Category Archives: Tourism
Images from last weekend in Prague, with Laura.
Click on any of the images for the larger versions. I have uploaded fairly big files as I feel the details in some of the buildings and landscapes are worth it.
Prague is a beautiful city.
It’s that time of the year again in Wexford, when the town comes alive like no other.
You can already sense it now – the Opera Festival is almost here. In a matter of days the hotels will be full and the streets will be buzzing again from early in the morning until late at night.
Anticipation is building ahead of Friday night’s launch, with An Taoiseach Enda Kenny coming to town to do the honours on the quay. Mr Kenny will be one of just many visitors to Wexford during the festival, which runs from Friday, October 21, to Saturday, November 5.
Tickets are selling very well for the Opera Festival’s main events and almost 40 per cent of those tickets are going to people who live overseas, highlighting the popularity of this internationally renowned festival, now in its 60th year.
It’s estimated that the festival will attract some 20,000 visitors and give the Wexford area an economic boost of somewhere in the region of €8 million, which is hugely significant for a relatively small town. People won’t just come from abroad, they will come from all over Ireland. The locals will be out in force too.
On that note, it is worth pointing out that Wexford Opera Festival was founded by a small group of volunteers and only became the renowned international event it is today through the hard work, enthusiasm and vision of Wexford people working for no personal profit.
The spirit of volunteerism that existed in 1950 is not just alive and well in Wexford, it remains essential to pull off the smooth running of the Opera Festival, possibly even more so these days given the scale of it, and a huge band of locals will once again be lending a hand this year.
Everyone knows the importance of the festival and, it seems, everyone enjoys it too. The town is completely transformed and – even in recessionary times – the mood is lifted. You can’t put a price on that.
The Irish Independent had a nice piece on the festival last weekend, talking to Nora Liddy, whose father was a member of the founding committee, and the festival’s current Artistic Director David Agler.
The fun begins on Friday with the launch on the quay, which is always punctuated by a spectacular fireworks display. Mr Kenny is set to officially launch the 60th Wexford Opera Festival at 7 p.m. with the fireworks display set to begin at 7.30 p.m.
The entertainment on the quayfront begins at 4.30 p.m. and there are a number of great acts set to entertain the huge crowd expected to gather for the occasion, including Cork City Ballet, Oyster Lane Theatre Group (featured in the photo at the top of this post) and Extreme Rhythm.
Of course, the operas themselves also get underway at the magnificent Wexford Opera House (which just by itself is worth visiting if you’ve never been), with “La Cour de Célimène” beginning at 8 p.m. “Maria” follows on Saturday night and “Gianni di Parigi” on Sunday, with the three operas running until the close of the festival on Saturday, November 5.
You can check out Wexford Opera Festival’s site for full details on the three operas and all the other exciting events they have lined up this year, from lunchtime recitals to evening cabarets.
However, the great thing about Wexford Opera Festival is how inclusive it is and this is due, in no small part, to the Wexford Fringe Festival, which runs in tandem with it. You don’t have to like – or care about – opera to enjoy festival time in Wexford.
This year there are over 250 Fringe Festival events over 17 days (it runs just a little bit longer than the Opera Festival!) and there’s lots to look forward to.
The wide range of events include live gigs, theatrical performances, photography and art exhibitions, literary recitals, as well as dance, craft, children’s and street events… the list goes on for a while! You can check out exactly what’s on here or for updates follow the Fringe Festival on Twitter @wexfringefest
Personally, I can’t wait to get into town early on Saturday morning and start out on an Opera Festival Odyssey, taking my time as I make my way through the many excellent art and photography exhibitions, as well as enjoying all the weird and wonderful people and events you inevitably stumble upon when you wander through the historic and atmospheric streets of Wexford as it shows itself off to the world.
- Not driving. Driving in a big city is generally a pain. Dublin is no exception. Parking can also be hard to find and expensive. Cycling is easier, often quicker and altogether better for your mental health. Incidents of cycle rage are few and far between and statistics (that I don’t have to hand right now) have also proved conclusively that errant, frustrated motorists are to blame for 88.2% of them. Potholes account for the other 11.8 per cent.
