1st July 2020

Table of Contents

DAY 1 – 


July 1 2020

Hello again dear friends. We are back with a new summer series, but on day one, July 1st, we have to celebrate (and reminisce) as this is the FIRST JULY in 24 years that Collie and I are not at Dublin Airport to welcome in our Summer Camp teens. We have done this program every single summer, since 1996. We are very sad not to be doing it this year, as we absolutely love our kiddies, and we’ve had the best time getting to know everyone, and the Moms, Dads, Grandparents, brothers and sisters… I have to say, in the 24 years, we’ve had nothing but joy during these weeks, and it’s been a privilege to introduce so many super kids to Ireland. We really will miss doing the program this year, but we hope to see you all back here again some time.

A very special shout out for one of our long term and wonderful teenagers, Ben, who lit up our lives for many summers in a row, and then left us all too soon. Stay safe, everyone, and please tag & share the photos. If you want to stay in touch, email us info@isaireland.com and we’ll add you to our regular newsletter. Love, and a happy summer, from Niamh, Uncle Collie, John and all the team in Ireland x

DAY 2 –


July 2 2020

Donegal has many beautiful things to see and do, but I think its number one feature are the miles and miles of gorgeous beaches. We do have more coastline than any other county, and its all coves, caves and cliffs. This is Tullan Strand in Bundoran, and home for most of our summer – lucky us!

DAY 3 –


July 3 2020

There is skulduggery at play. After 14 weeks of fantastic weather, our lockdown eases off, and people are allowed to come west to this marvellous coastal paradise. And the skies open, the wind blows, and a mist descends on the mountains. That’s Ireland for you! However, in these circumstances, I usually leave the beaches and head into the glens of Leitrim. Only a few miles from Bundoran, the village of Kinlough (Cinn Locha- the top of the lake) is a gateway to the beautiful Glenade pass – complete with lake, windy roads, cute cottages, crooked fences, wind blasted trees- and extraordinary shadow and light cast by the clouds moving in from the Atlantic. It’s fresh, free, and beautiful in any weather. Summer will return, but there will always be Leitrim 🙂

DAY 4 –


July 4 2020

Hello from Donegal, where, true to form, July 4th is a wet and windy day! On June 29, our government eased travel restrictions, and all the poor city-bound people came gallivanting west, seduced by 10 weeks of photos of absolutely beautiful weather- and what happens? It rains. For a week now, solid. Not nice, soft rain, big splotchy sideways rain! It will, of course, lift and the sun will peep out for a tease at some hour, but I am just reminded that you can never, ever predict the Irish weather.

Anyhow, I was thinking about it being Independence Day. I wrote a post on the poetry blog yesterday, about commemoration, – the poem is by a poet named Theo Dorgan, and his poem is about the 75th anniversary of the 1916 Rising – this was when the Irish Proclamation of Independence was read out by Patrick Pearse, and it is regarded by many as the birth date of the Irish Republic. It’s a tricky one to commemorate, as the Rising itself was a bloody and scrappy event, with very little public support, no mandate, and an unapologetic faith in violence to achieve change. On the other hand, all seven of the signatories of the Proclamation of Independence were executed in Kilmainham Jail by the British, and that turned public opinion very rapidly. The actual document, the Proclamation itself, is a wonderful text, promising equality for the men, women and children of Ireland. But much of the rhetoric of various parties involved- and there were a lot- dreamers, socialists, communists, feminists, Irish republicans, the IRB, Sinn Fein, The Citizen’s Army…. much of it would be considered provocative and problematic. So the 75th anniversary was in 1991, and the IRA campaign was in full swing, Anglo-Irish relations were very tense, and the Irish Government decided not to arrange any formal commemoration. They were concerned that any ceremony could be potentially hijacked for propaganda, and so they chose to do nothing.

There were some events arranged by private committees and organisations, and one was a concert, arranged by Irish artists, performers and writers. It was held in Kilmainham Jail, (where the Irish founding fathers were shot), and this is what Theo Dorgan writes about in his poem. You can read the poem, and my take on it here, but if you don’t fancy it, I’ll plot-spoil here, and tell you that (I think that) Theo arrives at the conclusion that you shouldn’t trust audiences or governments to remember history – you should trust the artists.

