The Beauty of Co. Clare

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We have a tour we do with or recommend to all our visitors, as it really passes through many of the best-known places in County Clare. When you’ve done this main route, you will either want to come back to spend more time in each place or see more of Clare.

From Casa Ceoil you drive towards Corofin through to Killnaboy, here you may can turn off to see Father Ted’s house , or climb up Mullaghmore for a light to medium trek. If not, you keep going until you get to Leamaneh Castle  from the late 15th century. At the castle cross you turn off towards Carron and the heart of the Burren.

In Carron you can visitThe Burren Perfumery which sells handmade perfumes and soaps, has a lovely little coffee shop and shows a short documentary of the unique flora of the Burren landscape. By Carron you will also find the Caherconnell Ring Fort, which at times also has sheepdog demostrations. Artefacts have been found in the fort that date back to the early Bronze Age, about 2000-1500 BC.

Continuing on you have to stop at the most iconic archaeological monuments in the Burren, it is also the oldest megalithic monument in Ireland, the Poulnabrone Dolmen.

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Poulnabrone Dolmen in the Burren.

The name means “The hole of sorrows”, being a tomb the name is no surprise. It was built and in use about 3800 BC and in the tomb archaeologist have found the remains of 16 adults, six children and a newborn.

Keep going through the austere and impressive landscape of the Burren towards the sea. You will pass the Aillwee Cave, which is one of the oldest caves in Ireland. Here there is also a fascinating centre for Birds of Prey where they have flying displays, birds of prey from different parts of the world and the centre also works with raptor conservation. Don’t miss the cheese shop that not only sells unique cheese such as firm Gouda style cheese with garlic and nettle, but also has fabulous toffee. The caves are a great outing for all, but we would particularly recommend it for families.

From here you keep driving towards the coast and pass through Ballyvaughan. Turn left in the village and follow the Wild Atlantic Way coast towards Fanore. On the way, there are a few places suitable to stop. Get out of the car and do a small walk with the steep Burren hills on one side and flat stony landscape that abruptly clashes with the Atlantic on the other. Depending on where you are, you will either see Galway or the Aran Islands across the water. Fanore beach is wild, long, beautiful and literally in the middle of nowhere.

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The Sweater Shop in Doolin.

Keep going and turn off towards Doolin, here I always recommend you get yourself a nice warm chowder in one of the pubs. Have a look around the shops and then continue towards the Cliffs of Moher. Come back to Doolin another day if you want to visit the Aran islands, you take the ferry here. If you keep hugging the coast, and dare up the steep hill by Doolin you will pass Doonagore Castle, which is a must for anyone that wants a great view or picture of a castle by the Atlantic.

There’s no way you can miss the Cliffs, although I’ll be honest, on a bad day you just might not see much. Most of it is very safe to walk, although we that have been here long remember the wild days where you could hang your legs over the edge.

Once you’ve seen the cliffs the route will take you by the Moher Hill Open Farm. This is a good outing for families but don’t forget that you can get a close up experience with farms animals any day if you are staying in our holiday home, Casa Ceoil. Keep going and you will pass  by St. Brigid’s shrine with its holy well, continue through Liscannor and the Rock Shop, and on to Lahich.

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The Cliffs of Moher, from another angle.

Here’s another great stop for a walk by the beach and a coffee in one of the cafes or pubs. Look at the surfers that brave the cold waters and weather at all times of the year, and see everyone and anyone on the promenade on a sunny day.

My favourite food spot in Lahinch is Kenny’s Bar. We have been going to Kenny’s since before our girls could walk and love the friendly atmosphere and  the good food. It is always a must for us when we have family visiting.

By now you will be wrecked, even if you didn’t stop at half of the places mentioned on this tour. On the way back to Ennis and Casa Ceoil, you will pass by Ennistymon and note that it is another village you have to come back to.

I can almost feel the tiredness of a full day of impressions, wild landscapes and exploration. Even in the worst of weather the landscape is so impressive and with an almost savage beauty,  the sea looks beautiful when wild and the pubs are never more welcoming than on a rainy and cold day.

