Splendid Isolation – Virtual tours of the North West of Ireland with ISAI

Posted on 29th March 2020

After very happy and fun study trips through February and early March, the last thing we expected was to have to suddenly close down and reschedule all of our upcoming programs for the next few weeks. We know that many were disappointed, but also that this is the right thing to do, to keep us and our loved ones safe. We also know  that many of you are now restricted in movement, in company, home from work or college, and perhaps anxious about what’s next. We all are.

There are many things we will be doing, to prepare for when this passes- and it will pass. We are developing new ideas and new programs for colleges and schools, we are reading, researching, improving our online presence, and lots of things so that when we get back in business, we will be ready for the next phase. However, we also decided to do a walk or hike each day, and post the photos for you to enjoy, so that each evening, you could take a virtual tour of somewhere in the Northwest of Ireland. This virtual walk focuses on the counties of Donegal, Leitrim, Sligo, Fermanagh, Monaghan and Derry – our neighbourhood, if you like, and so rich in beauty, history and heritage. We got to wander quite a bit in our first ten days, but a current restriction to a radius of 2km for short periods of exercise will limit days 11-25 to the immediate area- a challenge, but one we feel we can take on, because we are blessed with an Atlantic coastline here that is forever changing.

We hope you will enjoy these photographs- many of you have been here, on field trips with Niamh and John, and will hopefully enjoy the trip down memory lane. Some of our walks are to places we haven’t introduced as field trips yet, but we might, if you’d like to go! We hope you enjoy these, and that we will see you here in Ireland to do these walks for yourself in the near future. Meanwhile- stay safe, and take care x

DAY 1  – BEN WISKIN, COUNTY SLIGO   March 18 2020

The Dartry Mountains are a mountain range in the north west of Ireland, in the north of counties Sligo and Leitrim. They lie between the lakes of Lough Melvin, Lough Gill and Lough MacNean.
The mountains are named after the old Túath of Dartraighe, which was part of the kingdom of Bréifne.
The range is a large dissected limestone plateau. Glaciation has carved the distinctive shapes of this mountain range, and there are many walks and hikes that will bewitch you with history, mythology and breathtaking views from every angle.

I climbed into a gully between the mountains of Ben Bulben and Ben Wiskin, and then further up onto Ben Wiskin. These mountains have stunning views over Sligo and Leitrim, right up as far as Donegal. The climb was pretty wet, as the February weather dropped a lot of rain into the boggy terrain, but my boots were up for it, and the views, not just from the top, but throughout the hike, were worth the squelch! Enjoy!


Hello and welcome to your virtual Ireland walk while we wait out this isolation.. today, I’m taking you out to tiny Raghly Harbour, County Sligo, and we travel around this beautiful coastline, which has beautiful views of Knocknarea Mountain (Cnoc Na Rí) where the formidable Queen Maeve (Medb) is supposed to be buried. It was a beautiful blue-sky day today, the Atlantic was looking spirited and flirty, especially around the astonishing blow-hole – I am not sure what it is named- I’ve read ‘Pigeon Holes’ and ‘Punch Bowls’ but not clear if this is the same place… the other mountains you will see in the distance are Ben Bulben and Ben Wiskin, (the location of our Day 1 hike). I left some of the sequential photos of the ocean in there- possibly repetitive, but hopefully giving you a sense of the energy and freshness that prevailed,There was a lovely contrast between the calm of the harbour and the brisk friskiness of the waves on the exposed side of this tiny peninsula, but every corner brought another heart-stopping view. Ireland is so beautiful, and so undiscovered! Enjoy today’s walk with me, see you tomorrow!


Today’s isolation took me to Counties Fermanagh and Cavan on the day of the Spring Equinox. I began with a walk along the Claddagh River, which flows out from deep inside the Marble Arch Caves down through Florencecourt. It being equinox, it was necessary to hang around for sunset, and what a sunset it was- photos barely do justice to the crazy pink skies and the apocalyptic hue around Lough Ramor, Virginia County Cavan. Many of the neolithic passage graves in this area have an alignment to the equinox- you may remember visiting Lough Crew (the one with the hill!) – so it felt very special walking these landscapes on such an important day to the ancients. I wonder what they would make of us ….


Today’s walk took me through the Donegal townlands of Kildoney and Creevy, a few miles outside Ballyshannon. I spotted the first primroses, a whole field full of wild daffodils, some new lambs and some beautiful old tumbledown cottages before making my way to Creevy’s flaggy shore. What the photos can’t convey is the soft rain that was falling, the faint smell of peat, the silence of these quiet roads and the collective stoicism of Donegal communities- who have seen worse, and just get on with things! It’s always, always beautiful.


It was a beautiful Spring day today, and the Donegal mountains were calling. I headed up towards Gartan, a very dramatic landscape of peat bog, glittering fragments of quartzite, slabs of bleached granite, and water, water everywhere! These boglands have been soaking up weeks of February rain, and the going is slow, sucky and mucky! But absolutely worth it for the exercise, for the views, for the things I can’t show you- mad frogs hopping through the rushes, little clouds of midges, the silence… another cracker of a day!


More Donegal for you today folks- this beautiful drive is between Ballybofey and Glenties, through the Finn Valley – it really does look like the movie set of rural Ireland, with it’s waterfalls, old cottage ruins, bright yellow gorse bushes, and a few donkeys thrown in for luck.


My walk was early and close to home this morning- just after sunrise along an angry Atlantic. The Fairy Bridges of Bundoran have been a popular tourist attraction for a few hundred years, the ocean having carved these unusual and memorizing pockets into the coastline. Often frequented by surfers, today it was just me, and the bridges looked like the cauldron of a cross cailéach! But as usual, always beautiful.


The beautiful old bridge over the Drowse River, running along the border between Donegal and Leitrim is today’s staring point for our virtual walk. It’s a fantastic spot for fishing, although I had it all to myself this morning.

