Ireland's Hidden Gemsby Susan Byron
- Barron's Bakery, a family-run, Waterford staple baking the best bread in Ireland for over 125 years
- Step into a storybook garden with a fairytale castle at Lismore Castle and Gardens Arts Centre in County Waterford
- Colorado native has a eureka moment - sets up "Full Irish Whisky Tour of Ireland"
- Ireland's top ten tourist attractions in 2013 - Where to go and what to see in Ireland
- "Where to Eat, Sleep & Play in Ireland in 2013" during The Gathering
Christmas in Ireland, kind of started for us a month ago with the onset of the artic weather when we were forced to down tools and stay indoors which is normally what we do out of choice for practically a month at Christmas anyway. Thankfully most people were already well stocked up with Christmas goodies so there were quite a few tins of Cadburys Roses and Quality Street consumed, not being that organised myself, I even had to resort to raiding my nephews Selection Boxes!
And while it was a novelty for the first few days, and beyond picture postcard pretty, cabin fever set in quickly enough, which is fine if you are fit and able and can brave it out in the cold, but desperate for older neighbours and friends. Some people in the Slieve Bloom mountains have not been able to leave their homes for over a month now. And while we are good at looking after each other in Ireland and by nature sociable, it can be very isolating and lonely especially at this time of the year.
It’s all about family in Ireland at Christmas time and getting home, even if you are wondering why the hell you bothered by Stephens Day, it’s a lot of pressure most of us can do without. There are 1000’s of people still stranded at airports here and in the UK and my heart goes out to them, there is nothing more miserable then that. Some, like my brother are making epic treks via trains, ferry and possibly yak at this stage to get home to a high stool and a decent pint of Guinness in the company of old friends.
Tomorrow, December 21st is the winter solstice and shortest day of the year when the inner chamber at Newgrange, a World Heritage site, is flooded with light for just a few minutes at sunrise. This year is particularly special because for the first time in 450 years a a total lunar eclipse will occur at the same time, an omen for much needed new enlightment for Ireland? perhaps.
Pre-dating the pyramids this Irish megalithic structure is that precisely aligned and has stood the test of time as just that, a finely tuned highly accurate, despite the subsequent slight tilting of the earths axis, instrument of time. The rising sun gradually illuminates the carved standing stones of the passage eventually reaching the innermost chamber, for what sacred rite or purpose nobody knows for sure.... I was lucky enough to witness this once upon a time, which seemed to stand still, it was like seeing and breathing liquid gold, not something you would ever forget and a great privilege. Nowadays to be present on the solstice, you have to apply to the national lottery to be in with a chance. Daily public access to the monument is through the excellent Bru na Boinne exhibition centre on the far side of the river. There is a simulation of the soltice but its not the same.....
Christmas in rural Ireland fádo, fádo (a long time ago) as it is depicted in Bunratty Folk Park, can only be described as utterly charming and ultimately heartwarming. There is a wave of proud austerity sweeping over Ireland right now in light of recent financial catastrophes and the desire to get back to our roots where hard work, neighbourly kindness and supporting the local community were the order of the day, has never been more keenly felt then at the end of 2010.
Ignore what the media are saying, there is no miserableness on the ground here in Ireland, despite the financial ‘hardship’. But a renewed sense of pride and resilience, we know we have a great country and even better people, and that we will show the world we are a force to be reckoned with in 2011. But first, we are going to enjoy Christmas probably more than ever before because we appreciate just how blessed we really are, by returning to the simple customs and traditions of the past. We have already had more than a ‘sprinkling’ of snow with lots more promised so the scene is set for…
Lighting a candle on Christmas Eve, just as it used to be in every household throughout Ireland, as a symbol of welcome to Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus, who would be born that night. The same welcome was extended to not only friends and neighbours but especially returning family, who were often ‘out foreign’ working which is sadly the case again in Ireland. But never mind, nobody in Ireland is going ‘to die with the hunger’ certainly not at Christmas, when there will be a nice fat, pasture reared turkey or goose on the table along with all the trimmings, including the Pudding and Cake.
Ireland is still caught up an icy Arctic spell of wintry weather that has brought a festive touch to Ireland's landscape albeit a couple of weeks too early. Never mind we need cheering up and warming up and what better way then 'throw'ing on something handwoven in Ireland.
Foxford Woollen Mills has been doing just that for generations. It nestles quietly in the shadow of Nephin mountain right in the heart of Mayo and is well worth a visit should you ever come to Ireland. The drive there takes you through high mountain valleys of amber, gold and purple heathers and inky blue loughs, past woolly sheep grazing on emerald green patches of spikey grass snatched here and there from the roadside bogs lined with stacked brown turf.