You may be forgiven for thinking of the great state of Minnesota, when I refer to the Land of Lakes. After all the butter 'Land O' Lakes' was named in 1924 to honor the land of 10,000 lakes.
If you were to drive from Dublin airport, along the M50 and then take the M3 for about an hour and a half in the north west direction, you would arrive in Cavan, the other land of lakes. It is said that there is a lake to fish there for every day of the year but once I visited I discovered there are far more than 365 lakes, there are closer to 500 lakes.
As a young girl, growing up in Cork, we would take our Irish holidays in places like Ardmore, Co Waterford, Schull, Co Cork or the other neighboring county, Kerry. Places like Cavan, Sligo and Mayo were never on our radar. To be fair, when you have such easy access to East and West Cork like we did growing up, it's easy to see how we would spend time there but nonetheless, I now find myself exploring the 32 counties of Ireland with such gusto and zeal, constantly insprired and captivated by each new county. My first visit to Cavan was back in 2012 and as a result I have returned three times.
In July of this year (2016) I visited the Cavan Canoe Centre. Now, on this particular day I did not take a canoe trip but did take a boat trip on Lough Oughter to visit the historic Clogh Oughter Castle. If you are a history lover like me, then this a very interesting trip. Clogh Oughter , was an island prison. It was built in the early thirteenth century. Owen Roe O'Neill, Commander of the Ulster army was said to have died either in Clogh Oughter Castle or in a house on the shores during the 1641 Rising. In 1653 the castle was one of the final strongholds to withstand Oliver Cromwell but it fell when its east wall was destroyed by canon fire.
Clogh Oughter Castle on Lough Oughter, Butlersbridge, Cavan
The following day, I visited the Burren Geo Park with our guide Jim Nolan. Jim is a local historian and is so deeply passionate about his years of research and findings that he is simply the best person to have as your guide. He lives and breathes this land and his findings will amaze you. While walking and talking with Jim he said he believes that the Geo Park is perhaps one of the finest relicts in Ireland. A land that time forgot. People know about the great limestone region in Co Clare known as the Burren. The word Burren comes from the Irish word 'Boireann' which means rocky, but the Burren in Co Cavan is hidden gem. Walking along the paths, we stumbled upon monuments dating back to the neolithic period ( approximately 10,000 BC). The walk was refreshing, exhilerating and thoroughly fascinating. Towards the end of our walk we walked through glacial erratics which have survived, amazingly from the last ice age.
Historian & Guide Jim Nolan Burren Geo Park
The nearby village of Blacklion, is home to the famous MacNean House Restaurant and Cooking School. A group of us stayed there in 2015. We enjoyed the most wonderful dining experience with chef and proprietor, Neven Maguire. He and his team cooked the MacNean House tasting menu for us. Coupled with carefully selected wines and ingredients sourced locally, it made this captains table dining experience unforgetable. The following day we joined him in his cooking school. This was a hands on class, learning about Irish ingredients and Irish producers. While listening and watching Neven demonstrate his menu for us, we served aromatic cauppucinos, lattes and espresso with freshly baked shortbreads to accompany. Then it was time for us to go our separate stations and work together in teams. We had so much fun, stirring, sauteeing, laughing, taking photographs, and cooking together. Then lunch was served. We ate what we cooked.
Cooking Class with Neven Maguire
Florence Court is the former home of the Earls of Ennisklillen, and is located just a short drive from the village of Blacklion in the neighboring county of Fermanagh. This historic 18th century house is open to the public and there are magnificent walks with a dramatic backdrop of mountains.
There is so much to see and do in Cavan. May I strongly suggest you take time to visit this county. I have not written about my other experiences, the other famous chefs ( Gearoid Lynch and Richard Corrigan) the fishing or the places to stay, such as Virginia Park Lodge or the Radisson Blu Farnham Estate (pictured in the slide show above). These will be featured soon.
Until then, I will continue to research, talk to the people, gather the photos and share with you all as we continue to explore Ireland, all 32 counties together.