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You may be able to explore inside the largest Loughcrew megalithic tomb via Loughcrew Megalithic Centre

You may be able to explore inside the largest Loughcrew megalithic tomb via Loughcrew Megalithic Centre

What the heck is choreosonography? How can I visit a locked 5,000 year old megalithic tomb? Some November events events & ideas for cultural adventure in Ireland!

This is the first in a series for the more adventurous person; not as in bungee jumping or skydiving kinds of adventure– this is for those of us who enjoy being a bit adventurous in the areas of Arts & Culture. Are you a cultural adventurer Check these out! 

In this week’s suggestions we have 2 cultural adventures that involve the outdoors, a challenging piano concert, a charming book and tour idea, plus several tips for enjoying Ireland’s very first City of Culture, Limerick. 

Let’s start off with some ‘easier’ adventures. Irish thatched cottages are the darling of many a postcard, but they are actually an endangered architectural species, with less than 1,600 left on the whole island. Many are private homes, but some are open to the public; one such one can be found at the Loughcrew Megalithic Centre. I visited it last week, and the young men reviving this family cottage are a delight, as is the cottage itself. I’ll have more on the centre in an upcoming article focusing on county Meath, but it’ll pop up again here when we explore the 5,000 year old megaliths. In an example of perfect timing, this landed on my desk:

Map of Irish Thatch Cottages by Emma Byrne

Map of Irish Thatch Cottages by Emma Byrne

A charming book to inspire gentle adventure.

Irish Thatch by Emma Byrne Provides a rich visual theme for a gentle adventure round Ireland. Emma and her husband Johnathan live in a county Wexford thatched cottage, and the author is well versed in the joys and judders of living under thatch in a 200 year old cottage. (Fancy water pouring out of a ceiling light, anyone?) In her book, Emma brings you through the history & craft of Irish thatched cottages, and on a charming pictorial tour of these traditional beauties throughout Ireland. She took to the open road (or, winding road as the Irish case may be,) visiting these cottages herself; the book contains over 350 photos and an illustrated map listing thatched cottages open to the public. The thatched heritage cottage at Loughcrew was not yet open at the time of the book’s writing, so you’ll have to pencil it in yourself. You can purchase Irish Thatch at many bookshops, or order online from O’Brien Press.

 

This November, why not dream up a journey centered around Irish Thatch Cottages? Book by Emma Byrne

This November, why not dream up a journey centered around Irish Thatch Cottages? Book by Emma Byrne

While we are on the subject of thatch, let’s just also have a spot of Seamus Heaney, which is always a good idea 🙂

Thatcher

Bespoke for weeks, he turned up some morning
Unexpectedly, his bicycle slung
With a light ladder and a bag of knives.
He eyed the old rigging, poked at the eaves,

Opened and handled sheaves of lashed wheat-straw.
Next, the bundled rods: hazel and willow
Were flicked for weight, twisted in case they’d snap.
It seemed he spent the morning warming up:

Then fixed the larder, laid out well honed blades
And snipped at straw and sharpened ends of rods
That, bent in two, made a white-pronged staple
For pinning down his world, handful by handful.

Couchant for days on sods above the rafters,
He shaved and flushed the butts, stitched all together
Into a sloped honeycomb, a stubble patch,
And left them gaping at his Midas touch.

-Seamus Heaney

Explore the 5,000 year old ‘Hill of the Witch’ megalithic tombs at Loughcrew

With amazing views of approximatly 11 counties, and built around the same time as their famous neighbor Newgrange (which is now complete with fancy visitor center and a steady stream of huge tour buses), the cairn complex at Loughcrew near Oldcastle in county Meath is a very large, and much quieter, site. The feeling of wildness, of being generally ‘untamed’ by the OPW & tons of health and safety regulations, is strong. To get the most out of your visit to, arranging for a guide is best; usually your guide can get a hold of the key so that you may actually enter into the largest cairn on Slieve na Calliagh (The Hill of The Witch/Hag.) This ancient tomb/ritual place is home to the Hag’s Chair, and one the largest amounts of megalithic art in Ireland. At the autumn and spring equinoxes the rising sun sends its rays into the chamber, illuminating the back stones and rock art. A powerful sight! The aforementioned Loughcrew Megalithic Centre can give you updates on what equinox events may be happening, and as they are also open all year they’re super handy for a cuppa tea or coffee with cake or lunch in their cafe. Needed after the fairly steep walk up to the cairns! (Note; the way up to the cairns is not wheelchair friendly at time of writing; all steps.)

Guide: I had Malachy Hand as my guide– what a treasure trove of info and stories this gentleman is! You can contact him at malachyhand@hotmail.com 

Loughcrew Megalitic Centre: The two young men running it are Niall and Fechin. Theirs is a real labour of love, and as well as the thatched heritage cottage and cafe, they also provide camping & hostel accommodation. Shoot them an email at info@loughcrewmegalithiscentre.com and I’m sure they’ll be happy to answer any enquiries you may have.

 

Float Through Time! A Medieval River Tour of Trim

You can do a Medieval Float Through Time in Trim, Ireland

You can do a Medieval Float Through Time in Trim, Ireland

On a raft but no real paddling required! It’s all play and not really any work required as you float downstream on the river Boyne. I reckon you’ll love this fascinating and just oh so pretty journey through medieval Trim offered by Boyne Valley Activities. We went last week; the autumn leaves where ablaze and the hour & a half gentle float was just gorgeous. James knows tons of interesting facts and stories that you probably won’t find out elsewhere, so listen up! If you don’t capsize the boat anywhere (I imagine that would be pretty hard to do!) at the end of the river tour you’ll call into the tiny 14th century pub Regan’s at the riverside for a sip of what you fancy before the van brings you back to the centre. At the time of writing this, the Medieval River Tour is priced at €25 per person, and I feel that this is a terrific bargain & perhaps even a bit too low for all the work that James puts into it. Don’t miss this wonderful cultural adventure in Trim, county Meath! I’ll have more on this in my upcoming Meath article, too.

