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Outdoor Adventures Along The Miners Way and Historical Trail

October 15, 2017

The Journey to The Miners Way and Historical Trail

Until recently, I’ve always been in a hurry to get somewhere. The Final Destination was the name of the game and if there was a motorway option for a speedier car journey, all the better: no public transport in this part of rural Ireland..

Thankfully, all that changed when I shared a lift in my best friends camper van across Suffolk in the UK a couple of years ago. We stopped on the side of a picturesque Tudor village green for a brew, perched on the van step and tucked into cheese, salad and crisp rolls made in the tiny kitchen. We soaked up the sunshine and felt the warm breeze tickle our skin before we clambered back into the VW and headed off for the last leg of the journey. The scenic route that took us along ‘B’ roads and past old beamed houses was factored into the preparations as we headed further east. From that moment, I realised how much I’d missed out on the pleasures of the journey by my fast-paced desires and have endeavored to slow down ever since.

I mention that memory now as it came back to me when I was relying on google maps to get me to the magnificent Kilronan Castle Estate & Spa, my luxurious destination for a two night excursion in County Roscommon.

I was under time pressure as I drove through Counties Longford and Leitrim, but I began to notice blobs of blue slowly moving past on the small-screened map, indicating nearby rivers and loughs. I couldn’t see them; ahead and to either side of me the road stretched on indefinitely, flanked by national road hedgerows. However, my little moving map was enticing and I longed to glimpse over the tree tops.

The Miners Way and Historical Trail

The Gaelic Chieftain on the N4 road in remembrance of the Battle of the Curlews

Thankfully I didn’t have to wait long. The two day excursion *expertly organised by Úna Bhán Tourism Cooperative was about to take me on a fascinating tour of this historically colourful county where megalithic tombs and cemeteries nestle close to discarded mines and deep loughs.

I was about to experience County Roscommon for the first time, as well as meet, sing and laugh with some new adventurers. It’s tales of those trails that I’m about to share with you now.

The Miners Way and Historical Trail

Outdoor Adventures Along The Miners Way and Historical Trail

Members of Una Bhan Tourism, our tour guide from philipwalking.com, and fellow adventurers Photo Credit: Hubert Flanagan

The focus of our trip was on the recently developed Miners Way and Historical Trail and my fellow explorers included Mayo based Rachel from Rachel’s Irish Adventures, B2 and her sister Ali from Two Blondes Walking in the UK, and Wexford based Graham and James from The Irish Experience.

We spent two days with our knowledgeable guide, Philip James, exploring different elements of the way-marked routes that take walkers through Counties Roscommon, Sligo and Leitrim. I hadn’t truly understood the benefit of hiking with an experienced guide until this trip. Though Mr G and myself are confident compass and map readers, Philip brought the landscape to life in a way the contour lines couldn’t as he eloquently shared tales of miners, chieftains and gods among the heather tracks and limestone tombs.

Outdoor Adventures on The Miners Way and The Historical TrailThe circular Miners Way and the Historical Trail combined take in over 118 km of tracks, ascending to 1300 metres in places, offering a range of walks and hikes to suit all levels.

The trail is suitable for a week’s walking but it has been broken down into a series of 12 sections, allowing visitors to pick the walks they want. For each trail, there is an accompanying 1:50,000 scale map available (where 2 centimeters equals 1 kilometer) all available to download, print and laminate from the website. A small booklet version is available in local tourist shops and is accompanied with general descriptions of nearby attractions. Philip helped update the guide and has walked all the paths, ensuring they are accessible and marked.

Accommodation is available along the Trail to cater for all budgets, including bed and breakfast, four star hotels like Kilronan Castle, beautifully crafted self-catering eco log cabins at Riverhaven pictured below, as well as campsites such as the one at Lough Key Forest & Activity Park.

The walking trails along the Miners Way were once used by generations of local teenagers and men as they made their way to work in the Arigna mines. The colliery opened in 1765 and employed several generations of families right through until 1990 when it finally closed its gates. These days there’s a visitor centre offering a different kind of employment for ex-miners, but more about that below.

I’m glad I’d packed my walking boots and waterproofs. We experienced Ireland’s four seasons in a day phenomena, but being prepared I remained dry during the short showers of rain. The following brief slide show contains some images I snapped along The Miners Way and Historical Trail during our autumn trip to give you a taster of its delights.

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The Miners Way links up with the Historical Trail, a track that features many ancient sites, including Carrowkeel megalithic tombs and Labby Rock, taking travellers across the Curlew, Bricklieve and Arigna Mountains. Carrowkeel is very accessible with sturdy boots, and is the first passage tomb I’ve visited – what an introduction! It’s one of a complex of 14 passage tombs that are spread across the Bricklieve Mountains and is older than Newgrange in County Meath and Stonehenge in the UK.

There were magnificent views from the top of Carrowkeel and just down the hill from the cairn it’s possible to see the site of the earliest known neolithic village in Ireland on a limestone plateau in Mullaghfarna. Over 160 circular stone foundations have been identified on the plateau and it’s of huge prehistoric significance and completely unspoilt.

More information can be found about the Trail on the Walking Wild Ireland website or take a look at this short clip below that explains how it came to be.

Along the Miners Way and Historical Trail

Arigna Mining Experience

The Miners Way and Historical Trail, Co RoscommonThere are many sites and local attractions to see along the Miners Way, not least the Arigna Mining Experience itself. The visitor centre opened in 2003 and charts the history of the mining community as well as the mines themselves. There’s a small exhibition, interviews recorded with various mine owners, miners and their wives. There’s also a café that looks out towards the Kilronan Mountain and information points.

The highlight of the Arigna Mines Experience is a tour of a mine that lasts around 45 minutes. Visitors are invited to put on a hairnet and hard hat before being led into the softly lit tunnels by an ex-miner.

