Why does everything seem more appealing in retrospect? Have you ever unearthed a photograph of yourself 10 years on, and wished you could look like that again? The funny thing is, at the time this seemingly ideal image of you was captured, you were probably nothing but critical; of your clothes, your hair, you body. We really are an ungrateful bunch!
This is a lesson I relearn every time I go back home to Ireland, which I did this year for the entire Summer. Just driving the familiar road from my house to town had me gasping at the lovely views that dipped in and out through the hedgerows. These are the same roads I trudged to school on my bicycle for years, and I have my doubts that the lovely patchwork of green fields garnered any attention from me, more likely fretting over unfinished homework.
Another bad habit I had for years upon returning home was to drop my bags in the house, rest for a few days and then plan day trips up the country, or across the country, to far-flung places I used to go with my family on our holidays, or places I had never had the chance to see, but longed to. Indeed some of my memories from these long excursions are of cramped seating, car sickness, and the countryside whizzing by the side window of the car.
It took a while, but I finally figured out that I didn’t have to go too far from our house to be somewhere spectacular. This is true of Ireland no matter where you go. There is always somewhere beautiful waiting for you around the next bend or over the ditch through a field, with the result that this time around, I spent more time enjoying, than burning up the roads of Ireland trying my best to pack it all in.
That said, the only thing that separates our house from the little village of St Mullins in Country Carlow is a short drive through some of the most fairytale-like countryside and little towns in the south of Ireland. I am embarrassed to admit that I had never taken the time to explore this ecclesiastically historical site until I had left the country altogether! (In my defence it was easily overlooked for the more famous monastic sites like Glendalough and The Rock Of Cashel)
I took the opportunity to visit this place a few times on my trip this time around. It wasn’t the only thing that enticed me however…I am very fond of finding great places to hang out and explore, and even more enthusiastic if there is an equally great place to eat to go along with it!
You know you have arrived in St. Mullins when you find yourself flanked by the ominous Blackstairs Mountains on one side and Brandon Hill on the other. And of course this picturesque image is not complete without the River Barrow flowing in the valley between them.
As you wind your way past the ruins of the monastic settlement of St. Mullins, which incidentally is the oldest settlement in Ireland, dating back to the 7th century, and on past the great mounded hill (part of the Motte & Bailey Castles of old), the road winds down to the bank of the River Barrow, and located right smack in front of it is The Mullichain Cafe.
Talk about location; this old converted 4 story store house is the perfect place to sit for lunch, cup of tea and a scone, or in my case a glass of crisp white wine. I cannot think of a better place to lounge after taking one of the many fabulous walking paths along the river.
When the River Barrow was one of the key waterways for the transportation of goods from one place to another, the cafe building was the store house for all manner of essential; from lumber to barrels of stout from Guinness. It was restored with care to preserve many of its original features by the cafe owners, Martin and Emer O’ Brien.
The giant white wall facing the river is lined with tables and big canvas umbrellas (more to keep off the rain than the sun I guarantee), and this is where I generally install myself after our drive or meander through the old graveyard and ruins of the monastery. On this particular day I timed our visit to coincide with hunger pangs, and we ordered up some delicious toasted sandwiches and wine, followed by dessert.
I will say that the food is very basic, but it is inexpensive and good. If you want my recommendation of what to try however, I will say that what the savory food might lack, the desserts (made on the premises), make up for it in abundance. There is always a tart or two to choose from (rhubarb, apple, pear) and sweet coffee cake like Lemon Drizzle or Carrot Cake. We had the Pavlova, and I will admit to wanting to lick the plate after wards. It was filled with all kinds of wild berries, and the meringue had the desirable “chewy” inside oh so important in making the dessert a success.
I have said this plenty of times, but a warm and friendly restaurant atmosphere can go a long way, even making up for so-so food in some cases. Every time I have been to The Mullichain Cafe, Martin O’ Brien has always been there, joking with customers and making everyone feel as at home as possible. He is rough and ready with a laugh that could cajole even an old grouch into good humour.
As I sat around reading at our table after lunch,the kids hung out in the water with nets trying to catch minnow fish and any other kind of creature they managed to unearth from the muddy banks. There were lots of other people around too, some with dogs who were deftly retrieving sticks from the water, some fishing off the banks, and there was even a class of an aquatic nature going, (all I know is that the students were wearing wet suits and jumping into the water when instructed!)
There are some beautiful walks into the neighboring towns, and up into the mountains that can begin and end at this little cafe. That is my plan the next time. For now I must be content to sit thousands of miles away with my memories to sustain me.