Best Holiday Pit Stops - 10 of the Best

Travelling the roads of Ireland more than most, we know what a difference a good journey break can make - and we have dozens of favourite pit stops dotted around the country. As many are on much shorter hours this year, we’ve picked some of the best that open every day or are managing keep to something like pre-pandemic hours for those relaxing en-route meals. 

Strandfield House
Ballymascanlon Dundalk Co Louth A91 X248
Just north of Dundalk, off the R173 Carlingford road, Hannah Byrne’s unusual business gave a new lease of life to old farm sheds, which she transformed into an appealing café that features local ingredients in tasty (completely vegetarian) fare and offers interesting shopping. It’s a quirky place, with the Cooley mountains providing an impressive backdrop, plants and bric-a-brac lending charm, outdoor seating for fine days while a wood-burning stove and pizza oven keep it cosy indoors. The menu is short but delicious - especially good baking uses their own free-range eggs, milk from a nearby farm and local jams, and the sourdough pizza range is delicious. The shop is sure to tempt, with items not often seen elsewhere including home grown garlic in season, the local Dunany flour, Corderry jam, homemade relishes and their own freshly baked bread - and there’s an in-house florist too. Open every day from 8am to 6pm, it makes a perfect journey break off the main Dublin-Belfast road.

My Kitchen By Sham Hanifa
Carrick-on-Shannon Co Leitrim N41 F2W2
There’s no shortage of places to eat well in Carrick-on-Shannon but this new venture by well-known Euro-Toques chef Sham Hanifa (of The Cottage in nearby Jamestown and, more recently, Buffalo Boy Steakhouse in Carrick town centre) is a welcome addition. Handily situated on the edge of the town centre, just across bridge into Co Roscommon, it’s on the main Sligo road in a small retail park on the right - easy to spot with its prominent My Kitchen logo above the door, and with easy parking too. A reinvention of Sham’s former Synergy Café, it’s a well thought out venture with something for every time of day, from the very early callers all the way through to the evening. As would be expected of Sham, the menu offers a culinary journey through most of Asia, giving a nod to the various styles of cooking and with a few Irish comfort dishes too – all equally delicious. My Kitchen is greater than the sum of its parts and a destination well worth knowing about when visiting the area - and the long opening hours (8am-8pm daily, except Sun to 6pm) make it the perfect pit stop when travelling. And there’s retail too - don't forget to grab some of their famous Chef Sham Sauces to take home.

Mikey Ryan’s Bar & Kitchen
Cashel Co Tipperary E25 NY58
Behind a smart traditional pub frontage on Cashel’s main street, Mikey Ryan’s serves up some surprises - not least the numerous and varied but equally delightful spaces that lie between the front door and the back, including the fine old front bar and a beautifully laid out garden and outdoor dining area adjacent to its sister property, the magnificent Cashel Palace Hotel which has direct access through the gardens. With the galloping horse logo (and other, sometimes humorous, features including the Horse Box Bar in the garden) a subtle reminder of its association with Coolmore Stud, it’s a fun place and the wonderful renovations are a joy. And then there is the food... Good, smart-casual cooking that reflects the region's proud farming tradition was always the aim - and local farmers and artisan producers credited on menus include The Good Herdsman meats, Annie’s Organic Farm, Comfrey Cottage Cashel (vegetables) and of course the iconic local product, Cashel Blue Cheese. Everything is made from scratch in-house and it all adds up to a very enjoyable taste of Tipperary - served by staff who clearly enjoy their work and take pride in introducing visitors to the best of the locality’s food, drink and hospitality. Open daily (a call to book/check hours is advisable) and well worth a small detour off the main road.

Waterford Co Waterford X91 NX30
Handily located on the Dunmore East road, opposite University Hospital Waterford and near the wonderful Ardkeen Quality Food Store, the beautiful Grow It Yourself (GIY) headquarters is always worth visiting. Michael Kelly is the driving force behind the movement and it’s hard to imagine anyone other than the charismatic former journalist being able to get it going at all, never mind achieve its phenomenal growth - and at the Zero Waste Café, chef JB Dubois and his talented kitchen team transform the seasonal harvest (and other organic, chemical free, free range ingredients sourced locally) into delicious plant-based, but not entirely vegetarian, meals. And there’s a host of activities on and off site to explore if time is available, including garden tours and, partnering with Waterford Suir Valley Railway, a brilliant Sunset Express Experience. A fantastic place altogether, it’s wheelchair accessible and open 7 days a week 9am-5pm (although times may change) and there’s also a shop and a food truck. For bookings, call (051) 584 422.

Wineport Lodge
Glasson Athlone Co Westmeath N37 R2D7
The Athlone area is perfect for breaking a whole range of journeys and there’s no better place to relax than Ray Byrne and Jane English’s unique shoreside lodge overlooking Lough Ree, which is just a few minutes off the M6 at Athlone (Cavan exit). It started life in 1993 as a restaurant and - although it now has 34 beautiful suites and rooms (all with private balconies), and a spa with treatment rooms, a heated outdoor infinity pool, seaweed baths, and hot tubs overlooking the lake - the lovely contemporary restaurant remains its heart, serving fine meals with warmth and professionalism. The food experience here has always been about seasonal local produce and a formal meal in this stunning venue is a special outing - but it’s also ideal for Afternoon Tea or a very tasty casual daytime bite in the recently reimagined waterside bar, the Grapevine Lounge, so it makes a perfect journey break. The restaurant is open for dinner Monday to Sunday from 5.30pm and the Grapevine Lounge opens every day from 1pm for all day dining (bookings: 090 643 9010).

