My Northern Ireland Adventure

I’ve wanted to see Mount Stewart Garden in Northern Ireland for several years. I finally got there!  It’s said to be one of the ten best gardens in the world. It certainly is lush and perfectly designed. The estate is old but the gardens are largely due to the the work of Lady Edith Londonderry, a strong 20th century woman I’ll write about in a later post.

The house is grand. It’s a National Trust property. That organization has recently spent eight million pounds restoring the property. I took a quick look inside.

A view of the elegant central hall of the mansion house.

The hour was late when I arrived and I really was there to see the garden. The grounds cover many acres and flowers and trees bloom everywhere but the best views are found at the small lake, as you can see here.

Mount Stewart is located at the top of an inlet from the Irish Sea. It’s called Strangford Lough (pronounced “lock,” meaning “lake”). A narrow country road led me south on a peninsula to the village of Portaferry where I boarded a ferry for a ten minute ride across to a village called Strangford. That’s a word credited to Vikings who came here centuries ago. Both these villages are small and a bit isolated but really interesting, surrounded by nature and history.

The castle and a row of homes at the water’s edge in Strangford. An Irish castle is really a “tower house” — built in medieval times in a design to keep attackers out. There are many of them around Strangford Lough, an indication of many invasions.

In the village of Strangford I found a really good pub and restaurant named the Lobster Pot. I ordered the seafood chowder and was surprised to find a fat prawn on top and mussels and smoked haddock and salmon in the very good broth. It was a perfect meal.

Strangford, N.I.

In Ireland at this time of year, nearing the first day of summer, the sun doesn’t set until 10:00 pm so I had daylight for my drive to the hamlet called Kilclief where I had made an AirBnB reservation for a lovely cottage created in the restored schoolhouse. The owner has done a beautiful job of restoring this place, adding a fine kitchen and creating perennial borders around her double patio. It was a perfect place to spend the night.

Shirley’s AirBnB cottage has a beautiful garden.

The next morning I actually looked at my surroundings and discovered the old Irish castle, a lighthouse, the view across to Portaferry, and farmers’ fields along the edge of the water. In Strangford again I found breakfast in a small hotel named Cuan which is managed by nice people. For a few minutes I wandered around the village, taking a few photos. Then I was off.

A view from a place in Kilclief, just steps from the cottage.

Several people had mentioned that I should visit Castle Ward, another estate now managed by National Trust. When I approached it around 9:00 I thought I’d take a quick peak and be on my way.  Castle Ward is enormous, with gardens and woods and a grand mansion house. The old stables have become the tea room, the book store, the gift shop and more. There’s literally an old tiny village where the estate grounds meet the water in Strangford Lough, centered by yet another Irish castle. I walked for three miles around the estate, talked at length with some of the nice women working there, had a bite of lunch, spent a bit of money and didn’t leave until afternoon.

The mansion house at Castle Ward. It’s not the “castle” — that’s an ancient tower house built centuries ago.

I think I made a mistake in choosing my route back to the motorway leading south toward Dublin. On the map it was a neat straight line but in reality it made turns in every village and town. The most interesting part was finding towns built at the top of very steep hills.  It was a beautiful ride through the green Irish countryside but it took a couple of hours to drive the 39 miles to Newry.

A typical Irish country scene. So beautiful!

I really had a perfect couple of days, and despite six hours in the car each way, I’m really glad I found an adventure in Northern Ireland.


I’ve Looked at Clouds from Both Sides Now!

I’ve spent a little more than a year in Ireland and always had fine weather. Oops! Always until the past few weeks. Since I last wrote to this blog the weather has been cold, cloudy and very windy.  I can go exploring in cold and cloudy but winds over 20 miles per hour kept me inside for two weeks. The photo above, taken from the lane into the farm this morning, shows you how the clouds look when they roll in from the west. Here are a few more photos taken close to “home” recently.

The view from my bedroom window early one morning this week.

At the pond at the John F. Kennedy Memorial Garden and Arboretum. Note the white sky!

