A Lighthouse Staycation at Galley Head, West Cork

A brilliant staycation at Galley Head lighthouse, West Cork, Ireland surrounded by stunning scenery.  The lighthouse is situated at the most southernmost point of the headland known as Dundeady Island and close to the town of Clonakilty.

Eight girls on tour staying in two private and interconnecting houses at Galley Head Lighthouse. Among us, Joanna Bourke, a Ballymaloe trained chef, who keeps us well fed and watered throughout! Check out Joanna’s fabulous food blog, The Chopping Board, for lots of great recipes and upcoming events.

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Chilled out vibes are set as we approach the lighthouse driving along the rugged coastline with the beautiful, tall, white structure in the distance, striking against the blue sky and green fields. Up and around a long winding road towards the first locked gate that opens to a private road that takes you to another locked gate, which opens into the private property of the magnificent lighthouse. Stunning. If feels like we are the only people on the Island of Ireland, and on this part, we are!

Four of us arrive on the first day with the remaining four arriving the next day. We are lucky with the weather on day one, a clear blue sky and a stunning sunset – a thick fog is forecast for the rest of the long weekend but it does not dampen our spirits.

We are greeted by Lighthouse keeper, Gerald Butler and his partner Maria, who show us around the accommodation and promise to give us a private tour of the lighthouse during our stay. The rooms and kitchens are good-sized with fantastic views of the sea and lighthouse. Fully furnished, utensils, dishwasher, towels, blankets etc., plus some books, jigsaws and board games but there is WiFi for those who do not want to escape from the world completely.

After settling in, we pack a small picnic bag with beer, wine, cheese, crackers, Pringles and fancy plastic wine cups (our Ballymaloe trained chef has not arrived yet!) and head off to explore the surrounding area. We meander back down the bendy road a short distance to the nearby cliffs, wrapping up warm and settling down to watch the beautiful sunset. In the distance, and as the sun goes down, the beam from the lighthouse is visible and breath-taking.

The walk back to the lighthouse is fun and a little eerie but the beaming light guiding us ‘home’ is reassuring. The fire is lit and we relax around the kitchen table catching up over wine. It’s a clear night, so we grab some blankets and lie down on the ground outside for a short while looking up at the stars as the lighthouse beam rotates around the sky. The only sound being the sea beneath us. It is not long though before we return to our cosy house for more wine!

The following morning I wake up to spectacular views from my bedroom. The rest of the gang arrive and we get out and about to explore. Gerald stays true to his promise and comes back to give us a wonderful tour of the lighthouse – just before the fog rolls in.

The rest of the weekend is spent chilling, eating, catching up, enjoying great food, stories, music, singing, new friends, old friends, wine and more wine, open fires, walks and laughs, lots of laughs.

Throughout our stay I feel the ebb and flow of the sea and the energy from the lighthouse, even in the fog it shines brightly. I sleep better than I have slept in a long time. The energy among friends and place is electric and one of the best I have experienced.

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Gerald has written a wonderful book titled, ‘The Lightkeeper’ detailing his memories as a lightkeeper for Irish Lights and his experiences serving at many lighthouses on the Irish coast during his 21 year full-time career.  An extraordinary story-teller and charming man, Gerald says: “The secret to staying happy is about being constantly curious, being open to new things and to go with the ebb and flow of life.” I couldn’t agree more. This lovely, short video of an interview with Gerald captures him and the stunning scenery around Galley Head perfectly!

If you’re planning a break away with family or friends I cannot recommend a stay at Galley Head lighthouse highly enough! A magical experience. Galley Head is an Irish Landmark Trust property and to book a stay, check out their website. Also, check out the Great Lighthouses of Ireland website to find out more about the lighthouses on the island of Ireland.

 

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A visit to the National Print Museum

The National Print Museum, tucked away in the Old Garrison Chapel of the Beggars Bush Barracks on Haddington Road, Dublin 4 is a little gem dedicated to the history of letterpress printing.

The museum is small but fascinating with a number of old printing machines laid out across the exhibit floor space. Upstairs there is an exhibit space. When I visited, there was an exhibit called, “Green Sleeves: The Irish Printed Record”, examining the Irish-printed album cover of Irish groups as well as albums from abroad referencing Ireland or Irishness. The collection dated from the 1950s to present day and it brought back a lot of good memories as I walked around.

When I first stumbled upon this Museum I had been looking for the PRESS Café, which is located beside it. When I entered the Old Chapel building, there were a several people looking around at old printers dotted around the floor space. There were also a few men working on some of the old machines.

