Showing posts with label Ireland. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ireland. Show all posts

Friday 28 December 2018

Farewell to 2018!

I've not been around much in Blogland recently.  I've been busy with other real-world business, with some travelling and with much seasonal merry-making.

Yesterday on the way out of Dublin Port I was struck by the dramatic low clouds, and the number of people walking along the breakwater. From the distance and the elevation of the car ferry's deck they looked like an army of ants marching off an excess of roast turkey and plum pudding.

Thursday 27 July 2017

The White Lough on a sparkling summer evening ...

When we're back home in Ireland our default dog-walking venue is the White Lough, which is just a hop, a skip and a jump away from my parents' home. It's a firm favourite for an after-dinner romp on bright summer evenings when we need to walk off a few calories.

Friday 17 March 2017

☘️ Chocolate Guinness Cupcakes☘️

☘️Happy Saint Patrick's Day!☘️

Back in God's Own Country they watch out to see whether the good Saint has turned the sunny side of the stone up. If he has, and the sun shines on our National Day, it means that spring has arrived. If he hasn't, then we'll sadly have to wait. I've got everything crossed for a sunny side up day.

Now on to our own little celebration here at Talk-a-Lot Towers. As is apparent from the recipes that I share I'm a big fan of the black stuff. I love Guinness for cooking. I'm also rather partial to the odd glass of it to wet my whistle with as well, but, then again, I'm not Irish for nothing ... 😜

To celebrate St. Patrick's Day this year I've made some Chocolate Guinness cupcakes, which are devilishly tasty, even if I say so myself!

Just read on for my recipe:

Friday 22 July 2016

TGI Friday ...

And what a  week it's been. We've had a heatwave in Ireland. In Ireland! A heatwave! Who'd have thought? We showed up and brought the summer weather with us. It was brilliant. We had glorious afternoons of blue skies and sunshine as we walked our dogs. Being further north the days are so much longer at this time of the year, giving us lots of opportunities to enjoy the great out-of-doors into the late evenings.

Thursday 21 July 2016

St Patrick's Chair and Well ... a place of pagan wonder ...

The other day we headed off in search of an ancient druid site, where some of the old magic still lives on in the dappled light of the forest floor. Like many of Ireland's pre-Christian sites it had to reinvent itself when St. Patrick brought Christianity to these shores, but it was a fairly simple process. A few tweaks here and there and the new order was born.

Tuesday 19 July 2016

Wild Raspberry Jam ...

... is a really tasty thing. I jest you not. Here in Ireland in the month of July wild raspberries grow at the fringes of the forest that are the sweetest, most raspberriest raspberries in the world. One of our favourite summer afternoon activities is going for a walk, and picking the wild raspberries as we wander. It's our thing in July. And yesterday we went armed with little buckets to harvest enough fruit to make some jam.

Sunday 5 June 2016

Half-term hols in the green heart of Ulster ...

We've spent the half term holidays back in the green heart of Ulster where I grew up, and they were a bit of a treat. The sun shone, the hawthorn bloomed, the beech trees burst out the fresh green of their new foliage and, beneath perfect blue skies, it felt like warm, glorious summer. When the sun shines over here in God’s Own Country, there’s nowhere else quite like it on earth.

We’ve gone for long walks around our favourite lakes. South Tyrone and neighbouring Monaghan are full of charming little lakes, fed with run-off from the surrounding hills. We’ve added a new one to the collection this trip. A cousin of my father’s suggested we try Emy Lough, just outside of Emyvale in County Monaghan. And it didn’t disappoint.

It was a hot day, the day we went, and the trout were jumping, casting rings of ripples through the shallows. Anglers were waist-deep in the water, throwing their rods back and forth to cast flies to tempt them. Try as I might, however, I couldn’t manage to catch any of those jumping fish with my camera. Although Emi did catch this little chap wandering along the path all on his lonesome. The WonderDog was very keen to play with him, but we sent him on his way safely through the long grass by the lakeshore, and out of reach of the inquisitive snouts of the local pooches.

Saturday 4 June 2016

The Ulster American Folk Park ...

It's hard to think of a time when this folk park, devoted as it is to the theme of emigration, has been more relevant to the world we live in. As a child growing up in South Tyrone I visited it from time to time, and found it interesting for the story it told about generations of my countrymen who'd emigrated to seek better lives in the United States. It had a resonance with my own family: each of my four grandparents had at least one sibling who emigrated for economic reasons during the interwar years. Emigration and the parting with a loved one has been a constant feature of rural life in Ireland for much of modern history.

