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Saturday, May 29, 2010

WeLoveDonegal BACK ON LINE

29th May 2010

Our website WeLoveDonegal is now back on line so please feel free to visit us and browse the site.  Call back often as the site will be updated with new photographs and more information on a daily basis.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

MY PHOTOS OF DONEGAL

Those who read my blogs will know I'm an avid taker of photographs of Donegal.  One, I love photography with a passion, and two, I love showing people how absolutely stunning Donegal is and I can do that through showing my photographs on various sites and blogs.

So imagine my delight when I heard that the Irish Daily Mirror today had used some of my photographs of Donegal in a centre page spread they did showing photos of Ireland.  I got the paper and was even more delighted to see that out of the ten photos they printed seven, yes, seven were mine!  (To view the pics they used click on the link at the end of this post).

How's that for getting our fabulous county some coverage? 

Added to that the Democrat on Sunday this week will feature my photograph of MacSwynes Castle and bay (shown below) in a massive centre page spread.  And conincidentally, the photograph the Democrat chose is the one I chose as the header for both this blog and the all new WeLoveDonegal.com site!

MacSwynes Castle, St. John's Point, County Donegal

If the photos help bring more people here to see the county for themselves I will be delighted.  It is certainly paradise for photographers and artists and these people should beat a path up here to take advantage of our stunning scenery which in my totally unbiased opinion, is the best in Ireland.

PHOTOS USED BY IRISH DAILY MIRROR

Sunday, May 23, 2010

JAUNTS AROUND DONEGAL ~ DUNLEWY CENTRE

Sunday 23rd May 2010

Dunlewy

Today we took a trip to the Dunlewy and the Visitors Centre there ~ Ionad Cois Locha with the intention of taking their boat trip out onto Dunlewy Lake in order to get some photographs of Errigal and the surrounding countryside from the water.  I also wanted to take their 'cottage tour' to see what was inside the cottage.  I love going into these old places, seeing how life was lived many years ago.

Other than those two things I hadn't really expected to see much else but boy, was I in for a surprise.  The place was buzzing with lots of people enjoying an afternoon there.  As well as the historical interest for adults, there is lots for the children too including a mini farm with donkeys, pigs, a lamb, various birds including geese, hens, rabbits, peacock and peahen.  There's a small pond with pedallos, a climbing wall, a rodeo bull, a play area, and an indoor bouncy castle.  The farm is free to enter and there is a charge for the other attractions.  Our tour of the cottage and the boat trip came to €10 each.

The cottage and our guide, Francie Diver


The cottage tour, taken by guide Francie Diver, is of an old cottage owned in the middle of the last century by a weaver called Manus Ferry.  He lived there with his brother who took care of the sheep who provided the wool for the tweed and their sister who ran the little shop beside the cottage.  Manus' tweed weaving skills were excellent and he sold tweed to many famous people of the time including the late Tabasco Sauce millionaire,  Henry McIllhiney who at the time owned the nearby Glenveigh Castle and the Glenveigh Estate.  (Mr. McIllhiney later gifted ownership of the castle and the estate to the Irish state).  The coat woven by Manus Ferry and owned by Henry McIllhiney is on display in the cottage together with a photograph showing Mr. McIllhiney wearing the coat.

The tour starts off with a short slide show lasting about five minutes which gives a history of the area and later of the cottage and the Ferry family.  Next Francie gave a display of how raw wool was worked with and then spun on one of the two old looms there to eventually end up as bales of wool for knitting such items of clothing such as socks and jumpers.

After this display we moved on the the hand loom and the display of how the tweed was made was given, again by the multi-talented Francie.  I have to say you would need real concentration and co-ordination to work this beast of a loom but Francie made it look deceptively easy.  As he was displaying to us how the loom worked, he managed to produce about an 8" length of tweed, speaking all the way through!

