You know you live in an Irish house when……..

  1. The kettle is always on. I have literally never drank so much tea in my life. Now that I’m a student I spend loads of time reading books and there’s nothing to get it into your head like a cup of tea.
  2. There are more prayers being said than in the Vatican. My grandfather lives with us and he is a big fan of praying so you can be sure that no matter what time of the day you call in, there will be one prayer or another being said!
  3. You get a bit of holy water on the way out the door. I don’t know if it’s actually holy water or if it’s just tap water but it’s powerful stuff
  4. Heat is like a member of the family. They talk about heat in this house like it’s a real person; “come in here and don’t let the heat out” “There’s no heat in this house!” “We may keep the heat in now! Needless to say that if anyone meets Heat out on the road, return it to the nearest house immediately as someone is missing it like no one’s business
  5. It’s like a drop in centre. I never know who is going to be in the house at any given day or time. It could be a neighbor, a relative, a friend, an animal, you just never know.
  6. No one uses the front door. Sometimes I wonder why we even have one. It’s for official visitors only. The kids who come to music classes with us use it and so does the postman. So do the politicians when they come round. The end.
  7. Sometimes we lock the doors and sometimes we don’t. (Joke, thieves, we have a state of the art security system) But really, like all good Irish household, there’s usually always someone here so locking the doors isn’t really a priority.
  8. It’s essential to go to town for the messages. The put the messages in presses. It’s a weekly tradition, a big shopping on a Friday or a Saturday to last the week. It’s gone from a lot of houses but it still happens in Browne’s

As ever, post you thoughts below and I’ll add them in !

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The Ploughing Championships, a changed event.

I visited the ploughing championships for the first time in 6 years and my conclusion is that we have lost it to greed. The Ploughing Championships has always been a great event for farmers and it remains an annual tradition is some farming households. The routine of getting up really early, packing the flasks of tea and sandwiches and heading off to enjoy a day out, away from the farm is what it’s all about. When you arrive, you go from tent to tent and will recognise one fella or another in most of them as you stop for tea and chat your way through the exhibitors. You learned things and found things and you always left with some benefit, whether it be knowledge or a contact or whatever.  It’s always been about the farmers.

This year, that focus on farmers seemed pushed to the left while the focus on money was evident.  The big marquees belonged to big companies and it’s fairly obvious that the more money you provide, the more space you have for a marquee. Therefore, even among the big companies, the real heavy hitters were clear. At least 4 of these big tents belonged to the supermarkets, each claiming to “work with” and encourage farmers. I’m not sure that a lot of farmers would agree with that statement.

If you were looking for an organisation to help you in some way, AWARE or NALA for example, you had to look. And look, and continue looking until eventually you found them tucked neatly away in a tent that housed about 30 organisations. They each had about 5 foot of space with which to use for the work that they do.The disparity between those with big budgets and those without was stark.

Livestock, at the heart of farming, was tucked away in a little corner at the very end of the rows. Although just a single tent for sheep, it was nice to look and comment and do all the things that farmers do. There were a few tents for pedigree cattle dotted in the little area but no where near as many as I once remembered.

This event has grown enormously over the past number of years and it’s understandable that allowances have to be made to keep everyone happy. Like any event, it will also diversify over time as demands grow. But, with farmers already going through a hard time, is this event just one more to be hit by the appeal of euro signs?

While the commercialism and greed was evident in this year’s event, it was nice to see a neighbouring farmer that you haven’t spoken to in months, or the friend you only ever meet at the ploughing. However, the conversations between farmers centre around the hard times that aren’t yet over.

Visiting King John’s Castle

My fellow students and I are currently doing a marketing analysis on King John’s Castle in Limerick so we headed off to one of Limerick’s most popular attractions on Friday.

Before I even stepped inside the attraction, I knew good things were coming as it had its own car park! Finally, one Irish attraction that understands the importance of car parking facilities. King John’s is part of Shannon Heritage and was re opened after renovations in 2013. The result is an interactive experience that leaves visitors of all ages with positive memories.

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As the only native English speaker in our group, I was interested to see what the two Chinese and Slovenian thought of the guides that you get at entry. Unfortunately, there are no Chinese language or Slovenian guides available so they had to take English. We did inquire as to the nationality of the most frequent visitors and were told that it was the French, Spanish, Germans and Americans.  The other European visitors had audio guides with them so clearly multi lingual guides are available for selected languages.

Entry for students is 7 euro which is in line with most other attractions but you must show a student card. Although 3 of the 4 of us showed. UL. student cards at reception, one of our group hadn’t received his yet. Even though we were clearly together and clearly all students, the woman was having none of it and charged him for an adult ticket. I know rules are rules but we hardly picked this guy up randomly outside. A bit of common sense wouldn’t have gone astray.

When we got inside, that was all forgotten about and we proceeded on our self guided tour. You are initially brought through the early Gaelic society followed by the Normans in Limerick moving on to the Reformation before talking about the Sieges in Limerick in the 1600’s. It all sounds frightfully boring here but in reality, I thoroughly enjoyed it. The place is completely interactive. You can try on clothes, shoot cannons, complete quizzes and tasks on touch screens, watch movies, build walls and so on.