Ulster American Folk Park, Omagh, County Tyrone
The Hughes family home

Over the generations they fled famine, persecution, war and civil unrest. In an age in which mechanisation had rendered much manual labour redundant many who couldn’t earn their living in the shipyards and the rope-works set their sights on the west and went in search of a better life.  Yet today these background themes that drove them away from home seem desperately contemporary.

Wednesday 1 June 2016

Parkanaur Forest Park Parasol Beech Trees

The other day I dragged my mum, Emi and the WonderDog off in search of a couple of freaky beech trees. I had a vague recollection of having stumbled across them on my travels a lifetime ago in Parkanaur Forest Park, here in beautiful County Tyrone. I'd bored my family with stories about how these trees grew the wrong way up, and were a definite rarity in the world of all things botanical.

I'll admit that I got some of the story twisted. They've got roots at the end of their branches, I'd said. And they grow upside down, and back to front. 

So, okay, I'll level with you: they don't exactly grow back to front or upside down, but they are genuine 24-carat freaks of nature.

Parkanaur Forest Park Parasol Beech Trees
Parkanaur Forest Park Parasol Beech Trees

Thursday 17 March 2016

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

The White Lough, County Tyrone
Top of the morning to you all! And a very happy St. Patrick's Day!

It's a bit weird, but we celebrate the good Saint's day on the anniversary of the day on which he is believed to have died: his death day.

Probably best not to dwell too much on the idea of a death day, can't see them catching on myself ...

All the best for now,

Bonny x

Tuesday 29 December 2015

Belfast to Barcelona roadtrip ...

We've made it! We've arrived on the sunny Costa Brava for New Year, or Noche Vieja as Mr B's family term it.

And what a difference a year makes. Last year when we bombed down to the Costa we ran into frosty weather at home and blizzard conditions up in the mountains of the Haute Roussillon. This year we saw massive floods across North Wales and not a smidgen of the white stuff anywhere. Along the length of our journey the weather felt unseasonably warm, and now, down here on the Costa Brava, it's sunny and a balmy 18°C this morning.
Dublin Bay lighthouse in the dawn light

Monday 21 December 2015

Home for the holidays ...

We've made it back home to beautiful County Tyrone for the Christmas holidays. And we're so grateful to have arrived safely. We had an epic ferry crossing from Holyhead to Dublin in really rough seas, which made us feel relieved to disembark and stand on terra firma without the horizon moving around chaotically with the rise and fall of the waves.

This morning the sun shone, and we rounded up the dogs for a walk around White Ness. It's actually called the White Lough, but Emi always refers to it as White Ness in the hope that one day it'll have its very own resident monster - just like Lough Ness in Scotland. Hope springs eternal  when you're ten years old.

Saturday 31 October 2015

Still blooming through Halloween ...

We've come to stay with my parents in South Tyrone. My mum's a Halloween baby, and we're helping her celebrate with a birthday weekend to wrap up Emi's half term holidays. One of the many amazing things to impress us over here in Ireland is how her garden is blooming late into the autumn.

I am deeply envious. I garden on not-very-wonderful London clay, where I have to work really, really hard to get the good things to flourish. The weeds seem to do just fine for some unfathomable reason, but I struggle to produce all the wonderful colours that seem to appear almost effortlessly over here.

Monday 20 July 2015

The Giant's Causeway ...

The Giant's Causeway, County Antrim, Northern Ireland

The other day we walked in the footsteps of giants down at the Giant's Causeway in County Antrim. It's funny how many giant stories there are over here, but the one about Finn MacCool, the war-mongering giant, who decided to rely on his wits and not to fight is one of the better ones.

Back in the day Finn was the leader of the Fianna, a fearsome band of warriors, who ruled the roost in these parts. As leader of the pack old Finn boy developed quite a swagger. Some might say he became a belligerent bully. And like all bullies he nursed a serious chip on his shoulder. For reasons that few could ever understand Finn MacCool was a giant with something to prove.

Friday 17 July 2015

In Grandma's Irish Country Garden ...

Emi loves coming to my parents' house here amidst the rolling hills of south Tyrone. For me it's a pleasure to see him enjoy the simple pleasures that shaped my own childhood: the long country walks, the fragrant of vases of sweet pea that find their way into every room, the soft fruit ripening slowly under the July sun and the constant round of visits to friends and family with all the in-jokes and tall stories that invariably get told in the process.

I'm hoping that his Grandma's garden will make an impression that will last a lifetime for him. It's not that it's some fancy pants garden. It really isn't. It's just a country garden that's been my mother's pride and joy for almost half a century. She's spent a big chunk of her life in that garden, taking care of her precious plants, planning for next season, feeding her family from its bounty and enjoying its crazy, slightly chaotic colour.

