Killarney

Spring is in the air in Killarney. The weather has been kind, the sky is blue, the chill is minimal. A perfect day for a walk through Killarney’s National Park.  Killarney is a town in County Kerry, located in the south-west of Ireland.

Right on the shores of Lough Leane, Killarney is a charming town that is both modern and historic. It is also home to the vast and inviting Killarney National Park. Inside 10,236 hectares (or 26,000 acres) there are mountains, lakes, woodlands, waterfalls and even a castle to explore.

On this quiet spring day, there is a mystical air as we walk along the well signed paths. We pass greenery, colourful flowers in the gardens and woodland to reach Ross Castle. The castle was built in the 15th century by O’Donoghue Mór. It sits on the edge of the lake, with views out to the island of Innisfallen. Tourists can enter the castle for a tour; we opt not to do the tour and keep exploring the national park. In summer, you can take a boat trip across the lake to Innisfallen.

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The view is spectacular and we sat atop a hill to simply take in the beauty. Further down the path we can see walkers and a few people on horseback. Looking out to our right, the view is perfect. The lush green parkland and trees gives way to the blue waters of the lake which is rimmed by mountains. There are delicate wisps of cloud in the blue sky above. The soft green grass we’re sitting on is dotted with bright yellow flowers.

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It is a place to relax and recharge…and do a reel. Yes, I did indeed do a reel on the hilltop at the national park. It is my first time in Ireland and I simply had to do an Irish dance in Ireland. I learned to dance years ago just for fun and fitness; I am not a professional by any means but it was something I just had to do. It was just a few steps really, before I collapsed back on the grass, laughing. It’s exhilarating to be here. To be in Killarney, to see the landscape and enjoy the atmosphere.

Home to the Macgillycuddy’s Reeks, the highest mountain range in Ireland, rising to heights of over 1000 metres. Just 6km from here lies Muckross House and Gardens with immaculate gardens, a lovely craft shop, traditional farms and a restaurant. You can admire the historic Muckross House with guided tours allowing you to step back in time and learn about the history, not just of the house but the local area.

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Nearby, the Torc Waterfall (approximately 70 feet high) awaits and is just a short walk from the N71 Killarney Kenmare Road. Walking through lovely woodland to see the waterfall, the gush of the water reaches your ears. Explore further by climbing the steps next to the waterfall (around 100 steps) to look out into the distance at the Killarney Lakes.

This is Ireland, a beautiful country with landscapes that simply take your breath away. There is no going home unaffected once you have seen and experienced a location as picturesque as Killarney. Perfect for hiking, enjoying scenic views, immersing yourself in the history of the area as you learn about Innisfallen Abbey and Ross Castle, taking a boat trip or kayaking on the smooth lakes, or simply relaxing in such a peaceful location.

As a writer, places with such outstanding natural beauty are inspiring. They inspire that spark, that creativity, the ideas that lead to anything from articles to full length books. Killarney is such a place. It is an experience to be re-lived and a place I hope to visit again and again. If you visit the Emerald Isle, Killarney is a place that should be on everyone’s list. Filled with the lush greenery that Ireland is so well-known for, a charming small town to explore and a natural beauty that is breathtaking.

The best chocolate I have ever tasted!

I am a chocoholic, no doubt about it. In moderation of course but I definitely enjoy both milk and dark chocolate. I thought I knew chocolate, at least eating it! Then I took a trip into a remote region of the Burren, County Clare where a small, inviting chocolate factory can be found. It is set in amongst the beautiful scenery of the Burren region, little more than a cottage from an exterior view. But inside, delicious smells and sights await you. Hazel Mountain Chocolate is a boutique chocolate factory, one of the smallest factories in the world and one of the most remote. This makes it a unique place to visit – one that impressed me and tantalised my taste buds.

The pure chocolate produced from Hazel Mountain is the best chocolate I have ever tasted. They use rare Trinitario cacao beans and raw cane sugar for the dark chocolate and Irish milk from grass-fed cows in the milk chocolate. It is a bean to bar factory, something that is clearly identified on the tour.

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The tour is not only delicious but informative. I had no idea of what went into the chocolate making process or the difference I would so clearly taste. All of the stages of chocolate making are explained and the tasting session was a highlight for the taste buds. After indulging in the sweet, smooth taste of the chocolate – the milk chocolate with almond became my favourite.

This isn’t Cadbury or Lindt, the taste is different. Not that there’s anything wrong with Cadbury or Lindt (don’t sue me!), it’s simply a way to identify that the chocolate at Hazel Mountain is not the same. For me, it is better. It is richer and tastier. Well, in my humble opinion! The difference is that at Hazel Mountain, it is not compound chocolate that is used nor are cocoa beans mixed. Only one type of bean goes into one bar of chocolate. The beans at Hazel Mountain come from Cuba, Madagascar and Venezuela. The chocolate produced from each bean has a unique flavour and texture.

