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West of the Familiar Tourist Stop of Waterford, We Tasted the Simple Riches of an Irish Farm

August 05, 1990|RICHARD HOMAN | WASHINGTON POST

DUNGARVAN, Ireland — "What time is breakfast?" we asked hesitantly. Our awareness that we were staying on a working farm was reinforced by mooing cattle and the businesslike bustle of the owners and their sons.

"You're welcome anytime," Joan Nugent replied with a laugh. "But the later the better," she quickly added, "since you're on holiday."

It was just what we needed to hear. We had spent a week doing two weeks' worth of things in Ireland and now we wanted a place to unwind for a few days over Easter weekend before heading home.

Irish friends from Dublin had suggested that our family join theirs at the County Waterford farmhouse where they had been spending holidays for years.

And now here we were--four adults and five city-bred boys ages 11 to 19--unpacking our bags in a cozily renovated, 15th-Century farm castle just outside a hamlet that consisted of two tiny pubs and a gas station . . . with rain falling, a fearsome weather forecast weighing heavy on our minds and at least one of us wondering if we'd made a big mistake.

But as frequently happened on our 10-day visit to Ireland, the rain suddenly halted, the sun came out to ignite the countryside to an emerald glow, and our sons--Peter, 13, and Tim, 11--joined their Irish friends to explore the farm, meet the animals and test a compact tennis court that was to get a lot of use over the next few days.

After a bountiful Good Friday supper of mushroom soup, a delicious fresh whitefish, potatoes, diced carrots and parsnips, stewed celery and home-baked brown bread with thick, rich butter, followed by ice cream with pineapple and a homemade butterscotch sauce, my wife Mary Lou and I chatted briefly with the owners, Joan and Emmett Nugent, and the other guests, then headed sleepily for bed, certain that the day's activities were at an end.

About 10:30, hearing our sons still in animated conversation in the parlor downstairs, I called to them to come to bed. "No, Dad," Peter called back, "Mrs. Nugent's just made some scones and she's bringing them to us."

Freshly baked scones. Thirty feet away. And us already in bed. We looked at each other for a long moment, but fatigue won out. We promised ourselves that tomorrow we'd stay up for scones. And we congratulated ourselves for having taken up our friends' invitation to spend Easter weekend in the west of County Waterford.

We wouldn't have gone there on our own. West Waterford is well off the familiar tourist route of Dingle Peninsula, Ring of Kerry, Blarney Castle, Galway. Another popular tourist stop that we chose not to see this time was the city of Waterford, home of the renowned Waterford crystal, on the county's eastern edge, bordering County Kilkenny.

"People look at you like you're crazy if you say you're going to west Waterford on holiday," Frank Geary, our Dublin friend, had warned. "But they just don't know what's there."

One thing that's there in abundance--and even watched over by the clergy, it turned out--is hospitality. At the local church during Easter Mass, one of the other guests told us, the priest stopped abruptly in mid-sermon, fixed him with a curious stare, then declared: "You're not from here. You must be staying with Joan. Is she taking good care of you?"

Within a few minutes' drive, we had seen countless Norman towers and castles, churches and monasteries, fishing harbors, the gorse-covered Knockmealdown Mountains and a lacework of streams and rivers.

The pace had been brisk during our first week in Ireland. While our trip had no long list of tourist objectives, we did want to visit with several friends, see our own ancestral towns and explore whatever we could of the country in the time remaining.

After four busy days of sightseeing, visiting and dining out in Dublin, we had made a hurried dash across the country for a brisk look at the Ring of Kerry and a hike at the Lakes of Killarney, then promptly reversed course the next day for County Cork and a look at Macroom and Ballyvourney, both filled--judging from signs on shops and pubs--with my wife's Kelleher namesakes.

That night, in what turned out to be a dress rehearsal for our weekend, we were expected at the farm home of Eddie and Nellie Delahunty at Fethard in County Tipperary. We had never met the Delahuntys, though they had written us a warm invitation.

My ancestors were Delahuntys and emigrated from Fethard in the 1860s. On a trip several years ago, my parents had been welcomed as next-of-kin by Eddie and Nellie, although any actual relationship is distant at best.

Their farm, standing grandly on a hill outside Fethard, seemed a peaceful enough setting for a quiet overnight before meeting our Dublin friends. But we hadn't reckoned on the energy of Eddie, whose world travels during four decades of sheep and dairy farming hadn't dimmed his love for Tipperary's scenic riches.

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