Micro-Adventures in Ireland – Hike to Devil’s Bit

Micro-Adventures in Ireland – Hike to Devil’s Bit

I recently came a cross an article from the New York Time online called The Virtues of Microadventures and it got me thinking about all the little “micro-adventures” I do here in Ireland. Except in the summer, I seldom have time to set off for a few days so day trips somewhere in Ireland are a great alternative.

The cross on Devil's Bit. Image by Lisa McGee
The cross on Devil’s Bit was erected 1953-1954.
Image by Lisa McGee

This past weekend, my daughter Sophia and I, accompanied by our two Labradors Sugar and Frida, finally decided to hike up Devil’s Bit which is quite nearby to us in North Tipperary. Known as Bearnan Eile in Irish, this mountain stands 1570 feet above sea level. According to local legend, the devil took a bite out of the mountain and broke a tooth as he was flying away so dropped the rock to form the Rock of Cashel. You have to love Irish legends. As you can see, we had a pretty spectacular day for our walk.

One view from the cross. Image by Lisa McGee.
One view from the cross. Image by Lisa McGee.

At the cross we could look out across the surrounding counties into Offaly, Laois, Kilkenny, Limerick and Galway. There was a bit of a biting wind at the top and our usually over rambunctious dogs seemed to have been finally subdued and lay panting at the foot of the cross. It is a bit of climb but nothing too strenuous and for active children I highly recommend it – you can stop half way up at the grotto with the Virgin Mary to have a picnic lunch and then continue your climb.

With wild hair at the summit (selfie).
With wild hair at the summit (selfie).

Or, of course, you can sit on the rocks at the summit for lunch looking out onto the glorious scenery below. Wear sturdy shoes – preferably hiking boots to protect your ankles. Layer up – it was warm on our way up but very windy and much colder at the top.

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Looking down on to the tower called Carden’s Folly. Image by Lisa McGee
Grotto with the Virgin Mary half way up. Image by Lisa McGee
Grotto with the Virgin Mary half way up. Image by Lisa McGee
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Frida, left, and Sugar ready for their ride home.

For more information about the Devil’s Bit Loop – go to the Discover Ireland website. We will definitely be going back as there is much more to explore. Let me know about hikes you recommend in Ireland – we have a growing list of places we want to go and try!

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Looking back at Devil’s Bit while driving away. Image by Lisa McGee
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On the Coast of Ireland: Sligo

On the Coast of Ireland: Sligo

by Lisa McGee

Every year my daughter heads back to America to stay with her grandparents in Connecticut so I am lucky enough to have about five to six weeks to myself to travel, relax, go out with friends and of course work. This past summer, I was particularly busy and planned a long list of things to see and do all over Ireland.

Sligo was my destination in early June. Until now I had only really driven through Sligo en route to Donegal but the most stunning natural landmark for me is Ben Bulben. Ben Bulben, for those of you who don’t know, is a large rock formation that is part of the Dartry Mountains.  It rises above the road heading North out of Sligo town and is a prominent point of reference from anywhere in the area. Below this, is buried Sligo’s most famous native son, William B. Yeats in graveyard at Drumcliff Church.

Ben Bulben, Co. Sligo
Ben Bulben, Co. Sligo

I was invited to Sligo on a bloggers press tour in the lead up to the Só Sligo Food and Cultural Festival which was sponsored by Connacht Gold and other local businesses. I arrived late on the first day and drove directly to the Markree Castle where I was lucky enough to be staying for two nights. (the castle has since been put up for sale since I stayed there and can be purchases for a mere 3.1 million euro which is a steal) I’m just so thankful that I had the opportunity to stay there when I did.

Markree Castle, Co. Sligo
Markree Castle, Co. Sligo

For dinner our first evening we went to Broc House for a Yeats Evening with a delicious four course meal and our host Damien Brennan brought Yeats to life for us as he read between courses. For lovers of Yeats, this is a most unusual experience, and with the 150th Birthday celebrations of Yeats being held this year I expect it will be very popular to attend. Book your own evening on their website http://www.yeatssligoireland.com. We had wine out on the patio over looking Lough Gill and a herd of Charolais cows grazing in the field below us. Then we were ushered inside for a delightful evening of local food, poetry and conversation.

