The golfer’s paradise is now making the most of its other natural advantages. By showing groups how to unwind and eat well, Ireland is a business destination that can really make waves
When the Queen visited Cork in 2011, she headed straight for the city’s English Market, where she met fishmonger Pat O’Connell. Manning the family stall, Pat cracked a mother-in-law joke about a particularly ugly fish and earned himself an invitation to Buckingham Palace.
That royal visit as a whole was testimony to local conviviality. For more than 500 years, Cork had been known to the English monarchy as the ‘rebel county’, but Her Majesty finished her time there taking impromptu walkabouts to a soundtrack of cheering schoolchildren and shop workers.
Other headline makers have found something special in county Cork too. Michael Jackson spent time in coastal Kinsale, where he was free to sup stout and take his kids to the bookshop. Over in west Cork, Jeremy Irons and Sinead Cusack live in a peach-coloured castle where nobody disturbs them.
The marketers now call it the Haven Coast, but it wasn’t just calmness we found on our own trip around Ireland; there’s a (quiet) revolution going on too. ‘People have been quitting their stressed-out city jobs and moving out here to start something new,’ says Richard Corrigan, the Michelin-starred chef who returned to Ireland in 2013 to open Virginia Park Lodge
in county Cavan. ‘There’s a real belief now in alternative lifestyles.’
At the heart of these alternative lifestyles is food. A new appreciation for it was forged in the aftermath of the nation’s banking collapse a decade ago. There was a widespread rejection of previous excesses in favour of something earthier. ‘There’s been an explosion of good food – of slow, happy food,’ he says. But slowness and happiness permeate more than just eating well. ‘You need time to have your best thoughts, to shoot the breeze.’
And that, perhaps, is the true value of a trip across the Irish Sea – a welcoming and relaxing environment to do business in. We visited Cork, Dublin and Belfast; in all three we saw the results of these advantages. Go to Ireland to have your best thoughts, but go to eat well too.