Dear Old Inishowen

Catherine coasteering off Malin Head, Donegal
Coasteering off Malin Head, Donegal Photo: Harvey Futcher

The audience cheered at the end of Jimmy McLaughlin’s rendition of ‘Dear Old Inishowen’, not only because of his fine a cappella accomplishment but also because he was singing it in McGrory’s front bar in Culdaff, the heart of his dear old Inishowen . He was here because his family was the subject of an Irish television series called Dúshlán 1881 – Living the Eviction, about famine evictions from the nearby village of Carrowmenagh, and they were having a screening in the hotel to celebrate. I was there to begin exploring the wilderness that remains all around this northernmost point of our island, but right now, in this cocoon of Culdaff, my cultural immersion was like an unexpected and delicious appetiser.

I couldn’t have hoped for a better start to my weekend on Inishowen where my ultimate aim was to get to Inishtrahull, the northernmost island in our waters, just ten kilometres off Inishowen’s Malin Head. I was to kayak to this now deserted island with new adventure company Far and Wild, based in Derry, which explores Inishowen in the most eco-friendly ways possible. By paddling, hiking and, most exciting of all for this recent convert, coasteering. Coasteering is the good old fashioned way of traversing a coastline, clambering through sea arches, swimming across otherwise inaccessible inlets and jumping off rocks into the waves. “I’m sure my mother warned me not to go away for weekends with men like you” I shouted to Lawrence McBride, founder of Far and Wild, as I stood on top of a pretty high rock just after he had jumped into the water and was waiting for me to follow suit. Which I did, and loved every second of my boldness.

Five Finger Strand, Inishowen, Donegal
Five Finger Strand, Inishowen, Donegal Photo: Catherine Mack

The weather was also bold that weekend however and, after several checks with the coastguards, the Far and Wild team of expert guides decided that we wouldn’t be able to get to Inishtrahull this time around. They might jump off rocks and kayak into the waves but they aren’t stupid, and from beginning to end I felt secure in their knowledge and expertise. “Because the conditions are extreme and unpredictable up here, our itineraries are never fixed in stone,” said Lawrence. I rather loved this organic interaction with nature and, in particular that they include wild camping as part of their break. You never know in advance where you might end up sleeping that night, but if our chosen bay at White Strand was anything to go by, these guys don’t settle for any old patch. There was no one around for miles, soft and sheltered grass to pitch on, and a stony beach to create a camp kitchen. Not forgetting the stunning views across Trawbreaga Bay, the Isle of Doagh peninsula with Fanad Head glistening beyond that and Mount Errigal towering above West Donegal in the distance.

Mind you, I would have slept in the back of a kayak I was so tired at the end of the day. After we realised that Inishtrahull wasn’t going to happen early that morning, and we got clearance from the coastguard, we headed off in our state of the art kayaks from a tiny inlet, just east of Malin Head, where an ancient well, church and hermit’s cave called “The Wee House of Malin” marks the spot. I was in the front of a double kayak with Lawrence who, along with another of their kayaking experts, Gareth Blackery, guided confidently and firmly. “Paddle straight into the swell, not alongside it, and you’ll be grand”, he shouts as I relished each stretch I take into these Atlantic extremes.

Port Ronan, Inishowen. Photo Harvey Futcher
Port Ronan, Inishowen. Photo Harvey Futcher

We paddled like this for a couple of hours, admiring the cliffs and sea stacks from afar, but staying clear of the white water which smashed against the coastline. Then suddenly it hit. Although the waters weren’t crashing out here, they were definitely swelling. My stomach started to move in syncopation and, almost without warning, I was feeding my breakfast to the fish. “Better out than in”, Lawrence said, reassuring me that this was normal but it was best to be sick onto the spraydeck which covered our kayak rather than over the edge. There is always a tipping point in a kayak after all. A quick splash of the face with seawater and I was right as rain and ready to tackle the next headland.

