Category Archives: Ireland

Belfast

We left the farm in Ireland on May 1st and headed off to Belfast in Northern Ireland. Our time on the farm was really great and we’ll definitely miss Geoff and Jo, their animals, Jo’s awesome cooking, and our fellow WWOOFers.  Anyone looking to do WWOOfing in Ireland, I can highly reccomend Geoff and Jo’s place in Donegal, you won’t regret it.

We arrived in Belfast the afternoon of May 1st and mostly just checked into our hostel, got something eat, and did a little bit of planning and booking of lodging for the next leg of our trip in Spain.  Nothing too exciting.  The next day, we headed out to explore and started the day with the Botanic Gardens and the Ulster Museum. The gardens were very nice and were starting to bloom and the “Palm House” was a really neat Victorian era glass and iron greenhouse full of exotic tropical plants.  At the Ulster Museum we checked out their newest exhibit on “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland and learned a lot about the sad history of sectarian violence that has really impacted and shaped Belfast and the rest of Northern Ireland in recent times.  There was also a really good art exhibit with pieces from the era of The Troubles.

Next we walked to West Belfast which is where the legacy of The Troubles is most evident.  There is a huge “Peace Wall” that seperates the Protestant from the Catholic side of West Belfast. We started out on the Catholic side and looked at the really beautiful murals that have been painted on the wall. One thing about Belfast is that there are murals everywhere, with this spot definitely being the place with the most murals per square inch that we saw anywhere in the city. We then walked through the gates in the wall and up to the Protestant side of West Belfast. Here there were also all kinds of political murals, monuments, and memorials on sites of IRA bombings. When we were looking at one of the memorials we had a local come up to us and describe his memories of one of the bombings.  It was a stark reminder of how recent all of these events are and how raw the memories still are in many people’s minds.  Finally, we checked out the opening act of the Festival of Fools, which is a weekend long festival featuring all kinds comedy street performances all over the city.  This was really fun to lighten things up after a bit of an intense day looking at the legacy of The Troubles.  We checked out some more of these acts the next day and also saw a labor march as well before we got on our plane to Manchester.  The March was interesting and a reminder of how much more influence organized labor still has in this part of the world compared to the U.S.

Our time in Ireland was really great even though it seems like it flew by.  We were there for almost a month and I’ll definitely never forget it and I hope to make it back again someday.  Pictures of Belfast below.

Ancestors, Farm, and the Giant’s Causeway

In my last post, I mentioned that we spent some time last Saturday at the hostel in Moville and hanging out with the proprieter, Seamus.  During our conversations he mentioned that his grandparents were from the village of Malin Head and he had spent a lot of time there growing up. Since that is the same area my Irish ancestors came from, I asked him if he knew anyone with the name Mooney there. He said that he didn’t, but he had a friend that lived in Malin Head and that he might know someone. It turns out Mooney is a name that is usually seen farther South around Dublin and not usually up here in the North. This made it much more possible that any Mooneys in Malin Head would be relatives of mine. When we went to the pub later that night, Seamus introduced me to his friend from Malin Head and he did in fact know some Mooneys there and he would get in touch with them the next day. It turns out that particular Mooney wasn’t a relation, but this man knew of another man who lived on the original Mooney homestead and had Mooney relations. This man, with the last name Logue, did in fact turn out to be a relative of mine. We made arrangements to go to their place on Monday, April 21st to meet since it was a holiday and we didn’t have to work on the farm. Seamus was nice enough to drive us up there and share his encyclopedic knowledge of the area and it’s history as we went pointing out various archaeological sites, etc.  We showed up at the Logue house and were graciously invited in for tea in true Irish fashion. I have some old pictures from the 1960′s of some relatives here in Ireland and he immediately recognized the men in the photos as his uncles.  It’s a bit complicated, but it turns out his mother, named Elizabeth Mooney, is the daughter of my great great grandfather’s brother.  The Logue family still lives on the farm where my great great grandparents lived before emigrating to the United States in the 1880s.  The old stone house where they lived is still there just a little ways up the hill from where the current house is.  It’s kind of in ruins now, but Mr. Logue took us up to see it and as you can imagine it was an incredible thing to see. To walk in the same place and see the same things that they saw every day so long ago was an incredible experience.  The Logue’s were incredibly nice and seemed genuinely happy to meet another relative from so far away and so far back.  Mr. Logue said he never thought he would see a Mooney turn up there.  I got all of their contact information and I hope to stay in touch with them over the years so hopefully my children can have the same experience some day.  We also went by the Star of the Sea church in Malin Head which is where my great great grandparents were married in 1882.