Turns out the men were active retired printers and typesetters, volunteering their time to maintain the old print machines, and to assist with front of house duties as well as with the Museum’s education programme.  Alf, one of the volunteers, kindly introduced himself and offered to show me around. He demonstrated some of the machines, including the large Wharfedale Stop Cylinder Press, the machine similar to the one that the 1916 Proclamation was printed on. Framed and hanging on the wall beside it, is an original 1916 Proclamation.

Alf told me first-hand accounts about the creation of the original Proclamation from the men who were involved in its production. He explained to me that he had these accounts because he had heard the men speaking at a special 1916 commemoration event in the 1960s! He then pointed out some of the technical imperfections in the printing on the original document, which he explained “as understandable” given the circumstances the compositors and printer had been under at the time. He relayed their stories with great enthusiasm and I felt privileged to hear them.

I was then shown letterpress printing techniques by another volunteer, a retired print engineer, who also shared with me his experience as a newspaper editor over 40 years ago and the difficulties he had faced every day using these techniques. This, I thoroughly enjoyed! A lovely, unexpected morning in the national print museum.

I did have coffee (and cake) eventually in Press café and it was delicious!

For more information about the National Print Museum and upcoming events and workshops, check out their website here.

 

 

 

St Patrick’s Day Parade in Dublin

Horse Bird run throughThe 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…

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Zipping Through Dublin Mountains

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!

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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!

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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.

Sadhbh braving new heights

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.

Hiking with The Hazel House

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.Hazel House

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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

Goats and Grub on Dalkey Island

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.

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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!

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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.

Martello Tower -approaching the Island

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.

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Goats Muglins Lighthouse

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.

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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.

sailing around Dalkey Island

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!

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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!

Dingle – great food, ceol agus craic

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!

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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.

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Hats off to these two clowns, who ran the full marathon bare foot to raise money for charity.  They ran a good time too!

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.

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Tucking into our first drinks…of many
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Random magic tricks in Dick Mack’s after last orders with the lovely barman (right) assisting. Bants and lols, love this pub.

To be fair, there are plenty of great pubs in Dingle, like Foxy John’s, Currans, O’Sullivan’s, O’Flaherty’s, Murphy’s and Kennedy’s Bar.  The South Pole Inn, formerly owned by the Antarctic explorer Tom Crean, is on my list to visit this year.

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.

Dingle harbour

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.

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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.

Dingle sunset

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 BlueThe 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…

 

 

 

 

New Epic experience in Dublin

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.

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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.

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Migration from Ireland

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.

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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.

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‘The US Presidency is an extraordinary example of Irish political success. At least 22 presidents, including Barack Obama, can lay claim to Irish roots.’

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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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’!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bloom in the Park

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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Awarded Gold in the Small Garden Category, ‘The Legend of Tarzan’, is a miniature African jungle. If you look closely you’ll see the gorillas! Find out more here.
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‘The Legend of Tarzan’
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Gold in the Large Garden category for the The Savills Garden, ‘Face to Face’, designed to reconnect us with our environment and each other in an age dominated by social media. I like the way the pond looks like an iPhone screen!
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‘Face to Face’
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Gold in the Large Garden category for the Santa Rita garden, ‘Living La Vida 120 Garden’, bringing a taste of South America to Bloom. According to the designer, Chileans love enjoying food and wine Al Fresco (don’t we all) so the garden is designed to be a place to entertain and relax!
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‘Living La Vida 120 Garden’
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This beautiful garden also caught my eye, themed ‘Across Boundaries’. A Gold in the Large Garden category, it’s a representation of how the concept of Social Farming can play a vital role in therapy participants within the healthcare system. The photo doesn’t do it justice, there was so much more going on. Find out more here.
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For the first time, two international gardens feature in Bloom. The Yi-Garden meaning ‘Garden of Friendship’, is my overall favourite. The garden originates from Yangzhou City in China and is known for its oddly layered rockeries.
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Yi-Garden
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The second international garden is from Chicago and themed, ‘Bridge the Gap’, which represents bridging the gap between Ireland and North America. The yellow band representing Ireland, the darker green band representing North America and Chicago and the blue features representing the Atlantic ocean. A Gold for this too!

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.

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Goal’s Damascus Courtyard, ‘War and Peace’

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!

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Lough Boora Discovery Park

Located in the heart of Ireland in Co Offaly, Lough Boora Discovery Park is an award-winning eco-tourist destination, situated on rehabilitated peatlands and managed by Bord na Móna.

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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.

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Lough Boora Discovery Park, Offaly

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.

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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.

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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.

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Lough Boora Discovery Park

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!