So anyway – back to the USA. This is the first July 4 in 24 years that I have not been surrounded by students from all over America, begging me to have a bar-b-q or a firework display or a day off from class so they can celebrate the holiday. I miss this so much – my teenage summer kids have made my Julys so happy. We’ve never had so much as a wobble with any program – here and there, a teacherish raised eyebrow, but they have been really lovely, joyful times, when we all learned from each other, and studied the shared narratives of Ireland and the USA. We are heart-broken by the turn of events that has seen over 30 colleges cancel their study trips with us this summer, not only because it’s our work, but because the USA is part of our lives.

We also know that things are challenging in the USA right now. I got a lot of replies to my last email (thank you, we love to get them) – and many referenced anxiety and concern. I am so conscious of not being flippant or trivial here, but I do recall so many dark days on this island, when we thought we would never see peace or progress. But it happened. Good people prevailed; and I think Theo is right, the goodness seeped through in Art first- the writers, the poets, the musicians, the artists – they led the way, and the politicians followed. I remember hearing U2 singing ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’, The Cranberries singing ‘Zombie’, Seamus Heaney, Paul Brady (if you don’t know the song ‘The Island’, give it a listen).

The USA is, like Ireland, a young republic, and as Yeats said, there is a terrible beauty in the foundation of a state through bloodshed and discord. I am an optimist, but my optimism is grounded in what I have seen happen here in the last thirty years- and we believe in every American we’ve ever met! So I hope you celebrate your day, have fun, send us a photo, and sing a song for us!

Lots of socially distance observing hugs from us,
Niamh & John.

DAY 5 –


July 5 2020

We are going to church today – perhaps one of the oldest churches you can visit in Ireland. We will take to the verdant roads of Rossnowlagh, and wander down to the site of the church of St. Barron, built in the 6th Century. You can also see the ruins of Kilbarron Castle from here, and the area is also later associated with the O’Cleary family. Rambling the roads of Donegal will always yield treasures of nature and history, whatever the weather. Enjoy the stroll!

DAY 6 –


July 6 2020

A lazy day today- the clouds couldn’t be bothered to lift, the cows couldn’t be bothered to get up, and only one surfer put that swell to use! Thankfully, this walk was brightened up by a few lovely rose gardens along the road home!

DAY 7 –


July 7 2020

One of the most fabulous things to do in Donegal is to give Paddy at @sliabhliagboattrips a call or a message, and book yourself onto a boat trip around the Sliabh Liag Cliffs. We’ve taken most of you to the top of the cliffs, and it’s awesome, but OMG – the boat trip – It is a must-do. Paddy is great craic, and he does a few trips a day- it’s all Covid appropriate, and he’ll tell you all the folklore associated with the various places that you see. I will direct you to Ireland’s very own Mount Rushmore, – a slimmed down version, granted, but it’s definitely the profile of George Washington! This is magical. Do it.

One of the most fabulous things to do in Donegal is to give Paddy at @sliabhliagboattrips a call or a message, and book yourself onto a boat trip around the Sliabh Liag Cliffs. We’ve taken most of you to the top of the cliffs, and it’s awesome, but OMG – the boat trip – It is a must-do. Paddy is great craic, and he does a few trips a day- it’s all Covid appropriate, and he’ll tell you all the folklore associated with the various places that you see. I will direct you to Ireland’s very own Mount Rushmore, – a slimmed down version, granted, but it’s definitely the profile of George Washington! This is magical. Do it.

DAY 8 –


July 8 2020

Ulster has had a very chequered history, but one of the silver linings (said slightly with tongue in cheek) is the number of gorgeous old castle ruins in or around almost all old towns, on river fords, and anywhere else that a wild band of Gaels might have threatened. Almost all of the castles are in beautiful settings, and are free to visit. Today, we’re popping in to Tully Castle, on the road between Bundoran and Enniskillen. It was built by Sir John Hume, to protect 24 families who came from Scotland during the plantation. It didn’t. The Maguire family were the original owners of the land, and in 1641, Rory Maguire attacked the castle on Christmas Eve, and burnt it down, along with mostly women and children who had taken refuge there. You may understand why many Ulster-Scots planters did not stick around Ulster, and continued their journey across to the USA (Scots Irish). Tully was left abandoned since then.
The site is now protected by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, and there’s a lovely lakeshore walk beside it. You can’t help the ghosts everywhere in Irish history, they are part of the landscape, – you just pay them your respects and enjoy the views.

