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My Irish Summer Bucket List

My Irish Summer Bucket List

I think most of us have a romanticised view of the summers of our childhood. The days were always warmer, longer and filled with adventure from the moment we woke up. The days stretched out before us in a haze of languid afternoons spent hiding amongst the fields, chasing the sun as it refused to go down. Being sent to bed was the worst punishment as the stubborn daylight continued to haunt us as we lay yearning to be amongst the laughter we could still hear outside.

 

As adults, the punishment now isn’t being sent to bed. It’s being sent to an office where we are forced to stay in and attempt to work while the stubborn daylight haunts us all over again. We are jailed by social responsibilities but are set free for the weekend and in order to make the most of the precious hours, we must think of as many fun things to do to save us from the guilt on a Sunday evening.

 

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Irish people can be a cynical bunch and many smirk at the mention of summer since the weather here is as reliable as our government. That sense of adventure has waned with age but Ireland has so much to offer and we can relive those childhood days, even if it’s just for the weekend.

 

I’ve rounded up a few things I want to tick off this summer in the hope that it might allow me to feel excited about the weekends and less flustered about feeling the need to fill every hour. Having these wee goals helps me look forward to the weekend and appreciate just how much this island has to offer – even when the rain tries to dampen my spirits!

 

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Go to a GAA Match

I’m an Armagh woman and the county football team was at it’s peak when I was a teenager. This meant that a lot of Sundays in the summer were spent on the side of a pitch, wearing the immutable orange jersey while screaming “Go wan Armagh!!” about a million times. I haven’t been to a game in forever and I miss the buzz of the crowd, the embarrassing insults the poor ref always endured and the terrible homemade sandwiches that were snacked on. This year I’ll make sure to don the jersey again and who knows, maybe Armagh might be within a chance of winning the Sam again.

Sleep Under the Stars

Falling asleep listening to the lullabies of leaves rustling or waves crashing might just be the tonic of the summer. I am a keen camper but I don’t make it enough of a priority to just pack up the car and get away for a night. But a night under the stars is always worth the hassle – even just for the melted marshmallows alone.

Run 5km

Running seems to be the trendy thing to do these days and for that reason I am severely unfashionable. I am not a runner and even though I have a good excuse not to be (the old CF lungs are easy to blame), I still really want to be able to run a decent distance. I have an aim to be able to run 5km in one session by the end of the summer so the practice will be starting this week. Just don’t expect me to to talk while I’m running – those freaks can stay well away from me.

Solo Picnic

I love a good picnic and Andrew and I will find time for one on weekends that will allow us to eat outside without being frozen. But this summer I want to take advantage of a little time to myself. Time to chill out, read a book or just listen to my own thoughts bumbling inside my noggin.

Island Hop

Although we live on on an island, there are still lots of little satellite islands that adorn our lovely coast and so I want to explore a few of them this summer. Last summer we visited Rathlin Island which was a blast and my first time seeing puffins up close (ish). This year I hope to visit an island or two off the west coast and get a good dose of that Atlantic air in to my lungs.

Surf

I learned to surf while living in Australia but only really stood up a few times. My lovely Aussie friends bought me a foam board as a birthday present and it has been shamefully lying in our box room gathering dust and no doubt feeling very depressed. This year the board will get wet and I will brace the ice-cold water that will surely have me wanting to dart back to dry land in an instant. I will be brave and I will try and stand up again even for just a second.

Attend the Fleadh

The Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann is an annual music festival that displays the best of Irish traditional music. I’ve never been but every year I promise myself that I will go. This year is no different but I hope to actual make it this time!

See a Play

I live in Belfast but it’s embarrassing how little I appreciate living in a city with a thriving culture scene. There are plays and musicals every week to take advantage of and so I will be sure to get my thespian head on this summer!

Host an Outdoor Cinema

We have a projector that has been lying lonely alongside my dusty surfboard which will be of much better use when hosting our own backyard cinema. I hope to string up on an old bed sheet, throw a load of cushions on the grass and gather some good mates for an old classic or two. Let’s just hope the weather plays ball!!

 

If I manage to get even half of these ticked off then I feel like I’m in for a fun summer!

Have you your own summer bucketlist? Is there anything you’re hoping to tick off this summer?? 

 

 

Wild Garlic Chicken Pasta

Wild Garlic Chicken Pasta

Not so long ago a friend of mine took me to a secret woodland that lay hidden from the walkers of the nearby park. We followed an indiscriminate path that suddenly opened up in to a cathedral of trees and a carpet of bluebells and wild garlic. The scent was incredible (and my sense of smell is shocking) but it was the colours that moved me the most. It was as if the saturation was turned up wherever I looked as the sun streamed through the birch trees.