The Miners Way and Historical TrailDuring our tour we were accompanied by Ger, a cheerful man who worked in the mine from the age of 14. He explained how the coal was excavated, mostly by hand, and showed us the tight passages he worked in. He shared his memories of the hard-working day and night shifts, the pay rates and the way the older miners looked out for the younger ones. This is all quite astounding given the men were working in that same environment up until relatively recently.

“What’s history, he said
I’ll tell you what it is
History is the other man’s story
The man who owned the pit
Not the story of the likes of us
Who worked in it.”

by Vincent Woods

I couldn’t imagine being the wife of a miner before the days of running hot water, having to scrub the clothes in tubs heated by water on an open fire, with water fetched from a nearby spring, no doubt with several young children running around. I’m tempted to send my teenagers to the mine for a visit next time they complain about having to do the washing up…

The visitor centre is open for most of the year with tours that are run on demand. More details including entry fees etc., can be found on the Arigna Mining website, but keep an eye out for special offer vouchers in tourist spots around the county.

Gunpowder Gin

Miners Way and Historical Trail, Co Roscommon

Along the trail and just over the border in County Leitrim, we were introduced to the Gunpowder Gin Distillery. Serial entrepreneur PJ Rigney opened The Shed Distillery with its copper pot stills in Drumshanbo in December 2014. He chose the area as his parents both worked there when they first met and his staff now include several local people who make, decant and label every distinctive Gunpowder Gin bottle by hand. The distillery aims to be as eco-friendly as possible, drawing water from their own well, returning spent waste to farmers and re-distilling any batches of gin that aren’t up to standard.

Miners Way and Historical Trail, Co Roscommon

Initially to still whiskey, the Shed soon began producing gin as it can be bottled within 21 days and not the years it takes for whiskey to develop. There are plans to develop a potato vodka as well as other products in the pipeline.

Miners Way and Historical Trail, Co RoscommonGunpowder Gin contains 12 natural botanicals including Juniper Berries, Angelica Root, Orris Root, Caraway Seed, Coriander Seed, Meadow Sweet, Cardamom, Star Anise as well as vapour-infused botanicals Chinese Lemon, Oriental Grapefruit, Kaffir Lime and Gunpowder Tea.

We tasted a small sample neat and were able to pick up several of the different scents before the spirit reached our throats. Apparently, if we enjoy our gin with tonic water, the ratio should be two parts good quality tonic water to one part gin.

Unfortunately inquisitive gin drinkers will have to wait a while before viewing the distillery; a new visitor centre is under development nearby but won’t be open until the end of 2018.

King House Tea Rooms, King House and Úna Bhán Tourism Centre

The Miners Way and Historical Trail, County Roscommon

King House Tea Rooms and Una Bhan Tourism Centre, Boyle, Co Roscommon

Our lunchtime in County Roscommon was spent in Boyle where we visited the welcoming King House Tea Rooms for a well needed lunch after our wet and windy Carrowkeel passage tomb walk. The place was spotless and bright, the food wholesome and the service cheerful.

The Miners Way and Historical TrailNext door to the tea rooms, we found where our hosts were located in the Úna Bhán Tourism Centre. Funded by Pobal under the Community Services Programme, the friendly little community tourism centre was founded in 1990 and now employs several local people. It’s full of regional crafts and supports a number of local authors, musicians and artists. The centre is well worth a visit for information, help and advice, particularly on market days, held on Saturdays from 10am until 2pm where fresh organic produce is sold under blue and white stripey canopies, alongside cakes and bakes, artisan food and crafts. If you’re a fan of Chris O’Dowd’s Moon Boy, you can pick up a wooly hat in the centre knitted by a local woman.

After Lunch we were taken on a short tour of King House, situated opposite the little tea rooms. This is definitely a place to take your time, perhaps on a wet day as the magnificently restored Georgian mansion was surprisingly warm and comfortable. Originally built in 1730 as the seat of the King family, a landowning dynasty, the house later became a military barracks and recruiting depot for the Connaught Rangers. At the end of the Civil war in 1923 it was taken over by the Irish Free State Army and following years as a merchant’s store, it was restored to its former style in the late 1980s by Roscommon County Council. King House is now a museum, event venue, the location of a contemporary art collection and is home to among others, the Mary Mcaleese Collection.

Boyle Abbey

Next to King House in Boyle town is the well-preserved Boyle Abbey a Cistercian Monastery that was founded in the 12th century under the patronage of the MacDermotts. Here, Philip told us about the vegetarian monks who attended Mass seven times a day and lived simply, sleeping in their habits in basic quarters. There’s usually a small admission fee and daily guided tours (see the website for details), but as it’s OPW owned , there’s free admission to all their sites on the first Wednesday of every month which is worth bearing in mind.

Lough Key Forest and Activity Park

After Boyle we headed out to Lough Key Forest and Activity Park for our final short trek. It’s difficult to know where to begin when talking about this historical park and activity centre, there’s so much to do there.

The Miners Way and Historical Trail

The Moylurg Viewing Tower

The park is a joint venture between Coillte and Roscommon County Council who established a private company that now operates the park. Originally, the land was the official residence of the McDermott clan who ruled the area for hundreds of years. In the 17th century the land was granted to the King family under the Cromwellian settlement (seriously, is it any wonder the Brits were so disliked) and a mansion was built there in the 1800’s. Unfortunately for the Kings, the house burnt down in the 1950’s due to an electrical fault and the ruins were finally cleared away and replaced by the Moylurg viewing tower, built in the ‘Brutilisation’ style in the 1970’s.

