By Margaret M. Johnson
The skies over Ireland were brilliant blue and nearly cloudless for most of the 10 days I spent there in October and again during an eight-day visit in May. Whenever I stopped for more film, the natives wondered if it was a climatic quirk of fate, a meteorological miracle, or simply the luck of the Irish for a visiting Yank. I asked myself the same question as I traveled from Dublin south to Wicklow, Wexford, and East Cork, then through the Lee Tunnel into West Cork and Kerry, and north into Clare and Galway. No rain, no clouds, only miles and miles of photo opportunities and pleasures both on and off the beaten track.
I headed southwest to Kinsale, Ireland’s "gourmet capital," where during the second weekend of October the town celebrates its culinary reputation by hosting an eating and drinking festival. The Kinsale International Gourmet Festival (the 24th annual will be held this year Oct. 12-15) features cooking demonstrations, food exhibitions, wine tastings, an outrageous brunch, spectacular dinners, and a black-tie costumed ball. But even without its popularity as a destination for foodies, Kinsale is a place that attracts anglers, sailors, and golfers in-season and weekend escapists year-round, people who simply enjoy meandering through its colorful, cobbled, winding streets by day and dining in any of its "Good Food Circle" restaurants and pubs by night.
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Traveling west out of Kinsale along the coast road (R600) takes you through some of the most picturesque villages in West Cork, and even though I’m not a golfer, I couldn’t resist a short detour to the Old Head, site of one of Ireland’s most spectacular golf courses. But I made the village of Timoleague my next serious stop, and wasn’t disappointed with a stroll through the grounds of Timoleague Abbey, a Franciscan landmark built in 1312, and Timoleague Castle gardens, laid out from 1820 onward around the site of the 13th century Barry Castle.