Tip: Depending on the state of the river & weather, this tour may not run in the wintery months. Contact James at info@boynevalleyactivities.ie to check. Do have a look at their other activities too! boynevalleyactivities.ie

Challenging the boundaries of music and dance

Figures, by Óscar Mascareñas

Figures is a new work for piano conceived, devised and directed by Irish-based, Mexican-born composer Óscar Mascareñas in collaboration with Mexican dance artist Nora Rodríguez. The work is the result of eight years of research in sound and movement that Mascareñas has been undertaking at the University of Limerick in Ireland.The aim of this project is to transform somatic forces into sounds through an exploration of the relationship between the piano and the body; the former not only seen and understood as a musical instrument, but also, and most importantly, as a space where the body moves, plays and interacts with its physicality and its sonic potential.  To describe the work, he coined the term choreosonography, a concept that involves the physicalisation of sounds and the sounding of physicality. A choreosonography is both a process and a work.

This conceptual work is the first of its kind, and represents a unique, innovative, state-of-the-art proposal that aims to challenge the boundaries of music and dance, as well as to provide a space for collaboration between artists of different disciplines, creating a discourse that will eventually change the way we approach, think about and experience composition and performance.

Óscar Mascareñas began to collaborate with Nora Rodríguez in September 2014  as part of their work at the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance, in the University of Limerick, and have worked on Figures since the beginning of 2015.

The full work will consist of seven to ten studies for piano, with a projected programme duration of one hour.

When? Thursday, 12 November, 8pm

Where? Tower Theatre, Irish World Academy, Univeristy of Limerick (see map below the video)

How much? Free

What else is in Limerick to see? Plenty! The Hunt Museum is always a good choice for the culture lover; have a look here for the Hunt’s current exhibitions. Until the 19th of November, there will be works by Brian MacMahon  on view, amongst others. You can check out the talks on at the Hunt Museum here. Just up O’Connell Street from the Hunt is Ormston House, another arts venue worth checking.  Also see another music event here, farther below. 

 

Limerick Docks by Brian MacMahon

Limerick Docks by Brian MacMahon

Any other tips? Whenever I’m in Limerick, I love to spoil myself by either eating or staying at One Pery Square in Limerick’s Georgian Quarter. (The Limerick City Gallery is just across the street.) One Pery Square does wonderful Afternoon Teas– and if you really want to indulge, how about an Afternoon Tea combined with a Thermal Spa? AHHHH! Check out their daytime menu with Afternoon Teas here. If you’d like to explore the Georgian Quarter a bit more, get in touch with Declan, over on Limerick Walking Tours. He’s great! He also does Medieval & Angela’s Ashes tours.

What’s for lunch? Well, there’s lots; if you are visiting the Hunt Museum their cafe is good, and just a wee stroll up O’Connell Street is one of my favorite Asian places, the award winning Aroi. Check out the Eat In Limerick guide map here.

Artists Biographies

Óscar Mascareñas (PhD) (Mexico/Ireland) is a poet, composer, performer and musicologist. He has given concerts, conferences and master classes extensively in Ireland, the UK, Slovakia, Hungary and Mexico. He is the founding course director of the BA in Voice and Dance, and was acting and assistant director of the MA Ritual Chant and Song at the Irish World Academy. Óscar is also founding director of the Irish ensemble HIBERNIA, and founding chair of the Cage-Cunningham Professorship in Contemporary Performance at the Escuela Superior de Música y Danza de Monterrey in Mexico. His forthcoming poetry book ‘[Sketches for] A Poetry of Desire’ will be published at the end of the year by the University of Nuevo León press in Mexico. He currently lectures and researches in music and contemporary performance at the Academy.

Nora Rodríguez (Mexico) is a versatile dance artist based in Limerick, Ireland. Her main interest is to develop live performance and video. Since 2009 she has been exploring the notions of corporeality, emotion, memories, space and sound. Nora has presented and performed work internationally. She is currently Dance Co-ordinator of the BA in Voice and Dance programme at the Irish World Academy in the University of Limerick. Nora is continuously engaged in the development of interdisciplinary projects. She is currently working with Óscar Mascareñas on a series of musical explorations between movement and sound, and on her piece (ALLOW) EVERYTHING SOMETIMES with actor Kevin Kiely Jnr. and poet Shane Vaughan.

Info via Limerick 2020, do give their Facebook page a like as they often share interesting cultural events happening in the city.

Trailer for Figures, by Óscar Mascareñas:

ART SONG – AN EXPLORATION OF BEAUTY, NATURE AND LOVE

Also in the area that day, you may also like to check out this free daytime performance by Eve Stafford (soprano) and Yonit Kosovske (piano,) which is based on four elements: poet, composer, singer and pianist.

“An art song strives to be the perfect combination of music and text. Songs become a marriage of exquisite music and beautiful poetry.”

This programme features works by renowned Irish, English and other European composers, including Michael Head, Haevlock Nelson, Hector Berlioz, Hugo Wolf, Hubert Hastings Parry, Eric Coates, Armstrong Gibbs and Roger Quilter.

Soprano Eve Stafford has won numerous competitions at the Féile Luimní, including ‘Voice of Féile Luimní’ (2013), in operatic solo, art song, lieder and sacred music. She won prizes at Feis Maitiú Corcaigh in early music, show songs and the soprano soloist category.

While specializing in classical repertoire, she sang Rosalia in West Side Story, her first musical to date, with the Cecillian Society. A student of Olive Cowpar, she enjoys a freelance performance career and has sung in various venues throughout Limerick, including the Hunt Museum and the University Concert Hall.

When? Thursday 12 November, 1.15pm

Where? Irish World Academy of Music & Dance, University of Limerick, Limerick

How Much? Free

What can I eat nearby? La Cucina Italian isn’t far, and is very tasty! Tis only small inside, but they also do a top notch Italian takeaway menu; check that out here.

So, which cultural adventures do you fancy doing? If YOU know of or have an event, book, tour, etc that you think would fit in well with the Vibrant Ireland cultural adventure articles, get in touch! You can email hello AT vibrantireland.com Thanks!


