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.

wp-1465058063296.jpg
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.

wp-1465058113603.jpg
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.

wp-1465058454044.jpg
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.

wp-1465058394049.jpg
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.

Advertisements

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.

wp-1464892117079.jpg

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%.

wp-1464892225805.jpg

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) 

My trip to Burren Perfumery

It has been about 7 years since I went to Burren Perfumery so I headed out that direction on Friday.  I must say that I don’t remember it being as remote as it is. I was driving along the road and never have I been so grateful to see another car behind me.  It is literally tucked away in the middle of nowhere outside the village of Carron.  The perfumery is very well signposted so just stay going and you’ll find it.

wp-1464549272381.jpg

The first thing that struck me when I arrived was how peaceful it is.  It is so calm and quiet and no one seems to be in any rush. They immediately got 5 stars for the cleanliness of the area.  There is not one piece of litter anywhere and the bathrooms are beautiful.  I headed into the main building and there is a great video on the plants in the Burren and the materials they use in their products.  The staff were all really friendly and the shop is so well presented that you do want to buy something. Every product comes with a tester and an explanation that is quite thorough and the staff seem to want to help you out.

wp-1464549051462.jpg

When I was finished there, I headed out to the herb garden and again it was so well presented.

wp-1464549190362.jpg

 

People were walking around, discussing the plants and taking their time. There is also a workshop of some sort and a tea room.  The tea rooms seemed to be quite popular with everyone choosing to enjoy their refreshments outside in the sunshine.

I cannot recommend the perfumery enough.  It makes a great trip for an hour or two if you’re in the area. It does all the small things right and I’ll definitely be back there when I run out of moisturizer. You can find out more about them by checking out their website here.

 

 

 

 

Dunguaire Castle & Kinvara Farmers market

It was my first day off since I moved down to Kinvara so I thought I’d stay local on my first adventure. First stop was Dunguaire Castle, just outside Kinvara.  They have a car park and there always seems to be people around the castle so I expected something amazing.

wp-1464354406673.jpg

I didn’t go into the castle because the door that led inside was firmly closed and no one else was venturing in either. So instead, I walked the short path around the castle.  And there it was, the deciding factor, litter. I HATE litter in tourist attractions. It spells laziness and there were so many cigarette butts, coffee cups, pieces of paper and so on littering the path.  It doesn’t kill anyone to do a litter pick once a day and keep the place clean.  After that there wasn’t much else to do there so I just strolled down to the farmers market.

The farmers market is like a farmers festival in Kinvara! It takes place on Fridays from 10am and it’s the happiest market I’ve ever been to.

wp-1464354897410.jpg

There were singers and a small number of stalls but the market had everything from cheese to chutney to hand cream.  And the atmosphere was so relaxed, people were just sitting down, chillaxing.  I definitely would recommend a visit to Kinvara on a Friday to catch the market but Dunguaire castle, while it makes a nice photo is simply not worth the visit.

wp-1464355103569.jpg

 

Nenagh- open for tourists between 2pm and 3pm.

My friend and I decided to explore the touristy things in Nenagh today. It all started pretty well with the Google search filling us with hopes of a castle visit, Gaol visit and potentially a few more interesting buildings along the way.

Think about the last time you heard a tourist tell you that Nenagh was on their must see list. You probably never heard that and today I discovered why. Don’t take me wrong, there are plenty of things to see in Nenagh but only is you get there on a specific time and day.

There’s no way anyone can explore a town without a cup of coffee so first stop was Cafe Q. The place was packed and the lady who gave us her table assured us that this was the best coffee in town. It was pretty delicious as was the Danish. The place had a good atmosphere and everyone was happy out drinking their coffees and nibbling on the tasty treats.

Refueled, we headed out the door and off down the street confidant that we could find a castle ourselves. Unfortunately for us, we don’t have that many geographical skills so we asked a nice young lady for directions. She warned us that it was “a long walk” but gave us stellar directions and a whole five minutes later we arrived at the castle. It was only 3.45pm but the gate was closed and a sign told us that it was “Closed for lunch” but also only open between 2pm and 3pm. Really? 2pm and 3pm? What kind of a castle is this??? What kind of tourists know to show up between 2 and 3 if they want to see it? We took this sad looking photo from the gate.

20160109_154440.jpg

The Courthouse looks like something straight out of Hunger Games. A spectacular building which was also closed but I’m not sure if it would even be accessible anyway.

20160109_154259.jpg

The church was potentially the most spectacular. As a bonus, it was open. We took a quick look inside and the only thing missing was a short history.

img_20160109_175512.jpg

 

We didn’t bother going to Nenagh Gaol because the website states opening hours as 10pm to 4pm Monday to Friday. I believe it is actually referred to as “Nenagh Heritage Centre”

So what did we learn?

