Real Ireland

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.

Categories: My Journey, Real Ireland | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 3 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.


Snowstorm on Spanish Point Beach. Wednesday 28 February 2018


Spanish Point Beach, Wednesday 28 February 2018


Bell Bridge House Hotel.  Wednesday 28 February 2018


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


Bridge over the Anagh River.  Wednesday 28 February 2018


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


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


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


Caherush.  Low tide. Wednesday 28 February 2018


Mutton Island.  Wednesday 28 February 2018


Caherush looking towards Quilty.  Wednesday 28 February 2018


Miltown Malbay  Wednesday 28 February 2018


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.


Panoramic view of Caherush bay.  Thursday 1 March 2018


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


My cottage on the shore. Thursday 1 March 2018


More snow.  Thursday 1 March 2018


Caherush Bay Thursday 1 March 2018


Mutton Island.  Thursday 1 March 2018


Sugar Island and Quilty. Thursday 1 March 2018


The sun breaks through. Thursday 1 March 2018


Joined on my walk by Valdo.  Thursday 1 March 2018


Joy.  Thursday 1 March 2018


Looking down the Clogher Road.  Thursday 1 March 2018


Driving into Quilty.  Thursday 1 March 2018


The Quilty Shore I.  Thursday 1 March 2018


The Quilty Shore II.  Thursday 1 March 2018


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


Breakfast at Kilrush.  Thursday 1 March 2018


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


Annageeragh Falls.  Thursday 1 March 2018


Annageerah Falls.  Thursday 1 March 2018


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


Near Spanish Point.  Thursday 1 March 2018


Near Lahinch.  Thursday 1 March 2018


Lahinch. Thursday 1 March 2018


Moy House.  Lahinch, Thursday 1 March 2018


Cliffs south of Lahinch.  Thursday 1 March 2018


Fenceline and cliffs.  Lahinch. Thursday 1 March 2018


Lahinch. Thursday 1 March 2018


The Falls at Ennistymon. Thursday 1 March 2018


Falls at Ennistymon.Thursday 1 March 2018


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


Icicles I .  Ennistymon.  Thursday 1 March 2018


Icicles II.  Ennistymon.  Thursday 1 March 2018


Icicles III.  Ennistymon.Thursday 1 March 2018


Icicles IV.  Ennistymon.Thursday 1 March 2018


Icicles V.  Ready to drop.Thursday 1 March 2018


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.


My cottage.  Marooned.  Friday 2 March 2018


Going nowhere.  Friday 2 March 2018


The Clogher Road.  Friday 2 March 2018


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


My front patio.  Friday 2 March 2018


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


Caherush. Friday 2 March 2018


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


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.


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


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


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


Caherush.  Saturday 3rd March, 2018


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


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


Ennistymon. Saturday 3rd March, 2018


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


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


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


Lahinch. Saturday 3rd March, 2018


Snow dunes, Lahinch.  Saturday 3rd March, 2018


Lahinch Castle.  Saturday 3rd March, 2018


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


Lahinch  Saturday 3rd March, 2018


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


The estuary at Lahinch. Saturday 3rd March, 2018


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


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.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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.


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


Poulnabroun Dolmen.  Monday, 5th March 2018.


Poulnabroun Dolmen.  Monday, 5th March 2018.


Near Poulnabroun Dolmen.  Monday, 5th March 2018.


Burren scene.     Monday, 5th March 2018.


Burren.  Monday, 5th March 2018.


Burren.  Monday, 5th March 2018.


Burren.  Monday, 5th March 2018.


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


Burren. Monday, 5th March 2018.


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


Still heavy snowdrifts.  Monday, 5th March 2018.


Carran Turlough.Monday, 5th March 2018.


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.


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


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


Behind Miltown Malbay.  Tuesday 6th March 2018


Mt Callan. Tuesday 6th March 2018


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


Abandoned barn.  Mt Callan. Tuesday 6th March 2018


The roof of the world.  Tuesday 6th March 2018


Situation normal.  The gulls have returned to Caherush.


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

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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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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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The Clare Kitchen Sessions. Radio with pictures.

