Rachel Gaffney's Letter From Texas - Killaloe - Fit For a King

The famous foodie who’s flying the tricolour for us in Texas shares her experience of a return visit to a special place, on the mighty River Shannon. 

It felt as though I had stumbled upon a secret place, a place no-one else really knew about and it thrilled me. Feeling something does not make it true but the feeling was still powerfully real. I had enjoyed a lovely lunch that day with my good friend Eamonn Cregan in his hometown of Killaloe, County Clare. Sadly, Wood Brothers Bistro is no longer in business, but it was owned by Keith Wood, former captain of the Irish rugby team. I recall this day vividly, it was a gloriously sunny July day in 2014. As wonderful as it was to have lunch with these two interesting and funny gentlemen, what I never forgot was the drive over the bridge from Killaloe in Co. Clare to Ballina in Co. Tipperary. It was when I drove over this bridge that I felt I had discovered this secret place. Although I was on a tight schedule, I simply had to park my car, sit on the low wall and drink in this vista. I took a photograph and vowed to return. I had to know more, I had to experience more. Killaloe had left me wanting more.

It took me six years to keep this promise to myself but I did return on August 11, 2020. It was, of course, the height of the pandemic and I was not booking any travel but this was the time for me to explore and learn more. I spent two nights in this magical and idyllic part of Ireland. The Lakeside Hotel sits on the banks of the River Shannon and it was here I stayed, in one of their waterfront rooms overlooking the river. These rooms are set in their own building but only steps away from the hotel. Upon arrival, I opened the sliding doors and stepped out to my private balcony. Boats pulled up and moored beneath me and I could hear a variety of Irish accents. Children scurried about in brightly coloured life jackets carrying small buckets and fishing nets. Blissfully unaware of these Covid times, their joy and laughter was the perfect antidote for what ailed and stressed us all. Families sat on the decks with glasses of wine and cheese plates, grapes and freshly baked breads from local bakeries. It was truly a summer eve in Ireland. I could have sat there all day but I had committed to exploring this area.

The following morning I had an early start. Mist completely blanketed Lough Derg. I drove back over the Killaloe Bridge, which dates back to the times of Brian Boru, circa 1013 and made my way to meet Gerard Madden, Ireland’s leading authority on Inis Cealtra or Holy Island (and indeed other islands) We took the short boat ride across Lough Derg to this ancient monastic site. The mist and fog began to lift as we disembarked and I noticed the dew drops dangling from the blades of grass like drop earrings. We were completely alone. It had been a long time since I had experienced such a welcome silence. In 1837 it was referred to as “the island of seven churches” This early monastic site dates back to the seventh century. I spent a few hours on this island with Ger, listening to his stories and learning about the previous inhabitants of this holy island. The round tower, perfectly preserved ascends 23 meters above ground level.

Returning from Inis Cealtra, I drove the short distance to the ring fort, once the seat of Brian Boru, the most famous High King of Ireland. You can easily understand how this site was chosen as it had the perfect view of the River Shannon, protecting them from Viking Invaders. Killaloe was the Capital of Ireland between 1002 and 1014. If you love to walk then staying in this area is an absolute must. On this day I hiked and stopped at the top, taking in the magnificent view of Clare and Tipperary beneath me. There are so many trails from easy to difficult in this area.

As I was staying for two nights, I managed to find time to kayak on Lough Derg and spend an hour swimming. Thoroughly invigorated by my activities, I visited Áine Knitwear’s gorgeous shop, located in the tourist office. Sisters Anne and Teresa Behan established Áine in 2018, promoting the very best of Irish craftsmanship and heritage. We sat outside overlooking the River Shannon and enjoyed a coffee and cake basking in the afternoon sunshine.
As we sat, I looked over at the Killaloe Bridge and noted that it was this bridge I had driven over in 2014 that brought me back to this town of Killaloe, a town truly fit for a King.



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