Dublin ; A Breath of Fresh Air! Hiking to a fantastic view over the city

Dublin ; A Breath of Fresh Air! Hiking to a fantastic view over the city

Dublin; A Breath of Fresh Air

Many of us who live in and/or  love Ireland get tired of the perception that Ireland = pubs = pints.

Sure, the Irish pub culture can be great fun, but there is much more to Ireland than this. Dublin especially has been painted with the It’s All About The Drink brush. So I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person thrilled with these new videos from Visit Dublin which give a much wider picture of Dublin. What do you think? What have you enjoyed in Dublin that wasn’t centered around a pint?

For example: Is the way to find Dublin’s heart through your stomach?

Fab Food trails Dublin Ireland

Corleggy Cheese! You can get a tasty sampler box for a fiver.

One of the best walking tours of Dublin is not a pub crawl! I think it is the Fab Food Trail. 

Not only will the eats & drinks satisfy your taste buds, a good tour will cater to your craving to experience an area’s history, culture, and local gems. This could be a tall order for something that lasts around 2.5 hours, but it can be done in Dublin with Fab Food Trails. You can find out more about the Dublin City food tour here.

And again, do share some of your favorite things in Dublin aside from the pub culture, especially if they are less well known– let’s spread the word 🙂 Leave a comment below. Thanks! 

There is a plethora of things to explore in Dublin in the arts, outdoors, history, top notch food, and interesting events all year round. Nip on over to Visit Dublin and check things out!

 


What do Mick Jagger, Daniel O’Connell, Medieval monks & learning to play the bodhran have in common? Why, it’s the old Smithwick’s beer brewery in Kilkenny; now open to us ordinary folk as The Smithwick’s Experience.

A pint being poured after the Smithwick's Experience tour in Kilkenny, Ireland

A pint after the Smithwick’s Experience tour in Kilkenny, Ireland

That’s Kilkenny beer, right?

Well, yes and no. Let’s clear up some other confusions. Smithwick’s beer originated in Kilkenny City in the 1710 established Smithwick’s brewery, which sent the rich scent of brewing aloft over Kilkenny at the site where the medieval monks of St Francis’ Abbey first brewed. Smithwick’s was Ireland’s oldest operating brewery -303 yrs continuously as Smithwick’s- until 2014 when production was moved over Dublin way to the St James’ Gate Guinness/Diageo factory. Though the actual production of beer has moved, the site now houses The Smithwick’s Experience which opened in summer 2014 to bring to multi-media life the Smithwick’s Brewery’s captivating history.

The Smithwick’s Experience experience

Named as one of Lonely Planet’s top must-see attractions for 2015, I found The Smithwick’s Experience to be done very well & worth the €12 adult ticket and the 70 minutes it takes to do the tour. TIP: minus 10% if you book online. On the Smithwick’s Experience tour you’ll discover tidbits like why on earth these bathtubs are here, what enabled Catholic John Smithwick to found his brewery at the time of the punitive anti-Catholic penal laws, why the ‘Irish Liberator’ Daniel O’Connell became a good friend to the Smithwick family, and how Smithwick’s joined up with a rival Kilkenny brewer to help during the Irish Famine. And of course you’ll learn more about brewing! Don’t miss smelling the different varieties of fragrant hops; very intriguing scents! One should be a perfume- I loved it. You can also try out a brewery job, like giving a barrel of beer a stir. No sneaking a sip, please 🙂 TIP: the video at the very start of the tour is rather over the top. Don’t worry, folks, the rest of the tour isn’t so flowery.  

Peruse over a pint!

After the tour, you may want to linger a bit over over your pint of Smithwick’s Red Ale to peruse the wall photos of celebrities who’ve enjoyed the hospitality of the Smithwick’s. Perhaps try the Smithwick’s tasting trio of beer for an extra €6; interestingly the general consensus at our table was that the Smithwick’s Pale Ale led the pack as our favourite. We toured as part of a group of beer/food/travel loving journalists, & were specially treated to an engaging meeting with Paul Smithwick, who, although the company was sold to Diageo many years ago, still is keenly involved with Smithwick’s and sits on the board along with his brother. Paul told us of  visits from Mick Jagger, Marianne Faithful and many others; we snooped around old Smithwick family guestbooks, full of the signatures international celebrities– and original letters from Daniel O’Connell! Told you Smithwick’s history is captivating!

Smithwicks Exerience famous signatures Mick Jagger

Mick Jagger & Marianne Faithful signed the Smithwicks’ guestbooks in the swinging sixties!

So what’s the story with Kilkenny beer?

I’ll let Wikipedia explain:

Kilkenny Cream Ale is similar to Smithwick’s Draught; however, it has a cream head similar to Guinness, and it has a stronger and more bitter taste than Smithwick’s. The Kilkenny name was originally used during the ’80s and ’90s to market a stronger version of Smithwick’s for the European and Canadian market due to difficulty in pronunciation of the word “Smithwick’s”, but it now refers to a similar yet distinctly different beer. (via Wikipedia)

Knowing that TIP, & the following, will help you be like a local:

  • Don’t ever say the w in Smithwick’s. Try saying it more like Smidicks, or Smithicks with the th rather soft & short. Say it more like 1 syllable, not 2.
  • If you enjoyed your pint/glass of Smithwick’s on the tour & are thirsty for more, just down to the right a bit & across the street from the Smithwick’s Experience building you’ll find a charming row of pubs. Cleere’s is the one that the Smithwick’s brewery employees often frequented themselves, and I reckon that’s a great endorsement. In fact, ex- employees still meet up there on Thursdays. Maybe you’ll overhear some old brewery tales 🙂 
    Paradise Row! Colourful pubs in Kilkenny Ireland

    Paradise Row! Colourful pubs in Kilkenny Ireland

Fuel for many a trad music session!

