Memories Of Secret Coves, Hidden Steps and Pirate Queens

On the hill of Howth in north County Dublin a secret pirate cove awaits would-be explorers, daring enough to descend one hundred and ninety-nine steps carved out of the sheer cliff face.

In my post today, I once again hope to take you off the beaten path, and help you discover some of Ireland’s hidden treasures.

199 Steps In Howth

When I was a little girl growing up in Dublin, my grand aunt loved weekend outings with all my cousins in tow. One of our favorite hang outs was on the beach at the bottom of the “199 steps” in Howth.

My cliff stair collage above shows how these stone steps are carved out of the cliff, winding their way from the shore to Howth summit.

Looking Towards the Bailey Lighthouse Howth

This is Grace O’Malley territory. The famous Irish pirate queen visited Howth on many occasions.

My grandaunt loved to tell us this very cove was where Grace O’Malley always came ashore in Howth. Considering Grace O’Malley, or Granuaile in Irish (pronounced Graw-nea-wale) lived between the years 1530 and 1603, the truth of this tall tale may never be known.

Undeterred my grandaunt relayed stories of pirates working by torch light to hack and cut 199 steps from the rocky cliff face, to allow their pirate queen ascend to Howth’s summit undetected by the English.

Looking Down At the Cove Below 199 Steps in Howth

We loved to wind our way along the cliff path in search of the first step to this secret pirate cove. We looked down from on high dreaming of Grace’s lost treasure, just waiting behind some rock for our eager eyes to find.

Steps Leading to a Hidden Beach in Howth

Last summer I rediscovered these secret steps with my children.

Once I told them of potential pirate treasure, the made quick work of navigating the treacherous steps.

Grace O'Malley's Secret Cove in Howth

A sense of mystery and magic awaits on the rocky shore below.

Barnacle covered rock

You can easily imagine the pirate queen herself standing on top of this barnacle covered rock issuing orders to her crew of Mayo men.

A Strange Rock on an Irish Shore

This strange rock has not shifted since I was a little girl.

I imagined a big, strong pirate flung the smaller red rock across the beach with such force that it lodged into the larger boulder.

I’m certain there’s a perfectly sound geological explanation for this rock formation, but let’s face it, nothing beats a good pirate story.

Ireland's Shoreline - Rocky Beaches

This is no sandy beach. Shoes are definitely required for pebble covered shores…..

Seaweed Covered Rocks

……. and seaweed strewn rocks.

Searching for Pirate's Treasure

My kiddos were convinced Grace O’Malley’s treasure lay beneath the large rocks at the base of these cliffs. I spent hours as a child climbing those very rocks. In four decades they don’t seem to have budged even an inch.

The Beach Below 199 Steps in Howth

A small row boat could easily have been maneuvered close to the rocky shore at this very point, allowing the brave Grace reach dry land. 

O’Malley’s connections to Howth are not just part of my late grandaunt’s vivid imagination.

In 1576 Grace O’Malley tried to call upon Lord Howth at his castle only to be informed the family was at dinner and she was not a welcome guest.


Dublin Ferry From the Beach in Howth

This rejection did not sit well with the bold Grace. The Lord of Howth soon felt the full brunt of this pirate queen’s wrath, when she abducted his grandson and heir.

The terms of the child’s release included a promise from Lord Howth to keep the gates of his castle open to unexpected visitors, and to always set an extra place at every meal.

This pledge is still honored at Howth Castle to this very day, with an extra place setting laid at table.  I wonder if Grace’s ghost ever inspects the distance between the knife and fork.

This ferry passed as we roamed the shoreline, following in the wake of pirate vessels from years gone by. What a day, imagining ghosts and pirates roaming around searching for treasure.

199 Steps in Howth

And so, after an energetic day playing on a secret pirate cove in Howth, the long trek upward and homeward began. There are no cable cars or lifts to take treasure hunters back to the cliff top. The only way home is to shift one foot after the other until all 199 steps are finally surmounted.

For anyone interested in a stiff climb to a secret (or not-so-secret anymore) cove, access to the 199 steps lies on the left hand side of the cliff as you walk out the headland towards the Bailey Lighthouse. That’s all the information I’m willing to part with, and if you can’t find it, perhaps you’ll find the way on an old pirate treasure map.

Wishing you all happy trails, discovering your very own hidden Ireland.


Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)



Irish American Mom


Nectarine and Blackcurrant Galette

Galette is a French term for an open, free-form, rustic tart. It’s a perfect summer treat to use and display the beautiful fruits of summer in a totally delicious way.

The pastry crust in a galette can take many forms, but one of my favorite ways to build a galette is with a sheet of puff pastry.