Cottage interior ~ note the bed to the left of the hearth

Moving on from there we entered the cottage itself and what we would call today the living room.  Walking in the old cottage door the first thing that hits you is the heavenly smell of a turf fire.  I love that smell, evocative as it is of years gone by.  The room was typical of these old cottages in that it had an open fire with lots of crocks and pans sitting by the hearth, a bed recess, an old dresser packed with all manner of dishes including bowls from which people would drink their tea at one time.  There was the Sacred Heart picture with the little red light in front of it and even the china dogs on the mantelpiece.  An old table beside the window where the family would have eaten completed the room. 

Something very special there is an original pair of  a childs hobnailed boots in almost perfect condition.  These little boots, also called tackety boots, were handmade from leather and then had a sole of a metal plate and hobnails (flat headed nails) added in order that the boots would last longer.  If you look closely at the photograph (click to enlarge it) you can see a series of little cuts around the top of the boot.  These were done to make them more comfortable around the ankle as the leather is very stiff on them and would otherwise have cut in to the wearers flesh.  Apparently these were found by someone in an attic in nearby Gortahork and donated to the Center.

After this room we went to what would have been called 'the upper room' in days gone by, a good name as it is a room up from the main room and through a latched door to the side of the fireplace.  This room contained a bed, a small handmade wooded crib on rockers and various other bedroom paraphernalia.  The coat woven by Manus hangs on the edge of the wardrobe in this room.  If you look at the photograph to the left here, you can see the photo of Henry McIllhiney wearing the coat.

Moving back down through the living room and through a door on the opposite wall, we entered the 'lower room' or scullery/pantry and this is full of all sorts of kitchen items such as an old hand worked washing machine, pandys which were cans for holding milk and hand made by travelling tinkers of the time.  Indeed this is where the word 'tinker' came from, these travelling men fashioned all sorts of domestic items from tin and then sold them to the people whose villages they travelled through.  There is also a selection of old dishes and jugs and even an old wooden butter churn.

The old shop ~ note the plough in front of the shop

That completed our tour of the cottage and we exited out through the half door into a yard where we could see the old tin shop that the family ran.  Inside the wood lined shop there are many items still there from the days when the shop was open and the shop is more or less as it was.  On the counter there are a few old books which list what various customers bought.  I know from being in my grandparents shop here in Donegal as a child that such books were kept so the customers could collect groceries throughout the week and then pay for them at the end of the week.  The value of such books today is that they show us clearly what people bought at the time and what they paid for these items. 

Shop shelves

In the shop too there are various old 'bone-shakers', the name put on the black bikes of old.  On the counter there is a set of scales which would have been used to measure meal and flour and the like and all along the shelves behind the counter there are boxes which would have contained such things as sweets, snuff, biscuits, which were sold loose in those days.

After leaving the shop we wandered around the little farmyard for a while and then made our way down to the wooden jetty to take the boat trip.  Once on the jetty we waited with the other passengers for our 'captain' who turned out to be none other than ... yes, yet again, Francie!  Once on the boat, which is very easy to get onto as it sits right up at the jetty so you literally just step on to it, you have the choice of a couple of covered areas with lots of benches to sit in and enjoy the views from inside or alternatively, as we did, you can stand in the uncovered area.  Francie gives a running comentary on the surroundings and history of the area which is very informative.  The trip in total takes about 30 minutes and travels from the jetty at the Centre right up to just in front of the old church.

Errigal from the boat

Back on dry land, we walked back to the main building.  In here there are loos, a large gift shopping selling all manner of local crafts and gifts.  There is a cafe/diner which serves snacks and meals.  As it was nearly closing time (6pm) we didn't have time to sample the food so maybe next time. 

I think the centre is well worth a day out for both families to take their children to and also adults without children in tow.  It is rich in the history of the area but it is also a fun place for the children and we will certainly be back soon with our two older grandchildren who I know will have a ball there.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

MAY IN DONEGAL


Mayflowers

Every month and season offers something special but for me, May in Donegal is extra special.  Placed as it is on the tail end of spring and on the cusp of summer, the month of May seems to capture the best of those two seasons.

