Ireland’s Most Haunted Castle

I love ghost stories. From the haunted vaults of Edinburgh to the castles of Ireland, and from New England battlefields to the streets of New Orleans, I’ve taken every opportunity to scare myself silly. I even went through a phase in which I watched Ghost Hunters every week on the SyFy channel just to get travel ideas.

Years ago, before I’d ever set foot on Irish soil, Ghost Hunters investigated Leap Castle in County Offaly. With a gruesome history dating back to the 1500’s, it’s supposedly the most haunted castle in Ireland, if not all of Europe! So, I added it to my mental itinerary of terrifying places to go.

One of the reasons Leap (pronounced Lep not Leep) Castle is so haunted is because of the Bloody Chapel. The original owners, the O’Carroll family, once invited a rival clan to dinner and murdered the whole lot of them in the chapel. The O’Carolls tossed their bodies down an oubliette to rot. This was a fate that befell many unfortunate souls over the years; hundreds of skeletons were discovered in the 1920’s. (You can read the complete history on Leap Castle’s website.) Because of this, it’s believed that many spirits now haunt the castle, including something called The Elemental, the granddaddy of all big bad evil entities. (Some of you are now probably thinking, oh hell no! I’m never going in there!)

The towerhouse in the middle would have been the original structure (similar towerhouses can be found all over Ireland). The extensions on either side are relatively new and wouldn’t have been a part of the original castle.

I finally gathered up the courage to visit last year.  I called Sean Ryan, the castle’s current owner, and asked for a private tour. Tours are by appointment only; he keeps the gates closed to control access to the property. Otherwise, I imagine he’d have wanna-be ghost hunters and curious people like me wandering around at all hours of the day and night.

Sean Ryan is exactly the kind of person you’d expect to live in Leap Castle. A musician, he has long white hair that falls to his shoulders and full white beard. He’s a friendly man with a serious disposition who seems mentally formidable enough to take on a towerhouse full of ghosts.  He invited me inside to sit by the fireplace, and as the wood cracked and hissed, he regaled me with stories about the castle. Then, he lead me to the stairway and gave me a flashlight.

“You’ll have to go up on your own,” he said. “I’ve had a little trouble with my knee.”

“But, the ghosts…” I said, joking. “They might get me!”

With an eerie, deadpan look he said, “There are no ghosts.”


Ghosts or no ghosts, walking up a narrow staircase with a flashlight by yourself can be a little unsettling. Especially when Sean closes the door behind you to “keep out the drafts.” And especially when the flashlight batteries start to fail, producing a strobe light effect in the darkness.  After wending the stairs in the photo above, there was no electricity. I couldn’t imagine climbing those stairs at night like all those crazy people from numerous ghost-hunting shows. It was better than any makeshift haunted house experience back home!

Sean’s living quarters
Artwork detail
The only source of light in the darkness.


The Bloody Chapel was at the top of the stairs. You’d think that with a name like “bloody chapel”, it’d be a bit scarier–that the air would be heavier and you’d feel a sense of foreboding or sadness. Maybe in the middle of the night when imaginations get the best of you, but during the day it felt…peaceful. With the sun shining, there was plenty of light in the chapel and a beautiful view of the Irish countryside.

Sean continues to work on renovations, and I hope to return some day to see how they progress. In the meantime, I hope he continues to welcome visitors and that people will consider donating to help with maintenance. (Castles are an expensive investment. I’ve looked into it!) Regardless of what ghosts may or may not haunt the place, Sean owns an interesting piece of Irish history, and I’m happy he’s chosen to open his home and share it with so many.


The Bloody Chapel
Section of the castle Sean hopes to renovate (view from the Bloody Chapel).

What’s the spookiest place you’ve ever visited? Tell me in the comments below!



742 Pictures Later

I returned home from Ireland in June with 742 new pictures. Some of them will become part of future blog posts, some will end up on Facebook or in my online gallery. Most of them will never leave my computer. One of the challenges I have after each trip is to decide what photo to edit first. This was especially difficult this time as there weren’t any once-in-a-lifetime-photos, nothing that will probably ever grace the pages of a magazine. But, as a complete unit, the pictures tell the story of my trip. Altogether, they capture Ireland. Here is a sample of some of the photos I’ve managed to edit so far. There are still many more to come.  Enjoy!