A dollop of cream on fruit pie

Who doesn’t love puff pastry?  I sometimes make my own, but 9 times out of 10 I take the easy way out and buy pre-made sheets at the grocery store.  Good old puff pastry makes it so easy to assemble an impressive looking dessert in double quick time and with minimal effort.

I’m one home cook who ADORES puff pastry.

Last summer when I was home in Ireland I baked a puff pastry nectarine and blackcurrant galette. My sister grew an abundant crop of blackcurrants so I needed to create a recipe to use them up in a tasty way.

I didn’t share this recipe last year when I discovered the reason why blackcurrants are so hard to find in the United States. But then I realized this tart will be just as scrumptious if made with blueberries instead of blackcurrants, so I decided to go ahead and share it.

Ingredients for Nectarine and blackcurrant galette



  • 1 sheet of puff pastry
  • 1 egg (beaten to use for egg wash on pastry)
  • 2 tablespoons of melted butter
  • 1/4 cup ground almonds
  • 2 large nectarines
  • 1 cup blackcurrants (blueberries can be substituted)
  • juice of half a lemon
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons of corn starch
  • 3 tablespoons of apricot jam
  • splash of boiling water


Preparing crust for fruit galette

Defrost the puff pastry sheet per package instructions.  This usually takes about 45 minutes at room temperature.

Next prepare the sheet pan or baking sheet as we say in Ireland.  Use parchment paper to line a 13″ x 9″ sheet pan. If you only own a larger pan it will work just fine, since the puff pastry doesn’t have to lay right up against the sides of the pan.

Pre-heat the oven to 400° F.

Lay the sheet of thawed pastry on a lightly floured surface. Cut a 1 inch strip from all four edges.

Brush the outer edges of the pastry sheet with egg wash and lay the strips of pastry over the edges to create a frame. Remove excess pieces so that there is only one layer of pastry forming the frame at the corners.

Lightly prick the base of the galette with a fork to prevent it from bubbling up while cooking.

Brush the melted butter over the base and sprinkle it with the ground almonds. Keep the almonds within the frame.


Sprinkling sugar on sliced nectarines for a galette

Halve the nectarines and remove the inner stone. Slice them evenly then toss the pieces in lemon juice.

Lay the nectarine pieces over the galette. I like to place them in two even lines at the top and bottom of the tart, and them fill the center with the extra pieces.

Mix the sugar and corn starch together and sprinkle over the nectarines.

Nectarines and blackcurrants on an open face tart

Spread the blackcurrants over the nectarines. Blueberries are absolutely delicious in this dessert. The end product is far sweeter than when using tart blackcurrants. If you like a sweeter galette when using blackcurrants, feel free to use an additional few tablespoons of sugar.

Applying egg wash to pastry for a galette

Brush the edges or the frame of the galette with the egg wash. This will create a lovely golden crust.

Tenting edges of a galette with foil to prevent burning

Bake the tart in the pre-heated 400° F oven for 25 minutes. 

If the edges start to brown too quickly, cover them with an aluminum foil tent.

Apricot glaze for a galette

Just before the galette is cooked prepare the glaze by microwaving the apricot jam with a dash of boiling water for about 20 seconds. Mix it together well.

Baked nectarine and blackcurrant galette

Remove the cooked tart from the oven.

Glazing the fruit on a galette

Brush the top of the fruit with the jam glaze. This creates a lovely, appetizing sheen on the fruit.


Slice of nectarine and blackcurrant galette with cream

This galette is delicious served cold, or I like it when it is just a little bit warm with a big a dollop of cream or ice cream.

Here is the printable recipe:

Nectarine and Blackcurrant Galette

Serves 10
Prep time 40 minutes
Cook time 25 minutes
Total time 1 hours, 5 minutes
Meal type Dessert
Nectarine and blackcurrant galette is an open, free-form, rustic tart, and is a perfect way to use display the beautiful fruits of summer in a totally delicious way.


  • 1 sheet puff pastry
  • 1 egg (beaten to use as egg wash for pastry)
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1/4 cup ground almonds
  • 2 Large nectarines
  • 1 cup blackcurrants (blueberries can be substituted)
  • juice of half a lemon
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons corn starch
  • 3 tablespoons apricot jam
  • splash of boiling water


Step 1 Defrost the puff pastry sheet per package instructions.
Step 2 Line a 13" x 9" sheet pan with parchment paper and pre-heat the oven to 400° F.
Step 3 Lay the sheet of thawed pastry on a lightly floured surface. Cut a 1 inch strip from all four edges.
Step 4 Place the large puff pastry piece on the parchment lined sheet pan. Prick it lightly with a fork. Brush a one inch strip along the edge of the pastry with egg wash. Place the strips of pastry over the edges to create a frame, cutting away any excess.
Step 5 Brush the base of the galette with melted butter. Sprinkle the ground almonds over the base of the galette, making sure not to cover the pastry edges.
Step 6 Slice the nectarines evenly, removing the inner stone. Sprinkle the nectarines with lemon juice, then layer them over the almonds.
Step 7 Mix the corn starch with the sugar and sprinkle over the nectarines. Spread the blackcurrants evenly over the nectarines.
Step 8 Refrigerate for 10 to 15 minutes before cooking.
Step 9 Bake for 25 minutes. Cover the pastry edges with an aluminum foil tent if the pastry is browning too quickly.
Step 10 Heat the apricot jam and a splash of boiling water in the microwave for about 20 seconds. Mix well and then brush over the top of the cooked galette.
Step 11 Cool before slicing. Serve with fresh whipped cream or ice cream.