Today it's full of scent: sweet peas, pinks, mock orange, sweet William, carnations and the most exquisite scented peony roses that I've ever beheld. I've put a photo of this last beauty below, and, believe me it's the most exquisite thing that's ever grown in a flower bed. 

One thing that my mum has understood very clearly from the get-go is the importance of looking after her soil. It's been well nourished over the years with loads of rotted manure and her own home-made compost. If you step onto one of her flower beds you feel the slightly spongy sensation under foot of thick, well-aerated soil that's been hoed and hasn't compressed. 

There are plants from just about everywhere she's visited. Some have been propagated from the odd seed pod that's surreptitiously found its way into her pocket. Others have come to their new home as slips, cuttings that have been carefully carried back in her handbag. And when it comes to buying her a present, well there's nothing that will bring a bigger smile to her face than something she can plant in her garden.

At the moment she's got an amazing display of poppies that came from a trip many years' ago to the Chelsea flower show, where someone sold her a few packets of mixed Himalayan poppies. They've grown and reseeded and kept the colour blooming faithfully every year for the better part of a decade. 

And then there are her little feathered friends. She feeds them conscientiously, and they watch out for her from the hedgerows around the lawn. Sometimes they mistake me for my mum and follow me around the garden too, watching to see whether I've got some treats for them. It's a funny feeling being stalked by sparrows and blue tits.

We've never really got too bogged down with the highfalutin botanical names for the plants.  The Mock Orange above is one of my favourites. It grows as an untidy looking shrub on an East-facing slope in the garden, but its fragrance is sublime. A friend who's a landscape gardener, always pulls an appalled expression when I mention how much I love this shrub. In her view it's an architectural disaster that looks like a badly constructed bird's nest. Harsh words, but for me the issue starts and finishes with its wonderful scent.

And in this garden nothing goes to waste. Delivery crates are up-cycled into flower pots. Wellington boots with holes in that have no chance of keeping your toes dry any longer find a new lease of life as homes for geraniums. 

I always come away with a serious case of delphinium envy. Aren't these blue beauties (above) stunning? They just won't grow like this for me in London. 

At the back of the garden the lawn morphs into a pathway that leads on to the field beyond. There's lots of cow parsley, fox gloves and meadowsweet down there at this time of the year. It's a haven for wildlife. Occasionally they find a hedgehog cuddled into a nice cosy clump of dry elephant grass in the autumn.

And this (below) is Miss Blondie, my mum's dog, who guards the garden from any interfering pussy cats who might be tempted to come in and dig up the plants. She's a sweet old girl who's seen a fair few summers, and ranks well above the Wonder Dog in our little household pecking order. As the junior cadet he respectfully waits his turn, and generally does what he has to in order to stay on her good side.

The climate here is quite damp. Moss grows really well, as does lichen. Just look at the beautiful growth on this dead branch. I think it's got moss grown over with a couple of different types of lichen. It's really much too pretty to prune.

And that's about the size of it: nothing that's going to win us any RHS gold medals, but it's our very own little corner of garden heaven nonetheless.

Happy Friday! And all the best for the weekend,

Bonny x

Thursday 16 July 2015

Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge ...

Yesterday Emi, my father and I visited one of my favourite childhood haunts, the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, just outside Ballycastle in County Antrim. I remember coming here as a little girl and being both scared out of my wits and exhilarated with the challenge of crossing the bridge. Reaching the other side safely always felt like a really big deal to my eight or nine year old self.

The wobbly bridge swings in the sea breeze between the mainland and Carrick-a-Rede island, some 100 foot or 30 metres above the waves spanning the 60 foot/ 20 metre chasm over the sea that makes Carrick-a-Rede an island. These days the nice people at the National Trust award Crossing the Bridge certificates to the brave folk who make it out and back again. 
Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, County Antrim

Carrick-a-Rede is an anglicisation of the Gaelic Carraig-a-Rade, which translates as rock in the road. The road here is the sea route of the Atlantic salmon, which follows a westward journey past the island, and the island is the rock in that road. 

Tuesday 17 March 2015

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

The very top of the morning to you!

And a very Happy Saint Patrick's Day!

May the Good Saint  turn the sunny side up for you.


Bonny x

Monday 29 December 2014

Costa Brava Christmas ... rocking through to Epiphany

And so we've made our seasonal dash from my family to his  ...  from Ireland to the Costa Brava.

Road trip, anyone? Belfast to Barcelona ? What a journey!

