Lifestyle – Cathal and Bronagh O’Rourkes’ 500-acre farm on the shores of Lough Bunny in the Burren encompasses fertile grassland, alluvial woodlands and the vast limestone pavements for which the area is renowned. Now they’ve inviting guests to share in the treasures of this unique place, with family tours, hiking and food trails, and wellness days as they tell JUDY MURPHY.
A bit of forest-bathing on a warm Saturday afternoon in August in an idyllic location just outside Boston– sure what else would you be doing in a summer of staycations?
We are on the 500-acre farm owned by Cathal and Bronagh O’Rourke and the Boston in question is the tiny village just a few miles from Gort in the magical landscape of the Burren.
It’s here that Cathal – the fifth generation of his family to work this land – and Bronagh have set up Burren Farm Experience, giving visitors a special insight into living and farming in this unique landscape with its stunning views.
In a world where social distancing is so important, it’s an ideal way to spend a day, with packages for families, groups and couples, as well as a monthly group walk around the shores of the Burren’s only freshwater lake, Lough Bunny. Bronagh also co-hosts monthly Wellness Days which incorporate yoga and forest-bathing – this is basically spending time in the woods, reconnecting with the natural world. We sampled it on their food tour, Feast on the Farm which was run in conjunction with Devin O’Sullivan of FEAST Ireland, who specialises in cooking local and foraged foods. It included travelling in a vintage jeep as well as well as gorgeous food and drink at stops along the way.
The O’Rourkes’ farm, which is part of the UNESCO-designated Burren National Park, incorporates alluvial woodlands, green fields and vast areas of limestone pavement, explains Bronagh, who’s originally from Cavan. She and Cathal met at the Galway Races a decade ago and for a long time, she had no interest in moving from Cavan to the West of Ireland.
Cathal, who worked in the bank and also farmed with his dad, John, commuted between Clare and Cavan in those years before Bronagh made her decision to relocate. That happened six years ago after her mother died. “It wasn’t the same at home with both my parents gone,” she explains adding that her father had already passed on.
She loves Boston, both for the strength of community as well as for the natural environment.
John O’Rourke died two years ago, Bronagh explains, and Cathal became the fifth generation of his family on this farm.
He’d never doubted where his future lay – farming is his passion and the superb condition of the whitehead and Hereford cattle on the fertile fields are a clear illustration of his animal husbandry.
Meanwhile, Bronagh, who had been working for a pharma-nutrical company, decided to change paths and take advantage of their unique location.
“We’re in a National Park where we get lots of people in camper vans looking for direction and visitors asking for things to do,” she explains.
For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.
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Organiser picked the perfect time for Inis Meáin blackberry festival
A brand new blackberry festival, ‘Féile na bPuiteachaí’ will take place on Inis Meáin today Saturday 1 October, celebrating the island’s blackberries with a wide variety of events.
The festival is named after an Irish word, ‘puiteachaí’, which is unique to Inis Meáin and is used locally instead of the more commonly-known ‘sméara dubha’.
Events taking place at Halla Naomh Eoin on the day include blackberry ink and jam-making, poetry and baking competitions, a gin workshop and an evening concert.
Festival Director Aedín Ní Thiarnaigh said: “We are absolutely delighted to launch this festival and to celebrate some of the many assets we have here on the island; from the blackberries themselves to the skills of the Inis Meáin community.
“It’s all about appreciating the landscape around us, as well as our local culture and community,” she said.
Entries are welcome for the first ever ‘Féile na bPuiteachaí’ Baking Competition (3pm) which invites bakers to prepare a dish of their choice with blackberries as a key ingredient. Entries will be judged on the day by head baker at the Michelin Green Star Award-Winning Inis Meáin Restaurant and Suites, Maedhbh Ní Dhomhnaill, with prizes of €100 for first place, €50 for second and €30 for third.
“There’s great excitement among the local community already about the competitions, which is brilliant. Of course, we also welcome entries from other areas and hope to get support from our neighbours on the Aran Islands and in Conamara,” said Gráinne Ní Chonaighle, Vice Director of the festival and project co-ordinator with Comhlacht Forbartha Inis Meáin.
From food to drink, high demand is expected for Pádraig Ó Fátharta’s drinks workshop (4.30pm), where he will reveal his top tips for gin-making with Inis Meáin’s wild autumn fruits and where participants will make their own wild gin infusions to take home.
Television presenter and folklorist Aedín Ní Thiarnaigh will lead a guided blackberry-picking tour on the day (noon), where participants will gather their own berries and hear folklore associated with the island’s unique landscape.
Participants can then put their berries to good use at the first of the day’s family events, making fresh blackberry ink with local women Juda Uí Loinsigh and Orlaith Bhreathnach and creating their very own ‘puiteachaí’ painting.
No blackberry festival would be complete without some good old-fashioned jam-making (1pm) and festival goers will also have the option to turn their own collected berries into jam on the day in the Halla Naomh Eoin kitchen.
