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A Local Gift Guide For The Last Minute Panic Buyer

A Local Gift Guide For The Last Minute Panic Buyer

I have to confess a festive habit of mine: I’m a classic last-minute shopper. I do it every year! I think I’m way ahead of myself, practically giving myself a pat on the back only to realise when I’m wrapping that I’m actually I’m a few people short. Cue a shot of me, sweat lashing off me in a packed store swearing to myself I’ll do better next year.

And here we are, the week before Christmas and I’ve given myself two challenges:

  1. Be organised enough to avoid the Christmas Eve chaos
  2. Shop local

The local high street and small businesses enjoy their busiest time of year at Christmas however in most circumstances they are out-beaten by massive online retailers as convenience is highest on the consumer list. I get it, it’s super easy to just click and order everything on Amazon but it’s the smaller guys who suffer.

We’re spoiled for choice here in Belfast and NI and just in case you’re the last minute shopper like I am, I thought I’d share my favourite local businesses depending on the kind of person you’re shopping for. There’s one for everyone on this list!

FOR YOUR DAD WHO LIKES TO BRING HIS OUTDOORS INSIDE…

Bearded Candle Makers

Michael is a true artist and has cemented himself as one of the finest chandlers in Ireland. His scents tell a story that most of us will identify with (Turf Fire is a firm favourite which no doubt your Dad would love!) and he continues to try new combinations, challenging people to tap in to memories when they take a whiff of his gorgeous candles.

FOR YOUR HUSBAND WHO WEARS A BEANIE ALL WINTER…

Bramble Green

Bramble Green is a family-run business headed by Claire from her home on the North Coast. Their knitwear is handmade by local women and they have pieces for men, women and children – their bonnets are adorable! I’ve been wearing the Donegal Hipster beanie for a few winters now and it’s kept my head toasty on the coldest of days.

FOR YOUR SUPER COOL SISTER WHO YOU WILL ALWAYS IDOLISE…

Lines & Current

A local jewellery brand, Lines & Current was started by Rebekah, quite possibly the coolest woman in Belfast. Her jewellery is simple but stunning and can be worn every day.

FOR YOUR DISORGANISED WORK PAL…

Shared Threads

Shared Threads is a wonderful community of creatives who have been brought together by Kirsty, an incredible local woman who wanted to make a difference to the lives of vulnerable women. Her team make and distribute sanitary products using second hand cotton and towels to lower the environmental impact and to help aid their work, they’ve created a beautiful calendar that you can buy over on their website. This would be a beautiful gift that would help an incredible cause!

FOR YOUR BEST MATE WHO IS READY FOR A MAJOR SHIFT…

Mel Wiggins

Sometimes all it takes is gentle encouragement to make the change we’ve been longing for. Mel Wiggins is a super talented coach from Portadown who I feel blessed to have met through the Assembly community she created a few years ago. I have been a member now for a year and I’ve been able to tap in to ideas and dreams I didn’t realise I had permission to explore. You could buy your pal a membership or a voucher for a course of Mel’s – I guarantee you it would make a life-changing gift.

FOR YOUR ECO-CONSCIOUS COUSIN…

Do Your Bit

Teal has been a huge inspiration for me in trying to make my life as plastic-free as possible (it’s HARD!). Her shop is full of alternatives to plastic products and it would help anyone who is trying to make that change too.

The Homely Haven

Laura Jayne has been another inspiration this year as she’s started her journey in sustainable living. She runs workshops from her home in Co. Armagh that teach others who are trying to rid their home of toxins amongst other creative workshops too – a voucher to one of her workshops would delight anyone who’s keen to learn a new and more intentional way of  living.

FOR YOUR UNCLE THAT IS ALWAYS RECOMMENDING YOU OBSCURE BOOKS…

Books, Paper, Scissors

This is probably my favourite bookshop to explore on a rainy day in Belfast. Located just across the road from the Ulster Museum in Stranmillis, the shop is full of books to satisfy every age and taste including some beautiful stationery too.

Turf & Grain Magazine

Turf & Grain is a beautiful local publication that’s full of stories, poems and stunning photography all told by those from the island of Ireland. An issue would make a beautiful stocking filler and will no doubt be shared by the family.

FOR YOUR MUM WHO LOVES A HAMPER…

Pomegranate & Fig

OK, I know she’s my sister and I may be a bit bias but honestly, have you seen her grazing boards?! Shannon’s boards are a work of art and a voucher would delight anyone who wants to have a board for a family event or just for a cosy night in this winter.

Neary Nogs

Nestled along the Mourne Coast, Neary Nogs is the first bean to chocolate makers that have been cultivating a variety of flavours and combinations over the last few years. I’ve been buying my Granny their drinking chocolate for her midnight cocoa for months and it’s a huge hit!

Indie Füde

In the village of Comber lies a wonderland of local delicacies and treats. The folks at Indie Füde have worked hard to curate an amazing range of food products all sourced from the island of Ireland and that change with the seasons. A perfect spot to gather goods for a festive hamper!

FOR YOUR BROTHER WHO THINKS HE’S MASTERCHEF…

The Edible Flower

Erin & Jo have opened their Co. Down home to food lovers since 2016 and since then their supper clubs have been in huge demand. They also run a variety of workshops from their home too; veggie cooking classes, thai cooking classes and even a home-brewing workshop! A ticket to one of their events would be a perfect gift to for anyone looking to branch out on their culinary skills in 2020.

Enrich & Endure

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Brother/sister duo Lorcan and Sarah started Enrich & Endure with the vision of reviving the local linen industry which had all but disappeared in recent years. Their aprons and tea towels are made right here in NI and are designed to last making them a gift that will be cherished for years to come.

FOR YOUR GRANNY WHO LOVES A GIFT SET…

The Natural Beauty Pot

Shauna started The Natural Beauty Pot when she struggled to find products that didn’t irritate her sensitive skin so she made the brave decision to make her own. As a trained beautician she was well qualified for the task and she now has her own studio in Co. Fermanagh where she creates products using gentle but effective ingredients suitable for everyone.

FOR YOUR GRANDA WHO’S FAVOURITE CHORE IS WATERING HIS PLANTS…

Wild Thing

This little jungle is a haven on the North Down coastline and each visit is such a treat. Karen sells a huge variety of plants as well as sourcing a range of candles, jewellery and homeware. A new plant would brighten up a corner of any home or a voucher would mean they would get to visit the jungle themselves.

FOR YOUR WIFE WHO SMUGGLES IN HOMEWARE LIKE IT’S CONTRABAND…

Studio Souk

This is the place I recommend to visitors to Belfast who want to find something special as a souvenir because all three floors are filled with local treasures. There’s not just tourist gifts sold here, there’s also beautiful art, design and crafts all locally made and each making the gift for anyone proud of their home.

Maven

This shop is a Scandi dream and it’s clear that a lot of thought has gone in to choosing a range that reflects design and purpose. Sisters Catherine and Patricia have sourced stunning pieces that would make perfect stocking fillers or, if you’re after something larger, then there’s gorgeous furniture upstairs too!

BTS Concept

Ah, I love this shop. I can’t help but call in when we’re up around the north coast and I always pick out a gift for an upcoming birthday or celebration (or just for me!). BTS offers a selection of interiors and giftware inspired by the muted tones and natural textures of the coast that draws folks that want to bring the outside in to their home.

FOR YOUR SUPER COOL AUNTIE WHO ALWAYS WEARS THE COOLEST CLOTHES…

Alf & Roe Vintage

Our local girl Cleo Parkinson modelling Alf & Roe and captured by Filly Campbell Photography

Who knew there would be such a treasure trove in the tiny village of Donaghmore?! This wee shop in rural Co. Tyrone has a gorgeous collection of vintage finds that would bring joy to anyone who loves to wear something a little different, a piece of clothing with history.

FOR THE LITTLE ONES IN YOUR LIFE WHO ARE GROWING LIKE WEEDS…

Wu Concept

Possibly the sweetest children’s boutique I’ve been to! Each item has been carefully thought of and encourages individuality and creativity. I always turn to this place when I’m buying for friend’s children and I know I’ll be back when I have my own one day.

Merry Christmas!!

Local Favourites: Newtownards

Local Favourites: Newtownards

After the last big chill of St. Patrick’s weekend, Spring has decided to grace us with her presence here in Ireland – finally! The days are suddenly a wee bit longer, a wee bit warmer and a wee bit sweeter. Maybe we can all stop talking about how freezing that winter was now?!

We had the Monday off after Paddy’s Day and after waking up to snow in Dublin the day before, our expectations were fairly low for weather at home in Belfast. You can imagine my giddy surprise then when I saw actual sun-rays beaming through the curtains the next morning; I could even hear birds singing outside! Andrew wasn’t quite as enthusiastic as I was about the glorious day that stretched ahead of us as he tends to be fairly melodramatic in the mornings. He even purchased a black-out eye mask recently for his delicate peepers and wears ear plugs so the kids next door don’t wake him up – not exactly a morning kind of guy (and a guy who will get a major shock when he becomes a Dad one day).

After he managed to peel himself from the scratcher I immediately told him we were headed for an adventure in the spring sunshine (he is so lucky to have me, I know). I knew he wouldn’t have wanted to head too far but lucky for us there are tonnes of pretty spots within quick driving distance of Belfast.

I chose to heads towards Newtownards which is about 15 minutes from Belfast and sits at the very northern tip of Strangford Lough. It’s a town I’ve enjoyed getting to know a little more and the area around it is full of places to explore, some of which are fairly unknown to those living in the city up the road.

I’ve listed a few of my favourite locations in the area for food, photography and views to help entice you towards the Lough. It’s definitely a place worth venturing to now the brighter days are among us, even just to catch a glimpse of an Irish golden sunset melting in to the Mourne mountains on the other side of the water.

Scrabo Tower

The tower is an imposing presence above Newtownards and can be seen from pretty much everywhere in the North Down area. This means that there are killer views the lough and on a good day you can even spy Scotland in the distance if you squint hard enough!

The hill is a bit of a steep climb so your thighs won’t thank you but you can rest them at one of the picnic stops on the way. You can actually wander inside the tower during the summer months to learn a bit more about it’s history too but mostly I like to admire it from outside where the wind isn’t blowing and the sun is shining.

Mahee Island

About a 5 minute drive outside of Newtownards lies Mahee Island, an island connected to the mainland by a tiny wee road that seems to lead to hundreds of wee islands. There is something very secretive about these islands, most of them are privately owned so you can’t be too nosy but Mahee Island itself is welcome to tourists and is perfect for getting to know a completely different side of Co. Down.

There are castle ruins to explore, empty beaches to stroll on and clear blue waters to canoe your way through to get a better view of all the islands. There’s even a wetland centre too which showcases the huge variety of wildlife in the area too. It’s definitely a hidden gem on the banks of the Lough and a perfect place to take the bikes out to if we’re ever blessed with a good day.

Haptik

Do you know those cafés you visit for the first time that make you think to yourself: I would love to run a place like this? Well Haptik is one of those places. We ate there for the first time recently and as soon as we walked in I knew I would be back many times.

The industrial décor was right up my street (anyone who follows me on Instagram will see this in my stories!) but the food was what impressed us most. The menu had an Australian brunch feel to it with Andrew practically licking the smashed avocado off his plate. Johnny (who runs the place along with his wife) was super friendly and told us they do monthly supper clubs too so I’m now following them on Facebook to make sure I can book on to the next one!

The best surprise of all though was upstairs where they have an ongoing art exhibition and amazing children’s shop call Wu Concept. It’s the perfect place to pick up a gift for a wee one or just to go and feel extremely broody (which was what I did).

Mount Stewart

Mount Stewart is a National Trust favourite and a popular summer destination epecially among families. The gardens come to life in the warmer months with a lake to stroll around away from the crowds.

The house is now open for tours too if you’re feeling particularly aristocratic with events running throughout the year too. I tend to visit the house in the late afternoon because it has the perfect sunset view over the water which is always the perfect way to end a day of adventure.

Surviving February: 6 Actions to Take When You’re Ready to Make a Change

Surviving February: 6 Actions to Take When You’re Ready to Make a Change

Hello friends. It’s been two weeks too long since I’ve visited this wee corner of my life and while it wasn’t something I had intended on doing, it just felt right to ease myself in to 2018 rather than going in guns blazing. I feel like January is the month for ideas but February is the month to start actioning them. January is a time to give our dreams the wiggle room to grow, to ruminate on those thoughts that have been niggling in the back of our minds, slowly pushing to the forefront so we can give them our full attention. It’s a time for reflection, reflecting on where we are and where we want to be. Mostly, it’s a time to spend dark evenings curled up by the fire with empty pages spread out before us to capture all the wild and messy daydreams that tumble from our sleepy brains. Those blank spaces can provide us with more energy during the winter months than any fire can.

Most of our fantasies may be fantastical in the darkness of winter, most may never see the light of Spring but there might be just one that could slip through the cracks. One good idea is enough to eclipse all others and while it might take a little longer to see the idea become more than just that, there is nothing quite like the feeling of that lightbulb moment. So while I might have been a little absent on the blog, that doesn’t mean I haven’t been thinking about the words I write here and the content that I share. I’ve been mulling and mulling about where I would like to see this space go, how I can push myself further creatively and go beyond writing as a hobby. The winter nights are for nothing but for imagining a fresh start in the Spring, am I right?

Now that we’re in February we would be forgiven for thinking that Spring is on our doorstep but sometimes the shortest month can feel like the longest. What’s good is that we still have time to plan ahead and start making sense of the scattering of possibilities that have been swimming in our head all winter. There is still a whole month of stillness left before Spring arrives and our bodies bend towards the sun and in to distraction. So I’m telling you to utilise these last dark hours and use the opportunity to focus on what you truly want for the rest of your year because you’re capable of anything and now is the moment to push yourself further.

Is there an idea that you have been secretly coveting? Do you get butterflies when you think about it but quickly convince yourself that it’s not possible before getting too carried away? Let February be the month of shutting the fearful voices out and embracing the butterflies. Let it be the month for ACTION. The best ideas are those that make you feel sick to your stomach and if it’s all you can think about then the scariest possibility would be to deny yourself the chance to step in to the light of a new opportunity.

Of course this is all easier said than done and it you would be perfectly understood for crawling under the covers until the bluebells start showing their wee heads but you would only be doing your dreams a disservice. Choose to surround yourself with positive reinforcements that will only encourage you further. In case you’re in need of a little inspiration, I’ve listed some of the actions I take when I need help in making a step towards a change. Right now I have a notebook of scribbles that might turn in to something and that in itself is pretty exciting. Let’s go February.

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6 Actions To Take When You’re Read to Make a Change

Listen

Podcasts are all the rage right now of course and one that I keep going back to for guidance when I need it most is Hashtag Authentic by Sara Tasker. It’s a podcast mainly aimed at creatives but there is a huge range of topics that are incredibly useful depending on where you feel you need the most direction. Another great one is Magic Lessons with Elizabeth Gilbert (she of Eat, Pray, Love fame) which is a friggin’ joy to listen to in a bath on a winter’s night. I find myself just roaring out in unison with Elizabeth and her guests and feel ready to take on the world after an episode. Right after I dry my hair and moisturise of course.

Watch

‘In to the Wild’ is a movie I re-watch during the moments when I’m in need of a good kick up the ass. It never fails to bring a bit more perspective to any tough choice I’m currently having to make. Also the soundtrack is off the charts (Eddie Vedder you absolute LEGEND).

Read

There are enough motivational books out there to shake an insecure stick at but you don’t always have to stroll to the self-help aisle in order to feel inspired. One of my favourite books that I can rely on for some self-reflection is Walden by Henry Thoreau which I first read while I was in Africa for the first time. It was the reason why I fell in love with the natural world (second was David Attenborough) but mostly it engrained in me a sense that we have more power over our choices in life than we give ourselves credit for, one of the most important lessons I’ve ever learned. If you’ve already read Walden then anything written by Brené Brown is sheer inspirational gold dust. The woman is a motivational wizard. 

Do

While February can still invoke the temptation to hibernate and stay under the covers, the ever-so-slightly brighter mornings and evenings are the perfect encouragement to brave the fresh air and start wakening yourself up again. At some point this month try and take yourself on one of your favourite walks alone, preferably somewhere that’s close to any water source be it a river, lake, sea or puddle (NB: puddles may not encourage that much inspiration). Leave the headphones behind so you’re not creating a barrier between yourself and the world around you. Walk at your own pace, listen out for new sounds that you would normally ignore and look for signs of Spring. While focusing on your surroundings you’ll be surprised at the amount of new ideas that will pop in to your head and those moments of clarity will embolden you further when making decisions that might have seemed scarier while sitting at home.

Write/Draw

Some people are good with their words and others need the visuals in order to map out their plans. I’m a bit of both so when it comes to the blog, I have a notebook full of potential blog posts, ideal locations for photos, people who I would love to interview. These notes could be a list broken down in to categories (just call me Monica Gellar) and others are mapped as a brain storm with offshoots when my head is buzzing with too many thoughts that I need to see the bigger picture. These notes can sometimes be a load of nonsense but it is such a good feeling to see my ideas streaming from my pen and trying to put them all together.

Attend

If you’re planning on making a leap or big decision then you need all the encouragement you can get from peers who have made the jump before you. Networking is a Generation Z term that has been beaten to death but making connections with people who are in your field or are related to the choice you’re about to making is more rewarding than any other action I’ve listed above. Finding your tribe (that’s right, I said it) can be tricky but there are resources out there to help you find it. I’ve found Instagram to be a huge source of inspiration and I have created friendships (both online and offline) that have helped made this blog what it is. It’s how I found out about the Assembly Gatherings, a seasonal event run by Mel Wiggins that acts as a haven for creative women seeking inspiration. It’s where I found my tribe (said it again) and it’s an environment in which I can connect with like-minded women, bounce ideas off them and bask in encouraging words. By immersing ourselves in knowledge through gatherings, workshops or classes we are dipping our toes further in to our own potential. Want to start a blog? Connect with other bloggers. Want to start your own business? Search for similar local small businesses and find out how they did it. Allow yourself to be guided by those who you believe are on the path you want to be on and get climbing.

What Not To Worry About #37

What Not To Worry About #37

Happy Tuesday friends, the last Tuesday in September… How did this happen?! Despite writing this from a hospital bed, I am feeling more invigorated than ever after a weekend full of creativity and inspiration. It is truly amazing how things land in our lap in abundance when we need it most and what I needed more than ever was to feel inspired in this little moment of vulnerability.

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I was admitted to hospital on Wednesday evening and although it’s never a nice experience being hooked up to an IV drip or to sleep on a squeaky plastic mattress, it has been a restorative week and I am feeling more like myself again. Thankfully I am not chained to the bed and I’m allowed to ‘escape’ for a few hours during the day to inhale real fresh air (man, hospital air can drain the very moisture from your bones) which has saved me from going a bit mad.

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And so I took myself off on Friday evening to the streets of Belfast and decided to explore everything Culture Night had to offer. For those of you who maybe aren’t local to the city, Culture Night is a one-night-only event that happens every September and sees Belfast come to life with over 250 free events taking place in venues scattered across the city. The organisers were expecting up to 100,000 people to attend this year and I think they might have been about right as I squidged myself between hoards of people carrying maps in their hands, hunting down the next event they wanted to get to.

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The night was a real success and walking through the streets reminded me of the reasons why I love Belfast. It is a city that is at it’s best when celebrating diversity and rejoicing in the unique. Over the space of a few hours I roamed from a cathedral hosting a youth jazz orchestra to watching a swing dance competition, to listening to psychedelic rock in a hairdressers bathed in red light, to an Afro-Caribbean festival, to a drag queen street concert.

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I went on my own as a last minute decision which was possibly the best way to experience the night since I could wiggle my way between the crowds and pick and choose what I wanted to see while stumbling upon events I had no idea were happening. It was a fantastic night and could possibly be the most positive and happy event the city has each year.

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Keeping in tune with my new love affair with Belfast, I visited the Tesco Taste Festival at Custom House Square with my cousins on Saturday. A love of food is in our genes and we fully encouraged one another to eat as many samples as we could fit in our bellies – not an ounce of shame between us! The scale of the festival was a real surprise, I hadn’t expected such variety and there were Michelin chefs cooking for an audience live – not something you see every day!

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And then Sunday happened, a cherry on the top of a weekend that made my soul happy. Emma who writes the Life at Littlewood blog (beautiful writer – go read her work!) had organised an event for other bloggers called the ‘Country Blog Retreat’ which was aimed at bringing a group of creatives together who are perhaps needing a little inspiration with their blog or in any part of their lives. We can all struggle with believing that our voice has the right to be heard and the event was full of like-minded people who had this common desire to create something of meaning to themselves.

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As we found our seats (and practiced some self-control with the gift bags) there was a collective murmur that descended within the room. People began exchanging advice on where they were at with their Instagram account, how they were struggling with photography, how disillusioned they sometimes felt with writing blog posts and whether they should be writing at all. There was an immediate atmosphere of support and it felt like a community had just been created within that room that only strengthened as the afternoon wore on.

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The knowledge the speakers had was invaluable and I know that it definitely shook me out of the ‘creative coma’ I’ve been feeling for a number of months. I had been struggling massively with writing good content and feeling a little adrift in terms of what I wanted to be writing about so when Mel Wiggins spoke about writing for ourselves, writing content that we would want to read, it felt like a switch went off in my head!

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So here I am, feeling rested, inspired, invigorated and ready to write more than ever. As well as that I have a few more worries that I will be leaving behind this week. Here they are:

Knowing how to cool down a cup of tea – I am one of those people that leaves their tea for a few minutes so it’s just warm and then I drink it all in one go. The danger in this is that I often forget I have the tea to drink and when I go to drink it I’ve left it too long and it’s like dishwater – the horror! I recently read this article about lessons readers had learned and I found that adding 2 ice cubes is perfect for cooling down tea quickly – who would’ve thunk it?! Read the article for more ingenious insights and lessons.

On having regrets – We all have them don’t we? One of my biggest regrets is missing all those lectures in University because I would give anything to immerse myself in knowledge like that again. The lesson is to learn from these regrets and here are some amazing women who have their own thoughts on how to do that.

Attractive physiotherapists – I had a not-too-shabby physiotherapist pop in to my hospital room on Sunday to perform some physio on my chest which would have involved him actually laying hands on my chest. Eh, don’t think so pal! I kindly told him to come back in a while and then promptly did my own physio to avoid any embarrassment and humiliation. Crisis averted.

Having a purpose – turning 29 has made me very contemplative and wondering where I fit in the grand scheme of things. I think this is fairly normal the older we get and it’s nice to know I am not alone in this. I’ll probably write something of my own regarding this communal symptom of age but for now, read this if you fancy delving in to something uplifting.

Hospital food – Because no one wants to have to slice their mashed potato like it’s a cake.

 

Have a great week folks! 

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Local Favourites: Armagh

Local Favourites: Armagh

It’s fair to say we aren’t known for our gratitude here in Ireland. We’re surrounded by towns and and villages so full of charm but the majority of us rarely appreciate them since it’s what we’ve either grown up with or used to. Cobbled streets and buildings older than Australia are just on our doorstep, so why not shine a light on them? That’s why I’ve started this new Local Favourites series to try an encourage a little love for these gems in our own backyard.

I may live in Belfast but I’m an Armagh girl born and bred so I’ve chosen my fair Cathedral City as the first in this new series. Although the town is technically a city, the population is only around 15,000 so it’s only wee. There was definitely a small-town vibe growing up here; I knew most people when I walked through the streets and I always felt incredibly safe even when I was a teenager running amok. Nowadays I feel a little more like an outsider after living away for so long but I think this gives me a fresh perspective and allows me to see the beauty of the town I grew up in.

Here are a few things I love most about my hometown…

Architecture

Armagh is built on seven hills which can be hard on the old thighs but can give you wonderful views across the city and it’s countryside. The most notable buildings are of course the two cathedrals which dominate the Armagh skyline like two aul men. Both cathedrals are named after St. Patrick (he was a popular man in these parts) however the older cathedral belongs to the Church of Ireland denomination and the younger is Roman Catholic. I adore both of these buildings for different reasons. The older dates back to 445 AD and has withstood monumental changes in Irish history – it even has a High King of Ireland buried in it’s grounds! The younger cathedral dates back to the 19th century and is also special because my own family history is tied to it. My parents were married here, I was christened here, made my first Communion and Confirmation here and I said goodbye to my sister all in the same colossal space. It’s gothic walls contain so many local memories within them and the intricate ceilings have my jaw hanging open every time.