If you’re a tourist at the weekend, you’re all out of luck and any other day is potentially hit and miss. If you do venture into the town, be sure to go between the hours of 10am and 4pm and especially between 2pm and 3pm. The only thing I can actually guarantee is a decent cup of coffee in Cafe Q.

 

Sitting in the windows and having the criac in Jim of the Mills.

I’m sure there were many punters who almost fell off their bar stools to read that Jim of the Mills won the Irish Times Pub of the Year 2015. If there is an establishment that uses its USP to its full advantage, it’s Jim of the Mills. For anyone who hasn’t yet had the truly unique experience of visiting this bar, you can read the Times review here and the Irish Central article here.

To describe the place as a pub is a little bit of an exaggeration. It’s like 3 rooms in the house that are dedicated to the the craic. I describe them as rooms because this place is literally a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere somewhere close to Upperchurch in Tipperary. Patrons are thirsty because they were all night trying to find the establishment in the first place. You deserve a drink for finding the house. I’ve been several times and even still I don’t think I could make it alone. If you didn’t know what it was, it would be reasonable to assume that the rows of cars outside the house were for a station mass or something similar.

Upon arrival, there are people literally spilling out of the bar. There’s that uniquely Irish feel the minute you walk in. The bar is small enough and the family are flat out serving drinks. The money goes into a till that is so old, it’s almost a national treasure. There are the lucky few who got seats at the bar providing jokes for the waiting punters.Everyone knows everyone and even if they don’t know you when you arrive, they’ll know loads about you by the time you leave!

The craic is mighty, of that there is little doubt. In fact, the craic is so great that they have to contain it to Thursday nights, the only night the bar opens. As a result, anyone who is anyone flocks there, as much for the craic as for the weekly session. There are people playing instruments in every corner of the two inner rooms. The place is always jammers so the last time we played there, I sat in the window. Although you’d nearly melt beside the open fire, there is something so authentic as enjoying a pint while listening to great music, beside the turf fire in the middle of winter.

And the people!  I’ve never met such interesting characters in my life. There’s always someone to talk to. I’ve never left without a good story or two. Dotted though the night are the occasional ssshhhhes as people try to listen to a song or story. I’ve also never left hungry. Believe it or not, you get fed! Sometimes it’s cake and sometimes sandwiches but whatever it is, you are always taken care of.

One part of me wants to call the people in Lonely Planet and tell them to add this place to their Tipperary section and the other part of me wants to keep it hidden. Like so many great places in Ireland, over exposure ruins what made them so great to begin with so perhaps we should keep Jim of the Mills to ourselves for another while. It’s hugely exciting that they won the Times Pub of the Year 2015. They are doing everything right and will hopefully continue to do so long into the future.

 

Aillwee Cave

It’s been a few weeks since I went to visit Aillwee Cave but because I had to put the head down to pass exams I am only writing it now!

I used to work in the lovely Aillwee Cave back in the day before I moved to Korea and I was so excited to go back and see everyone. I loved it! First, some directions;

From Dublin: You’re looking at 3 hours, https://www.google.ie/maps/dir/Dublin/Aillwee+Cave,+Ballyvaughan,+Co.+Clare/@53.0406089,-8.8338812,8z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m14!4m13!1m5!1m1!1s0x48670e80ea27ac2f:0xa00c7a9973171a0!2m2!1d-6.2603097!2d53.3498053!1m5!1m1!1s0x485ba11bdeeab773:0xa4fa3594ae71264f!2m2!1d-9.1436674!2d53.0891282!3e0

From Shannon: Only about an hour. https://www.google.ie/maps/dir/Shannon+Airport,+Co.+Clare/Aillwee+Cave,+Ballyvaughan,+Co.+Clare/@52.9146387,-9.300667,10z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m14!4m13!1m5!1m1!1s0x485b41dad0f8b40b:0x6bf3c305b024f8dc!2m2!1d-8.9146911!2d52.6996573!1m5!1m1!1s0x485ba11bdeeab773:0xa4fa3594ae71264f!2m2!1d-9.1436674!2d53.0891282!3e0

The whole Burren area is absolutely worth a day trip if you’re visiting Ireland so be sure to visit all the great locations around the Burren. Check out this website if you’re looking for more ideas, http://www.burrennationalpark.ie/

Entry Fees for Aillwee Cave & Burren Bird of Prey centre  are on their website here, http://www.aillweecave.ie/opening-times

My day was brilliant. From the second I drove up with all the lovely flags, I knew I was back. First on the list was naturally a cuppa or two and a good catch up with all my old friends.

Then it was off for a little walk through the woods and I believe there are all kinds of great activities happening there in the high season. The walking made me a bit hungry so it’s just as well that there was some delicious cheese and fudge there that needed tasting. The fact that the cheese is award winning makes it even more delicious.