The hedgerows are bursting with flowers, the vibrant yellow of gorse in full bloom can be seen all over the hills, and the blackthorn is in full bud just waiting blossom.  Fields and bankings are covered with primroses, daisies, buttercups, mayflowers, and many other tiny flowers.  Bees are buzzing, gathering pollen from these flowers.  Indeed they are so busy, they scarcely notice a camera getting up close to them.


In the fields too new life is all around.  Sheep, cows, horses and goats are nuturing their young in the warmth of the May sunshine.   And as we drove around last Sunday, I spotted a duck with just one little duckling following her along a little stream in the Bluestack Mountains.  It was frustrating that I didn't get to photograph them but just seeing them was special.  I am currently waiting to see cygnets and given the amount of swans we have in Donegal, I am hopeful of being able to photograph them at sometime this month.

A juvenile herring gull in Killybegs harbour

Perched up on a banking the other day, taking shots of buttercups and daisies, a scent hit me that I had not smelled for years.  Wild garlic.  I followed my nose until I found the source of the scent and there under some overgrowth I spotted the delicate little flowers of the garlic plant.  I'd love to have pulled some but I am against taking things from their place, maybe another reason I love photography: I can 'take' what I see without ever doing any damage ... take only memories (and photos!), leave only footprints.

In May a couple of years ago, driving towards Donegal Town from Rossnowlagh I saw a field full of Shetland ponies, so of course had to pull over and climb up the path to their field to photograph them.  Once there I was delighted to see a tiny foal.  It really was the cutest thing, almost like a toy rather than an actual animal.  They were a very curious bunch of ponies and came dashing over to the fence to me to pet. 

One of the prettiest young animals I have ever seen is a little Spanish donkey.  Not, I know, something one would expect to see in Donegal but a couple in Letterkenny owned it and were happy to allow me to photograph it.  He was all long legs and huge, gentle dark eyes.  And the fur on his long ears was the softest imaginable.  I would happily have taken him home with me!

I was lucky enough to see a pair of goat kids and even more lucky to get this shot of them where they almost posed for the shot.  They were in a field at the foot of Sliabh Liag (Slieve League), the highest seacliffs in Europe.  They weren't a bit bashful and happily ambled about in front of me giving me lots of time to photograph them.

Of course it's not all sunshine and blue skies in May but the rainfall is softer than earlier in the year so it never seems so bad.  I took this photo of apple blossom which is currently in bloom and I rather like the effect of the tiny drops of rain on the petals.  
So, there we are, a glimpse of the month of May in Donegal.

For more photos of May in Donegal CLICK HERE.

Monday, May 17, 2010

BEHIND THE HEADLINES ~ THE BOG HOTEL

Before I begin, a little about the Bog Hotel for those not familiar with the story behind it.  Donegal man, Patsy Brogan, has for over four years been entertaining friends and members of the public in the comfort of his shed, welcoming them to his home and provding them with refreshments both alcoholic and non-alcoholic.  His generosity and hospitality has become widespreadly known and as a result he has attracted many visitors, both local and from further afield. 

His noteriety eventually lead to his prosecution by Donegal County Council for breach of planning laws and the case came before the District Court in Donegal Town on the 3rd of March 2010 when the Council argued that Mr. Brogan required planning permission for change of use of his shed to a 'bar or lounge'.  However, on hearing the evidence, or lack of evidence, the Judge found that there was no case to answer and added that the situation was "most unusual" but that in recent times it was not uncommon for people to have a bar or lounge in their homes.

So, our trip to the Bog Hotel.

After wanting to visit the Bog Hotel for some years, we finally got to visit it yesterday (Sunday, 16th May 2010) after an extensive search for it through the hills of Donegal.  We knew only that it was located somewhere near the village of Frosses in south Donegal.  So we drove into Frosses and took a side road there which led us on a wild goose chase in what turned out to be the totally wrong direction.  Back into Frosses village and out the Glenties road.

