The skies were grey but the streets of Dublin were filled with colour and joy on St Patrick’s Day this year. I had the opportunity to work on the day with the team responsible for creating the City Fusion and Brighter Futures pageants, which make up part of the large Parade in Dublin each year. The pageants represent different cultures and this year adults and children participants were from Bolivia, Ireland, Lithuania, China, Syria and Brazil, to name but a few. Over several months, the participants collaborated with Creative Director and all-round legend, Murine Bloomer to choreograph a fabulous pageant and designer, Sabine Dargent, created their amazing and vibrant costumes. It was an incredible opportunity to see the vast amount of work, time and effort that goes into the production. On the morning of the Parade preparations began at 6am with hair and make-up artists, costume designers, stage managers, volunteers, participants, creative director and project-coordinator all working together non-stop until long after the Parade and late into the evening to ensure success. A truly mad and wonderful day…
I promised my godchild, Kiki, that we would go ziplining, so for her 11th birthday we went to Zipit in Tibradden in the Dublin Mountains. Her sister Ellie (aged 9) and her cousin Sadhbh (aged 13) came too and it was hard to tell who was more excited!
If you have kids, nieces, nephews or you are a big kid this is the place to go! It’s only a 25-minute drive from Dublin city centre and it is surrounded by the pine forest of Tibradden Wood.
When we arrived we were greeted by an instructor, I filled out a form and then it was straight into our harnesses! The instructor gave a demonstration, which at first seemed like a lot to take in but we got the hang of it pretty quickly. Ellie and I stayed at the beginner’s level, while Kiki and Sadhbh flew through the obstacles and continued on to the next level. Ellie and I stuck together until Ellie grew braver and wanted to go to the next level too. How hard could it be? The course was for 9-11yr olds!
We all went to the next level together. Kiki first, then Ellie, then Sadhbh and I went last…to keep an eye on the girls. My legs were like jelly. At this stage, I realised my fear of heights. I had tears of pride (and fear) as I watched Ellie conquer the obstacles ahead of me. Helped and encouraged by her older sister, she made it. I didn’t hide my fear as well but I made it in the end too, encouraged all the way by the girls!
Sadhbh wanted to go higher and give the next level a go. She almost didn’t but one of the lovely instructors gently encouraged her and off she went. Ellie couldn’t watch and I don’t blame her. She did it! At the end of the course she was shaking but absolutely chuffed. We were all so proud.
We started our day in Zipit at 10.30am, stayed the maximum of four hours and loved every minute of it. We even did birthday cupcakes and candles! Watching the girls zip in and out of the obstacles was brilliant. I cannot recommend this place highly enough.
I am always looking for places to hike near Dublin city. I discovered a really cool place in the Dublin Mountains called The Hazel House, which is a café, Irish craft shop, petting farm and woodwork school located on Mutton Lane, Tibradden, Rathfarnham. On the last Saturday of every month, The Hazel House provides guided mountain walks (approx. 2hrs long) followed by a tasty lunch of any sandwich from their menu with tea or coffee. Dogs on leads and kids are welcome too. The meeting time is 10am at The Hazel House and any number of people can join.
There are a number of trails to walk. Our guide Ciarán took us along a route with stunning views – the weather was perfect.
When we reached the top of Tibradden Mountain, Ciarán told us about the hidden ‘treasure’. Hidden beneath some rocks we found an old tin box containing some trinkets left behind by other hikers. A few random things like small toys, a comb and short messages by people visiting from various parts of the world. We returned the ‘treasure’ to its hiding place as we found it and headed back along a different route.
Our lunch was waiting for us when we reached The Hazel House. I had the delicious chicken pesto sandwich, a hearty serving on a proper white roll. We sat outside in the yard surrounded by wood crafts and flowers.
The venue was opened in 2014, owned and run by Niall Fitzharris, a carpenter and furniture maker by trade. When it first opened, an ‘honesty box’ policy was adopted, which meant that visitors could help themselves to teas, coffees and baked goods and then pay an amount of money that they deemed appropriate for the goods consumed. This enabled the owner to work in his workshop without interruption. Fast forward a couple of years and the House has developed a café with menu (and cash register) and a number of woodwork courses for adults as well as courses and camps for kids. Kids’ parties are also available and include one of three activities such as a woodwork party, a paper craft party or a planting and gardening party.
