Patrick is going to take a little time to show you around his hometown and talk you through the treasures of Drogheda on the banks of the River Boyne in Louth, an hour from Ireland’s capital, Dublin.
Loving or hating your hometown is a choice everyone must endeavour to make, and I’m a firm believer in seeing the positive in wherever you’re from or where you choose to live.
As a teenager, I always had a bit of a complaint or two about Drogheda, where I grew up. “It’s too small… I feel suffocated… everyone knows everyone else’s business…”, I often whinged. Now this may get a bit ‘grass is always greener’, but, it’s only when you leave your hometown and live elsewhere that you appreciate the subtleties, characteristics and the benefits of the place that bred you. Sometimes what you’ve blasted and felt burdened by before is what you crave and celebrate later in life, and that’s just how the world works…
I hated the year spent living in Dublin that preceeded our move to London last year (horrible housemates, terrible house, fantastic location). During those times, my hometown was my solace; a haven of calm, love and support, when it was nothing but angst, confrontation and disappointment in the capital. Though Dublin isn’t overcrowded or over-polluted, escaping the hour north and taking those first few breaths after getting out of the car felt like my lungs were tasting fresh air for the first time, every time. At this point I had been out of my family home for over five years, but each time I got to take a trip back home was like a truly appreciated luxury.
Living in a Supercity like London, it would be nice to be known by your local butcher, to be able to pass a former teacher or classmate on the street, or to be just a few minutes walk from areas which hold significant and old memories. These are all things I cursed at one point growing up, yet sometimes I long for them in a place like London, where anonymity and seclusion is on special all day, everyday.
Everyone’s hometown is their own. You may complain and condemn, then be equally capable of being the first to defend it in the very next breath. It’s an earned privilege – only you have the right to curse it, having been through it. In Sex and The City, Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) compared New York City to being her boyfriend, a true love, and quipped and complained about all the unattractive qualities and habits of “him”. However when faced with an outsider’s negative opinion of her city, she quickly got defensive, retorting: “no one talks shit about my boyfriend”. It’s a silly, but effective analogy – an illustration of the relationship we have with where we live or grew up. We have good days and bad. We embrace admirable features and abide annoying habits. There’s arguments, declarations of love and even sad departures, just like any intense and important relationship.
To celebrate hometowns, which hopefully this post does -and encourages you to find something redeeming and special about yours, however boring, sparse or small-town they may be – here are some of the best bits of Drogheda…
Drogheda is located in the Boyne Valley, at the mouth of the River Boyne, and derives it’s Anglicised name from the Gaelic ‘Droichead Átha’ [Dri-hid, aw-ha], which translates as ‘bridge over the fjord’. The town is built upon and along the banks of the river and is Louth’s second town, with nearby Dundalk being the County’s capital. The population is around 30,000.
Kicking off with culture, The Highlanes Gallery on Laurences Street is a testament to the town, taking pride of place within a renovated Franciscan Church. Exhibitions are moulded and meshed into the character features of the uniquely renovated space. The team behind the local, popular Relish chain have taken up residence in recent years of the adjoining café, which is a lovely (maybe unexpected) treat at the end of an exhibition, for either lunch or a quick coffee and catch-up with baked goods.
For coffee and nibbles, two new coffee houses/cafés have set up in recent years in the heart of the town and we absolutely love and champion them whenever we can – Esquires on West Street and Traders on nearby Laurence Street. There’s only a couple of Costa chains in Drogheda, and thankfully no Starbucks (…yet), so it’s fantastic to be able to give full support to independent houses like these.
For a good hit of authentic and strong Italian coffee, stop by our friends at Simona Café on the quays, just across from Scotch Hall. Not only do Fabrizio, Simona and their small team work painstakingly hard to ensure the success of their fantastic café, the food is simple and honest Italian. Fresh ingredients and full-on flavour are always delivered with memorable service. The fresh pastries, scones and cakes are also a delight; we pencil in a trip to Simona every single time we are back home to catch up with friends over a late breakfast or lunch.
Stockwell Artisan Foods is also another great venue for lunch and really wholesome meals, as they focus on local, organic, free-range and fairtrade food. They’ve been treating the town for the past seven years from their deli-café on Stockwell Street in the heart of the town and Gwen and her team are a fantastic addition. If you haven’t had lunch here, you haven’t lived yet. Not only is the little premises warm, inviting and constantly buzzing, the team are the exact same – always making conversation and getting to know their customers.
