My Journey

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.


A Boer Goat and some of the Pygmy Goats.


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?



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.



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.


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.


Dromaius novaehollandiae sp Ireland.


Ireland continues to surprise.

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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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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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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.


Looking from Louth across to the Mountains of Mourne


Slieve Foy near Carlingford


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.


Looking across the Lough from Greenore towards the Mountains of Mourne


View across the Carlingford Lough to the town of Warrenpoint


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.


The Cooley Hills between Carlingford and Omeagh


Rock and Ice


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.



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.


View down Carlingford Lough from Flagstaff Hill


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


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.


Castle Roche


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.


A dark sky looms over a bucolic winter scene


Moments later snow sweeps in 


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.


Snowy hills around Kilteel in Co Kildare


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.


Kilteel, Co Kildare


A snow covered barn in Kilteel, Co Kildare


The charming village of Rathmore, Co Kildare


Great weather for sheep.  Co Wicklow.


Abandoned farm buildings, Co Wicklow


Co Wicklow


Co Wicklow


Co Wicklow


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.


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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.


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.


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”




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.



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.


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.


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.



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.


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.



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.



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.



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’?




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.

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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.


Killarney Lakes.  view across Muckross Lake


Killarney National Park.  Ruins of Musgrave Barracks


Killarney National Park.  Sharing the road.


Killarney National Park.  A green tablecloth.


Killarney National Park.  Bare hills and bare trees.


Ladies View car park


View from the car park – (December)


View from the car park (June)


Killarney Lakes.  View of Looscaunagh Lough



Heading up to Moll’s Gap



Moll’s Gap

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



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


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!


The Gap of Dunloe looking north


Another view of the Gap



The Pike December 2017


The Pike 1888





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As I was Going over the Cork and Kerry Mountains. Part 1. June 2017. Killarney National Park

As I was Going over the Cork and Kerry Mountains.

Well I didn’t meet Captain Farrell, but I did discover a glorious land of misty mountains, lakes, cascading rivers and verdant mossy forests.  ‘Discover’ is the wrong word, I know, because I had to share it with half of Germany, so I guess the world had already ‘discovered’ it.  Indeed the road I took is from Kenmare to Killarney, two tourist hotspots and on the famous Ring of Kerry.

It was mid June and I was returning from a festival in West Cork;  I had spent the night in Kenmare. As cloud and rain set in I was in two minds to go the ‘scenic’ route or just head straight home to Clare.   Luckily I was talked into going over the mountain but my hopes were not high.  As it turned out my brakes were playing up and when I limped back to Ennis my garage told me that I had done the whole trip with no front discs.  I wondered what that noise of metal on metal was.

So on to Moll’s Gap and then beyond; the rain held off though and occasionally the clouds would part and a startling landscape would be revealed.


Heading up to Moll’s Gap


Heading down from Moll’s Gap

I pulled into a lay-by not far from Moll’s Gap to let the stream of buses pass and the cloud lifted long enough to get a glimpse of the valley view. But it quickly closed back in.


Mist in the valley

Before I decided to head off again, I crossed the road for a pee. I know this is too much information, but, in seeking a bit of privacy, I wandered just 20 metres off the road and I found myself in the middle of a ferny  fairyland (I think I even found a fairy residence!). Moss-covered trees and boulders. It was primitive and primordial.  Vigorous vines embracing trees and consuming them;  epiphytes sharing their world and mosses making their hosts unrecognizable.   Unlike anything I had seen here in Ireland.  I went back and got my camera and spent the next hour attuning myself to this lush, leafy, sylvan Arcadia.




Hundreds in coaches and cars streamed past headed for the spots marked with brown signs, unaware of what they were missing but no doubt with boxes to tick.


Having soaked my fill and hopefully capturing a little of the feeling of the place in my photos, I headed on to join the throng at the next brown sign. This was near the ‘Ladies View’. There was room for half a dozen coaches to park.  Sort of.


Indeed the place was swarmed as dozens disgorged, charged up the hill in the by now ‘soft cloud’, as the Irish call it, pulled out their cameras and recorded the complete white out in front of them.  The perfect selfy with nothing in the background to distract. I too tried to photograph the scenery but found much more interest in those struggling to deal with the reality of touring Ireland.