The café interior is a delight. I love these kind of places. The owner’s passion for woodwork is obvious and there is a lovely warm, relaxed atmosphere. Outside there is plenty of seating and the occasional passing hen! There is also a traditional clay pizza oven that the owner made himself and regular Pizza & Wine Bar nights take place throughout the year. There are Classic Movie nights too. What’s not to love about this place!
Before checking out the petting farm, I popped into the craft shop to see the wood crafts. The hazel wood reindeer were my favourite!
The petting farm is adorable. Visitors are asked to make a small financial contribution to an ‘honesty box’ so they can take some vegetables from a basket to feed the animals. There are a couple of sheep, a donkey, a Shetland pony and a pig. My nieces aged 13, 11 and 9 fleeced me for money to feed the animals, but knowing that the money goes towards supporting the farm animals it was totally worth it. The girls loved it and they also had a go on the tree swing.
The Hazel House is only a 25-minute drive from Dublin city centre, I love this place – we need more places like this. I wish the owner and all involved the very best for the future. I will definitely be back soon. Well worth a visit.
I usually try to arrange a trip away for the August bank holiday weekend but this year I decided to stay in Dublin and catch up with friends. I met up with my fabulous friend Martina for a walk in Dalkey with her boyfriend Raj and friend Gabriel, who was visiting from Brazil.
Dalkey is a beautiful seaside village about a 30-minute drive south-east of Dublin city centre and home to some of Ireland’s celebrated artists, authors and musicians. Bono from U2 is probably Dalkey’s most famous resident. A few years ago Bono and his wife Ali invited their pal and First Lady, Michelle Obama for lunch in their local pub, Finnegans. Their lunch made Irish news headlines throughout the day.
Visitors can find more information about the village and its walking trails at the Tourist Office, which is located in Dalkey Castle. Being familiar with the village, we had already planned our walking route. We met at The Magpie Inn and started our walk towards Coliemore Harbour overlooking Dalkey Island. While walking past the harbour, we discovered that none of us had ever been to the Island before so we decided to ditch the walk and hop on the next boat crossing with Ken the Ferryman.
Before we got on the boat, we looked at the sky to consider whether a trip to an island without shelter was worth it! Of course, being Irish we have an innate ability to read clouds and determine the likelihood of rain. Normally, there is a 99.9 per cent chance of rain at any time. In this case we ascertained that the dark, moody, menacing clouds surrounding us were in fact passing and that brighter clouds from the north were approaching. We decided that although there was a pretty good chance of rain at some stage, it wouldn’t last long and that everything would be grand. This is why, in Ireland, layers are important!
The boat ride was less than five minutes long. Crossings to the Island were every few minutes. A return ticket cost €8 (for adults). We were delighted with ourselves. While we waited for our boat we watched a guy paddle-board his way to the Island. We reckoned he was quicker. As we made our approach we spotted some seals and our skipper promised that he would get us closer to them on the way back.
The Island comprises 22 acres and is inhabited by seals, gulls, rabbits and wild goats. I didn’t know about the goats. I was a bit surprised when we spotted them and went all ‘city slicker’, double checking with Martina to make sure that they were actual goats! I was also surprised to see so many rabbit holes, it reminded me of my childhood and summer holidays in Tipperary where we spent most of our days in fields getting up to all sorts. Good memories.
The Island’s original occupants were from the Mesolithic or Middle Stone Age. There is evidence that it was inhabited 6,000 years ago and also used as a Viking base. Our skipper told us that the Vikings used the Island to trade slaves. Ruins of an old stone church dating back to the 9th or 10th century still stand on the Island and it was likely abandoned when the Vikings landed. There is also a Martello Tower, which was built in the early 19th century, one of eight Martello Towers built along the Dun Laoghaire coastline. A gun battery was also built beside the tower and it is believed the builders resided in the old ruins of the church during construction – remains of a fireplace inserted in the old church in later times supports this.
We chilled out and watched sailing boats, kayakers and paddle-boarders circle the Island. Some ventured out towards the east of the Island to the rocks called the Muglins. These rocks have been fitted with a beacon that looks like a miniature lighthouse. The beacon was erected in the 19th century following complaints from ships that found the rocks problematic when approaching the city.
