This is the first in a series of posts on our trip to Ireland in July. You can view our first post here!.
The first day of our 28 days in Ireland on a quest to find our O’Keefe ancestors was spent in Dingle. After checking into the Kirray B&B, we walked a block to the business area. In the middle of the sidewalk was a 4 foot-tall plastic replica of a soft serve ice cream cone in front of a grocery store. It was so unique that Ellie wanted her photo taken with it. So, it’s just a simple soft serve ice cream cone, right? Wrong. Little did we know how much these cones are part of the Irish culture and how they would play a part in our Ireland Experience, too. But for the time being, we just walked down a couple more doors and into an ice cream store that sells 20 flavors, including “Brown Bread with Peanut Butter.”
A few days later we were in a taxi on our way to the Avondale B&B in Cork City, across the street from the River Lee Hotel. As we passed through small towns, we repeatedly saw the 4 foot ice cream cone in front of grocery stores and gas stations. Even in Cork City we saw them. We wondered what the big deal was about these soft ice cream cones.
A few days later we arrived at our Self Catering Cottage at Park South B&B outside of Mallow. Our friend, Michael, who is actually from England but retired and moved to Mallow, Ireland, came to pick us up to go grocery shopping. The first question he asked us was if we were interested in getting a “whippy cone.” Admitting that we didn’t know what that was he said he didn’t know the real name and that was what he calls them. He added that he loves them so much he goes almost every day to buy one. Sometimes he buys two in a day. As it was late in the day, he was concerned that the machine might be closed down. We drove into Doneraile and he pointed and said, “That is a whippy cone,” pointing to the 4 foot cone on the sidewalk! We went in to do our shopping and to buy a whippy cone, but the machine was broken! Ireland was suffering from record-breaking heat, so a whippy cone would have been nice.
Actually, a “whippy cone,” as Michael calls them, is an Irish 99. There are thousands of machines in Ireland made by different companies such as Angelitos. Each has its own plastic version to advertise on the sidewalk. Since Irish cows produce higher fat content than other cows, Irish 99s are incredibly delicious and maybe addictive. Just ask Michael.
I find it interesting that Ireland is one of the largest consumers of ice cream, yet these Irish 99s are only available in the spring and summer. I live in the Pacific Northwest of the U.S. where it gets colder than Ireland, and yet I have never heard of any business not selling ice cream in the fall and winter.
During the next three weeks Michael would always suggest we buy whippy cones when we were with him. He knew the locations in every surrounding town and was happy to go in and buy them for us. There were always people waiting in line for them no matter where we went from Galway to Dublin. I am sure along with record breaking temperatures (in the 80’s and even 90’s), there were also record breaking Irish 99 sales!
Up to this point, we had only eaten plain Irish 99s.
On the 4th of July we were touring the Hill of Tara. We weren’t with Michael, but had hired a driver, Niall, to pilot our rental car across the county to Dublin. We were so hot that we asked Niall to stop at the gift shop restaurant where we saw a 4 foot ice cream cone on the sidewalk. I looked around the gift shop and then got in line at the restaurant to make my first purchase of an Irish 99 (remember, Michael had always been the one to buy them for us). When I asked for four ice cream cones, she said they did not sell them in the restaurant, but at the cashier counter of the gift shop instead. Certainly, I must not have heard her correctly; I thought the heat was getting to me.
I asked her to repeat that. Yes, indeed, the ice cream cone machine was behind the cashier of the gift shop. I waited in line for my turn. I asked for four cones. Simple, right? Now, I have to admit that I have a hard time understanding Irish accents; it’s why I never sat up front in the car with Niall, confused by his accent. So you can only imagine the anxiety evoked by the cashier now asking me if I want… want what in these cones? At this point I am not sure if I am having problems understanding her accent or if I am unfamiliar with this Irish word. So I ask her to repeat it. OK, I still have no idea what she is asking me. While the shop is heating up more, the children in line behind are complaining to their parents that they want their cones.
Panicked, I turn to Niall in desperation and in a whisper through my teeth, I ask him what she is saying. He looks at me, smiles, and turns to the cashier who is holding my dripping cone. “Yes, she wants them,” he says. What do I want? She then sticks what looks like a small chocolate bar—or cinnamon stick?—in the ice cream. OK, so that is interesting and unique. Nope, not in Ireland. Actually, what she put in it is called Irish 99 Flake. It is a Cadbury Flake, a stick made up of many strands of chocolate, and it’s very popular inserted in soft serve ice cones in Ireland. They can also be purchased individually in the candy section of grocery stores. Irish 99 Flakes are a definite part of the Irish culture
I hadn’t eaten a soft serve ice cone in years, but I made up for that while suffering the heat in Ireland. Whatever you want to call it, having a “Whippy Cone” with a friend from England or an Irish 99 Flake with friends from Ireland, it was refreshing to share this Irish tradition. I wonder if Flakes are now served with soft serve ice cream anywhere here in America. If not, maybe that should be a new trend.