The garden gate here at Fruit Hill Cottages.

Another view from Fruit Hill.

One day this week the sky was blue and the sun was shining! I took a nearby ferry to the Waterford side of the river.

In the village across the river I found Mother McHugh! (She wasn’t home.)

Yesterday I walked through the woods at the JFK Arboretum.

One nice thing about clouds — they make good sunsets!

Fruit Hill: An Old Farm in Ireland

I’ve returned to my favorite place on earth, the countryside of Ireland. For the third time I’ve rented a vacation cottage on the ancient farm of my friends, Susan and Dick. I plan to stay for a couple of months. While Ireland is beautiful indeed and I love this area, most of all it is the friendliness of Dick and Susan that keeps me coming back to Fruit Hill. It feels like my second home.

The farm dates to the 17th century as does the enormous house that Dick and Susan restored. Formerly their dairy farm, they now offer three self-catering rentals. Recently I took my camera for a walk around the farm, capturing some images for you. I hope they’ll explain to you why I come here, year after year, for months at a time.

Fruit Hill is reached by a long lane that leads to a narrow country road in Southeastern Ireland. Once much larger, today it contains a few acres, a huge ancient home and three fully-furnished rental cottages.

Mocha, the watch cat, guards the place.

This old gate opens to a garden filled with perennials. Every week something new is in bloom while something else goes to seed. In late summer striking blue-flowered plants more than 6 feet tall, grow in the space to the right of the gate.

Now, in May, columbine blooms in white and blue and pink.

At the rear of the old garden several apple trees are covered in blooms.



Apple blossoms

Dick’s old Massey-Ferguson tractor gets little use now.

Dick stays busy on his smaller tractor these days. Susan and Dick maintain four old houses and the land around them, and a family of five plus many visitors. The clothes line gets lots of use!

Four chickens are all the livestock on the farm now.

This lovely lady crouches among the blue bells near my door and seldom goes away.


Life for me is slow and easy here, peaceful, restful.

You can read about my 2017 stay at Fruit Hill by clicking here.

Read my “10 Favorite Things about Ireland” starting here and moving back by clicking the “previous page” link at the top of each post.  Or just click the word “Ireland” in the table of contents on the right side above.



Ten Reasons I Love Ireland: No. 1 – My Irish Home at Fruit Hill

My home in Ireland this year and last was on a former dairy farm that dates to the 17th century. My hosts, Dick and Susan, sold their cows and some of their land a few years ago and turned to hosting visitors in their three self-catering rentals. (“Self-catering is a British term for a vacation rental with cooking facilities.) I discovered Fruit Hill last year, While there I made new friends.

This year I stayed in a small cottage that Dick built in the early years of this century around a massive chimney that was all that remained of an old “bake house.” Dick and Susan have rescued a large late-17th century house from ruin and live there now with several of their children. They never seem to stop working, but they always made time for conversation with me.

Just outside my windows a local farmer grew a field of hay.  After he harvested and bailed it and hauled it away he brought in a large herd of steers. Sometimes they peered at me over the stone wall separating us.

The view from my window.

Opposite the cottage there’s a beautiful view from my kitchen window of a large field of hay. I enjoyed photographing the changing of the seasons there. (A photo of the view from my kitchen window is here.)

Fruit Hill farm has truly become my Irish home. I am very comfortable there. I feel fortunate to have found it. I now have two more generous Irish friends. I have the luck of the Irish, indeed!


The photo at the top was sent to me by Susan. It was taken by Gareth Landy.
The lower photo is of a nosy steer who wanted to know what I was up to. He was just outside my living room window.
Here’s a link to a post with many photos I created last year at Fruit Hill.

Here’s a link to Fruit Hill’s website:


Ten Reasons I Love Ireland: No. 2 – The World’s Friendliest People

The Irish people – as a group, a culture – are the friendliest, nicest people I’ve ever met. It seems they are all friendly, welcoming and interested in talking with strangers. Many times people who noticed my accent asked me where I’m from. When I said “America” they would then ask “where in America?” Then we’d begin to talk about their trips to the U.S. or their desire to visit my country.

