Gluten Free food is easy to find, wonderfully delicious, and abundant.
We sleep in castles and ate like Queens and Kings.
I keep waking up in the middle of the night and having to remind myself that I was actually in Ireland, in a castle . . ..
Before You Go:
Before you travel anywhere, you have to do your research. According to the Ireland Coeliac (how they spell celiac) society, Ireland has one of the highest prevalence of celiac disease in the world, which makes it a very friendly place to travel gluten free.
Internet Resources on Gluten Free Dining in Ireland:
- The Coeliac Society of Ireland: Almost the only resource you need. They have a message board where you can read about restaurants and post questions. Email the contact person before you go and they will send you a very comprehensive list of gluten free restaurants. The list we received was 8 pages long!!
- Celiac Travel Site: Postings by fellow gluten free travelers.
- Celiac Handbook: A list of restaurants offering gluten free options.
- Menu Pages: List Dublin restaurants and under the "cuisine" section gives the option of coeliac friendly restaurants.
We planned our itinerary first - what we wanted to see and where we wanted to stay.
Then we planned where we were driving and approximately where we would be around meal time.
Then we took the list of restaurants and looked for gluten free options in the cities we were visiting.
Finally we searched the Internet and called the restaurants to check what they had to offer, then mapped directions on map quest.com.
Yes, it was a lot of work ahead of time but I was traveling with small children who I knew would be hungry and I did not want to be stuck without options in a foreign country. And even though it was a lot of work ahead of time, going with a general idea of where we would eat made the trip extremely easy. Lastly, one thing I love about the gluten free diet is that it takes you to eclectic restaurants, and sometimes even neighborhoods, that you would of never visited before.
Beyond Restaurants: According to Ireland Coeliac Society, eleven manufacturers provide gluten free products in Ireland:
- Gluten Free Foods
- Heron Foods
- Ok Foods
- Village Bakery
Gluten-free flour, bread, bread mixes, biscuits, pastas and cereals can be obtained in most of the major supermarkets in Ireland including Dunnes Stores, Tesco, Superquinn and SuperValu. We stopped at a Tesco to pick up some snacks and were thrilled to find many options labeled "coeliac friendly."
Finally, flying Gluten Free:
We flew from Seattle on British Airways - While it is a lovely airline with great service, definitely bring your own food for the airplane ride. We were traveling business class and we requested gluten free meals. The meals were fresh fish, veggies and a gluten free roll, but I am not very confident that they were truly gluten free - one packaged roll in fact had wheat as an ingredient. We ate the fresh fruit but did not want to risk getting sick. We made a Chebe pizza before we left and had cold pizza for dinner (it was actually very good) and we packed Kinnickinnic Chocolate Chip muffins for Breakfast. For the trip home, the Shellbourne hotel made us sandwiches on gluten free bread for our flight back to the states.
Our trip to Ireland was made even more dreamlike because our reason for visiting Ireland was a wedding (in a castle nonetheless). We could have easily spent another week or two, but here is what we did with the time we had:
Dublin We arrived in Dublin after a very long trip from the states. We were exhausted (the kids were too excited by the movies to sleep on the plane), but we were also hungry. Again, our planning ahead saved us as we knew exactly where to go for a quick light dinner - we had dinner at Cornucopia - a vegetarian restaurant very near Grafton and the heart of the action in Dublin. We tried to stay awake and watch the Spain and Russia soccer match, but finally passed out and sleep for 12 hours.
Ashford Castle Our mission today was to find our way across Ireland to Ashford Castle.
Everything you hear about driving in Ireland is true. First, you are driving on the wrong side of the road, most streets are not marked, and we have bike lanes in Seattle that are wider than the roads in Ireland. In addition, outside of Dublin, in place of shoulders they have solid brick walls. Yes - I let out a few "yelps" when I was certain I would die in Ireland by crashing into a rock wall.
After finding our way out of Ireland, we drove toward the west coast stopping along the way at remains of a monastery that was built in 580. The scene was straight out of Pillars of the Earth.