- Baskets. They may not be (okay, they are definitely not) macho, but they sure are handy! There was a time in this country when a man could have a basket on his bike for carrying essential goods (e.g. the turf he had just cut or his pet Collie) and not be judged unfavourably for it. Dublin Bikes are helping men to break down the sexist bicycle barriers that have been thrown up in front of men in recent years, as well as helping us transport essential goods (e.g. baguettes and flowers) and avoid the sweaty backs caused by manly, load-bearing backpacks… or accidents caused by getting our man bags caught in the pedals. Okay, so maybe things have changed a little since baskets were last butch in Ireland.
- Exercise. No need to labour this point. Cycling is good for your health, there’s no impact on your joints and if it’s a nice day in Dublin you can pedal for a very long time without even noticing – it’s a pleasure, not an effort.
- Low expectations not being met. I remember clearly when this scheme was first mooted, and later introduced, there were plenty of sage warnings about what a savage people we are and how these bikes would quickly be second only to traffic bollards in terms of canal dwellers. We weren’t ready for this namby pamby European carry on we were told and the bikes would be quickly wiped out in a spate of thefts and vandalism. But, it turns out we’re not all hell bent on anti social behaviour and given a good public service the citizens of Dublin (drum roll please…) simply used it. In great numbers. Shocking, really. We are now closing in on a total of 2.5 million journeys on Dublin Bikes since the scheme opened in September 2009. I’m sure there have been some incidents where bikes haven’t fared too well, as one would expect in all major European cities with such schemes, but I still haven’t seen one swimming with the bollards and I see a lot of the Grand Canal these days.
- Cheap. They wouldn’t be so well respected or used if they were expensive, but crucially they aren’t. The three-day ticket is €2. The year long subscription is €10. All journeys under half an hour are free. The average journey time for a Dublin Bike is 13 minutes so clearly the vast majority of subscribers are not spending anything bar the signing up fees, which are pretty good by any standards. If you go past half an hour you are charged on a rising scale (50 cents for an hour, €1.50 for two hours etc), but if you don’t want to do that you can always stop back at a station before the half hour mark, put your bike back, wait a minute and take it (or another bike) back out. If you attempt this thrifty practice just be sure there are enough bikes there to pull it off! With Dublin Bikes you also save money on fuel for your car, parking, public transport and taxis. That means more baguettes and flowers.
- Sturdy. I like the bikes. I have had some enjoyable journeys around the city recently on my trusty three-speed steed. These have varied from leisurely jaunts with my better half to simply getting to where I need to go in a timely and hassle-free fashion. The bikes are easy to handle and sturdy too, following the same successful model as pretty much all city bikes, with the usual features you’d expect, from the comfy saddle to the handy lock. They are suitable for all shapes and sizes and seem to be maintained quite well too.
- The wind in my hair. Cycling is fun! Not so much when it rains, but otherwise it is fun and there’s pretty easygoing terrain in Dublin too. As long as you’re careful in traffic, cycling is also a great way to discover a city, not just getting from A to B. In a car you are severely limited in terms of where you can go, stop and what you can see, never mind the characters you might meet! If you’re like me – structure is your enemy and whims beg to be indulged – than cars are out for exploring. Walking is great, but the one drawback there is there’s only so much ground you can cover and it’s generally more tiring. Sometimes cycling is the happy medium. Funnily enough, even though they say we never forget how to ride a bike, a lot of us forget why we ever wanted to in the first place. Rediscover the joy!
- Going green. We’re going to run out fossil fuels at some point, right? You may as well get with the programme now. Plus all the positive effects of cycling on your physical and mental health can be augmented by that smug feeling you get from the FACT! that you are saving the world with every rotation of your pedals. And however bad your emissions may be, they pale in comparison to the damage to the environment that the cars flying by you are doing.
- Cycling community. The Dublin Bikes have been a real shot in the arm for the much maligned cycling community. This once marginalised bunch of seemingly kamikaze Stephen Roche fans and hippies have seen their numbers swell in recent years thanks to both this scheme and the Bike to Work scheme, which has seen a great surge in people buying their own bikes. The cantankerous Irish weather notwithstanding, there just seems to be more and more people cycling in the capital every week and motorists (despite my sideswipe at them in no 1) are now well used to them and (the vast majority) treat cyclists with the respect they deserve. That’s certainly been my overwhelming experience at least. Plus, for the cycling community, with greater numbers comes greater legitimacy, lobbying power and, hopefully, facilities. The Dublin Bike scheme has almost 60,000 members, and about two thirds of those (including yours truly) have taken out a year long membership. The great thing about the bikes is that you can clearly see in Dublin now that men and women of all ages, classes and creeds are using them. Making it not just one of the city’s most effective public services, but one of its most inclusive too. It’s also great for our visitors and boosts our tourism offering. More cyclists also just make the city feel like a more social place for me too.