Heading down the hill a bit to the real ‘Ladies View’, suddenly the cloud lifted enough to see the valley below. I could now see what impressed Queen Victoria’s ladies so much!




A lady admiring the view


But the view is not just for ladies.

Then I heard the skirl of pipes across the valley. Highland pipes not Uillean. I walked back up the hill to where the sound was coming from and found myself back at the coach stop. The crowds were still there but now they had something to see.  And hear.  The highland pipes in their natural environment.  Well almost.  The hills of Killarney are not quite the Scottish Highlands.  Derek said he plays the Uillean pipes too but doesn’t bring them if the weather is bad.   But it was as if the pipes had scared away the clouds and the cameras this time had something to photograph.


He was very patient with the hordes that wanted a photo record of their moment in the clouds with him.


It didn’t take long though for another shower to come sweeping in.  Enough this time for the piper to pack up and discreetly retreat along with the bussers.


The storm approaches 1


The storm approaches 2

Time to move on.  Further down the mountain I stopped at a lakeside rest. A serene place which the buses had bypassed.  The cloudy, misty atmosphere seemed to add to that wonderful ataraxic feeling.  I wished I had more time.


Muckross Lake


Killarney Lakes.  So inviting.

Then I rejoined the multitude at the Torc waterfall. Here again we find ourselves in a stunning forest. Huge trees on steep slopes.  Green and lush.  Chaotic and ordered. It seemed truly ancient and there was this lovely dark light as the sun suddenly had to battle the obstacles of cloud and canopy, in its efforts to break through.


Tall timber


Downstream from the waterfall


Torc Waterfall


This little taste of the mountain forests and lakes of Killarney national park was a breathtaking tonic. Hugely different to the Ireland I have grown accustomed to – waves, cliffs and buffeting winds are the norm for me in West Clare.  I guess I now understand its popularity.

I will return soon and hopefully the sun will be shining.


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Connemara Colours. Winter in the Maumturks.

Sometimes you get lucky.

On a Saturday late in November I made a quick trip to Galway to attend a concert in a friend’s house in the heart of Connemara. Now as readers of this blog will know I love the many moods of Connemara and relished the opportunity to spend a little time there. The weather is not always kind however.  You can expect mist on six out of ten days. But if you spend enough time in this surprising country occasionally you are well rewarded.

I had heard reports of snow but had no real expectations. I was not prepared for what awaited me though as I drove a circuitous route in and out of Galway and Mayo between Lough Corrib and Lough Mask.

Near the village of Cong (famous for its association with the Quiet Man, but I will be quiet on that for the moment),  I saw snow on the ranges to the west.  So of course I headed in that direction along the shore of Lough Mask until I reached the village of Finny.   The white shrouded backdrop above the little yellow church were now within reach.  These are part of the Sléibhte Mhám Toirc (or the Maumturks).  Not so well known as the Twelve Bens, which lie on the other side of the Inagh Valley, they are less rugged but with their brilliant white caps reflecting the sizzling sunlight they were no less spectacular.

As the sun and clouds and rain and mist fought for dominance an amazing winter palette was in full display.  Everything contributed.  The sky, the hills, the snow, lakes and rivers, stone walls, pastures and paddocks.   The snow caps would change from grey to dazzling white and then glow golden orange with the descending sun.  The sky was at once black then blue as the storm passed, the hills were orange, brown, red and green.  The country sparkled.

I was lucky and happy.  To be in such a stunningly beautiful place where a world class vista was around each corner.  And so grateful that I could capture some of those fleeting moments with my Canon.

Words are irrelevant.




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Quilty. On the Edge of Ireland.


I’ve lived in West Clare for over three years now.  My local village is Quilty.  It occurred to me the other day that I have travelled all over Ireland discovering beauty in places known and unknown but I have never photographed this tiny fishing village in my back yard.

