Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Irish Stew

The recent lack of postings is explained by the fact that I have just come back from a holiday in Northern Ireland . Despite its reputation as a scene of sectarian conflict, it is in fact well worth a visit, with splendid scenery, a wealth of fascinating historic sites and quiet, well-maintained roads. Belfast can also offer restaurants of a quality to match any other major British city. But one significant problem I came across was that it was extremely difficult to find any decent, informal lunchtime food such as would typically be offered by pubs in Great Britain. Sometimes it was hard to find anything at all.

For example, I visited Ardglass in County Down, a picturesque fishing port noted for its “seven castles”. There was nowhere at all to have a meal or snack, whereas in its English equivalent there would probably be four or five pubs offering good food. I ended up having to get a sandwich from a small supermarket. It’s not uncommon to find a village or small town with six or eight bars on its main street, none of which give any indication of offering food. The smoking ban has obviously not led Irish pubs to broaden their horizons.

I have to say I had a similar experience when I visited the Republic in the mid-1990s and was disappointed to find things really no better in the North a decade later. Now obviously this must stem from a fundamental social difference, that people in Ireland just don’t go out and generate the demand for lunchtime food that we do over here. But it must be a major factor holding back the tourist trade and giving visitors a negative impression of the country on both sides of the border.

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