DAY 9  DONEGAL/LEITRIM  March 26 2020

Today’s wandering takes place along the backroads of the Donegal-Leitrim border, a short distance from Bundoran. No photos can do justice to the beauty of the vibrant yellow of the gorse bushes, or the ridiculous cuteness of the new lambs shaking their tails – it’s an incredibly pretty time to be out and about, and so grateful for the space, fresh air, and access to these quiet roads


Today’s meander took me to County Monaghan – another of our beautiful border counties. I took the river walk at the Ballybay Wetlands. Wetlands are among the most biologically diverse of eco systems, serving as home to a wide range of plants and animal life. It was close to sunset, and a very pretty walk- lots of clusters of wild primroses in the ditches, pink skies, and a pair of swans to add to the magic. Spring is really bustin’ out, oblivious of the tough times we are all having. I find great comfort in the natural beauty surrounding us, and I hope that by sharing it, you can see yourself exploring these same landscapes in better days to come.


Today, I’m taking you down on the beach. Last night, our government limited us to a 2 kilometer radius for walks & exercise, which means for the next two weeks, our virtual wanders will be in Bundoran, Donegal. I am looking forward to the challenge of creating an adventure for you each evening, within our 2 kilometer bubble, but I do believe, as we are so blessed right here on the edge of the Atlantic, that I can do this! Perhaps you’ll come to recognize the area very well, but very often the time of day, the light, the sunrise, the sunset, the ocean swell can change everything- the sea is never ‘the same’ and we have a lot of coastline and country lane to explore together.
Today, it was bright and breezy, on a low tide and huge expanses of shiny golden sand, dappled everywhere by the wind and waves, shell-strewn, and mirroring the dramatic sky. Take your shoes off, shake out your hair and walk with me along the always beautiful Wild Atlantic Way


We are so spoiled for beaches in Bundoran that the Pier is often overlooked – but down by the slipway there is a small sandy beach, with stunning views across the bay to Sliabh Liag. This is also a very important HQ for our amazing Bundoran Lifeboat crew, who do terrific work all year long. Someone had left some artwork behind- (it wasn’t me) but I enjoyed it. The town was staggeringly empty for a late March Sunday – it’s awful, but we all know that it’s so necessary right now. Our weather has been beautiful this week, and we know we’re very lucky to live here, and have all this within our 2km limit. We cannot wait until we can share it again with our family, friends and visitors. Stay safe!


The orange wellies (rain boots) were on today for a wander through the dunes of Finner, following the pathways taken by our horsie friends at Donegal Equestrian Center, and along the little back roads nearby. So get your boots on and come with me- some beautiful old stone walls, bright yellow flowers, definitely forty shades of green, and some lovely views towards Leitrim and Sligo. And all well within the 2k limits! Enjoy & stay safe!

Day 14 NEWTOWN ROAD BUNDORAN March 31 2020

We were out at dawn this morning, and our route takes us up along Newtown, which runs just behind Bundoran. Sun was coming up and the light was amazing – and there are wild primroses and daffodils in every little corner, hedge and ditch. I met some friends- including some deer and a friendly little pony – C’mon, get your shoes on and come with me, it’s a gorgeous March sunrise!

Day 15 CLIFFONY BEACH SLIGO April 1 2020

John’s turn to explore his 2km neighbourhood, which is beautiful Cliffony beach, in North County Slgo. Stunning views of Classiebawn Castle and Benbulben, and those endless golden sands…. we are so lucky to be here. Enjoy and stay safe.


The weather changed this morning- as I left my home for my (inside 2km) ramble, a grey sky lay low over the landscape, and an earlier rain had left the grasses bejeweled with droplets. I had the boots on, so enjoyed the what they call a ‘soft day’ here- misty and a bit magical. My walk took me across the main road and into the Donegal Equestrian Center, where I got to say hello to Chloe and some of the beautiful four-footed fellows. Rachael from Donegal Equestrian Center had kindly given me permission to take a walk around and take some photos. Further up the laneways, there were ewes and lambs, and on my return I saw some smaller creatures that were having a VERY good time! So get your boots on and enjoy all these things bright and beautiful in Donegal today

Day 17  BUNDORAN SEAFRONT April 3 2020

No boots today – you just need your comfy shoes, we’re taking an easy stroll along the seafront in Bundoran, checking out some of the eye-catching artwork, some pretty gardens, and of course, the waves rolling in in the background. It was heart breaking to see the shutters down on our town- right now we should be full of happy visitors enjoying the Spring weather. We look forward to better times, and you coming back to us. Meanwhile, enjoy this virtual wander, and stay safe x

Day 18  THE OLD BOG ROAD April 4 2020

You’ll need your hiking boots for this- we follow the old bog road, just outside Bundoran, up towards the mountains. The colours of the landscape are extraordinary – bleached grasses, red heathers, clutches of lemony primroses and daffodills, and the deep buttery yellow of the gorse bushes. Lots of newborn lambs looking shyly from behind their mamas. The skies today were grey and low, but this only magnified the remarkable tapestry of hues below. Enjoy and stay safe x

Day 19 IN THE THICKET April 5 2020

Today, I found a pathway beside a river, and stumbled into a little green world, speckled with yellow marsh marigolds & gorse, and impressive soundtrack of chirpy birds that you can’t hear- but you can see their nest-building, which is very impressive. Despite it being breezy and brisk, this was a lovely little sunny oasis of peace and birdsong. Enjoy!


Kick the boots off today! We are not going too far away, -down to the cliff face along Tullan strand at low tide, to have a look at the rocks, pools, and seaweeds of the shore. It’s a shame you all are not here to dip your toes in the sparkling atlantic waves, but I did it for you. Not ready to dip the rest of myself in there yet (without a wetsuit) – but there’s all of May for that! Enjoy and stay safe x


Be excited today, people, we are taking the most beautiful trail, called ‘The Bridle Path’, through the Derryveagh Mountains, about 1 hour outside of town (I had an essential appointment in case you are frowning at me) and the only other living things I encountered were the sheep. I keep telling you all how gut-bustingly spectacular County Donegal is, and how much of it is free, and empty and full of stories and myths and history, but even I, today, was just blown away by this scenery. It was a first for me, but I’m adding it to options (Clint Saunders, Meena, Mela, ) because it’s jaw-dropping… There was a nice dry track, so you don’t need your boots – let’s go!


It was misty and ethereal down by the cliff face around Rougey this morning. Plenty of swell bashing up against the gnarled black rock, shooting salt-spray into the air. The huge stone slabs, pock-marked by relentless wave hustle, are interrupted here and there with lumps of sea grasses, Danish scurvy-grass and budding sea-thrift. Enjoy!