So the other day on a fine day in early November I went for a walk around Quilty.  Quilty truly is on the edge of Ireland and inextricably linked with the sea.  Quaint fisherman’s cottages perched on the cliff above what can be a very stormy Atlantic.  And the Our Lady Star of the Sea Church and its imposing tower is a constant reminder of the heroic rescue of the crew of the Leon XIII in 1907. The stuff of legends.

Here is a collection of images taken that day.  It doesn’t need my words so I will let this photo essay speak for itself.  IG3C1467





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The Hunt comes to Cree in County Clare

Cree (or sometimes spelt Creegh) is a small village in West Clare. Not much normally happens in Cree but this sunny Sunday afternoon in late October the place was abuzz. Every parking spot was taken up with horse floats and four wheel drives. Walsh’s Bar filled up quickly and jodhpurs, jackets and boots were de rigeur. It was the first event of the season for the County Clare Hunt and Cree was the proud host.


Horse transports wherever you look


The main street of Cree and Walsh’s Bar

Hunting (or Fox Hunting as it is probably more widely known) was banned in Scotland in 2002 and England and Wales in 2005 but remains legal and very popular in Ireland (including Northern Ireland) and many other countries such as Australia, Canada, France and Italy. The fox was in fact introduced into Australia for fox hunting and has become one of the country’s worst pests having quite a preference for native marsupials.

The Clare Hunt is one of close to 50 registered clubs in Ireland, each with their own pack of Foxhounds.

Records of hunting with hounds go back to ancient times and is recorded in myths and legends of Fionn mac Cumhaill and the Fianna.  The pursuit was continued by the Norman conquerors and then the Anglo-Irish Protestant gentry. During the Famine in the 19th Century there was bitter resentment and agitation against the landlord elite and the fox hunting became a symbol of British oppression in the eyes of many Irish nationalists. Times change. It is no longer an elite pursuit. Today as many as 300,000 people from all walks of life participate in the activity every year, in some way, in Ireland.

The Hunt at Cree has been the opening event of the season in Clare for the last 20 years. This year 60 horses took part with riders ranging in age from early teens to 70 years. In some recent years as many as 120 have joined.  At least half a dozen have participated in every Cree hunt.  Many riders are well seasoned in all forms of equestrianism and see the hunt as a social activity, a run for the horses and a break away from the stress and discipline of the more formal events such as dressage or three day events. There is no winner and no competitive aspect to it.

I had been told of the event by Grainne, a musician friend with strong connections to this part of Clare. She thought I might like to chronicle and photograph it. I surely would.  And Grainne’s kind invitation set the tone for the day as people could not have been more welcoming.

So from around midday horses and floats began arriving, with their owners and onlookers milling around or grooming their horses in anticipation, until the arrival of the hounds.


Ready and waiting


All set

Cree 52

Quite a handful


Not long to go



The hounds are kennelled, managed and trained by the Hunt Master on behalf of the club.  At the appointed time the alert and eager dogs are released from their purpose- built transportation. There is excited pandemonium until the Hunt Master’s horn brings them to heel.  Master and hounds now lead the pack away. The riders fall in behind heading off at a trot not to return to Cree until sunset.


The horn is sounded


The dogs set off


And the riders follow



At quite a trot


That could have been it and the end of my day but the unexpected often happens in Ireland and I was lucky enough to bump into Dympna.  She told me that she and husband Paul had a young horse, Masie, running in the event for the first time. As they had passed their riding days she would be ridden by young equestrian enthusiast, Aoife.  You could feel the sense of anticipation as to how she would go.


Dympna with a friend wait for the Hunt to start.


Masie, ridden by Aoife. Warming up.

I got talking to Dympna. They had been coming to the Hunt since the beginning and she offered to take me to some vantage points where I could get some photographs. This surprised me as I had the naïve impression that the riders would follow the hounds on some wild chase zigging and zagging across the countryside.  How could you ever predict where they would be at any given time? On the contrary, the hunt is run over a predetermined course with markers showing where fences should be jumped or streams crossed. It has been the same course for many years.  I asked how the dogs know where to go and how they are controlled. As Dympna explained, the hunt is in the total control of a very experienced Hunt Master, Declan Moran, who has particular charge of the hounds. Indeed he knows each by name. He has a hunting horn and they respond to the different sounds of the horn so in this way he can lead them through the course. If they pick up a scent and run off, he can bring them back.  Skill and training.

