Inside information & tips on what to see, do, eat, & special places to stay; Ireland, London & beyond!
Vibrant Ireland

All posts in Christmas

Sometimes you feel fenced in by darkness. But the light does slowly return. There can be value to be found in both..

Sometimes you feel fenced in by darkness. But the light does slowly return. There can be value woven in both..

From the shadows into the light

It’s a journey that all of us take part in at Winter, simply by living and breathing on our planet as it slowly begins to spend more time facing the sun after the Solstice. For those of us whose Winter Solstice is in December, the holiday season elaborates on the basic physical fact of this extending time of light and imbues it with extended facets of meaning. In Ireland many of our megalithic prehistoric sites elaborately mark this change, illustrating how this returning of light has been hugely significant to humans for over 5,000 years.

The Journey

The journey from shadow into light has been especially resonating with me these past two years as I have struggled to cope with marriage breakdown, serious family illness, my own physical illnesses, disabilities and operations, financial pressures, the loss of my dearly cherished dogs, 2 house moves, and my ensuing mental health struggles. By the spring of 2016 I became unable to cope with even seemingly simple things, as the ‘you could hardly make it up’ crazy medium and major stressors kept on coming out of the blue. I started to have severe anxiety and panic attacks about small things like making and receiving ANY phone calls, texts, emails, social media or post, and also with writing more than a single short sentence for any reason, as well as over the bigger challenges I was facing in life. It was painful and confusing, and I was scared to death.

I was trying to make peace with the darkness whilst also staying open for the return of the light, but it often felt as if at every turn fate placed another painful obstacle in my path. I also knew I was not helping by beating myself up about things, but it was hard to break out the chaotic spiral of anxiety and panic, decorated with lashings of piercing guilt about things left undone.

 

What helped?

(I should say *helps*– I’m still in recovery, and I know also that life will continue to be a dance of dark and light.)

The support of loved ones and friends. Do let them know how you are feeling.

Counselling (I ended up doing 3 rounds with 2 different counsellors. One may suit you better than another. If after a few sessions you really don’t feel it is for you, see if you can try a different counselor. It can be worth it.) There can be a waiting list for counselling if you are going through the Medical Card, so do talk to your GP to get on the list as soon as you can. 

An 8 week structured mindfulness class. I took one taught by Erica at Mindfulness Kilkenny. Highly recommend.

The book True Refuge and the podcasts by Tara Brach (the class above, book and podcasts were true lifelines for me in times of deep heartbreak.)

Art therapy. 

Supportive physicians. It is important you have a  primary doctor you are happy with; my tip is to try to find one such when you are well, as the stress of doing so when unwell can be an extra burden. 

Spending time immersed in nature. Free, and yet so valuable. 

Plenty of time and a safe space to cocoon and grieve/rant/rest/heal. Things cannot be rushed, no matter how much we need and want them to be fixed/over more quickly. 

Cooking. Preparing foods from scratch, reading excellent food writers, being inspired by & armchair travelling via recipes from all over the world, and foraging for local wild ingredients all provide me with a no-pressure creative outlet. Additional benefits are healthier eating and saving money! The cooking became even more do-able when I received a Kenwood Chef as an early Christmas; chopping veg and repeated stirring were no longer hindered by triggering my neck-arm problems. If you also have these issues, try a Chef! It opened up a whole new world of possibility for me. 

Keeping in mind that setbacks will happen, and that is normal.

Remembering that nothing lasts forever, not even the shite. 

 

Reaching for the light in the darkness.

In thinking about who held out the light for me over the past two years, as either friends, family, or professionals, I realize the majority of them were women. So I think that it is fitting, now at the time of extending light and my returning ability to *gently* reactivate Vibrant Ireland, that my first venture back be to share a special woman-celebrating event.

Nollaig na mBan, Illuminated

This coming weekend, Friday the 5th to Sunday the 8th of January, to coincide with the Irish tradition of Nollaig na mBan (Women’s Christmas), Illuminate Herstory  is lighting up Ireland, and also encouraging us at home to light up in order to celebrate the amazing women in our lives, communities, and history.

“Illuminate Herstory is a new light projection festival to celebrate women and girls, illuminating the country with images of women when the Christmas lights go out over the weekend of Nollaig na mBan (Women’s Little Christmas) on the 5 – 8th January 2017. From the shadows into the light, we will share women’s stories from our families, communities, tales of lost national heroines and women who we admire around the world.”

Events for Women’s Christmas

There will be illuminations and events in several counties across Ireland, and you can find the events listed here. If you are on MOBILE, look for the little plus sign at the top right of the page, and click that to see the listings. It took me ages to figure that out on my phone, so I thought I’d share that tip in case you might be the same 🙂 Women’s Christmas is on the 6th of January each year, and it’s a time for women to take a day for themselves, gather, laugh, chat and make merry. A tradition worth keeping!

To celebrate Nollaig na mBan I will be with some of the dear women friends who helped to keep me going. I’ll be at the Zwartbles Ireland farm, where I often found comfort, solace and strength via my irreplaceable friend Suzanna and her animals. Happy Women’s Christmas! And for those of you who also wish to take part in #IlluminateHerstory, here are some ideas:

I will likely share some photos on @VibrantIreland’s Twitter, and I also reactivated the Instagram, but I’m not quite up to re-activating the Vibrant Ireland Facebook page just yet. I’m nearly wrecked from trying to remember how to post an article up on this here website! It looks like several things need fixing on the site, too… I’ll try and figure it out all in good time, no panic 😀

Happy 2017, may it be kind to us all. XX


Belfast Christmas Market with City Hall. Photo: Chris Heaney.