 

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We were there to forage for wild garlic before we reached the end of it’s peak season. I’d been wanting to start foraging for food for a while and wild garlic was a good place to start since it’s an easy substitute for other fresh herbs like basil. It’s also incredibly simple to find since you’ll find the stuff in abundance in pretty much every woodland. Luckily Rebecca (an extremely talented photographer/blogger who took all of these amazing woodland photos you see in this post) knew the perfect patch that was off the beaten path and on a slope which meant there was little human or animal footfall which makes it a little nicer to eat!

 

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I was planning on using the leaves in my recipe but you can add the flowers to salads to save any waste. Young leaves are the tastiest so I picked leaves with flowers that were newly opened or hadn’t quite opened yet. There was so much to choose from that I came away with a basketful – plenty to use for my pasta recipe!

 

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You can use the leaves in so many different ways; pesto, dip, soup, you name it. I chose to reinvent a favourite pasta dish that I cook by introducing a few cupful of leaves hoping that it might elevate it a little. It definitely did the trick! There was more of a kick of flavour (I used kale in previous recipes) and the smell when cooking was delicious. Cooking with ingredients that I hand-picked made it a little more special and I can’t wait to head out and collect more before the season finishes in a few weeks.

 

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I would recommend this dish for one of those spring evenings that has a chill in the air. We know this kind of evening well in Ireland; after a full day of sun the temperature suddenly drops and we find ourselves reaching for the winter blankets again. It’s warm, filling and a little bit indulgent but using foraged ingredients makes it a little less shameful!

 

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Happy foraging!!


Wild Garlic Chicken Pasta 

Feeds 2 – 3 people – depending how hungry you are! 

What You’ll Need:

  • 2 x chicken breasts, diced
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 medium onion, diced
  • 1 tbsp minced garlic
  • 2 1/2 cups penne pasta
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 3 cups of chopped wild garlic leaves
  • 1 cup grated cheddar cheese
  • 2 tbsp double cream
  • 3 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

Method:

  1. Heat olive oil in a pan over a medium heat
  2. Add onion and stir for about 3 minutes
  3. Add chicken and stir until cooked all over
  4. Stir in garlic and cook for an additional minute
  5. Add uncooked pasta, chicken stock, water, wild garlic and bring to boil
  6. Stir and bring to boil, then reduce to a lower heat, cover and leave to simmer for just over 20 minutes
  7. When all liquid has been absorbed, remove from heat and stir in cheese, double cream and lemon juice
  8. Serve with crusty bread

 

 

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Live Wild & Free

Live Wild & Free

I was about ten years old when I accepted that I was different from other children. It was when I learned that having CF meant I wouldn’t have a normal future and that I would always have to be mindful of my health. I think being aware of my own mortality from such a young age encouraged me to be grateful for every moment that I had. Yes, it was probably a fairly big burden to have as a child but it instilled in me the wisdom to believe that life can be brief but beautiful.

 

A friend of mine lost her life this week and although I have always been aware of the shortness of my own life, it didn’t prepare me for the shock of losing a friend the same age. When someone has their health and lots of people who care for them, it’s difficult to understand how they can feel so alone and lost. Mental health is an enigma to so many of us yet 1 in 4 of us will suffer form a mental health related issue this year – why are we still struggling to understand?

 

A young woman taking her life has rocked my friendship groups and the community I used to be a part of in Australia. As they are united in grief they are united in knowing that life is not endless. It is fragile, fickle but above all it is fleeting.

 

My advice to anyone who has lost someone, or who is scared of the future, is this: let the fear wash over you for there is no fuel like it. Fear is what we need to live a life more wild and free. We are not meant to be confined to one path but to take many paths that we are lucky enough to have in front of us. Our hearts our there to be broken, our skin to be weathered and our brains to be exposed to as much learning as we can squeeze in to it. We have all lay in bed I am sure, terrified of the future and how little control we have but we have more control than we give ourselves credit.

 

The problem for most is change. Change can often be a scary thing which is what stops us from leaping from our singular path and in to another. We are creatures of comfort and afraid that we can never turn back. We can always turn back but what might be most surprising of all is that once we’ve made the leap, we won’t want to. Embracing change encourages us to accept the unknown and that is what can free us.

 

If you feel like you are lost or alone please look around you. Not only are there people surrounding you who love you now, there are people who are yet to fall in love with you who you are. We make so many wonderful connections in our lifetime, connections that change and later define us as people. Humans are not solitary creatures. Enjoying our own company is hugely important but there is too much good within us all to be contained. We need to share the love we have and align ourselves with people who only make our light shine brighter.

