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Diversification and all

“Quiet farmer” turned chatty canoe adventure leader, Sean Thornton, has a farm bordering Lough Oughter in the “Southern” part of MAC Geopark. When a large part of his lands became designated as sites of special interest (SSI) a few years ago, his farming practices were restricted. Supported by Government initiatives, he opted to diversify by engaging with the sport and leisure industry.

paddling the erne waterway lough oughter
Carratraw Canoe Centre offers kayaking and canoeing courses, bespoke canoe journeys and straightforward canoe hire. Find them on facebook.

In a generous “Irish Morning” that might extend into the p.m, Sean can guide you through this watery maze around iron age crannogs towards twin megalithic tombs, that is if you are up for some real paddling. Fluffy willows provide shelter from surprise showers and you may be observed by diverse pairs of wild eyes; as you paddle gently through the dark waters.  Read more about the area in which the tombs are to be found here.

wild eyes
Biodiversity enthusiast Heather is at hand to answer any questions about the wildlife and her super-potent binoculars can  spot the Great Crested Grebe from the beyond.

Out to a land of childhood imagination in a homebuilt Cott

With her brother,  the child Bridget (McGuire) who was born on Galloon Island  rowed to the far distant shores of her imagination, home to pine martens and woodcock. To her this was “The Wildwood”  from Wind in the Willows.

We wanted to visit this magic land and set off in Jonty’s  homemade Cott  to set foot on Bridget’s childhood lands.

Where was your ” Wild wood” of the imagination?

Galivanting on Galloon *audio*

Galloon with Bridget
We are scheduled to meet Bridget McGuire on the Bridge to Galloon Island. It is an appropriate place to meet her, as she is to become our bridge to another time and our guide to her childhood home place, the figure-eight-shaped Galloon Island.

We all three load into the front seat of the van together and begin driving down the road, literally down memory lane. We’ve not gone far before Bridget asks us to stop in front of a gate which leads to the old home of her childhood school teacher. It is a traditional wattle and mud Irish cottage, now partially caved in and overgrown with ivy and fruit trees and inhabited by a herd of cows and a surly bull with a ring in his nose. “Someone must have let the fire go out” Bridget observes and we learn from her why keeping a fire burning in these traditional houses is so essential in this wet climate: the warmth from the fire prevents the walls from absorbing the damp and collapsing.  Her eloquent descriptions and the nuances of her voice describing her sensorially rich memories of this place transport us to a different time.

She recounts the satisfaction of successfully stealing apples in the fall from her teacher (who at times asked her pupils to cut their own whipping switch from a tree outside the school house). And she describes a poignant moment with her father while passing the house during a visit to the island. Press the play button below to hear her story.

Through Bridget’s map of childhood memories and stories, we begin to discover a now somewhat invisible network of people, places and things on Galloon island infused with a potent sense of home. From the local roadside well, their family’s source of drinking water now buried unseen in a roadside hedge, to the “Secret Place” known only to her and her brother, Bridget’s tour of the island reminds us that where ever we go, there are many layers of memories, experiences, hopes and dreams all contained subtly in the place.

As we drive by a hedge we wonder, what secrets does it hold, what dreams of the past?

Dreamers’ Breakfast

We dreampt up this breakfast at the Derryvore jetty: stewed gooseberries, pears, granola and soya custard – YUM!

Meeting the Artists of Crom

An evening of networking and good craic with members of Outand Arts. Thanks to Diane Henshaw (Fermanagh Arts Officer) for connecting us with such wonderful people. Outland Arts is an artist-led organisation based at the Crom Estate on Lough Erne, Fermanagh, N. Ireland.

Wild Swimming

I am  so enjoying exploring the underwater domains of loughs and rivers and sea. The sweet peaty orange inland waters  of  higher Loch Erne are really different from the crystal cold waters of the Eire’s Donegal Bay….

And we just can’t wait to get out onto the water for an adventure in the Canadian Canoe that has been offered us by a supporter. Just what we dreamed.

Retreat into Place

retreat into place blog

Things are going really well for us at the mo.

We’re camping for free and it is really liberating. We have everything we need here in these upland camp spots and lakeside marinas. Sometimes it’s quite wild, i.e…. no loo and sometimes no spigot. When we are “tapless” we get to use our posh water filter bottles.

There is always birdsong and tranquility and lots to learn.

As an incubator of ideas, our van has become a Dream Hatchery. Sheltered from the elements we project our visions onto the fuzzy ceiling of the van and chew over our visions of an expanded biodiversity that includes dreams and visions.

Dreams and visions are part of the natural ecology of place.

Like other wild things ideas seem to be fugitive, in stillness they emerge from dappled camouflage into view.

When we are not seeking or searching, or look the other way, people places and things seem to approach us. This is the phenomena we are investigating.

A “Wren’s Nest” atop Knockninny Hill

Susan Hughes playing "Nest of the Wren" Atop Knockninny Hill

musician and artist, Susan Hughes, plays "Wren's Nest" Atop Knockninny Hill

The Wren has become a protagonist in the DREAMING PLACE project and we are eager to learn more about it. If you know anything about the wren in general or in folklore, please post in the comment section below. More on the wren in upcoming posts.