Belfast Christmas Market with City Hall. As it was raining the nights I was there, this photo is by Chris Heaney.

Would you enjoy a guilt-free break in the run up to Christmas? One where you could indulge yourself whilst also happily wrapping up your special gift shopping?

I would, and did, in Belfast! A Christmas break in Belfast is brilliant- the city is a perfect size as to be buzzy with city culture, Christmas cheer and unique locally made gift ideas without being a totally overwhelming teaming mass of crowds. I think you’ll love it!

Here are a few reasons why I recommend a Christmas break in Belfast:

Christmas beak to Belfast Belfast and St Georges Market & Belfast Food Tour

Christmas break in Belfast: Fun buzz and fab food in St Georges Market & Belfast Food Tour

Foodie Finds

Did you know St George’s Market was voted the UK’s Best Large Indoor Market? What a hive of delights! I’ve just said that Belfast isn’t crazy-making busy, but the Saturday Food & Craft Market here isn’t quiet by any stretch, and later in the day many of the food stalls can sell out of their most popular items. My tip is to arrive around the opening time of 9 a.m. on Saturday, do a bit of gift shopping (SO much you’ll love!) and then indulge yourself on the Belfast Food Tour. Starting at St George’s, this walking tour meanders round Belfast as you sample local food and drink delights; you’ll gather excellent gift ideas into the bargain. And it is a bargain- at £45 for four and a half hours of local knowledge as well as the eats, I found it great value. Actually, a gift certificate for the tour might make a good gift!

Unique Treasures

I also love finding vintage gifts in addition to well made local products. The joy of discovery is part of the fun of shopping for presents, isn’t it– although there is the danger of discovering too many treasures for yourself! Belfast hosts several fabulous Vintage and Handmade Fairs throughout the year, and I came away with several vintage finds for under £20 total! As I write the next Fair is Sunday the 13th of December on the city’s outskirts at Belfast Castle, a fantastic location.

 

With stunning views over Belfast city and harbour, the Castle also has a lovely garden (cat themed!) plus several walks and archaeological sites to explore in Cave Hill Park. Did you know that the rock face of Cave Hill supposedly reminded Jonathan Swift of a sleeping giant? Thus giant Gulliver of Gulliver’s Travels was born! Now that’s a scene deserving of a selfie 😉

Christmas Buzz

Christmas break in Belfast idea: Belfast Christmas Market with City Hall. Photo by Chris Heaney.

Christmas break in Belfast idea: Belfast Christmas Market with City Hall. Photo by Chris Heaney.

Back down in the city, Belfast City Hall is surrounded by the uber-festive Belfast Continental Christmas Market. You’ll hear fun patter from the stall holders, and there’s gluhwein galore. If you weren’t feeling the Christmas spirit before entering the Market, you’ll catch the cheer pretty sharpish in these surroundings, and of course the Baroque style City Hall building is a glorious backdrop. Another market to consider if you are in Belfast on the 20th is the Fine and Dandy Market of local artists, makers, bakers, and vintage sellers in the Crescent Arts Centre.  I came across a few of these stall holders at the Vintage Fair, so I’ll warn you—there’s some very tempting baking going on in Belfast. Do that Cave Hill walk to balance it out!

Night Delights

As your days can be happily filled browsing markets, tasting delights and strolling with views over or of the city, your nights should be no less marvellous. Restaurants in Belfast are serving top notch cuisine, and on all 3 of my weekend breaks I’ve been a very happy wine & diner. I couldn’t choose a favourite, but check out some award winners here. I can, though, give you a tip for choosing a spot for a festive drink if you love gin.

Christmas break in Belfast idea: enjoy some locally made Shortcross gin

Christmas break in Belfast idea: enjoy some locally made Shortcross gin

So far, I’ve 2 favourites; first is Muriel’s with 100 gins on her list, including Northern Ireland’s only gin distillery, Shortcross. Earlier this year Shortcross ran a gin drinks competition, and Muriel’s won the gin & tonic category. In the gin cocktail category, The Merchant won with their ‘9 hour Bill’. The Merchant is my favourite for the sheer elegance of the surroundings; I’d nearly drink mud there and enjoy it! Seriously, though, if you love cocktails, do call in—you’ll be spoiled for cocktail choice. (Stay tuned for more on Shortcross in an upcoming post!)

A wee drink before or after a show is perfect. This Christmas break I went to The Lyric Theatre to see an original Belfast play, Christmas Eve Can Kill You. It is full of that great Belfast humour that makes a visit here so fun. The Lyric was packed; Belfast folk love theatre, and why not, with venues like the beautifully modern Lyric and the beautifully Victorian Grand Opera House on their doorstep? It would it be so festive to see a show there this Christmas! Hop on the train, plane, or nip up in your car- Belfast is easy to get to! Check out discovernorthernireland.com for accommodation deals & more to help you plan your visit. Enjoy! 

I visited as a guest of Discover Northern Ireland, and a version of this article also is on their blog section. I’ll have 2 more posts on enjoying Belfast coming soon; one with ideas for the culture lover, and another full of flavorsome food & drink. I genuinely love visiting Belfast, & think you will too 🙂

Christmas break in Belfast idea: see a show at The beautifully modern Lyric Theatre

Christmas break in Belfast idea: see a show at The beautifully modern Lyric Theatre


Irish Sea Sparkle by Vincent Hyland would make a gorgeous gift!

Irish Sea Sparkle by Vincent Hyland would make a gorgeous gift!

Someone in your life love Ireland? Here are some handy Irish gift ideas, for Christmas or anytime.

