Who needs Italy? Ireland has pizza and `celebrity blow-ins'

For once I was well ahead of a deadline - but can claim no credit. We screeched down our street at the last possible minute if we were to catch the ferry for Ireland, every inch of the car panic-packed tight, the children shoe-horned in, the dogs piled on top of them. Then something made us look at our tickets. The sailing, we discovered, was the next day.

Our delayed destination was west Cork: my wife comes from there, and we have been going back annually to rescue her accent for 24 years. Now it has become fashionable, a sort of Tuscany with rain. It was while Tony Blair was staying with David Puttnam - one of the more respected celebrity "blow-ins", as they are known locally - that Margaret Jay, another long- standing visitor, suggested he used the flat at No 11, rather than 10 Downing Street.

There's now a French pizza house on the site of "Tim the lady's" bar, so called because it was kept so neat that women would venture into it long before it was proper to go elsewhere. And you can eat kangaroo (raised in Limerick) at a pub in a village called Leap.

We made up some time when a new road swept us west so fast that we got to our usual stopping point for coffee in time for breakfast. We were rather pleased, but, in truth, Ireland's relatively unrestrained road building programme - up to 85 per cent funded by the EU - is a mixed blessing.

On the one hand it has long needed better infrastructure: even An Taisce, Ireland's main environmental group, says the programme is "not all bad by any means". The trouble is that the road engineers have been given their heads in some inappropriate places. You used to approach west Cork's beautiful Ballydehob along a winding lane, a colourful cluster of houses rising welcomingly to meet you. Now you charge at it on a highway cut into a hillside - so as to save a minute or two in a place allergic to hurry.

Last week even the official think-tank, the Economic and Social Research Institute, concluded that far bigger roads were being built in the countryside than would ever be justified by traffic. So far this year new car sales have risen by 40 per cent on the 1996 figure, itself a record. Multi-storey car parks are springing up all over Dublin and last year, for the first time, the city's air exceeded EU limits for nitrogen dioxide pollution.

The Irish Times recently dented a few bumpers by describing Ireland as "in the adolescent phase of car ownership" - as opposed to the adulthood of Germany or the Netherlands where transport is better planned. It was too polite to describe Britain's immaturity, but perhaps John Prescott's vague plans, announced last week, might help it grow up a bit.

Of course it rained. Four days of precipitous storms descended after the Irish Met Office blithely forecast "fine, warm weather", bringing an abject official apology, for farmers had planned harvests accordingly, losing millions of pounds.

But even accurate forecasting would not have helped farmers along the Shannon who have been saving the rare corncrake by postponing harvesting, for a payment of pounds 32 an acre, until the nesting birds have left their fields. The rains came first, flooding the crops and drowning the chicks.

More floods hit Clonmel, bringing grief to all except an enterprising landlord who organised goldfish racing along the floor of his bar. It was the town's third serious inundation in just over two years, since the new development narrowed the river Suir by 18ft and filled in marshland that once absorbed high flows. A local repetition of the short-sightedness that has aggravated floods from the Mississippi to central Europe.

Talking of liquid, we heard a story about my wife's great uncle Jasper, a west Cork lawyer reputed never to lose - so long as it was before lunch. He was not alone, once admitting in court that his client had been "as drunk as a judge".

"Shouldn't that be `as drunk as a lord' " came an unsteady query from the Bench. "Yes", replied Jasper, "I believe it should - my lord."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Joe Cocker performing on the Stravinski hall stage during the Montreux Jazz Festival, in Montreux, Switzerland in 2002
musicHe 'turned my song into an anthem', says former Beatle
News
Clarke Carlisle
sport
Sport
footballStoke City vs Chelsea match report
Arts and Entertainment
theatreThe US stars who've taken to UK panto, from Hasselhoff to Hall
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
News
newsIt was due to be auctioned off for charity
News
Coca-Cola has become one of the largest companies in the world to push staff towards switching off their voicemails, in a move intended to streamline operations and boost productivity
peopleCoca-Cola staff urged to switch it off to boost productivity
Environment
Sir David Attenborough
environment... as well as a plant and a spider
Voices
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - Chessington

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Service Desk Analyst - Chessington, Surrey...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

Ashdown Group: Analyst Programmer (Filemaker Pro/ SQL) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days, pension, private medical : Ashdown Group: A highly...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - Chessington

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Service Desk Analyst - Chessington, Surrey...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there