|Annie May’s Bar and Restaurant, County Cork, Skibbereen. Photo by Charish Badzinski.|
The Irish have a reputation for being hospitable and friendly. To experience this true spirit of the Irish, it is often said that one only need enter an Irish pub.
|A friendly local introduces himself at Annie May’s. Photo by Charish Badzinski.|
Friends of mine have said they’ve been offered meals and lodging by a former stranger, made friend, over a pint of creamy Guinness.
|Patrons listen to traditional Irish Music at Annie May’s in Skibbereen.
Sadly, I was too entrenched in my comfy spot to get a photo of the performers.
Photo by Charish Badzinski.
On a recent trip to Ireland, I tested this theory at several establishments from Dublin to Bantry. (Skip Temple Bar, if you know what’s good for you!) Indeed, locals were friendly, without exception. They even seem to like Americans, which I’ve discovered to be an increasingly rare and wonderful treat when traveling the world. Even at the renowned historic pubs in the country which cater to tourists, there is an air of comfort and a sincere sense of warmth.
But in my experience, Irish hospitality can be found in its purest state in lovely little Skibbereen, located in West Cork, Ireland, at a family-run pub called Annie May’s Bar and Restaurant.
|Guinness at Annie May’s; one of life’s great pleasures. Photo by Charish Badzinski.|
Like many pubs in Ireland, Annie May’s offers a cozy respite from the seemingly ever-present drizzle that can chill you to the core. No worries, it’s nothing a nice pint and perhaps an overflowing plate of expertly-prepared fish and chips won’t cure. The breading: light and crunchy. The chips: unlike any potato pleasure you can get stateside. I spent two nights in Skibbereen. The food was so good at Annie May’s the first night, and the hospitality so enjoyable, I couldn’t bear to think of eating anywhere else the second.
|Night two: catch of the day: plaice, at Annie May’s. Photo by Charish Badzinski.|
It’s relatively easy to get excellent fish and chips in Ireland (mediocre stuff can be found, too, so ask around), but it’s hard to match the level of generosity that is inherent to Annie May’s. The chef, Mícheál (pronounced (me-HALL), a member of the family that owns Annie May’s, set massive filets of steaming haddock and plaice in front of us, flanked by more potatoes than a person can possibly eat, and asked if it was sufficient. “Would you like more? There’s more. I can bring more!”
|Chips and mashed potatoes at Annie May’s in Skibbereen. Photo by Charish Badzinski.|
Skibbereen was one of the towns hardest hit by the Great Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s, and became the center of some of the most horrific suffering during the nation’s struggle. I do not mean to minimize that suffering, but had to wonder if the generous servings of potatoes offered are a symbol of Skibbereen’s comeback and relative abundance today. It was not without guilt, then, that I was unable to finish all of the potatoes set before me at Annie May’s, particularly after touring the Great Famine Commemoration Exhibition at the Skibbereen Heritage Center; three different preparations, each delicious and bountiful.
|A quiet moment at Annie May’s. Photo by Charish Badzinski.|
Night one we hid from the rain, and joined locals in cheering for Ireland’s team in the widely anticipated Eurovision Song Contest 2012, twin boys in spacesuit-like outfits who called themselves Jedward. They splashed in stage show waterworks, then scissor-kicked and cartwheeled their way down the stage when they made the finals. “They’re cute boy-o’s,” said one patron, shaking his head dubiously at their performing skills. Yet we all cheered for them, together. Mícheál was partial to a group of adorable aged Russian ladies, Buranovskyie Babushki, (The Grannies from Buranovo), who placed second in the finals.
On night two we were tempted back to Annie May’s by the promise of traditional Irish music. Students soon filled the pub to let off steam in the wake of finals. It was the kind of night Lonely Planet dreams of recreating for its readers. Spontaneous, spirited celebration. Unparalleled authenticity. A traveler’s delight: stealing a glance at something you thought you might never see, and suddenly realizing you have become part of its history.
|Students celebrate the end of finals. Photo by Charish Badzinski.|
The music swelled. Patrons sang along when they heard a song they knew, clapped, stomped and danced in the middle of the pub floor. Employees of Annie May’s, members of the family that owned the pub, belted out songs in turn while the bar fell to silent reverence (aside from one or two rambunctious students who couldn’t resist the urge to croon). And then, in a performance that, for my money, rivaled anything from Jedward or the Grannies, the owner of Annie May’s stole the limelight…
Locals approached us and introduced themselves with a smile, then engaged us in conversation. One asked why we were in Skibbereen, and we explained that we were celebrating my milestone birthday.
Out came a local spirit, Drombeg, and shot glasses for everyone at the table. An ill-advised indulgence at 1 a.m. (or was it 2?), but as any traveler knows, it would be in poor form to say no to such generosity.
|Drombeg, generously shared with us in celebration of my birthday. Photo by Charish Badzinski.|
When I dream of Ireland, I will dream of Annie May’s, where for two nights I felt what it was like to not just visit Ireland, but to be just the littlest bit Irish.
|Walking to Annie May’s Pub on drizzling evening in Skibbereen.
Photo, on timer, by Charish Badzinski.