From an absolutely amazing romantic getaway in a transparent Irish forest dome, to Irish art, books, Aran sweaters and more, you’ll find an online Irish gift you’d love to give – or receive!

Sea Sparkle!

One of the most unusual photographs I came across this year is by artist & photographer Vincent Hyland. He has 2 different prints available of the special natural phenomenon known as sea sparkle, here by the shores of county Kerry. Magical! Have a look at Vincent’s online shop to start you off on your online Irish gift shopping adventure 🙂

Sleep under the stars in an Irish forest dome!

Ultimate Irish gift! Stay in Finn Lough Forest Dome in Fermanagh

Ultimate Irish gift! Stay in Finn Lough Forest Dome in Fermanagh

For the ultimate romantic gift, a getaway to Finn Lough in one of there exclusive Forest Domes can’t be beaten. I’ve stayed here, and I was totally wowed! The food at their Finn Lough Kitchen is so very delicious– do avail of a package that includes dinner! Highly recommended! See more about the Finn Lough resort and their forest domes here.

Learn to Speak Irish!

What if your gift recipient can’t get to Ireland yet but wants to immerse themselves in it in some way? Or do they have a trip planned and would like a bit, or alot- of the native language? Bitesize Irish Gaelic teaches you as much or as little as you want to learn, with a free trial, and monthly or yearly plans. A very thoughtful and unique gift! See more at www.bitesize.irish.

Irish gift idea- Once the Musical, summer 2016

Irish gift idea- Once the Musical, summer 2016

Once more in Dublin!

Romantic Once, the musical, is returning to Dublin this summer! Tickets will make a super gift if you’ll be there between 2 July – 27 August 2016. In case you don’t know of Once:

Based on the movie sensation of the same name, filmed and set in Dublin, Once features music and lyrics by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, including the Oscar winning Falling Slowly, and a Tony award-winning book by Enda Walsh.

Once is about going for your dreams and the power of music to connect us. This funny, moving and life-affirming love story with glorious music has captured hearts around the world. Seeing it where it all began, at home in Dublin, is incredibly special.
8 Tony® Awards including Best Musical, Oscar Best Original Song, Falling Slowly, Grammy® Award Best Musical Theatre Album

You can book Once here to see it at  it’s ‘home’ in Dublin next summer.

The Cat Shepherd and Woolly Irish Pressies!

We have our very own feline farmer right here in Ireland, — Bodacious the Cat Shepherd! He helps his human Suzanna with her flock of Zwartbles sheep, and now he has his very own calendar & postcards! You can see what he gets up to and order postcards or a paw-tographed calendar here. You can shop online for the blankets and knitting wool made from his Irish Zwartbles sheep, here.

Bodacious the Cat Shepherd has fab gifts you can order online from Ireland

Bodacious the Cat Shepherd has fab gifts you can order online from Ireland

Find Your Irish Roots!

Someone on your list interested in Irish genealogy? A subscription to Irish Roots would be a perfect gift!

“Irish Roots magazine is dedicated to helping you to trace your elusive Irish ancestors. Each quarter Irish Roots magazine is packed with lots of interesting, informative and practical articles written by Ireland’s leading genealogists. Irish Roots is a powerful resource tool for all those wishing to trace their family history.”

Irish Roots magazine is published quarterly in December, March, June and September. Subscriptions are: Ireland €25, UK £25, USA $37, Australia $42, Rest of world €27. All prices include postage.

Love Ireland Gifts!

Aw Go On - Classic Father Ted is a perfect Ireland themed online gift from I love Mayo

Classic Father Ted-ism; perfect Ireland themed gift by I love Mayo

On atmospheric Achill Island, papercut artist and painter Jane Steger-Lewis creates items that are perfect for gifts; cards, too. She says:

“I want to make things that bring joy into our homes and that make us smile. My Love Ireland range is all about referencing Irish culture in a contemporary, bright and fresh way, products that fit well with modern homes, I hope you like them.

The products you can purchase here are hand crafted with love, not mass produced in the cheapest labour markets. The emphasis is on quality, originality and care; I’m proud of every package I send out and I want you to be delighted with your purchase.” 

Find Jane’s I Love Mayo online shop here

Koo Koo Sneactha Emma Campbell Art; online Irish gift

Koo Koo Sneactha by Emma Campbell Art

Bright & Beautiful Irish Art!

For a special present that will bring cheer and zing into someone’s home all year round, have a look at the fabulous paintings and prints from artist Emma Campbell. She’s having a 12 Days of Christmas sale on her fine art prints, and many of her paintings come with free shipping. I’m a huge fan of her work, and she’s all types, from whimsical to more abstract. Here’s a fun winter one pictured; she has several different themes. Check out her online shop here – Emma is having a Christmas sale!

Traditional Claddagh, Belleek, More!

If someone on your list would love Irish Claddagh rings, Belleek pottery, or if you are frankly not sure what Irish- themed gift to give, a trip to Gilmartin’s online shop is in order!  A (physically) small traditional family run shop in the little village of Belleek on the Fermanagh/Donegal border, Gilmartin’s has made the leap online with an extensive treasure trove of gifts. Known far and wide for their knowledge and customer service, it is wonderful to see a wee shop like this survive the recession by extending online. Go to their site and click their listings for Himself or Herself & away you go 😀

If you’d like to give an Aran Irish jumper/sweater, click here for my article with buying tips & links to buy online

Pure Shores by Magnum Lady, Val Robus. Belmullet, Sligo, IrelandThe Gift of Irish Summer!

