Ireland's Hidden Gemsby Susan Byron
- Green trails and massive variety characterize Ireland's walking vacations
- Lough Bawn House a hidden gem beautifully catered in mystical Westmeath
- King John's Castle, Limerick City, revamped and ready for action
- Irish jewelry designer creates a contemporary Ring of Kerry
- Barron's Bakery, a family-run, Waterford staple baking the best bread in Ireland for over 125 years
If you fancy a walking holiday in Ireland you won’t do better than choosing a rural Irish bed and breakfast.
Ireland is littered with way marked trails with walks of various abilities covering all of the 32 counties of Ireland, which can be a tad overwhelming for visitors. And not everybody wants to be up at the crack of dawn and gone till dusk, although there are plenty of those kind of treks if that is what you after?
Lough Bawn is an idyllic Irish country house tucked away at the bottom of a long tree-lined drive in the heart of the magical midlands of Ireland. Overlooking a shimmering lake where you can swim or take out their own private boat, peacocks strut their stuff on the front lawn.
Host Verity Butterfield, a caterer by profession, inherited the property from her mother a couple of years ago and returned from England to breathe life into Lough Bawn again by opening its handsome Georgian doors to paying guests. With just four newly decorated rooms, Lough Bawn is an intensely personal affair and perfect for couples wanting to get away from it all or small groups of friends, where you will feel more like friends of the family than merely just names on a register.
Here’s the answer to most guys prayers? A Full Irish Whisky Tour of Ireland, led by Brian Wess of Colorado, USA.
Now, what would an American know about Irish whisky you might ask? Well, Brian has spent the last 5 years training with whiskey experts & master distillers while also independently touring the whisky bars and distilleries of Ireland (nice work if you can get it) in an attempt to put together the best whisky tour of Ireland and I think he has succeeded. He has even managed to cajole private whiskey tours and tastings out of all the major Irish distilleries including Jamesons, Bushmills, Killbeggan and Tullamore Dew, which is no mean feat.
About Ireland? Well it is a small island off the West coast of Europe, about 32,000 square miles with a population of about 4.5 million people. So there’s a clue, being so sparsely populated it never gets particularly crowded, so if you are looking for a quiet, relaxing holiday you have come to the right place! Weather wise we don’t get extremes, with an average temperature of about 5 degrees Celsius in the winter and 15 in the summer. Neither do we have any nasty bugs, mosquitoes or snakes, we have St Patrick to thank for that.
There is great excitement about the Volvo Ocean Race coming to Galway on the 30th June 2012 so much so that Galway has built a huge quay side festival around it which will cater for pretty much everyone even if you haven’t the remotest interest in the boats or the racing itself.
It was a rip roaring success the first time Galway hosted the event in 2008. This was mainly due to the fantastic weather and fingers crossed we’ll get the same again.
The the city is gearing up to welcome some 100,000 visitors over the next week when the Volvo Ocean Race, which began in Alicante, Spain in October 2011 comes to a close after 39,000 grueling miles. Six teams - Abu Dhabi Racing, Camper with Emirates, Puma Ocean Racing, Team Sanya, Team Telefonica and Groupama (the French team leading the race at the moment) - will set off from L’orient in Volvo 70 footers (the fastest in the world) for the final leg and finish of the race in Galway.
Followed by successive waves of invaders such as the Vikings, Normans, English, and even the Spanish we finally achieved our Independence from England in 1916 for 26 of the counties while six in (Northern Ireland) still remain part of Britain.
With a Royal Charter older than the city of London itself, it began life as a Viking settlement on a small island in the Shannon river during the 9th century. It later became the walled medieval stronghold of Brian Boru and the high kings of Munster and Thomond before being invaded by the Normans in 12th century.
As you can imagine, Limerick has seen its share of turbulent times since, both socially, as documented by the late Frank McCourt and architecturally, in the fine Georgian area of Pery Square with the result that there is a lot to see and do here in Ireland's third largest city which is enjoying its 21st century renaissance.
There is a very old advert for electricity being re-run on RTE television at the moment called ‘Coming Home’ which depicts the emigrant (prodigal) son being picked up by his Dad at the airport and driven home to his doting (Irish) Mammy who is busy preparing the house for his arrival.
The beautiful old house is lit up like a Christmas tree, the immersion is on, so himself can have a hot bath while the electric blanket warms up his bed and something nice has just been popped in the oven.
Wouldn’t it be nice to give something especially Irish this Christmas? Not only would you be supporting Ireland’s economic recovery if you have a mind to, but also lots of jobs that keep those rural communities we are all so fond of as tourists alive and awake! But most importantly you or your loved ones would be receiving a quality gift that will be appreciated and valued for its uniquely Irish appeal.