John’s turn to take you on your daily walk today! He’s bringing you to the beautiful little village of Mullaghmore, County Sligo, for a ramble from the harbour, around by Classiebawn Castle, and back to the cutest little lamb you’re going to see today. Stay safe, enjoy!


Hello everyone- I hope you are all doing well. Thanks to everyone who emailed and commented on the photographs. We know we are so blessed to have this wonderful scenery on our doorstep, and we want you to look forward to joining us somewhere down the line, and enjoy it with us. It isn’t going anywhere- Donegal is beautiful, all year round, and as soon as we can get up and running again, you can join us on these walks for real. Last night, I went down to the beach, just as the sun was setting. A couple of surfers were just leaving the water as I arrived- the waves were perfect, their faces glowing in the pink light, from the joy of being at one with the ocean. Tiny birds were skating in and out on the ebbing tide and the lights of Bundoran began twinkling. By the time I reached the estuary, Ballyshannon was lit up like Vegas  and I was guided home in the darkness by Venus and the lights along the Rougey walk. Enjoy, Stay safe x


It was quite an overcast Easter Saturday morning as I set out, with the intention of exploring some of the forgotten by-roads around the main motorway into Bundoran. I was prompted to think about Patrick Kavanagh’s Iniskeen Road poem, where he declares himself King of ‘Banks and Stones and every blooming thing’ – because as I wandered around, the sheer vibrancy of plant-life was revealing itself everywhere, in every ditch, nook and cranny. Join me now, for a glimpse of extraordinary beauty in the ordinary back roads of our little corner of Donegal. Enjoy!


Splendid Isolation Day 26 – and it’s Easter Sunday. So I’m taking you to church – an old country churchyard, overgrown with wild garlic flowers, daffodils and primroses, hidden in the Glens of Leitrim. It was a serene and peaceful place, with the stone monuments a stark contrast to the tufts of rampant spring shoots everywhere. Hope springs eternal. A very happy Easter to you all x

DAY 27 ROUGEY SUNRISE April 13 2020

Hello everyone. Your intrepid (within 2KM) adventurer was up early this morning, to catch a low tide and a spectacular sunrise, and some Brent geese having a dawn paddle. The moon remained as long as she could, dangling over the perfect surf like a Chinese lantern. I started at Tullan Strand, around by a glowing Rougey pathway, around to Rougey rock and Bundoran’s Main Beach. No photos can do it justice, so please start planning to come and witness this yourself! Beautiful, all year round. Enjoy


Popping down the street today to take you around one of the most beautiful places in Bundoran- and one of the most laudable projects I’ve witnessed. In April 2006 Sr. Assumpta Butler and Sr. Mary Kate Hagan began a small ecological initiative on 2 acres of land, with the aim of of educating and promoting among the local people organic growing as a more sustainable and wholesome way of relating to the earth. It is now a wonderful hub of sustainable activities, used by local people, schools, groups for education, therapy and sustenance. Enjoy!


OK- all you need today is your sunglasses, shorts and suncream – we’re going for a hike along another back road, and everything on this walk should fill your heart with joy. The blackthorn bushes are flowering wildly, their tiny white flowers competing with the yellow gorse bushes for domination – the fields are full of lambs shaking their tails, every hedge and ditch is alive with colour and birdsong. I saw a few butterflies today, little fellows who were too shy for the camera, but they’ll get braver and bolder as April progresses. Off we go… Enjoy!

DAY 30 LAKESIDE RAMBLE April 16 2020

So it’s the thirtieth day of our virtual walks around our beautiful corner of Ireland’s Northwest. I am thoroughly enjoying my explorations around the variety of scenic spots well off the beaten track, but entirely worth seeing. I miss doing this with our groups, but your generous comments and emails have assured me that you are enjoying accompanying me from all around the USA, and that makes us very happy! I will keep it up as long as our shut-down lasts, with every confidence that there is always a little twisty road going somewhere that I can investigate!
Today, it’s a nice level stroll along Asseroe Lake. No blue skies today, but while a Mediterranean sky is always welcome, I love the atmosphere created by low cloud cover and those rays of sunshine that peek through occasionally and throw glitter over everything. Enjoy!

DAY 31 TAHITI SURPRISE April 17 2020

Sorry folks- we are going nowhere near the South Pacific; we are very much anchored here in the Atlantic Northwest – but I did get a very pleasant surprise while taking today’s walk through an old forest track nearby – a splendid ‘Narcissus Tahiti’, in all her finery, and all by herself! This little trail was interesting for the variety of new wilderness- the mad little flowers of the cherry larches, the excellently named candytufts, and lots of violets peeping out through the undergrowth. The day was a little overcast, but it did not subtract from the joy of vibrant greenery and the odd salutation from the patient four-legged friends on the route. Enjoy!

DAY 32 EAGLE’S ROCK April 18 2020

Grab your boots, my friends, we’re doing a bit of a climb today, – as you travel the road through the Glens of Leitrim, you won’t help noticing a crazy stack of promontory known locally as ‘Eagle’s Rock’. And that’s where we are going today. The scenery, the views… just breathtaking! Enjoy- I certainly did!
I hope you are all enjoying your weekend, stay safe x

DAY 33 BUTTERFLY ALLEY April 19 2020

Hello everyone. Today, I was heading towards the ocean, and took a short cut down a little track – one I had never taken before. At one point, the trees closed in, and to my delight, I suddenly was surrounded by butterflies, darting in and out of the undergrowth. Now- I do apologise as these were hard to photograph – but I got totally distracted by them, and it became today’s project. There are two types here- the speckled wood, which as the name suggests, is a clever camouflager, and the cabbage white. There were more than two of them  but I can’t prove this, as they would only pose one at a time. However, I hope you can use a little imagination to share the sheer joy of being in what I named ‘Buttefly Alley’ for part of today’s walk. Enjoy & stay safe!


