Driving around the Burren…

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I had a lovely post written on my day driving around the Burren but just as I posted it, everything disappeared.  Here’s a brief description of how I spent it.  I started off in Ballyvaughan and drove in the direction of Fanore.  My plan was to just stop whenever I saw other people stopping.

Just a few kilometres out, there were a tonne of cars stopped on the side and that was how I discovered Murrooughtoohy.  This is the point that you can see Connemara, Galway Bay, Aran Islands and Black Head.  It’s very beautiful and you can walk and climb across the Limestone pavements.

Off I went again and just before Fanore a few more cars had stopped to take picture of the beautiful scenery so I did also.  If the weather had been nicer, I would have stopped at Fanore beach but it was really dull so I didn’t.  I drove on enjoying the view until I reached Doolin and there I stopped into the Irish craft shop.  It was a nice spot and you can pick up some nice Irish gifts.  Doolin was packed and the buses were everywhere so I stayed going and was almost going to stop at the Cliffs. Then I saw the amount of cars and decided against it.  I stopped at the Rock Shop instead.  I had heard the most glowing review about it last weekend so I stopped in.  To say that they have a lot of stock is an understatement.  You could potentially spend the entire day just browsing around.  I didn’t eat anything there but I do hear that the soup is the business.

Continuing on I drove through Lahinch, Ennistymon and stopped to see the high crosses in Kilfenora.  The Kilfenora timeline is there also and free of charge and while I wasn’t patient enough to read it all, it seems really interesting.  Lisdoonvarna was the last stop on my journey and I got some great shots on Corkscrew Hill before I finally returned home.

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Wild Atlantic Lodge- Ballyvaughan

There’s a few things I’ve noticed since I moved back down to the Burren. One is that everything starts with “Wild Atlantic……”Wild Atlantic Way, Wild Atlantic Walking tours, Wild Atlantic tours and the list goes on and on  and most recently it’s been the Wild Atlantic Lodge in Ballyvaughan.  Back in my day it was called Logues. What was wrong with Logues? Nothing, it just didn’t have the ring to it that Wild Atlantic Lodge has, or as someone pointed out WAL.

Now that that rant is over, I did decide to dine there the other night when doing an interview for my research.  As it turns out, they got a lovely new dining room and when I say lovely, I mean it’s lovely.  Totally different to the bar side of the venue but super new and it still has that clean new look about it.  A big shout out here to Jamie and the staff who are legends.

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This picture does the food no justice.  It was actually delicious.  

The menu has LOADS of choice but I chose the lasagne since I hadn’t had it in so long. It didn’t come like lasagne normally does, it came out looking better, like someone had put a lot of time and effort into making it from scratch.  I scraped the plate and then started in to the salad that came with it. Deceptively delicious is what it was.  We tried to figure out the dressing but couldn’t, my best guess was some kind or orange dressing but whatever it was, it was brilliant.  I skipped dessert in favour of tea and the damage for 2 main meals, a drink and the tea was only about 30 euro so pretty good.

It is a popular place so my advice is to go there early if you want to eat.  I’ll be like a bad smell there during the summer turning up whenever I don’t feel like cooking at home!

Michael Cusack Centre- a must for GAA fans

I visited the Michael Cusack centre by complete accident. I was actually on my way to the Burren Centre in Kilfenora when I saw the sign and figured it was closer than Kilfenora.  My uncle had been going on about how great the centre was a few weeks ago so I figured I’d go down and see it.

The centre is tucked away down a little road between Ballyvaughan and Kilfenora.  Thankfully it’s well signposted.  The only distinguishing feature from the road are the flags flying outside.  For a place that’s in the middle of nowhere, it has a beautiful centre. The building is looks very new and blends into the surroundings.  A short walk down the path is a thatched cottage, home of Michael Cusack.

Entry for a student was about 4 euro so a trip here won’t break the bank.  The man at reception was chatty and friendly and explained the whole thing to me.  I was happy to walk around the education room and read the displays which are in English and Irish, bonus points for that.  I usually get really bored walking from one display to another but these were super interesting.  They take you through his early life, education, early career, motivation behind founding the GAA, trouble when he did found it and his later life.  I was slightly traumatized when I realised how terribly his life ended.

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Displays of the life and times of Michael Cusack.

Just a few minutes after I had started reading, another worker, Seamus, came in and we started to chat about the impact that Michael Cusack had on modern Ireland.  The fact that GAA clubs are not exclusively located in Ireland are a testimony to the legacy that he left behind.  Seamus  was so enthusiastic about the topic and knew loads of little facts and points on the life of Michael Cusack.

The walk from the indoor display to the cottage is short but pretty.  A row of trees line the path down and it was explained that they were planted for the anniversary a few years ago.

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The Tipperary Tree .

And then the most beautiful little cottage appeared.  This cottage houses a three part audio visual on the early life, education and finally the meeting in Hayes Hotel in Thurles.  The house is decorated with appropriate pieces of furniture and the videos run in sequence while you move from one room to another.

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The cottage that Michael Cusack grew up in.

