Grannies on Safari: the Grannies in Ireland – Part 1

Wed 5 September 2012

I’m in Ireland again for the second time this year. Last time I travelled by car ferry from Holyhead to Dublin & I still think the ferry has a lot to offer that beats flying hands down. The flight time is just 50 minutes from Heathrow, but there’s at least 3-4 hours messing around at the airport at each end.

I’m travelling to meet the ‘Grannies on Safari’ – my American friends Regina Frasier & Pat Johnson who make TV travel shows. I met them while travelling through Russia to China on the train & now they’re here in Ireland making two more travel shows.

We’ve a crew of three camermen & photographers, a producer – Jamison, Tom, Barry & Maria plus our local driver Pat.

Its so bright & sunny that we decided it was impossible to pass up the good weather so drove into Dublin to do some preliminary scene setting before travelling north to Rostrevor, just across the border into Northern Ireland, to stay with PJ’s son who has a house there. The house is in a stunning location nestled in the foothills of the Mountains of Mourne & overlooking Carlingford Lough. 

Thu 6 September 2012

Chef Phillip Ferber bringing the food that the Grannies had cooked in their cooking master class Grannies filmed their opening scenes on a windy deck overlooking the lough. We set off for Donegal at 9am – a 3-hour drive to the far northwest corner of Ireland. Stopped at the Rostrevor memorial, which amusingly (because of the Amercan film crew) was a memorial to local boy General Trevor Ross after his sucessfull burning down the White House in 1814.

The sun disappeared as we travelled west & by the time we reached Lough Eske castle in Donegal it had started to drizzle. The first film session was the Grannies taking a master class with Chef Philip Ferber – hot smoked salmon & a shoulder of Donegal beef. This took twice as long to film as planned & was rounded up with them sitting down to eat the food they had just cooked. Although they are good cooks in their own right both Grannies were impressived with how much more you can learn from a professional chef.

With barely a pause we rushed into a classic car scene where they climbed into a 1980 Merceedes 350SL classic sports car. 

Sat 8 September 2012

Today we drove to the village of Ardara in Donegal, which this year won the Irish Times – Ireland’s best village to live in. It’s beautiful, in an amazing setting & has some of the friendliest people you’re ever likely to meet – two thousand people and thirteen pubs.

Ardara is famous for its music festivals & there are plenty of visitors, as but unlike many other places the town doesn’t organise itself around tourists, it’s a thriving community for visitors to enjoy rather than a tourist attraction.

Eddie Doherty with Pat Johnson and Regina Fraser The Grannies were keen to visit Eddie Doherty as they had heard that Sarah Jessica Parker (Sex in the City) buys tweed clothes from him. Eddie is one of the last hand loom weavers in Ireland, his tiny shop is a treasure of colourful handwoven tweed & he was busy at his loom in the back of the shop when we arrived.

He told us how the village market used to sell everything local weavers needed, sheep, wool, home spun wool and weaved cloth. Sadly, the old home based skills are disappearing & when he stops, handmade tweed will disappear from the area. For such a tiny shop, Eddie has a global reputation and people from all around the world buy his tweed.

Although there is a village cafe the Grannies were invited to have a cup of tea with 82-year-old Jack Maguire who has born in his parents village drapers shop. After worked in London for 40 years, he has returned to the village house he was born in. One of his many stories was the time when Dylan Thomas came to live near the village. Thomas was trying to escape the pressures of fame & his manager was trying to control his excessive drinking. Unfortunately he found a farmer with an illicit potcheen still after which he disappeared from the village leaving a trail of debts. (see more about this story at on the Ireland stories pages).

Lunch was at Nancy’s pub/restaurant, one of Ireland’s treasures that people travel from all over the country to enjoy. It’s run by Charlie McHugh a fabulous character & a classic old world publican who is the seventh generation owner of Nancy’s. He puts the longevity of Nancy’s down to good food, good beer but just as importantly a traditional welcome & one that makes people feel like they are regulars after a few minutes.

Corner House, Ardara, Ireland They are famous for their oysters & their unique take on seafood chowder, which is more like a spicy broth without cream – almost worth visiting just to taste it. Its comes with local potatoes which can thicken a snack into a filling meal.

There are several artists in & around the village & the Grannies spent the afternoon as culture vultures while I sampled the Guinness.

After dinner at Woodhill House, a manor house of an old whaling family, we made our way to the Corner House, a famous music venue in the centre of Ardara village. Musician’s began turning up around 9.30 – guitar, banjo, fiddle & flute for a genuinely spontaneous music session. Local people occasionally got up to sing & the evening was a triumph of informal entertainment.

Photographs by Barry Mayo

Peter Lynch talks to Regina Fraser and Pat Johnson aka ‘Grannies on Safari’.

•  Read Part 2 – the Grannies in Ireland
•  Read Part 3 – the Grannies in Ireland

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Peter Lynch

Journalist, rail and wildlife specialist & contributor to Great Train Journeys of the World

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