There is a widespread view that the Pub is the natural home of Irish Music.  And don’t get me wrong, many a wonderful musical moment can be had there. But indeed Irish music can be comfortably at home in the Home.  There’s a long tradition of the ‘kitchen session’ where the dining table is pushed to one side, local musicians gather and the flagstones clatter to the insistent battering of hard shoes.  A story might be told.  There will certainly be some songs, generally of a local flavour and there will be endless cups of tea and sandwiches.  There will be folk of all ages jammed in or listening from outside the door. This is how the tunes were handed down after all.  And if instruments were in short supply a lilter might be called on.  Nothing will stop the dancers.

Now, Irish cottages are not large so one can well imagine that not that many could be crammed in to experience this.

My how times change. As the chill of winter strengthened its grip, late November saw me at a kitchen session in my good friend Oliver O’Connell’s house in the heart of the Burren in County Clare. There were about 60 people there for the evening along with the virtual presence of many thousands of others.  It was broadcast live into homes all over the world through the organisers, ClareFM, and it was streamed live via Facebook.  So everyone could truly be part of this monumental night.  You could make comments in real time from Boston, Berlin or Belfast and hundreds did. Some were even read out on air during the show. Everything that makes this aspect of Irish Culture so unique was there, in a brilliant programme of music, song and dance provided by a gathering of Oliver’s friends from the Tubber-Gort-Crusheen-Kilfenora-Corofin areas of East and North Clare. There were so many wonderful surprises. Three pipers, Blackie (Oliver’s son), Tara Howley, taking time from her commitments with Riverdance and Eugene Lamb, a piping legend. There were recitations from Oliver and an emotional moment as father and son combined for a tune. There were spirited half sets with Oliver in the thick of it as you would expect and cameos from a host of Clare greats – old and young. Names like Richie Dwyer, Des Mulkere, Tony O’Loughlin and up-and-comers like the Clancy family from Tubber. Especially inspiring were two lilters maybe sixty years apart in age showing that core traditions, that are hardly known about outside rural Ireland, are being maintained.

This is radio with Heart from the heartland of Irish music. So well co-ordinated by Paula Carroll on air and Joan Hanrahan marshalling everyone behind the scenes. But it was live radio and yes there were glitches and it was so much better for that. This wasn’t a concert, and it wasn’t in the studio, so the music was energetic, spontaneous, entirely natural and completely in context.

After it was all over some didn’t want to leave. And those who remained watched in awe as four accordions,  Oliver, Clive Earley, Martin Ford, and Tony O’Loughlin joined Des Mulkere on banjo for a rare opportunity to play together.

I will be posting some video, so keep an eye on my You Tube channel. But here are a few photos I managed to sneak in which will give you some flavour of the night.

There will be more of these I am told. In fact ClareFM is promising one every week right through the Winter. I am hopeful of being able to be there for a few to document the occasion.  These will be special events. A different kitchen each week with each person opening their home and sharing their music with world.  Each will be in a different musical context and each will have the personality of the host stamped on it. They will be chalk and cheese but I expect the full depth of musical expression and the soul of Clare will be on display. You can’t apply a formula to Irish Music especially in this county and I am sure these Kitchen Sessions will demonstrate this over the coming weeks. Where ever you are on Sundays – 6pm Irish time, you should be listening to Clare FM.














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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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Giant Steps

Giants CausewY pAnorama 1

The Giant’s Causeway is on every visitor’s must see list on the island of Ireland. For lots of different reasons. It’s a beautiful place on a beautiful coast, It has mystery and mystique. It is intriguing and enigmatic. That’s why over a million people a year visit.

It is located in Northern Ireland in a part of Antrim known as The Causeway Coast.  I have been there twice in the past year – in January 2017 in the depth of winter and in September. Both times I was gifted with marvellous weather.

For me as a geologist it was like worshipping at a holy shrine. So I thought I would put together a few of my observations from the two trips.  Apologies if this is too dry for you but you can skip the words and just look at the pictures.

So what are we talking about here?

The Causeway is part of an extensive coastline exposing thick basalt flows.  The scenery is nothing short of spectacular with sweeping bays and jagged cliffs stretching as far as the eye can see.



The Causeway Coast looking west with Giant’s Causeway in the foreground.  


The coastal path from the Causeway to the Chimney Tops past the Organ Pipes


View west showing Causeway and Chimney Tops in the distance.


