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A Weekend in Nature

Surf & Sunset – Lahinch, Co Clare.

Lahinch surf - Orla O MuiriLahinch sunset - Orla O MuiriLahinch - Orla O Muiri

The Cliffs of Moher, Co Clare.

Cliffs - Orla O Muiri

Moyhill Community Farm, Co Clare.

Moyhill2 - Orla O MuiriMoyhill - Orla O MuiriMoyhill Kitchen - Orla O MuiriDome2 - Orla O MuiriDome - Orla O MuiriMoyhill polytunnel - Orla O Muiri

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Breathless

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We take our bodies so for granted. At full health, what it is capable of doing is astounding; it can climb mountains, swim amongst the tides, sprint through fields of long grass… but what about those who never possessed a body at full health, those people who never had the option? When menial everyday tasks are more difficult, every outing is preplanned and climbing a stairs is an arduous task. How would you live your life if your lungs were your enemy? And your days were made up of physio, medication and hospital visits. When you had to consume 12 to 22 tablets a day just to keep you ticking over. How would you live if you were born with an illness that as of yet has no cure? Would you allow it to define you or would you rally against it in defiance?

Chris stops and sits on an outcropped rock to catch his breath on our 2km walk up to the hut were we will camp tonight. I hear his laboured breath, the painful drag in and out. Around us are dirt tracks and a brutally deforested area of Coillte. It is a muggy evening with a heavy grey sky that hints at an oncoming downpour. Chris pulls his backpack up and we walk on, heading into the trees. After about half an hour we reach our destination, a little green hut perched on a small cliff face overlooking rolling green hills. It is truly an idyllic setting to set up camp for a night’s microadventure, anything to liven up the week. We quickly unburden ourselves from our backpacks and lay down our mats and bags to gather sticks for a fire.

When I was in fifth year of secondary school my friend died from Cystic Fibrosis, he was sick his whole life, obviously sick, wheelchair and oxygen tank kind of sick. He died and we were heartbroken. We his friends continued to maintain contact with his family; his father James, mother Fiona and little brother Chris. We struck up a routine of sorts, dinners, drinks and a chat about the good times. The years passed by and one by one the friends slipped away, caught up with their own lives, their own worries and hardships but somehow I remained. I found his family liberating, strong and inspiring. They taught me so much about life and as I grew up they became my friends too. This family is different than any I’ve ever known. They are a joy to be around because they don’t suffer fools. They let you away with nothing; there is no such thing as I can’t and over the years we have lived a life less ordinary. We have kayaked the Slaney together, made it into the Guinness Book of Records for participating in the world’s longest swim, gone clay pigeon shooting, done countless Rubberman challenges and a few weeks ago we went camping for a night in the Wicklow mountains while Chris who also has Cystic Fibrosis was on IVs.

James throws some jacket potatoes into the ash to cook and we set about boiling water over the open flames. He plucks a bbq rack from those DIY bbq kits and perches it precariously between the rocks and logs to cook the sausages and pork chops on while the beans boil away contently in their tin. It’s a feast by my usual camping standards! Meanwhile Chris sits on a picnic table and lays out his syringes; one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine… all glittering in the sunset on the pristine silver tray. He begins the slow process, filling them up from the glass vials one by one, lifting his t-shirt to expose the various contraptions attached to his body. He doesn’t skip a beat as he slowly injects the meds into his body, continuing the conversation as if this was totally the norm.

The risks are very real for a person with CF to camp while on IV’s; the lack of a sterile environment, the risk of hemoptysis with no easy escape route and a night spent lying on the cold hard ground is not the most comfortable. Three days ago Chris’s lungs were at 46%, the equivalent of me walking with one lung, yet he doesn’t complain. At 19 almost 20 years old, Chris is a breath of fresh air with his no bullshit attitude. CF does not define him or stop him experiencing all the simple pleasures that others his age have. Yes there are risks, but you have to live your life; “A lot of people with CF get caught up with all the treatments. It’s ok to once in a while to skip it. It’s not going to catapult you back,” he says, adding defiantly “Don’t let your treatments dictate your life. There is some leeway. A massive amount is mindset. If your health takes a small hit for a better life, its worth it.”

The sun lowers gradually but the moon is particularly bright tonight. We stare into the orange flames licking the firewood, prodding the embers occasionally. We sip tumblers of vodka and coke and red wine and we just sit and talk. A cold night ensues on hard ground, wrapped tightly in our sleeping bags to stave off the cold. Bedding down, Chris warns us of his coughing; he needn’t have, after a while he falls into a quiet slumber, unlike his father who will scare any potential predators away with his snores.