You are never too old to play dress up!

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Cannon Shooting, harder than it looks!

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I’m lead to believe that an actual person hangs out in here usually and is a great source of information but he must have been on break while we were around!

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Then when you eventually finish with the indoor activities, you can go outside and see where the Smiths, Masons and so  used to work. It is also possible to climb to the top of the castle walls and enjoy an unobstructed view of Limerick.

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All in all, what did I think?

Personally, I had a lot of fun and I think that this attraction has a lot of potential. It’s definitely worth a visit and would be a great day out for a family. We spent over two hours there and we noticed that the people who came in at the same time as us were there after the two hour mark also.

I did find it very interesting to go there with my International friends. Over lunch afterward, they mentioned that while they enjoyed it, the language was still a big factor. Although, it’s a hands on experience, unless you can read the English on the walls, it may not be as enjoyable. But as we said ourselves, how can you make an attraction enjoyable for every language Perhaps, you can’t.

You can find out more about King John’s on their website, http://www.shannonheritage.com/kingjohnscastle

A big shout out goes to the students in M.A. International Tourism in U.L. As ever, leave your comments and questions below!

Observations from Ireland

It’s amazing how much you forget when you haven’t been around for a while. Since coming home, I’ve found myself sometimes pleasantly surprised and sometimes not so pleasantly surprised by things in Ireland. Here are a few of my greatest observations;

  1. The people are the best reason to go to Ireland-  Whether it was the bus driver or the fella who showed us around the U.L. campus, everyone is the friendliest person I’ve ever met. Everyone will happily have a conversation with you and no one is ever really in a rush.
  2. Community watch is alive and well– No matter how hard you try, everyone knows everything about you. People can’t help it, they are naturally so inquisitive. Every morning before I started university, I would cycle to my local village and get the paper. I wouldn’t see anyone or interact with anyone on my journey. A week or so ago, a neighbour of mine stopped me up on the road. I only knew this individual to wave at and had never previously spoken to him. Turns out he was really only stopping me to check if everything he had heard was true. I didn’t have to tell him anything as he knew everything about me and why I was home. Alive and well folks, alive and well.
  3. There are many different types of green on show- The landscape here is so beautiful but I forgot how green it is. And not just one shade of green, so many different shades. This is an extremely tourist thing to say but when you live in a city for so long, you forget how green Ireland can be!
  4. Nothing changes- People get older and hair gets grayer but everything is virtually the same. Nothing really changes which is proof that you should go ahead and travel a lot because everything will be there when you get back.
  5. People here are really talented- Is it just  me or does everyone in Ireland have great talent? Whether they are great hurlers, footballers or musicians, everyone seems to be brilliant at something. It might just be something in the air in Tipperary……..
  6. Tea is the cure to everything-– I’ve never had so much tea. Literally, tea for every occasion, studying, blogging, talking, it foes with every outfit!

More from me soon. As ever, feel free to leave your comments and ideas below!

My visit to Birr Castle Demesne.

It was only as I was walking out the gate that I became aware of time again. I was so engrossed in my walk around Birr Castle that time had simply escaped my attention. In the centre of Birr town in Co. Offaly, this attraction has lots to offer whether you’re on your own, with friends or with your entire family.

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How to get there? 

Birr Castle can be found in the town of Birr, Co. Offaly.  The exact location is here, https://www.google.ie/maps/@53.0967043,-7.9143201,17z

It is well signposted so once you arrive, you shouldn’t have any problem finding it.

Parking and cost of entry.

The scourge of every Irish tourist attraction is paid parking. There is no castle parking available so you must use the paid car park across the street. One hour is 50 cent.

Entry prices* are as follows:

Adult:9 euro

Student: 7.50

Family ( 2 adults and 2 children) 25 euro

*Prices were correct at time of publish, September 2015.

What can I see/do?

There are many things to do and you should give yourself a lot of time to fully visit the area.

There are 3 walks available, the longest taking at least 40 minutes to complete. During the walks you can take in beautiful gardens, waterfalls, lakes wells and bridges.

The science centre contains lots of astronomical equipment and information.

The great telescope, which was once the largest in the world is a must see.

For children, the tree house adventure area will provide plenty of entertainment. This has Ireland’s largest tree house and has a bouncy pillow available in August and September.

I myself spent at least 2 hours here exploring the area, taking in the wildlife and taking photographs. It is a photographers dream and you could easily pass an entire day getting photos.

My visit.

Although I only live a few kilometres away, I had never been to the castle before so I wasn’t sure what to expect. The courtyard is really well kept as is the shop and visitor centre. The lady at the desk was happy and informative and explained the map before sending me on my way.

From there, I made my own way around the science centre which was quite interesting. I feel sorry for anyone who doesn’t read English because all the information is just in one language. However, it’s very visual so it would be of interest to everyone. You can learn all about the astronomical instruments and events.