I even tackled lunch, a picnic prepared by the company, which we had on Breasty Bay, tucked in behind some whale like granite slabs to provide shelter from the omnipresent winds. This was the point when I remembered my extra warm layer tucked into a dry bag with my lunch. Never have fleece and a flask felt so welcome. After a couple of hours’ more kayaking further west, we let the current carry us into the more placid Port Ronan, where the team had cleverly shuttled our minibus earlier, so that we didn’t have to transport camping gear on kayaks.

Farren’s Pub, our nearest drinking hole before zipping ourselves up for the night, was also a welcome shelter from the wind, after pitching and pasta-ing at the beach. This is Ireland’s most northerly pub, and there is nothing like a day’s kayaking around Malin Head to get the conversation going in a region that is pretty much off the tourist trail. When we told them that we might be swimming in the sea tomorrow, they just gave us another hot whisky and looked on sympathetically.

Coasteering. Mr Bond? Photo Harvey Futcher
Coasteering. Mr Bond? Photo Harvey Futcher

No sympathy was needed, however, and no skills either for the next day. After a fine sleep, with layers of down and fleece to combat the untimely near zero temperatures and a vat of porridge, we started a hike down the beach in the direction of Five Finger Strand, a few headlands away. In Far and Wild’s inimitable style, we negotiated the rocky shore as we went, “Use four point contact” Lawrence said at points where we need both hands and feet to scramble up grassy slopes when beach walking became impossible. Those of us who wanted a little more adventure had wetsuits and helmets in our backpacks and, just as Five Finger Strand came into view, we changed on the rocks, gave our gear to those who were hiking and coasteered our way back to camp. The high quality neoprene covering us from top to toe, buoyancy aids and helmets meant that we could jump and jiggle our way along these wild Donegal surroundings in comfort, caution and with childlike cheer.

Breakfast int he wilds of Donegal Photo: Catherine Mack
Breakfast int he wilds of Donegal Photo: Catherine Mack

As we swam back into White Strand, the words in Neil McGrory’s (of McGrory’s Hotel) on the history of Inishowen – Inishowen: A journey through its past revisited. Yes, that’s the sort of bar they have in Inishowen. One which has its own historian at the helm. At one point he quotes James McParlan’s 1801 Statistical Survey of Donegal who writes about pilgrims at Malin Head. Apparently, after prayers they finish with “a good ablution in the sea, male and female, all frisking and playing in the water, stark naked and washing off each other’s sins”. I for one, was fully cleansed in that case. Although I will always swap neoprene for nakedness in the Atlantic.

They do like to do things differently up here on Inishowen, however. According to Liam Campbell, a brilliant cultural historian who joined us as a guide on day two, “Inishowen is isolated but independent, with people trying to do things a little differently here. Which is a good thing and why I like helping out with Far and Wild’s trips. They take a holistic approach. They not only bring people out into the wilds of Donegal, but they show how these landscapes have shaped the people who live here. That is rare in tourism”. It is also rarified. In that this ‘Dear Old Inishowen’ is a place to have pure, unadulterated fun.

Far and Wild offer a variety of packages. The two night adventure costs €375 sterling pps including all equipment, two dinners and breakfasts, one packed lunch, expert guides, airport transfer, one night’s accommodation at McGrory’s Hotel and one night of camping (+44 (0) 7775 911198, farandwild.co.uk) . An edited version of this article by Catherine Mack was first published in The Irish Times

Session in the front lounge of McGrory's Culdaff - a Celtic institution. Photo: Catherine Mack
Session in the front lounge of McGrory’s Culdaff – a Celtic institution. Photo: Catherine Mack

 

‘Wild’ down the Wicklow Way

 

BrookLodge Wells and Spa Hotel, County Wicklow Photo:Catherine Mack

‘WILD!” is how my dad described something that was so good it had an emotional impact on him. It would be shouted enthusiastically, with warm Northern brogue at the sight of an amazing view, the taste of a fine wine or the sound of some rousing music. It just works in certain situations, when superlatives don’t do the trick.