There is so much more to see, as this tour is shows only a small corner of County Clare…but we’ll leave the other bits for another day.

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Lahinch beach in the evening as the tide is coming in.

Frenemies on the farm

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My relationship with our bullocks is less than cordial. Kevin grew up with cattle and there was never any doubt in him that he had to own some on the farm. Having a city upbringing, I am always open to any new farm activities but I must say that bullocks have broken my heart.

For our girl’s first communion two years ago, they received 5 young calves from their proud dad. To their father’s horror they named them all and wanted assurances that while they would be sold for a profit, they would not be eaten. We explained that we are not a hobby farm and what we raise and work with will at some point end up on a plate, the key is to give them a good life. We made a vague promise that we probably would not be the ones to eat them.

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Sparrow  as a calf, with his eye patch.

This was our girl’s and my first close experience with calves, and to my distaste I had never
realised how slobbery, poopy and clueless they are. There they are, Angus bullocks that remind me of rambling hippopotamuses – Blackie, Brownie, Calypso, Hercules and Sparrow (after John Sparrow, the pirate. See his eye patch?).

I bucket fed them milk, making sure everyone got his share, treated their ringworm and made sure they had plenty to eat, always putting up with their drool, poop, piss and general rough behaviour. Our relationship started souring when they once too many times broke into the shed and left a mess getting at the feed, but what truly broke our tenuous bond was when they raided my polytunnel.

Now, farm animals breaking into gardens is just part of country life; it may break your heart and make you want to chew stones in frustration, but it is part the package. What I can’t forgive our bullocks for, is the fact that they chewed their way straight through the middle of the plastic of the polytunnel.

“I want those walking steaks sold! I’ll kill them myself if I see them in my tunnel again!” I roared at my husband, who promised he’d replace the plastic and pointed out it was probably time for it anyway.

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“Are you looking at me? What if I’m eating the grass of you lawn?”, says Hercules with a blank stare.

Now, I did get lovely new plastic out of it, but what astounded me and truly makes me doubt the intelligence of these animals was the last time they broke out around the tunnel. Ignoring all the new fresh grass around the tunnel and the beautiful broccoli growing inside, the idiot bullocks started nibbling on the corners of the polytunnel plastic.

“What’s wrong with these animals?”, I have asked my husband and any cattle farmer I have met, the only answer I ever got was just a shrugging of shoulders  and no show of surprise. It seems you can expect anything from cattle.

I am finally getting my wish; the bullocks will be sold soon. The downside of the sale is that three cows in calf have been bought to replace them. My hope is that the females of the species are smarter than the males, because the intelligence of bullocks leave much to be desired.

The new calves will be born in a few weeks and they just might melt my hardened heart. I’m also hoping to give milking a go, even though Kevin has made it very clear that milking will not be in his repertoire, at all, but if I want to learn I can “knock myself out”.

You might consider taking a break in our holiday home, Casa Ceoil, and experience a slice of country life in the West. Spring is so lovely to see, with new calves and lambs enjoying the green fields and paddocks around the house. I will proudly show you the lambs, but probably point dismissively towards the calves.

The steady rhythm of a Clare reel

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A hidden secret in this county is the amount of traditional music you will find. We are not just talking gigs for the tourists, but real seisúins where musicians sometimes hit those levels of musical bliss, just for the love of it.

We, that live in County Clare, take it for granted, it is only when we have visitors that we realise how music flows through our everyday life. It is true that many don’t have the exposure to Irish trad music as my family has and that there are other counties where the music is alive and kicking. But there are few places in Ireland where it flows so effortless as in Clare, where you will find it in a pub most days of the week, the whole year round.

Doolin attracts the tourists and while lively it is aimed at them, in Ennistymon the music is for the locals and in Ennis it cuts across

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Afternoon trad session in Mickey Kerin’s Pub in Ennis.

all generations and styles, it is played for the youngest to the oldest clientele.

 

Our home is steeped in Irish trad music, even the name encompasses the mix of who we are. Casa Ceoil – casa for house in Spanish, a nod to my own background, and ceoil for the trad music – House of Music. While it is fiddle and piano that is mainly played in this house, you will often find Kevin or one of the kids tinkering away with the array of instruments Kevin has collected over the years.

