The most quintessentially Irish experience you can have is not posing with an over-priced pint in Temple Bar, nor wearing an aran jumper in a futile attempt to block out an Atlantic gale, it’s one you can run into any evening of the year just a few miles outside any Irish town or city: getting stuck behind a herd of cows coming in from the fields.

Rush hour, Irish style.

Rush hour, Irish style.

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The Giro d’Italia came to Ireland this summer, and you can still trace its path through various parts of the country by the way everything was painted pink.

McCollam's Restaurant and Pub went completely pink for the Giro d'Italia, and hung a lot of bicycle wheels on the building for good measure.

McCollam’s Restaurant and Pub went completely pink for the Giro d’Italia, and hung a lot of bicycle wheels on the building for good measure.

The village of Cushendall in Co. Antrim, was every excited about the Giro, and appears to have gone out of their way to get in the appropriate spirit. While other communities made do with a few posters and the odd splash of pink, Cushendall went all out, painting buildings, cars, and bicycles, and hanging pink bunting everywhere. Read the rest of this entry »

August kicks off with a (usually) balmy bank holiday weekend, and the events keep coming throughout the month.

FleadhCheoilSligo-Logo2-461x335

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By summer, most fairy trees in Ireland are sagging under the weight of misguided offerings. Many are dying from the accumulated damage. Yesterday, my kids and I joined in an effort to save the rag trees on the Hill of Tara.

Fairy Trees in Ireland

Rag trees on the Hill of Tara after cleaning. (Click the picture to see what they usually look like in summer.)

The Tara & Skryne Preservation Group organized a clean up because the two rag trees on the Hill of Tara (they grow together, so appear to be one) were becoming not just unsightly under the weight of inappropriate offerings, but were actually being damaged by them. After seeing the call-to-arms on Facebook, we joined 30-or-so other old souls who cared enough to spend some time cutting the clutter away. Read the rest of this entry »

Dublin has many famous landmarks, but one that should be more famous is the “Hungry Tree,” which is slowly digesting a park bench.

Hungry Tree 1In the grounds of the King’s Inns, the training ground of centuries of Irish lawyers and barristers, stands a vast London Plane tree of unknown age. Although listed as one of Ireland’s Heritage Trees by the Tree Council of Ireland, but its real claim to fame is the park bench it’s been slowly swallowing up over time.  Read the rest of this entry »

What if alcoholism was a competitive sport? How would the professional drinkers differ from small-town drunks? That’s the provocative premise of Belfast novelist Jason Johnson’s new comic novel Sinker.

Sinker by Jason Johnson (Liberties Press)

Sinker by Jason Johnson (Liberties Press)

Baker Forley is a young man from Derry with an unusual talent, he can drink more than most people and remain upright without puking (instant disqualification during a competition). After failing at conventional life, he attempts to perfect this one skill. To this end, he finds a manager in Ratface, a retired American competitive drinker, or “Sinker” in the slang of the pro-drinking circuit. After initial success as a newcomer, and having gained the nickname “The Reactor” for reasons that only make sense to the inebriated, he is invited to an exclusive event in Mallorca, featuring only the best sinkers in the world, “The Bullfight.” Read the rest of this entry »

Fore Abbey is one of the lesser-known monastic ruins in Ireland, which is a shame, as it’s a great place for a family day out, offering places to climb, a stream to play in, a rag tree to decorate, and hills to explore. 

Fore Abbey Rag Tree

The Rag Tree with Fore Abbey in the background.

Founded about 630 by St. Fechin, Fore Abbey lies near Lough Lene in Co. Westmeath. The original monastic community was largely rebuilt by the Benedictines in the 13th and 15th centuries, and these comprise most of the ruins you can visit today.

In its heyday, there were seven “Wonders of Fore,” but not all are verifiable anymore. These were:

  1. The monastery in a bog
  2. The mill without a stream
  3. Water that flows uphill
  4. The tree that won’t burn
  5. Water that won’t boil
  6. The anchorite in a cell
  7. The lintel-stone raised by St. Fechin’s prayers

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Some people say that Cadbury’s Dairy Milk Chocolate tastes different on opposite sides of the border between Northern Ireland and The Republic of Ireland. So, we happily put that claim to the test.

Cadbury's Dairy Milk as purchased in the Republic of Ireland (L) and Northern Ireland (R)

Cadbury’s Dairy Milk as purchased in the Republic of Ireland (L) and Northern Ireland (R)

My family are big chocolate fans. When we return from a trip to Ireland, we bring quite a lot of chocolate back with us (Roses and various Cadbury bars are the favorites). So, when a friend mentioned stocking up on Dairy Milk in Northern Ireland because it tasted better, I had to test it out. On a trip to the Giant’s Causeway we purchased a “Northern” Dairy Milk, and later bought a “Southern” one at a Dunnes Stores in Co. Meath. Then, we attempted a quasi-scientific (aka, totally unscientific) test to establish if they taste the same or not. Read the rest of this entry »

One shouldn’t look to fiction for lessons from history, but reading the collected stories of one author across his whole career inevitably exposes the reader to the changing tides of the culture he writes about. Bernard MacLaverty’s Collected Stories displays both his genius with words, and the complexity of life in Belfast. 

Collected Stories by Bernard MacLaverty (Jonathan Cape)

Collected Stories by Bernard MacLaverty (Jonathan Cape)

MacLaverty is a meticulous craftsman, but not a showy writer. He avoids elaborate phrases that draw attention to themselves, and instead displays a sharp ear for natural dialogue. I sometimes feel schitzophrenic that I can thrill to the jagged offbeat stories of Colin Barrett one day, and be held in thrall by MacLaverty’s restrained elegance the next. Surely they’re worlds apart in focus and execution? But, while I enjoy a young whipper-snapper like Kevin Barry pushing the dialogue in his stories to heightened extremes, I know that — although I might wish they would — few people really talk like that. Barry entertains by stretching Ireland’s musical and inventive language to its limits, but reading MacLaverty, we recognize the truth of his dialogue; he catches the regional inflections, the distinctive vocal tics, and unconscious phrases that fill the Belfast air, filling his characters with immediacy and life. Read the rest of this entry »

On an unassuming road between Ballymoney and Ballycastle in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, you’ll come upon the tiny community of Armoy, which contains a slightly unusual round tower.

Armoy Round Tower. (L) the step below the door. (R) view from the inside looking out. (Photos: atriptoIreland.com)

Armoy Round Tower. (L) the step below the door. (R) view from the inside looking out. (Photos: atriptoIreland.com)

At first glance, the only unusual thing about the meticulously kept graveyard of St. Patrick’s Church of Ireland in Armoy is the fish decorating its weather vane, but as you come around the bend in the road that wraps around the church you’ll see the tiny round tower that stands beside the church’s more-modern (1869) bell tower. Read the rest of this entry »

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