In the meantime, enjoy this audio blog of an impromptu performance by Susan Hughes of “The Wren’s Nest”, a contemporary Irish folk tune.

Click the play button below.

Mummers Midsummer Meeting

The White Horse, Mummers and Straw Boys bearing torches file up to the top of Knockninny Hill, where the midsummer festivities will take place. It is 11 pm and a beautiful evening with the light of the day stretching late into the night……

After hiking up Knockniny hill with a lovely sun setting to the west, we gather ’round a roaring bonfire as event organizer, Jim Ledwith calls out instructions to the straw boys and mummer volunteers wearing costumes this year. It is an ancient tradition that has been revived here on Knockninny Hill crowned by a Bronze Age cairn and atop a prehistoric cave. Plaited rings of straw are thrown onto the fire in honor of the sun and handfuls of seed scattered over the flames to invoke new life, fertility and bounty. Bread is held over the fire by the Wren, a young girl dressed in a brown fringed costume and then distributed as the strawboys jump the flames of the bonfire. Young women are warned…..touch the white horse (a symbol of fertility) and……wait for the baby to pop out! Learn more about the Aughakillymaude Community Mummers here.

Disrupted landscapes are fertile places

Conservationists often look to stablilize an environment, however sometimes dynamic change is desirable.  An eroding rockface streaming with water below Cuilcagh Mountain summit plateau is home to a very rare  inhabitant.

Saxifraga Stellaris  (Starry Saxifradge) is a tenacious inhabitant of these border  lands. As an arctic relic species it has endured here on the mountain since the end of the last ice age.

This Arctic Alpine plant thrives  in a  narrow horizontal band of cool dampness and beautifully disrupted soils. Small rockfalls and  a light flow of water off the cliffs  provide everything it needs. If its present habitat becomes too warm it will try to go further up the mountain… but further upwards it will be too near the drier summit plateau and would not survive.

How long will it endure?

Botanical forray on Cuilcagh Mountain

Robert and Anna below the Cliffs

Robert and Anna looking for the Beech Fern

Chance encounters are a most precious gift and good as gold for our project. As we prepare to set out for a hike up Cuilcagh Mountain we meet botanical enthusiasts Robert and Hannah also on their way up the mountain. They are in search of three rare plants to photograph for a book about the plants of Fermanagh that they are working on, set to be published this fall. They graciously allow us to tag along on their mission and generously share their wealth of botanical knowledge with us along the way.

Hannah and Claire

Hannah photographing the Starry Saxifrage with windbreak help from Claire


Good Food Good Sleep

Hot Camp Breakfast

Good food, good sleep and good company are essential for a successful project!

**Today, on Jun 19th, I (Claire) am living it up and eating chips out on the lovely sunny patio at the Knockninny Country House (near where we camped last night)  in honor of my husband Chris Coté and our wedding day, one year ago. Here’s to us on our first anniversary – a wonderful first year of marriage with  many more to come!

Blogging place

blogging place

Our latest country blog place is Knockninny Country Hotel bar/cafe. It is so convivial our day has altered course and we are catching up on our blogging and diaries. If I tell you that they have quilted loo roll and a private jetty you will get the picture. There was a wedding here last night.

Site of Special Interest (SSI) at MAC Geopark

Campmaking on the Marlebank scenic loop We slept two nights this week in the van at Killykeegan Nature Reserve carpark. It was very nice and easily our best campspot so far. Along with McGrath cottage next door, it belongs to DOENI (Department of the environment for Northern Ireland). So we give thanks to them for their generosity. We’ve moved on for now and left no trace.  We hope they will let us use the cottage as a venue to trial our emerging soundpiece in situ.

My (Anna) “Killykeegan dreaming” was an amateur painting in oil of Yasser Arrafat! A strange image that provokes a whole steam of thoughts about borderland  zone:

What part did these highlands play during the troubles with their old cottages and limestone hidey-holes?

-Turmoil – thick history – dark land – swaddled –

During an automatic writing session by a stream on the track to Cuilcagh Mountain,
Claire tried to ignore these dark words rising from the peat next to a stream. The border between Northern Ireland and Eire runs along the ridge of Cuilcagh Mountain.

House of the Shannon Group Potholers *audio*

We came across this locked-up house on a walk near Marble Arch Caves. We looked in the window….

Listen to the audio blog for this image below:

40th Annual Fleadh, Beleek *audio*

We are drawn to The Black Cat pub by lively traditional tunes drifting over the road. We are met by a wonderful community scene of a lively yet relaxed bit of craic* outside the pub revolving around a group of young players (approx 8-12 yrs old) playing their hearts out with their instrument cases strewn about their feet between outdoor tables and benches.