Having inherited the “wild” word, it was certainly appropriate on a visit to BrookLodge Hotel and Wells Spa in Wicklow, where not only is just about every ingredient of this family-run hotel’s ethos infused with a sense of care for the local environment and economy, but many of the ingredients on their exciting menus are also, literally, wild.

My dad would not get quite as animated as me, however, about the fact that their two beautiful pools use water from their own wells and are geothermally heated. Or that they have a wood chip boiler. But he would have been moved by their menus and wine lists. If you are a foodie, you will probably already know that BrookLodge’s main restaurant, the Strawberry Tree, is the only certified organic restaurant in Ireland, and has been since 1992.

When I was there, almost everything on the menu was Irish. All the vegetables and salads come from Gold River Farm in Aughrim or Denis Healy’s in Baltinglass, for example. They smoke their own salmon on site, but buy their fish from Colin O’Shea in Dungarvan, Co Waterford. They pre-order all their spring lamb in November, so that their supplier Jimmy Mullhall in Co Carlow can budget for the year. This is how they work with all their produce requirements preparing all menus – which adhere strictly to season – so that their valued suppliers can plan their growing and breeding for the year with a guarantee of purchase.

The wine, also organic, is imported of course, and joy of joys you can order it by the glass if you are abstaining a little. It’s just part of the common sense attitude to the good things in life here, inviting kids to have smaller portions of everything on the menu, so they can try wild scallops and venison, with no sense of snottiness about having children in the restaurant.

The wild foods used at BrookLodge include rowans, elderberries, sloeberries, mushrooms, blackberries and wild garlic, all to accompany wild pigeon or crab, organic beef or chicken. They wisely won’t reveal their favourite foraging locations, but the sight of their team of committed chefs picking wild leaves and berries along Wicklow’s long-fields must be something else.

The fact that the hotel has put the 5th century village of Macreddin back on the map is pretty wild as well. With its own bakery, brewery, pub and village store brimming with local goods, as well as a monthly farmers’ market, it is certainly alive and kicking again. Golfers will already know the place for its celebrated course, but they make life easy for hikers and bikers too, having created a series of Macreddin Walks, which give an itinerary, map and bits and pieces of local information en route. Needing to walk off dinner before breakfast, I tackled the 6km Sean Linehan Walk at sunrise, an off-road trek through Tinnakilly Woods, following the Ballycreen Brook for most of the way, and with enough of a climb to make me feel I earned my pancakes, bacon and smoothie on return.

There are mountain bikes available free of charge, and with a BrookLodge picnic popped into a backpack for you for €15, you are set up for an afternoon exploring the wooded hills of south Wicklow the green way. This is one superb place to celebrate “wild” Wicklow, especially as the seasons change and the menus adapt accordingly. Come back from a day on the hills to bask in the eco spa, followed by their current harvest offering of a complimentary glass of organic bubbly, with a shot of home-made wild elderflower cordial before dinner. Just to give it that added “wild” touch.

 

Food heroes in Irish tourism

Charlie Brack at Mahon Farmers' Market Credit: www.localmarkets.ie

Food is what brings most of us together at Christmas. You can have the decorated tree and loads of presents under it, but it is the smell of a baked ham, the sharing of some of granny’s Christmas cake, or just the first bite of warm brown bread and smoked salmon which creates a true season of goodwill. Similarly, food is at the core of tourism and a linchpin of making our holidays truly sustainable. And this is why some food producers have realised that the product is a fundamental part of the fáilte and are offering services which enable you to put their fine fare on any self-catering cottage, castle or camping table in the country.

These are my food heroes, and the guys who are going to play a big role in keeping this part of our culture thriving. Localmarkets.ie is a website where you can buy all the produce you drool over at farmers’ markets or simply on their site and have it delivered to any place in Ireland. So, if you or your loved ones are renting a place for a Christmas get-together – whether it is in Fermanagh or Fermoy, Donegal or Down – you can get a great stock of fine Irish goodies in without any of the arguments about who is doing the shopping. And if you own self-catering accommodation, it would be great to let your guests know about this new service too.

