Green Day

Slemish in the distance

Slemish, historically called Slieve Mish, in the townland of Carnstroan a few miles east of Ballymena, in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. It is the remains of the plug of an extinct volcano. Tradition holds that Saint Patrick was enslaved as a youth and brought to this area to tend sheep herds on Slemish, and that during this time he found God.

A view from the other side

A circular walk starts from the car park at the base of Slemish, up a steep rocky track to the summit some 1437 feet above sea level. The track down is much gentler and leads back to the car park. On a clear day, as the song goes,it is possible to see as far as the Sperrins.

On this our National Holiday…. May your life abound with blessings:

A soft breeze when summer comes, a warm fireside in winter

And always: The warm, soft smile of a friend.

Grant us a sense of humour, Lord, the saving grace to see a joke,

To win some happiness from life, and pass it on to other folks.

♣ ♣ ♣


It was hard to credit that my journey from Co Antrim to Co Down was taking place in the month of June and not darkest November. Setting out at 3pm, I drove through the darkness of fog, road spray & rain so heavy it was necessary to use dipped beams and fog lights! My sympathy was with those running, walking or dancing through the streets carrying and trying to keep a ‘torch’ alight.

My rendezvous was with the speccy family at the Outlet Centre outside Banbridge and we were to travel together from there into the town.  Mr Speccy was Torch Bearer No. 90 and we were headed to find a Pole/Lamp Post with that number on it.

Pole No 90 and basecamp for The Speccy Family

In our group we had a proud Mum & Dad (who travelled from England for the occasion) Mrs ‘Pole 90′ aka speccy, Girl1 & Girl2. Along the way we grew in numbers with friends, colleagues and school children.

The miserable wet day may have soaked the clothing of the spectators, but it certainly didn’t dampen the spirits of the crowds waiting all along the streets of Banbridge in Co Down, yesterday evening.

A smile in the rain from a finalist for Face of Northern Ireland as we wait for the torch bearers to arrive.

The pole with a gold number 90 was the spot where Mr speccy would accept the flame from the previous runner and begin his journey. We got there in good time and spread along the kerbside. As the minutes passed the crowd swelled and buzz of chatter grew with n air of anticipation and excitement.

Police outriders were the clue that the parade was arriving.

There I go again… distracted by a Toyboy on a bike and look what happens…..

I almost missed the man of the moment arriving to be greeted by family and friends!

In place and ready for the hand over of the Olympic flame.

Passing on the flame.

Robbie aka Mr Speccy – Son, husband, father, teacher & friend – a man known to go more than the extra mile for those in need, is ready to run for Northern Ireland in the Banbridge stretch of the London 2012 torch route.

He is off!

Well done young man!

Openings 37 ~ A hole

An opening in a rock at Cavehill, high above Belfast.

The photo was taken from the area called the Devil’s Punchbowl.

Cave Hill Country Park gets its name from five caves – which could be early iron mines – located on the side of the main Belfast cliffs. Click to enlarge the photo ( I can only find three caves at this angle) or take a virtual tour of the Cave hill and McArt’s Fort

There is a challenging circular route walk (4.5 miles), beginning at Belfast Castle it can, however, be joined from

  • Bellevue (Belfast Zoo) car park
  • Upper Hightown Road
  • Upper Cavehill Road.

It is a steep climb over unsurfaced paths. I know. I have done it in the past, right to the top, and hope to try it again someday. I did go back on my own as far as the Devil’s punchbowl, but would not attempt to go further alone these days.

Any takers?

McArt’s Fort

You need stout shoes and waterproofs in case the weather changes. But on a clear day the view is well worth it.

That’s not me, but I have been up there on that spot.

Looking down over Belfast Lough as the Stena Voyager catamaran makes her way into Belfast from Scotland

Now I will let you into a little secret….

I had to go out especially to take the next few pictures.