Work on the farm has remained fun and interesting. This past week, besides feeding and cleaning up after the animals, we’ve been doing more digging and weeding to prepare for planting.  We also got to plant a whole lot of potatoes and turnips. It has been great to get to know Geof and Jo better along with our fellow WWOOFers. The food has also remained superb. I think the highlight was homemade fish and chips on Friday night with freshly caught fish from right down the hill on Lough Foyle.  So good!  They also have this thing here that I had never had before called “Mushy Peas”.  It doesn’t sound appetizing, but it is really good.  Apparently it’s made from a specific type of pea that has a very high starch content making it almost like a bean. These are dried and then boiled with a little bit of baking soda and salt. They come out with almost the consitency of refried beans with a lot of subtle salty pea flavor.  I might need to learn more about making it since it seems like it would be a good way to use the pea harvest we get from our garden each year. We are really enjoying our time here and are a little sorry we have to leave so soon.  I think both of us are wishing we could stay longer, but we’re looking forward to the next leg of our journey as well. We’ll be leaving the farm on Thursday May 1st and heading to Belfast and back to England for a few days and then we move on to Spain.

Finally, Jocelyn and I went to a place called the Giant’s Causeway across the Lough Foyle in Northern Ireland yesterday, Saturday April 27th.  This is a UNESCOTWorld Heritage site because of its very unique geological formations. Part of the adventure of it was just getting there. There is a ferry that goes across Lough Foyle from the little town of Greencastle just down the hill from the farm.  However, the Giant’s Causeway itself is about another 45 minutes by car from there. Since we have no car, we just got on the ferry and then started asking people who brought their cars on if we could get a ride to the town of Coleraine where we could then get a bus to the Giant’s Causeway. We ended up finding a French couple who were there on vacation who happened to be driving all the way to Giant’s Causeway and they were happy to let us ride along.  It’s a really beautiful place with some definitely interesting geology.  There are all of these stones that kind of crystallized as the magma was cooling creating an intricate pattern of hexagons that looks like a huge game board or something.  I’m glad we made it there and as has been the case so far in Ireland, the weather was sunny and beautiful.

Donegal WWOOF Farm

We arrived at the farm of Geof and Jo Fowler in Donegal, Irelan on Wednesday April 16th.  We found them through a program called World Wide Opportunities On Organic Farms (WWOOF).  As the name implies, this is a worldwide network of small organic farmers and people who want to work on their farms to learn about organic agriculture and local culture.  The host provides food and sleeping quarters and the guests generally provide about 5 hours of labor per day five days per week in exchange.  So far it has been a really great experience. Geof and Jo are wonderful people, very laid back, gracious, and always full of good conversation.  We couldn’t ask more of a host..  Jocelyn and I have our own little stone cottage a little ways away from the main house.  It just contains a bed, some shelves, a small desk, and a heater.  It gives us plenty of privacy and is definitely great accomodation considering we really only sleep in there since we’re either out working, exploring the countryside, or hanging out in the main house with everyone else most of the time.  The farm is up on a hill and the views are stunning.  We can see all the way down to the sea, which is really a huge bay called Lough Foyle, and into Northern Ireland to the East and up to Giant’s Causeway to the North.  It is a wonderful thing to see walking out the door of the cottage each morning.