We have a piano, a fiddle, half-size fiddle (on loan), quarter size fiddle, two fiddles in state of repair, parts of a fiddle that may or may not one day be built, numerous tin whistles in a selection different keys, a concertina, guitar, bodhran, flute and a Swedish Nyckelharpa, which is a type of key fiddle. These are at least the instruments I know about, I believe there is a lost banjo somewhere.

Kevin plays regularly around the county. I am often asked if he plays in a band, if he practices a lot at home or if he practices with the musicians he plays with any given evening. The questions shouldn’t take me by surprise, as few understand the natural flow and relaxed attitude of the Irish trad music.

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Ennis Trad Festival session in Knox’s Pub, Ennis.

The answer is no, Kevin practices only for concerts or plays for his own pleasure; he often doesn’t even know who he will be playing with when he is asked to fill in for a musician or what instruments will be part of the gig. Most musicians will know each other and will have played together at some point, but they will start with well-known tunes and slowly test out different pieces. As a spectator, you will probably not even notice, to your ears it will sound as if they have played together forever.

Are you feeling out of your depth? Feeling a lack of musical skill? Don’t worry, that makes two of us. I don’t play, I don’t sing and after almost twenty years of listening to Irish trad, I have a hard time differentiating one tune from another. In a house of musicians it makes me the odd one out. But, that will not stop anyone enjoying a night of tunes hopping through a pub, as there are few types of music that lift you and is infused with such energy and happiness as Irish trad music. You will learn to appreciate the steady rhythm that characterises the trad style of County Clare.

For a full rounded experience of Irish music, you should not miss this year’s Fleadh Cheoil, the All Ireland trad music, dancing and singing competitions, in Ennis. Our holiday home, Casa Ceoil, has been booked out since last year and accommodation may be hard to get in Ennis, but it is still worth a day visit if you are staying anywhere near.

Can’t make it to the Fleadh? Here’s a list of a few of the Trad Festivals in County Clare in 2017:

 

Curbing my seed frenzy

 

There is nothing more exciting than the start of the growing season, or rather the planning and preparation that goes into it.

At this time of the year the gardening magazines are all bursting with seed offers and to be honest they are a good deal considering that a pack of seeds cost from €1.5-3 each. I always fall for this marketing trick, but it does provide me with all the basic seeds I need.

Then I spend hours trawling seed sites online and happy times in the garden centres’ seed shelves, always ending up with a substantial stash of seeds. I will admit it, I may need help as I am a bit of a seed hoarder. As a dedicated gardener, you will always feel you just don’t have enough garden space or time for all your garden dreams.

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I have a good few planting dreams this year:

  1. A black or dark purple tomato
  2. Calendula flowers, to be able to do my own hand cream
  3. Romanesco cauliflower
  4. Plenty of the fabulous summer squash Rolet
  5. A tasty pumpkin, which I have never grown before
  6. Ginger, just to give a go.

Every year, I promise myself to curb my seed frenzy at the start of the year. Another promise is make the most of our garden and tunnel, and to really use the space and do a detailed plan. Often life gets in the way, and while I get plenty of produce, I am always left with the feeling that I could have got more.

This year I have tackled the problem head on and I am more organised than ever. I have created a detail design of my polytunnel planting on  Growveg.com, a garden design website. On a garden layout, you can add the plants you want, it gives you the spacing, counts the number of plants you need and gives you a detailed list of when to start planting. Very handy and I will be dealing with my seed hoarding in a controlled way. I will try not to buy anything outside my planned list.

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This year’s garden design for the polytunnel.

My planting plan includes everything from cucumbers, squash, kale, sweet corn, aubergine, sprouting broccoli, lettuces, chilies, carrots, courgettes to peppers, and so much more…

If you are lucky to be a guest of our holiday home, Casa Ceoil, we will provide both a tour of the gardens and polytunnel, and sampling of the veg that we grow. There is nothing that can be compared to a home grown cherry tomato.

This year will be the year of plenty. I just know it.