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Sally McKenna encounters retail paradise in a converted traditional cottage in south Kilkenny.

All the best places to eat, shop and stay in Ireland. A local guide to local places.

OK, put it this way, I’ve been around the block when it comes to food. It’s hard to get excited about it. These days I’d rather go for a run or a kayak than eat something that doesn’t either nourish or excite. But, just when I think I’ve seen and eaten it all, someone in the food world entrances me with a bit of wonder that makes me remember I have an appetite and senses.

So, for food and hospitality that has excited me during the year let’s start with the shop at the Inn at Balliloguee Clochan, where Pat McCarthy has framed his collection of hand crafts and gifts within the context of a museum he has curated, devoted to previous resident of the cottage, Mrs Meany. The everyday artefacts of Mrs Meany’s rural life are displayed in a way that reminded me of the Frieda Kahlo House in Mexico city - yes it’s that impressive, and alongside the collection of pots, shoes, delph and photographs, lie Pat’s wonderful modern collection of blankets, linens, ceramics and baskets which are given context and history. One of the most beautiful and unusual shops I’ve ever had the privilege of spending money in!

Second: The sea salad that I was given in Sage of Westport which simply blew me away with tastes and textures. This was no ordinary salad, deferentially sweet and subtle. No, it was an assembly of foraged wild greens, sometimes bitter, sometimes strange, never afraid to revel in their provenance or ancient authenticity.

Lastly, kudos to Ger Talty - Mr Seaweed! - who has packaged and made bladderwrack sexy. Bladderwrack (yes, his bladderwrack from County Clare) is now embraced by superstars like Britney Spears, David Beckham and Paris Hilton. But don’t let that put you off. Bring on Mr Talty’s Bladdwrack Sprinkle, it’s incredibly healthy and makes everything taste like a picnic on the beach. Available from

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