The farmhouse is super cute, I almost didn’t want to walk over to see the birds.

20151031_140305.jpg

20151031_140300.jpg

 

The Bird of Prey centre is quite wonderful if I may say so myself. I learned so much from the information panels and the guys who work there. And the shows! They are amazeballs, that is the only word to describe it.

20151031_140935.jpg

20151031_142629.jpg

 

20151031_161524.jpg

After I finished my cave tour, I realised that I had spent hours and hours here and it really is a day trip so be sure to give yourself enough time if you are going to visit.

What I’ve always loved is the staff so be sure to have a chat with them when you’re visiting. Before I sign off, check out this video from the Bird of Prey centre. https://www.facebook.com/540988015/videos/vb.540988015/10153177465818016/?type=3&theater

 

Obviously, I enjoyed my day there and if you have any questions, just send them my way.

Out and about with Granddad.

My grandfather is a bit of a legend. He’s got that great old person vibe going on and since I got back, we’ve been heading off on loads of adventures together. He makes a great travel partner for a few reasons;

  1. He always has time and plenty of it.  No matter what time it is, he’s always ready to go off to some place. He’s never in a rush to get back either so all good.
  2. He’s a good co driver.He never comments on my driving and he doesn’t mind if I go the wrong way. In fact, he embraces the detour.
  3. He knows what he wants. When we go off, he’ll provide clear instructions as to what we’ll do. Anything outside of that is a bonus.
  4. He always has a story. Pat is a great man to tell me stories. Stories about what they used to do back in the day or sometimes a story about the fella who owns the land that we’re passing. Loads of stories.

While we try to do different things, we’ve excelled at a few activities recently;

  1. Giving field guidance. A little like Kim Jung Un in North Korea, we like to show up to random fields and offer our guidance. We’ll tell you how long it took you to move bales or cut grass or gather it up or whatever.We’ll offer assistance on how you could do it better or how it was done back in the day. We’re available any time.
  2. Farm Inspection services.  We also like to look at farms and throw out sentences on what’s where, how many animals there are, the conditions of the yard and so on.
  3. Grave readings:Possibly the most morbid but a lot of the time we end up in a graveyard and there’s nothing we enjoy more than reading graves. I read and Pat tells me if he knew them.If he didn’t know them, he moves on. If he did, he then tells me everything about them, where they lived, what they worked at, how they died and so on. We have spent many an afternoon hanging out and about in the graveyard!
  4. Stock taking: For a man of 90, Pat has better eyesight than I do. He can tell me how many cows are in a herd, how many bullocks in a field and so on. If you ever see a silver Yaris stopped outside your field, you’ll know it’s us counting your cows!
  5. Supervising: We are bosses of supervising activities.Pat has a walking stick that’s put to good use if someone isn’t doing something properly. You may not hear him from the tractor but you’ll see him waving the stick around!

This picture was from one of our recent farm inspections!

grandad

Overheard at mass………….

Mass is one of the places I’ve started to go since I came home. I’m trying to keep on the good side of the man above, I suppose. Since I’m not the biggest fan of Sunday mornings, I usually go on a Saturday night in the church up the road. Except there are virtually no prayers said when I get to said church because it takes all I have not to die laughing at the characters in the back seat.

There are always three of them. Three auld lads of about 80 or so. I don’t actually know their names so we’ll call them Pat, John and Mick. Tonight Pat and John took up their positions in the back seat. “What about this weather we’re having” says Pat. “Great stuff altogether” replies John. Along comes Mick and the trio is complete. “Powerful weather lads, powerful weather”. What other greeting would you imagine? “WHAT” whispers Pat who we now clearly know can’t hear very well. A silence follows to be broken by a “and what about the evenings, closing in fast lads”. “Ah shur to be expected to this time of the year” “I wonder what priest it is tonight?” Must be Fr. So and so ’cause it’s 7.35 and he’s in to earn the overtime”

The bells rings and we proceed to try praying until the sermon. Fr. So and so gives the most dramatic interpretation of a gospel reflection sermon you’ve ever seen. Now since I wasn’t actually praying that hard, I don’t really know what the gospel was about but whatever it was made for a great sermon. The characters in the gospel sound a little sketchy; “he followed Jesus around everywhere looking at him and listening to him” How many people can say STALKER!

At least I was paying attention though. The fella in the seat in front of me was texting and another young wan was quizzing her father as to whether she could keep the basket money if the basket didn’t come around. It was after about 10 minutes that the trio behind me started into their critiquing. They had themselves in stitches and I was laughing so hard, I thought I was going to have to leave the church. I have never inspected the tops of my shoes so closely before.

