Author Archives: singersong

About singersong

A lapsed geologist. After 35 years hitting rocks I am setting out on a musical journey through the west of Ireland.

The Cliffs of Moher Cycle Challenge. Never Refuse an Invitation

No I haven’t joined the lycra brigade.  Let me explain.

Never refuse an invitation has been one of the mantras that I have followed since I started living in Ireland and I know I have written before about some of the surprising encounters that have resulted.  This was demonstrated yet again one wet Saturday in early April.

A couple of days previously I had received an email from a friend telling me that the organisers of the Cliffs of Moher Cycle Challenge were looking for musicians to entertain the riders during their lunch stop in the very north of Clare at Ballyvaughan.  Without knowing anything about the event of course I agreed.

The instructions were simple.  “Be at the Hall at 11.30”.  It’s about an hour’s drive from Spanish Point and as I headed north of course, sun turned to rain.

This event, hosted by the Riverside Cycling Club Ennistymon, is in its 6th year. It has built up to become an important part of the Clare cycling calendar with 630 participants this year.  The Burren and the Atlantic coast of Clare hosts some very popular cycle events such as the Tour de Burren, Ring of Clare, SRAC Atlantic Challenge and a ladies only ride Turas na mBan.

It’s not surprising really as the route is rated as one of the finest in Europe.  There were a number of shorter journeys of 40 and 80 km  but The full loop started and finished in Ennistymon and takes in the Cliffs of Moher (of course) and other iconic Clare sites such as Doolin, Fanore and Black Head on the spectacular Burren coast road, Ballyvaughan, Carran, the hairpin bends of Corkscrew Hill and spa-town Lisdoonvarna.

So I arrived in Ballyvaughan with the rain just in time to see the first riders arrive.

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The first riders enter Ballyvaughan

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Not far behind was this colour coordinated group

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Riders make their way through the town

Some kept going, not bothering to take a break but most were diverted to the National School Hall for an inviting spread of sandwiches, fruit and warm tea.

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Decision time.  Most chose lunch.

And who could resist the local smoked salmon on soda bread and the piles of home made sandwiches.  It was also time to exchange stories, meet new friends and check progress.

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Time to show off the new bike.

I joined a small group of musicians belting out jigs and reels with a mighty Kilfenora rhythm. How could it not be so with Anne Rynne (a member of the Kilfenora Ceili Band) and her family leading.  It was so much fun to be part of.  The riders seemed to enjoy it though I am not sure they  realised that despite the youth of  a number of the players , the music was world class.

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It is a surprisingly small country Ireland, and the music world which I am part of has strong links across other activities. I think of it this way.  Traditional music  is like a strong thread in a patchwork quilt that seems to stitch everything together. From farming to football. To illustrate, there in the crowd was my friend Thierry, a keen cyclist and fiddler, who, still clad in riding gear, helmet and gloves,  just couldn’t resist the temptation to borrow my fiddle and play a few tunes. Best of both worlds.

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A great cross section from all over Ireland turned up.  Even the Mayor of Clare was there, wearing not his official garb, but riding colours.  This was a charitable event and a community event.  There were no winners and everyone was a winner.  Oh God.  Did I write that!

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A Mayor from Clare

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Everyone wanted to be in the picture

I headed back home, but not after a little bit of drama leaving my fiddle behind in the hall.  Retrieved it eventually.

I ran into the cyclists again on my way back (figuratively speaking that is) as the sun dramatically re appeared occasionally.  I stopped at the beautiful Carran Church on the roof of the Burren to watch them ride past. You have to admire cyclists’ dedication.  Still plugging away, only 40 km to go, I wonder how many were in the frame of mind to take a look at the stunning scenery or was their mind focused on the formidable Corkscrew Hill just a few kilometers ahead.

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Ruins of Carran Church

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View towards Mt Callan.

I finally ended up back in Ennistymon around 4pm as the last riders were triumphantly ending their 125 kilometer journey.   6 hours and 12 minutes is a long time to be peddling a bicycle.

These events take quite a lot of organising.  Route marking,  food and drink stops, publicity, traffic management and a host of volunteers contribute in all kinds of ways.

A very pleased Committee posed for me outside the Community Hall.

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I hope the cyclists had as good a time as I did. Like I say, never refuse an invitation.

 

Categories: My Journey, Real Ireland | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Springboard Fiddle Retreat 2018. A Dive into the Unknown.

I had high expectations. An intensive four days of workshops from Caoimhin O Railleagh, Four nights of ‘luxury’ on the shores of Bantry Bay. Meals. All the ingredients were there. Food, fellowship and fiddle.

Would my expectations be met?

I am a bit of a workshop junkie and I am guessing that over the past four years I have had instruction from well over forty different fiddlers while living in Ireland. But Springboard Fiddle Retreat sounded different. Workshops in Ireland generally follow a set pattern, in place since the Willie Clancy Festival started nearly fifty years ago. Bring in a name fiddler, for up to a week. Three hours a day; usually a mixed class of fiddlers or wanna-be’s of all ages and stages. The teaching is based around learning new tunes but there is rarely time for individual instruction or to gain a deeper understanding of the instrument.

But Springboard did not follow this formula.  As I said it is residential and there were only a dozen of us.  It was a Thursday afternoon and fiddlers from all over Ireland, a couple from Scotland and from the  US and a couple of ex-pat Aussies joined others at Linden House on the shores of Bantry Bay in West Cork.  The location was hard to find but stunning.   I have separately blogged on this little corner of Ireland and the beauty of Glengariff and the surrounding forest, so you can see more HERE.

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The calm waters of Bantry Bay at Glengariff

But it wasn’t just the location. The house was purpose designed to accommodate up to 20 people. There were two wings and multiple stories and it made a beautiful architectural statement as it stepped its way down the contours of the land melding into the forest and surrounded by beautifully tended gardens and tall gaunt oaks.  There were a number of large living spaces with giant picture windows taking in the vista and plenty of nooks to meet and play fiddle in small groups or withdraw for some quiet time. Everything was provided for a wonderful livable escape.

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Linden House.  The venue for the retreat

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The view from the main living area

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A perfect place to think, read, and play.

Then there was the food. Oh dear. Expectations regarding this weren’t that high when I read it was vegetarian. Nothing against vegetarianism, but I will be honest, I do enjoy the  meat-and-three-veg world . But as it turned out absolutely nothing to worry about here. We were incredibly well looked after by chef Jenny and her assistant Anda. The food was truly a marvel. It was prepared with great thought and obvious love. A riot of colour and flavours with some ingredients I have never even heard of and others used in ways you wouldn’t have imagined.  All combined with skill and originality. The food was indeed part of what was a total experience We were constantly reminded of the parallels between our explorations with music and the eating experience. Each day one ingredient was chosen as a theme and dishes reflected different and sometimes surprising approaches to the use of this. Just as we would choose a theme for the day on our journey with the fiddle.

Speaking of the fiddle that’s what we were there for, so let me talk about that.

Caoimhin is an accomplished and widely respected traditional Irish fiddler. His collaborations are many and include musicians from wide backgrounds such as piper Mick O’Connor, West Kerry box player, Breandan Begley,  sean nos singer Iarla Ó Lionáird, Clare fiddler Martin Hayes and musician/physicist, Dan Trueman.  He plays with The Gloaming.  His music is rooted in the traditional world of piping and Sliabh Luachra but he has explored Norwegian and Icelandic music, the Hardanger fiddle and plays in various cross tunings.  He has always been seeking new ways of voicing the fiddle.  As a result he has developed a unique and recognisable playing style.

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Instructor Caoimhin O’Railleagh as a snow shower passes through

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A reflective moment

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The beautifully carved scroll of Caoimhin O’Railleagh’s Hardanger violin

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Caoimhin O’Railleagh’s violin.  Five strings are just not enough.

Very quickly I realised this fiddle workshop would be different. Caoimhin is a brilliant, relaxed and engaging teacher with an innovative approach. The time available and the ambience allowed plenty of space to explore concepts that were very new, to me at least. We spent little time actually playing. But always new concepts were put in the context of playing traditional music. We spent a day on cross tuning. For myself I stuck with GDGD but others went off in all directions. Indeed people were playing together with wildly different tunings producing surprising outcomes. There were no boundaries. We were encouraged to play tunes we knew opening up new possibilities and to then try our hand at composing melodies.