Today’s wandering took me along the Atlantic Coast, by a stony cove in Sligo, facing out to Inismurray Island, and Donegal Bay. Inismurray was home to St. Molaise, and is famous for cursing stones- now you’ll have to come here to hear the story behind them! It was another spectacularly sunny day, and the light illuminated the clearest of waters, and the multicolored pebbles, seaweed and shore flora. The cloud shapes were mesmerizing, and it was definitely warm enough for a paddle… go on, kick your shoes off! Enjoy!

DAY 35 SUNSET SWIM April 21 2020

A change of clothes required today, my friends- I’m taking y’all for a swim – and not just any old swim, but a sunset swim on Bundoran’s beautiful Tullan Strand. The entire beach was bathed in astounding colours, and I could not resist the lure of a quick dip (in the wetsuit, folks, I’m not that brave in April!). The sunset sent the breaking waves on fire, and although I was incredibly nervous about taking the iphone into the ocean- well, I did it for you, just so you could share it with me. Happily, my assistant photographer was on the beach, and he took over – hence a few more shots of me than you usually see… sorry about that  This incredible weather seems set to last for the week, so stay tuned to see where we end up tomorrow! Enjoy, stay safe x

DAY 36 LOST WORLDS  April 22 2020

Hello. One of the most common features of the Irish landscape, especially on the Atlantic side, is the derelict or ruined cottage. I’m always fascinated by the stories behind these abandoned homesteads- many of them testament to evictions, forced and voluntary emigration, and occasionally, a poignant return of a descendant, faded photo or map in hand. These ruins also remind us how heavily populated the countryside once was – you can come upon deserted villages in all sorts of unexpected and remote places. There is something both reassuring, and terrifying, about nature reclaiming what was once somebody’s home – a kind of ‘Ozymandias’ moment, Irish style. Here’s a few from the walks. Enjoy!

DAY 37 Shakespeare and Red Hugh April 23 2020

It’s April 23, the date believed to be Shakespeare’s birthday, and I am a big fan of William, or Liam as he’d be called if he was Irish. In honor of the birthday, we are going to take a little history walk this evening, around Asseroe Abbey in Ballyshannon. Asseroe is an anglicization of Eas Aodh Rua – the waterfall of Red Hugh. Aodh Rua (Red Hugh) was one of the O’Donnell chieftains, and the O’Donnell clan held power in the territory of Tir Chonaill or Tyrconnell [South Donegal] up until the early 17 Century, when sadly, Aodh Rua II (Red Hugh II ) and his allies were defeated by British Crown Forces under Elizabeth I. The last of the Gaelic chieftains, including Aodh Rua II were forced to leave Donegal for sanctuary in Europe.They would not return. However, the war between the Irish Chieftains and Elizabeth was in full throttle in 1599 when Shakespeare wrote the play ‘Henry V’ and it is one of the very few plays when Shakespeare references events outside the world of the play- and it is these wars in Ireland to which he refers. In 1599 Shakespeare imagines that Queen Elizabeth’s war General, the Earl of Essex will return to England ‘[B]ringing rebellion broached on his sword ‘ However, the Earl was returned home in disgrace after being outmaneuvered by the Northern Chieftans, and these lines referring to his glorious return were dropped from the play. Henry V is superbly subversive, and has its very own hot-headed Irishman- I’ll be talking a bit more about this in the next poetry blog- but therein lies the connection between this evening’s walk around the old Abbey lands that were once part of the proud kingdom of the O’Donnells. Enjoy!

Day 38 Atlantic Gardens April 24 2020

Not so much as a walk for you today, as (for those of you who have been before) a trip down memory lane- and for those of you who haven’t, this is where you live when you come here. Our gardens were looking lovely this afternoon, and John really wanted to play on the swings, so we ran around and took some photos of our own backyard. As the sun began to set, we took a few photos from the apartment balconies, and wish you were here for it. Happy Friday from the Atlantic, everyone, have a lovely and safe weekend x

DAY 39 Heart of Light April 25 2020

The River Bradóg enters the Atlantic Ocean right in the centre of Bundoran, and separates the West End and East End of the town. Maybe it’s because of the amazing coastal scenery, but I’ve never paid it too much attention before, but this being the season of local discovery, off I went, like a jolly Charles Marlow, up the Bradóg! It’s been very dry and sunny this month, so I was in no danger of being swept away, and there was no heart of darkness- in fact, I was delighted by the sparkling sunshine reflected in the murky greens and browns of the river, matched by the almost neon-y yellow of the dandelions and marsh marigolds clinging to the banks. There was a comical moment when I was spotted under the bridge, lurking like a troll, but luckily it was our own brilliant photographer Megan, who thankfully believed my reasoning for being there. Enjoy the journey & stay safe x

DAY 40 Port Na Marbh April 26 2020

Another river walk for you today folks- but this time it’s the magnificent River Erne, which enters the sea at the beautiful and historic town of Ballyshannon. My explorations took me down to an area around ‘Port Na Marbh’ or the Port of the Dead. Ballyshannon was, back in the 18th and 19th centuries, a busy shipping port, and emigrant ships sailed from here to Canada and the United States as early as 1804. Much changed now, there is still evidence of this history, as well as an amazing selection of lush greenery, complete with beautiful wild flowers and as you’d expect by now, butterflies, swans, and all of the ingredients of a very pretty Sunday afternoon. Enjoy!

DAY 41 BUNDORAN BY NIGHT April 27 2020

Ladies and Gentlemen, we take a night walk around beautiful Bundoran and the beaches- (and credit please to Todd Vorenkamp and Clint Saunders for these pics- please don’t use without their permission) Todd and Clint run the photography course here each fall, which is open to everyone, and one of the aspects they cover is night photography. Enjoy!


Today’s walk is to the very pretty townland of Cashelard, just outside Ballyshannon, County Donegal. As you will see, the burst of bright yellows that characterized early Spring is now beginning to change- we are seeing the beautiful pinks of the cherry blossoms, the purples of the bluebells and orchids, and the bright white flowers of the blackthorn bushes. The walk loops around a small lake named after our local saint, Colm Cille, and on a sunny Spring evening, with the sun beginning to set, it could not have looked prettier! Enjoy.