The view of Lough Gill from Broc House, Co. Sligo
The view of Lough Gill from Broc House, Co. Sligo

The following day, our group of fellow bloggers and journalists went to Streedagh Beach where we learned about seaweed from the expert , Prannie Rhatigan, who has not only published a book on the subject, Irish Seaweed Kitchen,  but recently also launched a handy guide to edible seaweeds. We sipped seaweed smoothies and tried other seaweed based goodies on a glorious sunny day and then walked along the shore tasting different varieties. Visit her website www.irishseaweedkitchen.ie for more.

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Our Group on Streedagh Beach (I’m front row far left)
Streedagh Beach with Ben Bulben in the background
Streedagh Beach with Ben Bulben in the background
Seaweed Smoothies
Seaweed Smoothies

Lunch was in nearby Mullaghmore in Eithna’s By the Sea, which had just been voted by Georgina Campbell as the Best Seafood Restaurant in Ireland 2014. We indulged in the Tasting Platter with an amazing selection of mussels, prawns, salmon, mackerel and brownies made with Nori seaweed. The setting was idyllic and Mullaghmore harbour great for photos and a spectacular view of Ben Bulben. www.bythesea.ie

The Tasting Platter
The Tasting Platter
Detail on flowers on our table
Detail of  flowers on our table
Mullaghmore Harbour with Ben Bulben in the background
Mullaghmore Harbour with Ben Bulben in the background
Display in the entry
Display in the entry
Detail inside the restaurant
Detail inside the restaurant

Afterwards we met, Auriel Robinson, owner of Sea Trails, who is an old soul in a young body, filled with incredible knowledge of the area and especially of the fascinating history of the Spanish Armada in the waters and along the coastline of Sligo and other parts of Ireland. http://www.seatrails.ie/.  She gave us insight into the fascinating history of the Spanish Armada and then we hopped on horseback for a beach ride with Island View Stables. I’ve always wanted to go for a canter on the beach and finally my wish came true. My horse was called Poitin and had a bit of a firey reputation but thankfully we worked well together – I was just warned not to let him stop in the water as he had the tendency to lie down.

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The stretch we cantered along
Ready to roll
Ready to roll
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Riding along the shoreline
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View from Poitin’s back

I was thankful to find that I hadn’t lost my skill and wasn’t too sore after being back in the saddle again after so many years.

The whole experience ended far too quickly and I’m definitely planning to go back to not only go on a proper Sea Trails day out but also would like to do a five hour ride which includes lunch and swimming out to a nearby island.

Stay tuned for another post on Sligo …….there was lots more that we did!

Re-invention in a New Country

Re-invention in a New Country

by Lisa McGee

This is me sitting in my room in our house in Digby circa 1974/1975
This is me sitting in my room in our house in Digby circa 1974/1975

Picking up and moving from one country to another is not for the weak hearted but it is something I grew up with my whole life.  I was born in Morristown, New Jersey and at eighteen months old my parents moved to London. We lived in Battersea before it became hip and that’s where my brother was born. In less than two years, we moved again further north to Lincolnshire where we lived in a tiny town called Digby and I went to Catholic School in Lincoln.  I remember an idyllic life there with a big orchard behind our house and rabbits out back and two black Labradors, Maddie and Bo. Because we lived next to a farm we played in their hay barn and once in a while a pig would get loose and roam around our garden