Like Waterford Crystal, who wouldn’t be pleased to ring in 2012 with a couple of crystal champagne flutes? The first edition Partridge in a Pear Tree from Waterford Crystals 12 Days of Christmas Range are reduced by 70% at www.giftshopireland.com while stocks last, they are fast becoming modern day collectibles. Just like their cut glass tree ornaments and baubles which make the perfect one size fits all gifts, from new babies, to birthdays and anniversaries and even hostess gifts this time of year. Gift Shop Ireland has the widest selection of Waterford Crystal in the world, as well as an exclusive on Nicholas Mosse pottery. Plus they are offering a 10% discount and free shipping worldwide for all Irish Central readers, simply enter the code Christmas Gifts at point of purchase.
The Natural History Museum in Dublin is the oldest museum in Ireland having been opened by Doctor David Livingstone (no less) in 1857. Known locally as the Dead Zoo, it has been a favorite of generations of Dubliners ever since.
Dubliners are on first name terms with many of the exhibits, including Spotticus the Giraffe. Spotticus is is now happily tweeting away to his loyal band of global fans, following his recent makeover in the Netherlands. Seemingly, caught in a time warp, this cabinet-style 'museum of a museum' has just recently been revamped and reopened to the public.
With some 10,000 items currently on display and another 2 million in storage, it houses the treasure trove of countless Victorian collectors. As you can imagine, Nigel Monaghan, curator of the Museum explains that’s an awful lot of dusting ...
Summer is long gone and our thoughts are turning inwards to cosying up in front of a crackling log fire with a nice hot whiskey having perhaps tramped through a thick carpet of leaves in an ancient beech wood.
Ireland has many beautiful forests, national parks and leafy lanes bordering ancient riverside walks that wind their way through quaint little Irish villages that thankfully have retained their rural charm. Old fashioned, meaty butchers sport big roasts, proper sausages and locally caught game if you are lucky. The smell of freshly baked bread and cakes (you can forget your diet on a weekend away in Ireland) wafts out of small bakeries turned coffee shops where you can sit and people-watch a different kind of lifestyle altogether.
Ireland is renowned for it's magnificent landscapes being blessed with a diversity not many countries can equal, but having just picked up Daragh Muldowney’s beautiful new book even I have had to do a double take.
Called "Jewellery Box - Irelands Hidden Gems" (I wish I could have taken credit for it) but am more than happy to endorse his excellent work.
Daragh spotted something (under his feet) no one else did and had the creative genius to expose it, in this wonderful selection of images.
While people all over the world are certainly mindful of the terrible tragedy that occurred on that sunny September morning in New York City, the Irish have a special interest in paying their respects it seems, as the Ground Zero 360 exhibition at the Museum of Decorative Arts and History in Dublin is seeing huge footfall since it opened on August 18th.
Poignant reminders of that fateful day, forever etched in our lives, are portrayed in Nicola McClean’s haunting panoramic photographs.
Clear evidence of our long history of emigration to the U.S. is there to be seen on the roster of Rescue 2, FDNY, Brooklyn which lost 7 men that day including an M O’Rourke and the many, many others who died that day. Whether they were worked in the World Trade Centre or were ‘just doing their job’ in the Emergency Services, as many of their heart broken comrades have commented since.
I have to say I prefer the Old Jameson's Distillery as a visitor attraction to the Guinness Storehouse for the simple reason that the tour here is guided whereas in Guinness’s you are left to your own devices. Which can be very pleasant, especially above in the Gravity Bar with a view of the city and a pint in your hand, but for me I want something more?
I like to leave a place a little bit wiser and in Jameson's case (a little bit tipsy) having learned something. Properly guided tours will do that for you and at Jameson's it’s very well done, just the right length of time and information to hold your attention, finishing up with a genuinely, convivial tasting session in the Jameson's Bar.
Perhaps, when you understand how something is made you appreciate it more? It’s quite amazing how three simple ingredients, barley, water and yeast can be turned into ‘uisce beatha’ or the water of life? And interesting too, how each of the processes, whether it was the malting of the barley, the marrying of the whiskey in casks or the vatting into bottles, shaped the lives and social history of such a small part of Dublin. Surely they could never have imagined Jameson's whiskey becoming the global phenomenon it is today.