And at this time of the year, with record snowfall in France, things got interesting up in the highlands of Haute Roussillon. Luckily Mr B is a man who understands snow chains, so we were just fine, although our progress was s-l-o-w. We listened to back episodes of the Friday Night News Quiz from Radio 4, which kept us laughing for most of the way. Everyone else was looking glum with the weather, but we were chuckling away with Sandi Toksvig.

So we went from Aughnacloy (my village in lovely County Tyrone), which looked like this on Christmas Day when we had our usual family stroll before Christmas lunch:

... through this:

... to finally arrive here last night: 

It's cold and the Tramuntana is blowing hard from the North, but the sun is shining and familiar, friendly faces greet us wherever we go.

At the risk of sounding like a misanthrope I love my village here on the Costa Brava when all the tourists go home. It's just us locals kicking our heels in the Ramblas and taking in the sea air, and that suits me just fine.

Maxi loves feeling the wind blow through his fur, and this beach ... well it's a dog's delight for digging in, and this hound likes nothing better than to dig himself a good big hole.

In an alcove in the front facade of our old monastery there's a life-size Belén, a manger scene. It's beautiful when they light it up at night. There's a rumour that this old place was founded by Charlemagne during his campaign against the Moors. Whatever the way of it, the building feels as old as time itself and I'd be hard pushed to think of a better place to act out the Nativity.

Christmas keeps on rocking here until the Feast of the Epiphany (6th January). On the eve of Epiphany (the night of 5th January) Spanish children believe that the Wise Kings travel through the land bearing gifts for each boy and girl who's been good during the past year, just like they did for the baby Jesus all those years' ago. The naughty niños only get a piece of coal.  These days the confectioners have got in on the act and most children get some joke carbón candy that looks just like a piece of the black stuff. 

On Sunday night we've got a special village parade when the Wise Kings show up to collect the children's letters, and then on Monday night there's another parade, the Cabalgata de los Reyes Magos. Sadly we're not going to be able to stick around for this one. It's the main event. Gaspar, the King of Sheba, bearing Frankinscence and dressed in green,  Melchior, the King of Arabia, bearing gold and dressed in white, and, finally, Balthazar, the King of Egypt, dressed in purple and bearing myrrh, will together lead the Epiphany parade. 

In our village it's a really big deal. The whole community turns out, and the Wise Kings process through the village on horseback. Tractors pull floats of various others in Biblical scenes and everyone who is part of the parade has a HUGE stash of bonbons, which they throw to the crowds of children, who come clutching plastic shopping bags to hoover them all up and carry them home.

It's all a bit mad, but totally brilliant: an affirmation and a celebration of life, regardless of which, if any, faith you follow. I can't see any theological basis for chucking bucketfuls of candies at the kids, but it's great fun and enthusiastically followed by everyone, including the Muslim children of the village's immigrant community from North Africa, who are out there with their plastic bags hoovering up sweets with the best of them. Over here Christmas is for everybody, which is just as it should be.

The other thing that totally blows me away at this time of the year is the citrus harvest. I know I ought not to be surprised, I've been enjoying Christmas clementines since November, but it's such a strange thing to find trees that produce fruit in the middle of the winter cold. And they're all over the village: oranges trees and lemon trees bearing the most most wonderful orange and yellow fruit in quiet corners of town gardens.

And then, at the end of the day, as the darkness falls and the Tramuntana blows more fiercely the best thing to do is curl up in front of a roaring fire with a nice bottle or Rioja and a good movie. Tonight we're watching Dead Poets Society, which is one of our favourites. 

All the best for now,

Bonny x

As shared on image-in-ing and Texture Tuesday

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Irish linen ... and the Wellbrook Beetling Mill

Here in Ulster we pride ourselves on our traditional Irish linen.  Just about every family home boasts a snowy, white table cloth made of fine linen damask that gets pulled out on high days and holy days. Often it's something very precious that's been handed down from grandmother to granddaughter with beautiful hand embroidery that was worked by candlelight a hundred years ago.

For centuries the very finest linen in the world has been produced here. In the old days small farmers up and down the Province grew a field or two of flax, rotating it with their other crops from year to year. When the flowers bloomed in August the flax was ready to harvest, and everyone descended on the fields to pull the plants out by the root. They didn't use knives to cut the stems so as not to waste any of the valuable fibre, which descends down into the roots. At a time when the dark shadow of famine still stalked the land it was important to capture every useful part of the plant and not to waste anything that could be turned into profit to put food on the table.

The flax was then threshed to remove the seeds and the outer straw.