I met the ladies shown above baking Irish soda bread “the way our mothers did” and had a nice chat with them while they continued mixing bread. They were participating in a community fundraiser which took the form of a local fair and “tractor and old car rally.” The proceeds of the event, which was sponsored by their priest, went to an orphanage in Romania and to a group providing clean-water wells in Africa. For years men from their small village have gone to Romania for a week each year to build and repair structures there.

During a trip around all of Ireland this summer I spent one night at a lovely small hotel in Belfast. Áine was the young woman at the reception desk morning and night. She was delightful to my friends and me. She was warm and chatty and helpful, always smiling. I find the people of Northern Ireland to be very welcoming.

A story about my husband’s distant cousin, Mary, whom we met on our first trip to Northern Ireland. Mary had no idea who we were or that we would be calling her but when we did she immediately came to meet us, took us home to dinner, took my husband to play golf at her club, introduced him to her priest so we could learn more about his ancestors, and gave us old family photos sent back to Ireland in the late 1800s. That didn’t all happen in one day but over just three or four days. Mary and her husband have become good friends and have welcomed us and other members of our family warmly many times. I’ve always been really happy to know her.

Louie is the 16-year-old son of the owners of Fruit Hill where I’ve stayed on my last two trips to Ireland. Louis is cute – he has a head full of curly black hair which he has been wearing in a large “afro” but recently changed to a “man bun.” He was always polite to this older American lady. He was very helpful to me this summer, doing any favor I asked. Louis and his brother and sister work hard around their home, clearing brush, cleaning rental cottages and more.

Jerry is one of the guides/gatekeepers at the John F. Kennedy Memorial Gardens and Arboretum. He is one of the friendliest people I’ve ever met. Jerry learned my name on the first day we met. He always greets me with a big smile and a promise to take me on a tour of the garden to show me something special. Jerry once told me that 100,000 people a year visit the arboretum. Being remembered from one year to the next makes me feel very special.

In Ireland I had brief conversations with friendly clerks in supermarkets and retail shops. Rental car agents are always helpful but I remember one young man in Waterford especially for his interest in my travels and my country.  I remember the lady at the table next to mine in a café who struck up a conversation and (before it was done) recommended a perfect place for me to retire to in Ireland. I remember more people than I have space here to tell you about. I love the Irish people. I look forward to returning to be with them again next year.


Ten Reasons I Love Ireland: No. 3 – It’s So Green!

50 Shades of Green. Look at lovely Ireland from almost any spot, look in any direction, and you’ll see a world of green. As you drive the highways and old farm roads in Ireland all around you are rolling hills covered in green pastures, crossed by hedges and stone walls. Tunnels of trees made by overarching branches are found along many roads. Driving south from Dublin through low green mountains you’ll see cattle and sheep munching on green hillsides. Driving around the country, you’ll pass green pastures (that turn to gold in late summer) and many homes proudly decorated by beautiful flowers and blooming shrubs. Climb the hills following winding roads to the top where you’ll find a green view over the expanse of Ireland, the emerald isle.  It seems that it’s always springtime in Ireland.

Ten Reasons I Love Ireland: No. 4 – Gardens!

Gardens draw me to Ireland more than anything else. Irish gardens are old (usually) and lush (always) and green, highlighted by spectacular displays of flowers and blooming trees. Most of the best gardens are built around a lake or small river. Each garden is unique.

I’ve been to many gardens in Ireland.  There are five that are my favorites. I return to them as often as possible. At the top of this post is a spring view of the azaleas and rhododendrons in the John F. Kennedy Memorial Garden and Arboretum. The photo was taken in May when they are at their best. The arboretum is huge, comprised of hundreds of acres. The garden makes up just a small portion of the arboretum but the walking trail around the garden is three kilometers long. I love walking around that trail, finding many new things each time.