The rain never fell and the sun came out as we made our way back to the harbour. We had lots of questions for our skipper but we only had five minutes! He was great. The whole experience was great. It is a perfect place to visit for a picnic/date (I’m a romantic) and for families and friends, especially when the weather is good.
We were pretty hungry when we got off the boat and fancied eating in a restaurant with outdoor seating so we headed for the Tramyard Kitchen. Situated in an old tram yard on Castle Street, this place has a real seaside village vibe about it. The weather held so it was perfect. A number of eateries and market stalls can be found in this area, it’s well worth a visit. While I was there I popped into Armelle’s Kitchen to pick up some of their amazing eclairs – probably the best eclair filling I have ever tasted. Check out their stall in the Marlay Park Market too!
I highly recommend a trip to Dalkey Island. I also highly recommend watching the new Irish movie ‘Sing Street’ before a visit to the Island. A charming, Oscar-worthy movie set in Dublin with some lovely scenes shot in Dalkey and Dun Laoghaire. Enjoy!
Accommodation secured for this year’s Dingle half marathon on 3rd September and I cannot wait, always a great weekend in Dingle. Now all I need to do is start training!
This will be my third year running Dingle, a fantastic race that won ‘Half Marathon of the Year 2015’ in the Running Ireland Race Awards. The views and the spectators are simply the best. The last few miles through Slea Head looking out to the Blasket Islands are particularly beautiful. Tough but beautiful!
The marathon attracts about 2,000 participants, matching the town’s population and there is always a great buzz around the place. Situated on the south west coast of Ireland, it is a food, music and nature-lover’s paradise and is the only town on the stunning Dingle peninsula.
Dingle attracts between 100,000 to 200,000 visitors annually. Its extraordinary beauty has attracted high-profile visitors, such as the Star Wars film crew shooting scenes for the film’s new trilogy. An epic sight along the Dingle peninsula and sure Mark Hamill is more Irish than the Irish themselves at this stage. Capturing the hearts of many with his eloquent description of Ireland as “an endless gallery of incomprehensible beauty.” Also, american actor, Matt LeBlanc drove into Dingle recently in a flashy Rolls-Royce shooting scenes for the BBC’s flagship motor show, Top Gear. Matt and Dingle both looked gorgeous and judging by the viewer response, they were a big hit! #OnlyInIreland
This year, a gang of us are travelling from Dublin and Galway and making a long weekend of it. Last year, I ran with my friend Helen (and her good friend Claire who lives in the UK) to help raise money for the Renal unit in Temple Street Children’s Hospital. Helen, an amazing mum-of-two, donated one of her kidney’s to her four-year-old son, Hugo. She ran the race one year after the transplant to mark the end of an incredibly tough journey and to celebrate the success of the surgery. Hugo met us near the finish line to run the final 20 metres, which was really special. The support from everyone was overwhelming and Helen’s strength inspirational. Almost €4k was raised. Amazing.
The first port of call post run is Dick Mack’s for some well-earned beers, my favourite bar in Dingle. It is an authentic, Irish pub and the Best Whiskey Bar in Ireland to boot. There is always a great atmosphere and the staff are super friendly and good craic.
The Marina Inn and John Benny’s Pub are situated opposite the pier in town and are always bustling, especially in the summer. The GAA hurling final is held on the first Sunday in September (the day after the marathon) so we usually try and grab a seat in either to have lunch and watch the match.
A weekend in Dingle must also include a boat trip to see Fungie, the town’s beloved bottlenose dolphin! The friendly dolphin is well-known throughout Ireland since 1983 and even has a statue dedicated to him in the town centre.
Conor Pass is also a must-see and is only a ten-minute drive from the town. It is the highest mountain pass in Ireland with breathtaking views…and ice-cream.
Not sure if I am brave enough to try paragliding over Conor Pass but it looks like good fun. The Dingle Whiskey Distillery is not far away so perhaps a tasting beforehand would help ease the fear!
Dingle also boasts stunning sunsets and there are so many beautiful places to watch the sun go down. I usually go down to the pier to catch the last of the sun dip behind the mountains. Beautiful.
