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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

Out To Lunch Arts Festival 2016, Belfast. January's Top Pick for Cultural Adventure

Out To Lunch Arts Festival 2016, Belfast. January’s Top Pick for Cultural Adventure

With over 50 intriguing events from comedy, music, food talks, art, magic & more, the Out To Lunch Arts Festival will add zing to your January afternoons and evenings from the 8th to the 31st!

Plus, as accommodation is generally cheaper in January, it’s a great time to visit Belfast! Your biggest issue will be trying whittle down what shows to see from the tempting array. Listen in to get a taste of what’s in store, and the wee video of some Belfast street art is below the podcast.

Belfast Street Art Video (under 1 minute)

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Visit the Out To Lunch Arts Festival at to see all the listings and book tickets.

Keep an eye on @BelfastFoodTour and @SeedheadArts on Twitter to see if they add another combo walking tour 😀

Check in to every so often to see what will be added on as 2016 Northern Ireland Year of Food starts to get going.

Here is their info on the Northern Ireland Year of Food and Drink:

With two Belfast restaurants – Ox and Eipic – recently bagging Michelin stars, Northern Ireland’s artisan food and drink producers are reaping international renown from food critics and the media.

With record breaking performances at the UK Great Taste Awards year on year, Northern Ireland is something of a best kept foodie secret.

But not for long – 2016 has been designated a Year of Food and Drink. There’s going to be a big celebration of all that is good about the top notch local produce. And the world is invited!

Northern Ireland Year of Food and Drink 2016

Yum & Fun! Northern Ireland Year of Food and Drink 2016

It’s a leap year. So that means 366 days of opportunities to taste, munch and quaff your way through 12 specially selected themes for each month of the year. There’ll be special foodie events, festivals, money-off deals, pop-up restaurants, tastings and tours galore.

It all starts with ’breakfast’ in January (ah, the famous Ulster fry) and ends in December with ’Christmas and premium foods’. In between there’s everything from ’love meat’ to ’brewing and distilling’ to’ heritage and traditions’.

Northern Ireland’s epic landscapes, traditions and people make its food heritage very unique. Thanks to its wild coastline, endless green fields and famously fickle weather, the country produces some of the world’s finest and freshest ingredients – from fabulous seafood to rare meats and iconic breads, organic vegetables, artisan cheeses, premium spirits and craft beers.

Three of its home-grown foods hold EU Protected Geographic Indication (PGI) status – Lough Neagh Eels, Armagh Bramley Apples and Comber Early Potatoes – putting them on a par with the likes of Parmesan cheese and Champagne.

Northern Ireland Year of Food and Drink 2016 potato farm

These Northen Ireland potatoes are on par with champagne 😀

And there’s more. Shortcross Gin from County Down (MY NOTE: yum! I’ll have a gin taste test post up soon which includes Shortcross) recently scooped a silver medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, Glenarm Organic Salmon is lined up on shelves in Harvey Nichols and Abernethy Butter is the darling of London’s Michelin-starred chefs.

From a Game of Thrones Afternoon Tea at Ballygally Castle Hotel in the heart of ’Thrones’ country in County Antrim to the Titanic Menu at Rayanne House on the edge of Belfast Lough, the local food reflects local stories.

But there will be many more local tastes and exciting menus crammed with creativity and foodie sensations all through 2016.

Northern Ireland food is so good. Be shrewd, you’d be mad if you eschewed it.

Head Out To Lunch in Northern Ireland! For the festival and the food 😀

Happy 2016! Slainte, Susan 

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

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.

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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! 🙂


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 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! 😀

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?

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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!

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Romagna Italy, man works in vineyard

Flashing a fab smile in a Romagna vineyard!

Of course you have heard of the famous Tuscany region in Italy, but have you heard of Romagna?

This delightful area running up to & along the Adriatic sea is much less known to visitors from Ireland, the US and UK. Often combined with the more widely known Emilio area (Emilio-Romagna,) Romagna on its own is a perfect destination for enjoying the feel of real Italian life— especially if you adore good food and wine. Romagna is renowned even amongst the otherwise totally region-loyal Italians for its delicious fare! Romagna region Italy

Settimana del BuonVivere!