- Plans for expansion. There are 550 Dublin Bikes operating from 44 stations in the city. They are increasingly well used. There was a new record set for daily journeys on July 13. 6,280 journeys were undertaken on Dublin Bikes that day, compared to 6.043 on April 15, the previous benchmark. When I was staying in Dublin for a week recently I cycled to my course and back every day, but I used to walk (the indignity of it!) past two empty stations (Charlemont and Portobello) every morning, hoping there would be one left at Grantham Street. Thankfully, there was always at least one. On a sunny day available bikes can be as rare as hen’s teeth. There is also the issue of all the current stations being too close to the city centre for many. To address both these issues Dublin City Council is planning to increase the fleet almost tenfold, so there will eventually be around 300 stations and 5,000 bikes – out as far as DCU to the north of the city, UCD to the south, Inchicore to the west and Sandymount to the east. Progress has been relatively slow so far, but I’m sure they’ll continue to do their best give the people what they obviously want.
Our best laid plans went awry on the recent Bank Holiday Weekend when I had to work on the Monday.
The need to stay closer to home forced some swift rearrangements and ultimately brought us on a tour of wonderful County Waterford for what was a great, albeit two-day, weekend.
The Spraoi festival was on in Waterford City and is always a lot of fun, but we avoided it altogether, instead opting for the quieter, coastal charms of the Déise.
After getting the car ferry over from Ballyhack on Saturday, we went on our merry way through Passage East, stopping in Woodstown, Dunmore East, Tramore (which has it’s own particular charms at this time of year!), Newtown Cove, Stradbally and, eventually, Dungarvan, where we stayed for the night.
The copper coast drive was great and even though we made a lot of stops, we could have made many more if we had the time. There’ s an attractive array of coves and villages all the way along it.
Sunday was less hectic, but also lovely. We spent the first half in Ardmore, where we enjoyed the cliff walk, visited the round tower and cemetery (where two of my great grandfathers and other family members are interred), availed of the local hospitality and then relaxed on the beach. Unfortunately it wasn’t quite swimming weather!
We made our last Co Waterford stop on the way home, making our way up the misty Comeragh Mountains until the beautiful Mahon Falls came into view. It is a magnificent place to visit for a breath of fresh air – in every sense.
It was a fitting end to our weekend and a whistle-stop tour of a county that definitely deserves a lot more attention – and not just when the Tall Ships sail in!
The Tall Ships in Waterford and the Lonely Planet’s “Flashiest Lighthouse” accolade has put Hook Head back in the news again recently.
I wrote about the latter development and was more than happy to do so, given that Hook Head is another of Wexford’s true gems. It’s such a beautiful place and, in my opinion, actually more spectacular on a wet and wild day. It’s definitely a rugged beauty.
But if you’re not up for that kind of outing then it’s also great on a sunny day. It’s just five kilometres from the lighthouse to Slade Harbour and back along by the cliffs. You won’t find many nicer short walks anywhere in Ireland.
If you have an interest in finding out more about this historic area you should get your hands on Billy Colfer’s fantastic book “The Hook Peninsula”. To say he’s an authority on the area is putting it mildly. Even the locals will have learned a lot from reading this book. Here’s an overview.
For the non Wexfordians among you, Billy also happens to be the father of author Eoin Colfer, whose star just continues to rise since the phenomenally successful Artemis Fowl series.
An interesting thing I only found out about Hook Head recently - through Wexford artist Eleanor Duffin – is that the late Stanley Kubrick was in love with the place.
He went there on holidays with his family and was looking at the possibility of making a film there. (Eleanor has been given access to the great filmmaker’s archives by his family and it will be very interesting to see what she comes up with!)
It seems Stanley was also fascinated with Loftus Hall, the second most striking structure on the Hook Peninsula. This famous house has now unfortunately gone to rack and ruin and is once again up for sale, with an asking price of €635,000.
Loftus Hall has a fascinating history in its own right, not least the story surrounding it’s most famous visitor, Satan (allegedly!). Read all about it here.
Ramsgrange Church was broken into recently and someone stole the chalice that Fr Thomas Broaders reportedly used in his famous exorcism at Loftus Hall. Thankfully it turned up, as Elaine Furlong reports.