So far the work has not been too hard and it has been a very rewarding and educational experience.  It has been great to get our hands back in the dirt since we’re away from our garden in Portland right now.  We start each working day at 8:30 AM by meeting in front of the barn with the other WWOOFers who are here with us.  There are three other people here right now, 2 other American women and one Frenchman.  They have each been here at least a month with one who is leaving soon having stayed for around 3 months.  They are all quite a bit younger than us with the youngest, the French kid being only 18 and the oldest of them being 28.  They are all really great and it is nice to have some other people here to share the experience with and have some comraderie.  We start out by feeding the animals which includes 5 cats, 4 pigs, 2 donkeys, 2 goats, and 5 cattle.  After that we all have breakfast together from 9-10 AM.  We make our own breakfast, but it generally includes a good selection of toast and jam, cereal, yogurt, and fruit.  After breakfast we head out to do some more work until lunch time from 1-2 PM.  So far, the work has mostly been weeding and digging the vegetable paddocks to prepare for planting.  They grow all kinds of vegetables from lettuce and greens to carrots, turnips, and of course potatoes.  All of their produce they sell at a “Farm Store” they own and operate in the town of Moville that is about 10 kilometers away.  They also sell pork and beef from the farm in the store along with other various groceries and household items that they source from elsewhere.  The vegetables that don’t get sold in the store are ground up and fed to the animals so there is very little waste of anything.  They have a great composting system for the animal manure as well and that provides the fertilizer for the vegetable fields creating a nice self contained system where they don’t need to many inputs aside from some animal feed.  Everything is all organic so they don’t use any synthetic fertilizer, pesiticides, or herbicides and they even refrain from using most of the herbicides and pesticides that are approved for organic farms replacing it with hand weeding and picking slugs and bugs off the plants by hand.  This is obviously labor intensive but the farm is small enough that they seem to be able to keep on top of things with themselves and the WWOOFers.  After lunch is done at 2 PM we go out to do some more work until 3:30 PM when we feed the animals again. After that, we’re done for the day and the rest of the time is ours until dinner at around 7:30 PM.  Dinners so far have been absolutely delicious with more than enough food to fill our bellys after a day of work.  Jo is a great cook and she seems to enjoy cooking and feeding us all.  So far we’ve had things like pork burgers made from their pigs, with potatoes and carrots from the farm and meat pie with more potatoes, gravy, and vegetables.  It is simple food, but absolutely delicious especially after a day of work.

We have also had great luck with the weather so far.  The first day wasn’t so good with lots of wind and rain which made for copious amounts of mud.  The rest of the time it has been sunny, warm, and absolutely gorgeous however.  The first sunny day we took a walk with the other French WWOOFer named Pierre down to the beach after work.  It was about an hour walk which was really nice in the sun and breeze.  The beach was beautiful and mostly deserted with just a few families and kids.

We also have weekends completely free from work, so our first Saturday we walked into the town of Moville with the other WWOOFers.  It was about a two hour walk with about half of it along the beach.  Again, absolutely gorgeous and a great way to spend the afternoon.  Once there, we went to an event that was being held at the local hostel where they were unveiling their new permaculture garden and having an Easter egg hunt for the children.  There was also music and an interesting walk around the property where the guide pointed out various wild medicinal plants and their uses.  After the event was over we headed to the pub for a few pints and to use the WiFi there since there is none at the farm.  After the pub Jocelyn and I had some dinner and listened to some music at a different pub and then we headed back to the hostel for a little “after party” with the proprieter named Seamus, which is apparently the Gaelic version of the English name James. He is a really interesting fellow full of knowledge about Irish history and folklore, music, and plants.  There was also another interesting fellow there who was a former BBC reporter who went all over the world covering stories and also covered “The Troubles” here in Ireland extensively.  He filled is in on a lot of the history behind the conflict here between Catholics and Protestants.  We spent a couple hours here partaking of some excellent Scotch whisky, sitting by the fire, and having lively conversation.  After that we all headed to out again to another pub that was another lively scene.  It seemed like everyone in town was there and there was more music, Guiness, and more great conversation.  I talked to an old farmer here who gave me a great primer on the high art of building stone ditches.  We took a taxi back home at the wee hours after a great day of walking in the sun and hanging out with the locals.

We’ll be here at the farm for about another week and a half during which the blog posts may be sporadic given the limited access to internet. Pictures of the farm and surrounding area below.