The Queen's Hamper at the English Market, Cork. Photo: www.localmarkets.ie

Superb artisan breads from Arbutus Breads, organic chickens from Dan Ahern, vegetarian burgers from Dee’s Eat Well, Be Happy burgers, organic salmon from Old Millbank Smokehouse, fruit and vegetables from Organic Republic, chorizo and cheese from the famous Gubbeen Farmhouse, are just a few things you can pop in your cyber shopping basket, for true farm to front door service.

This is a food delivery scheme for life, not just for Christmas, and will be held up as a sustainable tourism case study by many countries when they hear of it. You just need to order three days in advance for your produce to arrive packed in an expanded polystyrene (EPS) box, fully recyclable and environmentally friendly. You can either time it with your arrival, or ask your accommodation provider to store it for you until you get there as the box temperature is kept at below four degrees until opened. Orders must be a minimum of €30, plus €5 delivery charge. You can even shop a month in advance, and so avoid making it part of your last minute to-do list before you head for the hills.

Another switched on food producer is James Whelan Butchers in Clonmel who also has an online delivery service. With an array of fine meat, this prolific butcher (and concessionary at the new Avoca market in Monkstown, avoca.ie) will have your pans doing plenty of seasonal sizzling. After being custom cut and weighed, the meat is packed into a temperature controlled box in a dedicated packing room and delivered the next day to your holiday hideaway. For orders of more than €100 delivery is free to anywhere in the 32 counties, otherwise delivery is €10. Both sites are worth bookmarking and ‘liking’ on Facebook, and get your orders in, for a delicious start to your holiday.

An edited version of this article was published in The Irish Times, 3 December 2011

Kayaking and seaweed foraging in West Cork

Sally Mckenna of Atlantic Sea Kayaking showing me some seaweed samples Photo: Catherine Mack

It is no secret that Ireland has some of the world’s finest weed. Not only that, it is in plentiful supply, cheap and and it’s a superfood. The weed is, of course, seaweed, and anyone who has had a seaweed bath will not need convincing as to its benefits.In terms of sustainability, seaweed is also a no brainer, and so it is exciting to see that the Inchydoney Island Lodge and Spa in West Cork has created a two-night “Seaweed Experience” package which has you living and breathing the stuff. And not just within the confines of a spa either.

Realising that many people are now looking for a low-impact, green, activity-based break, not just a lie in the spa, drink and eat all weekend sort of a break, Inchydoney may inspire others to follow suit and get their guests teaming up with local, green activity providers, nature experts and guides.

Inchydoney has picked two of Ireland’s best: expert kayaker and local marine life font of knowledge, Jim Kennedy of Atlantic Sea Kayaking, who brings guests out on local waters alongside Sally McKenna, of the Bridgestone Guide fame, who has successfully combined her food knowledge with a passion for paddling to bring people seaweed foraging.

Over the duration of a day on the water, I learned kayaking skills with Jim, whose sense of humour and reassurance that kayaking is a gentle sport for all ages, and not for adrenalin junkies, immediately put me at my ease. He led me into hidden caves and coves and from island to island, pointing out seabirds and seals and keeping an eye out for dolphins. Suddenly, as we emerged from an explorative paddle, Sally would appear out of nowhere, full of child-like excitement about a certain kelp or wrack she had found, so we all paddled over to study it, harvest some carefully to allow regrowth, taste a bit, and learn about its growth patterns and healthy properties.

Sally’s love of this most underrated food source, from how it grows to how to eat it, was totally infectious. We stopped for lunch on a deserted island, where she prepared dulse and potato soup, served with scones made with laver seaweed and served with dulse and lemon butter. All merited a Bridgestone plaque, I should add, not forgetting a kelp and carrot cake. By the end of the day, I had noted down all of her seaweed recipes, books for further reading, and vowed to bring my kids foraging as soon as possible. You’ve got to watch this weed thing, it’s addictive.