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Caoimhin O’Railleagh makes a point.

Another day we looked at tempo and the concept of expanding and contracting time. We were introduced to the Cyclotron, software by Daniel Trueman, that enables you to vary the space between notes within a tune and ultimately the rhythm and feel. We looked at discovering amazing sounds by exploring the real estate of the fiddle and the bow. We looked at difference tones – notes that only exist in the mind, and we looked at poly-rhythms.

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Sounds heavy but it wasn’t. There was were five hours each day of classes, but it went so quickly.  And it wasn’t all work.

Afternoons were filled with activities; organised or less-organised. There were ad hoc workshops including ‘dalcroze eurythmics’, yoga, role play games or you could brave the cold (it actually snowed one day) for a swim with the seals. Or you could just go off and practice.

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A quiet place to play 1

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A quiet place to play 2

 

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A class in ‘dalcroze eurythmics’?

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Or time for a dip?

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Jotting down some wise words.

The evenings sometimes went in surprising directions; activities including table rugby and games that totally messed with the brain in quite different ways.

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Ireland vs the Wallabies in Table Rugby.

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A highlight was the Dining in the Dark experience. On this occasion we were treated to a wonderful five course degustation menu prepared and presented by Jenny and Anda, who were the only two ‘sighted’ residents of the house for the night. There were plenty of surprises with our taste buds made keener by the darkness.  A butter tasting. Who would have thought? Kale served three ways. A colcannon to die for. A sweet dish which baffled me but turned out to be carrageen pudding and a cheese plate highlighting how good Irish cheese actually is. The meal was interrupted at one point by a spellbinding soundscape of wild fiddle from Coaimhin the sound coming from everywhere as he strolled around the house. Then there was what seemed like an eternity of silence. This was brought to an end by tentative noises made by just one or two at first but then by the full ensemble with whatever came to hand, ultimately turning into an untamed cacophonous symphony of sound and noise of Dada-ist proportions rising out of the darkness.

It is hard to quantify what one gets out of such an experience. I didn’t learn any tunes. There were no sessions in the traditional sense. But I didn’t come for that. What I did get were immeasurable experiences of sharing music and musical thoughts, new ways of looking at timing, rhythm and tone, An insight into new paradigms of playing music and lifetime friends.

A true springboard.  Definitely a dive into the unknown.

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The Springboard Fiddle Retreat was held on 15th to 19th March 2018.  Check their site http://www.westcorkmusic.ie/retreats/springboard for info on 2019.

 

Categories: My Journey, The Fiddle, Trad Irish Music | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Glengarriff, West Cork. A Blissful Elysium.

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Glengarriff sits on the upper reaches of Bantry Bay in West Cork. I was lucky enough to spend five wonderful days there last week at a Fiddle Retreat and was able to closely observe the various moods of this sublime waterway. I never actually visited the village of Glenngarriff itself, as my accommodation was tucked away on its own private estate behind the golf course; so private and so quiet that in the time I was there encountered not another soul. other than my fellow residents.

Join me on a walk through this blissful elysium.

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Glengarriff waters I

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Glengarriff waters II

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Glengarriff waters III

Bantry Bay is a drowned river valley (like Sydney Harbour), and its quiet, still protected waters are dotted with steep sided rocky islands sometimes capped with remnant, thick sub-tropical vegetation.

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A perched forest I

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A perched forest II

The surrounding forest of magnificent oaks birches and conifers has (where the rhododendron hasn’t taken over) a primeval under-story of forest detritus draped with mosses, lichens and ferns, in places forming a vivid green carpet.  There is a bubbling stream of crystal clear water that snakes its way down the steep slope into the Bay, cascading over the smoothed rocks and falling into occasional, inviting, pellucid pools.

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Moving water

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Still water

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Forest green I

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Forest green II

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Forest green III

Azaleas and camellias add colour.  This is only March and the rhododendrons can’t be far away from joining in.

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Lush sub tropical gardens with flax, azaleas and camelias.

You regularly sight seals cavorting on the shore.

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A cavorting seal I

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A cavorting seal II

The scene was ever-changing. One moment bathed in brilliant sunshine, then heavy cloud.  Frigid weather brought some light flurries of snow flakes drifting to the ground but not settling and then blue skies brought out the singing birds.  A Great Tit in an oak tree near the house harmonising with the sweet sounds of the fiddle coming from inside.

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Sunshine one moment

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Snow the next

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The sun brings out the birds.  The Great Tit.

Another wonderful hidden gem in beautiful West Cork.

Categories: My Journey, Wild Ireland | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Pet Emus? Where else but Ireland?

Ireland is full of surprises.

It’s late on a freezing cold March evening and I’m leaving the pretty West Cork town of Bantry on my way back to Clare, after spending the afternoon touring Sheep’s Head. I pick up a hitch-hiker, Sophie, heading to Kealkill about 10 km away. As this is on my way, no problem.  She asked to be dropped in the village saying she would get another lift from there. As there are many ways to get where you want to in Ireland, it wasn’t really out of my way so I offered to take her further.   Five kilometers on she asks to be dropped at at a lane. Now we were in the middle of nowhere.

On enquiry it turns out she lives “just a little way” down the boreen which she was going to walk.  I love the way when you give someone a lift in Ireland they just say “drop me here”, sometimes way short of their destination because they don’t want to inconvenience you further.  So 1½ km later we arrive!

Anyway, she was good company and during our short journey I heard all about her family’s move from the UK to 20 remote acres in West Cork, of her daily commute of three hours to Cork city for study and of her menagerie including some more slightly unconventional animals such as emus, a herd of forty pygmy goats and a ‘boer goat’ along with the more conventional dogs, cats, chooks and pigs.

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A Boer Goat and some of the Pygmy Goats.

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Pygmy Goat

Pygmy goats. I had never heard of them before but it seems are becoming more popular as pets and they are seriously cute. Boer goats come from South Africa where they are usually reared for meat. They are a rather large lump of goat but I can see that some would find them perfect for a pet,  in the same way some people get attached to pigs.

But emus?

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Emu.  Very photogenic

They are a wild flightless bird that roams the outback of Australia. The third largest behind the ostrich and cassowary,  and I have certainly never thought of them as pets. Just between you and me they have a bit of a reputation as being dumb. When you encounter their gangly form  on outback roads, as you often do, they show remarkable suicidal tendencies running parallel to your car until they find an opportunity to randomly veer directly into your path.

Canadian biologist Louis Lefebvre, when asked to name the world’s dumbest bird responded, “That would be the emu.”  Of course Australians reacted negatively to this criticism of its national bird from a country where its police force still rides on horses. Ha, Just kidding.  They, however, may not be as dumb as we think.  In 1932 the Army were called in to cull 20,000 emus that were destroying crops in Western Australia.  Armed with two Lewis guns and 10,000 bullets they were embarrassingly defeated, retreating after killing only a few hundred birds.  The birds seemed to have an innate understanding of guerrilla tactics, continually splitting into small groups and chaotically running off in different directions.  And their tough hide also proved  remarkably resistant to bullets.

They are however insanely curious.  I remember encountering a flock. somewhere in the far west of NSW, which I observed from a distance.  They didn’t run away; just watched me.  I slowly wound down the window and started rustling a packet of chips (crisps, I think you call them).  Almost immediately they came over to the point where one was brave enough to try and grab the colourful packet through the window.

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Curious?

But hey.  Pets?  I have never met anyone, even in Australia, who had a pet emu. Just not ever on my radar. Sophie was happy for me to have a look at her Irish versions of the Emu.

They were very friendly and came running over to greet us.  I should say friendly to people and seemingly also goats but they hated dogs, chasing them wildly around the paddock.

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Emus giving a Jack Russell a hard time.

Darkness arrived and I had to head off but I was left with the slightly discomfiting image of  emus, tall and proud surrounded with green  rolling green hills and not a eucalypt in sight.

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Dromaius novaehollandiae sp Ireland.

 

Ireland continues to surprise.

Categories: My Journey, Real Ireland | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Big Freeze. March 2018. My Story.

What an extraordinary event.

Gotta say I’m not used to snow.  Not used to the feeling of flakes on your face or the biting wind or the stunning beauty when the sun comes out.  Or the slushy wetness that soaks through your boots and trousers and gets tramped through the house.  Or digging the snow from your front door. Or being stuck in your house. Or the vicissitudes of stupidly taking a remote boreen just as a snow shower starts.  I’ll come back to that last one later.