From Fortwilliam roundabout

The Cave hill from below, is distinguished by its famous “Napoleon’s Nose”, a basaltic outcrop which resembles the profile of the famous emperor.

It is said to have inspired the famous novel Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift.*

View from the Waterworks Park at the Cavehill Road, Belfast

Way below the cliff there is an actual Lilliput Street, off the Shore Rd.

The street has been rejuvenated in recent years but the buildings on the next street corner have yet to have a facelift.

* A visit to Auntie Wikipedia gives me a different story:

Lilliput is reputedly named after the real area of Lilliput on the shores of Lough Ennell in Dysart, Mullingar, County Westmeath in Ireland. Swift was a regular visitor to the Rochfort family at Gaulstown House. It’s said that it was when Swift looked across the expanse of Lough Ennell one day and saw the tiny human figures on the opposite shore of the lake that he conceived the idea of the Lilliputians featured in Gulliver’s Travels.

I think it is a case of ‘you pays your money and you takes your choice’!

Openings ~ 33 Botanic Gardens, Dublin

One of the many entrances to the Curvilinear Glasshouses, Irish National Botanic Gardens, Dublin.Begun in 1843 and opened in 1849, but not actually completed until 1869. The east wing was built by William Clancy, but the remaining sections were built by Richard Turner, and his son William. It is the most important building in the Gardens and another glimpse will be seen in the post tomorrow. The range was faithfully restored in 1995.

There are a great variety of glasshouses in the grounds and they come in many shapes and sizes, the first of which was built in 1800. The Palm house was erected in 1884, when the previous wooden building was damaged in a storm. This building and its accompanying Orchid House and Camellia house wings was restored in 2004.

During a visit in March this year my focus was on the Conservatory. The first building you see from the car park.

To mark National Tree Week an exhibition – ‘In celebration of trees’ – An exhibition of Bonsai, was in progress. A series of free re-potting demonstrations was held during the course of the exhibition.

I was not there at the time of the demonstrations, but was privileged to meet Andrew J Murray the owner of the specimens, who for the second year running had been invited to use the space to display his treasures.  He had 150 specimens on display all nurtured, carried and set out for the couple of weeks at his own expense.  It was a real labour of love.

Andrew Murray

Andrew told me that he liked to reproduce our own native trees in miniature form.

Openings 31 ~ Bull Wall

Ladies bathing Shelter on the Bull Wall beside Dollymount Strand, in Dublin. The wall features multiple public bathing shelters (each designated male or female), with steps down to the water – the water is close by only at mid- to high-tide.

The view across Dublin Bay from the top of the bathing steps, taken on a previous visit. Note the snow on the hills.

Looking at the shelter from Dollymount strand. The strand is 5km/3.1miles long and was the place we spent many a Sunday afternoon during my childhood. We walked, swam, built sandcastles and explored the sand dunes and enjoyed picnics with pots of spuds and tea boiled on a Primus stove.

There are two golf courses located at Dollymount, The Royal Dublin Golf Club and Saint Anne’s Golf Club.  The Royal Dublin Golf Club has played host on many occasions to The Irish Open Golf tournament.

The island is a bird sanctuary of international importance with close to 200 different species of birds including wintering waterbirds, waders and predators such as Kestrels, Peregrines, Sparrowhawks and Merlins. Birdwatch Ireland arranges field trips to the island throughout the year.

Walking dogs on the beach is a popular activity but the dogs must be kept under tight control due to the Wildlife Reserve.

Like many a Dubliner, I learned to drive on Dollymount strand as it has a firm flat sandy beach during low tide.  Today, access by car is limited to a section of the island located near the Bull Bridge and two sections near the causeway at Raheny.

The Wickerman

Last night I spent a couple of hours at The WickerMan in Belfast. I have visited this amazing Aladdin’s cave of celtic arts, crafts and gifts, several times in the past. Every inch of the shop is tastefully put to good use with something for every one.