Happy summer baking!


Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

Irish American Mom

Irish Fireside – A Wonderful Website For Planning A Trip To Ireland

Irish Fireside is a warm and welcoming website, where you can explore all that Ireland has to offer from the comfort of your own home. 

From Ireland’s ancient past to current day festivals and fairs, Irish Fireside provides a wealth of information, especially about some of Ireland’s lesser known sites.

Evening Over Lough Derg, County Tipperary Image Credit

Irish Fireside’s Creators:


Corey Taratuta is a freelance writer and designer, and his partner Liam Hughes provides private tours of Ireland from his cottage in County Tipperary.  Here’s what they say about their writing and photography:


“We created this site for anyone dreaming about Ireland.

So sit back, relax, and explore as we share our insight

into the Emerald Isle’s destinations, culture,

and items of interest to the Irish diaspora.”


This is not a typical tourist website, with emphasis on Ireland’s famous attractions. Instead you can take a visual and informative tour through the Irish countryside, visiting castles and ruins, ancient ring forts and dolmens, without ever setting foot on an airplane.


Benbulben, County Sligo Image Credit

I receive many e-mails and messages on Facebook from readers asking advice on how to plan a trip to Ireland.  I love to share stories about my childhood memories of Ireland, and trips I have taken when home, but my site is more of a ramble through Ireland and America, not an in-depth resource for tourists.

And so where do I send my readers who are planning a trip to the Emerald Isle?  To Irish Fireside of course. Corey’s and Liam’s blog posts have helped me on numerous occasions to answer many readers’ questions. Thanks guys for such a wide variety of topics and interesting reports and podcasts.

Climbing to the Beehive Cluster on Skellig MichaelImage Credit

Ireland Travel Kit:


Tourists flock to Ireland’s more well-known attractions such as the Ring of Kerry and the Cliffs of Moher, but at Irish Fireside they know Ireland has much, much more to offer. To meet the needs of inquisitive tourists, their Ireland Travel Kit takes you where many have not gone before. The folks at Irish Fireside gathered the best Irish travel experts and bloggers to take you to “Ireland’s unique, off-beat, and often-missed sites”.

Here’s what they say:


“We love enchanted fairy forts, trinket-laden holy wells, and eerie graveyards.

The nearby dolmen holds our attention, as does the local music session.

We can’t resist haunted pubs, beloved movie locations, and shops run by colorful locals.”


I highly recommend the interactive map, where you can click on icons to explore Ireland’s hidden gems. Truly, this tool is invaluable for tourists wishing to explore hidden Ireland.

Irish Fireside - Best Blog of the Irish DiasporaImage Credit

Awards and Recognition:


In 2013 Irish Fireside was named the Best Blog of the Diaspora by Blog Awards Ireland. The blog has been recognized by Lonely Planet and GoOverseas.

Sunrise over Irish fieldsImage Credit

Photo Albums:


The contributors at Irish Fireside share many of their photographs on Flickr, creatively organizing their shots into photo albums.

I cannot thank them enough for uploading their stunning photos with a creative commons license, allowing bloggers like me to use them, once credit is linked back to their original images.

These amazing shots I used for today’s post all come from Irish Fireside’s albums. Thanks guys for doing such a fantastic job, helping people discover and fall in love with Ireland.

View from the Blackstones Bridge, County KerryImage Credit

Where To Find Irish Fireside:

You can follow Irish Fireside on:



and on Pinterest.

I hope you find all the tidbits and facts you long to know about Ireland on one of these extensively researched resources from Irish Fireside.

Wishing everyone happy and informative travel planning.



Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)


Irish American Mom

Reader Recipe – Modified Irish Sponge Cake

Aimee, a reader from Lexington, Kentucky used my Irish sponge recipe to bake a delicious birthday cake.  She modified my recipe in the most amazing ways.

Home ground whole wheat pastry flour replaces cake flour, a substitution I would never have dreamed of making. Sucanat replaces refined processed sugar.  Maple syrup sweetens the whipping cream, to create a decadent, luscious filling. Her final creation looks fantastic.

Sponge Cake with whole wheat flourImage Credit

Aimee’s Food Philosophy:


Aimee loves to cook from scratch. I love this quotation on her website.