These days, the 350 hectare park with majestic Redwood trees, follies, bridges, native woodlands, bog garden, conifer forest and canals is for the people, offering several moderate to easy trails, including one that forms part of the Miners Way and Historical Trail. As well as the walking trails there’s Zipit Forest Adventure, a tree top canopy walk, a crystal maze type Boda Borg challenge, tours of the worker tunnels and historical tour, orienteering, Segway and bike hire, a marina, caravan park, café, visitor centre and more.

Thankfully in October it was a quiet and peaceful place to be, but I found myself wishing for a short while that my kids were younger and we could stay in the campsite and give them the opportunity to try all the activities on offer in the park, I’m sure they’d have had a ball.

For more detailed information about the park, the various admission fees to some of the attractions, as well as seasonal events and opening times, take a look at the Lough Key Forest and Activity Park website.

Moorings Restaurant

Miners Way and Historical Trail, Co RoscommonOur last stop during our stay in County Roscommon was at the Moorings Bar at Knockvicar. It’s open daily from 5.00pm until 9pm and offers a warm welcome by Patrick and Conor with delicious food served in a restaurant that overlooks Lough Key. There was a great choice of food on the menu that looked inviting for meat eaters and vegetarians alike and the fires were blazing, very welcome at the end of a day of walking trails and museum tours.

To give you an idea of the varied menu, I chose the Potted Garlic Mushrooms in Creme Fraîche with Garlic Bread followed by the Pan Fried Sea Bass, Confit Baby Potatoes, Sautéd Greens and Citrus Beurre Blanc with Warm Amoretti and Rhubarb Cake with Warm Custard and Ice Cream to follow (but don’t tell my fitness trainers!). The Guinness was tasty and the regional songs that were sung by my companions on the minibus back to the hotel, a delightful end to the trip.

Check Out

Check out at Kilronan Castle was at noon so I took the opportunity on my last morning to visit the calming Thermal Suite and Spa before the journey home, taking the opportunity to rest my aching limbs in the bubbling hydrotherapy pool and under the rainforest showers, feeling the slight stiffness from the walks ease away from my muscles.

Returning

The Miners Way and Historical TrailA symptom of modern life, it struck me while I was relaxing, how many of us drive across Ireland on the ‘way to somewhere’, missing out on some spectacular scenery and poetic tales in our hurry to reach our final destinations. There are several beautiful counties to see in the middle of this small green isle, including my own in County Carlow or others like Tipperary and Offaly in the Midlands, and yet they are so often overlooked.

I’m very much looking forward to returning to County Roscommon with Ian in our camper van and making it our destination for a few days. I know he’d enjoy the historic sites and trails as much as I did and I hope, if you choose to visit, you do to. Stopping by the small towns and villages throughout this island of many colours helps to support and create a sustainable future for the communities living and working in them, and at the same time offers visitors the opportunity to learn more about the lives of others, both past and present.

Do you take your time on journeys or are you prone to rush from place to place. Can you recommend any more places to visit in County Roscommon when we return?

Outdoor Adventures on The Miners Way and The Historical Trail, County Roscommon, Ireland

*  This initiative was made possible by the Department of Rural and Community Development under the Funding Scheme for Outdoor Recreational Infrastructure 2017. While all activities, food and accommodation were included with the trip, I was not financially compensated nor asked to write about anything in particular. All observations and opinions are completely based on my own experience.

I’d like to thank Eilish and Patricia from Úna Bhán Tourism Cooperative for organising the trip and introducing me to a part of Ireland I hadn’t yet discovered. Thanks also to my fellow adventurers for your entertaining company. Looking forward to meeting again sometime.

Travel

Magical Mid Ireland ~ 9 Places To Visit in Offaly & Tipperary

April 9, 2015

When Margaret from Oldfarm invited me to join a group of bloggers on a whirlwind tour of her homeland in Offaly, describing it as the “Magical Midlands”, the description seemed so fitting…

Irish Castles & Gardens

With its romantic gardens and salvaged follies, its fast flowing river and voluptuous loughs, it’s mountains and bogs and battle-scarred castles that conjure up images of struggle and gore, the Midlands are far from a place to pass on by. If you decide to stay on the motorway, in a hurry to get to Ireland’s popular coastline, you’ll miss out on some of the bewitching medieval history, varied landscape and ancient mythology that the magical Midlands has to offer.

Often overlooked as a place to explore, having recently spent a weekend in Cloughjordan in Tipperary and now another in and around Birr in County Offaly, I hope the following eight ideas for things to do away from Ireland’s coastline will entice you to spend a bit more time in mid Ireland. The passion and excitement for these places from the people who work at or own them was palpable and their willingness to share their stories and improve their community, cheering.

Gardens and Castles in the Midlands of IrelandNo 1. Bellefield House and Gardens

Last time I visited Bellefield House was for one of Angela Jupe’s annual rare plant sales and to give my first talk on growing vegetables. Since then, as a now retired but inspired landscape designer and architect, Angela has made several changes. Not only is her walled garden full of rare and unusual bulbs, she’s transformed the old coach houses, making them available for holiday rentals, introduced a new water feature and is still making improvements and additions to her Georgian home and rediscovered gardens.

Gardens and Castles in the Midlands of IrelandIf you are looking for some garden inspiration of your own, it’s no coincidence that Bellefield is top of this list. Angela is a skilled plantswoman who has a keen eye for antiques and bargains which you’ll find carefully placed throughout her home and garden. See angelajupe.ie for more information or take a look at Catherine’s post over at Foxglove Lane for some beautiful images of the gardens and house.

No 2. Fancroft Mill and Gardens

Gardens and Castles in the Midlands of IrelandIan and I took on a rural farmhouse renovation 15 years ago that pales into insignificance compared to the water-mill restoration at Fancroft. Owners Marcus and Irene Sweeney knew that if they didn’t step in to rescue the crumbling building, it would be lost to future generations forever. Although from a milling background, Marcus had no previous knowledge of the workings of the old mills but began to research and rebuild the old water-mill piece by piece.

