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Emerald island-


The pyramid-shaped Skellig Michael island is a UNESCO World Heritage site, thanks to its ruins and seventh-century monastery.


Seeing the best of Ireland sometimes requires going beyond the mainland

Margo Pfeiff

aby puffins scurried at my feet as I huffed and puffed my way up 600 near-vertical stone steps etched into the rocky flank of a tiny pyramid-shaped island. Gannets were gliding on thermals in the sky above.

AUGUST 2013 Doctors




The picturesque port of Baltimore is the jumping-off point for several Irish islands.

Rewarding my effort at the summit of Skellig Michael was a striking cluster of beehive-shaped structures built from slabs of flat stones by seventh-century Christian hermit monks eager to get away from it all. I could relate. I too was looking to unwind and contemplate life in a quiet place where folks spend their days at a walking pace, and Irish islands seemed to fit the bill. Theyre mellow offshore outposts, oases of nature, history and a slower, more traditional lifestyle in a country that welcomes 6.5 million tourists a year, more than 1.5 times the countrys population. Remote, with a rugged beauty, they are home to fishermen, farmers, artists and urban refugees who live simply alongside the ruins and tales of prehistoric settlers, Vikings, past battles and plenty of sheep and cows. The spoken Irish language, which has all but disappeared from the mainland, is still commonly heard there. According to the Ireland Islands Federation (oileain.ie), there are 33 populated islands with the number of inhabitants ranging from one to just under 800. They are accessible by bridge, ferry, small boat, plane and one Dursey is reached by cable car. I chose a handful of wild Atlantic islands in the counties of Cork and Kerry, off Irelands southwest coast. While most are perfect for day tripping, some offer minimal-frills accommodation so you can linger without having to build your own beehive digs.


Bread wizard Patrick Ryan demonstrates proper technique at his Firehouse Bakery and Bread School.


made my way south from Cork, following the rural, winding coastal route through the gourmet hub of Kinsale packed with visitors taking in the popular summer arts festival past the serene remains of the 13th century Timoleague Abbey, towards the hub of Skibbereen. En route I re-acquainted my brain with left-hand shifting and
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navigating roads so narrow that swaying foxgloves and fuchsia hedges brushed my side-view mirror when I squeezed past oncoming cars. By the time I reached the old port town of Baltimore, with its rows of jellybean-coloured row shops, houses and pubs trimmed in overflowing flower boxes, I was glad to park the car and step on board a 40-minute ferry bound for Cape Clear Island. We passed Sherkin Island, known for its artist community where ferries dock at the foot of the ruins of a friary, sacked by a local army in 1537. Lighthouses and leaping dolphins were visible along the way.


Many islands are teeming with bird life, including gannets and puffins.

Abandoned since the 13th century, Skellig Michael still contains the graves of the hermit monks who lived here.

These waters are awash with tales of piracy and plunder, the islands studded with Martello towers on the lookout for Napoleons ships or square watchtowers some with cannon balls still embedded in their crumbling rock walls keeping an eye out for invading navies. On Cape Clear the ferry docks in a small harbour where an ancient church overlooks a caf, chip wagon and gift shop/tourist information office the islands downtown. From there, two impossibly steep one-lane roads lead upwards, daunting enough that only five of us out of 30 passengers were adventurous enough to tackle them. At the top of the first rise, one couple opted for the hilltop pub, leaving only three of us to continue to the trailhead of a stunning hike. Following low rock walls across hillsides purple with heather in bloom, I reached the headlands and a dramatic viewpoint across to Fastnet Rock lighthouse on a shard of rock, Irelands southernmost point sometimes called Teardrop since it was often the last glimpse of home seen by Irish immigrating to North America. Spotting the lighthouse is a treat, since this region is famed for brutal storms and dense fogs. But it was in the middle of a rare blue-sky heat wave so it was with relief that I sat down at the end of my trek to a cold pint of Guinness in cheery Ciaran Danny Mikes Pub (capeclearisland.com/Pub_and_ Restaurant/pub_and_restaurant.html). I tucked into a traditional ploughmans lunch, and the only other patrons were four locals out of the islands 120, happily sunburned and chattering in the Irish language. The island was long the domain of the ODriscoll clan, and a short walk through paddocks gave me a glimpse of the ruins of their medieval castle. Then it was up another hill to an excellent little Cape Clear

Museum (capeclearmuseum.ie; open daily June to September or by appointment) and a dish of Baileys-flavoured goats milk ice cream bought at a farmhouse along the way for the trip back to the mainland.

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Reference: 1. ULORIC (febuxostat) Product Monograph. Takeda Canada Inc. ULORIC is a trademark of Teijin Limited and used under license by Takeda Canada Inc. 2013 Takeda Canada Inc.


AUGUST 2013 Doctors



Bantry House in Cork is an 18th-century estate, with impressive formal gardens open to guests.