The WickerMan is the brainchild of Laurence Burrell and Peter Todd. The effervescent Laurence oozes with infectious enthusiasm for her work and it is evident everywhere from the window display to the back wall.

Laurence Excels in the kitchen as well as the craft world, here she is with some of her home made treats for all of us last night.

During an expansion of floor space a few years ago, one area seemed ideal for small exhibitions or classes. And these are well subscribed to, and attended.

For the month of April – perhaps this year we should rename it Titanic Month!! ;) -

We saw the beginning of an exhibition called:


by local digital artist

Jeff Meredith

L to R: Jeff Meredith talking to David Graham while Laurence provides more goodies.

This was Jeff’s first exhibition, for which he designed an unusual and interesting set of images celebrating the history of a selection of Belfast’s iconic buildings, art and culture. They are all available as mounted and framed prints, postcards and greetings cards.

The People

The sayings

The food

I mentioned David Graham above. We had a long chat that could have gone on all night.  He is a Blue Badge Tour Guide and conducts tours all over Ireland in German, French & English. A mine of information and very willing to share it.  It was absolutely amazing the coincidences there were in our life paths. I had the privilege of meeting his wife Joan at the end of the evening. A lovely lady.

Openings 30 ~ The Back Gate

This is the back gate to Glasnevin Cemetery and in true Dublin style the next door neighbour is a pub.  Well…. You have to drown your sorrows and give the dearly departed a good send off!

It is the final resting place for over 1.1 million people. The option of cremation has been provided since March 1982.

John Kavanagh’s Pub was established in 1833 and the current family are the 6th generation in the business. It is beside the old Glasnevin Cemetery Gate, at Prospect Square off Botanic Avenue, Glasnevin.

It is also known as “The Gravediggers’ because of its location next to the cemetery and its attached folk history.  A common spot in times past, for body snatchers and burkers to grab a pint after a hard nights work.  The place got its name as it was customary for gravediggers to bang their shovels against the pub’s wall to signify to the landlord that they were ready for a pint. Once the pints were drawn and settled, they were handed through the railings to the workmen.  A tally was kept behind the bar and the bill settled on pay day.

It is a genuine Victorian bar, totally unspoilt – and it has a reputation for serving one of the best pints in Dublin.

I asked permission to take photos and was directed to the old original bar with one proviso: Not to photograph the customers as some of them did not like their quiet drink interrupted.

No music, “piped or otherwise”, no TV or telephone and no singing allowed.

You have to chat!

You wont be alone for long, someone will say hello, I was drawn into conversation by the men (this section seemed to be a man’s pub) the banter was mighty and I had difficulty withdrawing to rejoin my two friends who brought me there.

So if you want to stay on your own….stay away!

All this running around and visiting pubs purely for research purposes, you understand, ;) has helped me reach post 2000 today.  It is enough to give a girl a thirst!

Openings ~ 29 – - House for sale

“Welcome to my house! Enter freely. Go safely, and leave something of the happiness you bring!” *

No.  This is not my house, It is actually on the market for sale at the moment.

A perfectly ordinary looking house. (I bet that last thought went through your mind.) It is part of a Crescent (c.1792) which, had at that time great views of Dublin Bay. The Crescent was built in a particular arrangement to obstruct the view from Lord Charlemont’s neo-classical summer residence “The Casino” at Marino.

So back to this ordinary looking house.  It is of interest on many levels.  The family now in possession are children of that house, they are disposing of the family home their parents owned and lived in for over eighty years. There had been only two previous owners; The Bolands and The Stokers.              Three owners in total since 1792!

I wanted to take a photo of the front of the house, but since there was a car in the garden and house windows open, I decided to knock and ask for permission.

Well…, you heard me say it before…. My Camera Opens Doors! Not alone was I given permission to take photos of the exterior but invited in and allowed to wander at my own pace and take photos indoors too.  The wonderful young lady and daughter of the household was busy with the vacuum before a ‘viewer’ was due to arrive an hour later.