Gardens and Castles in the Midlands of IrelandNow in full working order, the giant wheel isn’t turning for commercial reasons, but it does power the superbly crafted milling equipment and supplies the buildings with power, making this an achievement to be proud of.

By coincidence the Sweeney’s bought their house from earlier occupier, Angela Jupe and in doing so inherited her carefully landscaped gardens. With box hedging pathways, a fruit orchard, cold frames to die for and a summer-house that sits at the end of a diverted stream, this is another garden to add to the Magical Midlands treasure tour. Offering guided tours as well as tea, you can find more about Fancroft Mill here.

No. 3 Birr Castle and Demesne

If you’re a fan of Downtown Abbey, a trip to Birr Castle with its tales of Earls and Countesses and a guided tour through four of its magnificent rooms that contain secret doors and passageways, will leave you enthralled. Apart from a vast collection of rare trees and shrubs, the castle grounds are also home to a science centre containing a historical collection of astronomical instruments and photography equipment, as well as what was once the largest telescope in the world.

The 50 hectare gardens are extensive but Birr Castle and Demesne isn’t just for the adults. The play area houses one of the largest ground level trampolines I’ve ever seen and even the mouths of my teens dropped when I showed them the photos of the fairytale tree house. With a tea room and gift shop it would be easy to spend several hours in this family estate. We weren’t allowed to take photos inside the castle which perhaps made our invitation to look around even more of a privilege, particularly as the current occupants are still in residence. Details of opening hours and fees can be found here.

No 4. Leap Castle

Gardens and Castles in the Midlands of IrelandWhat Birr Castle has in grandeur, Leap Castle has in ruins and mystery. Dating back to 1250 AD and taken on as an ambitious renovation project by proprietor Sean Ryan, it’s now known as the most haunted castle in Ireland. Having climbed the uneven steps to the empty bloody chapel up in the rooftop, where we were told tales of feuding and murder on the altar, it’s easy to imagine.

The O’Connors were a fierce, hunting clan who didn’t suffer fools gladly, throwing them into a pit full of spikes if they were displeased, leading to a gory end. Our guide warned us to keep an eye out for orbs and putrid smells, perhaps emanating from the souls of the 40 or so neighbouring clan members that were poisoned in the castle many years ago, killed to avoid paying them for their services. I’m glad to say we didn’t see, hear or smell anything untoward, though perhaps Game of Thrones isn’t such the fantasy tale I thought it was!

It was with a slight sense of relief that we returned to the main hall, even dimly lit by its warming fire among long tables, candelabra, statues and memorabilia, before we headed out once more to the warm sunshine and sounds of birdsong. If you’d like to visit Leap Castle and be enthralled by Sean’s tales, telephone + 353 86 8690547 to arrange a mutually convenient time.

No. 5 Memory Lane Antiques

Gardens and Castles in the Midlands of IrelandIf your curiosity is peaked by the salvaged antiques in the previous three houses, you have an opportunity to buy your own at Memory Lane Antiques. One of the easier ways to start to be ‘green’ is to reuse and up cycle and it’s difficult to choose just one favourite item from the thousands of previously owned goods in Purcell Antiques and Memory Lane.

Gardens and Castles in the Midlands of IrelandFrom clothing to collectables, furniture to jewellery and bone china, it’s easy to while away a couple of hours in this charming little shop and the perfect place to visit on a rainy day. If you’re tempted to take a look inside, keep an eye out for the cream teas that may well be introduced in the future by Conor and Breda and put your name on their mailing list for the regular auctions that can be viewed online as and when they occur.

No. 6 Lough Boora Discovery Park

Lough Boora is a cutaway area in the midst of Bord na Mona’s operations in the midlands. After some intensive production years, it has now been allowed to rest, giving an opportunity for nature to recolonise and us to explore with over 50 kilometres of trails created in this natural environment. The area was once cherished by Mesolithic tribes, but more recently harvested for peat on an industrial scale, supplying over 1 million tonnes a year to Irish homes and business’.

In this new stage of it’s life, Lough Boora is being promoted as an ecotourism destination that has become a haven for plants, birds and animals.

Gardens and Castles in the Midlands of IrelandWith tea rooms on site and several trails meandering through the parkland, visitors can explore the sculpture, Mesolithic, farmland or lake trails on foot, or on bicycles that are available to hire for a small fee. You can find more about Lough Boora and all it has to offer here or take a look at Purity Bell Candles post where Cliona shares images of some of the sculptures she found on the trail.

No 7 – The River Shannon

Gardens and Castles in the Midlands of IrelandChugging along a river in a cruiser can’t really be considered ‘green’ in any sense of the word that I can think of given the diesel it uses, it is however a wonderful way to unwind and slow down in this mad world we now inhabit. When we can find opportunities to spend a few hours of peace by the river, watching nature at her, it’s tremendously good for our mental health. Perhaps it’s just me but being from an island race, water seems to talk to my soul and there’s something relaxing yet invigorating about spending time on it.

The River Shannon is the longest river in Ireland that splits the west from the south and the east, travelling through ten counties. If you’re interested in spending three nights or more cruising along The Shannon, experiencing a quiet break away from the hustle and bustle, Barbara and Robert at Silverline Cruisers are the people to talk to. They have a fleet of very smart cruisers that, after some basic tuition, will give you the opportunity to cruise away on your own and experience a relaxing holiday with a difference.

No. 8 – Brookfield Farm

Gardens and Castles in the Midlands of IrelandBrookfield Farm specialises in selling artisan food direct to the customer and no better woman to run it than host of the All Ireland Permaculture Gathering in 2014, Ailbhe Gerrard, a passionate organic farmer and advocate of sustainable development.