Taras Palace is modeled on the famous Titania’s Palace which was sadly lost to Ireland in the 1970s and is now on display at Egeskov Castle in Denmark. The original having been built in Dublin in the early 1900s for Sir Neville Wilkinson’s daughter Gwendolen, who like all other little girls believed in fairies.
A wealthy man, he commissioned artists and craftsmen from all over the world to recreate this view of their privileged world in precise and meticulous miniature. With 18 rooms and over 3000 individual pieces it took some 18 years to complete and such a triumph that it went on public display for childrens’ charities, a role Tara’s Palace continues today.
I am not sure I should really be telling you about the Hidden Places of Ireland, an amalgamation of five of the nicest self-catering properties you will find in the Midlands, as I seem to have stumbled upon a little corner of paradise tucked away in North Tipperary that I would rather keep to myself. Previously I had only imagined what treasures might lie at the bottom of those seemingly endless driveways that wind their way through grassy parklands, studded with magnificent mature trees with only the odd racehorse lazily lifting his head to see who it is that has interrupted his bucolic peacefulness. For this is Aga-land darlings, where life in the big house rubs off nicely on the little houses this nice group of people let out on occasion to the savvy few. There isn’t a sound in these quiet back waters, apart from the rhythmic slushing of the watermill or the butterflies dancing through the flowery borders. Or the buzzing of bees in the organic gardens filled to bursting with exotic varieties of vegetables, asparagus peas anyone....
Not only are each of the properties totally unique like the Manhattan meets Moneygall style stone loft at Ballylina or the rose strew romantic Cottage by the Well at Fancroft . But really clever piece is that the owners each bring something, other than delicious food to the table, that they are happy to share with you. Roderick has a passion for classic cars, Tessa and Wink have horses and love all things equestrian, you can even stay with one of Ireland’s most acclaimed garden designers Angela Jupe and enjoy free access to her beautiful walled garden! how cool is that? There are breakfast packs of organic rashers and sausages from Oldfarm available if you fancy? not to mention brown bread homemade from locally milled flour and fresh eggs from the curious chickens that wander about freely, including vegetables and fruit in season. It’s a little peak at paradise and how the other (wise) half live, that can be yours for a week or a few days at a time....
For more information and details about price and availability visit
God be with the days of the Celtic Tiger when the Galway Race Festival was the richest and most glamorous event in Ireland’s summer sporting calendar. Where the golden circle used to press the flesh and toast their success in an endless flow of free champagne in the hospitality tents, at someone else’s expense! While the ordinary mortals, having spent hours in traffic queues as long as the M50 had to then join the scrum for an overpriced warm drink in a plastic glass, just to be part of the great occasion that is the Galway Races. Not to mention risking the fake tan (rain equals paint stripper) or your silly hat (gale force winds) are all par for the course in an Irish summer and I have never known ‘the going’ to be good enough for any Louboutin heel yet..
But, don’t get me wrong, 500,000 plus visitors every year would surely agree it’s the place to be, but listen up for some ‘hot ‘ tips. How to double your money? Apart from folding it in half and putting it straight back in your pocket? Well for starters? What everybody in Galway knows there is a lot more Sex (or whatever it is you are after) to be had in the City than on the Racetrack, leave that to the aficionados.
The fashionistas will party till dawn, then sleep till noon, spend the afternoon in hair and make up before shimmying on up to any of the top hotels cocktails lounges, fresh as the proverbial daisy, just as the lucky winners trickle in from the helipad….now that’s what I call studying the form girls.
We are getting a rather mixed bag (to put it politely) of summer weather, so here’s a few ideas that will keep you warm, dry and entertained when it’s a soft day ( ie bucketing it down). Top of the list has to be the National Museum of Irelands Fab Four ie the Museum of Archaeology, the Museum of Decorative Arts & History, the Natural History Museum and the Museum of Country Life and the good news is that admission to all four is free!
The Museum of Archaeology on Kildare Street is quite simply fantastic and right in the heart of all the action (government buildings are next door) an iconic architectural gem in its own right with zodiac floor and marble columns, not to mention the gold collection, the bog bodies, plus a horde of Viking treasures. And you can take the weight off your feet for a while and watch a film in the theater upstairs, it also has a very good cafe.
The Natural History Museum just around the corner on Merrion Street, houses what is fondly known in Dublin as the ‘Dead Zoo’ these stuffed animals have been dead for a very long time ie since I was a child, so we are on first name terms Spoticus –the giraffe and me. Rent out ‘A Night in the Museum’ to get kids (or yourself) in the mood and let your imagination run riot!