DAY 9 –


July 9 2020

Essential accessories to the Wild Atlantic Way – Sheep!

DAY 10 – 


July 10 2020
Here’s something so quirky and beautiful, it’s worthy of your Friday photo visit to Ireland. This is St. Peter’s Tin Church, in a tiny village of Laragh (Lara) in County Monaghan, which is, like Donegal, a beautiful border county.
St. Peter’s Church Laragh village is literally built on a rock, in a beautiful woodland setting amongst the ferns and ivy. overlooking a small, fast flowing river. It is a very rare example of a nineteenth-century corrugated-iron-clad church. It displays a wealth of amazing architectural details and the good folk of Laragh have made it accessible and keep in beautiful and welcoming.
It is anecdotally said that its Swiss-Gothic hybrid style was applied by the mill owner and his wife following their honeymoon in Switzerland – its site carefully chosen to mimic that found in the Swiss Alps.It’s well worth a short drive off the main road, just for the prettiness of the doors and windows, and the gorgeous views all around.

DAY 12 –


July 12 2020

Slish Wood is in County Sligo, and features prominently in the poetry of William Butler Yeats, although he refers to it as ‘Sleuth Wood’ in his poem ‘The Stolen Child’.

This site was once that of an extensive oak wood and although the area was sadly cleared during World War II (1939 – 1945), pockets of 250-year-old oak remain and patches of Norway spruce, Sitka Spruce and pine have since filled in the gaps in the forest. The remains of this oak woodland can still be seen along the lakeshore. Native wildlife includes mute swans, ducks and herons, while blackbirds, thrushes, larks and pigeons. Given the rich diversity of flora and fauna to be found at this location, Slish Wood is a designated bio-diversity site forming part of the Lough Gill Natural Heritage Area .

DAY 13 –


July 13 2020

It was a beach walk for me this morning, – you know my beach well at this stage, so I was busy looking for some bits and pieces to entertain you that you haven’t seen before. I had silly fun with a pair of surfer’s gloves that had been left behind, (if said surfer recognizes them, I left them safely anchored at foot of Tullan hill). I hope you enjoy this early morning investigation of the ever-changing beachscape, it’s never the same, and always good for the soul 

Day 14 –


July 14 2020

Day 14 of #60daysofsummer and it’s glorious #Carrickfin beach at sunset- hello to The Rosses! #Donegal #studyabroadireland @govisitdonegal_ @ Institute Of Study Abroad Ireland

Day 15


July 15 2020

We’ve a real treat for you over the next few days – we are making a visit to Tory Island, 9 miles off the coast of Donegal. Visitors can travel over by ferry – you need a sturdy constitution for the rolling Atlantic- but the prize is one of the most spectacular places one can see. Tory Island is an Irish-speaking island- so let’s give it its correct name – Oileán Thoraí. It is present in the earliest written accounts of Irish history, from great mythological characters such as Balor of the evil eye, to Saint Colm Cille, right through to modern times. Today, we are exploring West Town – your landing point when the ferry pulls in, and a pretty little main street of cheery houses, a lot of evidence of the relevance of fishing, the Christian traditions from the Tau Cross and Bell Tower, and if you look properly, the hard life the islanders have, on this magnificent little Atlantic jewel. We have a few more days to spend here, so this is not all of Tory – this is your first ten minutes!

Day 16


July 16 2020 

Day 2 of our Tory Island feature – and my next discovery was a magnificent crater in the centre of the East Island, which opened up into a magnificent cave, which led out to the Atlantic side of the island. Like all great Irish topographical features, there is folklore which will give you an alternative to the science. In this case, it’s our old pal, Saint Colm, who supposedly threw his crozier from the mainland, javelin-like, onto the island. It doesn’t look very accessible at first, or second or third look, but I could not resist climbing down to see the sea-passage at the bottom. There are not enough OMGs for this – it felt so timeless, ethereal, – incredibly exhilarating, powerful, scary, magnificent… not sure any photograph will communicate what it is like, but I gave it a go. Enjoy!