Hello everyone. Today, you’ll need to have your wits about you – we are out on the coastline, clambering over the rocks and stones to get views of the ruins of Kilbarron Castle, I’m always telling anyone who will listen that any walk anywhere in Ireland will satisfy all interests- for the nature lovers there is so much to see, for the history buffs, there’s bound to be a connection to something, or a set of old ruins on the way, for the scientist, the geologist. the artist, the botanist, endless opportunities, for the health enthusiast, the fresh air and space is intoxicating – It really has something for everyone. And to prove my point, just look at the colours of the rocks and stones here, and ponder their formation – or just enjoy the bright bursts of sea thrift (surely the coast’s answer to the Cherry Blossoms?) and the wild violets, – or as you spot the ruins of Kilbarron Castle, allow yourself to be transported to a time when the O’Donnells reigned supreme in the kingdom of Tír Chonáill, and later in the 17th century, an historian named Michael Cleary ( Mícheál O’ Cléirigh) set about collecting as much information as he could so that the Irish past would not be forgotten – O’Cléirigh was born at Kilbarron Castle, and his scholarship became part of the very famous ‘Annals of the Four Masters’, one of the most important chronicals of Irish history. Or you can just enjoy a happy little cormorant, contemplating a swim!
Enjoy everyone! Stay safe x

DAY 44 FAERIE HOLLOW April 30 2020

Calling everyone’s inner child… we are paying a secret visit to Faerie Hollow, deep in the forest on the shore of Lough Melvin. Not only can you spy little doors on the trees, but we’ve taken a fairy-sized view of the beautiful flowers, insects and plants of this magical little place – the clover-like leaves with the white flower is Wood Sorrel, there are pink and purple ‘Granny’s Bonnets’ (Columbines), Drooping Sedge, Marsh Marigolds and Marigolds, Ferns, Cow Parsley and the healthiest, fluffiest daisies I have ever seen! Keep an eye out too for some butterflies & bees…. and well done, Lough Melvin Eco-park, for creating such a wonderful resource. Enjoy everyone, stay safe! x

DAY 45 RAIN DANCE May 1 2020

Hi everyone. You’ll have to get your raincoats on today- I had made it about 3km down another anonymous little winding road when ominous lead-coloured skies burst open and reminded me why the landscapes are so green all year round! Personally, I do not mind the rain at all, but my iphone took it quite badly, and went on strike for a while. I took some shelter in a derelict cottage and talked it back to life, and we continued on, snapping some of the locals who looked similarly unimpressed by the weather. Enjoy, and happy May Day to you all. Stay safe! x


The sun was out again, and the hills were calling, so off we go to the Blackslee Forest to do two things- climb up through the forest to catch views of Lough Erne, and down through the forest to see the Blackslee Waterfall. The forest was fun- all the usual suspects were out- dozens of butterflies, clutches of primroses and gangly bluebells now making an appearance, a couple of red deer that were camera-shy, and the views at the top were certainly worth it. Unfortunately, the Blackslee Waterfall was extremely underwhelming, a waterfall with no water, it turns out! The vegetation, the mosses, ferns, wood anemones, uprooted trees and crazy slabs of the Blackslee Dyke still makes for a very worthy walk. Enjoy!

DAY 47 St. Anne’s Church and the Paupers’ Graveyard

Today, Sunday May 3, I took a walk up to St. Anne’s Church in the town of Ballyshannon. I was doing this partly for this series of photos, and partly for the poetry blog- as I am writing about Eavan Boland’s ‘Quarantine’, which is set during the Famine.
I have to keep the two posts separate, but if you’d like to match these photos with the poem itself, just hop over to www.isaireland.com/irishpoemstolove/

Ballyshannon was established as a plantation town during the early 17 century, and St. Anne’s Church was built on a hilltop known as ‘Mullach Na Sí’ or the Hill of the Fairies, in 1841, just at the beginning of the decade that would bring the catastrophe or ‘Great Hunger’ or 1845-1850.
St. Anne’s Church has a beautiful setting, high on the hill, and is visible from almost every approach to Ballyshannon. Spotlit at night time, it is a familiar and iconic landmark, and surrounded as it is with the magnificent backdrop of the Erne Estuary and Donegal Bay, it is always worth visiting.

The graveyard to the front of the church has many impressive plots, vaults and carved monuments, from as early as the 16th century. Carved on these stones are the names of many prominent families of Ballyshannon, including that of well known poet, William Allingham (Allingham is the nephew of poet, MaryAnn Allingham, -see poem 2 on the blog – the whereabouts of her grave is unknown). It was a fabulously sunny morning, with astonishing clarity of view across the Erne river and down to the Dartry mountains, and it was made all the more moving by an hour of bell-ringing in honour of all those who have died from Covid-19. ‘Amazing Grace’ pealed out from the bell tower and carried over the Mall Quay, and out on the waters into the Atlantic.

On the other side of the Church wall, there is a patch of land; a field, somewhat overgrown with long grasses, briers and accessible by a winding pathway from the road. This is known as the Paupers’ Graveyard, or the Union Burial Ground, and it is the final resting place for about 1000 poor souls who died during the Great Hunger 1845-1850. There are no records of their names, nor are there any markers in this field, except for a memorial plaque erected in 1995. One can see from this viewpoint, both the Ballyshannon Workhouse, where many of the paupers would have died, and the Mall Quay, where Famine Ships would have taken the luckier survivors out of this hellish time in Irish history.

We often talk about this period of Irish History as ‘The Famine’ – but it was not a famine. There was no shortage of food in Ireland between 1845-1850, there was a failure of the potato crop, and this was the main source of food for the poor. Centuries of colonial legal and economic strategies that enriched a small minority at the expense of a nation culminated in a catastrophe of unimaginable horror. Over a million people died, and to this day, most of them are nameless, forgotten people. Too poor for headstones, too unimportant for records, too inconvenient to rescue.

I walked back down the pathway from the Paupers’ grave, overjoyed to see a few bunches of forget-me-nots growing along the margins. We won’t.