Next the flax plants had to be retted, a process whereby they were soaked in water to break down the outer parts of the plant stem making it easier to extract the useful fibre within. To this day when you go out walking in the Ulster countryside you come across small, black ponds, fed by diverted streams. Once upon a time these were the flax holes, in which the flax was left to rot. My mum (who's really not that old) vividly remembers the putrid smell of the plants when they were pulled out of the fetid water for the next part of the process.

After a few weeks when the outer parts of the stems had rotted away the flax was taken out and dried off before being scutched,which involved beating off the remaining external fibres using long wooden knives.

The long strands of useful fibre were now hackled, that is to say they were drawn through a succession of increasingly fine-toothed hackle combs, which were essentially beds of nails to remove any remaining chaff. This remaining chaff was known as the toe, from which a rough, inferior textile for poor men's clothes were made: hence the expression toe rag. Next they were spun by hand into linen threads for weaving.

Once the linen cloth was woven on a loom it produced a loose, open grained fabric, which was then beaten, or beetled, to close the weave and produce a denser textile. And this is the point at which the Wellbrook Beetling Mill just outside Cookstown in County Tyrone comes into the picture. Built in the 1760's and operated commercially until the 1960's, it's the only surviving beetling mill in the Province that remains operational.

It's powered by water from the fast flowing Balinderry River which is diverted into a mill race that raises it some 15 metres to fall and hit the water wheel at the side of the building. There's a sluice gate that operates the on/ off switch and can be controlled from inside the building where there are seven beetling machines, two of which are still operating.

When you take a tour of the premises they'll open the sluice gate and start one of their engines.  The noise will impress you even though you're standing on the floor above looking down from the viewing gallery. I can only imagine how deafening it must have been for the folk working on the same level as all seven machines when they were in action. And many of those poor folk were children of as little as eight years of age, just like my Emi. They were better at dodging and diving between the machines, where they worked 12 hour shifts, six days a week for a few pennies. Most of them skipped school completely to earn the small pittance they were paid. Literacy rates were low, many were injured, their lungs weakened by the straw debris in the air that they breathed throughout their long workday and almost all of them suffered impaired hearing as a result of the unrelenting noise of the beetling engines.

The smaller children would start off measuring out the skeins of linen thread for the weavers on a clock easel such as the one in the photo above. Because they weren't able to take time off to go to school few of them were able to count. As a result the clock easel had an internal mechanism called the weasel. When the requisite number of resolutions had been made to measure out the correct length of thread (usually 80 yards) the weasel would pop. This is believed to have been the origins of the nursery rhyme:
Half a pound of tupenny rice,
Half a pound of treacle,
That's the way the money goes,
Pop! goes the weasel. 

It's a bit chilling to think that such a popular nursery rhyme should have its origins in such grim and exploitative child labour. And it makes me look rather differently at the antique table linens that my mother and I have cherished down the years. Some of them are heirloom pieces that my grandmothers embroidered, and others are wonderful finds that we've snapped up as job-lots at auction. Often these wonderful fabrics go unappreciated in a world where everyone wants a low-maintenance, non-iron tablecloth or an oilcloth that doesn't need anything more than a sponge-down. But for those special occasions when you might think of dressing up the table, inviting a few friends over and making something really wonderful for dinner there's nothing to compare with the timeless beauty of fine linen damask. Have a look at some of my grandmother's handiwork and see what you think:

My paternal Grandma embroidered the cloth in the photos above as a centrepiece for her dining table, and the reverse side is almost as pretty as the display side. Her needlework is so very, very neat. What makes it all the more amazing is that she was as short-sighted as I am, and must really have struggled to thread her needle in the gloom of her not very bright lights with her heavy glasses that slipped to the end of her nose every time she bent over her work.

I can't say that Emi is desperately impressed with any of this. He enjoyed the booming racket of the mill, and the splashing majesty of the waterwheel when the sluice gate opened, but flowery antique table cloths are totally not his scene.

Every night when I get home
The monkey's on the table,
Take a stick and knock it off,
Pop! goes the weasel.

For now I'll keep them safely wrapped in tissue paper, and take them out from time to time when we've got something really special to celebrate but it's hard to forget the story of the weasel and the sacrifice that went into producing them.

Up and down the City Road,
In and out the Eagle.
That's the way the money goes,
Pop! goes the weasel.

If you're over in this neck of the woods and you'd like to check out a little bit of our industrial heritage you can find the website for the Wellbrook Beetling Mill here:Wellbrook Beetling Mill. It's run by the National Trust and makes a great venue for a weather-proof afternoon out.

All the best for now,

Bonny x

As shared on the Alphabet Project