Possible 'Little Ice Age' for Ireland could last 11 years as sun cools
The same evocative line of thought will lure some 500,000 to Waterford this weekend to visit the Tall Ships Festival which will be largest event in Ireland this year. Some 50 ships from all over Europe are taking part in the Tall Ships Race organised by the Sail Training Association of England with predominately youth crews of every nationality with youngsters still being asked to sign up for this leg of the race to Scotland. Oh to be under 25 again, never mind...
I was lucky enough to crew on the Stavros Niarchos once upon a time and it was magical, if hard work ! The first thing you are asked (gently encouraged) to do is go ‘up and over’ the rigging which is nerve wrecking the first time but you are doing it in your sleep (quite literally) by the end of the week. Because, while the ship is crewed by trainees on rotating watches you do have to be available to man the ‘bracing stations’, which can mean a sail change, so up you go.
As is often the case the 'must see sights’ in any country (but most especially in Ireland) are the very ones to avoid? No prudent independent traveller wants to be ripped off or more importantly, waste their precious holiday time on over-rated tourist traps that should have been closed down a long time ago.
With fine weather on the horizon there has never been a better time to expand yours or your childrens by taking a self catering holiday at home. Only an hour from Dublin the lovely Belan Lodge, boyhood playground of the great Irish explorer Ernest Shackleton can be yours too for a week or a weekend. No long bank holiday drive, its a genuine hidden gem of a place, wild out with plenty of nature walks, canal banks and gastro pubs to be explored and whats more its very affordable, child and animal friendly, so what's keeping you?
Originally part of the very large and prestigous Belan House Estate which belonged to the Earls of Aldborough for over 400 years, before unfortunately being abandoned due to bad debts and mismanagement, although the Cornmills attached were always very successful. And they belonged once upon a time to Ebenezer Shackleton, uncle of the famous Irish Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton. The Cornmills had one of the longest and deepest millraces in Ireland at the time which must have been a haven for the young boy with adventure in his veins.
As it was for another young lady, who wrote in the 1830’s of her childhood reminiscences of Belan, being the happiest of her life. “Here, on hot summer's evenings, we used to sit and watch the dragon files. I had never seen dragonflies before, and could not associate them with flies, I could only think of them as tiny winged spirits, whispering messages from afar to the reeds and irises which grew at the water’s edge...
PHOTOS - Queen Elizabeth II's historic visit to Ireland photo gallery
On her recent visit to Ireland, Queen Elizabeth indulged her passion for racehorses with private visits to several Irish Studs including Gilmore where she lunched with the Aga Khan.
She also publicly visited the Irish National Stud to view the legendry Invincible Spirit, who I am told was impeccably behaved as always!
A most popular candidate the only thing that is likely to stop him is a dodgy electoral system or media prejudice regarding his sexual persuasion? David Norris is gay, so what? While he may be a fan of Georgian architecture, this is no Joycean dandy but a committed politician, an impassioned human rights campaigner, a proud Dubliner and Irishman.
And yes he has Anglo Irish roots but which one of us does’nt? Would it matter if he was part African-American? In fact his Irish roots go back to 6th century Laois on his mother’s side whose family the MacGiollas were servants of the kings of Ossary. A fitting legacy perhaps, for someone who see his new role as a servant of the people and country of Ireland.
Ballyvaughan village is a lovely little village on the road out to Doolin in north Clare. Voted one of the 10 best road trips in the world by Condé Nast Traveller it never disappoints. Picture postcard pretty, it nestles in the heart of the Burren, against a sheer backdrop of mountains all the way out to magnificent Black Head.
Only over the road from where I live it’s where I go for the paper on Saturday mornings or for a wander around the farmers market during the summer, which also includes an excellent craft fair in the Old School every Sunday. Village life centres around the Spar shop which is well stocked with a great deli counter and good wine list. The resident ‘fat cat’ lounges around outside cadging titbits from tourists waiting for the bus to Doolin.
Ballyvaughan though small, has a bit of everything pubs, hotels, restaurants, coffee shops and even an international college of art. There are plenty of gift shops including Quinns (traditional crafts) and Lillimar(more contemporary) with nice jewellery and home items. Ballyvaughan is a kind of sybarite heaven, not least for the locals? A small perfect beach at Bishopsquarter (that’s never packed) the gorgeous Fear Gorta (hungry grass)Cottage Tearooms where believe me you will never go hungry. And all of this in the rampant floral paradise that is the Burren in early summer when alpine flowers such as blue gentians, mountain avens blend with wild orchids and geraniums. A new festival celebrating this unique phenomenon, the Burren in Bloom takes place the whole month of May with plenty of free walks and talks among the flowers.