It’s nice being like a local, but some touristy things are great craic too! I can be skeptical of certain of these activities, but I’m willing to give ’em ago & see if that wariness is justified. In the case of learning to play the bodhran (Irish traditional drum) at Kytlers Inn pub with Damien of Irish Beats, my skepticism was rhythmically washed away by laughter, Smithwick’s Pale Ale, and the booming sound of this ancient instrument. As Kytlers serves the different varieties of Smithwick’s we all settled in with our choice as the lesson began, but we didn’t get many sips in; Damien kept us busy with nary a dull moment. Starting off simply, he gradually led us into more complexity, keeping us hard-bitten journos 😉 laughing with his quips. See my wee video below for a taster of the session & our musical abilities.

Beer with a side of witchcraft

Pat Tynan, Kilkenny Walking Tours

The Knowledge! Pat Tynan has been giving Kilkenny Walking Tours for 32 years.

Kytlers Inn is a rambling medieval stone built inn turned pub with lots of nooks; sort of easy to get lost in– perhaps due to its witchy history! Dame Alyce Kytler first started the Inn in the 1200’s, but after all 4 of her husbands died one after the other, she was accused of serving up more than pints and hospitality; she wound up convicted of witchcraft. You can discover her tale, and how she escaped being burnt at the stake, along with more of the wide-ranging history of Kilkenny on one of Pat Tynan’s Historic Kilkenny Walking Tours. Pat has been leading his tours in Kilkenny for over 30 years, and I highly recommend going along on one to get yourself better acquainted with this amazing little city. Kilkenny is small- it’s Medieval Mile is pretty much the length of the city, but it is choc-a-bloc with hidden spots & stories which you just won’t discover without a bit of help. Seriously, you all, Kilkenny City is a wondrous tapestry of charm, history, fine craft, culture, and top notch local food which you may not encounter without a bit of extra local knowledge. Don’t just zip in for a day visit, just mainly taking in the Castle & Cathedral– you’ll be missing so much! 

A Canadian friend who has traveled much of Ireland, the UK, and Europe put it this way

“Kilkenny has a big character & a fascinating history, and so much to offer for such a small city. I’m struck by how un-pretentious the people here are even though they live in this gem. You can see they love their city, are eager to share it and tell you about it– without the pretentiousness I’ve found in similar spots in other countries. Kilkenny City is really accessible– not just because it is small and easy to walk everywhere, but because the people are genuinely welcoming and friendly. Going on the Historic and the Fab Food walking tours gives you the added bonus of meeting some of the people who are behind the small places which add to Kilkenny’s character; like Pat Tynan, who has been doing his tours for 30 years but yet still is enthusiastic about his city and its history. I’m impressed with Kilkenny.”

Kilkenny Fab Food and Craft Trail

Kilkenny Fab Food and Craft Trail

Stunning stones & tasty treats

The Fab Food Trail of Kilkenny also lets you meet some Kilkenny craftspeople as well as sample foodie gems. Wait til you see the unique gem jewellry of Rudolph Heltzel– stunning enough for a Rolling Stone, or you! I’ve done this tour twice with Eveleen, and also her Fab Food Trail of Dublin, and yup, they are fab. From traditional family butchers to modern artisan foodstuffs, you’ll see why Kilkenny is a food lovers hot spot. The Fab Food Trails Kilkenny tour tends to be on Saturdays, with the odd Friday- do click the link to see current dates. The tour lasts about two and a half hours (€50 at time of writing,) and you will be tasting several food delights. One of the tour stops is the downstairs cafe at The Kilkenny Design Centre– TIP:  the upstairs cafe changes character & becomes a  full service restaurant on Thursday through Saturday nights in season.

Night delight

Anocht's Smithwick's inspired menu, Kilkenny Ireland

Anocht’s Smithwick’s inspired menu, Kilkenny Ireland

The nighttime incarnation upstairs at the Kilkenny Design Centre is called Anocht. (Generally from 5.50 to 9.30pm Thurs-Sat.) Like a local TIP: ‘Anocht’ is the Irish word for ‘tonight’. I’d been meaning to go eat here for ages; they’ve gotten good reviews, won awards, and as an enthusiastic cash-strapped fan of Early Bird menus I found Anocht’s Early Bird tempting for a special night out. But I just never got there. Luck would have it that I finally went as part of this Smithwick’s Experience inspired tour. A special menu incorporating Smithwick’s as an ingredient in most of the dishes was the challenge to the chefs, and boy did they do well. (See photos in my video.)Thank gawd I still had my gallbladder at that point or I would have been devastated to not be able to eat it all :-0 If you’ve got YOUR gallbladder, go! Or, even if you haven’t, go! Apparently once a gallbladder-less person’s liver adjusts, you become able to eat normally/mostly normally again. So, I’ll be back, Anocht. YUM!

Super spot to soak up the sun

Whilst on the subject of food, I must mention the enormous & very tasty lunch portions at our accommodation, the River Court Hotel. Go with a big appetite! One of the fab things about having food, coffee, or a pint here is that you will find that the River Court has a large outdoor seating section along the river with a spectacular view of Kilkenny Castle just across the Nore. TIP: On a sunny day, this is one of the best outside places to sit and sip or sup in Kilkenny. If river, duck, & people watching as you have a drink or a bite is your thing, check it out. On the warmest days you may even be treated to the sight of daring young people diving into the river from John’s bridge. Bring your swimsuit & join in? 😉

River Court Hotel Kilkenny

River Court Hotel Kilkenny

Experience Kilkenny!