Giant’s Causeway is on the right and the Camel Rock on the left.


The Giant’s Causeway is most famous for the spectacular columns, or more correctly ‘columnar jointing’ in the basalt. The origin of the columns has historically caused all sorts of consternation. Our forebears did not believe such regular shapes could be created naturally. So if it wasn’t the work of the Almighty then it must have been Finn McCool. Hence the legend of the Irish Giant constructing the causeway to engage with his counterpart in Scotland, Fin Gall.


Giants Causeway 3

View from the clifftop down onto the Causeway.





And he left evidence didn’t he? In his haste to get back to Ireland and escape from his giant nemesis, Finn McCool lost a boot which remains to this day adjacent to the Causeway. There is a more prosaic explanation and I’ll return to this later.



The Giant’s Boot


The Causeway came to the attention of Science however in the late 17th century and right through the 18th century it was the focus of intense debate as to its origin. Geological science was then in its infancy. Two intensely opposed schools of thought developed. The Vulcanists, who believed the columns were basalt solidified from lava and the Neptunists who said that all rocks including basalt were sedimentary and formed in a great ocean. The Giants Causeway was at the centre of this debate. So it is one of the most significant places in the history of the geological sciences. That debate has long since been resolved in favour of the Vulcanists

We now know, however, that the columns are caused by cooling cracks that developed at the bottom of a lava flow where it was in contact with the cooler rock beneath. As the lava continued to cool these cracks slowly propagated up creating regular, generally six-sided (though they can have from three to seven sides), columns. These regular columns are called colonnades. The hexagonal shapes are caused by the joints tending to be at 120º to each other. At the exposed tops of the flows cooling was more rapid where there was contact with air and water, so the jointing was irregular and blocky. This type of jointing is called entablature. You can see this very clearly in many places especially at the, so called, Organ Pipes



Regular hexagonal columns


Columns with 4, 5, 6 or 7 sides.


Columnar jointing




Spectacular columns at the Organ Pipes

If you look closer at the columns you will see that in addition to the regular vertical joints that create the columns there is also another set of sub horizontal joints which slices each column into regular segments. These were created by the release of stress during contraction within the columns.




Horizontal jointing


The really intriguing thing is that when these columns break along thee horizontal joints to form the rock platforms they are in fact ont horizontal.  Usually they are either  beautifully concave or convex and the segments fit perfectly together in a ball and socket arrangement. The concave joints are easily spotted on the rock platform as they retain pools of water.




Detail of column surfaces.  water collects on convex surfaces


The columns make an impressive display whether on the rock platforms or in the cliffs.  There is a formation at the eastern end known as the Chimney Tops. If the illustration attached from an 1888 book is accurate, then the chimneys are considerably smaller than they were in the 19th century.   I suggest you go and see them before they disappear.



Chimney Tops 2017



Chimney Tops 1888






It is easy to see how the Neptunists thought the basalts were of sedimentary origin.  There is a distinct layering which could be mistaken for sedimentary banding. Of course it represents different lava flows.  particularly confusing is a distinctive orange red layer in the middle of the cliff.  It is known as an Interbasaltic Formation; a laterite horizon, and is caused by the basalts below it being exposed to weathering for a considerable time before the upper series of basalt flows were deposited. It also suggest a warmer climate at the time as laterites require tropical conditions to develop. It is composed mainly of clays and is rich in iron and aluminium (most other elements were leached out) and has been mined for these ores elsewhere in Antrim.



Layering in basalt flows


Interbasaltic laterite




Laterite in detail


Within this laterite hori\on you can see relicts of the original basalt as paler partially weathered rock. There are also some excellent examples of preserved circular structures representing earlier spheroidal weathering within the normal basalt. This is caused by water percolating down vertical and horizontal cracks eventually creating rounded blocks. It is also known as ‘onion skin’ weathering.

Oh I forgot.  Finn’s boot.  It’s actually a glacial erratic, deposited by a retreating glacier at the end of the last Ice Age (about 10,000 years ago). Much more boring explanation.



Giant’s boot.  Glacial erratic


I know I’ve gone on about the rocks but the spirit of the place is palpable.  The only word I can think of is Romance,.


Romance and Rocks.  What a combination.


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