“The food you eat can be either the safest

and most powerful form of medicine

OR the slowest form of poison.”

– Ann Wigmore


Here is how Aimee describes her food philosophy:

“A “real foodie” is someone who cooks “traditional” food. We cook stuff from scratch using real ingredients, like raw milk, grass-fed beef, eggs from chickens that run around outdoors, whole grains, sourdough and yogurt starters, mineral-rich sea salt, and natural sweeteners like honey and real maple syrup.

We don’t use modern foods that are either fake, super-refined, or denatured. This includes modern vegetable oils like Crisco and margarine, soy milk, meat from factory farms, pasteurized milk from cows eating corn and soybeans, refined white flour, factory-made sweeteners like HFCS or even refined white sugar, or commercial yeast.

We believe in eating wholesome, nutrient-dense foods that come from nature. So we shop at farmer’s markets or buy direct from the farmer, or we grow food in our own backyards.”


And so here is Aimee’s modified sponge cake recipe, for a less sugary treat.


    • 4 large eggs
    • 1/2 cup sucanat, which is unprocessed cane sugar.
    • 3/4 cups plus two tablespoons of home-ground whole wheat pastry flour.
    • 1/8 teaspoon baking powder
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • 1/2 cup strawberry or raspberry jam (Aimee used homemade jam)
    • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
    • 2 tablespoons  maple syrup



Step 1: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Spray two 9-inch round baking pans with non-stick spray infused with flour, or grease with butter and dust with a light coating of flour.

Step 2: Add the eggs and sugar to a large mixing bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat the eggs and sugar for 6 to 8 minutes until the mixture has increased in volume and thickened to a consistency of whipped heavy cream.

Step 3: In a separate bowl sift the flour and baking powder together. Spoon half the flour into the egg mixture and gently fold it in using a spatula. Repeat with the second half of the flour, folding gently to fully incorporate the flour. Add the vanilla essence with the flour if desired.

Step 4: Pour half of the cake mixture into each of the prepared baking pans. Bake in the preheated oven at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350 degrees and bake for an additional 10 minutes. The sponges will be golden brown, with a slight spring to the touch when cooked.

Step 5: Remove the sponges from the oven and cool on a wire tray.

Step 6: Whip the heavy cream using an electric beater until thick. Add the maple syrup to sweeten if desired. Spread jam on the inner surface of each sponge. Place one layer on a plate, spreading the cream over the jam. Sandwich the cream with the upper sponge layer.

Step 7: Decorate by sifting a fine layer of confectioners’ sugar on top. Slice to serve.

sponge cake with candlesImage Credit


Look how good this cake looks decorated with colorful candles. An Irish sponge cake definitely makes a perfect birthday cake in my recipe book.

A big thank you to Aimee for making these wonderful modifications, to transform an old Irish favorite.  My mom always made sponge cakes to celebrate birthdays when I was a little girl in Dublin. I’m happy to see that tradition continuing on this side of the Atlantic.



Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)



Irish American Mom


Note:  If you are a home cook who would like to share a recipe with Irish or Irish American origins, please feel free to contact me using the form below. If approved, your recipe could be the next one featured on Irish American Mom’s reader recipes.




Oreo – Our Soccer Loving Border Collie

I love border collies. Their intensity, energy, loyalty and intelligence simply amazes me. In a previous post I introduced my love of these amazing canine companions, but I have failed to update everyone on how our very own border collie puppy, Oreo has become a really important part of our family.

Border Collie - Panting

And here she is!  All grown up!


Puppy Toilet Paper Trouble

Do I remember those puppy days?

Remember? Will I ever forget?

She was into everything.

Nothing was off limits.


Border Collie Puppy - Toilet Paper Play

But who could be mad at such a contrite cutie?


Soccer Agility - Border Collie

Whenever you hear tell a border collie has energy,

whatever you may imagine that energizer level might be,

just double it in your mind.

Hey, go ahead and triple it.

If a border collie is not kept busy, mischief is in store.


Border Collie Makes a Save

But lucky for us we soon discovered our dog LOVES soccer.

She’s the best goalie in our house!


Soccer dribble border collie style

She dribbles!


Border Collie Soccer Header

She’s great at headers.


Border Collie Scores A Goal

She even scores!

Call me a crazy dog mom, but I believe she understands the concept of goals.


Border Collie Cool Down

And after the game, a good old cool down is in order.


Border Collie Eyes

 What do you mean star soccer players can’t nap on the couch?????


Border Collie On The Couch

Don’t worry! I wasn’t napping.

I’ve been herding flies just for you.


Hope everyone enjoys the finals of the World Cup today. I’m not sure if Oreo will be shouting for Argentina or Germany. May the best team win.


Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)


Irish American Mom