DAY 48 Roads less travelled May 4 2020

Hi everyone. The Irish word for a road is ‘bóthar’ – that’s pronounced ‘Bo -har’ and a small road is a ‘bótharín’, which became anglicized to ‘boreen’. As you’ve probably guessed by now, there’s nothing I like more than spotting an unknown road, and following it to see where it goes. So I often take lots of photographs of road, going wherever you want them to go! Today’s post is a combination of various different roads I’ve taken in the last month or so – you can decide where you end up! Enjoy x

DAY 49 West End Girl  May 5 2020

Today’s ramble began early- sunrise is around 5:45am these days so even though it was only 7am when I was out and about, the sun was up and doing its best to burn off the sea mists. Our walk is very local – I went to Bundoran’s West End Walk (also known as the Nuns’ Walk) which goes from the town south along the coastline – it’s a wonderful walk, with lots of little coves and inlets and step sets up and down, – and the views back towards the town were beautiful. Bundoran became known as a wellness resort back in the late 1700s- the wealthy people of Ballyshannon followed the lead of the Viscount of Enniskillen, who built a summer home for himself in Bundoran – and ‘taking the sea air’ continued to be a trend through the 18 and 19 centuries. You will see here what we now call an infinity pool – height of poshness in very expensive resorts- where did this idea come from? Check out our own West End pool- so beautiful, natural and absolutely free to all. The ocean was really clear and sparkling this morning – and some lovely flowers around- I’ll put the names on the photos. Directly out to sea, we are looking across Donegal Bay, and you can make out the dusky outline of West Donegal and the Sliabh Liag Cliffs. Gorgeous, my friends – enjoy!

DAY 50 By the Silvery Sea May 6 2020

Hi everyone. We are now on DAY 50 of our splendid isolation series, and I hope you are enjoying the photos as much as I am enjoying taking them. We are not going far today, and bare feet are fine- I got up this morning, and took one look at the beach, and there was no contest. There’s a song often sung here- ‘Beautiful Bundoran, by the silvery sea’ and that is exactly how the beach looked – shimmering sands dappled with sunlight, and Mediterranean blue skies. It was a very low tide, so I met some little sea-friends; a periwinkle busy moving house, and a crab I named ‘Jersey Jim’ (to give Donna a laugh :-)) I tested the water and it’s definitely getting close to swim-without-a-wetsuit- time… close, but no cigar just yet. Enjoy the splash! x

DAY 51 Bird’s eye Bundoran May 7 2020

Hi everyone. Today’s view of Bundoran is a bit different – A bit of a climb involved, but not too taxing- a ladder took me up to the roof of the Atlantic, where I grabbed some very isolated me time, and extraordinary views over the rooftops – south, we’re looking at the Sligo coastline, west across Donegal Bay to Sliabh Liag, East over the Glens of Leitrim. The golf course was spectacularly empty for such a nice day  and the streets so quiet – we can’t wait until we have our visitor buzz back in town. Enjoy… & stay away from the edge!


Today’s walk is a great illustration of the way in which Irish history and culture are an integral part of the landscapes. We’re walking up towards the Gleniff Horseshoe – past a lovely profile of Ben Wisken Mountain – and you’ll see, high up to the right of the cliff face, the opening of a large cave. This is known as the cave of Diarmuid and Gráinne. The legend of Diarmuid and Gráinne is one of the great legends of Ireland – the lovers eloped, chased around Ireland by the jilted Finn Mc Cool (Fionn Mac Cumhaill). Many places are associated with the pursuit of Diarmuid and Gráinne, including this cave, and both the story and landscape inspired many artists, including painter Jack B. Yeats, and playwrights George Moore and W.B. Yeats. On the way back down, I was happily distracted by the usual things- butterflies, curious lambs, and pretty flowers. Hopefully you’ll be inspired too! Enjoy


Hello everyone. We’re having a bit of a history trip today – as it’s 75 years since the end of WW2 in Europe. Castle Archdale is in County Fermanagh, just across the border from Donegal. It has two impressive historical buildings on site- the first is an old castle built by John Archdale in 1612. Archdale was an Englishman, granted lands confiscated from the Maguire clan during the plantation of Ulster. These lands sit along the shores of the beautiful Lough Erne. In the late 18th Century, the Archdale family build a second mansion, part of which is now a museum set in beautiful grounds. During the Second World War, Lough Erne was a very important strategic base for the Allies. It was used during the by flying boats of the RAF Squadron RAF, and Consolidated Catalinas and Short Sunderlands based here would patrol the North Atlantic for German U-boats.
The Republic of Ireland was not officially part of the Allied Forces during WW2, ( the event is known as ‘The Emergency’ here) – but a secret arrangement was made between the British and Irish governments to allow the RAF to fly the shortest route from Lough Erne out to the Atlantic, which was directly over Donegal. This is known as ‘The Donegal Corridor’. So our walk today stops off first at the old castle, then along the lake shore and forest to what remains of the newer building, used as a main operational base for the RAF. There’s a nice seat overlooking the lake for you to take a break half-way  Enjoy!


We’re off to the forest today – a secret location I have named ‘Bluebell Forest’. At this time of year, the forest floor bursts into a carpet of bluebells, and takes on the most amazing bluish-purple colour. There are also the other pinky-purpley plants and shrubs – purple orchids, giant onions, rhododendrons, wisteria, camas, & all the usual suspects. I’m not sure any photo can do this walk justice – but let’s give it a go. You’ll have to add the following sounds- an absolutely crazy level of bee-humming, bird-twittering turned up to eleven, the occasional snap and scurry of the squirrels (too fast for me), and the soft whisper of the occasional breeze through the canopy. Perfect for your Sunday walk. Enjoy!

DAY 55 SLIGO SAUNTER May 11 2020

Hello everyone, welcome to day 55. We are going to take a stroll around the city of Sligo – tiny by USA standards, but so pretty and historic. Very much associated with the poet W.B. Yeats, who, being a smart man, is wearing his mask! The city is built on the Garavogue river, and between 1847 and 1851, the years of the Great Hunger, over 30,000 people emigrated from the port- you’ll see Niall Bruton’s moving sculpture here – you’ll also walk past Sligo Abbey, a Dominican Friary founded in the 13th Century, and Sligo Jail, whose inmates included the bould Michael Collins. Unfortunately, these buildings are closed right now, as is Lyons Café, but please imagine the delicious tea and scones you’d enjoy there- I did! A few quiet street scenes for you, and my favourite bit- a curious grey heron standing sentry in the river. Enjoy!