 

I didn’t expect to enjoy this attraction because I’m not all that interested in GAA but when I got there, I found myself becoming enthralled in the life of the man who founded the GAA.  Everything is so well presented that it’s hard for me to fault anything about my experience there.  Big shout out to the staff that were there on the day.  They seemed to have all the time in the world to speak with me and we had a great conversation about anything and everything.  Would I go back? Absolutely. And I think that every GAA team should consider going to this to see and appreciate the man from Carron.  You cam find out more by logging on to their website http://michaelcusack.ie/

My visit to Caherconnell Stone Fort

I’ve worked near Caherconnell for a while but shamefully I’ve never actually visited. I had heard that there were sheepdog demonstrations at Caherconnell so I decided that today was the day that I would go and see what they were all about.  Obviously, they don’t just do them on demand so you have to check the website for the times. You can access that here

I arrived in plenty of time so first was the visit out to the fort.  A joint student ticket costs about 8.20 so good value for what you get.  Prices are all on their website.  The man at the reception desk was really informative, explaining the self guided tour and going through the booklet you receive.  First, there is a 20 minute video that explains about the Burren, the forts in the area and the significance of Caherconnell as well as an animation of how life might have been like in the fort.

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Through the stones of the wall around the fort. 

From there you continue to the fort and each stop is marked with an explanation in the booklet.  Because it’s a self guided tour, it is as entertaining and interesting as you make it yourself. I thought it was fascinating and it seems like there are archaeological digs continuing there so I look forward to hearing about any findings.

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Some of the flowers around the fort.

I headed back inside for a bite to eat before the sheepdog demonstrations.  The menu was so good, I felt really pressurized to make the right choice, so many delicious dishes, so little time. In the end, I went for a toasted wrap.  It was a little on the untoasted side but the cafe is so cute and the staff are all pottering around doing little jobs that I didn’t really care that it was a little cold.

Eventually, the sheepdog demonstration happened. I really only visited for the sheepdogs and they did not disappoint! First, the farmer, John, introduced the dogs and the job they do and it was so lovely to see how well he knew their personalities.  He was so knowledgeable about the subject that it was a pleasure to hear him speak.

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The farmer with a pup that they are training.  

Then the dogs went out and he showed us how they work by voice and by whistle.  Those dogs have mad skills, super handy with the sheep and mad for action.

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The dogs in action. 

He worked the dogs several times before getting them to work together and separate the herd. Finally, we learned a bit about the type of sheep used in the Burren and the reasons for the different colours on them and so on. The demonstration took about 40 minutes or so.

I cannot recommend this place enough. I must have spent well over 2 hours here between exploring the fort, eating and checking out the sheepdog demo.  The staff are my kind of staff, well presented, working away at different jobs, polite and informative.  The attraction is so simple but effective.  If you want to find out more, including where they are located, you can check out their website here.

Burren Chocolatier-Hazel Mountain Chocolate factory

Just a few kilometres from Kinvara in Co. Galway is Hazel Mountain chocolate factory. You may have seen them on the Late Late, heard them on Today fm  or read about them in the paper.  As a rural business, they are excelling and now that my summer lodgings are in that area, I decided to head over and check it out.

The location of the factory and cafe is deceptive, it’s just on the side of a fairly unexciting road.  The cottage is the cutest I’ve seen and there is a car park out front for a few cars. I visited on a Friday around 1pm and the place was hopping!  In front of you is a cafe with some outdoor seating and to the right is the shop and factory.

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I went to the shop and factory to learn more about how the chocolate is made, where it comes from and so on.  Unfortunately for me, I didn’t learn a lot which was a great disappointment to me.  You can see a woman in the factory working away but there’s no information up as to what she’s doing.  There are several posters on the wall but they are mostly promotional photos on the factory.  In this respect, the only option you are left with is to buy some chocolate. It comes in a few different flavours but because of the nature of the business, they are expensive.  The ones I bought were 5.95 each and there were 8 squares.  The little chocolate sweets on the table were costed at about 1.50 each.  I personally felt that the emphasis was on the commercial side and that they are denying themselves by not having the information there for the people on the process of their work.

There was only one man working on the floor when I was there and by the looks of the photos, he was one of the owners.  He was trying to man the till so he did his best to explain about the chocolate from there but it was all a bit much for one person.  He was also using his mobile phone in front of customers which I HATE.  That’s a very picky thing to say but your customers are paying your wages so they deserve your 100%.

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Overall, I probably won’t be back.  It is a nice place and worth a visit.  They have a cafe which I didn’t visit but I have heard from friends that the chocolate drinks are delicious.

UPDATE (3-June-2106):

Since publishing this post, Hazel Mountain Chocolate factory have been in touch to say that tours ARE available on Saturdays and Sundays and details are on their website, http://www.hazelmountainchocolate.com/pages/about-us

Here are the details;

BEAN TO BAR SHED & TASTING ROOM

Discover how bean to bar chocolate is really made with a guided tour from one of our head chocolate makers.  Your 45 minute tour will take you through all the stages of our chocolate making, followed by a tasting session. Tours available Saturday & Sunday at 1pm. Cost €12 per person, €5 children (unsuitable for children under 12yrs)