Day 17


July 17 2020

This is our third day on Tory Island, and we move over to the the extreme East End of the Island, to an area named after the mythological giant, Balor of the Evil Eye. In Irish Folklore, the island was the base of the Formorians, one of the series of invaders named in ‘The Book of Invasions’. The Formorians were a demonic tribe, who went to war with the Tuatha De Danann, the supernatural good guys, and eventually Balor was killed by his own grandson, Lugh. In different versions, Balor was a one eyed/three eyed monster, but whatever about the mythology, the spectacular sea and stone formations at the back of Tory most certainly feed the imagination, and if ever one was inspired to believe in supernatural events, this place will not disappoint. I cannot emphasize how utterly amazing this place is. I was blessed with a beautiful day, and you do have to take your chances with Donegal weather, but there isn’t an island anywhere in the world I’d take instead! And, yes, I have more of Tory for you tomorrow! Enjoy!

Day 18


July 18 2020
Our final corner of Tory Island takes us to its north-western extremity – and a very different landscape to the cliffs and seastacks of yesterday. The island flattens into a marshy swathe of bog and stone, and as you head down that way, your eye is drawn to the two structures- the lighthouse, and a lone hut high up on a hill.
The hut once belonged to English painter, Derek Hill, who came to the island to paint, and ended up fostering a school of Tory Island artists. The story goes that a local, seeing Hill paint, muttered that he could do better himself- and Hill challenged him to do so. Whatever the reasons, there is now a remarkable visual history of the island recorded by locals, which in my mind is a wonderful achievement, and makes you wonder what other possibilities exist if art is introduced into communities. The Tory artists have exhibited all over the world, and there is now a second generation of the Tory School. Serendipitous and fantastic!
The lighthouse is quite majestic in its isolation and sturdiness, and if, like me, you are driven to imagining all the things the lighthouse keepers would have seen over the years, you could spend hours down by its compound. I was struck by the contrast of having the mythical Balor of the evil eye at one end of the Island, and the generosity of the sweeping eye of the lighthouse at the other – there is a poem there somewhere!
And- as if Tory Island did not have enough to capture your imagination, just next to the incredible shoreline behind the lighthouse, there is a tiny graveyard, with a monument to unnamed men from HMS Wasp, which perished on the rocks beneath the lighthouse. The Wasp had, on board, some bailiffs and police who were to evict some families from a nearby island. According to folklore, the islanders prayed hard that something would prevent the ship from arriving. Others speculated that perhaps the lighthouse lamp was extinguished for a while… but the reason for the ship’s demise remains a mystery! Anyhow, that’s us finished with beautiful, magical Tory for now, tomorrow we continue along the Wild Atlantic Way, and more wonderfulness. Thanks to my fellow travellers to Tory, Eef and Aidan, who made sure I got safely out of the cliffs and caves and to the ferry on time! Enjoy

Day 19


Day 28 of #60daysofsummer We’re inland again. This time for a walk along the Drowes river, a Mecca for Salmon fishing that attracts people from all over the world. But no rods for us today. Just a stroll  along the wooden walkway by the shore. We begin in Donegal , follow the riverbank through Leitrim and right around Lough Melvin to the border with Co Fermanagh in Northern Ireland. There was a time that I would have known that I was approaching the border by seeing military signs and checkpoints. This time, it was my phone’s Covid tracing app telling me it might not be as effective in the UK. What a time to be alive. #studyabroadireland #drowes #weatherrock


Day 29 of #60daysofsummer . Unlikely as it sounds, a saucepan mixup found me in Sligo very early this morning. I decided to take the opportunity to visit a beach I’d never been to l, just north of Lissadell House. However despite my fancy phone I got completely lost and decided to just park up and go for a stroll. And what a treat. I followed the coastal path drinking in the stunning views of Rosses point. I was delighted to find a mural on the wall depicting the tale of Niamh and Oisín and their time in Tir na nÓg ( the land of the eternal youth ) The only more surprising thing was bumping into a bunch of sketchy looking cows who seemed to be tempting me to ignore their sign. But I felt I had already had quite enough adventures for one morning.

Day 30


July 30 2020 

So today’s shoot began at the very crack of dawn, and the location is a beautiful stretch of peat bog (sometimes just called ‘The Mountain’ between Mullaghduff and Ardcrone, in the Rosses of County Donegal. The mountain is covered with a ‘blanket’ of peat, built up from layers of decaying vegetation and rain, and at this time of year, it is bursting with the prettiest heathers, bog cottons, goosenecks, golden rods, very regal-looking thistles, rambling roses, cranesbills and brambles. Join me as the sun creeps up over Annagry to cast all sorts of light and shade on this remote, yet vibrant piece of Ireland. Enjoy!