Day two at Inchydoney fed my addiction even further, except that this time it was me who was covered in seaweed (a dried version combined with green tea), then wrapped up in heated blankets and left to cook for 20 minutes. Then into a seawater massage bath, with jets to discover all those coves you never knew existed, followed by a couple of hours flitting between Inchydoney’s heated seawater pool, steam room and jacuzzi. All topped off with a walk on Inchydoney’s famous

Catherine and Sally harvesting seaweed off the coast of West Cork

white strand, close enough to walk barefoot from our room with a view of the Atlantic.

But really it was the day of paddling and exploring, learning and laughing out on west Cork’s waters which makes this trip extra special. It is not surprising that Atlantic Sea Kayaking was recently chosen as one of Trip Advisor’s Top Ten “Most Exciting Alternatives to the Typical Tourist Holiday”. Fair play to Inchydoney for celebrating and supporting such an ethical activity provider, and bringing them to the attention of those who might not otherwise find the world that awaits them, beyond the spa and into a world of bladderwrack bliss.  You can also watch a video of my (sorry it’s a bit windy) experience here.

This article was first published in The Irish Times

 

The Ring of Kerry, from the water

Catherine's son canoeing across Lough Leane Photo: Outdoors Ireland

If you think that the Ring of Kerry is just for coachloads of tourists, it’s time to head ‘off piste’ with a man who knows the best shores to paddle off, peaks to conquer, and cliffs to climb  Nathan Kingerlee, founder of Outdoors Ireland (outdoorsireland.com), mountain guide and expert rock climber, is also the man who recently wrote a blog about hiking round Ireland with a dog and a goat and, when you’ve read it, you will know that this is the guy to lead you safely up to the summit of Carrauntoohil or, in my case, across Killarney in a kayak.

Before heading off on an all day paddling session, Nathan gave us some kayaking tips on the reed covered shores of Lough Leane and, as a passionate proponent of Leave No Trace (leavenotraceireland.org), he told us to ensure that we did just that on our day on the water. We left Killarney’s tourist filled streets behind and gently paddled out into a totally tranquil lough. It felt like a totally empty lough too, with Nathan saying that the tourist boat traffic stays over on the other side, so we had massive expanses of Kerry water all to ourselves for the rest of the day

With just enough wind to help us across the lough, but also to make us work our muscles when we changed direction, we certainly earned our lunch. We tucked into picnics on the water’s edge, sheltering from a shower on the edge of Tomie’s Woods, followed by a quick walk up to admire O’Sullivan’s Cascade. This stretch of ancient woodland is spectacular, and accessing it by boat might certainly have been a better approach for some man who, according to Nathan, got lost for three days in this, some of Kerry’s densest forest. Warmed, re-energised and back in our kayaks, we gently followed the shoreline to the point where the River Laune meets Lough Leane, and took our final glances of the magnificence that is Macgillycuddy’s Reeks from the water, ending with a lash down the rapids leading to Beaufort Castle, with Nathan able to identify each peak, point out nesting eagles, and teach us how to ride the rapids all at the same time, in that multi-tasking outdoorsy way that I am totally in awe of.

Photo: Outdoors Ireland

Outdoors Ireland is part of a network of Kerry businesses to have joined the Green Tourism Business Scheme (GTBS), a UK certification scheme brought in to help them achieve green status as a region. All participants are listed in brochure called The Greener Side of The Ring of Kerry, downloadable free of charge from Discover Ireland (tinyurl.ie/76p). Some are greener than others, however, with Gold award winners like Outdoors Ireland leading the field, and others still at the early stages of green practices with a Bronze award, although this range isn’t clear from the brochure. For my kayaking trip, I chose an accommodation which had been awarded the Gold award, Salmon Leap Farm, a traditional farmhouse b&b just outside Killarney whose green practices are clearly listed on their website (salmonleapfarm.com).