I also indulged in the best hot chocolate I had ever tasted – I wish I had more! I naturally had to bring some chocolate home with me and brought a packet of dark chocolate bars home. They disappeared rather quickly! I couldn’t even feel guilty for indulging, it’s just too good.

P.S. Hazel Mountain Chocolate is not paying me for an endorsement, they don’t even know I’m writing it. I’m just a chocoholic wanting to share an amazing experience I had in Ireland. However, if they come across this blog and feel like sending me a supply of chocolate, I won’t say no! 😉

Adventures in the wild

Well, not really. I went into the forest but it wasn’t exactly wild. There are numerous marked paths for easy, moderate or difficult walks. The choice is up to you! It was a rainy day which made the trail muddy but this did not affect the ease of walking. It’s a well maintained path that leads you to the Upper Lake and beyond. The bottom of my jeans became splattered with mud without me even noticing but I didn’t care, I was enjoying the experience and amazed by the incredible beauty of nature.

I am talking about Glendalough – a place filled with history and the site of impressive forests, waterfalls, loughs (lakes), mountains and valleys. It is just an hour outside of Dublin – an easy weekend escape from the city.

The day is wet and foggy but this adds to the mysterious beauty of this location.The first thing I notice beyond the wild beauty, is the silence. You cannot find this kind of silence – only in nature. Mountains rim the lake, rising into the fog which hangs low and obscures their peaks.

For history buffs and lovers of architecture, the Glendalough Monastic Site is just a short walk from the visitors centre. You can see the 30 metre high round tower before you even enter the walking paths. It rises high in the sky and draws the eye towards it. Founded by St Kevin in the 6th century, there are a number of historical buildings to see. When you finish exploring this ancient site, continue on your way down to the loughs. I have learned this Irish word which means lakes, and I intend to use it!

Glendalough is set in a valley between mountains and is an area with spectacular scenery and an abundance of wildlife.

Lower Lake

I was surprised by how quickly I was rewarded on my walk by coming across the Lower Lake. The rain drops falling caused gentle ripples to appear on its smooth surface. Across the lake I can see a few buildings nestled within the trees. It is a calm sight, one that can still your mind as you take in the view. On this day, all I can hear is the rain drops falling around me and the call of birds. After spending time just relaxing as I took in the view, I returned to the track to continue my journey towards the Upper Lake.

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It is a wooded path that takes you through a green paradise of trees and on your left, the trees rise up along the mountain. It is well signed and maintained, there is no need to worry about getting lost, signs are plentiful and what is required in regards to your ability is also signed. Arrows help you along the way, different colours depending on which walk you take. I am following the green arrows today (along the Green Path) to take the easiest walk to the Upper Lake.

Upper Lake

Both sides of the lake are rimmed by mountains, I stand in the valley on the edge of the lake. Trees rise in rows on the mountain, like green soldiers in the distance, silent protectors of the mountain and lake. Some of them are completely obscured by the fog. If I look carefully I can just make out their shapes.

Ducks dot the lake close to the edge and are seemingly curious about the day’s visitors. Here I stand, taking in the views and colours of the landscape. Greens, browns, reds and yellows dominate. The lake itself is dark, reflecting the gloomy sky above it as rain continues to fall. It is breathtaking, a place of rugged beauty.

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As I stood and took in the peaceful surroundings, ironically, it was nature that broke me from my reverie. One of the ducks had quacked loudly, a sound that made me jump as I enjoyed the silence. This is a mountain paradise, calming and beautiful. I didn’t want to leave and stayed at the lake to walk around its perimeter and take in the views. It is a scene I could not tire of. The lake in the valley between mountains; the fog covering the mountains across the lake; the natural and beautiful environment.

Glendalough is a peaceful place to escape the city. Surrounded by mountains, it is a place to walk, hike and relax. I have taken just one walk of many here, there are many more parts of Glendalough to explore. Have you visited this beautiful area? Let me know if you have and share your thoughts!

 

Ireland’s attractions

I have been fortunate throughout my time in Ireland to visit many locations – natural wonders; historical sites; places filled with magic and mythology; and vibrant cities. I have explored this great country, yet there is still more to see and experience.

One by one, I will take you through each location and share my wonder, my experiences and information about truly breathtaking places that need to be seen to be believed.

There is much to see, there is history to absorb and stories to hear – some related to the rebellion, to plague and suffering, to poverty and famine. Some relate to giants, fairies, leprechauns and other mythical beings, others are humorous and will make you laugh.

Ireland is a place that needs to be experienced and cherished. Use all senses to explore this great country. See breathtaking sights and marvel at the shades of green present in her landscape; inhale the wonderful scents of nature, of delicious food; touch stones that have been there for thousands of years; indulge your taste buds as you try local food and drink; hear the sound of crashing waves, of wildlife, of wind whispering through the trees, of Irish music and dance that makes your feet want to join in.