The snow came from that annoyingly named freak weather condition known as ‘The Beast from the East’ which blasted frigid air across continental Europe and over Ireland. It arrived in West Clare on a Wednesday, the last day of February 2018. But it turned out that that was just an entree to a full three course meal which came Thursday and Friday and continued to Sunday.

But first this ‘Beast’. Where did it come from? And why was it so devastating? As a geologist I make a pretty poor meteorologist but those that do know about these things said the whole thing was triggered by a periodic event called “sudden stratospheric warming”. This involved a huge rise in air temperature of around 50ºC in an area about 30 km above the Arctic (the stratosphere).  The origin of this actually goes back to severe cyclones in January in the Pacific disturbing global weather patterns. A true ripple effect. Anyway, this warming weakened the jet stream and forced cold air from western Russia towards Ireland.  Temperatures on the ground in the Arctic were 20ºC above normal, while Europe experienced lows of -15ºC in many places.  And then to complicate it there was Storm Emma which headed north from Portugal.  When it hit the cold air, blizzards, gales and snow were the result.

Where I could, I tried to record the event with my camera and words. Here is a personal account of how it all unfolded around my little part of West Clare.

Wednesday 28th February 2018

We knew it was coming. Temperatures had been way below normal for days and the web was alive with warnings.  Yet I had no idea exactly what was in store. Just two weeks earlier I was chasing all over Ireland to Louth and Armagh and Kerry and Wicklow and Connemara because of snowfalls there. Now it was here in my front yard.  It was snowing when I awoke and it continued to snow.  I was excited enough to venture out around 9am.  The snow wasn’t heavy; just a few centimetres so I figured there would be no real problems except that is that the weather accompanying this snow was truly living up to the appellation that is the ‘Wild Atlantic Way’.  I headed to Spanish Point Beach, braving snow showers and bitter wind.  I’ve seen this beach battered with giant waves, covered in froth and foam and perfectly still with nary a ripple. Never though with white snow meeting the yellow sand. It was not comfortable as mini blizzards would sweep in between the sunshine. Nevertheless I was totally entranced and happy.  The showers faded during the day and though the temperature hardly went above zero, the snow melted by the late afternoon and the streets of Miltown Malbay returned to relative normality. This turned out to be a temporary reprieve.

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Snowstorm on Spanish Point Beach. Wednesday 28 February 2018

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Spanish Point Beach, Wednesday 28 February 2018

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Bell Bridge House Hotel.  Wednesday 28 February 2018

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Mouth of the Anagh River.  Looking across to Caherush.  Wednesday 28 February 2018

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Bridge over the Anagh River.  Wednesday 28 February 2018

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Spanish Point Beach. The sun shone briefly.  Wednesday 28 February 2018

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Spanish Point Beach.  Looking from the Armada Hotel.  Wednesday 28 February 2018

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The Clogher Road.  Looking towards my cottage.  Wednesday 28 February 2018

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Caherush.  Low tide. Wednesday 28 February 2018

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Mutton Island.  Wednesday 28 February 2018

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Caherush looking towards Quilty.  Wednesday 28 February 2018

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Miltown Malbay  Wednesday 28 February 2018

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Miltown Malbay.  Wednesday 28 February 2018

Thursday 1st March 2018

I woke up reluctantly poking my head above the sheets with the temperature hovering at -4ºC.  A quick look out the window showed a complete white-out. It was a stunning sight. I love how you don’t know it’s happened during the night. So quiet unlike a rain storm pelting on the slate roof and rattling the windows.

The rocks and cliffs of the bay at Caherush were covered with a thick white carpet and it was still snowing with some vigour.  Around 9am it brightened and it stopped snowing.  I rugged up and took a walk up the Clogher Road.  I was joined by the neighbour’s dog, Valdo.  Briefly. This was much too exciting;  he had better things to do and left me to my meandering. The sun broke through the clouds and its rays made the hills gleam.  My neighbour Michael Talty, stopped his car for a chat. He was heading to Kilrush for some tractor parts. A farmer doesn’t stop for a bit of snow.  So of course I didn’t refuse the invitation to join him. I think he quickly regretted it as I had him stop at Quilty where the snow, the water and the sand united to create a magic world. Mutton Island sat like an iceberg off the coast. I had to photograph them.

As we left Quilty and headed south, there was only a light dusting over the fields. This part of West Clare had escaped the heavy falls that we had experienced. Business done, followed by an hearty breakfast in Kilrush we headed back north to Caherush.

We were passing O’Looney’s lovely pub just a few kilometres from Quilty at Molosky. Stop! I exclaimed as I caught a sight, out of the corner of my eye, of the falls at the Annageerah River. They were frozen! Michael waited patiently as I clambered over a gate and headed across a slushy snowy field to photograph the incredible sight of ice sheets draping the rocks and icicles clinging to wherever they could; where normally water flows. So lucky to see it.

Back home to the Clogher Road which by now was starting to thaw.  It was 2 pm and still -1ºC. The temperature never got to zero during the whole day

Encouraged by the condition of the roads on our journey, I cleared the snow from the car and headed north through Spanish Point along the coast towards Lahinch. The air was clean and crisp and the sun was making a good fist of doing its daily job but the thick cloud resisted. Nevertheless the bucolic landscape had become a patchwork of white fields and the coastline was now the White Cliffs of Clare. The views coming into Lahinch were unfamiliar but truly jaw-droppng. Though thick here across Liscannor Bay the fields were green. The snowfalls were obviously quite patchy.

I continued to Ennistymon. I wanted to see the Falls here.  Would they be frozen?  Well no they weren’t and they were quite subdued, as we hadn’t had a lot of rain for a week or so but they were framed with snow on every exposed rock with icicles hanging from branches and protected crags. The Falls Hotel looked like an alpine resort

A few flurries of snow were appearing now. I love that word ‘flurries’. Not one you get to use very often. Time to head home. Why didn’t I just stick to the main road? It had been treated with salt and grit and was perfectly clear. I was lulled I think into a false sense of safety. So with the help of Google, I took a back route to Miltown Malbay, it wasn’t long before I got into serious trouble. It was only a small hill. A narrow single lane boreen. With a hedge on the left and a ditch on the right. I knew I had to use a high gear and travel at a decent clip but I lost traction very quickly and found myself half way up the hill and going nowhere. Under the snow was a layer of ice. With wheels spinning I couldn’t go forward. With no brakes, reversing was pretty scary. I honestly don’t know how I got out of that. Reversing back down the hill and using the gears to slow down, the wheels went wherever they wanted.  One minute I slid into the hedge. Straightening up then I would head towards the ditch. It was probably only 200m of reversing first down the hill then back up another but it took forever until I came to a farm gate. The drama still wasn’t over as it took many goes slipping and sliding all over before I edged the nose of the car into that refuge and was able to turn around and drive home. To my warm fire and a few relieving tunes and a glass of the small.

That was some day but the wires (as we used to call it before the wireless world took over) were full of dire warnings of another storm. Emma was arriving and would collide with the Beast and batter us with wind and massive snowfalls. Code Red all over the country.  Bread and milk had disappeared from the shops. This really was serious.