Altamont is a called a “woman’s garden” because a woman named Corona North nurtured it for much of the last century. Her large home, now unlived in, overlooks a formal garden filled with many species of narcissus (daffodils) in spring and roses in summer. The walk leads to a small lake surrounded by many trees and bushes including a California sequoia and very old beech trees.

Mount Congreve was the life’s work of Ambrose Congreve. He began gardening there, on his family’s large estate, when he was 11 years old. He continued until his death at the age of 104. Its 70 acres are criss-crossed with trails leading through woodlands where thousands of azeleas and rhododendrons and hydrangeas (called “hortensia” in Ireland and England) bloom.

Mount Usher Gardens are especially beautiful in spring when bluebells cover the ground and the garden is filled with blooming bushes and flowers. Many species of small trees have been planted in this garden and spring is the best time to see them when they’re covered in bright new leaves. Placed on both sides of a small river, the garden stretches over a large area laced with walking trails.

I found a new favorite to my list this year. When I was in Ireland in 2016 I discovered Colclough Gardens (pronounced Coke-lee) at Tintern Abbey. I visited it once or twice in the springtime when it’s filled with flowers, blooming apple trees and the beginnings of a large vegetable garden. This year I visited it six times over the course of the summer, usually allowing about two weeks between visits. It is enclosed within an old walled garden It’s quite small when compared to the other gardens I’ve mentioned here. Around the edges of the garden a perennial garden with many species of flowers flourishes. The middle of the garden contains all types of vegetables. Recently planted apple trees were heavy with fruit. This lush garden is organic.

Gardens pull me back to Ireland, time after time. I’m already anticipating next year’s visit.


Resources: In Ireland this year I found a detailed book entitled The Open Gardens of Ireland by Shirley Lanigan. A number of other books by this author are offered on American but this one isn’t there yet. It was published just this year. In Ireland you can probably find a copy at a good book store.

Ten Reasons I Love Ireland: No. 5 – New Ross

New Ross seems to draw me. Every trip I’ve made to Ireland has included time in New Ross and three times I’ve stayed for many weeks or months in the countryside nearby. It’s become “my town” in Ireland. I find the people here to be very friendly and the town is a good base for exploring southeastern Ireland.

William Marshall was an important Norman-English knight who won the friendship and admiration of King John of England. He was given a wealthy bride, Isabella de Clare, the daughter of “Strongbow” (Richard de Clare, second Earl of Pembroke). Together they brought the southeastern corner of Ireland out of the middle ages. Isabella is credited with beginning the town of New Ross in the year 1189. William Marshall made New Ross his port city because of its location on the river Barrow. This “power couple” began the city of Kilkenny and built the Irish Tintern Abbey a few miles from New Ross.

Today this 800-year-old town is becoming a popular stop on tour itineraries. That’s largely because of the connection to New Ross of President John F. Kennedy. The president’s ancestors lived on a farm six kilometers outside New Ross. His great-grandparents departed Ireland on a ship from here. Today a replica of that ship, the Dunbrody, provides an opportunity to discover the miserable conditions immigrants to the New World were made to endure. One of the last public appearances President Kennedy made was in New Ross. That event has never been forgotten and it’s memorialized on the main street of the town today. Irish-American donors and the Irish government cooperated to create the John F. Kennedy Memorial Garden and Arboretum near the old Kennedy family farm.

The town is hilly. The old town center lies along the river banks and a new, modern town is developing on the other side of the hill. Little has changed in the old town. Three tall steeples grace the skyline. The thosel – Irish for town hall – is at the center of a small nest of shopping streets. It appears to date from the late 18th or early 19th centuries. Many of the shops and pubs are old, and bear the names of their owners. Not much has changed in the last 50 or 100 years, and I like that.  I’m already making plans to return next year.


The photo above is of the ship Dunbrody. The building behind it is the very good tourist information center. It houses a small museum about Irish emigration and a good restaurant.


