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.

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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…

 

 

 

 

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West Cork Photography Breaks

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.

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.

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Toe Head, Castletownshend, West Cork

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)…

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.

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!

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!

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.

 

A Galway wedding and day-trip

So my brother married a fabulous Galway girl a couple of weeks ago and the wedding took us to the Raheen Woods Hotel in Athenry – a perfect location, just a 10-minute drive from the church (in Maree) and Galway City, and access to the Wild Atlantic Way. A deserved winner of the IASI (Irish Accommodation Services Institute) Gold Award in 2015, the relaxed and friendly atmosphere of the hotel ensured we had a magical weekend.

We arrived at the hotel on the Friday evening and enjoyed a tasty meal from the bar menu. Family and friends from Dublin arrived throughout the evening and it wasn’t long before a sing song kicked off! We had great fun with the locals, who joined in from around the bar…as long as we didn’t request ‘The Fields of Athenry‘! Ha!

On the big day, the weather behaved and the beautiful ceremony was followed by a brilliant reception/dinner/party/session in the Raheen Woods. The craic was mighty and the party stayed going in the residence bar until the wee hours.

The next day and before our final night of celebrations, my sister Kathy and I took our very cool 13-year-old niece, Sadhbh, for a quick day-trip into Galway city. Sadhbh is 100% Dubliner so we wanted to show her another cool city (being the cool aunties that we are).

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We only had a couple of hours to spend in the city so we parked near Eyre Square and headed towards the city’s pedestrianised Latin Quarter to check out some of the best-known shops, bars and restaurants.

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One of the things I love most about Galway is its music and busking tradition. There were several buskers on the streets, singing and playing music of all sorts. Sadhbh is a budding musician and really enjoyed it.

We strolled through the Galway Market in Church Lane by St Nicholas’ Church. Lots of stalls filled with locally produced art, crafts and food. It was a Sunday, so it wasn’t as busy compared to a Saturday I’m guessing, but still bustling.

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We made our way up to Quay street and happened upon Cofferwerk + Press, a cool coffee and craft shop – combining two things I love (and another reason to love Galway). As soon as we stepped inside, good vibes surrounded us.  It felt like we were somewhere else in Europe, like Amsterdam or Berlin, which I understand are cities that influenced the owners. The ground floor served coffee and teas while the second and third floors displayed quirky art and crafts from Galway and other European cities. There was also a funky record player with a brilliant selection of vinyl records to play. There were plenty of lovely gift items. My sister picked up some retro lights and I picked up some cards designed by Screech Owl Design. I reckon Sadhbh was pretty impressed too as she took lots of pics…“#Thisisacoolplace”

We spent a little longer browsing in Coffeewerk + Press than intended so instead of wandering further up Quay Street we decided to drop back into Tigh Neachtain’s for a pint (minerals for Sadhbh and designated driver). We grew up in a family pub business, which Kathy now owns, and because of this we like to check out the famous, traditional pubs in the places we visit.  Tigh Neachtain’s is one of those pubs, oozing with character. Over 120 years old, it’s situated on the corner of Quay Street and Cross Street.  The interior is made up of several small snugs along short corridors leading to the main bar, which stocks a large and varied selection of drinks, including its own home brewed beers.

With little seating space we were lucky to have found a spot in the corner to sit and watch the comings and goings. There was an elderly gentleman at the bar counter speaking with the staff. He looked like a real character, dressed in an old tweed jacket with elbow pads, a funky man scarf and a trilby hat. Then a little bit of Irish magic happened. He made his way over to where we were seated and right beside us, lifted the cover off an old piano, which we hadn’t spotted!  He delved into a beautiful rendition of ‘Moon River’ and for the next 20 minutes we were serenaded by great singing and piano playing. In true Irish form, and just when we were settling in, our piano player (named Jerry) answered a call on his mobile phone mid-song. It was a message to let him know his dinner was ready so he had to go…only in Ireland!

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Sadhbh’s phone died (#Catastrophe) and it was time for us to go too. Dinner and our final night in the hotel awaited us. There was so much more to see and do in Galway city but it would have to wait until the next time.

Galway recently won European Region of Gastronomy destination for 2018, an award that recognises innovation and integration in gastronomy, culture, tourism and economy. Galway certainly deserves this accolade. I will be back for a foodie tour very soon!