The GTBS is now one of the several green certification schemes recognised by Fáilte Ireland, with others including the EU Ecolabel, Greenbox Eco-certification and the Green Hospitality Award. In a land where there are forty shades of green, it sometimes feels as if we are getting as many shades of certification schemes, and I long for the day when Fáilte Ireland and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board agrees on one certification which fits all and which embraces all aspects of sustainable tourism particular to Ireland, including access to low carbon transport facilities and, ultimately, creating a clearer, simpler picture for tourists and businesses alike.

In the meantime, Outdoors Ireland certainly meets the criteria for any gold and green award, with Nathan not only sharing his skills relating to excellent low carbon activities, but also guiding us with an expert knowledge of the local ecosystem.  You mightn’t do the whole ‘Ring’ thing with Nathan, but the 24kms of Kerry which I saw from a kayak are some I will never forget. Goodbye Celtic Tiger, hello Celtic climbers and kayakers, where the future is green and raring to go.

An edited version of this article was published in The Irish Times in July 2011

Photo: Outdoors Ireland

 

 

Ireland’s Great Western Greenway – on an electric bike

Cycling on Great Western Greenway Photo: Electric Escapes

I was a bit nervous of the potential uncool factor of an electric bike, until I sped up my first hill on Mayo’s stupendously gorgeous Great Western Greenway and realised I wasn’t even out of breath. In fact, when I first saw the bike, a sophisticated Kalkhoff model, supplied by Electric Escapes (electricescapes.ie ), I was relieved that it looked pretty much like any hybrid bike, and that I was actually going to get to pedal, having been naively worried that I might just have to sit on it and be shimmied sloth-like all the way from Westport to Achill. In fact, the opposite is the case – the more you pedal, the more speed you generate from the battery’s power supply, so you can give it as much welly as you can muster basically, and trick those you overtake into thinking you’re  breezing it.

Not that you should hurry this journey, with its ever changing landscapes from bog to heath, river valley to coast. See greenway.ie for a map and more details.  If you want to explore the bays and loughs beyond the Greenway,, you could also head out on a day long guided cycling tour with Electric Escapes, who offer an impressive series of packages. Families can opt for the Pirate Queen day out, with a bit of treasure hunting on your bike, and an optional extra of a boat trip to Seal Island. They do recommend minimum age of thirteen for the electric bikes, due to the size of the frame, and so normal bikes are available for young cyclists. You can also go for a more remote, tranquil cycle to the foothills of Croagh Patrick, with an option to swap the saddle for a paddle at the end of the day, and discover the area’s coves from a kayak. And the perfect addition, they’ll provide a picnic lunch brimming with local salmon, cheese and homemade bread, with a plethora of picnic spots to choose from en route.

I sampled their Bangor Trail, as it encompassed areas of Mayo which I didn’t know at all, such as the wild, rocky shores of Loughs Feeagh and Furnace, where our superb local guide, Sean Carolan,   showed us ancient fort remains, secret shorelines where wading birds are drawn to special fresh water habitats, as well as the  fascinating conjunction of  manmade and natural skills  which go into the creation of a salmon leap. Carolan was also a member of the community-

Pedal and paddle in Clew Bay with Electric Escapes. Photo: Electric Escapes

led team putting the Great Western Greenway forward for the European Destination of Excellence” (EDEN) award earlier this year, and later gaining the  ‘Irish Winner 2011’.  Much deserved, especially now that the trail has extended  from the original 18kms between Newport to Mulranny, to this fantastic 42kms all the way from Westport to Achill.

There are plenty of other options for bike hire here, of course, such as Clew Bay Bike Hire (clewbayoutdoors.com), which has a base in Westport, Newport, Mulranny and Achill. So you can take a train to Westport, pick up a bike at their nearby shop in Distillery Road and pedal into paradise.  The joy of hiring through Clew Bay Bike Hire is that they have a very efficient mini bus collection service, so you can head into the hills in the knowledge that when you hit the wall, not literally of course, you can just get as far as one of their meeting points,  and they will bring you back again. You can also hire the electric bikes through Clew Bay Bike Hire if you don’t want to order the whole package tour, although Electric Escapes will also deliver to your accommodation if they can. All is possible in this tight network of excellent cycle hire providers. The only thing still lacking on The Greenway is a good range of food stops, with opportunities just waiting to be grabbed by local producers who could tap into this market and offer something sustainable and delicious to feed the likes of me who, once they hit this lovely trail, want to keep going until they hit the end of road. Food for thought for 2012 perhaps?