Apart from selling their own lamb and honey and beeswax products, Brookfield Farm have come up with an innovative offering, by selling shares in beehives kept at their apiary. Customers can buy an annual share of between an 1/8th to a full bee hive, that Brookfield will manage, giving anyone the opportunity to experience the rewards of being a beekeeper without the cost or having to acquire all the knowledge it takes to own one themselves. At harvest time shareholders are invited to visit their hives and help to collect the honey as well as take home a selection of beeswax candles.

As a working farm visitors aren’t able to drop in but events are held at Brookfield throughout the year. For more information on events sign up for Brookfield Farm’s newsletter and take a look at their website where you can buy all the items mentioned online.

No. 9 – Birr Theatre

Gardens and Castles in the Midlands of IrelandAfter all the activities above you’ll need to relax and recover for a few hours and what better way than by spending a night in the theatre. The delightful Birr theatre was built in 1888 but over the years fell into disrepair until 15 years ago when it underwent a major renovation project that was sensitively carried out, ensuring that the original sprung floor could stay.

Gardens and Castles in the Midlands of IrelandThere’s a strong community feel within the theatre, both in terms of the project that allowed it to open up once more and within it’s walls, were people of all ages are encouraged to take part. Artwork from local schools adorned the entrance hall walls and children were attending a weekly animation workshop while we were visiting. With plays, musicals, comedies and film available throughout the year and very keenly priced to attract all ages in it’s 200 seat auditorium, the theatre offers a change from the more traditional nights in the pub usually associated with a night out in Ireland. For more information about Birr Theatre’s history and programme, take a look at their website here.

Places to Stay and Eat on a Weekend Break

in the Magical Midlands

As well as my recent stay in DJango’s Hostel in Cloughjordan linked at the beginning of this post and not forgetting Bellefield House holiday cottages where I’d love to bed down for a few nights, I’ve stayed in two places in and close to Birr and can highly recommend them both.

Gardens and Castles in the Midlands of IrelandTownsend House in Birr centre offers clean rooms with a bed covered in the cosiest duvet I’ve ever had the pleasure to snuggle under! Owners Martin and Lorraine, like many small business owners, multitask as doormen, bar and kitchen staff and I’m sure a multitude of other jobs. I wish I’d taken the time to look at their mature gardens but was grateful of the tiny courtyard for it’s secure parking, the free WiFi and if I had kids in tow, my two roomed family accommodation would have been perfect.

The adjoining Townsend House Tapas Bar was hot and tasty, the atmosphere congenial and the locally brewed Bo Bristle, a welcome treat after a busy day sightseeing.

Oldfarm at Redwood offer AirBnB in their farmhouse where clean linen and fresh, free range, GMO free pork and eggs can be guaranteed. Evening meals are optional but recommended as both Alfie and Margaret are great cooks and if you have an opportunity, ask for Alfie’s pork burgers which we tasted at the Townsend House, they’re delicious. You can find a variation of their recipe on Oldfarm’s website here.

We ate a picnic supplied by Le Bouchon Restaurant in Portumna which was made with salads and their own pesto and dressings, as well as a red onion and Killeen cheese topping. I confess to having seconds and hope that I have the chance to eat inside their restaurant one day and sample more of their menu.

It was with thanks to the invitation from Mid Ireland Tourism that I was able to visit and experience so many places during the course of this short trip, enabling me to share more Irish treasures with you, and thanks to Margaret for organising it so well. If you’d like to read some different accounts of the places I’ve mentioned or food tasters I may have missed, or perhaps look at the beautiful images taken by gifted photographic bloggers who accompanied us such as Miss Foodwise,  you can find links on A Year in Redwood #magicalmidlands blog post here.

If you’re feeling inspired to visit or can recommend any other places in the Magical Midlands, I’d love to hear about them.

Travel

Outdoor Adventures & Indoor Fun in Tipperary

February 4, 2015

Outdoor Adventures in Cloughjordan, Tipperary

An Overnight Stay in Cloughjordan, County Tipperary

I recently had the pleasure of experiencing some outdoor adventures in Cloughjordan village and have returned home feeling like I was away for much longer than the 24 hours I was gone. Strange that such a short break away can leave us feeling revitalised with new perspectives on life.

It was also another reminder of how much the midlands and inner counties of Ireland have to offer and shouldn’t be overlooked if we’re touring the country, looking to get away to learn new skills, or experience some outdoor fun in a different environment.

Outdoor Adventures & Indoor Fun - The Makery, High Street, CloughjordanIf you’d like to learn more about Ireland’s only mountain bike park with an uplift service, or about the various workshops and courses you can take giving you the opportunity to learn a new craft or life skill, where you can visit nature in the old woodland walks, ogle at the beauty of the local ceramics, or just pick up some recommendations for places to eat and stay in Cloughjordan, read on…

Cloughjordan Village

Ireland’s only eco village was built on a site just off the High Street of the much older Cloughjordan village, birthplace of Thomas MacDonagh, one of the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising. I’ve been there on several occasions for various symposium and have always been impressed by the eco village’s ethos, but it never occurred to me to stay for longer and explore what else was on offer in the surrounding area, something I can now see was an oversight. Accommodation is available to cater for various budgets from €20 upwards and once settled, there are lots of activites to keep singles, couples or families occupied.

Tipperary

Where is Cloughjordan?

If you’re not familiar with it, Cloughjordan is in the north of Tipperary, the largest inland county in Ireland and bordered by another eight counties. It’s on the Dublin / Limerick train line or 20 minutes from the Moneygall exit of the M7 and it’s very well signposted. Nearby town’s include Birr, where the largest telescope in the world was built in the mid 1800’s, the heritage town of Roscrea that sits in the valley between the Slieve Bloom and Devil’s Bit mountains, and Nenagh which has the Silvermines mountains on one side and Lough Derg on the other.