Just outside Sligo town is a stretch of coastline which has the fabulous name ‘Gibraltar’. It is not as photogenic as some of our previous walks, and it was a very overcast and moody morning when I went exploring – but it is really interesting place. It is inside the Sligo estuary, which means it is protected from the wild Atlantic, and the water warms up nicely compared to the more exposed beaches. About 60 years ago, the development of an outdoor pool, and terraced seating made it one of Sligo’s most popular places to bathe; but as people moved from the bicycle to the car, and then to the sun holiday, the area fell into disuse and disrepair. However, thankfully, environmentalists realised the importance of the area as a habitat for birds, wildlife, oceanlife and flora, and it has now been cleaned up and declared a conservation area. It is overshadowed on one side by the majestic Knocknarea mountain, and you can see Queen Maeve’s cairn at the top – and across the bay, a very misty cloud-covered Ben Bulben. I’m always interested in the lives places had in the past, and thinking about young Irish teenagers messing around here in the summertime way back then, when there wasn’t anywhere else to go, was interesting. What secret stories do these stones know?

DAY 57 MERMAID’S COVE May 13 2020

We are in County Sligo again today, folks, on a tiny strip of beach known as Mermaid’s Cove. As you can see from the choppy waves, it’s a little breezier today, but absolutely gorgeous! In the distance, you can see Classiebawn Castle, and I envied this lone fisherman who was enjoying such peace alone on the beach! The mossy green rocks and crystal clear pools seemed a perfect resting place for a mermaid…enjoy!

DAY 58 DOORLY PARK May 14 2020

Hello everyone. Ten minutes walk from the centre of Sligo City, along the banks of the Garavogue River, brings you to an area known as Doorly Park. This is where we’re going today, and your reward is gob-smacking scenery under a moody sky, an indignant swan, some sociable ducks, and I think, that same grey heron we saw on Monday, still keeping watch. Let’s go!


Happy Friday everyone. We’re taking it easy today – we are going to the beautiful Sligo village of Mullaghmore, to the Peace Garden. This little space, which looks on to the picture-postcard harbour, and across to the Dartry mountains, was created for reflection and meditation amongst the flowers and scenic surrounds. Mullaghmore witnessed one of the most moving demonstrations of reconciliation in May 2015, when relatives of Lord Mountbatten, including Prince Charles, visited the garden. Lord Mountbatten, Lady Dorothy Bradbourne and 15 year old Paul Maxwell were killed when an IRA bomb blew up their fishing boat during ‘The Troubles’. It is a beautiful and restorative space, reminding us that peace and forgiveness are always possible. Have a lovely weekend, and be good to each other x


It’s Saturday night- and you deserve some romance- so I’m taking you to Glenfarne, a small village located in the north of County Leitrim, Ireland. It is the site of the original “Ballroom of Romance”, which inspired a short story by William Trevor and was subsequently turned into a movie by the BBC. John Mc Givern built the Ballroom in early 1934 and it opened the same year. It was then known as Mc Givern’s Dance Hall, although locally it was referred to as the “Nissan Hut”, as its galvanised iron construction was reminiscent of the British Army huts of the same name. Glenfarne also has a beautiful lakeside forest near Lough MacNean – we will wander that way too. We’ll see the remains of the old ‘big house’, Glenfarne Hall – this house was given by the Tottenhams to Edward Harland (of Harland and Wolff shipbuilders, Belfast). It’s said that the flag stones that line the Titanic quay come from quarries in Glenfarne. Finally, we’ll walk in towards Kiltyclogher (note the lamb traffic jam!) and see the home of Irishman Séan Mac Diarmada, one of the signatories of the Irish proclamation of Independence, executed in Kilmainham Jail May 12 1916.

DAY 61 MIND THE GAP! May 17 2020

An Bearnas Mór means ‘the big gap’, and this mountain pass is situated in the Bluestack Mountains in County Donegal. It’s the main route between South Donegal and North Donegal, – and I’ve promised myself a million times that some day, I’ll stop the car and get out and climb it. Today was the day!

Barnesmore was, for several hundred years up to about 1800, a notorious haunt of brigands ambushing travelers and removing them of their goods, and sometimes, their lives!

One of the things I wanted to explore was the old railway line- now defunct, but up until the late 1950s diesel rail-cars ran through the gap connecting Stranorlar in the east to Donegal Town, and through to Killybegs in the west. The tracks are gone now, but you can still clearly see where they were, and I’ve always wanted to walk it.

As you’ll see from the photos, it was a very misty and cloudy morning, which was fine by me, – perhaps the views weren’t as good as they would be on a clear day, but it was all conducive to imagining the rapparees hiding in the mists, waiting for their prey. So wrap up well for this one, folks! And leave the purse at home…



Today’s walk is to an amazing old abbey, tucked away in the Glens of Leitrim. I forgot to tell you that I fell into a river on yesterday’s walk, so my boots were too wet for a hike  This was an easier, and didn’t require the boots.
This is Creevelea Abbey – the last Franciscan Friary to be build in Ireland before good ole Henry VIII shut them all down. This Abbey was founded by Mairéad Ní Bhrian, (Margaret O’ Brien) who was married to O’Rourke, of the kingdom of Breffni, in 1508. It’s still a stunning place to explore, with incredible views over the landscape and the beautiful river Bonet. It really is off the beaten track, but worth it – even with the cloudy skies- and just around down the road you’ll find the mighty O’Rourke Castle overlooking Lough Gill. We’ll go there tomorrow. Meanwhile, get in here and whisper to the ghosts!

DAY 63 LOUGH GILL May 19 2020

Lough Gill means ‘bright lake’ and it is a beautiful freshwater lake between the counties of Sligo and Leitrim. It’s amazing scenic surrounds have been documented by much of the work of the talented Yeats family, and hence the area is known as Yeats Country. But it has a much older history- for centuries, the O’Rourkes ruled the area, and the site of their castle, remodelled in the 17th Century by the Parkes family, is one of the most beautiful features of the lakeside. This particular walk is just around the shoreline at the castle- I have more treasures to show you at Lough Gill at a later date. It was a calm still day, gentle rain, brooding skies, and slippy enough for me to go into the lake when taking photos of the long grasses, but worth it all! The drive around the lake from the castle to Dromohair is as jaw-dropping a scenic journey as I have seen anywhere in Ireland, but so peaceful and empty. Enjoy!