Before heading to Ashford Castle, we stopped for dinner in Galway (one of our favorite cities in Ireland) at Cooke's restaurant. The food was fantastic - I had chicken with mashed potatoes and yes, gravy!!! The Gluten Free Kid had what she declared were the best mashed potatoes ever (you - know we were in Ireland!) The setting was as lovely as the food - an ancient stone building, antique furniture and a candle light meal. Fantastic!
We spent two nights at Ashford Castle, near Cong. It was the most wonderful place I have ever stayed - an 800 year old castle on the shores of Lake Corrid with beautiful gardens and fun castle passageways to explore. I keep waking up in the night (not entirely by my choice as the jet lagged kids spent their nights sleep walking and talking) having to remind myself that I was in Ireland in a castle.
We had a wonderful breakfast in the formal dining room of the castle - wood paneling, crystal chandeliers and a tremendous buffet. We even had gluten free toast.
We took a short drive to the enchanting Kylemore Abbey - enchanting because it seemed the place of fairy-tales - stone castle majestically reflected off the waters of the surrounding lake which was perfect all the way down to the Lilly pads. Alyssa spent her time on the grounds searching for fairies!!
On the drive we saw miles and miles of stone walls (how did they ever make all of those walls), ruins, cottages, sheep and, of course, plenty of Guinness signs and pubs. And no, I did not find gluten free beer in Ireland. As far ahead as they are with the diet, they looked at me like I was crazy when I asked if they had gluten free beer.
Back at the castle, the "kids" (including Dad), took a shot at archery (how else would you spend your afternoon in an 800 year old castle), challenged Mom to a game of chess and enjoyed a lot of castle exploring. We had yet another wonderful meal at Cullens, the castle's informal restaurant.
Kilkea Castle Our next stop was Kilkea Castle near Kildare Ireland, the setting for the wedding,
On our way there we stopped at the Cliffs of Moher.- a site not to miss. The misty ocean water surging against the abruptness of sheer cliffs that soared hunderds of feet into the air.
The wedding was magical - bag pipes, an Irish band, great friends. Eating again was no problem - we simply told the caterer we needed a gluten free meal and we had a wonderful dinner along with all of the other wedding guests. I will never forget the girls dancing their hearts out to the Irish music.
While I would not recommend a stay at Kilkea Castle (a little too authentic- some of the dust in our room seemed to be 500 years old) our favorite Gluten Free Sandwich Shop in Ireland was nearby in Athy, The Bay Tree Restaurant . The best gluten free bread we have ever eaten. We went here twice it was so good.
Back to Dublin We headed back to Dublin for a couple of days before our flight back to the states.
We spent the last two nights in Ireland just off St. Stephens's Green at the fabulous Shellbourne Hotel - doormen in top hats, silk wallpaper, the most beautiful chandeliers I have ever seen. And the history of the hotel - it played a central role in the Easter Sunday uprising.
While in Dublin we indulged Dad with a trip to McDades pub - as authentic of an Irish pub as you can find, strolled along Grafton, took in the Riverdance at the Gaity Theater, and drove out to New Grange. - a megalithic tomb built around 3200 b.c.
What did we eat - we had room service for breakfast (which included gluten free toast).
For lunch, we had fabulous (how many times am I going to use that word?) buckwheat crepes at Lemon Restaurant. (It is just around the corner from the House of Ireland for some quick souvenir shopping). We had gluten free pasta for dinner at Cafe-Bar Deli.
Our one unplanned eating excursion was High Tea at the Shellbourne. We were delighted to snack on gluten free finger sandwiches and mouse while sipping our Peacock Tea.
I truly loved Ireland and don't think I will ever look at an Irish person the same way again. It is not that I ever thought anything particular about them, it is just that I did not know their history and culture. While we only got a small glimpse of it, we did learn that the Irish have suffered great hardship which has made them a strong people, but also very warm and friendly. I will never forget the ruins that dot the rolling landscape, the abbeys and cathedrals and the soft blue eyes of the Irish people.