Driving along the main road looking for the Bog Hotel

I had seen photos of the place in newspapers and so I thought I might spot it as my husband drove along.  After about 5 or so minutes driving, we stopped a lady out walking and asked for directions.  She said to drive for another 10 or 15 minutes and we'd see the lane on our left and we'd find it there.  Well we saw lots of lanes and even drove up a few of them but still couldn't find the Bog Hotel.  Eventually, after an hour or so of driving back and forth and up and down dead end lanes, we decided to head to Glenties to see if anyone could give directions.

Of course I took the opportunity to get a few photos of this pretty village and it was lucky I did because during taking these photos my camera battery died which would have been extremely frustrating had it happened when we eventually found the Bog Hotel.  Yes, I do carry other cameras but that one is my favourite and I wanted it for the big occasion.

We were getting a tad exasperated, tired and hungry at this stage so, noticing a sign on the wall of the Highlands Hotel advertising fresh chowder, in we went to enjoy some food and a rest and our friendly waitress allowed me to plug in my camera battery charger.

Chowder eaten, camera battery and our batteries recharged, off we set again.  Ouside the hotel I spotted a man smoking and asked him for directions.  He knew the place he said and gave us directions (you can see the directions from Glenties at the end of this post).  His directions were good but probably best if you were familiar with the area.  For us, they worked in that they lead us very close to the Bog Hotel, a nearby farm where the man there told us it was at the end of the the next lane to the right along the road.  I'm nearly sure I heard choirs of Angels singing Alleluija at that point.

We drove up the lane and eventually found the Bog Hotel.  Or what we assumed to be the Bog Hotel.  A shack standing alone at the end of a track.  It has to be said that the surrounds could certainly do with a bit of a tidy up and maybe even a lick of paint.  That said, the whole jumble of the exterior probably adds to the whole attraction of the Bog Hotel.

There were a few cars parked in a totally random fashion around the shed and we figured we at last might really be at the Bog Hotel.  But there were no signs so we couldn't be 100% sure.  We got out of the car and could hear voices coming from within the shed and so approached the door.  I didn't know whether to knock or just enter so I went with the latter.

You know when you step into a fairly dark building from bright sunshine outside?  You can't really see what's there for a few moments?  Well it was like that for a second and in suspended animation too as all conversation immediately ceased and lots of faces, barely seen in the relative darkness within, turned around to see who was coming in.  I watch a lot of horror films and have a rather fertile imagination and for a second that fertile imagination ran away with me, screaming into my brain 'hills, miles from anywhere, strange people, trapped, RUN!'.  But I got a grip of myself, not to mention a shove from my husband behind me to move on, and we entered the Bog Hotel.  To be greated by a large German Shepherd dog.  But he just had a little investigation and moved back into the room leaving us free to enter. 

Inside the Bog Hotel

Time started up again, conversations resumed and as our eyes adjusted to the dim light within and I could see the place was fairly packed with all manner of people ~ women with babies, kids running around, groups of men, groups of women, couples, you name it.  And everywhere flashes going off as people took photos on cameras and mobile phones, wanting a keepsake of their time in the Bog Hotel. 

I recognised Patsy Brogan, the owner, from photographs I'd seen in newspapers and he greeted us in a friendly fashion before resuming his conversation with the people around one of the two large tables where he was holding court, surrounded by guests who were learning all about the history of the Bog Hotel.

At the far end of the room, around an 'L' shaped bar, another crowd of people were gathered, some sitting on high stools, others standing.  We made our way there and as with Patsy, I recognised Daria from the newspapers.  We were offered refreshments and asked for two glasses of Guinness.  I didn't really think it was a gin/tonic/ice with a slice sort of place and so ordered Guinness.  Unfortunately there was no Guinness either so after perusing the random selection on offer, we settled for two bottles of Carlsberg. 

We managed to get a corner for ourselves near the bar and over the din of conversation and laughter I could hear an annoying tweeting going on and assumed it was one of those electronic things that make noises when people pass them.  Then it dawned on me the tweeting was real ~ there was actually a nest of baby birds up in the roof beside me.  You couldn't make it up! 

