Lough Erne Food Tour Review – My First Taste of Northern Ireland
I was tired. The kind of tired you only feel after a restless, overnight flight. The kind of tired where both your body and mind tell you that you should indeed be sleeping. But something presses you on. Adrenaline, maybe? The excitement of a new land? This is how I felt as I loaded onto the Erne Water Taxi for their Lough Erne Food Tour in the Fermanagh lake region of Northern Ireland.
My flight landed in Belfast at 7:30am, and I immediately boarded a bus for the two-and-a-half hour ride to County Fermanagh. I should have slept on the bus, but something about buses in a new land doesn’t allow me to sleep. I always take the window seat and spend the time watching the countryside pass by, wondering about life on a Northern Ireland farmhouse or in one of the many villages we passed through.
Alas, we arrived at our resort for the night – Lough Erne Resort – to unload our luggage and quickly board the water taxi for the Lough Erne Food Tour. The afternoon promised stops at three different islands on Lower Lough Erne that showcased not only the history of the region – which includes pre-historic sites, monastic sites, and early Christian sites – but also the robust flavors that come from the fertile land that covers the shores and islands of the lakes. It was a different kind of food tour – combing nature, history, and food – and one that I was happy to stay awake for.
Already, my legs felt like they were at sea with the delirium of sleep deprivation as I stepped onto the dock.
Our captain, Barry, stood tall to greet us with rosy-cheeks from too many days at sea. The boat was a tiny floating vessel that seated maybe eight people in the comfy but confined quarters. I slid open the window in my row and allowed the cool lake breeze to welcome me to Northern Ireland.
As we floated along, the captain explained the history and current life in the region in an accent that I was still adjusting to. I tried to take notes – of Viking conquers, potato famines, and fires – but my mind wandered with the scenery. The weather was idyllic and a history lecture – no matter how interesting it was – took a backseat to the cloudless sky, sparkling, deep blue waters, and lush green islands that passed by my window.
Our first stop on the Lough Erne Food Tour was at a prehistoric site with remnants of early Christians.
The early Christians, we learned, like to build their sites alongside pagan sites. As we departed the boat, our tour group stumbled through the weeds and dirt paths to get up close and personal with the site while Barry prepared our first taste of Northern Ireland.
Our snack was boxty – a local dish similar to potato pancakes. The cakes are made with a combination of finely grated raw potato, mashed potatoes, buttermilk, baking powder, and sometimes egg that’s then fried. Traditionally, the Irish serve boxty at breakfast with local black bacon (the pigs, of which, lead happy lives on one of the islands). It was the kind of dish I’ve had multiple times while traveling but have never been able replicate at home.
We washed the boxty down with Inish Mac Saint’s Brown Porter. The beer is aged in limestone caves in the traditional manner of which the monks would have brewed it. While I would have difficulty calling this a Porter by US standards, it was a refreshing and welcome accompaniment to the boxty. Underneath the slight bitterness and ever so mild malts was a hint of minerality from the terroir of the caves.
Our second stop on the Lough Erne Food Tour was at Devinish Island.
Devinish carries a bit more history and notoriety than the previous island. Housed on the island are both the remnants of the sixth century Oratory of Saint Molaise and a well-preserved twelfth century monastic tower. The one-and-half mile island has been subject to Viking raids, great fires, and quiet religious scholarship and prayer.
As I climbed the hill for a closer look of the ruins, I couldn’t help but to think that this was the Ireland I had always imagined. A land of twists and turns that is buried amongst the beauty of the rolling green hills a navy blue waters.
Here, we sampled several different cheeses from Corleggy – a multiple award-winning cheesemaker. The first, Cavanbert, is a young, soft cheese made from raw cow’s milk. The inside was salty and gooey with hints of garlic. The second cheese, Drumlin, is a more mature cheese and had a smooth nutty flavor. The final cheese was a goat’s milk cheese named after the cheesery. It was sweet and mild and paired best with our second beer from Inish Mac Saint.
And what doesn’t go better with cheese than beer? The Fermanagh Blonde fizzled on my tongue in an almost pop-rocks kind of way. In the style of Irish beers, it was very mild mannered. There was some toast, some grass, and some resin on the finish. A perfect beer with the cheese.
Our final stop on the Lough Erne Food Tour was the new Boatyard Distillery.
Boatyard Distillery is a true farm-to-bottle distillery. The family has been in the region since the late 1800s with one of their descendants – Joe McGirr – using the knowledge he gained from a career at Glenmorangie to open a gin distillery.
To make the gin, Boatyard departs a little from the traditions of gins. They brew a neutral spirit from wheat grown on the family land with a Champagne yeast. The Champagne yeast allows for a higher ABV in the first distillation of about 30%. The second and final distillation produces a product at 96%. Boatyard spiced the gin to blend well with martinis.
Happy and full, I shook hands with our captain as he helped me off the boat.
Erne Water Taxi did an excellent job of acclimating me to the tastes and legends of the region. I rate it as one of the top food tours I’ve been on. I highly recommend adding Erne Water Taxi’s Lough Erne Food Tour to your Northern Ireland itinerary. Check out their excellent reviews on TripAdvisor.
Plan a trip to Northern Ireland
I can’t say enough about the food and beer scene in Northern Ireland. It’s totally worth planning an entire vacation around. Forget everything you’ve heard about the city’s past. I felt safer walking the streets of Belfast than any other city I’ve visited in Europe.
In Fermanagh, I stayed at the Lough Erne Resort. The digs were comfortable and luxurious. In Belfast, I stayed at, the Malmaison. The historic building offers plenty of sleek touches with spacious rooms. Plus, it was close enough to the action to be convenient, but far enough away to provide a peaceful rest.
What was the most unique food tour that you’ve been on?