Wednesday Wander – Portumna Castle, Ireland

I can’t believe it’s been a week since my last post! It’s been a busy time though, with a family wedding, and I’ve just not had much opportunity to sit down in front of the computer. However, there’s no way I’d miss taking a Wednesday Wander, so this week we are heading to Ireland.

Portumna castle, in County Galway, Ireland, is a fortified manor house built during the early part of the 17th century by the wealthy De Burgo family. At the time of its construction it was considered the premier house of its kind in Ireland, with none other coming close in terms of grandeur and style.

The manor house is still grand, as you can see, with a lovely approach avenue flanked by trees. There is also a large walled garden, set out as it would have been during the 17th century with herbs, vegetables and flowers. I would love to have the space and time to create a garden like that!

However, much of the style attributed to the house is gone, as the interior was gutted by fire in 1826. The shell of the house was given a new roof in 1968 and it is now being restored, but as you can see the walls are back to bare brick, and I remember there being no second floor.

Interestingly, there was a legend long held in the family that a child had fallen from the upper stories and only survived by landing on one of the family dogs. The poor animal’s back was broken and it died, but the story goes it was buried with honour for saving the child. During the restoration process, archaeologists did in fact find the buried skeleton of a dog… with a distinct fracture to the spine.

When I visited the house it was a glorious June day, as you can see, the gardens buzzing with bees and full of flowers. Even though the house was fortified, with battlements and gun loops, it felt like a home, the proportions pleasing. I’d like to go back one day and see how the restoration process is coming along.

Thanks for coming on another Wednesday Wander with me – see you next time!

If you enjoyed this post and want to read more, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJ,  Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon.

Wednesday Wander, Rock Of Cashel, Ireland

cashel-3It’s the first Wednesday of the New Year, and time for my first Wednesday Wander. This week I’m heading to the green centre of Ireland, and an ancient fortress once home to kings. This is the Rock Of Cashel in Co. Tipperary, Ireland.

cashel-5Cashel was, for centuries, the seat of the Kings of Ulster, and its name comes from the Gaelic ‘Caiseal’, meaning fortress. Cashel is also reputed to be the place where the fifth century King was converted to Christianity by St Patrick. Certainly there is a cross there, much weathered, which is said to have belonged to St Patrick (if one can be said to own a huge stone cross). The original has been moved into the museum on site, with a replica in its place outside. This is because of a legend attached to the cross – apparently, if you can reach all the way around it with both arms and your fingers touch, you’ll never have to go to the dentist again. I couldn’t quite manage it, but my husband did – however, I have to report that he has been to the dentist since our visit.

cashel-4Cashel was donated to the Church in 1101, and hardly any of the early buildings remain. The circular tower in the photo above is the oldest building on site and dates to 1100 – the rest of the buildings are mostly 12th and 13th century. The ruins are magnificent, and include the vast St Patrick’s Cathedral, a residential palace for the bishops who used to live there, as well as ornamental gravestones and monuments. It used to be that every resident of Cashel was buried on the Rock but we were told that, sometime in the last century, it was realised there was no more room. So, every inhabitant of Cashel at that time was told that they would be buried on the Rock – after that, no more. At the time of our visit there were still, apparently, a few remaining locals with the right to burial within the ancient walls.

cashel-1There are some interesting carvings on the monuments at Cashel, ravens and Celtic knots hearkening back to earlier times. The tomb above belonged to a king, and is carved with an infinity symbol made up of stylised greyhounds. I don’t know who was buried in the tomb below, but liked how it seemed they had decided to poke their head out for the photo…

cashel-2It’s difficult to describe the scale of Cashel, or the beauty of its ancient stones and surrounding countryside, the endless fields a lush green. Despite its sometimes violent history, Cashel had a bright clear energy, and there was a sense of how very old a place it was. It was definitely a highlight of our visit to Ireland, and somewhere I’d like to see again, one day.

Thank you for coming on another Wednesday Wander with me – see you next time!

If you enjoyed this post, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJ,  Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon.

Wednesday Wander – Aughris House, Sligo


This is the Beach House at Aughris, Ireland, an ancient pub and B&B that happens to serve very fine meals. Sitting on the curve of a silvery bay, it looks across the shifting sands to mountains and the burial cairn of a legendary queen, while the stones on the beach contain fossils even older still, treasure for small hands to find.


There is not much in the way of so-called civilisation to be seen in these parts – just a few other houses behind the dunes, cattle calling in the evergreen fields. Yet not far away is a burial ground that predates the pyramids, vast stones levered into place to mark and protect the dead by a culture long gone.