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Panoramic view of Caherush bay.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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Caherush Bay at low tide in the snow.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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My cottage on the shore. Thursday 1 March 2018

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More snow.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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Caherush Bay Thursday 1 March 2018

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Mutton Island.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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Sugar Island and Quilty. Thursday 1 March 2018

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The sun breaks through. Thursday 1 March 2018

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Joined on my walk by Valdo.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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Joy.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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Looking down the Clogher Road.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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Driving into Quilty.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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The Quilty Shore I.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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The Quilty Shore II.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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Quilty Shore III.  With Mutton Island in the distance.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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Breakfast at Kilrush.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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The snow falls again at Annagreenagh Falls, near Quilty.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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Annageeragh Falls.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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Annageerah Falls.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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View towards Cliffs of Moher from Spanish Point.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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Near Spanish Point.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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Near Lahinch.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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Lahinch. Thursday 1 March 2018

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Moy House.  Lahinch, Thursday 1 March 2018

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Cliffs south of Lahinch.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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Fenceline and cliffs.  Lahinch. Thursday 1 March 2018

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Lahinch. Thursday 1 March 2018

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The Falls at Ennistymon. Thursday 1 March 2018

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Falls at Ennistymon.Thursday 1 March 2018

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Looking towards the Falls Hotel on the Inagh River at Ennstymon.Thursday 1 March 2018

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Icicles I .  Ennistymon.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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Icicles II.  Ennistymon.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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Icicles III.  Ennistymon.Thursday 1 March 2018

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Icicles IV.  Ennistymon.Thursday 1 March 2018

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Icicles V.  Ready to drop.Thursday 1 March 2018

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Frozen grass on the menu today. Lahinch. Thursday 1 March 2018

Friday.  2nd March 2018

It would reek havoc they said.  And they were right about that! Friday morning saw a thick cover of snow over everything with drifts up to a metre. We, in Clare though,  seemed to get off rather lightly. The east and the south of the country were lashed with ferocious snowstorms. Back here in Clare, snow piled up against my door, just like in those movies set in countries where they have real winters.  It was obvious I was going nowhere today, so I settled in with a warm fire to wait it out. Even if I wanted drive anywhere the Clogher Road was not going to cooperate. It continued to snow all day. I ventured out in the late afternoon as the snow eased. The tide had come in and the ocean was tranquil with the bay in front of my house looking surreal with its brilliant white ‘beach’ all the way down to the high tide mark. The car remained in a drift and I went nowhere. No thoughts of a session and in any case most pubs were shut. Marooned. Like millions of others across the Once Green Isle.  Who knows how much fell? I heard a figure of 40cm but I would say much more in some places.  At least it had stopped.

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My cottage.  Marooned.  Friday 2 March 2018

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Going nowhere.  Friday 2 March 2018

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The Clogher Road.  Friday 2 March 2018

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Caherush Bay at high tide.  A surreal calmness.  Friday 2 March 2018

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My front patio.  Friday 2 March 2018

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The ‘beach’ at Caherush.  At my front door.  Low Tide.Friday 2 March 2018

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Caherush. Friday 2 March 2018

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The ‘beach’ at Caherush.  At my front door.  High Tide. Friday 2 March 2018

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The Clogher Road.  Friday 2 March 2018

Saturday. 3rd March 2018

More snow overnight but by the morning all was quiet. Temperatures were up now with a maximum of 2ºC for the day. A veritable heat wave. I was still going nowhere. The predicted rain didn’t arrive but by the afternoon I decided the snow on the roads had started to melt sufficiently to venture out again. Roads had a lot of snow in massive drifts, sometimes two metres high, and in many places were down to one lane. Those roads that were treated were passable but venture off the main roads at your peril. I’d learnt my lesson.  Most residents who live up narrow lanes were were still stuck.  My route again took me to Lahinch and Ennistymon.  The snow was still thick and extensive but the melt had started.  Lahinch golf course was more whites than greens and it was easy to become blaze about the stunning beauty all around.  Snow was still everywhere in Ennistymon, Lahinch and Miltown but the ploughs had been through and it was now more of a hazard to pedestrians.  Businesses were starting to reopen.  Life goes on.

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The Clogher Road is now passable. Saturday 3rd March, 2018

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Welcome to Quilty Holiday Cottages.  Saturday 3rd March, 2018

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The Bell Bridge Hotel and beyond.  Spanish Point.  Saturday 3rd March, 2018

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Caherush.  Saturday 3rd March, 2018

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Behind the Strand.  Clogher Road.  Saturday 3rd March, 2018

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Panoramic view of Surf City Lahinch.  Saturday 3rd March, 2018

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Ennistymon. Saturday 3rd March, 2018

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Blake’s Corner. Ennistymon.  Saturday 3rd March, 2018

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The Inagh River and Ennistymon.   Saturday 3rd March, 2018

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The old Railway Bridge over the Inagh River,  Ennistymon.  Saturday 3rd March, 2018

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Lahinch. Saturday 3rd March, 2018

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Snow dunes, Lahinch.  Saturday 3rd March, 2018

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Lahinch Castle.  Saturday 3rd March, 2018

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The Golf Course at Lahinch..  Saturday 3rd March, 2018

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Lahinch  Saturday 3rd March, 2018

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Another view of the Castle.  Lahinch.  Saturday 3rd March, 2018

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The estuary at Lahinch. Saturday 3rd March, 2018

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Snowy hills above Lahinch Golf Course.  Saturday 3rd March, 2018

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Miltown Malbay.  Saturday 3rd March, 2018

Sunday.  4th March 2018

No snow last night and finally the real thaw started. It still only got to 2ºC maximum all day but the lure of a music session at lunch time in Ennis was too much for me to resist. The Clogher Road was mostly clear now. Mikey Talty was, like many, shoveling snow off the road in front of his house. I stopped for a chat.  Mikey had been living here for over 80 years. “Have you ever seen anything like this before?” I asked. “Aah yes” he said. “When I lived in the States”. 

Grinning I went on my way. Ireland does get heavy snow every few years. But not so often in these low lying coastal areas such as West Clare. The road to Ennis goes over Slieve Callan and the snow was thick in the hills and again there were drifts, metres high, meaning it was a slow trip. The music at Cruises Pub in Ennis was fantastic, with a huge crowd, desperate for a circuit breaker from the travails of the last few days. I returned about 5pm and it was still felt more like a journey through the alps rather than rural Ireland. I wasn’t ready to go home and called in at Hillery’s, for the regular Sunday evening session.  Life goes on.

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Mikey Talty, resident on the Clogher Road for 82 years clears away snow.  Sunday, 4th March, 2018

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Snow drifts on the road to Inagh.  Sunday, 4th March, 2018

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Heavy cover of snow remains.  Sunday, 4th March, 2018

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Even the windmills stopped turning.  Sunday, 4th March, 2018

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Lonely cottage at the food to Slieve Callan.  Sunday, 4th March, 2018

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Switzerland? or Ireland?  Sunday, 4th March, 2018

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The boreens were starting to clear.  Sunday, 4th March, 2018

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Looking forward, looking back.  Mt Callan.  Sunday, 4th March, 2018

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Enjoying the craic at Cruises Pub in Ennis.  Sunday, 4th March, 2018

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The snow melts in the fields on the Clogher Road.  Sunday, 4th March, 2018

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Caherush.  The rocky bay is returning to normal  Sunday, 4th March, 2018

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Almost gone.  Sunday, 4th March, 2018

Monday, 5th March 2018.  

It wasn’t quite over yet. Still the predicted rain never arrived and most of the snow on the lower ground had retreated but I knew it was still lying in the uplands.  Maybe the Burren would be worth a visit.  I wanted to see it.   Temperature was still around 2ºC in the morning as I set out but by the end of the day it had risen to 5ºC.  So I drove to Poulnabroun and then to Ballyvaughan and back through Carran.   It took all day.  It was cloudy and misty so not ideal but walking in the stillness of a snowy Burren was something truly special.  So quiet with hardly a soul on the road and those that were seemed to be heading somewhere else. A privilege to see it like this. I encountered a few busloads of tourists and they like me were the lucky ones.   The dolmen at Poulnabourn was looking resplendent and I viewed the wonderful stone walls literally in a different light as they stood out framed by the whiteness of the snow and the sky.  See if you agree with me.  The hills actually had a lot more snow than was apparent from a distance with the clints and grykes retaining the snow where it had melted elsewhere.  The Turlough at Carran, a wondrous geological feature  had plenty of water, though much of it appeared to be covered with ice. I imagine a couple of day earlier you might have been able to walk across it. By the way turlough, along with drumlin and esker are the only three words of Irish origin that I know that are  used worldwide as geological terms.  Thick snow was still on some of the Lanes but the snow ploughs were out and about so I imagined most would be passable.

The event that had dominated Irish lives, closed schools, airports highways and even pubs, isolated people for days and created timeless memories was over.

And that seems a good place to end this story.

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Plenty of snow on the way to the Burren.  Monday, 5th March 2018.  

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Poulnabroun Dolmen.  Monday, 5th March 2018.

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Poulnabroun Dolmen.  Monday, 5th March 2018.

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Near Poulnabroun Dolmen.  Monday, 5th March 2018.

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Burren scene.     Monday, 5th March 2018.

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Burren.  Monday, 5th March 2018.

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Burren.  Monday, 5th March 2018.

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Burren.  Monday, 5th March 2018.