Discover Ireland’s beautiful and unique locations!

It begins

My life as an intern brought with it changes. I am once again nervous and excited, just as I would be were it an entirely new job. I want to do my best and make a good impression. I also want to soak in all the learning I can, experience Irish culture, music and dance. Even hearing the Irish language (Gaelic). It sounds incredibly difficult, yet beautiful.

It’s an opportunity and experience that I intend to make count. Opportunities need to be given the attention they deserve. It may mean extra time and effort but it is a worthwhile investment.Like any new venture, I am unsure what the outcome will be but it is exciting to find out.

As a writer, I find Dublin inspiring. It is a literary city with many nooks and crannies to explore. History blends with modern and vibrant cities surrounded by quaint villages and scenic landscapes. Many well-known writers hail from this beautiful country and have left their mark through their books and other written works.

There are even literary themed pub crawls that take visitors to pubs frequented by literary greats such as James Joyce, Oscar Wilde and Seamus Heaney to name a few. Ireland is a place to find inspiration – mesmerising views, historic locations and folklore can have that effect. I am inspired to write simply by being here for a few days. My Irish adventure will be one to remember!

 

Dublin

Dublin is a melting pot of cultures. It may simply be tourists I hear speaking a variety of languages but many appear to live and work in the capital.

I’ve heard Italian, Spanish, Arabic, even Greek. I was surprised at that last one too! Dublin’s mix of cultures aside, it is a hub for shopping, food, drink and tourism. There are a variety of attractions – natural, cultural, historical and architectural.

With just 2 days in Dublin under my belt, I love the city. I love the accents I hear, the music, the quaint pubs and restaurants and the ease of getting around this very walkable city.

The food is delicious – warm, comforting food which complements the cold weather. I am yet to find the perfect coffee however. There is still plenty of time to find the perfect brew!

The atmosphere draws me in. It is a bustling city, but it’s also laid back and distinctly Irish. Walking down the charming cobbled streets of the Temple Bar, there are colourful shops and restaurants and live music in many venues.The liveliness of the area creates a very enjoyable visit. Yet not far from here, you can find yourself surrounded by nature at St Stephen’s Green, Phoenix Park and picturesque squares. It is a city that needs to be explored in depth; a cursory glance is not enough to discover all of Dublin’s charms.

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This is an Irish dance – review

Jean Butler has moved away from the jigs and reels and she’s now focused on breaking down dance to its core. In her new show, accompanied by cellist Neil Martin, she does just that. Dancer and instrument become one at times as she moves effortlessly across the stage. There are periods of silence; a glance, a challenge or flirtation perhaps and as Martin plays, Butler immerses herself into the music.

There are no sequins, Butler isn’t covered in piles of make-up, the stage is not a production akin to Riverdance. This is simple, to the point and truly refreshing. Butler wears a loose white top and leggings, her hair in a bun. She is bare foot as she moves across the stage. Neil Martin wears a button up shirt and trousers. Their clothes would not be out of place off stage. Butler would only need to don shoes and she’d be set for a casual outing. The stage is bare except for boxes that both Butler and Martin sit on at times. In the background there are broken pieces of plaster strewn about. A literal example of breaking down dance and putting it back together.

Butler’s fluidity as a dancer is evident. She does not need dance shoes to make an impact. Tall, lean and elegant, she alternates between using her whole body, her upper body or her lower body as she moves with the cello’s sound. Musician and dancer are in perfect synchronicity. Martin plucks the strings, offering a challenge and Butler immediately reacts, following the music with ease. Her movements are both fast and slow, light and heavy. When she’s not dancing, she simply walks across the stage in silence or walks across on the tips of her toes. She isn’t restricted by her professional training as an Irish dancer, she is able to use her whole body as she interprets the sounds of the deep, velvety smooth cello. Who leads and who follows is interchangeable. It is a joy to behold as a concept and is performed admirably.

Martin is flawless, the piece he played toward the end without Butler dancing was beautifully uplifting. It was a nice touch to have Martin the centre of attention at that point to show the audience more of his musical talent. Butler sat in a corner in a contemplative state as he did this. A short time later, darkness falls on both. The audience is on their feet while Butler and Martin bow and smile.

Butler’s work since her time with Riverdance and Dancing on Dangerous Ground is vast. Solo work has included, ‘Does she take sugar?’, ‘Day’ and ‘hurry’. She has also been busy in the world of academia – External Examiner of the Traditional Music and Dance BA at Limerick University and Associate Professor of Irish Studies at Glucksman Ireland House, NYU. In 2018, she is set to teach at The Princeton Atelier.

Irish dance is no longer just ramrod straight arms and fancy footwork. It is vibrant, fluid and as Butler demonstrates – a duet can have just as much impact as a stage filled with dancers.