As well as its amazing scenery, sunsets and authentic Irish pubs, Dingle has three of Ireland’s top 100 restaurants listed in John and Sally McKenna’s 2016 annual guide. Having three out of four of the best restaurants in Kerry, Dingle’s accolade as Ireland’s Best Foodie Town 2014 is well-deserved. The three restaurants, Out of the Blue, The Global Village and Idás Restaurant are well worth a visit. A bit pricey but a real treat. Dingle also has its own Food Festival, which takes place this year from Friday 30th September to Sunday 2nd of October.
As for music, there is usually a trad session happening every night and a couple of late bars such as, An Droichead Beag and the Hillgrove nightclub for the party animals! I think marathon runners get a free pass into the Hillgrove? I remember dancing and I remember sore legs, so sore that it was almost impossible to walk down any steps/staircase. Note to self…stretch properly after marathon!
The ultimate music experience in Dingle is the annual Other Voices Festival. A special three-day music event held in December that involves filming of live performances of both Irish and international bands in intimate settings, such as a 200-year old church called St. James. The filming is produced for an Irish national television series that broadcasts in January. This year the festival takes place on 2nd, 3rd and 4th December. Tickets are like gold dust as they are not for sale. Given that it is a television production rather than a music festival people are not asked to pay for tickets, instead they are given away through competitions on Facebook, Twitter and radio stations etc. I have been unlucky trying to get tickets in the past. This year I am keeping everything crossed! #TicketFairy
Dingle, you have stolen a piece of my heart forever!
Always love to hear suggestions for things to do and see in this beautiful town…
Captivating, magnificent, thought-provoking, emotional…these are just some of the words to describe my recent visit to Epic Ireland, Dublin’s new interactive visitor attraction. Conveniently located in Dublin city centre in the historic vaults of the CHQ Building, this is a must-see!
Epic Ireland is the world’s first digital-only museum and tells the story of the 10 million Irish men and women who left Ireland to escape war, hunger, poverty or to seek adventure. It celebrates the 70 million Irish diaspora who have influenced the world in politics, science, sport and the arts.
Using state-of-the-art technology, the tour comprises 20 incredible visual galleries under four themes of migration, motivation, influence and connection. If you like multimedia shows and you are Irish or have Irish roots this is definitely one for your ‘things to do in Dublin’ list.
The staff are very warm and welcoming and their enthusiasm is infectious. Visitors enter the exhibition and proceed to ‘emigration’ where a souvenir Epic passport is provided. This can be stamped in each gallery along the tour – such a clever idea! Not only does it add to the experience but it acts as a map too.
The first gallery depicts Irish emigration through remarkable visuals. Large ocean waves are projected on the wall. A massive steel sculpture lies in the centre of the room representing ships crossing seas, while footage of people packing suitcases, leaving the country and saying their goodbyes to loved ones plays on an overhead screen. On the wall, an infographic charts Irish emigration over the centuries.
These visuals are accompanied by subtle sounds associated with travelling through a port, such as a distant fog horn. An emotive start to one of the most captivating, visual tours I have ever experienced. Passports stamped, we continue to the next gallery, which resembles an immigration line. Holograms of people representing different eras tell their stories about why they left Ireland, where they went to and what their lives were like. I felt like I was Saoirse Ronan in a scene from her movie ‘Brooklyn’! Emotional.
The next few galleries explore why so many people left Ireland and where they went to. Stories from the darkest periods of Irish history including, the famine, war and social injustices give visitors a better understanding about why so many people left. Some left to seek adventure but most left to survive and to send money home to their families left behind.
Audiovisual displays and interactive touch screens are dotted around the galleries. It is easy to lose sense of time exploring the stories of migration displayed on the various touch screens. Visitors learn stats and facts on Irish immigration to the UK, Canada, the USA and Australia. I was surprised to learn that 40,000 Irish people immigrated to Argentina in the 19th century, enticed by its great agricultural land that was easy to acquire.
North American visitors in particular may like to read about the many Irish immigrants in New York who were attracted to jobs in law enforcement and firefighting. By the 1960s half of New York’s police officers were Irish or of Irish descent and by the turn of the century they made up 5 out of 6 NYPD officers. It is hard to fathom that in the 1960s five out of six young adults left Ireland.