Again, a few short years later my parents decided to move back to America and we ended up on Nantucket Island which in 1976 was full of hippies and was very isolated from the mainland.  We lived out of town on the road to Surfside. My father, who is an artist along with my mother, painted a mural in the Boarding House Restaurant in town. It depicted of bunches of asparagus on a beach – sadly the mural has since been covered up but my brother and I used to play in the garden of the Atheneum across the street while he was painting. My mother did some needlepoint designs for Erica Wilson during this time and we especially enjoyed our summers on the beach. The first or second winter we were there the ocean literally froze all the way to the mainland – 13 miles away and there is a photograph of my father and brother walking on the frozen waves. I think that winter did it for my mother – and yet again, we were gone – now to live for six months in a rental house in Lyme, Connecticut. My father had gotten a job working in New York so he commuted in and out of the city. We lived in a little cul de sac and our back garden looked out onto a tidal river and we had a row boat that we could row out to an island (accompanied by our father).  After six months, we moved into New York and lived in an apartment building on East 96th Street (49 East 96th). We were one block from Central Park and one of our black Labradors from England, Maddie was still with us and her daughter Honey (born on Nantucket). The six of us lived in a pretty small apartment on the 14th floor. I remember the kitchen having this faux brick “wallpaper” on the walls and my brother and I had army bunk beds in our rooms.  My father worked for a gallery on 57th Street and did a series of commissions for Sports Illustrated magazine.

Myself with Honey (left) and her mother Maddie in Central Park.
Myself with Honey (left) and her mother Maddie in Central Park.

But then, he “lost his marbles”  as Sports Illustrated was quoted saying and one weekend when we were out in Connecticut for a drive,  he found a 1780 Federal Style house for sale in the North-East corner of Connecticut – put a 25 dollar deposit down and yes, we were off again. This was 1980 and by some miracle my parents are still living in that house today. I loved living there as we had plenty of land and a barn which soon after moving there was filled up with a variety of animals including sheep, goats, chickens, pigs and a pony.  I lived there until I went off to college but I go back every year to visit and my daughter goes and stays with my parents there during the summer.

So you see, I’m no stranger to moving or re-locating or starting from scratch.  That being said, I suppose that is why living in Nenagh provides me with a community and a stability I had never really experienced.  I lived in New York for 15 years – in three different apartments in Manhattan and one in Queens and while you live in neighbourhoods your friends don’t necessarily live there too. You tend to meet people through work instead of your neighbourhood and so you meet in each other’s locals when you get together or explore new ones. Living in Nenagh, although it took some time to adjust, has been a positive move for me.

Life in Nenagh “Strangers Paradise”

Life in Nenagh

by Lisa McGee

The Nenagh Courthouse
The Nenagh Courthouse

As I mentioned in a previous blog post, I moved to Ireland in 2007. You are probably wondering where exactly do I live? I live in a good sized town in County Tipperary called Nenagh. Nenagh has approximately 10,000 residents and it is located about half an hour from Limerick and about 1 and a half hours from Dublin and Galway. It is just under three hours to Dingle, Co. Kerry and about three hours to Belfast. It is conveniently located right in the middle of the country making it an ideal base for travelling all over the island.

How did I end up here? Ah the age old story….. I married a man from Nenagh and while we are no longer together – Nenagh is now my home. My first visit to Nenagh was in 1998 when Mr. M was still my boyfriend. I actually took the train down from Dublin – the cars were not the updated versions they have today and it was crowded, smoky and felt like a very “old world” experience arriving to this quiet town and desolate train station. In no time, however,  I was meeting his friends and family and I feel instantly in love with the countryside and Irish pubs. No sooner had I stepped foot into town, I was taking photographs of the moss on the stones walls – old habits die hard.

On that first trip we visited the Rock of Cashel and drove up the Silvermine Mountains and out to Dromineer on the shores of Lough Derg and I seem to recall there was even a bit of snow.

Mr. M’s uncle told me soon after moving to Nenagh that it was known as “Stranger’s Paradise” – he has since passed on but those words still ring in my ears and as I spend more and more time here his words are re-affirmed often. It is hard to explain what it is like moving from a city like New York to Nenagh. Because I was married to a local man, everyone knew who I was practically before I moved here. It has taken me years to put the pieces of the puzzle together as to who is related to who, who doesn’t speak to that person, why there is a family feud going on and so many other intricate innuendo’s that only a true local would know. I’m still learning things on a daily basis.