For anyone looking for some outdoor adventures, there’s a tremendous amount on offer in the midlands of Ireland.

Where to Sleep in Cloughjordan

I stayed at Django’s hostel, located in the eco-village and therefore sharing all the eco-values as well as the district heating, meaning I was warm and cozy in a comfortable bed despite it being -4ºC outside. Django’s is open all year round and can sleep up to 40 people within its five double rooms, 2 family rooms and 2 dorms. It’s wheelchair, child and dog friendly, clean and airy with a modern self-catering kitchen, dining area and free wi-fi. I found the common room in the hostel enchanting, where it offered a quiet and comfortable place to sit and write.

If hostel’s aren’t your thing there’s a lot more accommodation available in and around the village ranging from B&Bs to several Airbnb’s and self-catering accommodation. You can find more information here.

Outdoor Adventures in Tipperary - Django's Hostel, Cloughjordan

Where to Eat & Drink in Cloughjordan

Several of the bars offer food and there’s a tasty Pizza takeaway in the village as well as a local Centra supermarket, handy for those self-catering in the hostel. If you’re not on a strict budget, the Fairways is a short drive away for something a bit more special. As well as a B&B and arts and craft activities, The Makery has a café which regularly offers an honest menu where you pay what you can afford or what you think the food is worth.

Outdoor adventures and indoor fun at Cloughjordan, Tipperary

The Gourmet Gallery Restaurant, Cloughjordan

However, if you’re looking for value for money with really friendly and prompt service I’d highly recommend the Gourmet Gallery Restaurant in Cloughjordan High Street. There was a steady stream of diners the entire time we were there – not bad for a freezing January evening – and the food was hot and flavoursome.

The menu offered dishes that ranged from all day breakfasts, battered fish, Kiev’s and curry to lasagna, salmon and crocodile (I didn’t ask if that was on the menu purely to grab our attention, or if Chef really did have a crocodile dish up his sleeve). The restaurant offers a take-away if you bring your own plate and will cook a meal by request. We ordered half portions of lasagna that arrived with chips and side salad which was more than enough, particularly as it was followed by a ‘free dessert’ special the owners had laid on for the quiet January weekend which meant that a two course meal for two people cost just €14. Keep an eye out on their Facebook page for the offers.

We finished the evening sitting by the turf fire in Grace’s bar where I realised that for the first couple of hours the only clientele were older women, a rarity in rural Ireland. It was a warm, friendly bar where we experienced the full-bodied, locally brewed craft beer known as White Gypsy, a brew that’s sold in large bottles but drunk in small glasses and chatted with locals as they popped in for a glass or two. You can find more information about places to eat and drink in the village here.

Outdoor Adventures

Never mind venturing off to the nearby loughs and mountains, there’s lots going on in and around Cloughjordan.

Outdoor Adventures - Knockanacree WoodsWoodland Walks

Just a short walk out of the village will bring you to the Coillte owned Knockanacree, an old 100 acre woodland that has many signposted paths and trails running throughout. It’s primarily a Beech wood with Scots pine and a forest floor covered with wild honeysuckle and bluebells in the springtime. It’s a place that you’ll find locals walking their dogs, joggers out for some brisk air and local school children visiting in groups to learn about biodiversity as well as to try to catch glimpses of the red squirrels, pine martins, sparrow hawks and badgers that live there.

Raised Bog

Into the car or onto the bike and a short 7km outside of Cloughjordan you’ll find the Scohaboy Bog, an ancient raised bog that’s built up over thousands of years and has undergone a restoration project for the past four. If you enjoy geography or science, this is a classic raised bog that supports a range of diverse habitats and is one of the more southerly bogs in Ireland. Sopwell Wood is nearby with its broadleaf and conifer woodland and various picnic sites.

Mountain Biking

As someone who’s recently discovered cycling, it’s difficult not to feel excited about the Bike Park Ireland at Fairymount Farm, a facility just 8km from Cloughjordan village. It caters for kids to adults, those with or without bikes, and is priced well to attract all (€5 each per day or family tickets available). It also boasts the only uplift service in Ireland (€35 for up to 22 lifts a day or €2.50 each one), meaning that even I can’t wait to pack my bike onto the back of the car and head up there for a day on the beginners course and some serious, cycling outdoor fun where I don’t have to gasp my way up the hills! The lure of the uplift is now outweighing my reticence of being a middle-aged overweight woman joining a predominantly male activity and has become my first goal for this year’s efforts to shed a few pounds before I pull on the lycra.

Check out Bike Park Ireland’s website for more information here as well as links to Fairymount Farm who offer accommodation, food and links to out outdoor activities such as fishing, golf and horseriding.

Outdoor Adventures, Indoor FunIndoor Adventures

The reason we are blessed with such glorious emerald-green fields here in Ireland is because of the temperate weather we experience, or in other words, it can rain a lot.

“There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing”

This is a quote you’ll hear many times and rings true for anyone who likes to get outside, but it’s nice to get away from the damp and into the warmth too. Apart from the Heritage Centre and Library in town, there are a few more interesting places you can pop into.

Ceramics

Is it just me or does anyone else get excited when they see the sign for a craft studio? I’ve always been attracted to ceramics and Thomas Wollen & Grainne Watts’ Black Studios and Gallery  in the High Street is one place you can get lost in for a long time.

Unless you’ve nerves of steel I wouldn’t recommend going in there with young children as it’s incredibly difficult not to touch everything you see – there’s so much texture, colour and form on display from the carefully crafted pieces. Thomas specialises in the Raku technique, making vessels and wall pieces, while Grainne works with porcelain and stoneware making vessels and animals – both making interesting and quirky pieces.