We also learn about the Irish people who influenced great social change across the world, like St Columbanus who spurred a spiritual revival in Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire, founding monasteries in France and Italy. Educators like Sister Cyril, Valerie Place and Edel Quinn are also showcased – they believed in the value of education and brought the benefits of education to less privileged parts of the world.
The determination and resilience of Irish people shines through more and more during the tour. The gallery entitled, ‘Leading Change’ is dedicated to the Irish diaspora who gave so much politically to the countries they settled in over the centuries and to those who continue to do so today, like Samantha Power from Dublin. Reading their stories is inspiring and uplifting.
Reading about US Presidents with Irish roots, reminded me of when Barack Obama came to Ireland in 2011 to visit his ancestral home in Offaly and to meet his eighth cousin, Henry Healy. Opening his address to 25,000 people at College Green, Dublin he said: “My name is Barack Obama, of the Moneygall Obamas, and I’ve come home to find the apostrophe we lost somewhere along the way”…Classic Obama! Brilliant. Check out his speech here via The Telegraph.
The ‘Discovering and Inventing’ gallery is undoubtedly the most visually impressive. It showcases examples of some of the most famous inventions and discoveries made by Irish people. Dr James Barry, (1789/99 – 1865) a military surgeon in the British army, undertook the first successful cesarean in the world. When Dr. Barry died it was discovered that he was in fact a woman called Margaret Ann Bulkey, who was born in Dublin. Bulkey had hidden the fact that she was a woman so she could study and become a surgeon. What a legend!
Irish sporting and entertainment legends are also celebrated in Epic with some cool wall murals with photos of well-known faces (from all ages). Old video footage includes scenes of the Irish soccer team reaching the 1990 FIFA World Cup quarter-finals in Italy, their best performance in a major championship and Dana Rosemary Scallon winning the 1970 Eurovision with the song ‘All kinds of everything’. A room filled with nostalgia!
Not all the Irish were saints, however! An interactive gallery dedicated to the most ‘notorious rogues’ provides information about the likes of Ned Kelly, Typhoid Mary and Billy the Kid and how they achieved infamy. The kids will love this one!
The influence of Irish music and dance is celebrated too but not just the Riverdance phenomenon and Bono! Visitors learn about how Irish music influenced other countries for example, how it laid the foundations for American folk and country and western music. There’s also a couple of cool interactive dance videos but I don’t want to give too much away. Lots of familiar faces from the music world with Irish roots are showcased too.
A gallery on the influence of Irish food and drink is cleverly themed on a traditional Irish pub with a virtual trad session to boot. Visitors can learn about the origins of Guinness, Hennessy brandy, Irish food and much more. There are also a number of interesting facts and fun, interactive quizzes to test your knowledge.
Towards the end of the tour the ‘Creating and Designing’ gallery tells the story of the Irish diaspora known for their creativity, art and design. Artist, Jack B Yeats; fashion designer, Orla Kiely and architect, James Hoban are just some of those featured. I felt a great sense of pride reading about their influence in the world. In particular Hoban, who was born in Kilkenny in 1758 and who won a competition to design the White House. Reading about his background and where he got the inspiration for the White House design was fascinating.
The influence of Irish arts and literature around the world is also celebrated in a ‘Storytelling’ gallery showcasing some of Ireland’s well-known actors, authors, broadcasters, playwrights and poets. The cute comma-shaped stools are a nice touch and there are words everywhere…writings on the walls, ceilings and floors! The gallery includes a room resembling a library with a giant-sized book that visitors can interact with and turn pages without touching. There’s also a few interactive books that visitors can touch and listen to audio extracts. A pretty cool gallery and one of my favourites.
My Epic journey was nearly over. Stamping their passports one last time, visitors unlock another piece of content that allows them to send a digital Epic postcard to anyone in the world. A lovely idea at the end an awesome journey. Live tweets by visitors using the hashtag #EpicIreland are also projected on a wall towards the exit. It was great to be able to join in the conversation and share my favourite moments!
The ticket price (adult €16) is well worth it. I spent at least two hours on the tour and I could have easily stayed longer. Captivating from start to finish, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and highly recommend it. There is so much information, I found it difficult to digest it all in one visit. I guess that’s a good thing and demonstrates great value. See information for opening times and prices here.
