New travel app sees Ireland’s true green colours for St. Patrick’s Day

Press Release

For immediate release 10 February 2012

On St Patrick’s Day, 17 March, a new travel app, Ireland Green Travel, written by award winning travel writer, Catherine Mack, shows the world some of Ireland’s truly green gems, not just the emeralds.

Just as everything turns green for the world wide celebrations of St. Patrick’s Day on 17 March, a new travel app on the market, Ireland Green Travel, helps tourists see all of Ireland’s ever growing number of truly green gems, not just the emeralds.  The Ireland Green Travel app, currently available for iPod and iPad, and Android, has been written by award winning Irish travel writer, Catherine Mack, who specialises in green and responsible tourism.  Featuring over 120 entries of green accommodation, activities, transport options and local food experts, this guide will have you hiking, biking, canoeing and sleeping in some of Ireland’s lesser known green spots – lakeside lodges, yurt camps, island retreats, eco-castles, grand houses, yoga retreats and community-run hostels. Each accommodation entry has details on how to get there without a car and Ireland Green Travel app has a handy up to date Slow Travel guide for visitors who want to get to and from Ireland without flying,  with information on local rail and bus services, as well as how to bring your bike on them.

“Ireland has been feeling the pinch recently, to say the least”, says Catherine,”but St Patricks Day is always a welcome opportunity for those of us at home or abroad to cheer ourselves up with what we love most about the country.This app aims to celebrate businesses which have committed to sustainability in tourism, and which offer a passion for preserving the country they love to share with visitors, not only on St Patrick’s Day, but for generations to come”.

  • Price £1.79, $2.99. Published by Sutro Media.


For further information about Ireland Green Travel see preview  or  to request a download code for a review copy , or photos, please email or phone +44 7905 275828. You can also follow Green Ireland Travel at or on Facebook at Green Ireland Travel App.

*Catherine Mack was winnner of Best in Responsible Tourism Writing category at the Virgin Holidays Responsible Tourism Awards 2011




Inis Meáin – my Christmas best

Photo: Inis Meain Restaurant and Suites

Few things in life beat a wish which actually comes true. This time last year I wrote a New Year’s wishlist, which included a mission to visit more of our stunning islands. First, a trip to Cape Clear made me smile and celebrate our natural heritage, but a trip later in the year to Inis Meáin, one of the least visited of the Aran Islands, actually made me cry. In the same way that a fine work of art makes me cry, or a stunning piece of writing,  or just an overwhelmingly kind gesture. I experienced all of this on Inis Meain, staying at Inis Meáin Restaurant and Suites, a place where I felt all my travel writing Christmases had come at once.

Inis Meáin is a place of solace and reflection and Inis Meáin Suites has been designed with this in mind. As the only hotel here, it could have made a big splash, but instead its architect opted for a native limestone façade, with just enough glass to reflect the soft, luminescent blue sky, creating a long, low-lying building which segues seamlessly into the matching limestone terrace. This is just one of hundreds of hard-

Monkfish and spuds at Inis Meain Photo: Catherine Mack

won terraces, so characteristic of the Aran Islands, stretching out in every direction like veins across a body.

Indeed, Inis Meáin Suites plays the role of a central artery on the island, providing tourism income which is sustainable in a sumptuous, seductive and yet sensitive way. Sustainability is core for its owners, Ruairí and Marie-Thérèse de Blacam. Ruairí is chef in his own restaurant, where the food has already won endless accolades from the gastro press. Before dinner, he showed me his impressive fields of vegetables, free range chickens, cow and piglets.  As we walk past one barren field after another, all enclosed by the famous stone walls,  I realised it’s not long ago in the island’s history that this land was considered impossible to cultivate. However, the local people created soil from sand and seaweed and, having grown up on the island, Ruairí seems to have inherited some of this determination to create life and sustenance out of the rock.

How far this island has come, with developments like the hotel’s water harvesting system which enables the use of grey and rainwater, helping in the creation of  salads, herbs, cabbage, spinach and spuds. Later in the restaurant, his inspiration seeps through every mouthful of his food too, as we watch him produce lobster salad, monkfish and dry aged sirloin from his open plan kitchen, chatting with the guests as he merrily chops, sears and simmers.