Yes, it’s Ireland, not the Caribbean! See, we do have beautiful weather in Ireland 😀 But it may be wise to capture it like Val Robus, aka Sligo photographer Magnum Lady, has done. Give the gift of a year round Irish summer with this photo print, or peruse Val’s other items over on her MagnumLady Etsy shop.  I think all of us in Ireland could use this gift about now! Wind, rain, flood… that’s been our past few  Nov/Dec weeks!

Give an Irish Outdoor Adventure!

From gentle medieval history based river rafting to exciting white water rafting & more, Boyne Valley Activities in Ireland’s Ancient East probably has something your special someone will enjoy. We took the Medieval river float tour this October, and it was excellent! There’s a plethora of terrific sites in the area from prehistoric right on up; if you’d like to explore more as a gift to yourself do check out the Boyne Valley Area and the outdoor adventures at Boyne Valley Activities. PS, if you are in Ireland in October and your giftee loves Halloween, this is definitely the place to be! The Spirits of Meath festival is fantastic! I went to several of the events and had a brilliant (and scary!) time. I’ll have a full post on it in a few weeks, but til then, keep your eye on The Spirits of Meath running 15 October to 1 November in 2016. And if you’d like to recover from your fun & frights in a beautiful Georgian period suit, check out this video  (will embed video in this article when my internet is better) of when I stayed at the Darnley Lodge Hotel 😀

Nature Lovers!

Did this photo make you say ‘Ahhh, cute!’? If there is a lover of Irish Wildlife on your gift list, then check out photographer Christine Cassidy’s wonderful photos on her In Touch With The Wild Photography page.  Red Squirrels, brilliant turquoise Kingfishers, Irish Hares & more are available as prints. Have a look and then just message her on the page if you’d like to place an order. Enjoy her lovely page!

Book Lovers Bumper Selection of Presents!

Books are a perennial favorite, whether ebooks or physical books. Watch this video to help you choose some special Irish books. Before you do, let me add on one more author I missed telling you about in the video & podcast. Full of wonderful slices of life in the charming Dingle area of Kerry, Felicity Hayes McCoy has  physical books, audio books, and ebooks/Kindle. In regards to Dingle, The House on the Irish Hillside book came first, and is now joined by Christmas at the House on the Irish Hillside, and Enough is Plenty. See more of her books, and purchase, on Felicity’s author page on Amazon, here.

Some of the Irish book ideas include a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood in modern Dublin, fun reminiscences of a boy’s getting up to mischief in 1940’s Belfast, a seriously based history of Irish farm wives with some dashings of tongue in cheek humor, a book filled with photos on Irish thatched cottages that will have you dreaming of one of your own, and several more fab books too.

If your internet is a bit slow for video (mine often is *sobs*) have a listen to this podcast instead 🙂

 

I could go on; in fact I might! I know I’ve forgotten some Irish gifts that I’d love to mention, so check back periodically 😀 Susan


She's 120 years old in December! Vintage Grand Opera House theatre goers in Belfast

She’s 120 years old in December! Vintage Grand Opera House theatre goers in Belfast– don’t you just love all the hats!

December is a GREAT time to visit Belfast, with shows, markets, & Christmas buzz galore.

And guess who’s turning 120 this December in Belfast?

It’s that lovely Victorian lady, the Grand Opera House Belfast!

It’s so easy to take the train from Dublin to Belfast or to just drive, and I’m super excited to be going myself during the start of the Christmas season. I’ll be reporting to you on the Belfast Christmas buzz & culture, the markets & unique spots to find gifts, the fabulous Mount Stewart Festival of Light, the delights of Northern Ireland’s own gin, Shortcross, and the scoop on great places to eat & drink, including the Belfast Food Tour. Whew! Though I’ll miss out on going myself this trip, the Grand Opera House Belfast has plenty on this December; so here’s more on her 120th anniversary & upcoming shows:

The Grand Opera House Belfast's interio

The Grand Opera House Belfast’s interior is, well, grand! 🙂

BELFAST OPERA HOUSE REACHES GRAND OLD AGE

This December will see Belfast’s majestic Grand Opera House celebrate its 120th Anniversary since the curtain first rose on December 23rd 1895. Located in the heart of Belfast’s bustling city centre, the Grand Opera House has delivered an unrivalled programme of entertainment over the course of its illustrious 120 year history and has played host to some of the greatest names in theatre and music.

“The rich heritage of the Grand Opera House make it a unique venue, with a history every bit as eventful as some of the shows produced on its famous stage. The diverse range of shows and performances which take place in the Grand Opera House make it a must see attraction for culture lovers on a trip to Belfast,” Tourism NI’s ROI Market Manager, Fiona Cunningham said.

“There are a wide range of performances, musicals and shows to suit every age and taste and visitors to this iconic building can also enjoy a fun short break in Belfast by staying in one of the nearby luxurious hotels or B&B’s, added Fiona.

Grand Opera House Belfast is 120 years old on the 23rd of December 2015

Grand Opera House Belfast is 120 years old on the 23rd of December 2015

Designed by prolific theatre architect Frank Matcham, it was a huge success from the outset, hosting a vibrant programme of opera, drama, pantomime, comedies, musicals and classic drama with regular performances of Shakespearean plays. In 1895, the capacity of the theatre was 2,500 (more than double what it is today) and the Victorian auditorium boasted all the luxuries of the day including tip-up seats, electric lighting, central heating and air conditioning.

The Grand Opera House has attracted large audiences right from the start, delivering an enviable programme of entertainment. Even the Great Depression in the 1930’s had little impact on audience numbers, with the highlight of the decade being a visit by Gracie Fields with a sellout performance in September 1933. Many more famous faces treaded the boards over the years including Laurel and Hardy, George Formby and Luciano Pavarotti, who made his UK debut in a production of Madame Butterfly in 1963.