Communion rolled around and the lads took in the crowd; “do you know that lad over there”? Pat replied with a “I do not but I’ll ask Johnny later and let you know. Maybe new to the parish”.Eventually, we said some all for one prayers (one prayer for everyone we know) and we waited for the priest to leave before we dispersed. Of course Pat still couldn’t hear anything so it was a chorus of “WHAT? What did ya say?” before I made the escape.

If this is a regular occurrence, I’ll book my seat for next week!

Cloughjordan Ecovillage

With the nation turning more green and a range of alternative living options available, I decided to visit Cloughjordan Ecovillage to see sustainable living in action.

image

How do you get there?

By Car;

Moneygall is in North Tipperary and approximately from Moneygall. From the motorway, take exit 23 to Moneygall and then follow the signs to Cloughjordan.

When you arrive in Cloughjordan, the Ecovillage is approximately half way down the Main Street. It is at a small 4 way intersection, opposite a church.

By Train;

Cloughjordan has a train station that services routes from Dublin, Heuston and Limerick via Nenagh. For timetables, please go to irishrail.ie

Do you have to take a tour?

While you are free to drive into the village and look around, you must remember that there are people living here and to respect their privacy and security, it is recommended that you take a tour. You also won’t get the full benefit of knowledge if you just ramble around alone.

There are free tours every Saturday and Sunday at 3pm. I met the guide at the Main Street entrance or you can meet at Sheelagh na Tigh which is a little cafe on the Main Street.

If you have a group or you wish to participate in a workshop or so on, you can email edvisits@thevillage.ie They have these kind of visits all the time and are very accommodating to groups.

What is an Ecovillage?

From their website, http://www.thevillage.ie;

Ecovillages are urban or rural communities of people who strive to integrate a supportive social environment with a low impact way of life. To achieve this, they integrate various aspects of ecological design, permaculture, ecological building, green production, alternative energy, community building practices, and much more.

The Ecovillage in Cloughjordan is the first of its kind in Ireland and leads the way for the future of sustainable living in Ireland. It is located on 67 acres and has a community farm, woodland, allotments, houses, hostel and Enterprise centre.

The best way to understand is to take a tour and learn from the guide and that’s what I did earlier today.

My Tour.

The tour starts with a little introduction of everyone in the group. My group had 2 foreigners and 2 Irish so a nice mix of people. Looking at the map, it was pointed out that the village is divided into thirds. One third to houses and apartments, one third to the farm and allotments and one third to woodland.

wpid-20151004_145119.jpg

Immediately upon walking down the little hill, it is explained that the height of the buildings keeps with the height of buildings in Cloughjordan itself. I was most surprised to find an Ecohostel called Django’s on the left just past the entrance. This unique hostel is open to the public, year round and you can find out more on their website http://www.djangoshostel.com

Djangos Hostel seen on the left.

wpid-wp-1443975876532.jpeg

We continued walking and saw examples of the various types of houses built in the village. Among others there are Cob, Timber Frame, Hemp crete and all cedar houses. All houses are low energy and share hi spec broadband as well as a community heating system. The village has a 2gha rating which I believe is the lowest in Ireland and they are working on lowering that number.

The community heating system is very interesting . Two 500 Kilo watt wood fired burners supply every home with heat. The cost is divided among the residents.
image

Energy is also provided by solar panels which can be seen on the tour.
We continued on to the allotments. It is here that you can see research in action. One resident has his own allotment where he is researching growing techniques and so on.

image

On the apple walk, you’ll find every type of apple you can imagine. Luckily, we were allowed to eat some of the ripe ones and they were juicy and delicious. There’s something to be said about eating fruit straight off the tree. Our guide even brough along a spreadsheet with all the information on all the apples.
image

image

When we managed to pull ourselves away from eating the apples, we started into the yellow raspberries.
image

Eventually, we continued on our way and off to the farm. This is a community farm where members can collect their vegetables every week. Anyone can become a member so check out their website if you are interested.

We finished our tour by sampling some more delicious fruit that we found on the way.

A few things struck me about the village. The people seem extremely innovative, motivated and dedicated. Along the way, we were introduced to projects and plans that were either ongoing or in the process of approval.

The aim of the village is learning. Everyone is open to learning about sustainable living or teaching it to people like me on tours. For example, the drainage system is quite unique. In several areas, depressions can be seen. These are called Swales. When severe rain comes, the water is collected in these swales and they fill like lakes. Then, the water can slowly permeate through the ground. This prevents flooding to the village.

This is the way of the future and the possibilities are endless. I was so inspired to hear of the work already done in the village but can’t help but think of the possibilities for the future. With new methods coming on board all the time, this village is only just growing.

Worth a visit?
Absolutely. I learned so much from my visit and found it quite innovative. It would be a great visit for families also. You can find out more details on their website http://www.thevillage.com, on Facebook or on Twitter.
image

image