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The tourists still come.  Monday, 5th March 2018.

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Burren. Monday, 5th March 2018.

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On the way to Carron. Monday, 5th March 2018.

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Still heavy snowdrifts.  Monday, 5th March 2018.

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Carran Turlough.Monday, 5th March 2018.

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The Turlough. Much of it is still frozen.  Monday, 5th March 2018.

Here are some pictures of those wonderful stone walls:

Tuesday 6th March 2018

I thought I had finished this blog but it was much brighter this morning and by the afternoon the sun was returning.  The temperature soared up to 7ºC.  Out my kitchen window the paddocks were pretty much free of snow.  Not Mt Callan.  It looked glorious (despite those windmills) with patches of sun glistening off it.  I had to go up and take a closer look.  There was plenty of snow so, sorry, a few more pictures.

Almost a week.  A week I won’t forget.

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Mt Callan.  The view from my kitchen window. Tuesday 6th March 2018

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Ruined cottage.  Road to Mt Callan.  Tuesday 6th March 2018

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Behind Miltown Malbay.  Tuesday 6th March 2018

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Mt Callan. Tuesday 6th March 2018

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The Summit.  As close as I could get.  Tuesday 6th March 2018

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Abandoned barn.  Mt Callan. Tuesday 6th March 2018

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The roof of the world.  Tuesday 6th March 2018

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Situation normal.  The gulls have returned to Caherush.

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A bird’s eye view.  Tuesday 6th March 2018

Categories: Real Ireland, Wild Ireland | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Ireland. A Feast of Festivals

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Visiting an Irish Music Festival should be on the must-do list for any visitor to Ireland.  It is not easy however to find information on these, especially the smaller ones.  I am often asked by my friends in the blogosphere what is on and when during their proposed visit.  I’m happy to help where I can but I thought a list might be useful to anyone planning a trip.  On researching this I found a number of sites where festivals are listed but they are incomplete or not up to date.  I am sure I too have left some out and I’ve only included those from March through September 2018 but if you are aware of a festival that I’ve missed let me know and I’ll add it.

Do try and incorporate a festival on your next trip;  you’ll be made very welcome.

Festival Location Start Finish
Shannonside Winter Music Festival Six Mile Bridge, Clare January?
TradFest Temple Bar Dublin January?
IMBOLC International Music Festival Derry January?
Packie Duignan weekend Drumshanbo, Leitrim January?
Feile na Tana Carlingford, Louth February?
Scoil Cheoil an Earraigh Ballyferriter, Kerry February?
The Gathering Traditional Festival Killarney, Kerry February?
Concertina Cruinniú Miltown Malbay, Clare February?
Russell Memorial Weekend Doolin, Clare February?
Welsh Annual Singers Weekend Ballyvaughan, Clare February?
Mount Leinster Traditional Music Festival Borris, Carlow February?
Tionól Niocláis Tóibín An Rinn, Waterford February?
Éigse an Spidéil, Spiddal, Galway 14 Feb 18 18 Feb 18
Corofin Traditional Festival Corofin, Clare 27 Feb 18 4 Mar 18
Aran Celtic Music Festival Inis Mor, Galway 9 Mar 18 11 Mar 18
NYAH Traditional Music Festival Cavan 10 Mar 18 17 Mar 18
Kilkenny Tradfest Kilkenny 17 Mar 18 18 Mar 18
Ceardlann Earraigh Celbridge, Kildare 23 Mar 18 25 Mar 18
Inishowen Singing Festival Donegal 23 Mar 18 26 Mar 18
Blossom Harp Festival Tuamgraney, Clare 23 Mar 18 25 Mar 18
Feile Patrick Byrne Carrickmacross, Monaghan 24 Mar 18 25 Mar 18
Maurice O’Keefe Weekend Kiskeam, Cork 31 Mar 18 1 Apr 18
Carlow Pan Celtic Festival Carlow 3 Apr 18 8 Apr 18
Clifden Trad Fest Clifden, Galway 5 Apr 18 8 Apr 18
Cruinniú na bhFliúit Flute Meeting Ballyvourney, Cork 4 Apr 18 7 Apr 18
Consairtin Ennis, Clare 6 Apr 18 8 Apr 18
Ballydehob Traditional Music Festival Ballydehob, Cork 13 Apr 18 15 Apr 18
Kilfenora Music Festival Kilfenora Clare 27 Apr 18 30 Apr 18
Feile Neidin, Kenmare Irish Music Festival Kenmare, Kerry April?
Fleadh nagCuach (Cuckoo Fleadh) Kinvara, Galway 4 May 18 6 May 18
Joe Heaney Festival Carna, Galway 4 May 18 7 May 18
Cup of Tae Festival Ardara, Donegal 4 May 18 7 May 18
Feile Chois Cuain Louisburgh, Mayo 4 May 18 7 May 18
Carrigaholt Oyster & Trad Festival Carrigaholt, Clare 5 May 18 7 May 18
Cos Cos Sean Nos Festival Drumcliffe, Sligo 7 May 18 13 May 18
Fiddle Fair Baltimore, Cork 10 May 18 13 May 18
Feile Chnoc na Gaoithe, Tulla Trad Music Festival Tulla, Clare 11 May 18 13 May 18
Skerries Traditional Music Weekend Skerries, Dublin 18 May 18 20 May 18
World Fiddle Day Scartaglin, Kerry 18 May 18 20 May 18
World Fiddle Day Glenties, Donegal 20 May 18
Fleadh Nua Ennis, Clare 20 May 18 28 May 18
Michael Dwyer Festival Allihies, Cork 8 Jun 18 10 Jun 18
Doolin Folk Festival Doolin, Clare 15 Jun 18 17 Jun 18
Con Curtin Festival Brosna, Kerry 23 Jun 18 25 Jun 18
Jim Dowling Uilleann Pipe and Trad Festival Glengarriff, Cork 25 Jun 18 29 Jun 18
Craiceann Summer School Innis Oir, Galway 25 Jun 18 29 Jun 18
Blas International Summer School Limerick 25 Jun 18 6 Jul 18
Cross Traditional Music Weekend Cross, Clare 29 Jun 18 1 Jul 18
An Chúirt Chruitireachta (International Harp Festival) Termonfechin, Louth 1 Jul 18 6 Jul 18
Feile Brian Boru Killaloe/Ballina, Clare, Tipperary 4 Jul 18 8 Jul 18
Traidphicnic Spiddal, Galway 6 Jul 18 8 Jul 18
Scoil Samraidh Willie Clancy Miltown Malbay, Clare 7 Jul 18 15 Jul 18
Ceol na Coille Summer School Letterkenny, Donegal 9 Jul 18 13 Jul 18
South Sligo Summer School Tubbercurry, Sligo 15 Jul 18 21 Jul 18
Fleadh Cheoil Na Mumhan (Munster Fleadh) Ennis, Clare 15 Jul 18 22 Jul 18
Ceili at the Crossroads Festival Clarecastle, Clare 15 Jul 18 22 Jul 18
Joe Mooney Summer School Drumshanbo, Leitrim 21 Jul 18 28 Jul 18
Fiddler’s Green Festival Rostrevor, Down 22 Jul 18 29 Jul 18
Meitheal Summer School Ennis, Clare 23 Jul 18 27 Jul 18
Scoil Acla Summer School Achill Island, Mayo 28 Jul 18 4 Aug 18
Donegal Fiddle Summer School Glencolmcille, Donegal 30 Jul 18 3 Aug 18
Belfast Summer School of Traditional Music Belfast 30 Jul 18 3 Aug 18
Sliabh Luachra Summer School Rockchapel, Cork July?
Laois Trad Summer School Portlaoise, Laois July?
Phil Murphy Weekend Carrig-on-Bannow, Wexford July?
Kilrush Traditional Music and Set Dancing Festival Kilrush, Clare 1 Aug 18 7 Aug 18
Sean McCarthy Weekend Festival Finuge, Kerry 3 Aug 18 6 Aug 18
James Morrison Traditional Music Festival Sligo 4 Aug 18 6 Aug 18
O’Carolan Harp Festival Keadu, Roscommon 4 Aug 18 6 Aug 18
Feakle International Traditional Music Festival Feakle Clare 8 Aug 18 13 Aug 18
Scully’s Trad Fest Newmarket, Cork 9 Aug 18 13 Aug 18
Fleadh Cheoil na hEireann Drogheda, Louth 12 Aug 18 19 Aug 18
Feile Ceol Na Locha Tourmakeedy, Mayo 13 Aug 18 17 Aug 18
Masters of Tradition Bantry, Cork 22 Aug 18 26 Aug 18
Crotty Galvin Traditional Music Weekend Moyasta, Clare 25 Aug 18 27 Aug 18
Ballyshannon Folk and Traditional Music Festival Ballyshannon, Donegal August?
Seachtain Ceoil Chois Fharraige Spiddal, Galway August?
Fingal Fleadh and Fair, Swords Castle, Dublin 6 Sep 18 9 Sep 18
Gig’n the Bann Portglenone, Antrim 13 Sep 18 16 Sep 18
Johnny Doherty Music & Dance Festival Ardara, Donegal 21 Sep 18 23 Sep 18
Ceol Na gCruach The Glen Tavern, Donegal September?
Dingle Tradfest Dingle, Kerry September?
Tuam Trad Festival Tuam, Galway September?
Gerry Whelan Memorial Weekend Cootehill, Cavan September?
Feile Cheoil Larry Reynolds Ballinasloe, Galway September?
Frank Harte Festival Dublin September?
Music Under the Mountains Wicklow September?
Cork Folk Festival Cork, Cork September/October?
O’Carolan Harp Festival Nobber, Meath 5 Oct 18 7 Oct 18
Glenties Fiddlers Weekend Glenties, Donegal 5 Oct 18 7 Oct 18
Ed Reavy Traditional Music Festival Cavan 19 Oct 18 21 Oct 18
Foxford Traditional Weekend Foxford, Mayo 18 Oct 18 21 Oct 18
Sligo Live Folk Roots and Indie Festival Sligo 24 Oct 18 29 Oct 18
Cooley Collins Festival Gort, Galway 27 Oct 18 29 Oct 18
Willie Keane weekend Doonbeg, Clare 27 Oct 18 29 Oct 18
Feile Strokestown Strokestown, Roscommon October?
Achill International Harp Festival Achill Island, Mayo October?
Scoil Cheoil na Botha Scotstown, Monaghan October?
Patrick O’ Keeffe Traditional Music Festival Castleisland, Kerry October?
Ennis Trad Fest Ennis Clare November?
William Kennedy Piping Festival Armagh 15 Nov 18 18 Nov 18
Drogheda Traditional Music Weekend Drogheda, Louth November?
Éigse Dhiarmuid Uí Shúilleabháin Ballyvourney, Cork December?
Scoil Gheimhridh Ghaoth Dobhair Gweedore, Donegal December?
Trá Buí /Pearse Holmes memorial Traditional Music Weekend. Dohooma, Mayo December?