A large scale restoration project was carried out on the Grand Opera House in the 1970’s and it reopened in September 1980. Throughout the 1980’s, the venue continued to prosper with healthy audience numbers and hit shows from London including “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat”, “Grease” and “Evita”. Local acts such as Phil Coulter, Mary Black and James Galway were very popular and Van Morrison played his first concert in his native city since 1967 there.

To this day, the theatre boasts a wide array of popular shows and additional facilities and even hosted the glittering BAFTA Awards in September 1994. Other services available include venue hire for corporate hospitality, functions and events and even weddings. Extended in 2006, the original façade has been joined by a striking addition to the Belfast skyline, home to a smaller performance space, the Baby Grand Studio.

The Grand Opera House Belfast nowadays provides an interesting visual contrast with the modern aspects of Belfast's architecture.

The Grand Opera House Belfast nowadays provides an interesting visual contrast with the modern aspects of Belfast’s architecture.

One of the most enduring traditions at the Grand Opera House is the Christmas pantomime. When the theatre first opened in 1895, the first performance was of “Bluebeard” and pantomime has been an annual feature of the programme from that day to this. This year’s panto, the much loved classic “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” will take place from 28 November – 10 January 2016. Bursting with all the ingredients of a classic fairytale, including a Wicked Stepmother, a Handsome Prince and a Damsel in Distress, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” stars Northern Ireland’s Queen of Comedy, May McFetteridge in what will be her 26th consecutive pantomime appearance

Other not to be missed upcoming shows include The Bodyguard starring Alexandra Burke which will run from February 3 -13, Motown’s Greatest Hits which runs from January 27 – 28, The Magic of the Beatles which runs from January 15 – 16 and much loved musical Chitty Chitty Bang Bang which is on from March 16 – 27. See all the listings here.

Have you been to Belfast recently?

You really should take a trip to Belfast– it’s brilliant for culture lovers! I fell for Belfast last year, when I got to visit twice; once for a Belfast weekend break in Spring, and once in Autumn for Belfast’s Culture Night weekend. Do have a look around www.discovernorthernireland.com for more information on short breaks and things to see and do in Northern Ireland. You can check out my report on Belfast and the people of Northern Ireland here.

Happy Belfast Visiting! 😀


Does Santa fly along the Christmas Eve Northern Lights to Ireland

Does Santa fly along the Christmas Eve Northern Lights to Ireland

Christmas time is magical in Ireland, and in the wee hours of Christmas Eve Northern Lights lit up the sky in the North & northwest; here are photos.

Meanwhile in the southeast of Ireland, in county Kilkenny lambs were being born, and 3 Wise Women followed the light in the sky, hoping to see the gift of Peace unfold in a stable, even between the great hurling rivals of Kilkenny and Tipperary. See the video below 🙂

PS :  there is a giant gap before you will get to the video. Please just scroll down, as I can’t seem to fix that. Thank you! HAPPY CHRISTMAS!!

 

As well as the first lambs being born, county Kilkenny was an exciting place to be as Kilkenny.com filmed 3 Wise Women as they came to the end of their long journey… 


Titanic Belfast Christmas funHave a Titanic amount of Christmas Fun!

Speaking from experience, visiting the Titanic Quarter in Belfast can really bring out the happy child in you!

Terry and I were perhaps hard-sell customers, because neither of us is ‘into’ the history of the Titanic, nor did we like the movie– but we loved Belfast’s Titanic Museum! From the stunning iceberg-like building itself, to the top class, totally absorbing and interactive way that the history was made to come alive inside, we were hooked! Add in the yummy Afternoon Tea, and having the craic on the Segway tour of the Titanic Quarter, and a visit here is firmly on my Recommended list! Be sure to check out the video of our September Titanic visit at the bottom of this article 🙂

December is a super time to go! Titanic Belfast has fab events on for Christmas and New Year, starting with:

 Titanic’s Christmas Experience

Fun times! Make decorations, play timeless street games, enjoy classic stories, write your Father Christmas letter and visit him in his Old Curiosity Shop where he will check your name off the ‘Naughty or Nice List’

Old fashioned Christmas fun at Titanic belfast

Children’s under 13 ticket  includes:

Gingerbread Man Cookie

Storytelling

Arts & Crafts

Traditional Games (such as quoits)

Father Christmas Letter Writing

‘Naughty or Nice’ list stop, before entering the Old Curiosity Shop

Individual photo with Father Christmas (and print)

Father Christmas Gift and Candy Cane

Exclusive Titanic Belfast Activity Book

Adults, you can enjoy a mug of mulled wine, or tea, or coffee, and a mince pie.

Ticket Prices: Children £15 / Adults £4
Open Thursday, Friday, Saturday & Sunday from 22nd Nov – 14th December.
Open daily from Monday 15th December – Tuesday 23rd December.

Book your place at the Titanic Christmas experience here.

Festive holiday season Sunday afternoon tea in Titanic’s Ballroom

The joy of a leisurely Afternoon Tea is something Terry and I’ve gotten charmed by over the past couple of years. And Sunday is a perfect day for Afternoon Tea; it’s a day that just lends itself to gentle relaxing, chatting, and enjoying nibbles & sips.

Afternoon tea at Titanic Belfast

Afternoon tea at Titanic Belfast

Terry is unbeaten for being able to eat lots of mini sandwiches and still have room for a desert or three, but the Afternoon Tea we had at Titanic Belfast defeated even him– it was so full of filling goodies! There was a plate of little sambos in addition to the 3 tiers of the goodies stan– check out the video and our full happy faces 😀 We had some great laughs with the friendly staff there– in fact the friendly people of Belfast are one of the things that make visiting so special. (See more on the fab folk of Belfast here.)