I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t an adjustment moving from a big city like New York to a town like Nenagh and in the early days many people I met marvelled at why I’d give up the bright lights of New York for the likes of Nenagh. While I say it was an adjustment, personally I did not find it a difficult one. I was tired of the stress and the constant noise and busyness of the city. It was particularly hard raising a child in New York – one could never relax even in the playground as you felt you had to have eyes in the back of your head constantly. Our daughter was just shy of seven when we moved to Nenagh – it was the perfect time to move and gave her freedom she’d never experience living in a city.

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St. Mary’s of the Rosary – the Catholic church in Nenagh

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Dromineer Castle on the shores of Lough Derg.
There is something to be said for the anonymity of living in a city but now that I’ve lived here almost 8 years – I have to say there is also something great about small town life. Yes, everyone knows your business if you choose to discuss it openly and without discretion. However, you learn how to “edit” your life a bit and learn what to keep to yourself and what to talk about and in time I have found there is a great comfort in living in place where most people know who you are. It also gives me great comfort – especially now as a single mother- that people know my daughter too (who is now 14). I know if she gets up to no good that there is a 99.9% chance I will hear about it and I’ve told her there are eyes and ears everywhere.

The Silvermines Pub on Silver Street in Nenagh
The Silvermines Pub on Silver Street in Nenagh
The Garda Station in Nenagh
The Garda Station in Nenagh

Nenagh has been very good to me over the years – it didn’t take me very long to feel at home here and I’d be hard pressed to leave in the future.

Moments of Life In Ireland – An Introduction

Moments of Life in Ireland – An Introduction

by Lisa McGee

August 2013 - Fungie the dolphin in Dingle Harbour - County Kerry
August 2013 – Fungie the dolphin in Dingle Harbour – County Kerry

In July I will have been living in Ireland for 8 years.

The move to Ireland has changed my life significantly on many levels but one of the most important things is that has re-awakened my passion for photography.

My love of photography began when I was back in High School in America. I loved black & white photography and learned how to produce my own negatives and prints in the school darkroom. To apply for college I included a portfolio of the photography work I had done and when I went to college in Ohio, one year I was even the Photo Editor of the college newspaper. Then it seemed that I stopped doing as much as life got busier but when I moved to Ireland – I found the countryside and colours and light so inspiring that it brought photography back into my life.

Last summer, on a whim I started a Facebook page called Moments of Life in Ireland because I have so many images from all my travels that I thought I should do something productive with them. It has gained a great organic following. So now,  I thought I’d create a simple visual blog to compliment it and use it as a platform to embellish a bit more about me, the photographs and my travels. The photographs are only taken by me and 90% of them are shot on my iPhone primarily because it is with me at all times and the quality is hard to beat. I also often have tweeted out the images or put them on Instagram before they get to my Facebook page so often they are in a square format which I tend to prefer.

A little bit about me.

I moved to Ireland in July 2007 after living in New York for 15 years. In New York I worked in the publishing industry for Hearst Magazines, Hachette Filipacchi Media and others both on staff and as a freelance writer, editor and stylist.

In Ireland I had to re-invent myself a bit but I’ve always been good at that. In September 2012 I launched my own magazine, ISLE magazine, an on-line only magazine about contemporary Ireland (thus the travelling all over this country!) I’m also what one might call a “social ghost” working for several international Irish companies running their social media, sales, marketing and much more. I have the best of both worlds – I work for myself and also work for amazing companies that I’m passionate about and love promoting.

Local eggs in a basket outside Country Choice store on Kenyon Street in Nenagh, County Tipperary
Local eggs in a basket outside Country Choice store on Kenyon Street in Nenagh, County Tipperary.

While I blog for ISLE magazine and also write much of that magazine – this is a more personal blog and is where I’ll go into more depth about some of the places I visit and try to help people understand what it is like living in Ireland today not only as a Ex-Pat but also as a “local”.

I hope you enjoy !

"Snapshots" of Life in Ireland