Visitors can also research their own family history in the genealogy booth (Eneclann) located beside Epic. Epic Ireland offers a ‘combo ticket’ (entry to Epic and the Genealogy Centre) for €24.
Keen to find out about my mother’s family history from Tipperary, I arranged a visit. A lovely genealogist named Declan, helped me get started. I had some information on names and dates. My mum’s father was killed in a tragic accident in 1948 when she was just five years old. He left behind his wife and six kids under the age of 13. My mum was the third youngest! Within a half an hour, Declan had found records relating to my grandfather’s birth, marriage and death. I discovered my grandfather was only 33 years old when he died. I also discovered that he was five years younger than my granny – go granny! It was a fascinating and emotional experience. Declan was brilliant and gave me some great tips. The search continues!
I can’t say enough about my Epic Ireland experience, it was truly ‘epic’!
Summer 2016 in Ireland will be fondly remembered for its eight consecutive days of sun in late May/early June…the sun is still shining as I write this!
To mark the (hotter than parts of the Mediterranean) start to our summer, I paid a visit to Bloom.
Bloom is where gardeners, horticulturists, landscape designers, and artisan food & drink producers showcase their creativity, hobbies and produce. Taking place in the Phoenix Park, Thursday 2nd June to Monday 6th June from 9am – 6pm, the festival is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.
I don’t have green fingers but Bloom is so much more than flowers and gardens, although this year the show gardens impressed me the most. I’m clearly maturing!
Covering a 75-acre site, the festival is divided into different zones. There’s an amazing food village with so many great food producers like the Burren Smokehouse, The Dublin Cookie Company, The Chocolate Garden of Ireland and Irish Farmhouse Cheese (yum). There’s lots happening in the ‘Bord Bia’ and ‘Love Irish Food’ tents. Great to check out Flahavan’s and O’Donnell Crisps too (if you eat porridge it cancels out the crisps, right?) I also sampled Glenilen Farm’s, lemon cheesecake. It didn’t disappoint. I had my first taste in West Cork a few weeks ago and I’ve been hooked ever since. I also caught a cookery demonstration with one of Ireland’s finest chefs, Rory O’Connell.
All this and much more including newest attraction, the BBQ BLISS area that stays true to its name. After a burger, the ‘Bloom Inn’ full of handcrafted beers and spirits is the perfect place to check out.
A large stage area provides entertainment and live music. The RTÉ tent was looking and sounding fab too! Good to see Lyric FM’s, Marty Whelan and other familiar faces around. There’s also a good-sized children’s zone with plenty of action and competition prizes up for grabs. Lots of entertainment and Fun on the Farm for the young ones!
For fashionistas, there’s a catwalk with a number of fashions shows scheduled each day over the five days.
There’s so much going on in Bloom (beekeeping, nurseries, outdoor retail, the Growfest stage) but for me, the show gardens are the best part. Twenty-three gardens designed and created, each with a unique concept under a ‘large’, ‘medium’ or ‘small’ category. Here are a few pics of my favourites…
Also at Bloom this year, organisations such as Goal and the Marie Keating Foundation collaborated with designers to create a garden to help promote their message. Goal’s Damascus Courtyard, themed ‘War & Peace’ symbolises the devastation experienced by the Syrian people in recent times. Attracting lots of attention, it was difficult to get a picture. Find out more about the garden here.
Congratulations to Bord Bia for organising such a fantastic event. Hat tip to all the lovely Bloom Ambassadors too. Last year 100,000 people visited Bloom over five days. This year the number of visitors are +20% up on last year with one day left to go. If you haven’t been yet, I highly recommend it!
Happy 10th Birthday, you’ve been wonderful. Looking forward to next year already!
A visit to the Park is a great day out with family or friends to escape to and to soak up the rich biodiversity and tranquility the Park has to offer. The Park opened its eco-friendly visitor centre and café in 2014 and offers designated nature trails and walking and cycling tracks, where visitors can rent bikes.
The history of Lough Boora goes back 15,000 years, when the raised bogs of the Midlands of Ireland appeared after the last Ice Age. Lough Boora Discovery Park is now a sanctuary for wildlife, a haven of fora and fauna for nature lovers. There’s also a Sculpture Park, where art meets nature – a route enhanced by 24 innovative works of art that complement the surrounding landscape with varying contrast depending on the weather.