Each September the region has a ‘Week of Good Living’, Settimana del Buon Vivre in Italian, celebrating and exploring the bounty & community of Romagna. It was during this exciting time (bonus: hello warmth & sunshine– September in Romagna feels like an ace Irish summer!) that I was invited by the event’s organizers to come and experience some of the food, wine, nature and history of the region. I was completely won over by Romagna, and especially buzzed off the fact that I never really encountered many other English speaking visitors– it felt rather like discovering an Italian secret 😉 (Likewise, if you click the Week of Good Living Buon Vivre link above, use Google translate; it’s in Italian.)

Here are a few suggestions to explore in Romagna:

–> Get slathered in warm healing mud!

It is wonderful! Funny (well, I was giggling as I got mudded up) and highly relaxing at the same time, this is a treatment you can receive with the special local mud at Spa Riolo Terme. If you have aches and pains from issues like arthritis as I do, I think you will especially enjoy being cocooned in the warm mud. You’ll be wrapped in white sheets after the mud is applied, and left to relax as the warmth soaks right into your very bones. Ahhh, bliss!

A visit to The Riolo Terme Spa’s warm mineral water pool, with room for gentle swimming as well as massaging jets & fountains, is another delight. Just remembering makes me wish I was in there now… They’ve also one of their renowned healing mineral waters available to drink,— but that is not a delight! It is quite sulfurous- hold your nose & down it! 🙂 Here’s the scoop from their site regarding the Spring Mud:

Vulcanetto di fango curativo

About to be slathered in mud, Riolo Terme Spa, Romagna Italy

A sneaky- thus blurry- spa pic! Here I”m about to lie in the mud & have it slathered all over me!, Riolo Terme Spa, Romagna Italy

The very fine curative mud of Terme di Riolo is unique in Emilia Romagna in that it “springs“, or spontaneously emerges from the ground, pushed by gas from “little volcanoes”, or mud springs, situated near the spa, and is already Naturelly mixed with salso-bromo-iodine thermal water. The mud of Terme di Riolo displays characteristics which are extremely interesting from the standpoint of heat retention capacity and ion exchange capacity (Official Analyses of the Hydrology and Environmental Protection Section of the Department of Pharmacology II, Faculty of Medicine and Surgery of the University of Pavia, July 1989).
Thanks to its origin, it is extremely plastic, with a velvety texture, and highly penetrable.

Once collected, it undergoes a maturation process in special tubs until acquiring the clinical, physical, biological and therapeutic characteristics that make it the ideal means for an anti-inflammatory, anti-pain, muscle-relaxing and revitalizing therapy.

Vulcanetto di fango curativo

Main clinical indications:

  • Osteoarticular disorders: rheumoarthropathies in quiescent phases, such as post-injury primary or secondary arthritis, fibromyositic rheumatism, chronic gout in joints
  • Skin: acne, psoriasis, seborrhoea, chronic eczema, urticaria, dystrophic lesions
  • Peripheral vasculopathies, water retention and cellulite

At Terme di Riolo, spring mud is used:

  • In Mud therapy (total and partial hot mud applications)
  • In Naturel Methods (leg wraps with cold virgin mud and essential oils, according to Kneipp hydrotherapy)
  • In Thermal Aesthetic treatments (virgin mud face mask, cosmetic virgin mud body and scalp wraps)

–> Savour a special Medicinal Herb Garden, & a glorious meal!

The medicinal herb garden info

The medicinal herb garden info

Il Giardino Delle Erbe is stunningly situated on a hillside along a steep & picturesque valley. Here they grow herbs and fruits of many varieties, used since medieval times. The centre is dedicated to expanding the knowledge of these plants, both in their cultivation and uses. The Garden is located in the Casola Valsenio area, part of Italy’s Chalk Vein. The Garden can also do guided tours for small groups with a couple of days notice. Additionally, there are seasonal events, such as this interesting one in October:


“Festival of forgotten fruits: the second and third weekend of October farms Casola Valsenio exhibit in the historic fruits once cultivated or gathered in the woods for food. You may find blackthorn, cornelian, rowan berries, pomegranates, etc. azzeruole. And ‘possible to participate in tasting workshops and cookery, contests of jams and liqueurs with the forgotten fruits.”