And for those interested in a different experience you can attend any of the County or Provincial Fleadhs, which are to enable qualification to the All Ireland Fleadh, which is in the list above.  Here are the dates.

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Categories: Festivals, Trad Irish Music | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fitzpatrick’s Restaurant and Pub, Louth. Much, much more than a pub.

I am an inveterate collector.  Books, ephemera, bottles, memorabilia, photos, advertising material; pretty much anything old.  So imagine my surprise and joy at walking into a place where every square inch of wall and roof is covered with such.  Cabinets and shelves displaying every conceivable item. No it’s not the Dublin Museum but it could be.  It’s Fitzpatrick’s Pub and Restaurant on the Cooley Peninsula, between Dundalk and Carlingford in County Louth.

You know you are in for something different even before you enter the front door.

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The collection starts before you even enter the front door.

This deservedly popular place was packed with diners this cold Sunday February evening but I almost forgot about food as I waited for a table. The roof is covered with objects of every description hanging in chaotic order. There is kitchenalia, enamel ware, copper ware, basket ware, road signs pointing to all parts of Ireland, ropes and saddlery, and many items I didn’t even recognise. IG3C9648

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In one room (and there are many in the sprawling restaurant) was a table set for tea – defying gravity as it hung upside down adding a quirky element.

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The walls were covered with shelves, hanging objects and cabinets containing bottles, jars, whiskey crocks, plates, books, old tools, signs, and more signs,  advertising such things as tobacco, cakes or chocolates.IG3C9657

There were pub mirrors aplenty.  For well known brands such as Jamieson’s and Powers but also more local varieties such as DWD,  Dunville,  Mitchell’s and Corbett’s (both of Belfast),  Persse’s from Galway, Hand-in-Hand from Newry, Prerston Bros (Drogheda) and Smiths of Dundalk. Many are works of art.

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There were a lot of  individual display cabinets devoted to one particular theme. Tyrconnell Whiskey or OXO or whiskey samples from all over Ireland, and one large one full of Guinness ware.

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There was too much to see. Many smaller items were hard to inspect.  One cabinet I noticed had items such as Identity cards and ration books.

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An incredibly eclectic collection and what a fantastic way to display what I am guessing is a lifetime passion. As I said I nearly forgot about the food but hey this is not a restaurant review. It consistently wins enough accolades for its food from others,

As I wasn’t the only one taking photos I did not feel I was disturbing the diners too much. I just had to capture some memories. But it was night and I wanted to see it in daylight and meet the owners and get more of their story because I am sure it is a fascinating one. But it when I returned the next day there was no activity. Monday is the one day of the week it closes. It will have to wait for my next visit to Carlingford.

I am inspired. My own collection focuses around the Western Australian Goldfields and I would just love to do something like this with it, but I’m not so sure about the running a restaurant thing.

Anyway I urge you to pay the place a visit, even if you are not hungry. The perfect place to sample the local Cooley whiskey. It used to be called Greenore but I think Fitzpatricks serve Kilbeggan also made by them.

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Categories: My Journey, Real Ireland | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

One Day. Six Counties. A Winter Tour through East Ireland

It’s a long drive from West Clare, my base in Ireland, to Carlingford in County Louth.  In fact it is across the country from one coast to the other.  So when you get there you want to maximise the time. Early in February a small festival known as Feile na Tana is organised by renowned fiddler Zoe Conway and she manages to attract some of the finest traditional musicians in the country.   I posted on this festival on my blog a couple of years ago (here) and nothing much has really changed.  Centered on instrument workshops the focus of the festival is on reaching out to the young and to try and restore and invigorate a once strong musical heritage on the edge of Ulster. The other thing I love about coming to Louth, the smallest county in Ireland, is that it and the neighbouring counties of Armagh and Down has unrivaled beauty and such unique landscapes, geology, ancient archaeology and recent history.   I relished the chance to explore this while playing music at the same time.

I was blessed on a number of accounts this time.  The weather was relatively fine (let me translate: ‘it didn’t rain’) and I found a marvelous place to stay through AirBnB.  Eve, another expatriate drawn to leave her life in the US behind and put down roots in Ireland, was the perfect host.  With views toward the Mountains of Mourne and in the shadow of Slieve Foy, I could come and go, I could practice the fiddle or settle down by the fire. And then she was instrumental in convincing me to stay an extra couple of days to experience the coming snow.  Thanks Eve.  I was well rewarded for that decision.

And that’s what I want to talk about in this blog.

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Looking from Louth across to the Mountains of Mourne

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Slieve Foy near Carlingford

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Carlingford nestled at the foot of the Cooley Hills

Coming from the Land of the Midday Sun (I’ve just renewed my Poetic Licence!) I have little experience with snow.  Except that I love it and the spectacular images that may result if the light is right. This lack of experience however led to some interesting learnings about coping with ice and snow on the road

In West Clare when it rains or hails you certainly know about it. The sound of the rain on the slate can be deafening. Here if it snows at night you sleep through the silence. The flakes drift to the ground steadily and quietly building up anywhere where gravity is only mildly resisted.  This is what happened on the Monday night. After an unusually undisturbed night snuggled up with the thoughtfully provided electric blanket (surprisingly unusual in an Irish BnB),  I looked out the window in the morning, with no great expectation, but was dazzled by brilliant blue sky and a sparkling carpet of fresh white powder. And remember I was at sea level.

I had a loose plan. I would take the ferry across the Carlingford Lough to County Down and explore the Mountains of Mourne, which I could see from the window of my second story bedroom.