The de Blacams want you to savour every bit of Inis Meáin, so even though you have the luxuries of an enormous whiter than white bed, chilled champagne, white robes and alpaca throws, the call of the land is too great. They leave bikes outside each suite, as well as swimming towels and a fishing rod. I managed to avail of all three and, along with my hiking boots, was able to reach the less accessible coves and cliffs, allowing me to live every moment here. I even caught some Pollock off the pier, which Ruairí prepared as a starter later – not just thrown in a pan, but sashimi

Photo: Catherine Mack

style, sprinkled with sesame seeds, ginger and a bowl of wasabi sauce.

Walking is the only way to truly imbibe the wild, desolate and totally intoxicating beauty of Inis Meáin. The de Blacam breakfast is strategically generous, so that you can pack the leftover boiled eggs, salami, cheese and homemade bread into your bag for a good long walk. Don’t miss the wilder south west side of the island which took me a good four hours, as I navigated my way across the mad, craggy, limestone cliffs, constantly stopping to try and get my head around these unique and awe inspiring seascapes.

This is a pricey getaway, with suites €250 per night and a minimum 2 night stay. But if I could pick one ethical travel treat as a voucher for someone this Christmas this, without doubt, is my top tip. Because although I generally adore the solace of islands when travelling alone, Inis Meáin evokes such poetry and passion, offers such mystery and magnificence, that it is just one of those special places which begs to be shared with someone you love.

Photo:Catherine Mack

This article was first published in The Irish Times

Teapot Lane Luxury Yurt Camp, Leitrim Ireland – so cute it’s camp

Teapot Lane - a great place for old friends and their kids to catch up Photo: Catherine Mack

While the rest of Europe has gone ‘glamping’ crazy,Ireland is still playing catch up.  In some ways this is a good thing, with the UK and France offering such a plethora of posh pitches now, it almost has me pining for my old four man Vango. But then I step inside the comforting cocoon of a yurt and, fickle and weak, I’m hooked again. And they don’t get much lovelier than Leitrim’s latest offering.

Although Teapot Lane Luxury Yurt Camp looks a bit ‘yummy mummy’ on its website, with its spotty wellies, teapots and pamper pages, don’t judge a book. This carefully thought out eco-venture, run by Derval McGovern, has managed to encapsulate so many aspects of a truly responsible tourism business, it can fly its green flag as high as its gobsmackingly gorgeous one. Thanks to Teapot Lane, Leitrim just got lovelier.

Teapot Lane has achieved in a year what other European glamp camps have only managed to pull off after ten. It’s more like a mini festival of green outdoor living, with plenty of indoor space to cater for Irish weather too. As well as three luxury yurts all equipped with wood burning stoves, cast iron beds with top of the range bed linen, fairy lights and lanterns, there is a thatched self-catering cottage, and a private bathroom with roll top bath in case you just can’t do compost loos and outdoor showers. When the self-catering cottage is vacant, this bathroom is available for yurt users too. The yurts’ showers are powered by gas, are tankless, need no electric supply and use a combination of mains and rainwater from the roof, and both showers and toilets are concealed in sensitively designed wooden huts alongside each yurt.

When we arrived at Teapot Lane, there was homemade vegetable soup and bread to welcome people after their journey, all laid out in the well equipped chalet kitchen with its two big tables, crockery, board games, books, cupboards full of ready made salad dressings, olive oils, spices, herbs and everything you might need to do the perfect camping cook-in.

There is never a big crowd cooking here either, as Derval has committed to keeping her remote woodland site restricted to small numbers.  It is ideal, therefore, for coming with a gang of friends or a few families taking over the whole camp, bagsying every tree swing, hammock, and campfire stool for a week of chilling in comfort. And at €100 per night for a yurt sleeping 4-6, this is fair and square sustainable tourism.

Nearby Mullaghmore Strand in Sligo. Photo: Catherine Mack

The location is ‘tri-licious’ too, sitting pretty on the borders of three counties. Donegal’s beaches of Bundoran and Tullan Strand are both under 13 kms from the camp, Sligo’s stunning Mullaghmore Strand a perfect cycle down quiet roads just 8kms away, and Leitrim’s famous hillwalks around the Dartry Mountains are within about 5kms. You can even bring your dog for some serious walking, as Teapot Lane welcomes responsible dog owners too.