Award-winning harpist Úna Ní Fhlannagáin will take to the Halla Naomh Eoin stage for the festival finale for a night of music and song from 8pm.
More information and event registration will be available at inismeainbeo.ie and at Siopa Ruaidhrí Beag in the week before the festival.
Lackagh students’ mini-boat sets sail in the South Atlantic
Spiorad na Gaillimhe, an uncrewed mini-boat built and decorated by students from Scoil Bhríde in Lackagh has set sail in the South Atlantic.
It is one of four miniboats – the others from schools in Spain, Germany and South Africa – that were deployed from the Alfred-Wegener Institute’s Icebreaker, RV Polarstern, as it sails between Germany and South Africa.
These four new vessels will join the 18 Educational Passages boats that are currently sailing around the world’s oceans. Spiorad na Gaillimhe (Spirit of Galway) is the first mini-boat to set sail in the South Atlantic.
School Principal Shane O’Connor and teacher Tomás Higgins were fundamental in ensuring the project was delivered.
Mr Higgins said: “The project was an engaging and great project for the pupils that’s cross curricular in nature incorporating many skills and subjects such as science, maths, art and geography and gave us the opportunity to bring the theme of the ocean and ocean literacy into the classroom in a fun and interesting way.
“We were delighted in Scoil Bhríde to have this unique and great opportunity, thanks to the support of Sheena Fennell, University of Galway, POGO [Partnership for Observation of the Global Ocean] and Educational Passages, to participate in the Miniboat Programme.
“And I’m delighted that my colleague Aisling White will continue on working with our pupils during this academic year and she looks forward to following the journey of Spiorad na Gaillimhe and continuing the project with the pupils.”
The project was funded by the Nippon Foundation and POGO and has provided the students in Galway with an opportunity to learn more about oceanography and ocean technology.
Professor Peter Croot and Senior Oceanography Technician Sheena Fennell from Earth and Ocean Sciences at University of Galway worked with the school throughout the process, delivering ocean experiments and guidance with the build.
Professor Croot said: “The students in Scoil Bhríde were responsible for constructing the boat, deciding on a name, decorating the sail and hull and, most importantly, had to decide what treasures to place in the hold for any lucky finder if it comes ashore.
“Once Spiorad na Gaillimhe sets sail it will regularly send its GPS location and values of sea and air temperature. The students will be working to predict where it will sail in the ocean by looking at weather and ocean current maps, thereby learning about our oceans.”
You can keep up to date by searching ‘Spiorad na Gaillimhe’ on educationalpassages.org
Motorists urged to think twice about their parking
MOTORISTS around Galway have been reminded this week that careless parking on footpaths – or illegally taking up spaces allocated for disabled drivers – can cause untold hardship for people with disabilities.
‘Make Way Day’ is taking place this Friday when motorists will be asked to think twice before leaving their cars in ‘obstructive positions’ – cyclists who tie their bikes onto poles and railings are also being targeted.
And while Friday’s campaign is essentially about awareness and respect, motorists have also been reminded of the severe fines that can be imposed for careless parking on paths or in disability spaces.
One of the campaign organiseers, Peter Gohery from Eyrecourt, said that parking in a disability parking space without the designated blue card carries a €150 fine while the penalty can rise to €3,000 if such a card is being illegally used by someone else.
“There are penalties in place for this kind of parking but first and foremost we want this to be an awareness and respect campaign.
“If, for example, someone with a disability is forced onto the public road because a car is parked on a path, this involves not only an inconvenience for the disabled person, but also a real danger,” said Mr Gohery.
An amputee himself following a farming accident a number of years back, Mr Gohery said that awareness and common-sense by drivers could make a huge difference to people who suffered from disabilities.
“For example, a visually impaired person using a guide dog, can be forced off the path if a car is illegally parked there – we’re just pleading with people to think twice before they park illegally,” he said.
Dr Charlotte May, Galway Public Participation Network (PPN) Co-ordinator, said that Make Way Day was part of a national campaign ran by the Disability Federation of Ireland aimed at bringing people with disabilities and the wider community together.
“The day is meant to be a friendly reminder that cars parked on footpaths; bicycles illegally parked; and bins left on footpaths, all block the way and create barriers for people.
“Make Way Day is not about pointing the finger at local authorities, other agencies, or randomly scattered activism.
“The whole point of the day is making the public aware of an issue that is fully within their power to change. It’s about one impactful, co-ordinated and decisive day of action,” she said.
Make Way Day will be marked this Friday in Loughrea (Bridge Street carpark) at 10am and in Portumna (The Square next to St. Brigid’s) at 12.30pm where obstacles on the paths and streetscapes will be identified and highlighted.
A similar type of event is also planned for Clifden between 11am and 1pm starting off from the Town Hall.
“The campaign brings the disability and wider community together to consider the needs of people with disabilities in the public spaces we all share.
“Everyone can get involved. And everyone should get involved because we’ve discovered thoughtlessness is the big issue,” said Dr May.