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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.

Community Gardens

How growing your own food can save you money

November 4, 2012

Reaping the Rewards

Can growing your own food save you money?

There are nay sayers that say it costs so much to set up a vegetable garden, to buy a polytunnel, compost, pots etc., that if you’re growing your own to save money then you’re wasting your time.

Peter Donegan wrote a well researched post back in January this year where he pointed out how cheap it was to buy vegetables in supermarkets. The cost of veg that have been grown for you can be ridiculously low – why would you bother growing your own when you can pick it up for next to nothing?

Pale skinned variety of peas – pea soup anyone?

As a small time grower I can’t help but  wonder how a farmer makes any money (do they?) How much does she or he take home from a 49c pack of parsnips I wonder? When you take into account the shopkeepers cut, transport, distribution, packaging – and that’s all after the cost of the farmers employee wages, seeds, propagation – it begs the question why does anybody still farm? It’s also a reminder of why we should support local food producers when we can if we want them to stay in business – the majority of us don’t grow enough veg to see us through an entire year so need to shop for it, usually out of season.

The cost implications of growing vegetables in containers can’t be ignored either i.e., the cost of the pot, compost and plants or seeds (can be €20 or more) versus the cost of a kilo bag of vegetables grown for you. These points are valid considerations when working out whether you will save money by growing your own.

Rainbow Chard

Rainbow Chard – lovely steamed or in stir fries

So how do you save money by growing your own?

The important point that Peter made however, and my argument for the saving money case, was the fact that it depends upon how you go about growing your own as to whether it will save you money.

If you grow your own the way our parents and grandparents used to – straight into the soil, no fancy or expensive equipment – then yes it will save you money. What qualifies me to say that? Because we did it in Leighlin Parish community garden this year and it’s how I learnt to grow my own food here.

We didn’t keep a diary of costs, but other than the initial purchase of seeds and one bag of compost that wasn’t used, some bamboo sticks and netting, the overall spend at Leighlinbridge was very low. The wood and well-rotted manure were donated, the labour was free (i.e. the gardeners). We also had access to lots of free topsoil though we would have managed perfectly well without it as the soil in the garden is beautiful. The tools, netting and structures will all be used next year and there are enough seeds to last another year or two.

Gardening ‘the old way’ can be more challenging and it’s not for the faint hearted. Your outcomes are much more dependant upon the weather conditions – both in terms of growth and how much work you feel like doing.


Parsnip soup, roast parsnips, curried or even parsnip wine

At Leighlinbridge we were certainly tested in terms of the cold, wind and rain. The beauty of gardening with others in a slightly structured way is that it doesn’t matter if it rains, you’re getting wet with a bunch of other people who will find a way of making it a cheerful experience whatever! As one of the jovial gardeners pointed out “sure if you let the rain in Ireland stop you doing anything you’d be at nothing.” As it happens, this garden had one of the most bountiful harvests I’ve seen this year. A polytunnel would have been a welcome addition in that we were limited with the vegetables we could grow – no tomatoes or peppers for instance, but we managed.

How many meals could you make from this small basket of food?

Back to the point… can you save money growing your own? Yes you can. Jono from the Real Men Sow blog kept a month by month spread sheet in 2011 and showed us that he saved £470… or approx €587 at today’s rates.

Aside from the monetary savings, there are hidden savings too. Once you start harvesting the vegetables you’ve grown, you wont need to visit the shops as often and thereby wont be tempted to throw lots of unnecessary items in your trolley. Not to mention the taste, satisfaction and health benefits that I’ve mentioned in previous posts.

Forty eight euro a month may not sound much in the grand scheme of things, but  with so many families struggling, and more families resorting to ‘cornflake days’ every little bit helps. If your financial situation isn’t as bad as those families, imagine if you redirected that €48 into a piggy bank every month – it would have the Christmas booze paid for, the hair doo every couple of months, the satellite tv paid for, lunch every week with a friend or even more plants to brighten up your garden.

When times are tough, anything we can do to save some cash so that we can still afford those little luxuries has to be worth it, don’t you think?

Community Gardens

Leighlin Parish Community Garden … 3 months on

June 1, 2012
Leighlin Parish Community Garden - 1st June

1st June 2012

Leighlin Parish Community Garden- 24 Feb 2012

24 February 2012

Leighlin Parish Community Garden group started on 24th February 2012 and after just three months, with minimal funding, they have achieved so much already.

The community garden is being created in Fr Lalor’s garden and the parish donated €500 to get it started. Carlow VEC have funded most of my time and anybody gardening with us on a Friday morning is asked to chip in €2.00 towards seeds etc.

Leighlin Parish Community Garden - 16th March

16th March 2012

Shear hard work and determination has got the garden to where it is, with more barrow loads of manure and top soil being emptied into the beds made by the gardeners than I could count.  Every week and through all weathers a core of hardworking volunteers have arrived with smiles and camaraderie.

There are a mixture of age ranges  – with Nana’s bringing grandchildren and Dad’s bringing their sons.

Leighlin Parish Community Garden

Jim & Luke

We’re growing a variety of basic vegetables – from potatoes, onions, garlic, kales, cabbages to lots of varieties of roots, herbs and beans that anybody involved in the project will share amongst themselves as they are harvested.

Several members of the group have never seen vegetables grow, only picking them up in supermarkets so they’re looking forward to watching the beans form and are fascinated by the swelling courgettes.

Collapsible pea support that can be packed away

Collapsible pea support made by Luke

As well as edible crops, the group are also creating a bed that will be full of flowers and used to create displays in the church ~ giving something back to the parish that has funded the project so far.

Leighlin Parish Community Garden - 20th April 2012

20th April 2012

There are lots of plans for the community garden in the future – creating more vegetable beds, adding more flowers and herbs, as well as erecting a fence and adding a polytunnel so that we can grow warmer climate loving crops.

The parish are hoping to encourage other local groups to make use of this facility too, making the gardening project a true community effort.

Leighlin Parish Community Garden

Leighlin Parish Community Garden – 1st June 2012

This was to be my last morning working with the group but as I sat writing up this post I heard that my funding has been extended for another six weeks. I’m delighted to have more hours with them as there’s so much more we can do and they can learn.

If anybody wants to find out how they can become involved in this or other community gardens in Ireland, you can email me and I will forward on information.

Happy Gardening!