So Dympna became my companion for the day and sure enough the first place she directed me to was a perfect vantage point to watch the riders traverse the country, sometimes sticking to roads other times riding along fence lines, and then watch them clear a typical Clare stone wall, metres from a crowd of followers.  All the time led by the hounds and the green jacketed Hunt Master.


Gathering at the jump


The hounds go first


Not being a horsey person, it is nevertheless something to behold to see these elegant animals clear effortlessly and confidently these stone barriers. The Irish horse has a reputation for being sure footed and agile and this was certainly on display.

I wondered whether it was difficult to get approval to gallop across the many farms that are encountered. “Not at all” says Dympna. “Farmers are asked for permission a few weeks in advance. There is no problem getting permission. Actually the farmers seem to have pride in the hunt going through their farm”. Dympna says relations are good and “the Hunt will always thank the farmer when passing through”.  The course is walked the following morning with volunteers fixing any fences that need repairs. Given the controversy in some quarters surrounding fox hunting,  Dympna says there has never been any opposition since it started.

The next stop was actually Dympna and Paul’s own farm where with a cup of tea and biscuits we were joined by other members of the family to watch  the Hunt canter past at close range, clearing another fence,  traversing hillsides, riding across open country and crossing streams. Covered in mud now, the soft ground must in places  be heavy going for the horses. Indeed I was regretting my decision not to wear Wellingtons. IG3C0534 IG3C0555



There was to be a lunch break at Grainne’s family farm, so we drove there to meet up with her and wait for the riders. Food and water was there for the dogs and horses and sandwiches, nibbles and a very welcome hot punch for the participants. All was prepared by members of Grainne’s family; her mum, Marie and Bernie, Claire and Therese were overwhelming with their hospitality.




I was revived by a hot bowl of soup before we headed off for one more stop where the hunt re-joined the road not far from the finish. By now it was getting late and the dogs had been packed up and driven back to Cree (except for one who seemed to be a bit lost)  and, as colour came into the night sky, the remaining riders were happy just to ride two or three abreast walking home at a very leisurely pace.


Separated from the pack?



The end of a long day




Nearly home Masie



Towards Cree

It was then I took my leave, dropping Dympna back to Cree and heading off to play some music at nearby Doonbeg.  I later found out that there was more food waiting for them at Cree before the riders washed down their horses, took them home and then headed back to Walsh’s Bar to party the night away.

Many thanks to Dympna, Paul and Grainne and family for their hospitality and for giving me some insight into this perhaps, lesser known part of rural Irish life.  And for somehow organising sunshine for the whole day.



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Árainn Mhór Island. Donegal in a Day.

Arguably among the most beautiful counties in Ireland is Donegal. It is a different reality to the postcard bucolic scenery of Kerry or the treeless wilderness of West Clare but it is no less arresting. Visitors come to Donegal for a different experience. For me its the rolling russet-red hilly boglands, granite strewn boulder fields, jagged and sparkling quartzite hills, deep-blue loughs, whitewashed cottages, steep cliffs disappearing into the windswept spray, empty beaches, its fishing villages and maritime heritage, the language, its raw climate and its welcoming people. But Donegal is a big county and it can be hard to get around especially with the limited time many visitors allow in their rush to see everything. But I’ve found somewhere that has all of that and more wrapped up in a 22 square kilometre package that sits just a 15 minute ferry ride off the coast.

This is Árainn Mhór (Arranmore). Donegal’s largest inhabited island it was a complete unknown to me until I got a message from my friend Pauline suggesting we meet there for a day’s exploring.  Just one of those whims that makes Ireland so unpredictably delicious.   She lives on another special island, Achill in Co Mayo, and was looking for a break and, in the fashion of all true island residents, where better to go than another island? So I instantly agreed of course and made the trek from Co Clare arriving on a wet cold morning at the ferry terminal at Burtonport at the appointed time. Well, as is often the way with things in this country, Pauline’s car died so she never made it.  Having lost my guide and companion I headed over anyway with only the vicissitudes of the weather and the narrow winding boreens to lead me on my discovery.