Winner of the Best Environment Tourism Innovation Award at the biennial Irish Tourism Industry Awards in 2015, I had the pleasure of meeting the lovely team behind Lough Boora Discovery Park at the awards ceremony. The Awards celebrate Ireland’s most successful and innovative tourism initiatives, services and experiences. Beating off stiff competition, Lough Boora Discovery Park is a well-deserved winner.
After the awards, I was keen to check it out so I planned a trip with my good friend, Lisa. Getting there, it was about a two and half hour car journey from Dublin City Centre. When we arrived, we headed for the visitor centre and café to pick up a map, a cup of tea and a sandwich. The café has a lovely decking area overlooking a lake known as, Loch and Dochais, which means ‘Lake of Hope’. Looking out at this beautiful view set the chilled-out mood for the day. A bike rental service is located just beside the visitor centre, so we picked up a couple of bikes to explore the Park over the next few hours.
We didn’t feel the time go by but our legs did! I really appreciated the tranquil ambiance of the Park and felt totally zenned after the experience. Cycling around the vast open space, soaking up the rich biodiversity and art sculptures is certainly good for the soul. I highly recommend it! The bog cotton was pretty cool.
There’s lots to see and do in Offaly, which is part of Ireland’s Ancient East. If you’re planning a trip to Lough Boora Discovery Park, check out other activities nearby here. Enjoy!
A home away from home is how I would best describe West Cork Photography Breaks. A perfect getaway filled with great food, nature, photography and fun, led and hosted by UK and Ireland based photographer, Celia Bartlett.
In Spring and Autumn Celia hosts a series of four-day photography workshops in the lovely ‘ Yellow House’ located on Toe Head, Castletownshend, which holds a Fáilte Ireland Welcome Standard for Quality Assurance and its welcome. Celia guides guests along some of the most scenic places in West Cork to photograph and learn more about this beautiful part of the country.
The Yellow House, Toe Head, Castletownshend, West Cork
I love travelling around Ireland, taking photos (on my iPhone) and posting them on Instagram so when I heard about this workshop in the heart of the Wild Atlantic Way, I was keen to check it out. Even though I find professional cameras a little intimidating, Celia reassured me that her workshop was for all levels and that I could use my iPhone if I preferred.
When I arrived at The Yellow House, the kettle was boiling and Celia introduced me to fellow guest Sara, a lovely librarian from the UK. Celia served a delicious homemade chowder with giant prawns caught fresh that morning in Union Hall. (Celia is also trained in gluten-free food preparation). The house was charming and my bedroom was lovely, a perfect start to the weekend.
After lunch we went for a ramble to take some photos around Toe Head and the small beach just a stone’s throw away from the house. The weather was a little dull, but I found the experience very relaxing. Usually when travelling I like to take snap shots of the beautiful things I see, whereas here I was seeking out the shot to learn more about how to capture the right light, composition and angles with Celia’s guidance. I was hooked and it got me thinking about investing in a pro-camera. Later that evening, over a hearty Irish meal and a couple of glasses of wine, we shared some of our photos taken during our ramble and Celia provided her feedback. Sara was streets ahead of me but Celia’s easy-going manner made me feel comfortable. Celia gave me some great tips and it was obvious that she was used to working with all levels. Here are some of my favourite shots (taken with my iPhone)…
Toe Head, Castletownshend, West Cork
Toe Head, Castletownshend
Toe Head, Castletownshend, West Cork
Toe Head, Castletownshend, West Cork
The next morning after a full breakfast, we headed off for a whale watching trip with Cork Whale Watch. The short drive to Reen Pier near Union Hall to catch the boat was beautiful and reminded me of a place called Vatos in Corfu. At the height of the season, skipper Colin Barnes told us that he could see up to 90 whales in one day, including humpback and fin whales. We spotted several minke whales during our trip and hearing the sound of a whale exhale air explosively through its blowhole was incredible. We chased the birds gathering around whales to feed. Sara managed to get some great shots of gannets diving into the sea like bullets. She also got a great shot of grey seals resting on the Stag Rocks. Dolphin pods are usually spotted too but not the day we were out, unfortunately.