Teapot Lane has good links with local activity providers, organising surfing or riding lessons, fishing or foraging trips and guided walks. Or follow the nearby North West Cycle Trail along endless, pretty backroads, hiring a bike from Hire and Sell in Bundoran, Tel: 071 98 41526.

Blessed with good weather, we took advantage of the excellent surfing instructors at the Donegal Adventure Centre in Bundoran and spent an exhilarating few hours on Tullan Strand. I followed this up with a heavenly hour of aromatherapy massage back at the camp in Derval’s treatment room, while the rest of the gang headed off to raid PJ O’Reilly’s fish van in Bundoran of its daily catch to throw on the barbecue.

But it’s at night that Teapot Lane really started to shine for me. This is the time of day when glamping turns back to camping, when the stars come out, the campfire comes to life, lanterns are lit, the yurts glow, wood burners smoke and children cuddle in hammocks among the silhouetted trees. When the rain kicks in, you can just head to your circle of canvas, warmed up in minutes by the wood burner, and just watch the rain from your king size bed. Sorry, Vango, you’ll just have to wait for next year.   An edited version of this article was first published in The Irish Times in June 2011

Photo: Catherine Mack

Slieve Aughty Riding Centre, Co. Galway

There are lots of saddles to choose from at Slieve Aughty

I never dared go on a horseriding holiday before. The reasons?  Not good enough, not brave enough and not rich enough. However, all horsy hang-ups were dispelled on a recent family break in County Galway, at the Slieve Aughty Riding Centre . I met the owner, Esther Zyderlaan, at an ecotourism conference earlier in the year. She talked about her eco and family-friendly business which, on paper, was the perfect eco-case study. When I got there I could see that, in practice, this truly is a gold (and green) cup winner.

Esther greeted us in a floral apron and wellies, picking lettuce from her organic kitchen garden, while directing a beaming brigade of children, just back from a woodland hack, to the stables overlooking the fecund gardens. Slieve Aughty is organic in the real sense of the word. It has grown not only as a riding centre, but a place to eat fine home-cooked  food, go hillwalking, discover cycling trails and stay at locally owned cottages.

Although we stayed at a self-catering cottage (a lovingly restored thatched one), Esther’s ethos is full board. The dining room is the Centre’s hub where at breakfast, for example, we have home-made scones, local cheeses, compotes, eggs, yoghurt, great coffee and hot chocolate. Suppers are smorgasbords of smoked salmon, stews and salads straight out of a Ballymaloe photo shoot. Over meals we chat about our plans for the day ahead, or adventures had at the close.

Each day started with a mini adventure, taking a forty minute walk from our cottage to the Centre through woodland, accompanied by a couple of Esther’s donkeys, which we tied up in the cottage’s field the night before. We cycled, we walked, we ate. However, I had to get the bit between my teeth and dare to ride a horse. There are no bits for many of the horses here, with bit-free bridles, part of their natural riding ethos. I was also nervous for the kids, as their previous riding experience was with a strict, cranky woman who made them (and me) feel stupid for not knowing how to hold the reins or tighten the saddles.

The Aughty team could not be more different. Esther gently introduces us to our horses, telling us to look them in the eyes, and just talk to them. She leads by example, talking as gently and lovingly to the animals as she does to us.  Our hack leader, Gerry Daniels, is everything you could want in a teacher. He watches the children carefully, encourages them gently, and talks to us all humorously and warmly. He leads our younger son on a rein at the start, and judges perfectly when to let him ride independently, through luscious woodland, over streams and up over hills. Our children were converts, and I too  had fallen back into my childhood dream of owning my own horse once again.

Esther makes ethical look easy. It felt like we were staying at a favourite aunt’s farm for the weekend, with stables full of beauties, and a larder full of goodies. She even has a workshop full of arts materials, boxes of beads, glittery things,

Esther's kitchen at Slieve Aughty

paints and rainy day stuff. The Centre’s buildings are all simple, low carbon eco-designs, many of them built out of timber from her original family house, which she knocked down when her children left home. She is waiting for funding to connect the heating system fuelled by dry horse manure, and wood from her 35 acres. The banks may not have their green light switched on yet, but Esther had hers switched on long before most of us knew what being green actually meant. She is a lesson to us all.