The young lady had returned to Ireland in the last year and was preparing for the closure and sale of the old family home, not an easy task, so I was careful to protect her privacy.

My new found friend appeared from time to time to make sure I had gone to the top floor or down to the basement….

To the basement kitchen where the Russian Crown Jewels had been hidden  (You need to scroll well down in that link to Time in Ireland). This was during residency of the Boland family.

I wonder where they kept them?

The First residents of 15 Marino Crescent, Clontarf, were Abraham Stoker a civil servant from Dublin, and his wife Charlotte, a charity worker and writer. They had seven children. Abraham and Charlotte were members of the Church of Ireland Parish of Clontarf and attended the parish church with their children, who were baptised there.

The church can be seen to the left in the view from the main bedroom window.

Abraham (Bram) Stoker was the third child, born November 8, 1847.  He was bed-ridden until he started school at the age of seven, when he made a complete recovery. Growing up his mother told him a lot of horror stories which may have influenced his later writings.

In 1864 Stoker entered Trinity College Dublin. While attending college he began working as an Irish civil servant. He also worked part time as a free lance journalist and drama critic. In 1876 he met Henry Irving, a famous actor, and they soon became friends. Not long after that, Stoker met and fell in love with an aspiring actress named Florence Balcombe.  He didn’t travel far to find her. She was a daughter of Lieutenant-Colonel James Balcombe of 1 Marino Crescent.

You can see No. 1 at the end of the row on the right.

We remember him for a different reason, but I saw no signs of Counts, Castles or indeed of DRACULA!

The little park in front of the Crescent is now known as Bram Stoker Park. The year 2012 marks the centenary of the death of Bram Stoker. He died in London on 20 April 1912. Several events are being planned in the year ahead.

The young lady of the house lives in hopes that the Bram Stoker Society, who have shown interest in the house, will find the funds to purchase it, and sympathetically restore it into a Museum.

*Bram Stoker, Chapter 2, Dracula

The day Nancy came to Town – 2

The day Nancy came to Town was originally posted as a free online Podcast. It has since expired and been deleted.  Today I reproduce it in Text form.


The long hand had not reached the half hour when the phone began to chirp. Sitting up in bed with the remains of the breakfast tray on my lap I gave the clock a glance as my hand reached for the phone. Who on earth was phoning me before 8.30 am?

“Marie.  We have decided to come up to Belfast for the day. We want to bring Nancy and show her the Crown. Come in to meet us!  Now I must hurry the train leaves at nine.” With that the call was over and I was left listening to the dial tone.

It was a typical call from Mo. She would suddenly decide to do something and immediately it was set in stone.  It would HAPPEN, simply because she decided so. She never thought to ask if her ideas or arrangements suited anyone else.

Mo was cutting it fine, she and the girls had a local train to catch to take them to Amiens Street Station, in Dublin where they would change platforms for the train to Belfast.

I hi-tailed it into the shower, and was soon dressed with the hair and face ready to meet the queen. Thankfully it was a rest day for me. The days before and after were full and busy.  A day out would do me good.

As I parked my car in the car park at Central Station I saw the Dublin Express train draw up to the platform and stop.  I walked between the cars to the building and jumped on the escalator to the arrivals concourse.  The girls were just coming through the barrier when I got there.

We hugged and I welcomed Nancy to Belfast, it was her first visit.  Mo and her sister, I met regularly on visits to Dublin, but Nancy was a different story. I had known about her for nearly forty years, but we had not met in almost half that time.

Nancy lived in Pennsylvania and now she was here on my patch, it was going to be a fun day. At the time there was a little shuttle bus that ran between the bus and train stations. It was a circular route and for passengers who already had a bus or train ticket the  journey was free. I thought it would be a good idea to use that bus as I could draw Nancy’s attention to some interesting places on the way.