Colin Barnes, Cork Whale Watch
Cork Whale Watch
A couple of days later, I heard that basking sharks were spotted and filmed on one of Colin’s tours. The west coast of Ireland is one of the best places in the world to encounter or see Basking sharks, according to Emmett Johnston of the Irish Basking Shark Study Group from a recent interview with the Irish Independent.
Later that evening, we settled in front of the fire with a glass a wine and a delicious slow-cooked lamb meal. We went through our photos from the day and chose three of the best from Sara. I was happy enjoying the chats, wine and picking up lots of tips from Celia. Sara’s fantastic photo of the seals was submitted into the local newspaper and subsequently published. Result!
View from The Yellow House
Our final full day was spent exploring Union Hall, Lough Hyne and Baltimore Harbour. We enjoyed a fabulous dinner in Richy’s Restaurant in Clonakilty followed by craic agus ceol in DeBarra’s pub, one of the finest music pubs in Ireland. Trad music sessions are held in DeBarra’s every Monday night and on the night we visited the owner was celebrating the birth of his first grandson, offering everyone a drink to wet the baby’s head! Only in Ireland. A great night to finish off a lovely weekend and we learned how to professionally photograph a trad session to boot!
Over the course of the four days, Celia encouraged me to try out her pro-cameras, she taught me the basics and shared lots of great tips. Feeling a little more confident, I took some shots of the trad session with Celia’s Olympus pro-camera. I no longer felt intimidated. I was hooked and a pro-camera has been added to my Santa list!
Union Hall, West Cork
Baltimore Beacon, West Cork
DeBarra’s Pub, Clonakilty
This is a lovely break away not just for those interested in nature and photography but also those seeking to try something new. It is also a great opportunity to meet new people with similar interests. Celia’s hospitality is second to none and all food served is locally produced and sourced. It was Sara’s first time in Ireland and she told us she had ‘experienced a real taste of Ireland’, ‘felt part of the community’ and found the ‘friendliness overwhelming’! Sara, if you’re reading this…come back soon and stay longer, we’ll look after you.
The four-day all inclusive photography workshop costs €590 (subject to exchange rate). This includes accommodation, all meals, tours, use of photography equipment and transfers to and from Cork Airport. Bookings for 2016 Autumn workshops in September and October are open. To book and find out more click here.
If visiting Ireland for the first time, this is a must-see and #1 stop for the ‘sightseeing in Dublin’ list. This clever, visual guided tour explores Ireland’s origin and deep culture of the celtic Irish going back as far as 10,000 years showing Ireland separated from the rest of the world by geography, genetics and culture.
The tour is made up of a series of six small theatres of audio visual displays showcasing the significant times in Ireland’s history accompanied by an excellent actor telling the story of the Irish along the way and guiding visitors through each theatre. What I like most about this tour is that it demonstrates the essence of what it means to be Irish with an enlightened, entertaining yet at times harrowing, factual summary of Ireland’s history in 60 minutes.
The tour will leave visitors with a greater understanding of Ireland, its culture, heritage, struggles and triumphs.
I managed to get the last tour of the day. There were only a few people in the group. While returning my headset at the end of the tour, one of the visitors asked me where I was from. I explained I was Irish. They told me they were living in Ireland since the beginning of the year and wanted to learn more about the country’s history. When I asked what they thought of the tour, they said they felt emotional and that they felt they understood the Irish more. I felt proud. I wanted to ask the other visitors what they thought but unfortunately didn’t get the chance.
While there is a multimedia digital element to this tour with special effects, essentially it’s an easy and interesting narrated tour. I only wish it had been around when I was in school learning about the Newgrange Winter Solstice, Ireland’s saints and scholars, the Book of Kells, the Chieftains, the Famine, the 1916 Rebellion and the war of Independence and civil war. I’m not surprised to learn that it’s very popular among school tours.
The Story of the Irish centre is conveniently located in Dublin’s northside area of Smithfield, just around the corner from the Old Jameson Distillery. The staff are very welcoming, friendly and helpful. Ticket prices vary and discounts are available for bookings online and early bird shows. Keep an eye out for occasional special offers such as, ‘Fiver Friday’ deals. See ticket prices here and opening hours here.