This article was first published in The Irish Times 22 May 2010


Yurt campsite, Cape Clear Island, Ireland

Yurts at Cape Clear Credit: Chleire Haven

It is the beginning of April, and I’m sitting outside a small island cafe, sipping frothy coffee, overlooking a peacock blue harbour, before returning up the hill to a Mongolian yurt. For those who aren’t yet familiar with yurts, they are large round tents, built around a wooden trellis structure, with canvas stretched over the top, and a (covered) star-viewing hole in the roof. As we walk back towards our one, and admire its beauty from afar, located majestically on a clifftop, my younger son says that the view is “like one of those posters saying, Come To Portugal.” However, this is not Portugal, but Ireland’s own Cape Clear island, County Cork, and as close to paradise as I have been recently.

Chléire Haven, is a small campsite with yurts and tipis, set up by Sally Davies and Dave Calvert, and the only yurt campsite I have come across in Ireland. And boy, did they pick the right site. Yurts are camping heaven, ideal for those who dread the canvas experience but know that their kids would adore it.  They are set on a raised wooden floor, spacious, high, have real beds (a double and fold out sofa bed), a cooker, kitchen equipment and, joy of all joys, wood burning stoves. The stoves are not yet connected as we arrive on their first open weekend of the year, but nearly ready to go. We have no need for them anyway, as the weather’s idyllic and yurts have great natural insulation. Although the comfy duvets and blankets help.

Sally and Dave are very committed to ethical practices, with solar powered shower rooms, recycling, good advice on restricting water (a major island issue), and maintain the site in an ecologically sound way. You can’t get a much greener holiday than this anyway. There are no cars allowed on the ferry, 45 minutes’ crossing from Baltimore ( So take the bus to Baltimore and leave the car at home altogether. You can get everything you need on the island. The island’s Bus Chléire meets the ferry and drops you and your bags wherever you want, for €2.

Credit: Cape Clear yurts

We walk everywhere and, despite the island being just under 6k long and 1.5k wide, there is plenty to see. The landscape is hilly and varied, with heritage highlights such as megalithic standing stones, a 5000 year old passage grave, a 12th Century church ruin and a 14th Century castle. There’s plenty of living culture too at the café/shop in the harbour, An Siopa Beag, where local people and tourists gather for cappuchinos, ice creams, great homemade food, or just to watch boats come and go . We sit there ‘til dusk, wolfing excellent pizzas, and then stroll all of fifty metres to the welcoming Cotters Pub, for a hot whisky before bed.

We stay for two nights, and wish we had come for a week. There is something so magical about sleeping in a yurt, with its cocoon like cosiness. One of the most striking things about Cléire, however, is the genuine openness of its people, everyone with a smile and a story to tell, and keen to hear ours.  Which is perhaps why Cléire’s International Storytelling Festival in September has become a world renowned event. But you can come and swap stories here anytime, and no better place to start than in a warm, felt-lined yurt, with the soundtrack of the Atlantic in the distance, and natural lighting from the moon and stars. Failte Ireland should look no further for its next photo shoot. This one’s a diamond in its emerald crown.







The Old Milking Parlour, County Wicklow


The Old Milking Parlour, County Wicklow

Serendipity is sometimes a life saver. About ten years ago, at one of those crucial life turning points, when I didn’t know which road to take, I got a phone call from a friend, asking me to mind his cottage in the Wicklow Mountains for a few months. Within a week I, my husband and baby, had run to the hills. It was a healing, uplifting and bonding escape for all of us and, for this reason, Wicklow will always be, for me, a place to connect with life and breathe again.

A recent trip back took me further East of the Mountains this time, but the short stay was just enough to whet my Wicklow appetite once more. Only 6kms outside Wicklow Town, I stayed in one of the most stylish eco-friendly houses in Ireland, The Old Milking Parlour in Ballymurrin.

Eco-architects Delphine and Philip Geoghegan, first converted a 17th Century Quaker Meeting House into their home, and then the adjoining stone milking parlour into adesign feat of green gorgeousness for guests. “This was my chance to show people that sustainability is not all about calico and spinach”, Delphine told me.