The Brown Trout Inn
Aghadowey Coleraine Co Londonderry BT51 4AD
About seven miles south of Coleraine, away from the crowded coast road, the O’Hara family’s lively family-run country inn is a retreat that’s especially useful to know about in summer, and an old favourite with the Guide. Golf is a big attraction, both on-site and nearby, but it’s a likeable and hospitable place where all are welcome. Everyone will soon find friends in the convivial bar, complete with open fire – and there’s a pleasant barbecue area outside too. It’s a comfortable, dog friendly place to stay - good-sized, recently refurbished en-suite rooms (all ground floor) are arranged around a courtyard, and high-spec cottage suites are also available. But the good food served daily has always been a particular point of pride at The Brown Trout and many regulars come specially to dine in the evening restaurant, or for the pleasing bar food, which is normally available all year from 12 to 9pm. (Bookings: +44 28 7086 8209 )

Murph’s Gastro Pub @ Derragarra Inn
Butlersbridge Co Cavan H12 NY32
Famed for its rustic charm, the Derragarra Inn always had a good reputation - and it was never better than in the current ownership of chef Fergus Murphy and his wife Susan, who established the popular Murph’s Bistro nearby at Cootehill in 2006, and later moved it to this much-loved venue. With an open fire in the bar for chilly days and a large covered riverside terrace for outdoor dining, it’s a welcoming place and full of atmosphere. Menus are a good match for the setting, offering a mix of traditional crowd pleasers, notably great steaks, and less usual dishes - all showcasing the best local and Irish produce. Situated north of Cavan Town and south of the junction with the N54 (Cloverhill, Clones road) it’s an ideal place to factor in a break if possible, when travelling on the N3. Open from 12 /12.30pm, but hours may vary (probably closed on Tuesdays and on Mondays, except bank holidays). Call 049 433 1033 to check hours/ book.

Blairs Inn
Cloghroe Blarney Co Cork T23 D967
Established by the late John and Anne Blair in 1986 and now run by run by their son, Duncan (ably assisted by Anne), this pretty riverside pub is in a quiet, wooded setting on the L2762, just a few minutes from busy Blarney village. The Blairs are a warmly hospitable family who take real pride in welcoming visitors and Duncan, who trained at Ballymaloe, works alongside a long-established kitchen team. Well known for the quality of the food, their skilfully cooked meals feature plenty of Cork and Kerry produce, notably local Angus beef and seafood, in wholesome dishes,and an impressive range of craft beers and ciders is also offered. Indoors it’s traditional and cosy, and the imaginative outdoor dining area in the garden is a real pleasure too, making it a lovely place to call into for a bite at any time of year. Both restaurant and bar menus are normally available for lunch and dinner, including a children’s menu (all homemade), but it’s advisable to call to check: 021 438 1470.

An Tulach Baile Na Habhan Inverin Co Galway H91 A9W8
Half an hour west of Galway city on the Wild Atlantic Way (beside TG4, on the R336), Ballymaloe-trained Cork chef Diarmuid O’Mathúna’s vibrant bi-lingual café is billed as ‘the last stop before the Aran Islands’ - and, scenically set in the thatched two-storey building that was once Tigh Jonny Sheain pub, it’s easy to spot. It has become a deservedly popular stopping place for visitors heading for the Aran Islands ferry nearby at Ros a Mhíl (Rossaveal) and families and dogs are welcome, so don’t forget to allow time to enjoy the lovely beach out at the back… Local suppliers feature strongly on menus - in Irish, with willing staff on hand to assist - offering simple, tasty fare including delicious soups and sourdough toasties, or carrot cake with locally roasted coffee, as well as more substantial meals. Breakfast and brunch menus are offered, also low-intervention wines as well as soft drinks – and there’s a carefully curated retail area, selling Irish produce and books. Open all year but may be closed early week; to check/book call 085 756 6963.

Kealys Seafood Bar
Greencastle Co Donegal F93 R588
The summer ferry between the fishing port of Greencastle on the north-east of the Inishowen Peninsula and Magilligan Point in Northern Ireland brings many new visitors to an area that used to seem quite remote - and those in the know plan their journeys around a meal at Kealys. Situated right beside the harbour with a few iutdoor tables and easy parking across the road, it’s a low-key little place where simplicity has always been valued and, even if it’s just to pop in for a daytime bowl of Tricia Kealy’s Greencastle chowder and some home-baked brown bread or James’s ‘wee scones’, don’t miss the opportunity of a visit to Kealys. Usually open from Wednesday to Sunday in summer, with bar food available all day and an à la carte dinner menu, but it’s best to check – and evening reservations are advisable (+44 74 938 1010).

16th October 2023
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