You don’t have to be Mick Jagger to get satisfaction from a Kilkenny visit (ahh, couldn’t resist..) As well as the things I’ve mentioned here there’s loads more you’ll enjoy in Kilkenny City. And the green & gorgeous Kilkenny countryside is full of treasures, too; from the Neolithic to the present. You can find out more here; I’ve even made a Google Map trail you can follow. If you’ve any questions about Kilkenny, I’ll do my best to answer; you can ask via Vibrant Ireland & Travel’s Facebook page, or @VibrantIreland on Twitter, or comment on this article. Cheers! Enjoy your pint of Smithwick’s & I hope you will love Kilkenny as much as I do 😀

Having the craic at Kytlers bodhran lesson

Having the craic at Kytlers bodhran lesson

Transparency: I was a guest of Smithwick’s on this sampling of Kilkenny. Being a guest doesn’t change my opinion of what I experience, but it does enable me to tell you about things I couldn’t otherwise afford– for example as a Kilkenny resident for over 10 years I’d never stayed in accommodation there. Being able to stay at the River Court Hotel now means I have firsthand experience & I can advise; I’m often asked about places to stay. Our room looked out over the river to the castle, and was quite nice. The bed was big & super comfy, and I slept well. As always, I advise when you stay anywhere to bring good earplugs (I swear by the soft silicon ones.) I forgot mine this trip! Oops. One of the prices you pay for staying so central in cities/large towns is that they are filled with people & noises. I had the window open & heard a few late night revelers messing about over by the bridge. Shutting the window helped of course, but TIP: be aware that the John’s Bridge & John’s Street area of Kilkenny has very active, often loud, late-night pub-clubs – if you are a light sleeper ask about a room farthest away from the street.

Sample the fun! Video of my Smithwick’s Experience inspired tour of Kilkenny:

 

Have fun on YOUR Kilkenny visit!


I’m back from a super fun overnight in Kilkenny City– and have made a little video to show you some of the highlights for you to add to your visit!

Smithwick's inspired menu at Anocht, Kilkenny

Smithwick’s inspired menu at Anocht, Kilkenny

The Smithwick’s Experience hosted me as a guest on a Smithwick’s inspired tour, complete with a delish dinner at Anocht in which the menu was made up of dishes using Smithwick’s beer as an ingredient! We also did a historical Kilkenny Walking tour, a Fab Food Trails Kilkenny tasting trail with both food & craft, and learned to play the bodhran at Kytlers with Irish Beats— which turned out to be some laugh, even though I cynically started off thinking it could be a bit too touristy. That’s me shown! 😀

I’m in the back-end of beyond in the Irish countryside now, greatly struggling with the internet again (surprise!) as well as getting ready to go into hospital for an op in a couple of days. I’ll give you tips & more details for these Kilkenny gems in a written post once I’ve recovered a bit. Til then, I’ll be hoping against hope that the hospital bed will be even slightly like the super comfy bed at The River Court hotel and the food will be more like Anocht than the normal dry tea & toast! Do you think I may be setting myself up for disappointment? 😉


A day being in Ireland is a day well spent; especially if it’s Kilkenny Ireland!

There is so much to do and enjoy in Kilkenny, City and county.

You’ll find plenty of ideas for things to see and do here, and I’ve made a bit of a Kilkenny map to help you. Also look at the wee video to get a taster of what life in the charming Kilkenny countryside is like. Thanks so much to Suzanna at Zwartbles Ireland sheep farm for letting me visit & film!

US food writer Joanna Pruess loved her day in Kilkenny & Zwartbles Ireland! sheep

US food writer Joanna Pruess loved her day in Kilkenny & Zwartbles Ireland sheep!

Kilkenny Ireland: a perfect mix of city & rural culture.

Campagne Kilkenny Ireland- Michelin star desserts!

Campagne Kilkenny Ireland- Michelin star desserts!

 

You will truly get the best of ‘both worlds’ here; for example you can experience exquisite tastes at (not one, but 2!) Michelin star restaurants, and explore the rural countryside where several of the food products used in these & other Kilkenny restaurants are farmed. I’ve not yet been to the Lady Helen, but I’ve been to Campagne for special occasions several times. We always go for their Early Bird dinner menu or set lunch menu, as they are good value if you haven’t got the biggest budget. My top tip is to save room for dessert! Seriously have not ever tasted better, so if you are like me & go for 2 courses skip the starter not the sweet 😀

The Ireland you’ve dreamed of

Often when folk visit Ireland they want to experience some of the wonderful ‘cliches’ of Ireland; amazingly green countryside, an ‘Ireland traffic jam’ of sheep herded down a windy road, other-worldly megalithic stone circles and ancient monastic ruins, hospitality & craic of a traditional village pub which also doubles as a hardware shop, a friendly cupán tae in a handmade crafts shop. `

You may think that this is a tall order; perhaps you haven’t loads of time, and figure that in order to experience all this you’ll have to do a several hour trek across Ireland to Kerry, Galway, or Donegal. But you don’t! In under an hour and a half’s journey from Dublin you can be in a very special part of Ireland, a place that everyone, including outdoor adventurers, culture lovers, foodies, fun seekers, and family travellers will enjoy. Welcome to Kilkenny!

Kilkenny Ireland sheep traffic jam

Kilkenny Ireland sheep traffic jam

A world- class friendly city: Kilkenny, Ireland

Kilkenny City was voted the 9th friendliest city in the world by Conde Naste readers in 2013. It’s a compact medieval city home to Ireland’s Medieval Mile; this includes Kilkenny Castle, St Canice’s Cathedral with one of only two Irish round towers you can still climb, Rothe House and much more. There’s nearly always a festival of some sort happening! You should definitely go to Kilkenny City. But what you should also do is explore the Kilkenny countryside.

It is easy to get to Kilkenny City from Dublin. You can take the train from Heuston station, several bus companies go, or you can rent a car and drive. To get to several of the fantastic places in the Kilkenny countryside you’ll need a car. I’m afraid that is true for all of Ireland; many of the gems are tucked away from public transport routes. So, do seriously think about renting a car. If you just can’t get a car, you can still get to some of the towns by bus. There are two routes: Kilkenny City to Thomastown and Inistioge, and Kilkenny City to Graiguenamanagh.

There really is something for everyone in the Kilkenny countryside! What do you want to experience?

You want ancient ruins?