The streams run clear and cool from the misty mountains to the edge of the Atlantic, the ocean stretching West to new lands. And the evening brings warmth, music and good food to be had, with a place by the roaring fire.

Thank you for joining me on another Wednesday Wander – see you next time!

Wednesday Wander – Setanta Wall, Dublin

Dublin mural 2

This is the Setanta Wall in Dublin, Ireland. Created in 1974 by the artist Desmond Kinney, it depicts scenes from the story of Cúchulainn and the Cattle Raid of Cooley. The small art critic standing nearby will give you an idea of the size of the piece, the vibrant colours and textures obviously hitting a positive note with her.

The mural is on a side street and, at the time we saw it, had a mosaic panel nearby – apparently this is now gone. As you can see, at the time it was already quite deteriorated along the bottom and side edges, so perhaps it just fell away. There was no other indication as to who had created the artwork or what it represented, which I thought was quite sad.

I hope things have changed for the wall now, and that perhaps the panel can be restored. If you are in Dublin, it’s definitely worth going to see – or perhaps you’ve seen it already.

Dublin mural 1

Thanks for coming on another Wednesday Wander with me – see you next week!

Hugh’s Photo Challenge Week 11 – Rust


I’ve written about this object before. We found it on a beach in Ireland, just a little way around from where I photographed my rock face. We’d decided to climb along the rocks at the water’s edge to a small cove we could see in the distance. It turned out to be a fairly challenging undertaking, especially with a seven-year-old in tow, as the rocks became quite steep, deep pools of clear sea water just below our feet. But what amazing rocks they were! Full of fossils and layered and stacked, lines of colour showing how the landscape had built up over millennia.


We made it, eventually, to the little rocky cove, and found the pebbly beach strewn with bits of rusting twisted metal. The rusty object above was quite large and weighed an absolute ton, as I discovered when I tried to move it. The pebbles were in it when we got there – whether put there by the ocean or another human hand I don’t know. So I took a photo, captivated by the rusty colours against the grey stones. And now I’m entering it into Hugh’s latest Challenge.

Hugh’s Photo Challenge – Week 10 – Faces


This is for Hugh’s Weekly Photography Challenge, with this week’s theme being Faces. But not faces where you would expect to find them – rather, faces that appear unexpectedly.

Like this rock.

I found it on a beach in Ireland, on the northwest coast where the Atlantic rolls in and the rocks are filled with fossils. I don’t think him a fossil, unless a pixie decided to leave his smile etched into rock for all eternity, but I did think his wry expression worth capturing.


Thursday Doors and Funny Faces

Back when I was at university, I had to take a short photography course as part of my degree. I wasn’t very good at it, to be honest. I had my grandfather’s old Pentax complete with an awesome selection of lenses (which I still have), but it was quite a large and unwieldy camera to carry around. It did take nice shots, but in the days before digital it took a few rolls of film to get anything decent, and, as a student poor in both time and money, I often had to ‘make do’ with whatever turned up when I was developing the shots. Then the camera broke down halfway through the course and I lost a few weeks while it was being repaired, so overall I was lucky to pass.

One of the assignments we had was to take pictures of anthropomorphic inanimate objects – I particularly remember it as it was about the time my camera broke, so I’d only managed a few shots before I had to take it in for repair. Still, it was an assignment I enjoyed, simply because it was something different. I still like to take those kind of photos now, finding faces where there are none, and this week’s Thursday door fits in with this nicely. As a bonus, here are another couple of shots along a similar theme:


This leaf was smiling up at me as I walked home from school drop-off the other day – I couldn’t resist picking him up to take home.




And this is a rock on an Irish beach – I’ve used this photo several times on other posts.

Finally, here’s my door, for Norm 2.0’s Thursday Doors Challenge. I couldn’t resist taking a photo of it – not only because of the colour, but also the fact that the owner obviously has a sense of humour (and in a posh part of London, too!).


PS I’m back in Ambeth again! I started reading Oak and Mist and that was all it took – I was back in the park and through the Gate before I knew where I was 🙂


Feeling Light


I love the way the light falls at this time of year.

There is a golden richness to it, one that invites you to sit outside for a while with hot tea or cold cider, savouring the last sweetness of summer before the long dark of winter sets in. It feels melancholy to me as well – the bittersweet turning of the year seen in the way that the sun sets earlier each night, sending long furls of colour across the sky.