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Looking across the Lough from Greenore towards the Mountains of Mourne

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View across the Carlingford Lough to the town of Warrenpoint

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Another view across the Carlingford Lough to the town of Warrenpoint

However the best laid plans. The ferry was closed for ‘adverse’ weather conditions. Hardly surprising really with a strong wind now making life difficult and whipping up the waters of the Lough. In Ireland you always have to have a Plan B, so I drove north towards  Slieve Gullion.   Lucky really as in retrospect driving through County Down would have been treacherous.

My vague plan was to revisit some spots on the Ring of Gullion but really I was dictated by which roads were passable.  I had earlier spent a couple of days exploring this stunning area of South Armagh .  A blog on this is on the way.  I was curious to see what this ancient world looked like under a white blanket.  My route took me through Carlingford to Omeath and up to Flagstaff Hill. Mistake. There were stunning views on the way up.   But.

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The Cooley Hills between Carlingford and Omeagh

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Rock and Ice

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View across the Newry River to County Down on the way up to Flagstaff Hill.  The tower house on the River is the Narrows Keep and the site of the most deadly attack in the Troubles, by the Provisional IRA in 1979, which killed 16 British paratroopers.  

My car struggled to deal with the icy hill and only after some hair raising moments did I make it to a relatively ice-less part of the road to pause.  Up ahead the road continued to climb with even more ice and snow.  What did they say about discretion and valour?  So I did an 11 point turn and gingerly pointed the car back down the hill.

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Flagstaff Hill is actually in County Armagh.  But are they miles or kilometres?

Having got this far though I decided to walk to the top of the hill.  So glad I did.  I actually didn’t realise that this was Flagstaff Hill which I will talk about in another blog but the snow certainly added another dimension.  Flagstaff Hill is actually in Northern Ireland.    There are no border signs so you don’t actually know.  In fact the only way you know you have passed into another countyr is that the road signs and Google Maps switch to miles.  Honestly I can’t conceive of an hard border here.

The fine white powder transformed the green rolling hills of the elevated Cooley range into an Alpine wonderland. The biting wind and an outside temperature of 1 degree though did nothing to dampen spirits.  I actually didn’t want to leave but I was worried about how the car would handle the trip back down the mountain.

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View down Carlingford Lough from Flagstaff Hill

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View across to the Mountains of Mourne from Flagstaff Hill in Armagh

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Flagstaff Hill

It was nerve wracking I have to say.   Slipping and sliding with shuddering and totally ineffectual brakes I edged back down the hill to Omeath and then on to Slieve Gullion by a more circuitous and less treacherous route.

Naively I had expected to be able to drive to the Summit but luckily the road was closed because I might have been tempted to give it a go.

Thwarted again, I made my way west to a castle I had visited a couple of days earlier (Castle Roche).   Only a light dusting of patchy snow remained at this lower level but this is one of the most imposing ruins in Ireland and the patches of snow added to the mystical quality of the fortification.  I will have more to say about it in my upcoming blog on the Ring of Gullion.

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Castle Roche

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Fields surrounding the Castle

Suddenly the blue skies weren’t blue anymore and snow showers would sweep across the fields.  Not enough to settle and they were only intermittent but they reminded me how quickly the weather could change.

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A dark sky looms over a bucolic winter scene

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Moments later snow sweeps in 

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By now it was approaching 2 pm and  as I had to be back in Clare I reluctantly headed south.

But my adventure was not over.  Driving down the M1 towards Dublin the snow continued to blanket the cuttings along the motorway. Skirting Dublin on the M50 and then south west on the M7,  I could see plenty of snow in the distance and I just couldn’t bring myself to speed past it.

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Snowy hills around Kilteel in Co Kildare

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A rural scene in County Kildare

So so I left the Motorway at Rathcoole in County Dublin and headed east, I had never been here and had no idea where I was going. I love that.  The only thing on my mind was to get closer to those white hills.  My confused route took me through the west of  Dublin to Kildare and then crossing into the edge of Wicklow.   If anything the snow was heavier here than further north and there were unrivaled picture postcard views of snowy villages and of winter landscapes revealed around every corner.  The ranges in the distance I later discovered were the Wicklow Hills.

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Kilteel, Co Kildare

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A snow covered barn in Kilteel, Co Kildare

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The charming village of Rathmore, Co Kildare

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Great weather for sheep.  Co Wicklow.

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Abandoned farm buildings, Co Wicklow

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Co Wicklow

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Co Wicklow

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Co Wicklow

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Something was drawing me on but common sense intervened.  As the bright blue sky turned orange with the disappearing sun, and darkness descended, I headed back to the Motorway.  Continuing to Limerick, as if to tease me in the fading light, drifts of snow reflecting in my headlights, continued to tantalise .

A marvelous day and indeed a rare day and I think I took full advantage.  I manged to experience and observe snow-draped winter terrains under largely blue skies across Six Counties – Louth, Down, Armagh, Dublin  Kildare and Wicklow.

Special.

Categories: My Journey, Real Ireland, Wild Ireland | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

New York, New York. Part 1. Discovery.

My readers would normally expect me to write on Ireland.   But I have family in California, so I visit occasionally.  And of course I take my camera and my pen with me (as well as my fiddle!).

I have come to love New York.  I was so impressed with much there and I started writing a blog on two great galleries in that city. But as I wrote I realised I had never really spoken about my impressions of the City itself. So in the long tradition of horses and carts it is time to redress that. I’m calling this Part 1 and will talk in Part 2 about the Met and MOMA which was really what I wanted to write about in the first place.

My priority in discovering a new city for the first time is to walk the streets without any plan. I only pay cursory attention to guide books preferring to stumble over a city’s attractions myself and as much as possible avoid my fellow tourists.

This was what I have done in visits over the years to some of my favourite places: Paris, Edinburgh, Venice, London, San Francisco and Cape Town. Then I read the guide books and see what I missed.

My first visit was in April of 2016 and at that time I spent three to four days exploring.  I visited again in September 2017 which as I felt more at ‘home’ was when i visited the museums.

Although time has passed I did actually put pen to paper during my first visit, so most of my words in this blog are from those first mind blowing moments experiencing New York.  Looking back they have a certain naïve immediacy; more so than anything I would write today as a more ‘seasoned’ visitor.  One more thing though.  This is not a ‘Guide’ to the City’s Must-sees.  It is a random collection of impressions and moments that unfolded over those few days.  So I know it is only a very superficial view of possibly the greatest city in the World.  But it’s my view.

So here goes:

My first visit to New York; but it’s funny. isn’t it? It has an air of familiarity to it. All the names of places are straight out of American sit-coms or movies. Places like Manhattan, Times Square, Empire State, Madison Square Gardens, Fifth Avenue, Broadway, Brooklyn Bridge, Grand Central, Park Avenue, Central Park.  Am I in an episode of Seinfeld or a Woody Allen movie? Though you feel you know the place nevertheless the reality is different and exciting.

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My first impression though was of the grandeur. The streets were wider than I had thought. Not at all the claustrophobic canyon city I imagined, but remarkably everything seemed to be in proportion. There was abundant light in the streets and that was a surprise. Turns out this is a result of a 1916 city ordinance that required buildings to be set back from the kerb and only occupy a percentage of the land area.   It also hugely influenced construction during the golden age of skyscrapers with tapered buildings meeting these demands. There is an immensity however you can’t possibly be prepared for.

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I just love the mix of architectural styles, though its reputation as a city of skyscrapers was cemented during the boom of the 1930s This was the time of art deco architecture and the massive buildings of the day such as the Chrysler and Empire State have become world wide symbols of American success and New York’s central place in that.  Due to the limited space on Manhattan, construction of tall buildings was always a necessity and the Victorian period saw highly decorated and opulent expressions of this. They speak of optimism and confidence and brashness. Often flamboyantly decorated they stand in stark contrast to the stone and concrete elegance of the 1930s and the minimalist glass and steel of the modern period.

Some streetscapes seem to be entirely of buildings from the turn of the century. Built up against the street they give a more closed-in feel of an earlier New York,  But buildings such as these sit comfortably with the neo-romantic and the hyper-tall towers of glass. New York continues to make a statement saying “Hey look at me”

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I love the way the New York of old is often reflected in the sheer glass walls of the new. As if paying homage to their presence. You see this all over the city.