Bar the cows, the Geoghegans have worked scrupulously to maintain most of the original features. The four elegant wood and glass doors which open onto the daffodil-strewn rear garden fill each of the original cattle entrances. Resisting any temptation to chop the Parlour into separate buildings, they have preserved the original partitions, which provide a semi-open plan aesthetic, with one room merging smoothly into another.

The under-floor geothermal heating creates an almost ‘soft’ warm air, topped up by the roaring designer wood-burning stove, with a flue which stretches up through the pitched timber rafters. As well as this, the energy from solar panels provides the majority of hot water. The Parlour is minimally furnished with pale wood, allowing designer splashes of red or lime green to contrast perfectly with the original dry-stone wall, now painted white with lime and organic paints. Funky designer touches are plenty, from the resplendent shower heads to the energy-saving coloured halogen lights illuminating the porcelain-tiled corridor which links each carefully planned space.

The Parlour is quite simply a place of peace. I recommend leaving the car behind and chilling here for a weekend. You
can take a train to Wicklow Town and hire a bike at Wicklow Cycles from €10per day. Sadly, you can’t take your bike on commuter trains stopping at Wicklow, en route to Arklow, unless a fold up. But you can take it on certain Inter-city Services, en route to Rosslare, depending on the train in use. Better to hire one, really, as rail-bike service is still unpredictable. Or take Wicklow Bus, and put your bike in the boot, if it’s not too full.

In Wicklow Town you can stock up on the Garden of Ireland’s produce at The Dominican Farm and Ecology Centre, just beside Wicklow Gaol. Its shelves are brimming with organic meat and vegetables, most of which are sourced from the 70 acre farm set up and run by the Dominican Sisters in 1998.

It’s another six walk or cycle from Ballymurrin along country lanes to the sand dunes of Brittas Bay. So, between the train, walks, cycling, food, and the Parlour itself, I can’t think of a better place to welcome Spring, and start breathing in a bit life again.


This article, by Catherine Mack, was first published in The Irish Times



Natural Retreats, Ireland

Dawn at Parknasilla

The recession has forced many of our golden gates of tourism to open to new ideas and new visitors, indirectly creating a more responsible and accessible form of tourism. I recently visited the five star hotels of Parknasilla in Kerry and Castlemartyr in Cork which have opened their doors to us mere mortals. This is not the work of Nama either, but a company called Natural Retreats ( which already owns sustainable (and sumptuous) houses in the UK and has, for the last year, been moving into self-catering lodges in the grounds of Ireland’s most exclusive hotels, making them just a little more inclusive.


I wrote about this company when it first entered the Irish market ,  impressed by their ethos of developing sustainable tourism in areas of important cultural and natural heritage. Recently, I checked out how they were doing. First stop, Parknasilla, where we thought we might have to go through a separate interlopers’ entrance so that ‘battered old Volvo’ alarms didn’t go off.   But the integration of posh and pleb was done seamlessly and without judgement. We checked in at the same desk as golfers with their Golfs, and Foxrockers with their furs, as they headed to their suites, and we to our self-catering.

The pool at Parknasilla is almost precocious in its beauty

However, it was the outdoors which beckoned at Parknasilla, and is the reason why people have been coming since 1895. There are five hundred acres of woodland and coastal walks here, with tiny islands linked to the hotel by wooden bridges. On an early morning stroll to catch the mist coming up over the many inlets, there was an eerie silence with only the oyster catchers on dawn duty. The beauty here is truly mesmeric.

Guests staying at Natural Retreats’ lodges are given full access to hotel facilities, sharing hot tubs, croquet lawns and extraordinarily beautiful swimming pools with the great washed. The Victorian ‘children should be seen and not heard’ still hovers a little at Parknasilla, being asked to leave the pool at 5pm, only served dinner at certain times,  and a general air of hushed tones around the lounges. The games room is in a separate building and equipment was on last legs. But when the pool shut we just ran down to the Victorian bathing huts on the shore and dived into the Atlantic, letting our screams  echo around the bay, hushed tones long forgotten. The hotel restaurant was beyond our budget anyway, so we ate in from the nearby butchers or out at O’Shea’s pub, with its fab fish pie. Both in nearby Sneem.