Day 31


July 31 2020 

Welcome to day #31 of #60daysofsummer and as we’re just over half-way through the celebration of all things Northwest, let me introduce you to Donegal’s glitzy, glam, L.A. self- not so long ago, beautiful Malin Head, pictured here, was transformed into part of the planet Ahch-to” in The Last Jedi (Disney 2017). We followed the pathway from Malin Head itself, which is the most northerly point of Ireland, over to the incredible rock formations and cliffs that obviously lured George Lucas this way. There’s no big secret about getting here- there’s a lovely open car park and cliff-walk to the viewpoints, and like most things in Donegal, it is fabulous, fresh and free. Put it on the list! And may the force …..
#starwars #thelastjedi #studyabroadireland

Day 32  


Aug 1 2020  
Today, we are in Carndonagh, County Donegal, to visit two quite incredible places. I do love how, In Ireland, the modern townscapes are often punctuated with quite incredible artworks and artifacts from the past. This is a great example- as you stroll up the street in this pretty Inishowen town, past the (fabulous) community school, there on the street is a shelter protecting a high cross and two pillar stones. The presence of a cross like this usually indicates that there would have been an important monastic site here – the cross itself is called the Donagh Cross or sometimes St. Patricks Cross – and it dates back to between the 7th and 10th century. There is a series of designs and carvings on both the cross and the pillar stones (and there are varying interpretations about them – https://irishhighcrosses.com/carndonagh.html – but they are beautiful and very mystical.
Just a few yards from these crosses, there is an old graveyard, and in it, there is a standing stone called ‘The Marigold Stone’ which also probably dates back to the early Christian period. The defining carving is a beautiful seven-pointed ‘marigold’ – my photos don’t do the carving proper justice here, but it is really stunning.
Much of our most ancient history is recorded through the medium of stone, and when you see standing stone monuments with Christian carvings, it is a reminder of the continuity between these phases of spirituality, and the importance of art as history. Enjoy!
Day 33


August 2 2020 
Day 33 of
#60daysofsummer was another early start – we’re in the tiny little townland of Calhame, and we’re watching the sun rise up behind Errigal Mountain, over Annagry village, with a high tide in the inlet between these two communities. While I had planned a longer walk, I stood transfixed by the light for quite some time, just where my cousin Owen’s house overlooks ‘The Gubbains’ – but then walked a little higher into the mountain to catch some other views of the sun rising.
Day 34


August 3 2020 
Culdaff is a tiny little town up in the North of Donegal that looks like it is the permanent winner of a tidy towns competition. Beautifully manicured by its residents, it’s a couple of kilometres from one of the nicest swimming beaches in Donegal, and under any circumstances, it’s a lovely place to stop. But it also has McGrory’s restaurant and rooms, and it is so pleasant for a nice meal, and as they say on the ad, a good night’s sleep. First thing next morning (after a swim, a yummy dinner, a nice glass of wine and a good night’s sleep) I went to explore, and found an overgrown gateway into an old graveyard (another irresistible for me) – lots of beautifully carved old stones and wild flowers. I don’t know anyone who actually lives in Culdaff, but highly recommend it as one of our top visits on our 60 days of summer, and we’ll be back.

Day 35


August 4 2020 


We are taking a few days to go a little further down the Wild Atlantic Way, so come with us to the beautiful county of Mayo, where our first stop is the historic town of Killala. It’s got all the lovely things you’d expect- a monastic site (St. Muirdeach) with perfect round tower, a quaint old church complete with 18th C grave stones, the site of the old train station. and a story – this is where the French, under General Humbert, arrived in 1798, to aid the United Irishmen rebellion. and – jopyously, I can report that the good people of Killala have also recognized the history of the great Kathleen Lynn, who was born in Killala, trained as a medical doctor and a commanding officer in the 1916 rising – and they also have a painting of Maud Gonne as Cathleen Ni Houlihan (a Yeats play about the French assistance.) It’s a perfect little town, enjoy your visit!

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