DAY 64 ERNE ESTUARY May 20 2020

Today’s walk was to the end of Tullan Strand, Bundoran, where the Erne river meets the sea. The Erne River is compelling in itself- rising in the midlands, and making its way to the North West via the magical lakes (Upper and Lower, of which there will be more trips) and then through Ballyshannon to the sea. It’s historic- many’s a battle was fought, and many’s a castle build, or an escape made upon the Erne. It features in many poems and stories and myths of the past. And it finally greets the Wild Atlantic at this point here, -you can see the distinctive silhouette of St. Anne’s Church in Ballyshannon in the background, and where freshwater meets salt water, and river meets tide, you have soft sands, magnificent shape-shifting dunes, and all sorts of wildlife- including the Irish Army, who have one of their major bases at Finner Camp, just to the right of the Estuary. But it was the sky I enjoyed most on this particular walk – a big sky of rolling, thunderous-looking fellows, who, at their most ominous, separated abruptly, and let the sun glitter the water. It was bare feet for me today, so kick off your shoes and follow! Enjoy!


We are going down a little forest trail today, where I spotted some fallen trees that were sporting some very colourful fungi. These are mostly what are known as ‘bracket’ fungi -they look more like layers or shelves of growth rather than our typical mushroomy lads. Anyway, they have some great names, especially the ‘turkey tail’ fungus. I think the big white fellow is a birch polypore, but open to correction on this one. Did you know that fungi of this kind were used as writing material, back in the past? I found a reference to fungi being used in Irish hedge schools, and also during the Roman Empire, for this purpose, and there is a species of polypore actually called ‘Artist’s Conk’ because of its suitability for writing and drawing upon. (Facts like this might be why you should never get stuck sitting me for dinner)… Also, some other very interesting things to see- the lovely little Spring Snowflake, which has these delicate green spots on the bottom of each tepal – it is like a beautiful polka-dot dress. The fir trees are currently two-tone ; the new leaves are an almost luminous bright green, providing a marked contrast with the older, dark green leaves. They would be the Ska Boys of the forest. There was also a lump of glistening white rock in the middle of it all – quartzite or marble, I’m not sure, and don’t know why it’s there. Geologists? It was raining as I explored today, so some of the photos just appeal to me because they are shiny and rain-droppy. I’ll say it again- the weather in Ireland is IDEAL – because there is so much to discover, and the climate allows you to be outside in all weathers, with no extreme temperatures either way, and nothing dangerous in the forests, fields or oceans. Anyway- you will need your raincoat today for this, and no eating the ‘shrooms! Enjoy


It’s a tough one today, folks- the Atlantic was letting us know who’s the boss, so if you are coming with me today, hold on to your hat! It was extremely windy, very low clouds and spitty rain, why would you bother? Because it’s still amazing – the sea thrifty clinging on to the cliff-edges, the churning cauldron underneath the Fairy Bridges, the endless white-capped waves, and the exhilarating fresh air! Enjoy!

DAY 67  WAVES GONE WILD May 23 2020

Today, I offer you the Atlantic in all its majesty. Once again, photos can not do justice to the sensation of standing on the rocks, foam flying everywhere, and the spray of the ocean in your face. This is just a few km along the coastline of Bundoran, and one of the benefits of a bit of weather! Get your coat on, and treat yourself to Donegal 🙂 Enjoy!

Today, I’m taking you to a place in Donegal which, in medieval times was one of the most famous places in Ireland. It is one of those places that has many layers of history, folklore, ritual and fascinating culture, located in an absolutely beautiful setting on a small lake called Lough Derg. Beautiful it may be, but many Irish people who have been to Station Island will not remember it for scenery!
First of all, when you get to the lake edge and look across to Station Island, it looks like an Irish Alcatraz – you can see the outline of a lot of tall grey buildings, and if you’re going, you take a boat. It is a place of pilgrimage, and not for the faint-hearted. ‘Doing’ Lough Derg usually means a three-day visit, and rituals include walking barefoot on stony ground, reciting prayers, fasting, and no sleep on the first night.
It is known as ‘St. Patrick’s Purgatory’, as legend says that a cave on Station Island was shown to Patrick, and he was told it was the gateway to Purgatory (which is a kind of holding-pen for Catholics not quite ready for Heaven.) There’s no evidence this actually happened, and if St. Patrick actually blessed all the wells, islands, rocks, mountains and hills that he’s supposed to have, he’d never have had time for a prayer! But there is evidence of a monastic site here associated with St. Dabheog (Davoge).
Back in medieval times, pilgrims would travel first to Saints Island, and when suitably prepared, would then go to the cave on Station Island for a purgatorial stint. The tradition was rooted in the practice of austerity that was popular among monks- isolating themselves in remote places, often islands, to focus on introspection and faith. Some of the original pilgrim’s pathway is still here, as per the photos. Saints Island is abandoned now, and pilgrims go directly to Station Island. It was very popular to ‘do’ a pilgrimage right up until the eighties, but numbers have fallen a lot in the last thirty years.
Seamus Heaney has a book of poems called ‘Station Island’, with a sequence of poems that use two real-life visits to the island as a reflection and clarification of his artistic, personal and public life. Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh also visited it, and probably sums it up very well –
‘The twentieth century blows across it now
But deeply it has kept an ancient vow.’


Today’s ramble is easy on the eye, and the feet. Just a few km south of Bundoran is the River Duff (Dubh is the Irish for Black), and there is a very pleasant walk, almost where it reaches the sea. The Duff river is short, draining the Dartry Mountains, and it’s a popular kayak spot in winter time, and a popular salmon-fishing destination in the summer months. It also defines the border between the counties of Sligo and Leitrim. The water levels can change rapidly, depending on the rainfall, and as you may have noticed from our sequence of splendid isolation photos, we have had very little rain for the last two months! So the levels are pretty low right now. And pretty is the word, because the rhododendrons are decorating the walk, weaving in and out of the trees, and there’s lots of cowslip and cow parsley along the route too. So- seeing as we sent you to Purgatory yesterday, you deserve this little bit of heaven! Enjoy.