Not far from the herb garden is one of my favorite restaurants in Romagna, Il Cardello Locanda. The ‘ohh-ahh’ location alongside the vineyards, the charming stone buildings, the fantastic food, wine and service had all of us in raptures. This restaurant is high on my return-to list! It may be a cliche, but it is often true– the best Italian food is made by the Mamas. You’ll see some of them at work creating the deliciousness at Il Cardello Locanda in my video down below. Here’s some background from Cardello Locanda:

“The “Cardello Locanda” came into being on an estate owned by the Casa Oriani Fund in the Regional Park of the Romagna Chalk Vein, following thorough renovation of the old farmhouse known as “Mingotta”. The former threshing floor and the surrounding landscape evoke deep roots in an ancient peasant civilisation. For example the little stable belonging to the family that lived here is still intact and you can make out the spaces for the animals, a wood-burning oven and a well preserved hayloft built in accordance with the local criteria of the day. Cookery at the inn is closely linked to the flavours of the area, to the importance of seasonal ingredients and to a desire to offer guests the products of our land. Herbs, meat, vegetables, cheeses and wines are selected with care and attention, always seeking quality and niche products. Our kitchens are mainly supplied by local producers, and our special close collaboration with the Casola Valsenio Medicinal Herb Garden contributes significantly to enrichment of the flavours of the territory which arouse lively interest.”

Wine & Alessandra; Romagna Italy

Wine & Alessandra; Romagna Italy

–> Discover a Romagna varietal wine 

For an absolute plethora of amazing wines, prodcuced both locally and beyond, an evening at Cantine Antica Grotta in Riolo is unmissable. Located near the medieval castle La Rocca di Riolo of  Caterina Sforza, the fascinating Tigress of Forli, (TIP: the castle is a fab place to watch the sun set,) Antica Grotta restaurant & wine bar is a treasure trove of heavenly wines and tantalizing local food. This man knows & loves his wines!

One vineyard that is well off the beaten tourist track (their wines not sold in shops) is Noelia Ricci. You can also taste their Rosolio produced with their own pomegranates! I saw so many of these fruit trees growing in Romagna– the landscape is delightful and mouthwatering! Find out how you can visit the vineyard, here, from Italian sommelier (writing in English) Alessandra Catania.

Be sure to watch the video! These are just a few of the joys of visiting Romagna. In my next post on the Romagna area, I’ll bring you up to the coast.

Click for more on what the Casola Valsenio and the Riolo areas offer –do avail of Google translate as these sites are in Italian.  

Many thanks to Settimana del Buon Vivre for having me over to explore Romagna! I hope to return many times & enjoy the Italian good life. See you in Romagna, readers! 😀

[youtube_sc url=”” title=”Romagna%20Italy%20Delights”]

PS- If you love authentic Italian food, read this article on a great way to get the most out of food in Venice.

On the trip with me were 

you can check out what they loved about Romagna as well!

Loftus Hall, Ireland's most haunted house!

Loftus Hall, Ireland’s most haunted house!

Battle Cries at Loftus Hall

Ireland’s most haunted house celebrates its rich and bloody heritage.

Here’s another reason to head out to Wexford’s wild & wonderful Hook Peninsula— Loftus Hall is having a new festival! They’ve told me & I’m passing it on to you:

It was 845 years ago when Raymond Le Gros brought his ships to Baginbun Head, Fethard, County Wexford. Instructed and equipped with just 10 knights and 70 archers by Strongbow, it seemed unlikely that this humble beginning of the Norman Invasion of Ireland would be successful… but never underestimate a Norman, especially not Raymond Le Gros! To celebrate this momentous and pivotal point in Ireland’s history, “the creeke of Baginbun, where Ireland was lost and won, Loftus Hall will be hosting “A Norman Knight” The Raymond Le Gros Festival, on Saturday the 5th & the Sunday 6th September, 2015.

With the Hall’s own 666th year Anniversary looming in 2016, this is set to be just the beginning of Loftus Hall’s up and coming varied offerings. “The scale of potential here at Loftus Hall is immense”, claimed Anne Power, a Loftus Hall staff member. “We are really looking forward to developing Loftus Halls historical offerings over the next 18­24 months, whilst maintaining the strides we have made this year into the more paranormal side of the Halls attraction. With Halloween just around the corner too, there’s always something exciting and different going on at Irelands most haunted house, Loftus Hall: and that’s what makes it such an amazing place to visit again and again.”

Redmond hall; before it was Loftus hall

Redmond hall; before it was Loftus hall

Loftus Hall, originally Redmond Hall, was built by direct descendants of Raymond Le Gros. Situated on the beautiful & wild Hook Peninsula in county Wexford, Loftus Hall welcomes all for this new and exciting festival. As well as Loftus Hall’s daytime house tours, visitors will be able to: explore a Norman village in the walled gardens, enjoy archery demonstrations,hear traditional music, and on the Saturday night, be a part of a battle banquet and slavery auction. (!?)