When I called in Thomas mentioned there was an open day the following weekend where anyone would be welcome to drop by, quietly using the space to create their own piece of art or be helped along and advised by Thomas. It’s worth checking out Thomas and Grainne’s Facebook page to see if anything is coming up, or give them a call before you visit Cloughjordan – it would be a shame to miss out on visiting this particular studio.

Outdoor Adventures, Indoor Fun

Outdoor Adventures, Indoor Fun - The MakeryThe Makery

I have several friends who, if they haven’t heard of The Makery, located a couple of doors up from the Black Studios, couldn’t help but be inspired by it. This studio/café/arts and crafts playground/B & B must be a community artists idea of paradise. It’s a place where craftspeople and artists can share their crafts, as well as offer a workspace for people to make their own, or attend any of the regular workshops. It’s equipped with hand tools and materials and training can be given on some of the more complicated equipment.

A quick look at their website tells me that coming up soon there’ll be a soap making demonstration, book binding and drawing classes, as well as kids workshops, all at very attractive prices.

Outdoor Adventures & Indoor Fun in TipperaryCourses, Life Skills and Education

If you can’t make the soap making or book binding courses in The Makery, how about learning to look after farm animals and create your own smallholding, perhaps furthering an ideal to become more self-sufficient in your food?

Lily de Sylva of Smallholding.ie runs several courses throughout the year ranging from keeping and eating pigs, poultry for eggs and meat, goats for milk and meat, to a complete introduction to smallholding or making home remedies or country wines.

Outdoor Adventures, Indoor Fun in TipperaryTake a look at Lily’s full workshop list here for more information and if there’s a group of you who can’t make the dates advertised, contact Lily directly to discuss group rates and dates to suit everyone. If she’s not at her smallholding, you might find Lily working with schools and transition year students n conjunction with Cloughjordan House, showing the link from field to fork, something that many schools could learn from. You can visit smallholding.ie on Facebook on The Irish Smallholders Association page and Twitter.

There are many more courses being held in Cloughjordan village, the cookery school or the eco village, take a look at their links to find out more.

Over to you…

My impression of Cloughjordan village was of a friendly, relaxed and accepting place and I’m already looking forward to returning, perhaps next time arranging a visit that coincides with one of the short courses or the three-day annual Gypsy Jazz Music Festival that takes place in October.

Have you stayed in Cloughjordan or visited any of the places mentioned? I hope this has inspired you to pay the folk there a visit.

Outdoor Adventures, Indoor Fun - The Black Studio Gallery Ceramics

Hogrid, the hand reared pot belly piglet and Sasha the kitten sharing some warmth at smallholding.ie

Travel

Carlow “There’s gold in them there hills…”

August 24, 2014

Carlow – An Ecotourism Destination Waiting to Happen?

It’s funny how the world works..

I recently spent a couple of hours chatting with Manchán Magan travel writer, playwright and generally all round nice guy. I didn’t put two and two together at the time, that he was the Manchám who entertains and informs us on Tuesday afternoons on the George Hook show, with tales of off the beaten track travel, history and adventure. I’m not sure how I managed that social faux par but the following day I spotted a link to an interview from Manchám that turned out to be one of the most enthralling and descriptive I’ve heard about our county yet. I’d have to disagree with him about The George Beranard Shaw as have seen some side splittingly funny shows there and some beautiful art in the Visual Centre too, but as for the rest…

Carlow. An ecotourist destination waiting to happenHe describes the beauty and history of our little county as he found it; brought to life the many villages and towns throughout it. He talks about the richness and wealth of Carlow in older days, the architecture, ancient kings and the fast flowing rivers that meander through the pretty Estate villages.

Perhaps his words struck a deeper chord because I’m working with Green and Vibrant to help Carlow tourism promote some events and in doing so have had eyes opened to Carlow’s potential as an ecotourism destination. I’ve also been walking a lot over recent months and taken up cycling, both of which helps to put a new perspective on our surrounding area as maps are taken out and routes searched for.

Carlow is full of interesting places to visit, of history, folklore, craft, art and mysticism. From Art, the Leinster King now buried in the monastery graveyard in St Mullins to the seat of the Kavanagh’s in Borris and onto the home of the Fellowship of Isis at Huntington Castle in Clonegal. The Blackstairs mountains are always within sight, varying from dark and brooding, to close up, green and inviting depending upon the weather that minute, with views from the top of Mount Leinster of five counties and Wales, breathtaking on a clear day.

Carlow as an Ecotourism Destination

Carlow is hugely underdeveloped as a tourist destination and has potential for anyone with an idea to develop.Carlow. There's Gold In Them There Hills... Mary White is leading the way in the foothills of the mountain with Blackstairs Eco Trails and Una Halpin from Wildways Adventures promises outdoor fun for all the family. Go With The Flow river adventures provide canoeing safaris whilst walking opportunities abound with several good walking routes and clubs, as well as the south Leinster way beginning in the small village of Kildavin.

Bianka McDonagh realised the potential here when she bought an eight seater mini bus and set up Carlow Tours. You might spot her driving groups around the countryside, pointing out the popular and unusual places as well as offering made to measure trips for groups, an essential service if villages are to attract tourists without their own transport.

Tea and Scones in Leighlinbridge

It was with great delight that we discovered a local country house had opened tea and craft rooms offering workshop space to craftspeople in the award-winning village of Leighlinbridge. A few sign posts pointing the way to Rathvinden House from the tow path would I’m sure, attract several more river visitors to it too.

My bikeBut there’s scope for so much more.

As far as I can tell there’s one campsite on the Carlow/Wicklow border and only a couple of hostels here. The fast flowing rivers could be much busier too. It’s a rare thing to see a boat chugging along The Barrow and once on the river, the riverside cafés and pubs are a welcome respite to tired walkers, paddlers and cyclists, but there’s not many of them.