In conclusion, I have two things to say.
Firstly, if you haven’t been to Hook Head in a while, or particularly if you’ve never been, make it your business to get there soon.
Secondly, Fr Broaders, who is buried in Horetown Cemetery, has one of the best epitaphs I’ve ever seen:
“Here lies the body of Thomas Broaders, who did good and prayed for all, and who banished the devil from Loftus Hall.”
THOUSANDS of seafood lovers will flock to a small Co Wexford fishing village this weekend.
Kilmore Quay is famous for its many thatched cottages and it’s fishing, with the latter taking centre stage over the coming days as the picturesque seaside village hosts its annual Seafood Festival.
The festival begins in seafaring style Thursday night with a maritime-themed parade through the village and the programme of events continues through to Sunday evening.
Tonight also sees the festival’s famous seafood platter prize competition, where the local restaurants and bars compete to create the best seafood platter, with bragging rights bestowed on the winner as their creations are enjoyed by the crowd.
The local fish processors in Kilmore Quay have come together for the traditional fish market, which starts Friday and will offer visitors the best of freshly caught seafood at once-off, specially reduced rates. Fresh seafood will also be available to buy at the harbour stalls on Saturday and Sunday.
However, there’s more than seafood on the menu, Kilmore Quay will also be serving up “mussels” of a different variety during the Republic of Ireland’s Strongest Man competition and there are a vast array of exhibitions and activities, from yacht races to sandcastle building competitions.
Festival Co-ordinator Sylvia Kehoe said this year’s festival is centred on “seafood, fishing and free family fun”.
“This festival has been firmly established over the last 26 years with families who travel to Kilmore Quay to join in the traditional family fun of the festival and to enjoy the fresh catch from the Wexford coastline,” said Ms Kehoe.
“We are expecting large crowds and we have a five day festival programme with something for everyone to enjoy,’ she added.
I was down in Kilmore village and KIlmore Quay this evening and as I have started running again this week (a whole other blog post in the making!) I said I’d get one in while I was down there.
So I took my dodgy hip and rickety shins through the dunes on The Burrow. Beautiful scenery, but Maram grass is not my friend!
I met some Wexford people who have been giving generously of their time and energy to preserve a place that I – and many others – love.
The story is below some photos I took at The Raven/Curracloe on my phone earlier this year. It’s probably my favourite place and I can’t praise the “Friends of The Raven” enough for the work they have been doing.
They won’t get a warden, but hopefully they will raise awareness and engender a greater sense of ownership and pride in a paradise on our doorstep.
CALLS have been made for the by-laws governing one of Co Wexford’s most popular beauty spots to be enforced before it is spoiled.
The Friends of The Raven Coastcare Group have said that anti-social behaviour and littering are getting so bad in Curracloe that it’s now getting to their point where their voluntary efforts to clean the area are becoming ‘futile’.
The Raven Wood Nature Reserve, adjoining the hugely popular Curracloe beach, is designated as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and by-laws there include no camping, no fires, no littering (including dog foul) and that all dogs must be kept on leads.
In a letter to Minister Brendan Howlin, their most senior local representative, the Friends of The Raven said: ‘as we embark on the coming busy summer season, we are increasingly concerned that the degree of camping and littering within the wood and its environs is seriously escalating’.
Sunny weekends attract visitors from all over Ireland and on the June Bank Holiday Weekend the local volunteers counted 19 tents in the area, ‘with a number of camp fires having to be put out and the garbage left behind having to ne gathered and hauled out by us’. The Friends of The Raven also made their case in person to Minister Howlin’s cabinet colleague Jimmy Deenihan at Wexford’s Wildfowl Reserve last Friday.
Dave Costelloe and Pat Burke are two of the longest serving members of The Friends of The Raven and carry out regular clean-ups and litter picks there. They are part of a small core group of volunteers that has become increasingly busy since the summer season kicked in.
The group was formed out of a love for the area, but Dave said the level of rubbish there at the moment, from campers and people littering as they walk through the woods, is ‘heartbreaking’.
Pat said one of the problems stems from the fact that the area is governed by a number of authorities. ‘The enforcement of the by-laws falls between a number of stools. This land in the woods is governed by the National Parks and Wildlife Service; Coillte are responsible for the trees and when you go out onto the dunes or beach or into the car park, that’s Wexford County Council’s area,’ he said.