Knockroe passage tomb is second only to those in the Boyne valley when it comes to Irish Neolithic stone carvings. Unusually, is aligned to both the rising and setting sun on Winter Solstice. If you are in the mood for an adventure, this side trip is perfect. Non sign-posted, you have to traipse across some fields to find this truly hidden gem. Finding the 12c Aghavillar monastic site along the way is easier and you can actually go up to the top of the building. Brooding and beautiful, there is a part of a round tower here as well.

Kells Priory Kilkenny Ireland sheep

Kells Priory Kilkenny Ireland sheep

Kells Priory is 1,000 years old. It is a large, walled set of ruins, and the tumbled-down parts are rather maze like. Kids love running around here, and in the field populated by sheep on the short walk to the ruins. Kells Priory is usually deserted, though on my last visit I met a man with his pet fox. This is not the only pet fox in rural Kilkenny! You may also see another man walking with one in Thomastown. With accompanying fox or not, it’s nice to take a nice little walk along the river behind the Priory, where you’ll find the restored Mullins Mill.

Jerpoint Abbey is stunningly elegant & beautiful, dating from the 1100s. Unlike Kells Priory, there is a small visitor centre run by the OPW. Be sure to look carefully around this Abbey, because it has many carvings along and in the stone walls that you may otherwise miss.  There are many more fascinating historic sites in the area- keep your eyes open and investigate!

Want to stroll, or take part in more active outdoor adventure?

In the charming village of Inistioge where the movie Circle of Friends was filmed, walk along the river Nore to ‘Eve’s’ hidden cottage, or stroll in the Woodstock Gardens and Arboretum. You can go kayaking, SUPing, and canoeing out on the river Barrow in Graiguenamanagh, and you can even arrange to take a half day barge trip from St. Mullins to Graiguenamanagh on Larry’s Barge.  If you’d like to get into the water, there are two diving boards (or steps for the less brave) into the river along the quays.

 

Rent the beautiful Larrys Barge in Ireland

Rent the beautiful Larrys Barge in Ireland

Rent bikes and cycle along the Barrow river towpaths with Bike & Hike Graiguenamanagh (great for families as it is quite flat) or get more challenging along the Trail Kilkenny East Kilkenny bike trail. Or how about a hike up Brandon Hill to look across five counties, or hike in the Blackstairs mountains.

You want tasty artisan Irish food?

There are several award winning artisan food producers in the area, ranging from Stoneyford’s Knockdrinna cheese to Thomastown’s  Goatsbridge trout & caviar to Truffle Fairy chocolates– and loads more. Many of Kilkenny’s restaurants pride themselves on using fresh local ingredients. There’s a whole Kilkenny Food Trail you can explore, too.

You want to experience an authentic traditional Irish pub?

Graiguenamanagh is home to a pub which is also a shop, a hardware store, and a fishing and shooting depot! If you’re lucky, you may hear trad music, or the church bells as you have a tasty pint. Doyle’s is just across the street from the 800 year old (still functioning) Duiske Abbey.

There’s a tiny pub in a farmhouse on the road from Thomastown to Graiguenamanagh, just at the Coppenagh crossroads, . You can glimpse the family watching telly in their sitting room as you sip your pint.

Inside of Doyles, Graiguenamanagh Kilkenny Ireland

Inside of Doyles pub,Graiguenamanagh Kilkenny Ireland. Photo by @GraigueBikeHire

Get your name written in your pint by the barman in Inistioge’s O’Donnell’s pub. Better than Starbucks!

You want Irish crafts?

There’s Cushendale traditional woolen mill in Graiguenamanagh, between Thomastown & Stoneyford you’ll find Jerpoint Glass glassblowers, and in Bennettsbridge there’s Moth to a Flame candle maker and Nicholas Mosse‘s lovely handcrafted pottery & cafe in a picturesque stone mill. Thomastown is a very crafty small town, with several makers and craft shops. Do have a stroll around. There’s even more elsewhere, all on the Kilkenny Craft Trail.

Call it getting off the beaten track, call it community-oriented tourism, or just call it a good idea- exploring rural Kilkenny Ireland will give you an authentic taste of Ireland in uncrowded, special places.

Prepare for that Irish weather!

Transitions well from rainy field nice restaurant! Makes life simpler! My Cotswold Outdoor triclimate jacket

Transitions well from rainy field nice restaurant! Makes life simpler! My Cotswold Outdoor triclimate jacket

One thing I’ve found invaluable when enjoying a day out in Kilkenny, is to be prepared for any weather, any time of year! Even if it is sunny when you start out, it could change and lash down rain for 20 minutes, or just produce a steady, misty drizzle for a few hours before the sun splits the sky again. Don’t underestimate the misty type rain– it will soak you to the skin in a few minutes! Always bring a suitable rain jacket- preferably one that won’t be too warm, or cold!

The joke about Ireland having 4 seasons in one day is TRUE! I’m finding that one of those rainproof jackets that also has a removeable fleece lining is perfect. I got a 3-season one from Cotswold Outdoor online, and I wear it everywhere! I even wore it  into our annual Christmas lunch at Michelin-starred Campagne– I think it looks that good 😀 Cotswold contacted me about testing out an item, and when I chose the 3-season coat I never expected it to look as nice as it does; I figured it would be really frumpy or kinda gaudy because it was functional; but this coat goes fine with most any outfit! You can see me in it in the video & photos; often even with a skirt or dress! Of course if I get it mucky visiting the Zwartbles Ireland lambs that’ll be born around Christmas, I won’t wear it to eat out until it gets a good clean– I’ll let you know how it washes up!  If you are interested in checking out the one I got, it’s also on Sale right now at Cotswold Outdoor; the Women’s Evolution 2 triclimate jacket.

Here’s the Google map with driving routes & some interest points and activities for your visit to Kilkenny.

In the map I have you starting from the area of Kilkenny Castle, heading to Kells. (The route is figure 8-ish, with a side jaunt to Knockroe passage tomb.) I’ve recommended the journey with that starting point because from that driving direction a lovely view of the Barrow valley rises up on your right hand side as you near Graiguenamanagh. There is a roadside pull-off where you can stop and savour the scene.

