herald

Tuesday 12 December 2017

Our local history at home and away

THURSDAY Flight EI480 to Lisbon is packed. We touch down in bright sunlight and are whisked north, another two hours to the university town of Coimbra to fish out turbot, sea bass and skate from our Cataplana-style fish soup in Restaurant Portuguesa.

Coimbra is a tasteful place, loitering along the banks of the river Modena. We listen to Fado songs from Julio, Ricardo and Pedro to whet the appetite before another meal in "O Repasto do Evaristo" Restaurant.

FRIDAY The walking tour of Coimbra is made more manageable by the fact they drive us up the sharp incline. Our guide knows all about the Irish connection; Coimbra was, alongside Louvain and Salamanca, one of the three great Irish universities where Catholics went after their education was banned in the 17th and 18th centuries. He shows me where Ireland's most famous pre-famine bishop, James Warren Doyle, lived between 1806 and 1808. The university is stunning, and the 1727 library has a breath-taking interior of carved wood. But there is another lunch awaiting and it is special: cod with coriander in the Quanta del Encontro vineyard.

This is an afternoon to savour, rapid-fire red and white wines being presented and opened in succession. Four of them rate in the top 200 in Europe. And I am off the drink for Lent. Satan lurks in beautiful places.

FRIDAY NIGHT The Pousana hotel is based in a converted hospital (giving a new meaning to the term 'hospitality'). Down in Viseu the pokey bars around the last remaining gate of the medieval town are treasures in themselves. The place is heaving until 4am.

SATURDAY One last stop for more amazing fish at Monte Real Palace Hotel. "Even people from Lisbon haven't heard of this region," our guide Sylvia Aires says. No wonder a coffee costs 60 cent and a lunch €4.

SUNDAY Sunshine in Dublin when we land. I am back in the world of hospitals and family crises again.

MONDAY Celbridge's Local History guide book is launched, in which I had a small supporting part, and the finished product is much livelier and better than I anticipated, a steal at a tenner. In my speech I deliver my usual rant about the importance of promoting local history and everyone is polite enough afterwards.

TUESDAY BA are going to fly through their strike. It looks like Gatwick and London City will operate as normal, but everyone is anxious about whether to travel or not. It looks like Irish BA customers will avoid the worst of the disruption. But the word is Air France are planning a strike of their own.

WEDNESDAY There will be cows milked in West Clare tonight after all. Kilmurray-Ibrickane were disappointing, but the rest of their season a revelation. Well done.

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