Connemara

We left Dublin on 4/12/14 and headed to Connemara on the Western coast of Ireland and specifically a small village called Letterfrack. Originally, we were going to take a bus to Letterfrack but we decided to rent a car instead.  I’m really glad we made that decision as the cost difference wasn’t much, but I realize now that we wouldn’t have been able to experience most of the things we did without the car. Ireland is very rural once you get out of Dublin even a little ways. Without a car there simply isn’t any way to get to most of the things worth seeing. If you’re going to Ireland and going anywhere besides Dublin, I highly recommend getting a car. That said, I would not recommend renting a car in Dublin and trying to drive there. The traffic is crazy and combine that with the confusion of driving on the other side of the road and it would be a nightmare.  What we did is took the train from Dublin to Galway, picked up our car in Galway, and then drove the rest of the way to Letterfrack. The car rental was actually very straightforward, as easy as renting on in the US. If you’re a US citizen, all you need is a valid US driver’s license and a credit card and you’re good to go. Long story short, if you’re going to Ireland, definitely rent a car.  It’s really the only way to see the countryside.

About that whole driving on the other side of the road thing.  I was actually pretty nervous about it and it was definitely very strange at first.  I drove around in the parking lot of the rental agency and then in some quiet residential streets for a while to get used to it a little bit before hitting the open road. It’s not just driving on the other side of the road, but the driver’s seat is actually on the opposite side of the car as well.  Therefore, it’s like a mirror image of what we’re used to in the U.S.  The gear shift is on the left side and you shift with your left hand, the seat belt buckles on your left side instead of the right, and the passenger is to your left instead of your right. Once I got going, it actually started to feel pretty natural to be on the left side of the road pretty quickly.  The thing that was hardest was knowing where the passenger side of the car was.  I found myself being way too far over on the left side of the lane all the time. The roads are really narrow and windy as well and many of them have walls on the side.  Therefore if you’re too far to the left, it’s very possible to sidewipe something pretty easily.  I just found that I had to consciously tell myself to get over to the right side of the lane and after doing that for a while it started to feel a little more natural. After a few hours on the road, I got over the initial nervousness and started to get the hang of it.  I am doing pretty well now a couple days in, although Jocelyn might argue otherwise.

Once we picked up the car we headed toward Letterfrack and Connemara. The first place we stopped was at Aughnanure Castle.  This was a stronghold of the O’Flaherty clan dating from around 1500 AD.  It was really neat and in remarkably good shape.  The keep was well preserved and you can climb all the stairs and see all of the different floors where people lived, worked, ate, etc.  It’s also in a really beautiful setting in the woods next to a little creek.  This is just one example of a place we would not have seen had we taken the bus to Letterfrack.  Our next stop was at Kylemore Abbey. We didn’t actually go in because it was a little expensive and we didn’t have a lot of time.  It is quite a place though and definitely worth seeing.

We arrived in Letterfrack around 6:00 PM and got checked into the Bard’s Den hostel. Letterfrack is an interesting little village.  When I say little, I mean tiny.  It only has a population of about 200 people.  It’s in a beautiful spot though, right on the edge of Connemara National Park and also within walking distance of the ocean.  We made some dinner in the kitchen there and decompressed a little bit. The pub across the street called Molly’s was advertising music at 9:00, so we decided we would head over there later.  I went over about 8:30 to secure us a table and there was indeed some music.  It consisted of one guy sitting on a barstool with a guitar singing cover songs.  It was definitely full of locals who all knew each other, but I managed to strike up a couple of interesting conversations with folks.  One thing about the Irish is that they are in general very friendly and willing to talk to strangers if you approach them.  This seems especially true in the pub when the Guiness is flowing.  The guy with the guitar was singing a song intermittentlh between glasses of whiskey and by about 9:30 he was three sheets to the wind and obviously wasn’t going to be playing any more music.  About that time a whole group of other people showed up with all kinds of boxes and what appeared to be gift baskets full of various things.  The kind of thing you might win at a raffle.  They then put DVDs of horse races onto the TV and people started betting on the recorded horse races.  It was for some local charity and people were having a good time doing it, but I’ve never really seen anything like it. All in all, the place was interesting and gave me a good feel for small town life in Ireland.