Afternoon Tea is offered at the Titanic every Sunday (do book) and they have a special Christmas Afternoon Tea menu on for the holidays:

vintage christmas Mini Mince Pies Brandy Cream
Red Currant & Nutmeg Custard Tartlet
Pecan & Tiramisu Éclair
Cranberry & White Chocolate Butter Cream Cup Cake
Yule log

Mrs Beaton’s Sherry Trifle
EggNog Syllabub

Thick Sliced Irish Cheddar and Fruity Tomato Chutney
Baked Irish Ham & Wholegrain Mustard
Irish Smoked Salmon with Lemon Pepper Butter
Topside of Beef with Horseradish Cream & Diced Spring Onion
Free Range Egg, Tomato, Mayonnaise & Baby Mustard Cress

Freshly Baked Raisin and Plain Scones with Chestnut Cream and Strawberry Preserve

Titanic Christmas Cake
Treacle Ginger Bread

The Titanic’s Christmas afternoon tea will be on Sunday 14th Dec, Sunday 21st Dec, AND Thursday 1st January 2015

You can book in for the Christmas afternoon tea at Titanic here.

See New Year’s in with style at Titanic Belfast’s White Star ball!

Why not treat yourself and/or a loved one to New Year’s Eve at the Titanic’s Ball? This would be a spectacular gift for someone who is a Titanic history and/or movie fan! The Ball starts at 7.30pm with a welcome drink, and there will be a live band, 5 course meal, piper at midnight, and then a DJ. Dress up and boogie down– with no threat of capsizing! Check out the menu:

Amuse Bouche
Roast celeriac & pear soup with grilled stilton crostini

Starter
Smoked duck & squab terrine, spiced plum compote, apple and hazelnut salad, toasted sourdough

Main course
Maurice Kettyle dry aged pointend steak, truffle watercress tartlet, chard onion cauliflower and potato gratin, tarragon jus

Dessert
Gâteau St Honoré with pistachio pastry cream, raspberry caramel

The New Year’s Eve Titanic Ball costs £75 per person, and you can book here.

For complete information on visiting Titanic Belfast, do explore their website, and don’t miss their special combo tickets and discount times.

See why so many Belfast-folk say Culture Night (in September) is the best night of the year in Belfast.

We were kindly hosted by the Northern Ireland Tourist board during our re-visit to Belfast in September for Culture Night weekend. We experienced lots of fab events, places such as the Titanic museum, and activities like the segway tour. Over the 2 weekends Terry & I have spent in Belfast we have become huge fans of this vibrant & friendly city– of which we were at first wary due to the news reports of the past… Now it is one of our favorite places to have a city break, and we both recommend it to our family, friends, and you! 😀

To see just of some of what’s coming up in Northern Ireland in March 2015, have a look here.

Enjoy YOUR Titanic Belfast visit- at Christmas or anytime!


 A Snow Globe will be at Duckett's Grove Christmas Fair

A Snow Globe will be at Duckett’s Grove Christmas Fair

What’s happening during the Christmas Fair at Duckett’s Grove?

You may have gotten the flavor of Duckett’s Grove & Christmas in Carlow over on my last post, but now I’ve been sent more details on what’s on. So have a read, and be sure to head over to this magical place on 7 December!

home baking at Duckett's Grove. ChristmasOn Sunday December 7th 12-5pm, the historic surroundings of Duckett’s Grove House and Estate will be transformed into Carlow’s own Winter Wonderland when it hosts its annual and very popular Christmas Fair. A magical grotto of traditional Christmas activities incorporating a large craft and food market featuring over 50 stands awaits all visitors in the courtyard area adjacent to the main house. Featuring ceramics and knitwear, art, jewellery, embroidery, Christmas cards and decorations, this fair is guaranteed to appeal to anybody seeking a special gift or those who just want to browse and soak in the Christmas atmosphere in this beautiful setting.

On the food front there are a range of seasonal treats including Christmas cakes, puddings, mince pies, seasonal fruit tarts, jams, chutneys, apple juice and hampers. Tempting mulled apple juice, a range of hot drinks including cappuccinos and lattes and hot mince pies will keep hunger and thirst at bay throughout the day. Visitors will also have the opportunity to taste the tempting array of Christmas goodies in the tea room at Duckett’s Grove or enjoy organic burgers from Paul Stock Barbeques.

childrens choir at Ducketts Grove Christmas fairThe smaller folk will also be thrilled with a number of the new new attractions included…Santa Claus is coming to town….there will be a Santa Grotto with a free present for every child, free festive face painting and performances by Carlow based musical and entertainment groups. At 2 and 4 p.m. Christmas storytelling workshops will take place in the courtyard, which are always a big hit with the children. Additionally both adults and children can enjoy the inflatable game experience of Rodeo Reindeer while a giant snow globe is available as a special backdrop for family and individual photos.

Adding to the atmosphere on the day will be a range of traditional craft demonstrations including weaving and horse shoeing while Woodlands Falconry will be showing their range of beautiful birds of prey including hawks, falcons and owls. The start and finish of the Carlow Farmers Hunt, in period dress will add a special ambience to this year’s fair. Celebrating their bi-centenary in 2014 the hunt is returning to historic premises where they would have hunted in the past.