It is not an easy night and none of us sleep well, we wake the moment light returns, weary, sore and totally spent but exhilarated all the same. We get up groggily and stretch out our aching bodies. The air is crisp and damp and the birds greet us with their dawn chorus. We stuff everything into our backpacks, pull them on and walk briskly out of the woods. Time to go back to reality. A time out every so often is necessary to make you appreciate your cozy bed, the roof over your head, your life and to put those worries that seem so big into perspective. A little midweek adventure to wake us up, shake us up, anything to feel alive to feel normal. If Chris can do it, surely you have no excuse?

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FINDING MY FEET

After all that, I am home. Sprawled on the couch in front of the fire with the TV crackling away in the background and Mam and Dad pottering around the house, living their lives.

It’s strange but when I look back on my time in Australia, it is not the touristy things that stand out. In fact it’s the opposite, I found that I was happiest when I was doing normal things, reuniting with old friends… lying in bed sculling tumblers of red wine before a night out with Lori, then watching Netflix hung over the next morning with cups of coffee with a hint of caramel replacing the wine. A meat feast with Josh by the Yarra River followed by a drunken stroll through the botanic gardens, breakfast at Laneway with Pepi, road tripping the Great Ocean Road with him and Cas, sleeping in the back of the car at night, watching the women rip at Bells Beach Rip Curl Pro surf competition, climbing rocks, listening to the Serial podcast as we drive, debating music and politics, discovering the lilting tones of Meg Mac. Pounding the pavements on a run with Lauren, kayaking on the harbour in Sydney with Orla, reminiscing with the other Lauren while sipping sangria and listening to gentle jazz on Darling Harbor…

Nowadays, I tire quickly when living out of a backpack. I become desensitised to the beauty around me, I take it all for granted. Yet I continue to do it because I know I will never regret travelling. It has shaped who I am today. Travel changes how you see people, how you see the world. An innate curiosity is born from it, you question everything, especially what is right and what is wrong. You learn to be kinder, you learn to not care when others mock you for been different, you learn not to be afraid or be ashamed. You learn to look at the bigger picture, to worry about global warming, conservation, politics, rather than the petty things unfolding inside your own little bubble. You learn how to talk to everyone and anyone, how to behave in all kinds of situations, how to feel comfortable in your own skin. You toughen up, get a thicker skin and learn to let go of all that worry and stress you’ve been storing up inside. It flicks a switch in your brain and suddenly you can rub your eyes and see everything as it really is and you can finally see the worlds and your own potential.

I am far from done travelling but for now, in this moment, I am content to be at home for a little while. Nowadays, happiness for me is a hot shower on a cold day, that initial burst when the scalding water turns cold against my frigid skin and eventually seeps in. Hungrily ingesting a great book while sprawled on the carpeted floor in my pyjamas in front of the fire. Those breaths I take after finishing a gruelling run, hands on my knees, dragging air into my lungs, ears pounding. Lying on the couch with my head on my Mammy’s lap, her fingers gently combing through my hair. Driving with the window down and the stereo blasting, and me and my friends screaming out the tunes…

Now I know myself rather well and with a return to routine means  I must be on my guard. I must try; really try every day to live. I cannot allow the days and weeks to pass me by without doing anything. I must try to absorb it all, put the phone down, look up, take it in and appreciate those little moments. I must try to get up earlier, camp every few weekends, to learn to cook, to attend talks and lectures about things that matter, to watch more documentaries, to learn something new, to get out on the bike, to live a little more spontaneously. And most importantly, I must not envy others lives but be inspired by them, to allow them to motivate me to do the same. I must try, really try, to just be happy…

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#microadventure on the Saltee Islands

An opportunity seized. A bag quickly packed. A boat taken. Me and my big sister, all grown up and off on a little adventure together.

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Just eighteen months separate us, yet we have grown up to be two completely different people. Her, twenty four, beautiful and stubborn. Me, twenty two, ragged and determined.

We plied off a motorised pack raft onto the edge of the beach, totally alone for one night on the empty Saltee Islands to spend a night amongst the seabirds.

We walk, we explore, so long it’s been since we were alone in each other’s company, we eat the filled rolls prepurchased from a garage deli on the shores of Kilmore. We wander over the cliffs, caged in by a colony of gannets, jeering the silly ways of the puffins and seals. We gather whale bones strewn across the beaches floor, vertebrates to be used as future paperweights, light a fire in the empty grate of our little shed and roll out our sleeping mats for the night ahead, basking in the sheer simplicity and beauty of it all.

Look how far we have come, since those days a lifetime ago playing push off the bed with our Da, screaming at each other as teenagers and now full circle, coming to rest at a lilting easiness between us.

Both of us currently stand on the threshold of real life, when this summer comes to a close, our time will come to leave home for good and continue the dreaded search to figure out who we are, on our own. She’s looking at Canada, me at Australia. Worlds apart.

But for one more night, we sit on the cliff, side by side in an easy silence, watching the world from our patch of isolated paradise.

 

Interview with Fearghal O’Nuallain – Irish Adventurer

Geographer | Adventurer | Circumnavigator

Fearghal is busy man, and not a guy to do things by half. For his university thesis he walked across Rwanda, then circumnavigated the globe by bike. For once, let me be bias, this guy is Irish, therefore he has won me over before I asked him the very first question. Ladies and Gents, I give you the man from Wicklow, Mr. Fearghal O’ Nuallain:

 

Courtesy of Fearghal O'Nuallain

1.In 2008 You were part of the first Irish Circumnavigation of the Globe by Bicycle, whats it like having that tagline to your name?
I’m proud to have started something I wasn’t sure I would finish and then to actually finish it. But to be honest, the tag line was just a hook for sponsors. You need a USP to get sponsorship. It makes things easier if you have an “st” somewhere in the tagline; farthest, longest, hardest, highest etc. Experiences and qualities count for much more in my book.    

2.If the two of yous were the first Irish lads, does that mean the position is still open for an Irish women to take on?
Of course! It’d be great to see more girls cycling around the world.

 

3.You have cycled the globe, but have you cycled the Wicklow Way?
Nope. It’s on my bucket list.

4.So far you can boast:
2003- The Prince’s Highway- Melbourne to Sydney by bicycle-(1,000km)
2004- Irish End to End- Malin Head to Mizen Head by bicycle(700km)
2005- Across Europe- Dublin to St Petersberg by bicycle-(3,500km)
2007- The Dry Run- Aswan to Alexandria by bicycle-1,000km
Pretty impressive CV, how does it feel looking at that and knowing you are one of few to accomplish such feats?

There are loads of people doing really impressive, productive and creative adventures at the moment. People like Tony Mangan, Alastair Humphreys, Mark Pollack, Mark Kalch, Ed Stafford, Dave Cornthwaite, Joseph Murphy, Sarah Outen, Tom Allen, Andy Welch… I could go on. Now they’ve got impressive CVs.   

5. Do you find it tough coming back home and settling back into the small town life that Ireland is famous for?
Yes! Its hard to come back and get settled back into urban life in Europe after being out there in the world at large.

Courtesy of Fearghal O'Nuallain

6.Do you think you will ever stop, come home and settle down?

I hope so.  
7.You don’t just write about your own adventure’s but review other people’s sports, for example, your article on parkour. Are these just a source of income or a way of getting inspiration for your next escapade?

I think adventure’s more than just something crazy that “men that don’t fit in” do for kicks and attention. Parkour is particularly interesting. Its built on the principles of being fit and useful. Adventure changes the way you see the world and I find it really interesting to explore those different perspectives.  

8.What have you in store for us next?

In January I’ll walk the Transylvanian Alps. It’s a vast wilderness on our doorstep; complete with bears, wolves, vast virgin forests and maybe vampires!

9.You have competed in The Turf Guy, is that a one off for you, or will you be returning to endure it again?
I’d love too, it was the best dirty weekend I’ve had in a long time.

10.On one of your blog posts, it said “Coming back from such a journey was bitter sweet. It felt like the end of something great. And the start of something not so exciting.I got depressed. I got frustrated.”
I’ll bet this happens a lot to adventurers, any advice, for getting over the fear of that bout of depression and moving onto the next task?
There’s always a risk of getting post adventure blues; the only way to avoid it is to keep active and get planning the next adventure.
11.Did your many degrees set you up for the life you have chosen to lead?

Someone famous said that the “world teaches us much more than books”. An expedition is educational. You learn something new about yourself and the world every time you go.However, I studied Geography at university and that definitely helped with what Im doing now.

Courtesy of Fearghal O'Nuallain

12.How did you convince organizations to sponsor you?
By putting myself in their shoes first. You’ve got to remember that you have to give back in return for what you get. You have to show the potential return to get someone to give you something.