The next day, we headed out for some hiking.  We started out walking to the top of Cregg Hill a little ways outside of Letterfrack. We had the place all to ourselves except for a few sheep, which was very nice. The top of the hill had some great views down into the Connemara boglands and the harbor to the North and the Twelve Bens mountains to the East.  We then headed down and followed another trail out into the boglands.  This was a little tough going, they don’t call it a bog for nothing, it was definitely wet and squishy.  We were rewarded for the effort though with a brief glimpse of a fox running across the bog and into some trees. After this, we headed into the next little town of Clifden which is about a 20 minute drive from Letterfrack.  They had a traditional music festival going on all weekend and we caught the last  session of it on Sunday afternoon.  They had music going the whole time with 10-12 musicians playing at any given moment as well as singing and dancing.  After that, we headed back to Connemara and climbed Diamond Hill.  Again, this had great views all around Connemara and aside from being a little windy it was a great hike.

Our final morning in Connemara we woke up to a perfect sunny day and started our drive towards Letterkenny farther North. We got a bit lost in the first little bit, but found a really amazing sandy beach.  We hung out there for a while, soaked up some sun, and I even took my shoes off for a little while.  It was a nice way to spend our last bit of time in Connemara and it goes to show that getting lost isn’t always a bad thing on a trip like this.  Sometimes thats how you find the best stuff.

Connemara was a beautiful place and I hope to make it back here again at some point as there is a lot more to see and do.  It was really nice to get out into nature again after being in cities for the last few weeks.  I left feeling recharged and ready for the next leg of our journey which includes Glenveagh National Park and Malin Head which is where my Irish ancestors came from.  Pictures of Connemara below.

Dublin

We arrived in Dublin, Ireland on 4/9 and left on 4/12.  Dublin is an amazingly vibrant and beautiful city and we had a really good time there. We flew in from Glasgow on one of the many discount airlines here in Europe called Aer Lingus. Originally we were going to take a ferry from Glasgow to Dublin, but the difference in cost and time was too much to pass up. The flight was only an hour and cost less than $100 each, definitely worth it. We took a bus from the airport to Heuston train station that went through the city center for a little sight seeing tour and then we had to walk about an mile to our AirBnB stay. We stayed with a Romanian family in their apartment right by the river Liffey with great views of it. The room was nice and we had our own bathroom, the luxury! Once we got settled in a bit and got to know our host a bit, we walked down to the local pub called “Nancy Hands” for a bite to eat and a pint of Guiness of course. This was a neat place and fit the typical Irish pub vision that I had in my head to a tee.  Lots of people there watching football (soccer) and having a good time.  The food was good and it was a good as was the Guinness, and it was a good way to start our time in Dublin.

The next day, we started off with the Dublin walking tour.  This was done by the same company that did the tour in Edinburgh called New Europe Tours.  So far these have been really good. The guides have been knowledegable and entertaining and the price very reasonable.  They are ostensibly free, but you’re definitely expected to tip the guide as that’s how they make their money.  We’ve been paying about $10-$12 each for them.  Highlights included Dublin castle, Trinity College where the book of Kells is kept, the Irish parliament building, and the place where U2 played one of their first gigs.  The guide filled us in a lot of the history and politics of the Republic of Ireland from prehistoric times to the War of Independence and the more recent “troubles” in Northern Ireland.  There was also a lot about various famous Irish writers like James Joyce and Jonathan Swift as well. Next, we went to the National Museum of Archaeology which was filled with all kinds of artifacts from prehistory through the middle ages. It was definitely worth the time and as will all the national museums, it was free.  All of this really gave me an appreciation for the Irish culture and history that has been so filled with pain and tragedy but has also managed to remain incredibly dynamic and beautiful despite all of it.