This may sound like a whole lot of waffle – however, light is something that has always fascinated me. I’ve travelled to quite a few places and each had their own light, caught in the feel of the sky and the way the sun hits the land. The high wide skies of Canada, speedwell blue reaching north. The blinding white hot of a Sydney beach at midday, when to be without sunglasses would render you almost blind. The pearl grey light of the Irish coast, mist from the sea softening the sky. The silver-blue-grey of a Melbourne winter, dark nights and frost on the gum trees. The shimmer of Venice, light reflecting from the water onto ancient pastel palazzos, crumbling into the dreaming lagoon.


I saw the northern lights once. It was in the mountains north of Vancouver, the sky full of stars as there were no man-made lights to obscure their show. I woke in the night to see a slowly expanding starburst of light above me, floating above the dark pine-clad peaks. While it wasn’t the rainbow shimmer of Scandinavia, it was still awe-inspiring to see – one day I hope to go further north and see the curtains of colour ripple across the sky.

I also like the way light behaves at different times of day, and often use it in my descriptions when writing. I think it’s a nice way to convey to the reader what time of day it is, as well as adding mood when necessary. My favourite time of day is sunset, though I do enjoy the early light of dawn as well – there is something about the transition between day and night that I find to be full of potential, stories lying in the shadows between light and dark.



Five Photos, Five Stories Challenge – Day 5 – The Fairy Mountain


At the end of last summer we visited Ireland, staying at a small village on the coast just outside Sligo. I’ve written of this trip before, the fossils on the beach, the beautiful scenery and found objects. Not far from where we were staying was a Fairy Village and, having a small fairy-obsessed girl with us, we decided to go and visit.

It was a gorgeous place, green woodland interspersed with gardens where great care had been taken to create tiny fairy villages, small houses and figures nestling among the plants.  There were animals as well, including a cranky goose who took a dislike to my husband, chasing him and pecking at his jeans as my daughter and I squealed and giggled, no help to him whatsoever. The owner came out eventually and shooed the bird away as we gasped with laughter, all part of the experience.

Then we took a walk up through the woods to emerge on a ridge looking towards a hill. This was a famous fairy mountain, Knocknashee, and the legend goes that, if you stand facing the mountain and make a wish, then close your eyes and turn in a circle, if, when you open your eyes you’re facing the mountain once more, your wish will be granted. So we took turns, standing and making our silent wishes, closing our eyes and turning around, feeling the peace of the landscape. I was the only one who ended up facing the mountain when I opened my eyes, so I suppose my wish will be granted. But I felt, as I stood there in the soft green, the three of us alone in this magical place, that it already had been. That all I could wish for was with me in the circle, complete.


I’ve been nominated by Ali Isaac to take part in the Five Photos Five Stories Challenge – I would like to nominate Louise Taylor – I know you’re busy but if you’d like to take it up at some point in the future, I imagine you’d have some lovely photos to share 🙂

The rules of the Five Photos, Five Stories Challenge are:

1) Post a photo each day for five consecutive days.
2) Attach a story to the photo. It can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, or a short paragraph. It’s entirely up to the individual.
3) Nominate another blogger to carry on the challenge. Your nominee is free to accept or decline the invitation. This is fun, not a command performance!

A Mystery From The Sea


The view from our guesthouse front door.

Last year, at the end of summer we went to Sligo, up in the northwest of Ireland. It was wonderful. We visited a fairy mountain and made a wish, walked through a landscape of stone monuments older than Stonehenge and stayed on the beach at a little hotel behind an ancient pub that served the most fantastic meals.


Ancient cairns.

One day we decided, perhaps in a moment of madness, to walk around the rocks that edged the coastline, leading away from the pebbly beach. It wasn’t too bad, to be honest – even the small girl could manage it, and we were amazed by the fossils visible in the ancient rock layers, as well as the deep clear ocean pools below our feet.


Around the ragged rocks…

We made it, eventually, around to what had once been a harbour and on the rocks of the small ‘beach’ we found this:


It was about 40cm wide…

Isn’t it amazing? If I could, I would have brought it home with me. But it was incredibly heavy, despite the rust. So I took a photo instead. I’ve been meaning to have it made into a canvas – I just love the colours and the way whatever-it-is sits on the stones.

The stones were in it just as you see them – whether deposited by some other hand or the ocean waves I wasn’t sure. The beach was littered with other bits of rusting iron, remnants of a mysterious past. A curving concrete quay jutted out along one side of the little cove but it was tiny – only small boats would have come in here. Perhaps one night there was a wild storm and one of them washed up to break against the rocks, only the heaviest metal bits and pieces remaining to tell the tale.


Ireland – where even the rocks have personality 🙂

So an object found, but left where it lay. Sometimes it’s better that way.