GETTING THERE Air Transat (airtransat.ca) has regular flights from Toronto and Montral to Dublin and in April 2014, Aer Lingus (aerlingus.com) will commence direct daily flights between Toronto and Dublin. FERRIES Cape Clear Island: 16 return, from Baltimore pier. cailinoir.com Bere Island: 8 return, from Castletownbere Pontoon pier. murphysferry.com. Heir Island: 5 return, from Cunnamore Pier. During off-peak season call ahead: 011-353-28-22-001. heirislandferries.com. Skellig Michael: 45 return from Portmagee pier. Advance booking recommended. skelligislands.com. WHERE TO SLEEP In Skibbereen, the West Cork Hotel (Ilen Street, westcorkhotel.com; doubles with breakfast from 99) is an elegant riverside country hotel. The hotels Kennedy Restaurant serves the best of locally-sourced cuisine. Further on in Baltimore, Rolfs Country House B&B (Baltimore Hill, Baltimore; rolfscountryhouse.com; from 40 per person per night) is a quiet hilltop retreat with a bistro. For an island overnight option, the Lawrence Cove Lodge (Rerrin, Bere Island; bereislandlodge.com; from 35 per person per night including breakfast) is a friendly familyrun country inn. Bicycles and kayaks are available as well. Continuing westwards, Caseys Hotel (The Village, Glengarriff; caseyshotelglengarriff.ie; from 39 per person per night) is modernized classic hotel on the towns charming main street. The hotels pub/dining room serves good local food. To end your trip in traditional luxury, the Bantry House & Garden (Bantry; bantryhouse.com; doubles 169 including full breakfast) is a grand estate includes library and formal gardens open to overnight guests. Open from late March through October. For more information on the travel to the region, visit ireland.com or westcorkislands.com.

ourmet cuisine is hardly what youd expect on an island with a population of 25. But a few blow-ins outsiders have done just that and a five-minute ferry shuttle brought me to Heir Island where fine dining has been taking place at Island Cottage Restaurant (islandcottage.com; advance bookings required at 011-353-28-38102; open June 15 to September 15; 40) for the past 24 years. With his partner Ellmary Fenton, Chef John Desmond, who worked at three-star restaurants and taught cooking in Paris before coming to Heir Island, serves locally-sourced meals in their traditional Irish cottage with a kitchen barely bigger than a boats galley. In the off-season, he offers cooking classes for a maximum of two students. Just down the country lane, I checked in for my full-day baking course at the Firestone Bakery and Bread School (thefirehouse.ie; 150 including lunch, wine and ferry) to learn the secrets of creating sourdough, baguettes, pizza dough and creative twists on soda bread. The bakery is the brainchild of Patrick Ryan, a 29-year-old with a corporate law degree, who instead followed his baking passion studying under a Dublin Michelin-starred chef. When we started this in the spring of 2012 we hoped to break even with 60 students over the summer, he said while demonstrating how to properly knead. We were completely overwhelmed when we got 350! After a lunch of gourmet thin-crust pizza that we baked ourselves in an outdoor brick oven and watching our loaves and scones rise to perfection, I packed my goodies in a bag and walked to the ferry, stopping en route in an old stable/studio to see local artist Percy Halls paintings. We chatted about his 1957 round-the-world-hitchhiking trip and he looked at his watch. Youve got time for wine, he announced and we sipped a glass inside his centuries-old stone waterfront cottage until it was time for the boat. From Baltimore the road winds northwest and I left early to catch the Saturday morning market at Schull where I sampled local products like smokehouse meats, charcuterie and Gubbeen cheeses; over the past three decades the southwest has become renowned for its local products movement that now supplies 70 percent of Irelands artisanal goodies. Then I wandered the lush, Gulf Stream-stoked gardens of Inish Beg, a tiny island you can drive to, and carried on to explore the formal gardens surrounding the 18th century Bantry Estate where you can sip high tea or overnight in a baroque palace setting.

ear Castletownbere on the scenic Ring of Beara toute around the peninsula, a four-car pontoon boat takes passengers to Bere Island, and what feels like back in time as well. Brendan Murphy greeted me at the inn he owns in the one pub/one caf waterfront village with my room


Heir Island is home to artist Percy Hall, whose paintings evoke the natural landscapes and scenery of the region.

key. Then he offered me a bike from the rental fleet at his classic 1908 general store. Ill be back as soon as I deliver the mail, said the bundle of energy, who is also the postman. I cycled off on a narrow 10-kilometre country road, part of the 193-kilometre walking and cycling route, the Beara Way. At exactly the centre of the island is a three-metre-tall standing stone thats 4000 years old and further on, a Bronze Age wedge tomb. I stretched my legs on a hike up to one of the islands two Martello towers before heading for Sullivans, a classic Irish pub complete with a rickety wood stove, locals glued to the bar stools talking soccer, and luckily for me, just-caught cod with chips and blissfully mushy peas. Heading back to my room at dusk, I ran into Brendan who had just finished bringing in a load of hay. Unsurprisingly, he is also a farmer. To survive on an island, he said, you have to do a little of everything.

World Heritage Site, Skellig Michael is Irelands Machu Picchu, and with the rhythmic step-climbing, the high-cliff vertigo and an ethereal aura of spirituality, it exudes the same calming awe less a visit than a pilgrimage. If there is ever a competition for ultimate getaway, bragging rights go to the monks.

left County Cork, taking the scenic Ring of Kerry route to Portmagee. For a week Id heard stories about people repeatedly trying to reach Skellig Michael, a jagged pinnacle jutting from the ocean 13 kilometres offshore. But the sea was like glass and on the 45-minute voyage we passed Little Skellig, white with 30,000 pairs of nesting gannets. When we nudged alongside Skellig Michaels breathtakingly sheer cliffs it seemed impossible that monks rowing leather-hulled boats 1500 years ago could have reached this place. These days just two archeologists and countless puffins and other seabirds are the only residents of this monastic outpost. Early Christian monks carved three steep routes 200 metres to the summit and eked out a monastic life for six centuries in stone huts, oratories and a chapel, surviving on fish, seabird eggs and the contents of a walled garden. A UNESCO
AUGUST 2013 Doctors