On a recent 10km cycle along the River Barrow tow path between Carlow and Leighlinbridge on a beautifully sunny August afternoon, we came across two walkers, one fisherman and no boats on the river. That was it. Lovely if you’re looking for a quite afternoon, but it seemed such a wasted opportunity for anyone who wants to attract visitors to our county, offer employment opportunities and generally help the local economy.

‘Soft’ Adventure Opportunities in Ireland

According to Fáilte Ireland, adventure tourism is big business with 26% of all global travel adventure based and adventure travellers spending 45% more than other travellers. If you’re thinking that adventure holidays are for adrenaline junkies think again. 90% of adventure is described as “soft” and Ireland is considered a “soft” adventure destination with walking in Ireland a key attraction. With such a beautiful, quiet and unspoilt landscape, Ireland’s “soft” adventure experience is about the combination of nature, culture and outdoor activities. Adventure customers are not “young men” either,  51% are women and 42% of adventure customers are aged between 41 and 60.

O'Sheas in Borris

The popular O’Sheas in Borris, perfect stop of for refreshments

If you’d like to read more about Fáilte Ireland’s presentation on Adventure on the Agenda in Carlow, the link can be found here.

Business support

From Carlow Brewing Company

From Carlow Brewing Company

If you have an idea about how you might entertain, educate or simply look after visitors as they tour around the second smallest county in Ireland, there’s a lot of support available to help you develop your idea. Fáilte Ireland are a good starting point as they have a step by step guide on their website to help you develop your tourism idea as well as a useful Ecotourism Handbook. Your Local Enterprise Board and Leader Partnership might be worth talking to as well.

If you like the idea of developing something but you’re not sure what you could do, have a look online and see what others are doing. Original ideas are great but if something is working well elsewhere, it means people are enjoying it. I have to admit that I’ve been eyeing up empty mills on the riverbanks and seeing the potential in them.

In October the ATTA are coming to Ireland for the World Adventure Tourism Summit, providing a ‘high profile marketing opportunity to influence significant tourism decision makers from around the world’. Lets hope they like what they see.

As Manchám says at the end of his interview “this county has so much potential, we really need to support it”.

Postscript: I’d like to point out that this post was never intended to be a list of everything to do in Carlow, more to highlight its potential as an ecotourism destination. It’s down to the hard work of people like Carlow Tourism, the County Museum and others that I’ve discovered there’s so much in Carlow to enjoy.

Travel

The 4th Taste of Carlow is coming to town, here’s the lowdown.

August 17, 2014

Taste of Carlow Festival, 31st August 2014Ireland is known for its festivals and Carlow isn’t shy about holding them in its town and surrounding villages. The County is still glowing from the successful 11 day Carlow Garden Festival and with it fresh in mind, are about to have an afternoon of ‘Food, Craft & family festival fun’ with the upcoming Taste of Carlow Festival on Sunday, 31st August. This will be closely followed by several events during Heritage Week, The County Carlow Golf Classic and then the excellent sounding Carlow Autumn Walking Festival, though I might be biased about that one as a walker and not a golfer 😉

The Taste of Carlow is a food and craft fair that will be taking place from noon until 6.00pm on the River Barrow Promenade, Barrow Track and Carlow Town Park. In its 4th year, #TasteCarlow will feature local craft and food producers as well as food demonstrations by Carlow chefs, tasting menus, bungee trampoline, kite flying, face painting, water activities and musical/family entertainment.

For just six hours we’re promised lots of festival fun by the picturesque River Barrow.

Taste of Carlow Food & Craft Fair, Here's the LowdownWe’ll be able to see, smell and taste artisan food displays with cheeses, juices, jams, chutneys, crepes, beverages, home baking, fresh meat, organic fruit and vegetables, organic home-made burgers and chips, ice cream and mouth-watering chocolates. Cheese making demonstrations will be delivered by Tom Burgess of Coolattin Cheddar and the Carlow Bee Keepers Association will give an insight into the fascinating world of honey (I’m looking forward to that one!).

The 4th Taste of Carlow

Alan Foley

Alan Foley, winner of the Bridgestone 2013 Chef of the Year and Head Chef at the Step House Hotel, Fiona Dillon author of Food from an Irish garden and Dympna Maher of Healing Herbs will provide insights into the delights of good cooking and healthy foods.

Paul Stock from the newly opened SMOQUE Restaurant and Tapas will offer mouth-watering Tapas Carlow Style and Imelda Byrne from the ICA Bootcamp will also be in attendance.

Carlow enjoys an abundance of original, hand-made crafts that includes woodturning, pottery, ceramics, knitwear, art, embroidery, enamels and jewellery and a Taste of Carlow is a great opportunity to meet local artists and craftspeople. Whether you’re there to browse in a riverside atmosphere or buy a gift, the craft fair promises to be something to enjoy.

Children will be entertainment throughout the day with face painting and musical entertainment as well as bouncy castle, bungee trampoline and a craft area. While here make sure and visit Carlow Town Park, immediately adjacent, a wonderful amenity for all the family which features a safe and secure children’s playground that I spent many hours in with our own children when they were smallies.

There will also be river demonstrations by Carlow Sub Aqua and Carlow Rowing Club and Civil Defence and a foraging talk by Mary White.

So if you’re not at the Electric Picnic and are looking for an afternoon out in the south-east, Taste of Carlow promises to be a fun afternoon and with no admission fees and free parking, a good opportunity to take a picnic to the park or simply browse the many stalls there for some treats or gifts.

Maybe we’ll see you there!

Taste of Carlow Festival, 31st August 2014

Please note that this post has been written for a Green and Vibrant project that connects bloggers with destinations. See disclosure policy above.