Ten Reasons I Love Ireland: No. 6 – History is everywhere

Human beings have lived in Ireland for about 10,000 years. A great many relics of ancient cultures have been found in Ireland. Standing stones (many of them in circles) are found throughout the country. County Cork has a large number of prehistoric stone circles.

Newgrange Tomb (shown above) is thought to be about 5200 years old, a thousand years older than Stonehenge. It is 279 feet in diameter and 45 feet high at its peak. It’s called a “passage tomb” and visitors can walk into the center of the tomb where there are three large chambers. The tomb was constructed to allow a beam of sunlight to pass directly through it on the morning of the winter solstice, illuminating the chamber 60 feet inside.

This is a photo of the entrance to Newgrange Tomb which is about five feet high. The box above the capstone allows light to enter the tomb at the time of the winter solstice. The carving on the huge boulder in the foreground, made by prehistoric people, is commonly found on stones in this area.

This site,, has an excellent description of the tomb. The Irish government has constructed a visitors center at Newgrange that provides a helpful explanation of its history and construction. There are a number of other passage tombs located near Newgrange but none as large. Many are still buried in centuries of earth. The famous “Hill of Tara” where Irish kings were crowned and reigned many centuries ago is located nearby in this area of Ireland’s Ancient East.

Christianity came to Ireland in the year 432 AD with the arrival of Saint Patrick. Since that time it has been the most important cultural influence in Ireland. Many monasteries were built and their remains can be found throughout Ireland today. My favorite is Jerpoint Abbey located near Thomastown in County Kilkenny. It is roofless but the walls of the abbey church still stand. Sculptures are found on medieval tombs and on the reconstructed cloisters, some of them sacred and some of them actually humorous. Glendalough, located on a hilltop not far from Dublin, the “Rock of Cashel” in County Tipperary and Clonmacnoice mid-way between Dublin and Galway, are among the most important historic sites in Ireland.

If you’re going to Dublin don’t miss spending an hour or two at the National Museum of Ireland. Under Irish law, every artifact found in the country must be sold to the government. This has resulted in a spectacular collection of ancient gold jewelry and many other relics of centuries long past. The Museum occupies several locations. The most important articles are housed in the main museum building in central Dublin which is open Tuesday through Sunday with free admission and frequent guided tours.

I’ve just skimmed the surface in telling you about the many important historical places to experience in Ireland. The site, Ireland’s Ancient East and the site for the Wild Atlantic Way, covering western Ireland, will show you much more.  They are valuable planning tools for people who would prefer to enjoy Ireland’s history rather than Guinness’s brewery.


Ten Reasons I Love Ireland: No. 7 – Cool summers and mild winters

In 2016 I was in Ireland for seven weeks in April and May. When I returned home to North Carolina I experienced one of the hottest summers ever. Each day I’d look at the weather app on my phone and read that the temperature I was feeling was about 97 degrees. I’d also see that the temperature in New Ross was 67. Before the summer was out I made arrangements to rent the smallest cottage at Fruit Hill for all of the summer of 2017. I didn’t regret that decision! Once or twice this summer the high temp was 25 degrees Celsius (according to the thermometer in the car) which is about 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Most days the afternoon temperature was in the high 60s. I never once wore any of my short-sleeve T-shirts; every day this summer I wore a light sweater all day. Although the skies were often cloudy there were not a lot of rainy days.

In 2005 my late husband and I were considering moving to Ireland. Because his grandmother was born there he was entitled to Irish citizenship. We wanted to test life there, including the weather, before making any final decisions.  We rented a cottage in the same area of Southeast Ireland for four months in winter, from early January until the end of April. Every morning George recorded the temperature. It was never lower than 40 degrees. It snowed once.

Ireland is positioned very far north on the globe. During June and July the sun doesn’t set until nearly 10:00 pm. In winter, the hours of daylight are short. The island is protected from temperature extremes by the jet stream but global warming is a great concern to many Irish people. Should the jet stream change its course, Ireland would experience very different weather conditions.


The photo at the top of this post is the view from the kitchen window of my 2017 Irish cottage at Fruit Hill.