At Castlemartyr, the ambience was very different. Although equally luxurious, it had a younger feel to it, with bikes for everyone’s use, the kids were allowed to walk the hotel’s dogs and blind eyes were turned when ‘adult time’  kicked in at the pool when it was quiet. The games room is ‘soooo cool’ with leather sofas, a Wii, snooker table with all the balls and board games with all the bits. We cycled into the village for supplies, picnicked on the lawns and noone blinked an eye.

One disappointment, however, was the welcome hampers which had impressed me so much at Natural Retreats in
Yorkshire, brimming with local produce. Here they were more white sliced loaf and instant coffee. Natural Retreats’ Director, Ewan Kearney reassured me, “We’re working through an ongoing list of improvements at each site, including implementing local produce in the welcome hampers, improving the guest information manuals with things to do and see in the local area, eco-friendly cleaning products and see this as a gradual process that is more likely to succeed if the business is financially stable”.

These are not cheap breaks by any means, but as George Bernard Shaw said of Parknasilla, “This place does not belong to any world that you or I have ever worked in or lived in. It is part of our dream world”. Natural Retreats has brought the dream a bit closer to reality for many and, with sustainability at its core, aims to make the same possible for future generations to come.


This article, by Catherine Mack,  was first published in The Irish Times 28 August 2010


Trinity Island Lodge, County Cavan, Ireland

Trinity Island Lodge, County Cavan.

No one is going to choose a place to stay simply because it has solar panels or a compost loo. Although I must admit, I have a bizarre interest in the pros, cons, and inner workings of the latter, which amuses my children no end. However, when you visit a place and realise that the owner has, often against the odds, created an eco-dream, and wants nothing more than for you to lie back and enjoy its natural wonders (and I don’t just mean the loo), then they are worth shouting about. Which his why I am starting to feature some personal favourites in this column, and introduce you to some of the people responsible for giving us great green getaways.

A weekend break in County Cavan is not usually in the top ten of tourist trails. But, with all the attention Cork has been getting from Lonely Planet recently, I thought it was time this lowly Ethical Traveller gave County Cavan its moment in the limelight. If you are lucky enough to stay at Trinity Island Lodge, in Killeshandra, County Cavan, make it more than a moment though. As this is pure, peaceful eco-escapism and worth a few days of your well earned time away.

Up until recently this converted barn, on its own forested island just seconds’ walk from the shores of Lough Oughter, was a fisherman’s haven. And hardly surprising, as you can almost fall out of bed into your boat in the morning. But the owner, Tom O’Dowd, has always been a committed conservationist and environmentally aware, and he is keen to start sharing it with visitors who are interested in the other aspects of the ecosystem. Not just fish.

The remote Lodge has a windmill and solar panels to generate electricity, and Tom has replanted 200 acres with indigenous broadleaf Oaks, Ash and Larch. During a walking tour of the island, he tantalised all our senses. Whispering

Overlooking Lough Oughter. Photo: Catherine Mack
Overlooking Lough Oughter. Photo: Catherine Mack

, he gently guided the children to badger sets; he then led us to scented corridors of wild garlic, and stopped us in our tracks to let the sounds of Teale and Widgeon out on the lake take centre stage. For my kids, however, Tom was the star of Trinity Island, as he showed them how to chop wood, paddle the Canadian canoe he provides for guests, and regaled them with legends of the monks who built the Island’s ruined abbey in 1237, which Tom has lovingly protected from total collapse.

However, Tom will admit that it is The Lough which deserves all the praise here. The Lodge, albeit with slightly dated décor, is cleverly designed with the living area upstairs, leading out to balconies to allow maximum enjoyment of the views. Shopping by canoe has to be one of the highlights of the stay, just a five kilometre paddle into Killeshandra for supplies. Or for a daytrip, take the five hour canoe trip into Belturbet, with a picnic stop-off at Lough Oughter castle. Tom, host extraordinaire, generously offers to collect visitors there after a hard day’s canoeing and drive you back to base. Whatever waychoose to enjoy the Lough, we found plenty of excuses to warm up in the wood-burning sauna at the end of the day. So, for all those ‘noughty’ fishermen out there, who have been trying to keep this place to themselves, watch out, because the ‘greeny teenies’ are on the case, and moving in.

trinity-island-lodge-072Go green: Take a bus to Cavan (hourly) and taxi 20km to Killeshandra, where Tom will meet you to take you to the Island.

This article was first published in The Irish Times, 27 February 2010