Have a great time! If you have any questions, tweet me @VibrantIreland. And watch out for those sheep on the road 😀

A version of the Kilkenny information was first was written by me for TBEXcon’s site ahead of their 2013 conference in Dublin.


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!


Dublin St Patricks Day Parade via stpatricksfestival.ie

Dublin St Patricks Day Parade via stpatricksfestival.ie

What can I do in Ireland in MARCH?

March can be a great time to visit Ireland, with less tourists, better prices, and some fab festivals as well as St Patrick’s Day parades galore!

March 17th is St Patrick’s Day, and there are parades and celebrations all over the island. The biggest is Dublin’s St Patrick’s festival, which runs over several days; March 14-17 in 2015. The daily schedule for 2015 is not up yet, (as of 9 Dec 2014) but all of the days are usually full of fun events for all ages.

If you’re in Dublin & have a hankering for some traditional Irish music, one of the very best places to go is The Cobblestone Pub, an authentic, non- touristy pub in the Smithfield area. You can hear trad music played here 7 nights a week.

March in the Irish Countryside

If trad music and craic out in a beautiful seaside & mountainside country town is more your thing, you won’t go wrong in Dingle! As an added bonus the Dingle International Film Festival is on on the 12th to the 15th of March 2015.

Dingle is a charming town, home to great food and the Dingle Distillery, where they carefully craft whiskey, gin, and vodka. I adore the gin, it really does have a unique flavour from the special local ingredients they use:

“We use, amongst other botanicals, rowan berry from the mountain ash trees, fuchsia, bog myrtle, hawthorn and heather for a taste of the Kerry landscape. It’s a formula unknown elsewhere and is calculated, amongst other things, to create some sense of place and provenance, what winemakers might call the gout de terroir..  [we use] the purest of water which we draw from our own well, 240 feet below the distillery.”

You must give the Dingle spirits a try! Also in Dingle you’ll find the Louis Mulcahy Pottery, ancient beehive huts, and plenty more to explore. Here’s a clip about the Dingle Film festival. (Video in Irish with subtitles.)

Also in county Kerry, the Kenmare Lace Festival is on from 19-22 March 2015. A wonderful way of keeping this beautiful Irish traditional craft alive, the festival will have:

Lace making workshops in nine different disciplines running over two days. For the fashion conscious there will be millinery and up-styling workshops, a fashion show, and meet the designers at the Art & Design Cloister. Exhibitions will showcase the very best in lacemaking and Irish design. There will be a full day of children’s craft and fashion workshops including Kenmare Lace making to introduce traditional techniques and design to the younger generation.

Another unique event on in Ireland in March is the Ennis Book Club Festival in county Clare, also located on the west coast. This festival will run from the 6th to the 8th of March in 2015. There is always loads on for book lovers to enjoy, and the 2015 programme will be up soon. Ennis is known as Ireland’s Friendliest Town, and I agree; I’ve visited Ennis and totally experienced that friendliness. You can read about my visit to Ennis and what I thought of where I stayed; Rowan Tree.

Belfast and the Titanic museum are great to visit in March- or anytime!

Belfast and the Titanic museum are great to visit in March- or anytime!

Celebrate St Patrick and Northern Ireland

If you’d like to get more into the Saint Patrick side of things, what about heading up North and exploring St Patrick’s old stomping grounds? There’s a St Patrick’s Trail, 92 miles long and linking 15 sites connected to St Patrick. Not every site will be open in March, but many are, such as the St Patrick Centre, Down Museum & more.

Of course, when up North you can’t miss the Giant’s Causeway! If you’re a fan of the Game Of Thrones, the Northern Ireland Game of Thrones trail is a must do, too. Plus, Belfast is a brilliant place to spend a few days, full of craic, culture, fab food & fun. We’ve been twice and love it! The Titanic Museum is amazing even if you are like Terry & I and not normally a Titanic fan. Two thumbs up from us 😀

Also in Northern Ireland, Sunday 15 March 2015 sees Shamrock Shenanigans on at the National Trust property Springhill in Magherafelt, co Derry. There’s free entry for anyone who can prove their name is Patrick! You can discover the Shamrock Trail (extra charge) around the grounds and enjoy crafts, food and music from noon to 5pm.

Where will YOU go & what will you do in March in Ireland? Have you more suggestions? Let us know! Comment, tweet Vibrant Ireland, or post on the Vibrant Ireland & Travel Facebook page.


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 😀


Donegal app

Sure, you see this all the time in Donegal! Flaming bagpipes are everywhere there 😉

Donegal is one very special place.

It really does have a special magic all its own. It’s where I fell in love with Ireland! If I’d had the fab Donegal app back then I might never have left!

It certainly is a bumper time for Donegal. More Northern Lights excitement the other night, two teams in the All Ireland on Sunday, and more and more folk finding out about the charms of this extreme Northwest Irish county.

One of the very best ways to get a feel for this stunning Irish county and to add depth to your trip is to download the free and very comprehensive Donegal App. It is definitely produced with love by the very funny and characterful John Ward of @racontouring.

For 2014 the Donegal App has been launched with significantly increased material for the north west visitor to enjoy. New additions include tours of Donegal’s Wild Atlantic Gems, a Best of Ulster guide and a Best of the Donegal Bay area. Check out one of their You Tube Donegal Abu videos below – they’re a real added treat, as are the extensive podcasts section under the Audioboo icon.

The Donegal app offers you the ultimate chance to sit down and plan a beyond-the-beaten-track visit to Ireland’s most beautiful region. Picture the scene; you download the new 2014 app onto your tablet or smartphone, and with it you not only get to read about where the great places are (and Favourite them for your itinerary), you find contact details & all you need to know about them, AND you get to enjoy a relevant YouTube video! That’s right, wherever possible, Donegal App have found the most original YouTube video to allow you to savour the wonder of that place. All in one handy spot! The mapping system even allows for turn-by-turn directions on both the most up to date Androids and iPhones/iPads.