A farrier at work at Ducketts Grove Christmas fair

A farrier at work at Ducketts Grove Christmas fair

The magic and fun of Christmas can be enjoyed in this unique setting, just 10 minutes from Carlow and Tullow off the R418 Castledermot/Tullow Road, the R726 Carlow/Hacketstown Road and the R448 Castledermot/Carlow Road. Visitors travelling from Dublin and the south should exit the M9 motorway at junction 4 and follow signs for Castledermot and the R418 Castledermot/Tullow Road.

NOTE: you can also see Duckett’s Grove located on the Google map over here. You can also access the full Christmas in Carlow county-wide program there.

For more information phone 059-9130411 Admission is €7 per car with free car parking. 12 noon – 5 p.m.


Taste of Carlow Christmas

Taste of Carlow Christmas

It’s Taste of Carlow Christmas time!

It is almost December, so if you’d like to get a little head start on your  Christmas spirit and gift list, head over to Taste of Carlow Christmas market on Sunday 30 November, from noon to 6pm. Located at Water Mill Lane on Kennedy Street, it is free in and also free to see Santa, so is a great opportunity to bring the little ones without affecting your budget!

“Over thirty local producers will be selling products that range from gingerbread cookies and fresh water pearl jewellery to locally produced honey, wood turned bowls, chocolate, and more.

We are also promised entertainment throughout the afternoon from Santa who will be there with Rudolph and his friends, carol singing from local choirs as well as demos during this free event.”

Christmas in Carlow 2014

Christmas in Carlow 2014

Shopping locally is a brilliant way to keep money in the community, and supports small Irish businesses and craftspeople. And with a locally made gift, your present is often more unique!

Carlow has LOTS o for Christmas, starting off with the turning on of the Christmas lights on Saturday the 29th of November. Have a look at the full Christmas in Carlow 2014 programme here. There are also special offers listed!

I’ll be heading to #TasteCarlowChristmas myself to take photos at the event to help spread the word, as Green & Vibrant are helping to promote. You may see me there trying not to buy chocolate products from The Chocolate Garden for myself, but rather for others…maybe for my hubby; then he’ll share! Clever 😉

Here’s a wee video clip teaser I’ve made. PS if you can’t make it to Taste of Carlow Christmas, stick Sunday, 7th December in your diary, because Duckett’s Grove will be having a Christmas Fair then. See you there, too!  Happy Christmas!

“Ma!” she cried. “There is a Santa Claus, isn’t there?”

“Of course there’s a Santa Claus,” said Ma.

“The older you are, the more you know about Santa Claus,” she said. “You are so big now, you know he can’t be just one man, don’t you? You know he is everywhere on Christmas Eve. He is in the Big Woods, and in Indian Territory, and far away in York State, and here. He comes down all the chimneys at the same time. You know that, don’t you?”
“Yes, Ma,” said Mary and Laura.

“Well,” said Ma. “Then you see–“

“I guess he is like angels,” Mary said, slowly. And Laura could see that, just as well as Mary could.

Then Ma told them something else about Santa Claus. He was everywhere, and besides that, he was all the time.

Whenever anyone was unselfish, that was Santa Claus.

Christmas Eve was the time when everybody was unselfish. On that one night, Santa Claus was everywhere, because everybody, all together, stopped being selfish and wanted other people to be happy. And in the morning you saw what that had done.

“If everybody wanted everybody else to be happy all the time, then would it be Christmas all the time?” Laura asked, and Ma said, “Yes, Laura.”
Laura Ingalls Wilder

Merry Christmas!


Santa arrives at Waterford Winterval 2014and greets child

Santa arrives at Waterford Winterval 2014 and greets the children

Santa Arrives on an ICEBERG to Open Waterford Winterval 2014!

Ireland’s Waterford City puts on a magical Winterval festival. I’ve been lucky enough to attend each one, & I highly recommend you take a trip to Waterford Winterval 2014!

So fun! Santa Claus arrived via a giant iceberg on November 21 to open Winterval, and Ireland’s biggest Christmas festival will run right through to the 23 of December 2014. Santa switched on the city’s Christmas lights and greeted the boys and girls excited waiting to see their favorite jolly ol’ elf.

Santa’s iceberg floated down to Ireland from the North Pole, and when he set sail on his iceberg earlier in the week, he specially selected a crew of friendly Viking elves to steer him to Waterford, Ireland’s oldest Viking city. (Founded in 914!) Santa also brought a gift to Waterford; a half ton block of ice towed from the North Pole to present to the House of Waterford Crystal!  The team there along with some professional Ice-Sculptors are creating ice and crystal Sculptures which will be unveiled at the Winterval Ice Rink on Saturday 29 November. They will form the centerpiece of the Ice Rink for the duration of the festival, so check it out and maybe go have an ice skate, too!

Santa said, “I am delighted to meet all of the boys and girls at Winterval today, it is my favourite place to be in preparation for our busiest time of the year and I am very excited to see this wonderful North Pole Ice-Sculpture set to be created with the wonderful Waterford Crystal.”

santa arrives at Waterford Winterval from Hi-Lite TV on Vimeo.

House of Waterford Crystal’s David McCoy  said, “We are delighted to be working with the Winterval Festival. It is a great opportunity to create a new piece of artwork using Ice and Crystal for the first time, the sculptures will be wonderfully unique and will capture the festive season and the heritage of Waterford.”

The Winterval festival has over 32 trail events; 18 of which are free!

A 3D Lightshow commissioned especially for Winterval has the Grinch’s plot to ruin Winterval; but fear not, Santa arrives just in time to save the day ;-D The 3D show will be projected on to the front of the Old Deanery building, and runs every half hour during the festival open days ’til December 23.