I was captivated from the moment the ferry left Burtonport.  There are two ferries run by two companies.  Known to everyone as the Red or the Blue.  I took the Red. The port was busy enough but only with those who eke a living along the Donegal coast.  Children on the way to school, a delivery of Guinness and a little dinghy loaded with some of life’s other essentials presumably  headed to one of the remote islands.  We picked our way between these small rocky islands dotting the narrow channel.  Many of these islands have houses which I guess for the most part are holiday retreats.  It is only 5 km before we head into the Ferry port at Leabgarrow.  just as the Blue ferry in uncharacteristically, for Ireland, perfect time made space for us at the wharf.


The Red Ferry heads out from the port of Burtonport


Essential supplies for life on a Donegal island


Can’t tell if it’s coming or going.


Towards Árainn Mhór



Approaching Leabgarrow, the ferry terminal at Árainn Mhór

I love this bit. Arriving at a place you’ve never been and know nothing about. Do I turn left or right?  Well I drove off the ferry and headed south and as I did the rain miraculously stopped, the sun burst through and the island glowed. This would be repeated all afternoon. Dazzling sunshine and stormy showers with even a bit of hail and of course wind. I shouldn’t go on about the weather because this is Ireland after all but as I was dead keen to try and capture the island with my camera I was concerned about the light and the rain and my freezing cold hands.  The south coast provides winding roads which snake through the hills giving views of seascapes across to the mainland and passing though hamlets  clinging to the hillsides and strung along the roadway.  Stone-walled paddocks flow down to the rocky shore.



As it turned out the island put on quite a light show. With the sun coming and going, the light changed every few minutes. You couldn’t plan; you just had to be ready to catch those fleeting moments.

The dominatingly dark greyscape would disappear and the sea would be lit by a fan of radiating beams streaming under the clouds.


When the sun shone for those brief moments it would dazzle.  The real colours of the Donegal palette were displayed and intensified. The red and brown grass, deep blue lakes, sparkling rocky outcrops, sinuous black roads,  green paddocks and white cottages. IG3C0522IG3C0531


Then the wind would be so strong it would blow the mist back over the land or even reverse the flow of rivulets making their way to the sea.



And the rain sweeping in across the ocean would provide interplay with light and dark, waiting for the hand of a skilled painter. The weather was so confused that at one point we had just a beautiful hint of rainbow and an approaching rainstorm juxtaposed.


The weather can’t make up its mind


Storms arrive on the east coast


Storms arrive on the west coast.  Mainland visible in the distance


Green Island off the west coast of Árainn Mhór


Looking across towards Errigal

The south coast provides winding roads which snake throught the hill giving views of seascapes across to the mainland and passing though hamlets  clinging to the side of the hill and strung along the roadway.  Stone-walled paddocks flow down to the rocky shore. Then the road turns north and with a few hairpin bends rises to take you to an elevated bog land underlain by granite. That soon changes to quartzite hills – jagged and chaotic. The one lane road meanders across this magic land and you feel anything could happen. And it does.



village of Torries at the south of the island



Enter a caption


Quartzite hills


Bog land and granite

I see a figure in the distance walking in my direction. Due to our respective speeds it takes some time for me to reach him. He is wearing a reflective bright yellow jacket and dark glasses. And carrying a stick. Of course that is not unusual in Ireland but a closer look showed him waving the white stick in front of him. He was blind. This was kilometres from anywhere mind you. He stopped as he heard my car approaching and pulled to the edge of the road. I stopped and greeted him. “Lovely day isn’t it?”  he said. In his defence the sun was shining at that time. “Sure is”. A few more words about the weather and the chance of more rain and then quick as a flash he came back “Where are you from?”. I gave him the potted version and we had chatted briefly. It was clear then that he had had his fill of this outsider and wanted to continue his walk.  I watched him steadily and confidently stride away musing on the inner strength that many have to carry on a normal life especially, or perhaps because of, living in such a remote place.  A truly unexpected encounter.


