Thursday, 28 April 2011

Blast hits Marrakech

A MASSIVE explosion ripped through a cafe popular among foreign tourists in the Moroccan city of Marrakech today, Thursday April 28 killing 14 people and wounding 20 in what the government called a criminal act.
If confirmed as terrorism, the blast in the iconic Djemma el-Fna square would be Morocco's deadliest bombing in eight years. The last big attack was a series of suicide bombings in Morocco's commercial capital, Casablanca, in 2003 in which more than 45 people were killed.
The explosion just before noon tore the facade off the two-storey terracotta-coloured Argana cafe - from the pictures I believe I had an orange here during my trip. Panicked passersby dragged away bodies and tried to put out flames with fire extinguishers.
Moroccan government spokesman Khalid Naciri said that the 14 slain people came from a variety of countries but he did not say which ones.
Our thoughts are with the families of the victims.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Refined luxury at an historic castle

Lough Rynn Castle Hotel

It is not too often that I get the opportunity to stay in a luxurious castle hotel, so when the chance came up to spend a whole day and night at Lough Rynn Castle Hotel, Mohill, you could say I jumped (quite high) for joy.

The hotel is the ancestral home of the Clements Family and the notorious Lord Leitrim. I studied Modern History at University and wrote my final dissertation on the big bad William Sydney Clement, Earl of Leitrim. My essay was quite different o many others that have been written on the man as I actually focused on the good that he did, his forward thinking in relation to agriculture and the measures (like evictions) he set about to implement his futuristic ideas.
Anyway this may be the reason for my fascination with the hotel, but it could also be that for years as a child I attended the Lough Rynn Harvest Festival which was held on the ruins of the old house. There were vintage cars and demonstrations, a playground and it was always sunny and children ran through the house out into the gardens giggling with delight at the freedom. Even without any management the walled gardens beside the old house were a spectacle to look at.
Lough Rynn House (I wouldn't quite call it a castle) is beautiful, the Baronial hall with the large open Inglenook fireplace and views of the lake make you want to click your fingers and be transported to the late eighteenth century wearing a large ballroom dress. Antique furniture, pictures of the Clement family, long hallways, a dungeon bar and a sprinkling of mystery all add to the medieval atmosphere.
Food deliciously prepared by Head Chef Jean Michel Chevet is quite a treat, with the presentation second to none.
Each of the 43 rooms are beautifully dark and grande with stand alone baths and massive walk in showers that make you want to stay inside and linger around your large room. But you can't because you must go explore the acres of gardens around Lough Rynn. The manicured lawns have to enjoyed and the walled garden is somewhere you will not want to leave, photos will look amazing but nothing will beat your emotional attachment to the area.
Walled gardens at Lough Rynn
It is a pity that Lord Leitrim was so evil, it would be much nicer to imagine a princess living here waiting for her prince charming to return to her.
Instead we all know this little man of high collar lorded over thousands of acres and tenants, evicting those who did not pay rent on time, attended Catholic mass or did not obey his rules for improvement.
The John McGahern Library is worth a few hours at least to flick through a beautiful collection of Irish novels, most worthy those by McGahern himself who came from Leitrim.
The hotel has built a large glass ball room onto the hotel, tastefully hidden from the front view which provides a beautiful setting for weddings, or large functions like the Leitrim Rose.
The air conditioning in the rooms are most welcome and is the one thing that is missing from large hotels in Ireland.
Breakfast was delightful with a complimentary newspaper to keep me from feeling the lonely chill dining by myself. A choice of smoked or unsmoked bacon, traditional or pork and leek sausages and a variety of eggs along with toast being brought to the table (you know my feelings on toast) made for throughly relaxing and yet inspiring night away.
Inside Lough Rynn House

History geeks, nature lovers, romantics and luxury seeking ladies and gentlemen should put Lough Rynn Castle Hotel on their list of jolly jaunts this year!

