A friend was recently sharing her plans for her upcoming 2 week trip to Ireland. Like most people I know, this trip didn't set aside any time for a visit to Northern Ireland. I understand some of the reasons for this lost opportunity. Most commercial tours limit their intineraries to the major tourist sites in the south. The Irish Tourist Board also focuses on the southern part of the Ireland. Certainly, Northern Ireland is the forgotten part of Ireland.
Personally, I don't mind this at all. The places I want to go are usually quiet and devoid of lines. But this situation isn't at all beneficial to the people in Northern Ireland who are depending on a new influx of visitors now that the 30 years of conflict are over. Since I have many friends there who would benefit from lots of new visitors, I will do what I can to help them. I will certainly hope to tempt everyone north of the border.
My home base in Northern Ireland, Newry, is the easiest part of the North to reach. Newry is the first major city in the north. It is a quick trip from the airport in Dublin by a new "dual carriageway. My first report on this special part of the island will focus on places to eat in the Newry area, eating being an important part of any vacation.
For Americans who find it difficult to get far from American food, Newry now has a Dominoes Pizza branch. Their pizza seems even better to me than it does here in America, due to the Irish skill with cheese making. There is also a conveniently located Subway shop.
I do occasionally eat in such places, as the speed is sometimes enticingly convenient. But there are other places I certainly prefer. In Newry proper, my favorite place to eat is the Canal Court Hotel. They have a lovely fomal dining room where the food is just delicious. But my favorite place to eat there is the Carvery. The is the place to go for lunch. Service begins at noon. A carvery is an Irish tradition. Food is served cafeteria style, with the choice of food all laid out for easy selection. As would be implied by the name, chefs will cut thick slices of beef, lamb, and my favorite, gamman, to your order. Gammanis the Irish version of ham and has a delightfully novel flavor. There are endless side dishes that can be ordered. For visitors, this will end the need for food for the day. Price for a complete meal is around 15 dollars.
Leaving Newry, a visitor has a number of choices as to direction. Going west toward Armagh, the first major town is Markethill. There is a perfect place to stop to eat. The old Court House there has been converted to more modern uses. Inside they have a wonderful restaurant. All the food is made by the best local cooks. It is a way to have tea in dozens of Irish homes.
North of Newry, along the main road to Belfast there are 3 other eating spots worthy of note. The first is the Sheepbridge Pub. It is one of the oldest in the area. The food is good, not fancy. American's can get a good hamburgers and too many fries to eat. The ambience makes clear that the diner isn't in America though.
Moving north past the Sheepbridge, travelers will find a turn off to the little town of Loughbrickland. This road passes another wonderful restaurant, the Seven Stars. On weekends, reservations are an absolute necessity. However in midweek, walk-ins will find little waiting required. Guests are seated at the bar, or in comfortable chairs by the fire. There they place their orders, and remain until they are called for dinner.
The next stop is in Banbridge, another easy diversion just off the main Belfast Road. The first of Banbridges' eating places is at the tourist center, just a few yards off the main road. There visitors can stop for tourist infomation, and family history data in addition to a very good lunch. Do not be deterred by the construction. It is a perfect place to stop, especially with children.
The second great stop in Banbridge is the Downshire Arms. This is also on the same main road, no diversions required. It is another very old inn with great ambience. I have never eaten in their dining room, as it is always too busy. But the pub has the same kind of food, at a reduced price. There is limited parking on the main street, but there is parking behind as well.
Now to my absolute favorite. This restaurant is in the last of the towns that circle Newry, this one the most easterly of the three, Rathfriland. I just discovered it on my most recent trip, as it is rather new. Ordinarily, I would keep the name and location a secret, but I want them to continue to prosper.
So let me tell you about Annie D's. This is a small restaurant, with a fireplace to warm visitors in cold, damp weather. There is a modern look to the dining room, a bit unusual for Ireland. The chef is most particular about his ingredients, and his presntation. On my first visit, I was accompanied by a man from our southwest who knows his beef. He reported that the steak he had there was as good as the best he had ever eaten. My tastebuds would certainly agree.
On my second visit, my friend and I ate from the early bird special fixed price menu. For some unaccountable reason, I ordered an appetizer made entirely of ingredients I don't like. It was a blood pudding tart with goat cheese in a phylo crust. This was my ultimate test for this restaurant. The chef had managed to make this dish look appetizing. And it was delicious!!
So please go to Annie D's on Downshire Road in Rathfriland. It is open for dinner Tuesday through Sunday all year round. You will get a nice trip through beautiful county landscape with the Mourne Mountains looming above, and a wonderful meal to top off.
So you can see that you will find the food a wonderful part of the northern experience. I will get on to what to see in my next Northern Report.