All round successful yet brief day-trip to this wonderful, cultural city! Sadhbh loved it. We loved it. What’s not to love about Galway, a city for all ages!

 

 

 

 

 

Burren Food Trail

Calling all food lovers, the Burren Food Trail is one of the most enchanting food destinations in Ireland.

Irish Winner of the 2015 EDEN (European Destination of Excellence) Award, the Burren Food Trail invites visitors to this beautiful region in Co Clare to taste food grown and produced locally from a list of recognised establishments in the area.

We stayed three nights in the Wild Honey Inn, a charming establishment with stylish accommodation and award winning restaurant that includes a Michelin Bib Gourmand award for good food at a moderate price. I also learned that it is the first pub in Ireland to receive this award. Perfectly located in the small village of Lisdoonvarna and about a 15-minute drive from the Cliffs of Moher.

It was late in the evening when we arrived but just in time for dinner – our first taste of the Burren! My starter, an Endive and Roquefort salad, was incredible followed by probably the best steak I’ve ever tasted, finished with the gooiest, yummiest chocolate fondant dessert I’ve ever experienced. We shared a bottle of red and found our surroundings easy and relaxed.

Owned and run by Aidan McGrath and Kate Sweeney, their passion and love for Irish food and hospitality is obvious. Our room was delightfully quaint and an absolute steal at €40 per person, per night, which included breakfast. Kate also offered her advice on things to do in the area.

For our second day we set off early for a tour of the Burren National Park with Tony Kirby, recommended by Kate. A lovely tour, which we followed up with a visit to the Burren Perfumery for some tea and cake. You can read more about our experience here.

For dinner on our second night, we opted to stay close and walked five minutes up the road from our accommodation to the Roadside Tavern, winner of the 2016 Best Gastro Pub Award at the recent Restaurant Association’s Food Oscar Awards for the Clare and Munster regions. (The Wild Honey Inn won Best Restaurant in Clare).

The Tavern is legendary for its live music and friendly atmosphere. We were seated immediately and kept nicely entertained by a live acoustic session until our food arrived. Forming part of the Burren Food Trail, the Tavern’s restaurant ‘Kieran’s Kitchen’, is also associated by family with the Burren Smokehouse (located just beside the Tavern). Several of the dishes on the menu feature smoked salmon from the family’s award-winning Smokehouse. I went for the baked ‘Hot Smoked Salmon’ dish, which was fresh and tasty.

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On our third and final day, a storm was headed our way. We decided to chance the walk from Doolin to the Cliffs of Moher, which was about 8km and took about 2 hours each way. One of the most stunning walks I’ve ever experienced. Read more about the walk here.

Although we wanted to check out another restaurant along the Food Trail on our final night, our bodies told us to stay put. We spoiled ourselves once again in the Wild Honey Inn. I went for the scallops this time.  Amazing.

By morning the storm was in full force, an orange weather warning was in place. The drive to Dublin seemed daunting. Kate offered us tea and cookies and time to relax and read our newspaper in the drawing room until the worst of it was over.

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Finally the weather cleared and there was one more place we wanted to check out – the Tea and Garden rooms in Ballyvaughan and one of their house specialities, home baked berry cheesecake. The cheesecake was made famous in 2011 when Hollywood director, Steven Spielberg flew in to Shannon on his private jet en route to Monaco to pick up a slice! He had sampled the cheesecake during a visit to Ireland two years previously. He travelled the 70km from Shannon airport with his family to pick up the cheesecake and returned to his private jet to continue to Monaco. I totally understand why he did this! Delicious cakes and a lovely end to our Burren Food Trail.

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Choice of homemade cakes in the Tea & Garden Rooms, Ballyvaughan

The Burren is a magical place in Ireland with so much to see and do to excite the senses. Find out more about The Burren here.

 

 

Doolin to Cliffs of Moher

As far as cliff walks go, Doolin to the Cliffs of Moher in Co Clare is pretty spectacular.

Ranked the best ‘cliff-view’ on the planet by Conde Nast Traveler, the Cliffs of Moher are the second most visited attraction in Ireland after the Guinness Storehouse. Over 1.2 million people visited the cliffs in 2015.