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St. Patrick’s Cathdedral (The Older)

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St. Patrick’s Cathedral (The Younger)

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Armagh is also know for it’s Georgian architecture which can be best found around The Mall. The Mall is a public space with the Gaol on one end and the Court House on the other. Alongside it there are some beautiful Georgian houses as well as the Armagh County Museum – the oldest county museum in Ireland! Another example of some Georgian architecture is the local library found on Market Street where you can pick up a few spuds, a carpet and a bunch of flowers if the mood takes you.

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Georgian House by The Mall – swish!

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The Library on Market Street – a great place to people watch!

The Palace Demesne is another great place to explore especially during Autumn. The grounds are lined with trees that turn the most amazing colours around October and behind the palace itself are some gardens that many locals don’t even know about. By the gates of the Palace you can find ruins of a Franciscan friary which is a great place to take some snaps before nipping to Friar Tuck’s across the road (it’s a fast food joint so don’t get your hopes up).

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The Palace from the Palace Gardens

History

Armagh was named after the ancient goddess Macha (the Gaelic translation of Armagh is “Ard Mhacha” or “Macha’s Height”) who appears in a few different Irish myths. My favourite story of Macha is when she appears as a wife to Cruinniuc who boasted at a chariot race that she could run faster than even the King’s own horses. She begged him not to but she was forced to run despite her carrying twins. She won the race and gave birth on the finish line to Fir and Fial which means ‘True’ and ‘Honest’. She then cursed the men of Ulster to suffer her labour pains in the hour of their greatest need. What a woman!

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Armagh was also once the ancient capital of Ireland and you can actually witness a little piece of that history by visiting the Navan Fort, a ceremonial monument that was a royal site in Pre-Christian Ireland. There is a visitor centre here that has lots of information on the importance of this site and you can climb to the top and imagine yourself as a Gaelic warrior looking out over your lands. Or you can just take a wee photo for Instagram.

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Me pretending to be an Irish warrior

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View from the Navan Fort

Food

For breakfast you can’t beat a bagel and Armagh has the infamous Bagel Bean to ensure you start the day off well. There are now two Bagel Bean’s in Armagh on Market Street and English Street in case you needed a choice but most importantly the bagel you have to choose is the BC because it is AMAZING! They do some pretty tasty smoothies too in case you need to wash it down with something nutritious.

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There are more and more wee lunch spots popping up around Armagh including the Craic’d Pot which is an absolute gem. It’s not like anything else in town and to top it all off it moonlights as a wine bar at night – hurrah! Other great places include Embers and Rumours that both serve hot food that will warm your tummy in the chilly weather. Mulberry is another wee gem that has great views of the Catholic cathedral and does a great brunch too.

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If you find yourself in Armagh to catch a play or concert at the Market Place Theatre you will surely need to refuel beforehand. For a good steak then the Aussie restaurant Uluru won’t disappoint or The Castle Tower both a stone’s throw from the theatre for the wino’s amongst you.

If you are a hallion like me and might still have room for something sweet after a day of eating then please head to Macari’s for ice cream. The place is an institution in Armagh and I will forever have space for a tub of vanilla ice cream topped with melted marshmallow (insert pig emoji here).

Craic

Armagh is not short of pubs although there are a few that I would recommend more than some. Red Ned’s is an establishment that is a regular for many in town. It’s argued they serve the best pint of Guinness in Armagh and they have regular folk and traditional music in the corner to keep the spirits up.

The Hole in the Wall is another classic and has been voted Pub of the Year on numerous occasions. The pub is set in an old jail that dates back to 1615, hence the bars on the windows, and is steeped in history. The pub is said to be haunted but what should give you more of a fright is the pub’s pet parrot, Casper, who will scare the bejaysus out of you when you come through the door!

Countryside

The beauty of a small town is that you don’t have to travel too far to be surrounded by fields and silence. There are a few beautiful locations so close to town where you can shower the head and see the county countryside at it’s best. Since Armagh is the Orchard County of Ireland, I have to recommend a visit during the apple blossom season in May when the county’s roadsides turn different shades of pink. Come again in September when the apples are ready for pickin’ and you get some of the best weather of the year.

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Some other great spaces are Gosford Forest Park or The Argory which is pictured below – no matter how many times I was dragged to this place for school trips I still love it.

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Well that’s Armagh in a nutshell. If you haven’t had a dander around the streets of saints and scholars yet then I hope this post might give you a bit of encouragement to get in the car and make the trip. It will be well worth it I promise 🙂