 

So today let’s live wild and free. Be the you you want to be. Grab your coat and feel the wind batter you. Listen to a song that makes you dance like a mad thing round the house. Watch the sun rise with your morning cuppa. Tell your loved ones when you’re thinking of them.

 

Yes, life is brief but it is also flippin’ spectacular. And there is no burden in that.


If you feel like you might benefit from getting some advice from professionals or just want to have a chat, please follow this link which will take you to a list of really useful phone numbers and websites 🙂

 

 

My Top 5 Belfast Beaches

My Top 5 Belfast Beaches

You’re probably wondering why on earth I’m writing a post about beaches in the guts of Autumn, when the beaches are abandoned and avoided for fear of whiplash from the sea winds, but I think this is almost the best time to explore our coastline. There is something about standing on a beach, feeling the hair whip around your face while breathing in the salty air that seems to lift the weight of the world off your shoulders. At times when I feel overwhelmed and I feel I can’t escape my own thoughts, the only place that will subdue me and sweep away the worries is the beach.

 

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^^ Obviously not Ireland but inserted for my own torture ^^

I grew up in Armagh so the only time I got to a beach was during the summer or when we went abroad. It wasn’t until I lived in Australia that I learned how hearing the waves crashing against the beach could have a powerful affect on me. Any time I felt overcrowded when I lived there, I would get in the car and drive to the nearest beach, park myself in the sand and watch the sea pull back and forth from the coast for hours. It’s funny how at a time when I felt like I was drowning I was actually drawn to the sea to calm me.

 

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Now that I’m home I’m not quite as free to jump in and let the water envelope me like I did back in Oz but the draw is still there. We’re lucky to live within a 10 minute drive of some lovely beaches and I have been able to take full advantage of losing myself for an hour or two by the Irish Sea. Sometimes I bring Andrew along with me so we can catch up on our days and most of the time I will insist that I take my shoes off so I can feel the sand beneath me. Other times I’ll come on my own with a blanket or towel, watch the ferries slowly gliding out of the Lough and wonder how many people have sat where I have over the years, thinking the same thoughts and seeing the same things. Those waves have surely swallowed many tears.

 

If you’re in need of some inspiration, I’ll clue you in on a few spots close to where we are in Belfast and a bit further beyond. There are hundreds of beautiful beaches around the northern coastline but these are just a few of my favourites…

 

Helen’s Bay

This my hiding place. I will take myself off here and do a bit of a yoga, reading or just staring at other people’s dogs so I can play with them. Not pathetic at all but I hope that if Andrew sees my pitiful ‘I reallllly want a dog’ face for the millionth time he might give in. It’s only about a 10 minute drive for Belfast so it’s perfect for us city slickers when we need a decent head shower. Crawfordsburn Park is right behind the beach as well and is a great place to take cover if the rain ever descends.

 

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Seapark

Just beside Holywood, Seapark is a bit of coastline that makes a great wee walk and takes you past the Royal North of Ireland Yacht Club – a century old institution with original buildings. Watching the yachtsmen haul their boats in after a day at sea is quite lovely and I like to walk out to the end of the jetty so I get a good view of our wee Belfast.

 

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Groomsport

About 25 mins from Belfast, Groomsport is a very cute village with a lovely harbour hidden within it. The beach is small but delivers just what is needed along with plenty of places for a wee ice cream after. Even if it does have to be eaten in the car because it’s Baltic outside.

 

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Murlough Bay

Without doubt my favourite beach in the North! It’s to be found just outside Newcastle so about 50 minutes drive from Belfast. It’s a perfect sandy stretch you can reach after climbing over some very old dunes and once you’ve reached the top, you can look up to find the Mourne Mountains towering over you. It is everything I love about Ireland – wild and vacuous that makes you feel like you’re the first person to discover it.

 

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Ballygally Beach

About a half hour north of Belfast, this wee beach is found along the Causeway Coastal Route. We stayed in a haunted tower within the hotel across the road back in January which was so beautiful. In the morning we walked along the beach in the freezing cold, blinded by the white mountains covered in snow. In the summer it’s a little more accommodating but I loved that feeling of numbness taking over my face and ears and breathing in the freshest air.

 

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So tell me, have you got any favourite beaches of your own that you escape to?

 

 

 

Camping on the Antrim Coast

Camping on the Antrim Coast

So my Halfway Summer Bucketlist has been sitting all sad and unticked since I wrote it as I have been waiting unpatiently for the last of the summer sun to arrive. Turns out I might be waiting a long time because the weather has been relentlessly grey and unaccommodating. August has been hammering past us though so it’s time I realised I live in Ireland and to not ever depend on the weather!