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I loved the Empire State. The Empire State is not only bigger and more impressive than I expected but clean and sparkling and visible from anywhere in Mid Manhattan. And then I discovered a building called The Flatiron Building. Hard to believe it was built in 1902. With innovative engineering of a steel frame suspending the concrete walls. A triangular building, simply elegant, though not considered so by critics of the day.

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I loved the architectural detail everywhere.  Exotic decoration, simple brickwork, Demonstrations of confidence everywhere.

I walked dozens of blocks and hours of foot-wearying slog but in almost a state of wondrous trance. A bit like Alice in Wonderland. And blow my socks off there in central Park is a statue honoring Alice.  Art imitating Life imitating Art.

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The place is constant noise and colour.  Constant and incessant screaming of sirens and clattering traffic. No one seems to bat an eyelid because it is so constant and people hardly notice. They are buried in their phones or plugged into their ears. In their own virtual world. Or their shouted conversations trying to raise above it. There are police everywhere. And I mean everywhere.  New Yorkers are loud themselves. Definitely a product of their environment. You are part of every conversation whether you want to be or not. Especially phone conversations. I said Colour didn’t I?  Well where better to see that than Times Square?  An in-your-face statement of popular American culture and neon-materialism.

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There is an aggressive element to the place. Brash, fast. A city of apartments, so many live their lives on the street. Everything is happening on the Avenues. Shops are open at all hours. You can buy bagels or seafood from roadside vendors.  You can listen to music or watch street art. You can walk your dog. It is a city of characters. And they all want to talk to you or at you. One taxi driver born in 62nd Street gave me her life story in the space of a cab rideof only a few blocks. On the streets you see sad and and you see quirky Your senses are assaulted in so many ways.

You see the beauty of inner city green spaces and then you see piles of rubbish.  A city which is in many ways in the vanguard of civilisation can’t work out a decent way of collecting its rubbish or housing all its people.

You could see anything on a New York street.  A fashion shoot, evocative statues, indecision on street names and reminders that if it isn’t bolted down forget it.  An headless commuter? or legal cannabis drinks.  Or the distinct New York humor evident in street signs.

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And I have to mention the stairway in my Apartment that I rented through AirBnB.  The floor number was beautifully mosaic-ed into the tiling. Only problem was the artisan’s English language skills were just a little wanting.

There was a brightness about the town. It was of course Spring so tulips were in full bloom, trees were flushed with foliage. Central Park was alive with birds. I spent a whole afternoon wandering aimlessly there and I would not have touched a quarter (or a quarter for that matter – there is so much ‘free’ entertainment). What a treasure the forefathers left. Truly an oasis, a place to recharge and incredibly you can choose your own natural fix. Ramble in a forest, cycle the paved roads, relax on a rocky outcrop, kick a ball, bird watch or take a pony trap. Central Park is many Parks.

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New York is such a big city with its many boroughs and then its many districts. I was mainly in Manhattan. As with most ‘tourists’, but Manhattan is Soho and Upper East Side and Little Italy and the Merchant district and Lower East Side and Greenwich Village and Chinatown. All so different but all vibrant in their own distinct way. It is also hidden gems such as the High Line Park, a former elevated railway line, turned into a Linear Park, with gardens, boardwalks, cafes, and installation art. And plenty of rules. I was there late one night and came across this fellow. A hyper realistic statue  “The Somnambulist” by Tony Matelli.

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Though I tend to avoid the tourist traps; the closest I got to Statue of Liberty was from the Manhattan shore, but I did walk across Brooklyn Bridge. The walkway is built above the traffic lanes so you have magnificent unimpeded views back over Manhattan or over the docksides of Brooklyn. Possibly the oldest suspension bridge in the world it was opened in 1883.   It has held up remarkably due to the designer, William Roebling, building six times the engineering redundancy into the design. And for at least forty years until prohibition, huge vaults at either end stored the finest french wines in perfect conditions under the pylons.

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I love the way you just stumble across things.  On the corner of West 58th and 7th is Petrossian Restaurant.  It was the architecture that initially drew me in.  Formerly an apartment building dating from 1907 in French Renaissance style with elaborate terra-cotta ornamentation it originally had 14 room – 5 bathroom apartments.  THese were subdivided during the Depression.  Now it is an iconic Caviar restaurant.  I was briefly tempted until I saw the tasting menu at $250pp.  Next time!

Oh Nearly forgot.  Trump.  He has two towers in Manhattan and most notable was the crowds in the street just gawking outside the Trump Tower.  I went in.  Past the machine gunners who thankfully gave me a broad smile, past the security check but my curiosity was very quickly satisfied and really it was a ‘nothing burger’ inside.  More troubling though was the permanent multiple NYPD presence outside the other Tower whether he is there or not. Two Towers.  Is one real and the other ‘fake’?

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So that was my New York.  Except I haven’t even mentioned the fabulous Irish music. I went to 11 sessions in all in the City.  A great place with a great Irish heritage.  Next time.

Speaking of next time, no doubt any of you who actually read all this are screaming at your screen.  How could you miss this? or that?  Please tell me what are your must-see’s and I’ll try and fit it in next visit.  Because I will go back.

Part 2 is coming.

Categories: America, My Journey | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

As I was Going over the Cork and Kerry Mountains. Part 2. The Gap of Dunloe. December 2017

As I was Going over the Cork and Kerry Mountains……

Recently I posted on the spectacular Killarney National Park.  Though the blog only saw the light of day in December it related to a trip completed in June.

Now six months later I had the notion to revisit these mountains.  Storm Caroline had dumped snow all over Ireland so I wanted to see the National Park covered in white.  In this regard I was disappointed.  It seemed the show was restricted to the north and the very highest mountains,.  So I didn’t linger along the road from Killarney to Moll’s Gap, the road I covered in my previous blog (Part 1).  It certainly put on a different face.   Firstly hardly a tourist.  I was the only car at the Ladies View.  Indeed I was almost the only car on the road.  No buses and this time my brakes worked.

Funny how you miss things.  But last time I didn’t see the ruins of the castellated Musgrave Barracks of the Royal Irish Constabulary right on the edge of the road.  The lush green forests I talked about last time were not so welcoming with the now leafless trees.  There was still in many places the carpet of mosses covering the land, that impressed me so much in June.  Sometimes as if a green billiard cloth had been draped over the rocks

I decided to explore the Black Valley and the Gap of Dunloe which runs up the western side of the National Park and maybe head into the higher mountains.  Good decision but unrealistic timewise.  It was bitterly cold and and walking was not particularly inviting but it was truly spectacular even from the roadside and I just kept stopping so I ultimately ran out of light.  Just past Moll’s Gap on the inland road to Sneem (Not the Ring of Kerry) you see a small single lane road to the right.  No sign of any indication where it actually went.  But as it seemed to be the only way to head into the mountains and with no Google, I took it.  The road crosses the broad glacial valley framed to the north with the snow capped ranges of the MacGillycuddy Reeks before heading back east and then cutting sharply back up to the north and over the ridge towards the Gap of Dunloe.

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Killarney Lakes.  view across Muckross Lake

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Killarney National Park.  Ruins of Musgrave Barracks

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Killarney National Park.  Sharing the road.

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Killarney National Park.  A green tablecloth.

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Killarney National Park.  Bare hills and bare trees.

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Ladies View car park

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View from the car park – (December)

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View from the car park (June)

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Killarney Lakes.  View of Looscaunagh Lough

 

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Heading up to Moll’s Gap

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Moll’s Gap

This next series of photos were taken on the Black Valley Road.  Beautiful interplay of light.

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This bridge heading up to the Gap of Dunloe had two passing bays due to inability to see what’s coming!

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This is my kind of country.  Wild, rocky, desolate and seemingly nothing living here except sheep with identifying patches of pink and purple.  The Gap itself is a very impressive break in the sandstone hills caused by a glacial breach.   It has been a famed tourist route since Victorian times. Also easy to see why the area is so popular with rock climbers. We follow along the valley of the River Loe and pass a string of lakes crossed by a number of single arch stone bridges.   The entrance to the largest of the lakes is guarded by by two giant boulders through which the road passes.  This locality known as The Pike seems little changed since the 19th century.

Just the occasional car today but I can well imagine the chaos on this one lane road with the summer tourist traffic, cars, vans, bikes, walkers and pony traps.

Go in Winter!

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The Gap of Dunloe looking north

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Another view of the Gap

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The Pike December 2017

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Categories: My Journey, Wild Ireland | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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