The place is sensory overload, packed as it is with a totally eclectic collection of memorabilia, photographs, old tapes, dishes, glasses, furniture and so on.  On one table there was cigarettes, ashtrays, a tub of spread, salt, glasses, and books.  On a series of shelves packed with dishes, there was even a plate with an image of Pope John Paul II.  And a huge photo of Elvis dominated the wall behind me. 

The Stage

On a far wall, behind the stage, yes stage (with a piano and electric organ) was a huge poster of Manchester United.  The furnishing consisted of a random selection of chairs, armchairs, tables, sideboards and cupboards.  The randomness of the contents goes on: I spotted an old till (firmly set at nil), a karaoke machine, tvs, old coats, even a safety helmet (for what I have no idea).  Something else made me smile ~ a batch of aftershaves in a glass fronted cupboard with the famous Old Spice taking pride of place.  Yes, the Bog Hotel really is that random.

The atmosphere was better than many a public bar although it is not a public bar even though Patsy calls it 'the best bar in Ireland' and you're certainly made more than welcome.  The guests all chatting freely with total strangers, in a bar that isn't really a bar, a hotel that isn't really a hotel, in the middle of nowhere, and far from reality all bound together by our adventure into the unknown.  Even smoking, long banned in bars in Ireland, was allowed.  All around the place there were ashtrays and even, in the way of Donegal wakes of old, loose cigarettes in little piles on one of the tables I assumed for guests to smoke if they so wish. The 'no smoking ban' doesn't apply here in the Bog Hotel where such rules go out the door passing as they do the hoards of people flooding through it.

A word of warning: though the German Shepherd, Benji, is friendly there is another dog in the Bog Hotel, Coby.  Coby is rather elderly and sleeps on an armchair at the side of the bar.  He is cross.  Very cross.  Do not disturb him under any circumstances.  I nearly learned this the hard way when I leaned in too close to photograph him!


In the Bog Hotel even the opening hours defy the norm.  Patsy says guests are welcome there any time, day or night.  Now that said, I can't imagine having the nerve to roll up at 3am but I believe people do.  This man is 72 years of age and when I was speaking to him yesterday he told me that he and Daria had been in Sligo Friday night, Longford Saturday night and had arrived home at 7.30 that morning and hadn't been to bed and still he managed to look as fresh as a daisy and full of life!  He tells people he works 25 hours a day and when asked how he can do 25 hours a day replies 'I work my lunch break'.  I don't know what he's on but I think a lot of us could use some of it.

One thing that comes over across strongly is the huge support for what Patsy did in  and the success of his case.  His back must be red raw with all the claps his back receives not to mention his hearing which really must be affected by the shouts of his guest saying 'well done!'great place you have here', 'we love it!' and other such positive acolades.  Patsy is now standing for local election, fully convinced he will sweep the poll I might add.  And judging by the support he was receiving from his guests yesterday, he might just do it.

Patsy and Daria

But before the election comes a much more important date for Patsy and Daria, the 1st of August next, Patsy's 73rd birthday, when they marry.  They met when she visited the Bog Hotel with a group of friends on a day off from her job as a waitress in the Mill Park Hotel in nearby Donegal Town.  Daria is Polish but their wedding will take place here in Donegal Town where not one but two hotels have been booked to accommodate the 2,000 guests expected to attend.

Well, 2000 and two, we now having been invited.

MORE PHOTOS OF THE BOG HOTEL

HOW TO FIND THE BOG HOTEL

As you have read, this can prove difficult so here's our guide for those of you wishing to visit.

From Glenties: Leave Glenties on the Ardara road and just outside the village take the left hand turn off signposted Donegal Town. Drive along that road for about 10 minutes and you will see a Jehovah Witness hall on your left, a very short distance after that there is a power station (pylons) on the left. The next turn to the right is the lane up to the Bog Hotel. Be warned, the turn off is on a bend in the road and care should be taken leaving the road. 

From Frosses: Drive to Glenties and follow route given above!