Some other highlights include a Helter Skelter, Snow-Globe, the Hasbro Toy Museum, Penguins at The Palace, a free movie theatre showing ‘Frozen’, Storytelling at Reginald’s Tower, Craft Making Workshops, a giant Winterval Post Box, a South Pole Enchanted Garden, and -whew!- even more! Visitors wishing to journey through the City Trail, the Winterval Express Train as well as the Horse Drawn Sleigh Stations are the place to head to for a trip. A group our friends and I go every year, and I reckon Waterford Winterval truly is full of magical enjoyment for all ages.

Have a look at Santa’s arrival at Waterford Winterval 2014, and get a feel for what you’ll be enjoying there. Christmas cheer for sure!

For further details see Winterval.ie

To read  & see photos of last year’s Waterford Winterval 2013, click.

For a listing of  all Waterford Winterval posts, click


Duckett's Grove Castle will be holding Duckett's Grove Christmas 7 Dec, 2014

Duckett’s Grove Castle will be holding Duckett’s Grove Christmas 7 Dec, 2014 Carlow

Picturesque castle? Check!

Family fun? Check!

Local markets for gift shopping? Check!

Christmas at Duckett’s Grove has this & more!

Here’s a super Christmassy afternoon out for the whole family! Duckett’s Grove is a very romantic part-ruined gothic style castle in county Carlow, and on the afternoon of 7 December 2014 (Sunday,) from 12 to 5pm it will be filled with events, Santa & his grotto, craft and food stalls, demonstrations & more.

childrens band at Ducketts Grove Christmas fair

Childrens band at Ducketts Grove Christmas fair

Put your family and friends into the car (only €7 per car; the events & Santa etc inside are FREE- click here for more on them) and take a wee trip to Duckett’s Grove. If you haven’t seen this hidden gem in Carlow, the Christmas fair is a great reason to see why those who have been love Duckett’s Grove so. Green & Vibrant brought some bloggers to visit there, and here is some of what they said:

Lorna has been to the Christmas Fair at Duckett’s Grove before, and she says: “The Ducketts Grove Christmas fair is like a winter wonderland – crisp winter air, music in the background, yummy food to sample and purchase, great gift buys and finish it off with a marshmallow topped hot chocolate.For those who like to shop local (and I do!), this type of Christmas shopping supplies all the feel good and happy hormones! ” – Lorna Sixsmith, Irish Farmerette

“I just loved Duckett’s Grove Castle. The Castle suddenly seems to appear before you, with a magnificent drive up to it. We walked around the Castle and Gardens, and, of course, stopped at The Tea Rooms for tea and the most delicious scones ever.”  -Margaret, A Year In Redwood duckett's grove at night

“The fantastic thing about Duckett’s Grove is that you can spend hours exploring every detail of the majestic ruins or in true awe looking out over the surrounding Carlow countryside. The newly restored walled gardens allow gardeners to use their imagination and think about how they would have looked when they were fully functional in their heyday.” – David Corscadden, Beyond The Wild Garden

“Duckett’s Grove, while in ruins, is a stunning architectural example of an 1830’s family estate house. We happened to visit on one of the most beautiful September days with brilliant sunshine and blue skies – I was captivated by it as a photography subject. The tea room and craft shop give you an added excuse to make a morning or afternoon out of you visit and while we didn’t have enough time to go for a lengthy walk that day – the long drive and surrounding countryside lends itself to one.” – Lisa McGee, Isle Magazine

Duckett's Grove Christmas Fair 2014

Duckett’s Grove Christmas Fair 2014

UPDATE: Christmas at Duckett’s Grove is over for this year, but watch the video clip from it below! The Christmas Fair here is a fab, authentic, local Irish experience, & I really think you will enjoy it. The Carlow cheeses at the fair’s market are just fantastic, and there are so many wonderful local handmade & artisan items & foods. Add in the beautiful setting, traditions like the Hunt, carol singing, Santa & so on, and a visit to the duckett’s grove Christmas is a special afternoon that you may want to add to your 2015 Christmas calendar 😀 

Carlow has loads on for the Christmas season, (download the programme: Christmas in Carlow 2014across the whole county. The Christmas markets & fairs are fantastic places to pick up a unique handcrafted gift from local producers & craftspeople. I was just at the Taste of Carlow Christmas market in Carlow town on 30 Nov, and I got loads of gifts & goodies. A fair few of the stands there will also be at Duckett’s Grove Christmas, plus additional stalls. I’ve made a little video of some of the treats you may find in Carlow: 

Not sure where Duckett’s is? Here’s a map to help you; it’s actually not far outside of Carlow Town and the M9.

–> More info on the events of Ducketts Grove Christmas 7th December 2014

Feeling the Christmas spirit yet? Hope so!

“There hoved a great hall and fair:
Turrets rising in tiers, with tines at their tops,
Spires set beside them, splendidly long,
With finials well-fashioned, as filigree fine.
Chalk-white chimneys over chambers high
Gleamed in gay array upon gables and roofs;
The pinnacles in panoply, pointing in air,
So vied there for his view that verily it seemed
A castle cut of paper for a king’s feast.
The good knight on Gringolet thought it great luck
If he could but contrive to come there within
To keep the Christmas feast in that castle fair
and bright.”

– from Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

ALSO, the Sunday beforehand, 30 November, there’s another event to get you in the Christmas spirit & also help with your gift list– Taste of Carlow Christmas is on with lots of artisan food & craft stalls. To see what the summer’s Taste Carlow event was like, click.

For even more places to visit, events and more in Carlow, CarlowTourism.com

I hope you’ll come to Duckett’s Grove Christmas, and I’ll be there too, live sharing photos and making a little video and I’m proud to help to promote this fantastic local event 😀