sugar, they can be one of the really uplifting tastes of the sea. (Delia Smith has published a simple but very good recipe — have a go!) I had a sliver of gravlax and it was so good that just for a flitting moment I forgot how destructive salmon farming is.
DW followed with black sole off the bone and it was as delicate as this special occasion dish should be. I had the best turbot dish I’ve had for a very long time, it was served on a bed of greens and a lovely subtle mustard sauce. Vegetable and potatoes were as close to perfect as makes no difference. Desserts were offered from a buffet and there was a wonderful selection, especially for chocolate lovers. Each of these courses was an example of top-drawer cooking and in a bizarre, irrational way made me feel quietly proud and as happy as a meal can make a person. The wine Cepa Gavilán 2011 was a joy too.
Blairscove is gracefully run by Philippe and Sabine De Mey, Sabine’s daughter Ann and her husband Chris Woodward, and a fine front of house team. This was really an exceptional meal in very beautiful surroundings and worth every penny of the €170 bill.
Dinner for two with wine (€37.00) and drinks came to €170.20.
Dinner from mid-March to the end of October, Tuesday to Saturday
Beautiful seashore setting, exceptional food and accommodation — an ideal place for a celebratory getaway.