A Grand Old Time in Strandhill, Ireland.

Dolly’s Cottage is more than just a museum. It survived the Great Famine, unfortunately, unlike the majority of the local residents. “A huge number died on the journey to North America, disease and sewage were everywhere. That’s why they were called coffin ships. But the alternative was staying and starving to death.”

We were given a brief background to the disaster that severely affected farmers in the 1840’s. A potato plague destroyed the main food crop and people were forced to eat the crops they sold, meaning they had no money for rent and other costs. We had arrived just as a member of the Irish Countrywomen’s Association (ICA) called into the cottage. She told us about the history of the house, which remains in the same style as in the time of the famine.

Traditional Irish home - Dolly's cottage

The museum is situated in Strandhill, which is a seaside town not far from Sligo in north-west Ireland. The cottage interior featured an authentic peat fireplace, with a bed in the corner by the chimney, for older family members. A dummy displayed the traditional dress, the Sunday best version of course. In the back room, there were crafts for sale, created by local women, including handmade jewellery and little knitted outfits for babies. There were also pictures of Dolly, who died in 1970. After her death, the ICA bought her house and preserved it for future generations. It serves as a reminder of a simpler existence and just how fragile life can be.

History of Dolly's cottageTraditional interior of Dolly's cottage

Casting a shadow over Dolly’s cottage was a large hill, known as Knocknarea. It was allegedly the burial place of the legendary Meave, cattle rustler and general badass warrior queen in Irish mythology. She survived a bad marriage and rape, started a war and saw her pets and handmaidens murdered. However, she was supposedly killed by a piece of cheese, flung from a sling by her nephew, in revenge for killing his mother. Sounds crackers.

The view over Strandhill

We began the climb along a well-maintained path and then turned onto a double planked walkway up the steep face of the hill. Unfortunately for me, my vertigo did not appreciate the severe angle and lack of guide rope. So I returned to the convenient bench at the end of the path to take in the view from half way up. My pal was able to provide pictures from the top and news that the track from the other side up was totally gentle and doable. Nevermind, accepting that not everything will work as planned is very relaxing.

Shells cafe

I’d been given a tip by a local friend of mine that Shells was the place to go for lunch. We arrived and the cafe seemed really busy, but our names were taken and we were instructed to hang out in the little adjacent shop area. This was a very cunning ploy; as we perused a whole variety of posh produce and cute gifts I was tempted by the locally made solid organic deodorant. It wasn’t long before our names were called and we found it hard to choose something from the menu, it all sounded delicious.

Shell's seafood platter - nom

Being by the sea I had to choose the seafood platter, with a crab salad, mackerel pate, and smoked salmon. The brown soda bread is all baked on site and it was just so good, probably the best bread I have ever had. It had a deep almost toffee flavour with a slightly nutty edge, which gave the fishy toppings a glorious taste boost. The cherry on the cake was the swift, efficient and polite service, which was perfect. It always makes such a difference.

Another recommendation for Strandhill was to take a seaweed bath at Voya spa. As they are so popular, we had to book ahead for a late afternoon spot were told to arrive fifteen minutes in advance to keep our spot. It’s actually an Irish tradition that dates back to the Edwardian period when over 300 bath houses offered restorative soaks with the mineral rich wrack. They are now seeing a resurgence in popularity, especially with those suffering from arthritis.

A seaweed bath

When I entered the spa room there were strict instructions; I needed to be out in fifty minutes time and I’d be given a five minute warning knock. Crikes. The preparation involved sitting for five minutes in a steamy cubicle, which opened up my pores, ready for seaweed action.

Nicely sweaty, I emerged from the mists and then submerged myself into the bath. The tub was filled with seawater, which when mixed with hot water made the seaweed ooze out its gloop. It was kind of like a gel that I could spread all over my skin and hair. The wild seaweed was organically harvested, by hand, from a site away from habitation around the corner from the spa. After its use as my bath treatment, it gets recycled into compost for a local farm.

After a few minutes soak, I was conscious that there were additional signs and a clock in the room, reminding me of the time limit. I am sure that this does help run the operations smoothly but I had already been given the rules verbally, I didn’t need a ticking countdown. Post steep I was definitely more moisturised than a regular bath but was not able to be totally relaxed. Still, it was an interesting experience to be at one with the kelp juice.

A whole load of tasty ice cream

No visit to Strandhill would be complete without Mammy Johnston’s ice cream, especially as part of a treat yo’self afternoon. It’s been churning out their homemade gelatos using Irish milk and cream since the 1930’s. I chose the Oreo and creme brulee flavours, but my friend was savvier and opted for mint, which was weirdly like a really yummy toothpaste. Dang!

Cannon at Strandhill beach

As we headed back to Sligo we passed by Dolly’s house. I’m sure that when she was alive she had popped up the hill, gone for seaweed baths and had a lovely ice cream just like we had. The best pastimes never get old it seems! I’m positive people will be appreciating the simple yet quality pleasures Strandhill has to offer for years to come.

Check out my reviews of other nice places to visit in Ireland, including Dublin, Dalkey and Glendalough, Galway and Westport.

Ireland needn’t be expensive. These tips show you how to save money and make extra cash to fund your next travels or even travel for free!

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