We hopped off at the Europa Hotel in Great Victoria Street, and headed across the road to have lunch in the  Crown Bar. I had great fun telling the girls the story of the Crown. Nancy loved it and I had her in tears of laughter before we even crossed the threshold.

Front Entrance to Crown Bar

The Crown dates back to 1826, the year the first train ran from Belfast to Lisburn. At that time it was known as the Railway Tavern and Felix O’Hanlon was the owner; he sold it to Michael Flanagan, but it was Michael’s son, Patrick, who was destined to make it famous.

Patrick, a Catholic man married a Protestant woman, she wanted the pub to be named after the Queen of England.  This worried Patrick and he asked for time to think about it. After a couple of days he told his wife that she could have her wish. The name The Crown Liqour Saloon was put over the door. The entrance way was tiled and a mosaic pattern that included a crown design was set into the ground. The good lady was delighted, but the dear man did not enlighten his wife of the real reason for the tiles. No. He would not tell her how much he would enjoy the punters walking on the crown as they entered to buy a drink. ;)

A well faded crown at the front door

I think I told a story for each of the twenty years since last we met. Many a time I had to stop to let Nancy catch the tears running down her face. I had tales of family and friends and of many local characters.  Some were sad, but most had a happy ending.

We enjoyed our lunch, the craic and the laughter.  All to soon it was time to cross the street and climb aboard the little bus and return to Central Station.  As we were trundling along High Street, a little white van cut in front of the bus actually hitting it as it changed lanes.  The driver had to stop, but the van driver drove away, which was a Road Traffic Offence – leaving the scene of an accident.  Our driver had to wait for the Police.  I moved forward and spoke to the driver telling him we were going to catch the Dublin train. He stopped another bus going that direction and we were transferred across to it.  He also phoned ahead and had the train delayed for us.

I saw the girls back to the barrier and waited until the train set out on the tracks for Dublin.  I don’t think Nancy will ever forget her visit to Belfast.

The bar shortly after opening time in the morning.

The Crown Bar is now owned by the National Trust and has been carefully refurbished. There are ten booths, or snugs. They were built to accommodate the pub’s more reserved customers during the Victorian period, the snugs feature the original gun metal plates for striking matches and an antique bell system for alerting staff. Each snug has its own door.

It is rather like stepping back in time, the dark wood with intricate attention to detail in the carvings. Gaslamps, etched and stained glass windows that feature painted shells, fairies, pineapples, fleurs-de-lis, and the mosaics that are all the genuine article.

View from inside a snug.

The day this last photo was taken, I had a couple of American visitors with me. The gentleman was enjoying a quiet pint while reading notes, he told me that he was fascinated with my stories and detail about the place. He had no problem with me taking the photo and was very pleasant to talk to.

My photos are a mixed bunch taken on different visits and not the best quality. They all pre-date the refurbishment. I think I need to revisit. ;)

Openings 28 ~ High on a Hill…

I found an opening, and of course I had to explore…

I looked over the wall

Zooming in:-

The sunshine was very sparing with her servings.  I could have photo-shopped the pictures, but you want to see Ireland as we do on a daily basis.  In the foreground in Country Antrim overlooking the M2 Motorway leading to Belfast. The waterway is Belfast Lough and the land on the far side is County Down.

The side of the building from the grounds

The back of the building facing the Lough

Belfast Castle estate is situated on the lower slopes of Cave Hill Country Park in north Belfast. The Castle was built by the 3rd Marquis of Donegal between 1811 to 1870. It was designed in the Scottish baronial style by Charles Lanyon and his son. The original Belfast Castle, built in the late 12th century by the Normans, was located in the town itself, in the area of the ‘entries’ that we covered in recent weeks.

I love the steps

The castle was presented to the City of Belfast in 1934. In 1978, Belfast City Council carried out a major refurbishment over a period of years. The building officially re-opened to the public in 1988.

View from the balcony

The other side

The gardens hold a surprise and I will return to tell you about it tomorrow.