Finding your roots in Ireland

Check out my guest blog post on


Ireland, the land of a thousand welcomes (Cead Mile Failte) reaches out all over the world. This small island in the Atlantic Ocean lays claim to almost 50million people who are proud to say they are Irish.
Thousands of visitors arrive on the shores of Erin each yeGuar and leave with a special connection to a country they will forever more call home, because it is from here that their ancestors were forced to leave to make a better life from themselves and their families.
For the millions who claim to have Irish ancestry, a visit to the Celtic land is one that will never be forgotten.  Tracing you family roots back to olde Ireland could never be easier with census information, shipping reports and land valuations online, but nothing sparks your imagination better than a visit home.
Come see where exactly your ancestors grew up and lived, find out from locals in small villages all over the country what it was like to live in your great, great, great grandparent’s era. There are local museums and information stores all over the country, and the Irish only love to tell stories. Some may be accurate descriptions, but many will be tales passed down through generations and will be embellished  with a few add ons here and there!
Hike the mountain and valleys of your ancestors, drink the Guinness and whiskey you know they thirsted for in their new country and finally get to grip with the Irish fascination with potatoes. In Ireland we find a way to include this staple vegetable into every meal!
You think you know the colour green? You don’t have a clue, until you witness the 40 shades of green in an Irish country side. You need to get back to when smoke filled the small cottages from turf fires, when bread was baked over an open fire, not a closed oven and a cup of tea solved the majority of problems.
Irish Castle
In a land which has breath taking scenery, structures older than the pyramids, where once the most learned scholars came to be educated  you find a heaven of music, dance, song and the famous ‘craic’. You have not laughed until you have heard the ‘yearns’ of a charming old country man or cried as much until you have to say good bye.
For information on researching your Irish ancestry visit: http://www,rootsireland.ieor

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Blaming the recession

I hate this recession, it is ruining everything, I can't do what I want, go where I want to or indeed be who I want to be. This is how I feel, but is it exactly true or is the recession a great and plausible excuse to hide behind?

I am terribly unhappy in my job, I dread Sunday evenings when my mind panics about what Monday will bring. I am stressed and feel there is nothing I can do to make life easier at work.
Just recently I realised what my perfect job is, I said it and everyone agreed. Imagining myself in this role makes me smile and although there may be a large work load I really couldn't see myself being unhappy in this job.
So I should just go do it, right?
Well there are some obstacles.
  1. I need to do a Masters, in a city away from my home (where I live with my boyfriend).
    After recently paying off my car loan, I have no money, I am currently renovating a house with my boyfriend which means there are no savings. So If I don't get a grant to cover course fees I just cant so it. I also need to live in the expensive city for one year.
  2. I need to quit my job. Ireland is in the midst of the worst economic depression ever to hit and I will have to give up my job to go to college. I need to live without a job for over a year and the prospects of getting a job straight out of college is very doubtful.
  3. To get accepted into the Masters I need to have 6 weeks work experience finished before the course starts in September. Work experience positions are very difficult to come by.
These are the main obstacles, but I also must consider becoming a weekend girl friend again, the prospect of no holidays or trips away and of course returning to study once again.
Even if I do all this there is no small guarantee I will get a job in this area anytime soon after leaving college. I know that I would not cope well being unemployed.
My boyfriend, friends and people who know me well are urging me to go do this and not to sit in a job I don't like just because of the recession. If I don't so this, will I regret not making the move in ten years time?
Can I hide behind the cloak of the recession and blame it, when realistically I am scared of making such a big move and the risk that it could all go wrong?