‘It’s easy to write by-laws, but enforcing them is another matter,’ added Dave. He said that they are a small group and the mounting rubbish is becoming too much for them.
‘You could go on forever through other people’s dirt,’ said Pat. ‘We’re getting towards the quitting stage, we’re beginning to feel that our efforts are futile,’ added Dave.
Pat pointed out that The Raven Wood was one of five locations in Ireland recently chosen by the National Biodiversity Data Centre for its ‘Bioblitz’ initiative and is a site of national importance.
Senan Reilly, another Friend of The Raven, said they want to increase awareness of the area and ‘encourage a sense of ownership and pride’ among local people.
Pat pointed out that the majority of the regular users of the area are fully supportive of their efforts, but the problems there continue to escalate nonetheless. ‘There’s great good will out there and people really do appreciate this place and we can’t let a small number of brats ruin it for everyone,’ he said.
‘The by-laws are there, it just requires political will,’ said Dave. The Friends of The Raven have called for a full-time warden to oversee the area.
However, they acknowledged that funding is a major issue and at the very least want to see ‘joined-up thinking’ between the Gardaí, the Department of the Environment, the National Parks and Wildlife Service, Wexford County Council and An Taisce.
The Friends of the Raven hope that this would lead to ‘more frequent weekend monitoring and policing’ of The Raven Wood and ‘more stringent application’ of the by-laws governing the area.
The Friends of The Raven also pointed out that many cars are broken into, on an ongoing basis, in the car parks adjoining Curracloe beach while people are out walking and that anti-social behaviour in the woods is also ‘causing some members of the public to avoid the area out of concern for their personal safety’.
It’s not easy being a small town in rural Ireland these days.
Businesses are closing, young people are emigrating and in many cases the lifeblood of a lot of once vibrant towns is being drained away. The challenges facing these towns are huge and the government coffers are empty.
However, that’s not to say that all is lost and, to its credit, the Enniscorthy community seems to be rising to the challenge.
It’s a town I, like many others, usually just pass through on my way to Dublin, though I spent a few weeks working there last year and will again this year I’m sure.
My last visit there was for a piece for the Irish Times on the re-opening of Enniscorthy Castle, which was a great development for the town, which is steeped in history, and well worth a visit. It’s informative, uncluttered and has a nice social history aspect, always the most enjoyable part for me.
Hot on its heels was the recent installation of a new footbridge over the Slaney, which has extended the prom into a longer and (I’m assured by my colleagues from that part of the world) lovely riverside walk. I’ll be giving it a spin on my next working sojourn in Enniscorthy.
This weekend is a big one for the town as the long-running Strawberry Festival is taking place, here’s a preview piece I wrote about it.
It’s fair to say that the festival had lost its lustre in recent years and last year’s effort – for various reasons – was not well received in most quarters. But, the response to that setback has been emphatic.
The festival is back. It’s bigger and it should be a lot better. A huge amount of work has gone into it and there’s a wide range of events taking place, a lot of them for free. Crucially, the line-up of bands is a lot better too and it seems to cater for younger and older fans (Rubberbandits and Saw Doctors, Jedward and UB40 etc) .
You can check out the festival and all the various events for yourself here. Visitors from further afield than Co Wexford are being encouraged to come too and you don’t need to book into a local hotel, with camping available at Bellefield GAA grounds.
From the many fringe events, such as jazz in Market Square to a public paranormal investigation of Enniscorthy Castle (I didn’t pick up anything on my visit there!), and the big gigs on the weekend nights, it should be a fun weekend.
I hope that all the time and energy (and money) that has gone into it pays off this weekend as it’s great to see a town putting its best foot forward and trying to bring about something positive.
There are many more worthwhile initiatives underway in Enniscorthy than I have touched on here, just like there are many problems that need addressing there and in other Co Wexford towns too.
This post is not to suggest that everything is rosy in the garden in Enniscorthy, but merely to point out that green shoots have been emerging quietly this year amid what can sometimes seem like an overpowering cacophony of negative news.
Let’s hope the town can bask in sunshine for its big Strawberry weekend. If you are looking for a good day out then maybe consider heading down to Enniscorthy.
P.S. Some of my talented colleagues from this office will be in action in Enniscorthy this weekend, so make sure to cheer on Darragh Clifford in the Strawberry Half Marathon and keep an eye (and ear) out for the musical stylings of Shea Tomkins!