I remember a while before they opened, the most fantastic café in the town, The Coffee Gallery, operated from just a few doors down from where Stockwell Artisan is now. Nothing will ever replace or (seemingly) replicate what the Coffee Gallery did, but it’s good to see a café on the same street doing so well and nourishing the town with quality food.
Another obvious and rightfully celebrated restaurant is the Eastern Seaboard on the Dublin Road, which always delights with unique dishes in their ever-changing, equal parts quirky and elegant dining room. A sharp focus on seasonality and a team of chefs who champion fantastic produce mean that the Seaboard’s menu is always show-stopping, and draws a wide circle of patrons from counties far and near. The bar/reception area is pretty special too.
Sitting alongside, and also owned and operated by Jeni Glasgow and Reuven Diaz, is the incomparable Brown Hound Bakery. The bakery and small café within delivers a thoroughly modern take on comforting and homely bakes, served with impeccable style in simple elegant touches, and has to be the best bakery in the county, if not the province. The Swine Bar is also within the same building, serving a selection of wines and nibbles. The accolades and exposure for the Eastern Seaboard team speak for themselves, and any visitor to Drogheda must dutifully pay a visit here.
McCloskeys bakery chain has had a presence in the town for decades, and my parents and relations still recount fond memories of trips there in their childhoods. They still operate, after all these years, on a small scale from their tiny bakery shop on Trinity Street.
The owners of the bakery also own the Moorland Café on West Street, which is a real treasure for locals and has a slap-up, no frills breakfast that may just be the best in the town – for both taste and nostalgia. Get a loaf of their batch bread too, and slather it with butter. When eaten warm, there’s fewer greater pleasures.
For a formal dining experience, or a special occasion, Scholars Townhouse is unbeaten for fine dining in the opulent dining room and a luxurious hotel stay. The small pub in the hotel is elegant and traditional, serving a good pint and a select menu from the kitchen, which can be enjoyed in a more casual setting than the nearby silver service-style dining room.
We’ve also been told about The Tower restaurant up at Millmount, an outpost which watches over the town, and which residents affectionately dub ‘The Cup and Saucer”. The restaurant in Millmount Square has exchanged hands many times and has been used under various guises, so we’re looking forward to trying there next time we get home.
W.M. Cairnes, located within Scotch Hall and operated by the four star D Hotel is a fantastic recent addition to the town. It’s slap-up pub grub, but done the right way for the masses. The interior is so well executed and the Irish craft beer selection is very appreciated, especially as lots of their dishes are paired with an accompanying beer.
Well worthy of a visit for food, a pint, or both, though the service sometimes leaves a lot to be desired. Cairnes were recently awarded Best Service in Louth at the Irish Restaurant Awards; a fantastic accolade for the business, but the service would be the only lacking element of a visit to Cairnes, an opinion that a lot of our friends and relations from the town share.
Another mention necessary, though we haven’t personally tried it yet, is West 29. This brasserie is operated within The Westcourt Hotel, right in the middle of West Street, the town’s main thoroughfare. The adjoining Barocco bar, also operated by the Hotel, is really popular for weekend drinks and nibbles. We have it on good authority that the Black Bull Inn, Cagney’s, Carbery’s/Tí Chairbre and The Railway Tavern are all excellent for pints in the town.
The Old Schoolhouse Market has kicked off during the time that I’ve been away from the town and it’s a fantastic addition, giving the opportunity for local traders and small businesses to set up shop and sell their wares to the community. It’s nestled into the unique surroundings of the converted Methodist Church on Laurence’s street, just in between the Laurence Shopping Centre and the Highlanes Gallery.
Nearby sights such as Knowth, Dowth and, of course, Newgrange are always necessary to be visited, as well as the site of the Battle of The Boyne on the Slane Road. A spooky but special resident delights tourists and locals alike in one of the main churches of the town. St. Peter’s Church is the home of the severed head of Saint Oliver Plunkett. 330 years since his beheading, Plunkett’s head has been on view in the town almost a century. We won’t include a picture in here, but you can see lots of them on Google – though it really has to be seen in the flesh to be believed…
Ever been to #Drogheda before? What do you love about it?
Tell us the best bits about your hometown too, in the comments below!