The 2014 app is extraordinarily detailed in what it offers the visitor to the north west, yet happily comes in at just under 50 meg. You likely know that the big news in 2014 is the Wild Atlantic Way from Donegal to Cork. The Donegal App has included all of the discovery points that Failte Ireland refer to along the Donegal coast and have augmented those Points of Interest (POIs) by adding a host of hidden gems known only to local insiders! You won’t miss a single treat along the Way’s most picturesque section – 97 interest spots in total. They’ve included the best places to eat, visit and stay along the way with all restaurants having won awards or acclaim for their efforts, with seafood a speciality of course. Accommodation ranges from glamping in Creeslough to a castle by Lough Swilly. *sighs wistfully*

But, wait, that’s not all! Donegal App folk felt maybe they were being a bit narrow in their focus on just Donegal in previous years – after all most travellers don’t just stick to one county, they visit a whole area. So now the curious visitor based in Donegal has App material to guide them to places like the Giant’s Causeway, Toddsleap Adventure centre, or Yeats Country down in Sligo. With your Apps, you have all of the information needed for these visits.

Sligo is Yeats country; Ben Bulben

Sligo is Yeats country; Ben Bulben

Why, now you’ll find a full audio tour of Yeats Country containing a comprehensive audio guide on both his poems and his favourite haunts! Drive along and as you round a corner you’ll be told about Dooney Rock or the Sally Gardens of Ballysdare. Perhaps you’re on the northern half of Donegal Bay? You’re in for a treat – all of the hidden gems along the coastal route to Slieve League cliffs are there for you to discover.

This cross-platform app offers a comprehensive travel guide where audio, visual and social media platforms are handily incorporated into the information. Not only can you connect to a place’s website, send them an email or call them with a click, but you’ll see any interesting YouTube video that exists out there on them. Best of all, the service works offline so that you will not be charged roaming charges when exploring the county! What’s not to love about all this? 😀 You guys, you’ll LOVE Donegal!

There are a total of 8 tours within the one Donegal App:

Donegal’s Arts and heritage – 82 of the best places to visit from trad music to festivals, theatres to museums and the pick of the county’s crafts artists.
Donegal Activities – a guide featuring 75 places for water sports, golf courses, adventure, horse riding & places for children to enjoy.
Best of the Donegal Bay area – 91 POIs from Slieve League to a Yeats Country audio tour, find all of the bay’s treasures.
Best of Inishowen – the northern peninsula that rewards you with 105 hidden gems.
Best of Ulster – enjoy 68 of the very best attractions of the province’s other eight counties from causeways to Nevin’s cuisine.
Donegal’s Greatest ‘shrines’ – from the sacred to the sublime, here are 24 special parts of the county that are worth discovering.
Donegal’s Great Outdoors – here’s a special guide of 80 POIs just for birdwatchers, fishermen, hill walkers and lovers of scenery.
Donegal’s Wild Atlantic Gems – experience nearly 100 of the most enthralling places to visit, stay and eat on Ireland’s finest coastal drive.

Get the Donegal App now in the App Store or Google Play, where all 8 tours download automatically for you. Follow ’em on Facebook or Twitter for further updates or for feedback/suggestions. (Please note that all tours are subject to acceptance of the Licence terms) Available on iPhone, Android, Garmin or TomTom devices – click on the various guides at the top of the homepage to download onto your device. See http://donegalapp.com/


Crescent moon over the lovely Belfast City Hall

Crescent moon over the lovely Belfast City Hall

Belfast is brilliant! Yup, the vibe is excellent!

When we went for a Belfast weekend break, we had no idea that it was such a fabulous, friendly, foodie, artsy city. Here are 3 videos & 3 reasons you’ll love it:

1. The People and Atmosphere.

Wow! Everyone was so friendly. The city was clean and buzzing with fun & positivity. We didn’t expect to love Belfast so much, but we did. We feel it combines the warmth of Dublin (friendly, funny people) with the exciting vibe of London (lots of new, trendy places & arts, especially in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter.)

 

2. The Culture & Food

So much culture happens in Belfast! The weekend we visited there were 2 festivals on as well as the play in Lyric theatre. Plus, exhibits in the art and craft galleries, all sorts of gigs in pubs, and of course the myriad of fantastic places to eat as well the delish food in St George’s Market. In the Market our Belfast Food Tour guide Caroline tempted us with the sinfully good and uniquely Belfast treat called a ’15’–OMG yum! ( Don’t worry, I’ll reveal more in upcoming Belfast posts. Well, maybe I won’t reveal the calories in a 15!)

 

3. The Amazing Surroundings

From buildings old to buildings new, there is plenty of beautiful and exciting architecture to be seen. Belfast is also a waterfront city, and if you take a short drive, rolling green countryside and sandy beaches are there for you to explore. The Giant’s Causeway is also just an hour away!

I think you’ll love having a holiday in Belfast. And of course, from Dublin, Belfast is less than 2hrs drive, or by train just 2hrs 20min– handy for a day trip. But I think once you visit you’ll be like us and want a longer Belfast vacation too. Perhaps we’ll see you there! 😀 If you’d like to see what we got up to on our trip to Belfast, this link brings you to all the places we went, and below are a series of videos. PS: LIAM NEESON ALERT! *swoon* 

This is a 2-minute video of our visit, I hope you enjoy it 🙂

Before I show you the other 2 videos, here’s the So You Know: I had been hoping to go check out Belfast  in 2014, and when I got a chance to do so via NI Tourism I jumped at the chance. Terry & I were guests of  AVB Group/NITB, agreeing for the visit to be filmed in these videos & TV ads, but everything we said is unscripted and what we really thought. We had a fab time, and plan to return as soon as we can. It will be nice to go back without a video crew so I don’t have to eat on camera! Trying to eat salad gracefully & without green bits on your teeth is hard! I suppose that’s why that part got cut 😉  Good thing Liam Neeson was only narrating & not actually there!

This one is our 30 second ad for (Belfast) Northern Ireland:

And this last one is a 1 minute ad (showing in ROI) we & others are in, about some of the People & Places of Northern Ireland: