First Bonded Whiskey warehouse on Clare Farm

The lost art of whiskey bonding has been restored to Ireland once again after being neglected for almost a century.  Clare-born Louise McGuane returned to the family farm after an international career in the drinks industry to set up a new bonded whiskey warehouse on the farm, on a site nestled between the Shannon Estuary and the Atlantic. This unique micro climate will be used to create a very special flavour of whiskey – the first bottles of which will be available in five years’ time. Louise has come full circle. She remembers growing up when the local creamery was still operational. ‘We bought the bulk milk tank down to the creamery using the tractor very day. I even remember the pails before that,’ she says. ‘Naturally, those are in the past but the community has retained its rural bearing.’ Now she is reviving another ancient tradition of bonding that had all but died out in Ireland. ‘Back in the last century many local grocers or pubs would also be bonded agents and blend or mature their own brands of whiskey. They bought the plain spirit off a main distiller and then matured it in casks for a number of […]

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Snail Success in Ireland

Eva Milka came to Ireland by accident in the middle of a tourism degree in her native Poland when her then boyfriend suggested she join him in a job interview for the newly opened Lyrath hotel in Kilkenny.  She got the job while he did not, and so she cast aside her degree to work in Ireland much to her parent’s disappointment. ‘It just felt it was the right thing to do,’ says Eva. ‘ We moved over and settled into Ireland but the one delicacy we could not find was escargot snails – so we set up a mini breeding farm using plastic containers in our one bedroom apartment in Kilkenny.’ The love of snails only grew and now Eva is looking for other pioneering spirits to join her in the growing snail business. ‘Four years ago my partner and I decided to look at farming snails professionally,’ says Eva. ‘We took one year to conduct research and development, the second to set up our infrastructure and for the last two years we have streamlined snail production, found distributors and are now looking at value added products through a processing plant in Greece.’ ‘There are no facilities to do […]

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Sometimes a Farmer needs a nurse

First ran in Farm Ireland on June 5, 2017 Four years ago, the HSE in conjunction with the Irish Heart Foundation (IHF) ran a pilot to provide a free heart health check for farmers in their shared place of work, the Mart. The pilot was initially met with some resistance and suspicion according to Marese Damery, health check manager with the IHF. ‘Farmers were reluctant to agree to appointments,’ she said. ‘Some were in fear of what it might cost, although we explained it was free, and others were in fear of what they might discover medically.’ The IHF is a charity and is 93% funded through public donations. The remainder comes in the way of government funds of which the HSE is partially responsible. Most years the charity screens in excess of 15,000 people across the country in communities, institutions and corporates. There is a panel of 26 nurses sourced from across the country and one mobile unit recently purchased to travel to more remote areas. ‘The idea of checking farmers in marts was genius,’ says Marese. ‘It made sense to reach out to more isolated members of society, especially as recent census figures shows the growing number of […]

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Young Farmer spends his Communion Money on a Belted Galloway

This article first ran in Farm Ireland on May 1, 2017 Ewan Hannay is ten years of age. A bright talkative child he meets your eyes confidently and answers questions in a direct manner. Last April his parents held a party for his First Communion and he collected rather a lot of money in presents. When asked just how much, he answers ‘loads’ while his mother Linda tells me it was almost €900. Most children faced with such loot might consider buying the latest X Box or games console. Indeed Ewan tells me his friend Cormac used his money to buy a Samsung tablet. However, Ewan had different plans. His tells me his father is Scottish and that he is named after Ewan McGregor but Ewan had his eye on another Scottish celebrity – this time a Belted Galloway Ewan lives next to his uncle’s farm in Moneyteigue, near Aughrim in county Wicklow. Ever since he could talk he has said he wants to be a farmer – as well as a construction worker, a driver of a lorry and a horse rider. Basically all the careers followed by his uncle Tom. As soon as Ewan could walk he has […]

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Wear your Pants at all times!

First published in the Irish Independent on March 31 Earlier this month I attended a theatrical performance in the Courthouse Art Centre in Tinahely in County Wicklow. There were two short monologues, both performed by Cora Fenton, co founder of Call Back Theatre. The second piece was called Bonfire Night. It was narrated by a middle aged woman with a history of disappointments and left to care for her elderly father. It was bonfire night and she was heading out. Oh, and she had a gun. The monologue riffed backwards and forwards through her life but always seemed to come back to the gun. It was very much Chekhov’s gun and we all knew it was going to be used. However, when the moment came it was totally unexpected and the audience reacted with a collective intake of breath. The Courthouse is a tiny centre and sadly, due to clash with another drama festival in Wicklow, there were only ten people in the entire audience. So as to show solidarity with the actor I insisted to my friend and fellow writer that we sit in the front row. We were two feet from the actor. That level of intimacy is […]

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Theresa finds handholding can turn to hand-wringing

First printed in the Irish Independent on Feb 6, 2017 The last time I had a special relationship with another person we did, I confess, hold hands. It is what special friends do to show their affection and is moreover tolerated in public, even by puritanical bystanders.I recall vividly that the hands were not small; they were warm and friendly, closing over my fingers in a comfortable fashion. And that is why I watched with some small horror the scenes between Theresa May and Donald Trump, arguably the two great leaders of the free and English-speaking world. It was a first press conference and their smiles were wide for each other, both giving the open-mouthed braying hahahas of leaders in debate. She, smiling coyly over at Mr Trump as she answered for both, dismissing the gaps that lay between them and focusing on the ties that bind. Mr Trump on his part swirled his flat-topped Barnet Fair like a small boy in a shop. Looking this way and that and waiting to be offered his choice of confectionery. Smile, smile, smile – the hallmarks of a special relationship. But it did not end there. Later as they walked, another visual […]

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We are in danger of sliding into a modern version of history that looks all too familiar

First published in the Irish Independent on 23 December, 2016 George Santayana, the Spanish philosopher, is credited with the sage observation that those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Sound advice, to which I would add a codicil – those who write the history dictate the repetition and in that case, are we actually repeating what happened, or inventing a past to repeat? I have been boring my friends and anyone who cares to listen for the past five years or so that we are sliding into a new history that looks very much like the old one. I have said it on live radio, in live pubs and at live dinner party conversations. I am like a parrot at this stage. Now I see it on Facebook, arguably the caretaker of trends, where people quote historic lessons and provide modern parallels. The rise of the Third Reich is no longer a chapter confined to a history book; it is now a series of videos on social media where people are tracing clear and obvious parallels between Hitler’s monster rallies and Donald Trump’s election rallies. Where the Star of David may have isolated a minority […]

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Always be careful to whom you choose to spill your fantasies

Troubled times beget troubled minds. Where once we might have crossed the entrance of our nearest church to ease our worries, now we seek solace in a range of diverse disciplines, from extreme politics to psychedelic culture to new world thinking and personal development. But I have learnt that learning without humour is often lost or put into a drawer that remains unopened. Last year, I attended a one-day boot camp with my daughter. It was a powerful day of new thinking and reorientation but one moment stands out. We were doing an exercise on self-talking. We were tasked with pretending to talk with someone that we loved. We were told to silently tell them how much we loved them and how amazing they were. Once completed, we were then told to reverse roles – ie, to have our loved one tell us the same happy thoughts back. At that stage my daughter started to giggle. She had slightly misunderstood the instructions. The loved one that she had been silently chatting to was in fact her horse. My daughter shrugged her shoulders for she wasn’t sure her horse loved her as much as she loved him. I will never forget […]

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Will the Big Boys please stand up!

‘Power of one’ can make a difference, so think what big business could do on climate change First published in the Irish Independent 19/10/2016 I read a beautiful piece of writing yesterday. It was by the American author Clarissa Pinkola Estés. She wrote a celebrated and exotically titled book called ‘Women Who Run With the Wolves’. I bought it in Australia many years ago but read only the opening chapter. When I lost my house I gave that book away. It is a shame because I think I might now based on the piece I read yesterday. Estés wrote a short essay called ‘We Were Made for These Times’. Contrary to our fears, she argues we were made for today and triangulated a beautiful conceit in which we were meant to let our souls shine, that others would join in and like an army of glow worms we would spread out as a protective blanket over the worn old world. Each glow worm would attract and light the next worm in an exploding sea of beauty and enlightenment. In her essay, she argued we could become a flotilla that grew one by one. “Struggling souls catch light from other souls […]

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I have embraced my inner clutter goddess after finding a home

First published in the Irish Independent 09/10/2016   I am now the proud possessor of a hammer. A proper hammer, and I have used it a goodly number of times. About 20 times so far. To hang pictures. On the walls of the house where I rent. A little over a month ago, I did not have walls to rent. I had exited my old house, rented for the past 10 years, where I had lived with my two daughters and our animals. I had exited our house as the lease had been terminated. There was no trouble, just the owner wanted her house back. I searched Wicklow high and low for alternative rental accommodation but nothing was to hand. As the months rushed together, I found myself getting more and more frantic. I looked at caravans, thinking I might buy one at the end of the summer. But like time shares, caravans should never be bought in warm months. Fortunately, the ones I viewed were so shabby as to be unattractive even in the heat, which was one positive consequence of a modest budget. I planted my daughters in a cottage, found at the eleventh hour. A friend offered […]

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