An Irish Steeplechase

01 May 2012

We spent Sunday afternoon at the local Steeplechase

a horse race dripping in history

which is run from one point

to another point

over fences and hills

in the raw Irish countryside…

We were in awe of the young, powerful thoroughbreds

crashing over fences woven with willow branches

…leaving dust in their wake,

and struck by such stunning beauty in the strength and condition of maiden horses

As for the spectators,

there were some very serious betters

with some serious bookmakers at their disposal…

Onlookers of the canine variety were welcomed as well.

We admired colourful jockeys

gathered together before each race,

and spotted the lone female rider

all dressed in white.

Cups of hot whiskey

with lemon, sugar and cloves

were sipped by many

for warming protection

from the brisk, stirring wind

that accompanied the afternoon sun.

Unforgettable.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos by Imen McDonnell 2012.

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Horse & Hound

23 Jan 2012

{As published in Irish Country Living 19.1.12}

Last Wednesday morning started out unremarkably. When I was heading home from my countryside Pilates class, I decided to take a different route, just to add some color to the start of the day. I should have known when I passed two large trailers on the road labeled HORSES that something was afoot, but still getting the hang of things around here, I simply didn’t put two and two together.

Suddenly, I found myself in a cavalcade of slow moving vehicles, all of us inching down the small lane together. I thought it might have been a funeral procession so I remained patient and respectful as I lurched along with the rest.  When there was finally a fork in the road, I turned off thinking I could get home more quickly. This detour is also the pretty narrow lane that cuts through the maize land that our farm grows each season.

Just when I was gaining some time, cars lining either side of the passageway stopped me abruptly. I sat idling, trying to figure out what was going on, when out of nowhere a massive stream of redcoats on horseback with a herd of hunting dogs came trotting across the road only inches from the front of my car.

I immediately rang Richard to let him know what was happening. He and his brother were visiting another farm up the country so he hung up and quickly rang the home farm to alert his father or mother so they could rush down and see what exactly was going on.

I sat in the car as the last of the horses and hounds crossed the road and proceeded to jump the hedge and head into the land on the other side. One man with a scraggly beard stood there holding a burlap bag. He looked to me like he was overseeing the group. At one point, he shot me a curious look.  I looked away, trying not to make eye contact.

I was in shock. I have heard about the hunt, I’ve even seen a group of hunters from afar, but I’ve never been so up close and personal. Despite the stunning beauty of the horses, it was daunting and, to be honest, a bit overwhelming to me. And above all, they were carrying on with their hunt on the farm’s land without permission, which seemed so disrespectful.

Each year, our farm and others post notices in the local newspapers so that the hunt groups know which town lands are private and forbidden to hunt upon. Signs go up everywhere in our community, but still, year after year, the hunt groups show up determined to do as they please.

Soon, both my mother and father-in-law came along, and eventually the road cleared. Roughly an hour after I decided to take that more colourful route, I was finally on my merry way home. I have spent a good bit of time in my life sitting in rush hour traffic, but never of the horse and hound variety!

I leave you with one of our favourite tea time treats, the coffee swiss roll. Nothing fancy, not too sweet, and I don’t think I’ve been in a rural Irish bakery that didn’t have one of these on hand. Here is our local recipe if you want to give it a try.

Coffee Swiss Roll

For the cake:

3 eggs, separated

3 oz plain flour, sifted

3 oz sugar

1tsp baking powder

1 tbsp coffee extract (Irel or Camp works well)

For the Filling:

250g double cream

1 tbsp sugar

1 tbsp coffee extract

Preheat oven to 180c/350f

Prepare a swiss/jelly roll tin with greased parchment paper

Beat egg whites in a spotlessly clean bowl until stiff.

Keeping beating and add the egg yolks followed by the sugar until you have a light creamy foam.

Very lightly fold in the flour, not all at once, in 2 or 3 batches.

Gently fold in the coffee and mix together.

Carefully spread into tin.

Bake for 10 – 15 mins until just firm to touch.

Put a clean tea towel on a cooling tray, tip the cake out onto tray, remove parchment paper and use tea towel to roll up cake. Leave to cool completely.

Whisk the cream with sugar and coffee until stiff.

Unroll the cake, spread on the filling and roll up again.

Trim the ends

Dredge with icing or caster sugar.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos and Styling by Imen McDonnell 2012


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Are You Horsey?

02 Apr 2010

The first time someone asked me this question I was foolishly offended.  It was broached while I was at my first Irish fashion show which was being held at the Dunraven Arms Hotel in Adare.  Modest fashion shows are de riguer here for fundraising. You will hear about 30 fashion shows a week in Ireland and when your first beautifully designed invitation arrives in the letterbox you feel so privileged that you’ve been included in the guest list of such a stylish, upscale event. But, then you turn up to find decorative tchochkes scattered about on tables and your friend’s teenage girls modelling clothes from the “The Fancy Faery” boutique/deli down the road.  A little different than expected. Still, fair play to them because these type of fashion shows raise loads of money for charity and are definitely a form of entertainment of one shape or another….especially for those who live in small villages or rural areas.

But back to the question of horsiness. While I was mingling with the crowd of fancy ladies…and by ladies I do mean Ladies. Lady Dunraven, for instance, could be found perusing the crowds in her sophisticated manner at such affairs. I started chatting with a particular group whom wondered if I was horsey. One lady rather emphatically asked me “Are you horsey?” (pronounced HAWR-SEE) I honestly hadn’t a clue what she meant by that and I just stood there looking at her questioning face with an equally questioning face. It almost seemed like a secret question in which I needed to know the password…a password for access to some type of secret society.  Then, after a 30 second stare-off, my friend finally nudged me and said, “you know, do you ride?” I honestly thought the woman was asking or implying that I was fat.  After all, I had a 8 month baby at home. Whew, not fat! {well, yes fat, but that’s not the point here}. But, alas, not horsey either. So when I said “oh no, no, no, not me”, I suddenly found myself alone in the middle of the room. It was definitely a horsey fashion show. And I was definitely not horsey. It’s worth mentioning that riding is of a different ilk in the States where Western riding seems to be more of the norm. Cowboy boots and denims prevail versus the tailored look of jodphurs, riding jackets and velvet helmets here.

So being “horsey” is admired in Ireland. I didn’t know this before I moved over. If I had, perhaps I would have spent more time riding with my friend A.T. before leaving.  Point to Points, The National Hunt, The Irish National Stud…if you’ve anything to do with horses I’d say you definitely get a gold star approval rating in this country. The most famous horsey events are the big races, and the fierce fashion competition that goes with them, called “Ladies Days”.  For example, the world renowned Galway Races have discerning judges that not only judge the racing, but also how stylish the ladies in attendance are….and the winner gets a prize too. The society pages of Irish magazines are chock full of photos featuring all the fancy “ladies” dressed to the nines from top to toe in gorgeous designer headpieces to Louboutin heels as they walk around and graciously pose for photographers on the grassy racecourse grounds.

R gave me Clonshire riding lessons for Christmas so when it warms up a bit I will keep you posted on any upcoming riding adventures….and any hints of horsiness that might ensue.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photo courtesy of Stella McCartney

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