Off for a walk

The ‘ring road’ as it is known continues past the island reservoir which has a monumental sculpture immersed in the water and topped by two flags, one of which is the US stars and stripes and the other appears to be an Irish flag but missing the orange. It just looks like someone has cut the orange off.  But if any of my readers know more I’d be grateful to know.    The memorial remembers the terrible hardship of the Hunger in this part of Ireland and how many who were evicted escaped to Beaver Island, of similar size on Lake Michigan in the US. There have historically been strong links continued to this day.


Memorial to the victims of the Famine and links to Beaver Island.

Every island worth its salt has a lighthouse. The elegant white and red structure was built in 1859 to replace a light first erected in 1798. It is still operational but not attended.  Indeed the former keeper’s residence is now a Bed & Breakfast.  In summer.




The cliffs at Rinrawros Point


The light and its exposed location at Rinrawros Point, atop jagged cliffs, reminded me of the precarious maritime history of this island. There is a plaque in the ruins of the RNLI building (Royal National Lifeguards Institution) on the south side of the island which chronicles the sea tragedies of the island and it is truly sobering.  From the death of Tom O’Donnell in 1839 and subsequent tragedies, many of which involved multiple loss it has been a rough existence for the Arranmore islanders. And how hard it must have hit some families as names such as Gallagher and O’Donnell which names regularly appear. Worst of all was the Arranmore Disaster when 19 lost their lives in a small boat trying to make it through the passage from Burtonport before the encroaching dark.  As I write this I suddenly realise it was 52 years to the day since this devastating event 9th November 1935. Most of those lost were Gallaghers, many form the one family, with 15 of them returning from working in Scotland.



A poignant photo of the funeral for the victims of the Arranmore Disaster

 The fishing industry has been the backbone of life on Árainn Mhór. Which makes it all the sadder to see the abundant evidence everywhere of the decline in its fortunes and the ripple effect this has had on the island.  Just near the ferry port two fishing boats stand by the roadside, decaying reminders of the current circumstances.


Abandoned fishing boats at Leabgarrow.


Alleged overfishing by island fishermen, paradoxically while EU super-trawlers vacuum up the sea floor beyond the 12 mile limit, Euro intervention and a ban on salmon fishing.  There are now only four fishing boats operating out of the island.  Previously I mentioned the RNLI building, which I thought initially was a church. Closer inspection revealed its real use.   Surrounding it is a sea of stacked lobster pots eerily reminiscent of a graveyard, which it clearly is, and piles of gossamer like netting resting against its walls. On the nearby jetty sits another decaying fishing boat leaning against the pier for support, in one last attempt to stay afloat.  It is very sad to see and testament to a forlorn hope that perhaps there will be better days .



With the permanent population continuing to decline to around 500 since its peak in the 1940s (around 1,400), tourism has become the main ‘industry’.  But tourism is seasonal. When I visited in the first week of November there were no hotels open. One large Guest House was for sale.   Early’s Pub, the only restaurant on the island,  only opens on the weekend. The other pub served only toasties (though they were delicious). BnB’s have virtually shut up shop. I was the ONLY overnight visitor on the Island. I am pretty sure of that.  And if it wasn’t for the help of a local resident who was able to contact Annie who kindly opened her BNB for me, I would not have been able to stay on the island.  It is hard to see three months of summer visitors being a viable alternative industry.  If you are going in the off season and I recommend staying at least one night, just arrange accommodation first.


I’ve spoken of the changing light so I was in high hopes of a classic sunset. While inconveniently placed clouds thwarted me nevertheless the backlighting of orange light provided some remarkable cloudscapes. At time it was like the clouds were alight flames flaring upwards into the night sky and rays of orange directed down to the earth.


Sunset behind cloud


Clouds aflame I


Clouds aflame II


Glowing thunderheads

And fourteen hours later the display was repeated when I was rewarded for getting up early (7:45 am) with a spectacular sunrise before the clouds descended and killed the show. And then as if to say “Ok.   You’ve had your fun”, rain descended.



In all I only spent 24 hours on the island. Enough? Not really. I ‘saw’ everything I suppose but I only got just a little taste of the true feeling of the place.  Pauline, any time you want to try again. I’m up for it.



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