An edited version of this article was first published in The Irish Times in July 2011

Electric Bike on The Great Western Greenway Photo: Catherine Mack



 

 

 

Glenribbeen b&b in County Waterford, Ireland

Glenribbeen Eco Lodge, Waterford, Ireland. Photo: Catherine Mack

There are some people who like to hide their green beliefs under a bushel and then there are those who stick a great big flag in their garden to let the world know that being green is no mean feat these days, and so if you’ve got it, you might as well flaunt it. Glenribbeen Eco Lodge is a small bed and breakfast run by Els and Peter O’Connor which has greenness and kindness oozing from every open pore. I say open, because the doors of Glenribbeen are always open. If you turn up with your tent they’ll welcome you, with dogs, children, a horse, whatever, they would turn few away. Because Irish Peter and Dutch Els’ approach to hospitality and life are holistic and generous. They are both musicians and artists, growers and creators within the community, and the guesthouse is all part and parcel of that.

The flag is that of the EU Flower, the eco certification which Peter and Els were awarded in 2009, and with solar panels, rainwater harvesting, home made briquettes for the fire, fine organic vegetarian food, bat boxes, free range hens happily pecking around the beautiful gardens and bird feeders at every turn, they have merited the accolade for sure.

However, it is individual dedication, imagination and understanding of the bigger picture of responsible tourism which makes a business truly sustainable, not just the solar panels or light bulbs. You can stick as many responsible tourism policies as you like on your website, or boast about all your eco-gadgets, but it’s the living and breathing it, having a real connection with how their tourism venture can be part of a wider green community, that makes somewhere like Glenribbeen so special. Just have a quick look at Peter’s blog to see everything from a broad bean hummus recipe to creating a solar powered walkway in your garden, and this will give you an idea of his commitment to all he believes in.

This is not an eco-chic home, however,  it is just a home built on sustainable, simple principles, with balconies made from recycled wood, vegetable gardens, books from second hand shops, a living room full of musical instruments. It’s a place where Els’ beautiful paintings cover many of the walls and where Peter shares his passion of archery with his guests by offering lessons free of charge. They know the nearby walking and cycling routes like the back of their hands, with extremely quiet trails straight out of their garden gate, taking you as far as The Vee Gap and the Knockmealdown Mountains.  Or the O’Connors will arrange hired bikes to be delivered to the house from Lismore Cycling Holidays, with convenient off road cycling into Lismore town and then into the hills beyond.

We decided to explore the area from the water, however, and thanks to a top tip from Peter, also a keen canoeist, we spent a few hours of a sunny late afternoon in the delightful company of Cappoquin man, Dennis Murray of Blackwater Boating who, having spent his life on the river, knows every bend, bridge and building on it. His gentle charm and local knowledge of not only the flora and fauna, but every historic building which overlooks the river, was enrapturing, regaling us with history one second, and heron spotting the next.  With so much attention given to Waterford’s fine beaches, we were amazed to see that this haven of river life was almost deserted.

Another wonderful facility on their doorstep is the wheelchair-friendly fishing boat, the Wheelyboat of which Peter is one of the registered captains. With fingers in many pies, a new project always on the go, Peter definitely has a ‘glass half full’ approach to life and, as we said our goodbyes, he gave us a stick of rosemary to put on the dashboard to bring energy to the driver and natural perfume for the passengers, and Els popped a parcel full of her specialty Dutch pancakes on the kids’ laps for the journey. So, if you are looking for a place to stay in the Waterford area, owned by people to whom both generosity and green living come naturally, just follow the flag.

An edited version of this article was first published in The Irish Times in August 2011