13.Have you tried the traditional tourist route before? What have you found lacking in it?
Paying someone else for an experience will never come close to the feeling of coming up with an adventure, planning it, and then living it.

14.I’ve always wanted to know, how people find their way while on route, is it just a pile of paper maps, or have you gone techno and are using sat navs?
Maps and People. There’s no need for Sat Nav, it just makes you lazy and detached.

Follow Fearghal’s adventures on Twitter @Revolution_Ferg

A trek up Croagh Patrick

If you are a native Irish and are unaware of the status of the mountains that sit on your doorstep, than shame on you, but at least now you know. They are immaculate and grueling and you can find one to scramble up in almost every county. But if you are a native Irish and you are aware of this catalogue of land and still fail to use them, then my apologies but you are a fool and you are missing out.

 

Croagh Patrick is one of Ireland’s more famous sleibthe (mountain) as it is a pilgrimage and recreational route combined. It sits eight kilometers outside the quaint town of Westport, County Mayo and its summits reaches 2,507 ft. All I have ever heard about it growing up, far, far away from it (5hrs) that it is tough, really tough. I did not train for it, but I hold a general level of fitness so on impulse I decided last week that I would attempt to scale this beast. The truth be told, it was grand. Breaking it down, there are two stages, the first is fine once you develop a rhythm. At the half way point it flattens out to meet the base of the steep climb to the summit. Here is where things get tricky, especially if you are trying to drag your mother up it after you.To add to the heartache it is buried in shale all the way to the top. At the base, you can rent sticks to aid your ascent, best one euro fifty I ever spent.

 

It was a pleasant sunnish day for Ireland, so naturally the mountain was packed. People of various sizes and ages littered the main route, with a constant wave of people passing you then stopping to rejuvenate, then passing again. There was the unfit, been dragged up by an eager friend or relative red-faced and bleary eyed, then the foreign tourists speaking in a foreign tongue and smiling at all who they pranced by. There were the seasoned hikers who all dolled up in their hiking gear made it all look so easy and finally there was the minority who ran up it and who I gaped after both astounded and jealous.

 

At a leisurely pace it takes about two hours to get up and down it. A weathered church sits on the top surrounded by a view of the sea and greenery that Ireland can be proud of. People dined there on ham and bread rolls and flasks of tea. What I love about mountains, well hills, and the people who climb them is the atmosphere that is created along the trek. The shared experience of pain and triumph breaks the ice and allows everyone on board to chat, to congratulate or to offer words of encouragement. On the descent I met a local man who had walked this route sixty-nine times this year, instantly I felt like a fool. I smiled at the man while thinking fair play to him who actually got and was living by the code I was preaching. The Irish landscape and the people who walk its green pastures are steeped in history, and there to be taken advantage of if you can just force yourself to look beyond the weather.

Toronto Camogie Club

An audience is gathering. People are pointing.  Fifteen women belting each other with sticks. It merits a few stares. As they run by in their pairs, the Irish shout;“Keep the hurling alive ladies”, while the Canadians inquire politely into the name of this strange sport. Camogie is back in Canada and Toronto is one of the first to jump on the bandwagon.

The last time ladies trotted around High Park caman in hand was back in the 70’s. Anne Loughnane former centre forward recalls; “There were two teams in Toronto back then. We mostly played each other and travelled to tournaments in the States. We got to play New York at the CNE and several feis in Hamilton. It is great to see it making a comeback.” However, it is early days and this year will focus predominantly on getting a team established, recruiting players, naming the club, securing sponsorship and purchasing helmets.

“Our plans for this year include competing in the International Camogie Tournament in New York on October first and there is a possibility of amalgamating with Atlanta Georgia for the North American finals to ensure sufficient numbers. “says Leanne Fitzgerald, the person credited with the idea to start up a club. Fitzgerald was brought on in the men’s hurling game at the seven aside GAA tournament in Cleveland in May and it was there that the idea was first planted.

The response so far has been overwhelming. PK O’Kane Hurls, a Derry based company shipped over a batch of thirteen hurls and twelve sliothars within two days of placing the order. The men’s side, Toronto Hurling club have being incredibly supportive. The turnout of players is solid with newcomers showing up every week. At the moment it is mostly Irish girls with the exception of five Canadians but that will change as the sport begins to take root.

 Training takes place  at 7.30pm Tuesday evenings at High Park. For more information regarding membership or sponsorship, contact Leanne at fitzgerald_leanne@yahoo.ie . Here’s hoping that camogie in Canada will return and surmount its former precedence.