 

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Camping has been my biggest priority this summer; I’ve been aching to sleep outside and wake up hearing nothing, absolutely damn all as the sun comes up. We’re so lucky to be close to many beautiful spots where heading off for a night’s camping is super easy, shameful really that I’m leaving it until now to finally get moving!

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Local Favourites: Rathlin Island

Local Favourites: Rathlin Island

Have you ever seen a puffin in real life? Yes, they are real birds not imaginary creatures even though that’s almost what they look like. Wee red beaks on them, they look like they should be nowhere near the Irish coastline, much too exotic for our island. But you can find them here – on an even smaller island off the north coast of Antrim actually.

 

Puffin Credit: www.bto.org

 

Rathlin island is only a 20-minute ferry journey from Ballycastle and really you had me at ferry. Any excuse to be on a boat and feel the salty air whip around me, it can really awake something in you – maybe your breakfast if you get seasick like Andrew.

 

So we set our alarms on a Sunday morning (!) in May to make sure we were there brave and early to see these elusive sea parrots. The forecast was promising it be a good day and even though the sun still hadn’t appeared when we boarded the Rathlin Ferry, I was feeling optimistic. Sure I’d packed a picnic and everything!

 

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What struck me when we approached Rathlin was how it was much bigger than I expected. I half thought I could stroll quite easily around it and I had that anxious feeling I get when I know I might have to exercise. The horror! But there was a bus waiting for us when we got off that could take us to the RSPB seabird centre so sighs of relief all round.

 

The bus driver was terrifically cheesy, pointing out Rathlin University (the local primary school – hardy har har), the place where the last bus fell off the cliff (jaysus you’re killin us here) and the island’s all weather pitch which was actually a tennis court (OK now let us off). We courageously bought a single ticket even though I was eyeing up the picnic basket thinking there was no way I was carrying that for over 4 miles.

 

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We bought our tickets and trotted down the steps to the centre. Before I could see the birds I could hear them. It was like walking in to an ornithological metropolis – so much going on, birds on the move everywhere around me and so much noise. It was amazing. Then I was struck by the beauty of the coastline, the dramatic cliffs and sheer drops. It reminded me a little bit of the Cliffs of Moher, that dramatic end to the earth.

 

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I couldn’t get the binoculars on me fast enough. I haven’t got the best eyesight so I was worried I wouldn’t be able to see the puffins and I’d have to do the whole “Oh yeh I see them there, yeh over there near that thing” bit when I really can’t see a damned thing. I scanned past the guillemots, the razorbills and the kittiwakes (don’t get me wrong they are lovely birds but I wanted to see the top bill..pun intended) and searched for a splash of red. Admittedly I did have to be pointed in the right direction but I saw them! And they really are real!!

 

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I was so excited and watched a few of them flapping their wings, enjoying the sun and dipping in and out of their burrows. Yes, they nest in burrows – the mad eejits. Apparently they do so well here because they have limited predators so the burrows can remain protected. Unfortunately I couldn’t get a decent photo of them – the wee rascals stayed down on the flats and there was no amount of zoom that could capture them. I could’ve watched them all day but the 4-mile trek back to the harbour was looming and we wanted to get there by Monday so I said bye bye to the birdies and left with a huge smile.

 

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So off we went like the hobbits on an adventure practically skipping with the picnic basket. We stopped off for food at the first picnic bench we saw. It was a bit nippy when we sat down so Andrew draped the blanket around him like he was about to be shipped off from the famine. He cleverly forgot his jacket and TEA BAGS. He had to get Earl Grey tea bags from the centre and we used luke warm water from his flask. The most horrific cup of tea I have ever had. But at least I got to drink it from an adorable picnic cup.

 

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We also kept bumping in the same people. Although Rathlin Island was bigger than I had expected it took on a supermarket feel where you keep bumping in to people you’ve already said hello to. Eventually you get to the point where you do anything to avoid saying hello for the hundredth time, stopping short of hurling yourself over the nearest hedge.

 

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And do you know what else? The walk was really really nice! I enjoyed it! We dandered along the lane, talking and not talking. Mostly not talking but not because we didn’t want to but because we were so relaxed. All we could hear was the breeze, the trees and the waves. I have not been able to shut off like that for a long time and we even had a nap in the sun (it finally showed up).

 

By the time we reached the harbour I felt rejuvenated albeit a little blistered. To be honest I was blissfully happy. And I got to go on another ferry!! Good day all round.

 

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