We then walked through St. Stevens square, which is a really beautiful park in the heart of Dublin.  It has Victorian gardens, an arboretum, and monuments to various writers, martyrs, etc. throughout.  From there we went to St. Patrick’s cathedral, which is the biggest cathedral in Dublin and is of course the cathedral of St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland.  Jocelyn and I split up for a bit here and she went to the Evensong service at the cathedral and I went to catch the afternoon music session at The Temple Bar pub.  The pub is right in the middle of the Temple Bar district in Dublin, which is the main center of nightlife and music in the city.  This place is incredible with music and people everywhere.  There are musicians on every corner including full bands with amps and everything.  You can just walk down the street and listen to all kinds of stuff from traditional Irish to rock.  It seems to be just one big street party every night, very fun.  it is expensive though, with a pint running about 6 Euros and it can kind of be a tourist trap.  I would guess the tourists might outnumber the locals on any given night, but it’s still something to see. One of the best bands we saw was right outside on a street corner called Mutefish. They were an interesting mix of traditional Irish music with a flute front and center, but with a more modern rock feel with electric guitars, drums, etc.  The crowd liked them too and they were selling CDs like hotcakes, which was cool to see.

Finally, we finished up the night on the North side of the river at a place called Hughes pub.  The North side is the more working class area of the city and it definitely feels more authentic and less touristy than the South side and especially the Temple Bar area. It’s also much more affordable with a pint of Guinness running around 3-4 Euros instead of 6-7. Hughes seemed to have mostly locals from what I could tell.  The music session started around 9:30 and was great.  The group that night was made up of 3 fiddles and an Accordion.  They sounded good and seemed to be having a good time themselves.  All in all, it was great day and night in Dublin City.

Our third day in Dublin, we started out with a tour of the Kilmainham jail, which was a short walk from where we were staying.  This was an intense way to start out the day for sure.  This jail was built at the end of the 18th century and is an important historical site for Ireland because it is where many political prisoners were held and executed after the 1916 Easter Rising and the subsequent War of Independence and Civil War.  They have the cells marked with the names of various leaders held in them and the tour ended in the stone breaking yard where executions took place.  There is just a single cross on each end against the walls where the men were executed by firing squad and then an Irish flag in the middle with a plaque containing the names of those executed.  It was a very powerful reminder of the sacrifice and bravery of these people who went against overwhelming odds to win independence for Ireland after 700 years of English rule. While I am not one to say that violence is a way to solve problems and perhaps independence could have been won eventually through non-violent means, I understand why they did it and I have to commend them for what they did. The response by the British to the 1916 uprising was also quite shocking as I had no idea it had been so heavy handed.  They basically sent in a force of 20,000 troops into Dublin and shelled the center of the city destroying large parts of it.  After the jail, Jocelyn and I split up for a bit and I went by the old Jameson Distillery and the Famine memorial on the North side before catching another afternoon session at the Temple Bar pub.  We met up for dinner and then went to a movie at the Irish Film Institute.  We saw an Irish movie called Calvary that seems to be the latest Irish blockbuster with tons of ads for it everywhere. It was billed as a comedy, but I didn’t really get that from it.  There were funny parts, but it was actually kind of sad.  Maybe I don’t get the Irish sense of humor, but I wouldn’t call it a comedy.  Anyway, if you get the chance to see it, I recommend it.  That was our last day in Dublin before heading out into the countryside and Connemarra National Park.  Pictures of Dublin below.

Ireland farm stay all set

We have found and confirmed a farm to stay and work at in Ireland. We are doing this through the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms(WOOF) program.  Basically, we will be trading 5 hours of work five days per week for room and board plus education on organic farming techniques.  We’ll be there for two weeks from April 16th to May 1st. The farm is called “Geoff and Jo’s Place” and is located near the town of Moville in County Donegal, Ireland.  One of the reasons we chose this farm is that it is located near where some of my ancestors came from, so in addition to working and staying on the farm, I’m looking forward to doing some ancestral research and seeing where “my people” came from.  Here’s the description of the farm from the WOOF Ireland website.  You can see the full listing here.

We have pigs which are reared out doors, grass fed beef cattle, vegetables, herbs and a farm shop in the nearby town. We also have goats and donkeys, and work together with other local small-holders to supply the farm shop with top quality fruit, veg and meat. You would be based here, but may have jobs to do at various locations. Accomodation is in either a caravan, stone cabin with woodburning stove, wooden chalet, or room in house. There is no internet available in the house, but you may have access to Broadband in the shop most evenings. Our farm is a relaxed and happy place to be, the cats and dogs love lots of visitors (especially if you can kick a ball). There is always plenty to do, plenty to eat and drink and scenery to die for!