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When planning a trip to Co Clare and the Burren Food Trail last year, a friend of mine suggested I include a walk from Doolin to the Cliffs of Moher. He knew I’d love it!

During our trip, we stayed in the fabulous Wild Honey Inn in Lisdoonvarna, which was about a 10-minute drive from Doolin. The weather wasn’t great but we decided to do the walk regardless. It was dull when we arrived in Doolin but the colourful shops and pubs lining the main street made it brighter. We parked up opposite Gus O’Connor’s pub (famous for its traditional music) and headed for the cliffs.

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Looking back at Fisherstreet, Doolin

It was a bit of a steep walk up out of the main street and following the road to the right for about half a kilometre until we reached the sign for the Cliffs!

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From this point the walk was generally easy with the Atlantic ocean on our right and the tranquil, rural landscape on our left. We could see the gradual rise of the cliffs as we followed the track along the cliff edge. The beautiful pinks of sea rose dotted our path, which was a lovely contrast against the dull sky. The views were spectacular and we hadn’t even reached the highest point yet!

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The track took us a little inland for a couple of kilometres until we had made our way closer to the highest point of the cliffs, which stand at 214m high. From here, we joined up with the hundreds of people visiting the centre. Words can’t describe the beauty at this point. It was simply breathtaking.

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We followed the legions of people walking the main path. It was quite surreal how close we were to the edge. Really incredible. My heart was in my mouth as I watched the brave couple (pictured below) shuffle their way as close as possible to the edge for a ‘cliff selfie’. Successfully thank goodness!

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It was too busy to stay for coffee so we decided to keep going and return to Doolin before the rain started. The walk back was just as stunning, passing some curious bystanders along the way too!

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The rain held off for most of our journey, which was about 8km each way, four hours or so in total. I was glad to see the colours of the main street as we made our final descent into the village. Our last stop was the Doolin Chocolate Shop for some well-earned fudge and a triple chocolate bar! Sweet and delicious, perfect after our lovely, long walk.

 

 

 

Burren National Park

It’s hard to beat a holiday in Ireland when the sun shines, especially a place like The Burren in Co Clare. A magical area of 18,000 hectares of exposed limestone stretching across northern Clare, a truly spectacular sight.

The word “Burren” comes from an Irish word “Boireann” meaning a rocky place. Filled with a unique mix of Alpine, Arctic and Mediterranean wild flowers, it’s also one of Europe’s most important botanical regions.

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Last year we spent a couple of days in Clare staying in the Wild Honey Inn sampling the culinary delights of the Burren Food Trail. During our stay we wanted to learn more about the rich cultural heritage of the region so we arranged a tour of the Burren National Park with Tony Kirby. He came highly recommended and he didn’t disappoint.

We arranged to meet Tony at the Burren Centre in Kilfernora and he drove us to the National Park. It was a tricky route to navigate as we got closer to the Park, so we were happy Tony was driving!

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A mine of information, Tony’s knowledge of the landscape, wildlife and history of the area is incredible. As we walked through the park, Tony also pointed out the various wild flowers, unique to the region, providing information on each.  Apparently we were lucky to spot the Spring Genitan, otherwise known as the Alpine wonder and icon of the Burren. My favourite flower was the cat’s paw, which looks and feels like a cat’s paw!

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The Spring Genitan – the icon of the Burren
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Cat’s Paw

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A nature lover’s paradise, the tour took around two hours. To find out more, check out Tony’s website here.

Tony dropped us back to our car and after all the talk about exotic flowers, we decided to pay a visit to the Burren Perfumery.

Located about 2km from Carran, the Perfumery produces perfumes, oils, soaps and creams onsite inspired by the surrounding landscape. The small family-run facility is tucked away behind trees and rocks in the heart of the Burren. The approach to the car park is quite magical and the scents of its flowers and herb garden fill the air the closer you get.

The rain started to fall again so we headed straight for the Tea Rooms for some tea and cake before taking a little walk in the garden. A beautiful place to visit, good for the soul.

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The Burren is a truly spectacular place and just earlier this month, The Burren and Cliffs of Moher Geopark was recognised as a Global leader in sustainable destination development, a scheme that honours tourism companies, organisations and destinations regarded as leaders in sustainable tourism best practice. A well-deserved accolade for this wonderful eco-friendly tourist destination. Read more about it here.