*craic = fun, having a good time

Listen to the audio blog for this image below:

Eating the Landscape *audio*

Perception of the environment with all five senses is an important part of this project. Inspired by listening to these cows chomping on the lovely green fields, we decided to sample a taste ourselves and ingest a bit of the landscape.

Listen to the audio blog for this image below:

“Fast Dream us” into Place

People are taking centre stage in our project at the mo and in the human sphere fortuitous connections are fast dreaming us into place. Invitations and ideas for future adventures are issuing fast from potential hosts.

We undid our high Victorian collars just long enough to down our first pint/half pint of Guiness at Blake’s Hollow, an Irish music pub in Enniskillen. Here we were introduced to friends of Diane Henshaw (Fermanagh Arts Officer), who is a gem.

We sat with Catherine Ward, who leads walks for the Fermanagh Ramblers and Jim Ledwith, for whom  “mumming” as a way of life. We will go with the mummers to Knockrinny summit on Saturday to celebrate midsummer (we may have to dress up in straw!). There is also an offer of a walk to Speaking Horse Hill….

And we plan to meet Patrick Murphy who makes straw suits for “ the straw men”.

Now we are off to the 50th Anniversary party at the local cave rescue hut on a mountainside and there is a new blog on the horizon. Later we have the fleadh (pronounced flah) at  Beleek and a whole new network of contacts and intros might open up.

Will pubs be pivotal in our project?

DREAMING PLACE Article in the Impartial Reporter

Impartial Reporter Article

Click HERE for larger, legible view of the article.

We’ve got a new latitude

New LatitudeHere in Northern Ireland, the summer days are lengthy. Dawn and dusk last a long time leaving less dark time for sleeping. The result for us is a misperception of time and a “natural rhythm” of going to bed late and waking up early. However we are finding that this “natural rhythm” creates an unnatural and sometimes cumulative fatigue that crops up at the most inopportune times. While we constantly invite the sun out from behind the rain clouds during the day, we hide from its seasonal luminosity by night behind thin, permeable tent walls in an ongoing effort to go to bed at a reasonable time.

We are staying for 40 days and 40 nights, but days are really long and our nights are really short. How were traditions and beliefs of the past shaped by latitude?

To see exactly where we are on googlemaps, click here.

From Cradle to Grave

 Today we tagged along on a kids’ potholing trip led by Dave Scott from Gortatole Activity Centre. Known as “the cradle” this watery cave is part of the Marble Arch Caves system. The entrance to the cave opens out of a large quarry-like hole full of forest, a relic of  ancient woodland.

Dave’s knowledge and skill mean that even in a cave that has claimed lives, the kids are encouraged to lead and make their own discoveries. Above the underground stream, safe on a sandbank, we listened in the pitch blackness to the gurgling voices of the underground river.

Outside the cave on a boulder is a plaque commemorating the lives of the 3 young cavers who lost their lives in Cradle Cave. Dave, our guide, told us he was on the rescue team that pulled out their bodies.

The memories of the land are not always easy to hear.


DREAMING PLACE sound virgins

Revving up our engines…..opening up our ears….

Unexpected tune created by plucking wool from a fence, Shannon Pot

Recording sounds, interacting with people, narrating our experience

Getting our ducks in a row…..

To bring this project into being we are extending out our tendrils of curiosity – discovering, making connections and interacting with people, places and things. All this sounds nice and perhaps even easy, but for this to actually happen hours must be spent making contacts, coming to decisions, organising plans, setting dates, finding maps, getting directions and meeting with people.


Can spontaneity and scheduling have productive offspring?

DREAMING PLACE postcard project

Our DREAMING PLACE postcard project has been launched! Throughout our 40-day stay at Marble Arch Caves Geopark we are inviting people to share their Geopark dreams via postcards. People are placing images or words of their Geopark dreams into the “dream cloud” on the front of postcards and then returning them to us to be included in a display at the Marble Arch Caves Geopark visitor center.

People are even joining in the DREAMING PLACE postcard project via cycberspace! Simply download a pdf file of our “dream cloud” template by clicking  here.

Print out the template, draw or write your Geopark dreams on it and then return it to us by email.

To return the postcard to us, take a picture or scan it and attach it to an email message addressed to: We will print it out and include it in the display at the Marble Arch Caves visitor center.

Who will send us their Geopark dreams?

Finding Heroines and Heroes

Once upon a time on the banks of the infant Shannon there was a silver bridge, a peaty pool, a springer spaniel, a wise young couple, a wizard with a gravelly voice and a gift of icecream….

A contemporary fairy tale seems to be emerging.

What is our role here?

Getting Into Gear – people, places and things

Today we met the “Tri-Alans”
1)    Triathalon Alan – a kind Mullingar bike mechanic who fixed our bikes and gave us Allen #2…..
2)    Allen Key – a valuable missing tool useful to change an inner tube on our lovely older bike…. and we were on our way to Allan #3….
3)    Lough Allen – a helpful lake that accompanied us to our destination….

Who-what-where will we meet next?

Into the West

Our journey has begun.
The sun is our guide across the Irish Sea…..
What awaits us?