Decisions, Decisions

The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one. ~Elbert Hubbard, The Note Book, 1927

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Love Food, Will Travel

One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well -Virginia Woolf

GOOD  food, a fine restaurant, reliable pub grub, impressive hotel feasts make all the difference don't 
Many travel the length and breath of Ireland but can only recall a specific location by the restaurant there, the great fry up or nice cup of coffee. A superb restaurant can transform ordinary, non special places into tourist hot spots by just getting one thing right – good food.
Recently I was honoured to be part of the Connaught Judging Panel for the Irish Restaurant Awards. I had never done anything like this before, I didn't quite know what to expect but I do like food and in the end that was all that really mattered.
The choice of locations was phenomenal and although the top five were quite quickly whittled down by the industry experts within minutes, it was the small detail sometimes more than the obvious stand out opinions that distinguished the true winners.
Many of the winning venues come from small villages, rural areas and places that are bypassed or are just not worth going to ... except for that small venue creating delicious dinners. Many of the food experts said they will travel long distances to experience fine food and while there they will of course take a look around the area, sure why not build up an apatite!
I know friends who travel the world based on food, select their holiday destinations based on fine wines, beer festivals or to try out exotic food.
Although internationally Ireland certainly doesn't top the list for food experiences, within the country we know that home grown and cooked products are some of the best in the world.
So we should promote that – fine food destinations. There are plenty of food festivals, event events around the country but they don't get the same publicity as music festivals or art and culture events achieve.

Neven Maguire's Cook Book
Neven Cooks
Has anybody ever heard or been to Blacklion in Co Cavan? If you have, you probably only know the place for one reason (unless you are from there, have friends or relations there ...) because Celebrity Chef Neven Maguire runs MacNean Guest house and restaurant there.
I was speaking to him last year and he said his restaurant was booked out for every weekend for the next year – what an achievement in the middle of Ireland's toughest recession, what a boost to the Blacklion area. He has plans to open a cookery school there, Ballymaloe style.
Will people travel to that small irrelevant village in West Cavan ... yes you will, as you would travel to any part of the country to experience something special.
Have you traveled just for food?

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Man made inspiration

My creative angle of the Eiffel Tower, Paris (© Fiona Heavey)

We all have different reasons for choosing our holiday/ trip destinations, but for many we want to see world famous icons, landscapes, buildings and stand in awe, as thousands have before us and of course get the perfect picture to show off to friends back home!
Lonely Planet posted their “most iconic human-made structures” this week, and the geek that I am this made me very excited as I drooled over the places I have yet to set my eyes on.
Out of the ten named, I have only actually seen and touched three of them, which is sort of pathetic for someone who loves travelling and thinks about it 24/7!
These include the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Chrylser Building in NYC and Big Ben, London.
All three are super impressive. The Eiffel Tower is really not all that amazing when seen during the day, but it has become a world wide icon for romance and viwed at night all lit up or dangling over the edgewith a loved one really does make it special. (Must be why I have visited it twice)
Big Ben symbolizes London, it also is a symbol of democracy as it stands high over the Palace of Westminster and although it is not really tall or large or impressive it certainly strikes a cord and is a must for history fans.
The Chrylser for me was exciting because of the movie King Kong (remember the big ape at the end?). It is more modern that the other three and so although it dominates the New York skyline didn't impress me as much. (Although I do have a nifty photo from there.)
The remaining seven icons listed by lonely Planet are all structures I really want to see in the next 5-10 years.

Big Ben at 4.12pm (© Fiona Heavey) 

These include:
  • Angkor Wat, Cambodia
  • Taj Mahal, India
  • Great Pyramids, Egypt
  • The Great Wall of China
  • Machu Pichu, Peru,
  • Mount Rushmore, USA
  • Stonehenge, England

None of them need an explanation from me on how amazing they are, I will leave that until the day I actually get to touch their exterior.

 I do think that the Lonely Planet did miss out on The Colosseum and The Pantheon in Rome, as well as the Acropolis of Athens amongst many more. And we should not forget out own Newgrange which is one of the most impressive man made structures in the world.
But this list is certainly a starting point of an impressive photo collection and with a sale on with aerlingus at the mo, three of Lonely Planet's top ten could be viewed, touched and photographed on a budget!