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The day was picking up so my main interest was to explore the grounds. Since I had a lot of time, I took off on the river walk, which according to the map takes approximately 40 minutes to complete.

The estate is quite large and that becomes apparent immediately. There are tonnes of major walkways and minor walkways to explore, each offering something different. To walk around is quite refreshing and peaceful and I found myself regretful that I didn’t bring a picnic and a flask of tea!

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The suspension bridge dates back to around 1810 and it was the first of its kind in Ireland. According to the visitor guide, this is the oldest iron suspension bridge in Ireland and was built in original Birr workshops.

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If I have one pet peeve however, it’s litter and unfortunately there was too much litter around to go unnoticed. While most of the major walkways were litter free, the minor walks had quite a bit of litter as did the river. To me, litter is the height of laziness and when visitors are paying to walk around the estate, litter is not something that they should see. While I’m on this topic, I found some of the green keeping to be a little under loved in places. I can imagine that to keep an estate of this size in order takes a lot of work but attention to detail is essential.

As I waited to cross the little bridge at the fern waterfall, it was the squirrel and other wildlife that had me looking up into the trees. Again, as I approached the great telescope, a flock of ducks distracted me and they are obviously big characters who are used to having their photo taken.

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I love how the ducks were all walking in a line back to the river. You can imagine the leader just saying “Alright lads! Follow me! ”

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Eventually, I made it to the Great Telescope. For over 70 years, this was the largest telescope in the world. Constructed by the 3rd Earl of Rosse in 1840, it is now being reconstructed by the O.P.W.

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The box hedges in Birr castle are over 300 years old and seemingly the tallest in the world. The formal gardens are wonderful and make for some great photos.

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The variety of visitors there was apparent as I continued on my walk. There were some locals just out walking dogs, tourists there just for the nature and botany and then others who had their family and were making good use of the treehouse and bouncy pillow.

As mentioned earlier, the treehouse is Ireland’s largest treehouse and it really is quite impressive. The kids were enjoying it and the bouncy pillow immensely.

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Is it value for money?

After visiting the area, I asked myself this same question. Although, I don’t consider 7.50 a lot of money, I began to wonder why I had to pay it in the first place. I didn’t actually use a service of any kind as I didn’t get a guided tour or anything similar.Apart from the lady and gentleman working at the ticket desk, I didn’t meet any other workers. I can see the need to charge for use of the treehouse and bouncy pillow but walking outdoors, through nature should be free. Just a thought I had along the way.

You can find out more about this attraction by visiting their website http://www.birrcastle.com/

*All photos are my own.

*If any information is incorrect, please inform me and I’ll correct it.

The Black Bull Threshing festival 2015

Although this festival has been happening for about 14 years, I’ve never gone to it! Another case of shame on me because it’s just a short drive from my house. This year, I wasn’t going to miss it so last Sunday I headed off praying that I would remember how to drive properly all the way to the Black Bull (the name of the area). This is an annual fundraising festival and in my mind, I would show up, pull my car into the side of the road and go into the festival area. Instead, I was stopped by stewards in high vis jackets and the whole thing suddenly started to feel like the ploughing championships! In the most Irish way possible, I drove my little Toyota Yaris across a field and parked it among the horse boxes and sheep trailers.

I didn’t really know what to expect from the festival but whatever it was got blown out of the water as I walked around. There was everything from sheaf throwing to mouse racing to dog shows. My favourite part was the mouse race. Great entertainment and you only need one poor mouse to volunteer as tribute!

I took the usual 1000000057373626272 pictures during the day but I have narrowed it down to just a few that I loved!

There were loads of vintage tractors…..

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There were a few animals also. When I visited the ducks, there was a little girl telling them not to be afraid with that look in her eye that said she was going to pick one up and take it home!

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Of course there was threshing and by the looks of it, this guy was flat out…..

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This is a picture of the sheaf throwing. Such a simple concept and so entertaining!

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The sheep shearing demonstration was amazeballs. To be able to shear sheep 40 years after winning an International contest is an achievement. (That man is not actually Jackie Dooley but you get the drift)

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The vintage tractors attracted the young children and these two look like they’ll have to be PULLED off these tractors!

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I don’t know what these lads were looking at but whatever it was looks interesting.

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There was a lot of sitting around done at the festival…….

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Am I the only one that has never seen a horse getting its shoes on? Well I saw it on Sunday and I couldn’t take my eyes off the man doing it.

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My favourite picture of the day though is this one. Horse shoe throwing was one of the competitions on the day and I spent a while watching the young lads trying it. There was one chap, a little younger than the rest who looked like he really wanted a go but just watched the older lads doing it. After a while, the man in charge of the competition saw him and asked if he wanted to try it. He was so happy and literally jumped forward trying to pay the 2 euro entry fee. The older man waved it away and told him that this was just a “practice” so he didn’t need to pay. He then took the young lad and showed him how to throw and the best techniques and so on. He let him stand closer the pole and gave him all the shoes and repeated tries. It was the nicest moment I’ve seen since I came home.

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If anyone knows any of the people in these photos, please let me know and I’ll send them a copy of the photo.