The owner of Loftus Hall, Aidan Quigley, has a strong passion for this period of history and its inextricable connection with Loftus Hall. “This festival will be a fitting way to end our 2015 summer season. Raymond Le Gros is an extraordinary character from Ireland’s history, and played a crucial role in the Norman Invasion of Ireland. The heritage of the Hook Peninsula is unbelievably rich, and it’s fantastic to have the opportunity to share this with visitors from Ireland and overseas.”


Waterford Living History group will be at Loftus Hall

Waterford Living History group will be at Loftus Hall

Loftus Hall owners and staff are delighted to involve a local Norman reenactment group, Waterford’s Living History group, in the “A Norman Knight” festival. As well as setting up a Norman village in Loftus Halls walled gardens, they will be on hand to share all they know about the Normans; how they fought, lived, and how they were so successful.
One of the founding members of Waterford’s Living History group, Darren Golding, is extremely excited to be taking part in this festival. “From the very first inception of the
Waterford Living History group three years ago, we have been trying to find a way of including the first Norman landing into our activities. So when Loftus Hall contacted us, we jumped at the opportunity. It will be a fantastic event in a spectacular location.”

Loftus Halls “A Norman Knight” The Raymond Le Gros Festival will take place on Saturday the 5th and Sunday 6th of September 2015 at Loftus Hall, Hook Head, County Wexford. To find out more visit or call 051 397728.

PS: Did you know that you can Whale Watch in the Hook Peninsula area? You can even go on a whale watch boat tour at certain times of year. It’s fantastic 😀

snow white dove reflected in stone barn window

snow white dove reflected in stone barn window

Today’s photo is from the beautiful farm of

Suzanna raises the friendly Zwartables sheep there,  along with filling the farm with other gorgeous animals, like these doves.

She also teaches photography, and I was lucky to take part in her Practical Photography for Bloggers workshop. A post on that shall appear later, and I’ll let you know when the next workshop is on 🙂

Tinnahinch Castle&  a lockkeeper’s cottage on the river Barrow, Ireland

Tweeting as @Ireland for a week was a fun and interesting experience! As my last few tweets I wanted to say & show a few reasons why I love living in Ireland. Not all my photos attached to the tweets though, & I didn’t realize until later. SO- here they are.

This photo above was meant to illustrate this tweet:

”The way older history (Tinnahinch castle) blends with more recent tradition (Lockkeepers cottage,) & nature.”

I also shared:

”I love the beauty of the Irish landscape, especially with added snow 🙂 #lovesnow” 

The river Barrow in snow, Ireland

Ireland’s recent big snow was in 2010, and I’ve a post on it here if you’d like to see more.

The Graiguenamanagh/Tinnahinch bridge in snow, Ireland

I also tweeted about the wonderful sunrises I see in Ireland (photos below.)

There’d be too many photos to post for this next tweet–but sure, there are plenty of related photos all over this blog 🙂

”I love the resurgence of Irish artisan food, craft, & the spirit of fun I find in so many people. THANK YOU!”


And I’d like to say thank YOU, for reading the Vibrant Ireland blog, and also if you follow on Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram or G+!

Here are a few of the sunrise pics, & there are more from people all around Ireland in these posts here

Sunrises, (mainly over the Blackstairs Mountains) Ireland
Sunrise over the Blackstairs mountains, Ireland
hope you’ve enjoyed 🙂

December sunrise, Ireland
This morning dawned pink, orange, and frosty. The air was still, and the whoosh of the rooks’ wing beats carried across the sky, combined with the rushing of the river Barrow below. What a wonderful way to wake. After a bracing cup of coffee, both I & the sun were fully awake– time for a walk!
Here are some photos:
The sunlight & frost made magic together.
Seed heads were fuzzy- not with seeds but with frost crystals!
A long-tailed tit called in the mist that still lingered close to the river
Sunlit beauty of decay; a reminder of the cycles of life
frosted lace was everywhere
the delicacy of the fine threads of frost on the plants was amazing
upon returning home, one of the last flowering garden plants sported frozen beads!The December days may be short in Ireland, but there is still beauty be found, especially in the quiet hours of dawn and dusk. May your December, & beyond, be full of gentle beauty.