Yours to Explore: A Tour of Scattery Island

I’ve been fascinated with abandoned monastic sites, famine villages, and other ruins ever since I first visited Ireland seven years ago. As their bones slowly crumble into the earth, ancient buildings leave you wondering about what life would have been like anywhere from 50 to 1,500 years ago.

Achill Island has its deserted village, tucked away on the southern slopes of Slievemore Mountain. Skellig Michael has its beehive huts, found ten miles off the coast of County Kerry. And Glendalough has a monastic city, complete with round tower, in the middle of the Wicklow Mountains. Just to name a few. There are literally hundreds of ruins scattered across Ireland. I’ve seen quite a few of them over the years. So, when I landed at Shannon airport last May, I was surprised to find that I’d actually missed a major site!

Mixed in with the various travel brochures that I sometimes peruse for ideas, I found an advertisement for Scattery Island while waiting for my rental car. Located in the Shannon Estuary and less than an hour from the airport, the uninhabited island boasted a monastic settlement, abandoned village and a lighthouse–a trifecta of deserted Irish treasure!

Of course, I called Scattery Island Tours immediately and booked a trip.

Scattery Island Tours is a family run business that started operating in May, ferrying passengers to the island several times a day. The staff is outstanding. From the moment you pick up your ticket and board the ferry until the moment you’re back at the marina, you feel like a welcomed guest. Part of the reason for that is the small group sizes—there were only seven people on my tour, although (I think) they could fit up to twelve on the boat—so you don’t feel like just a number.


Plus, I love traveling by boat; it feels especially adventurous, like you’re really going somewhere. Leaving Kilrush Marina, the ferry actually passes through a lock. This was a first for me. The tide was out, so it took a few minutes for the water level to fall so we could exit into the estuary. Once out, it only took about ten minutes to get to the island.

Our guide was already waiting for us on shore. He led our humble group of seven down the ecclesiastical path (the easier of two walking trails), regaling us with tales of angels and of venerated saints who drove monsters from the island. Legends were mixed with the history of St. Senan, Vikings, and, most recently, fisher-farmers who occupied the island until about 1970.

After an hour-long tour, we were free to explore at our own pace. A second path led to a lighthouse and artillery battery. A few people walked the twenty minutes or so to get there while I explored the old main street and enjoyed the silence.  I think that was one of my favorite things about the island–how quiet it was. I remember walking behind the village, surrounded by trees and tall grasses, and hearing nothing except the rustling of leaves and a few bees chasing each other down the path. It was just good for the soul.

Ecclesiastical path
One of the more noteworthy relics our guide talked about is the round tower, speculated to be one of Ireland’s first. It’s unique for two reasons: 1) It was struck by lightening, giving it a lopsided shape and 2) It’s door is at the base of the tower. The doors of most towers in Ireland are built about ten feet off the ground. Contrary to popular belief, the high doors weren’t meant to protect the monks from invading Vikings, they were meant to provide structural stability. A doorway built at ground level would have weakened the structure.
A rare look inside a round tower. Another first for me!
Scaffolding is such a drag for the photo enthusiast. My one wish is that OPW will restore the buildings on the island to a safe standard so the metal fencing and scaffolding can be removed. I’d love to actually go inside of some of the old buildings. It’s a nit-picky request, though, because there’s certainly plenty to see, and the island is a quiet reprieve from some of the noisier sites around Ireland.
Cnoc An Aingeal. This is where an angel flew Saint Senan to the island to defeat the resident monster.
We had the island all to ourselves.
Looking back towards the mainland.
St. Senan’s Bed. The monks who used to reside on the island basically put up a No Girls Allowed! sign. Even if you were a saintly woman on her deathbed, you weren’t allowed to set foot on it.
St. Senan’s Bed
Mystery weed
Another fixer-upper. I’ll take it!
A peaceful resting place
The Street
Post Office
Closer… (love all the rust!)
After several tranquil hours upon the island, looking back to the mainland felt a little startling–like the past had suddenly and inexplicably collided with the present.

Don’t let this tour escape you. If you’re in the area, it’s worth adding to your vacation itinerary.

Scattery Island Tours

Kilrush Marina,

Merchants Quay,

Kilrush, Co. Clare

Tel: 085 2505512

The Streets of New Orleans

You first enter New Orleans a little tone deaf and flat-footed, tripping over the broken, heat-stressed sidewalks and the frenetic pace of Bourbon Street. Maybe there’s a Hurricane in your belly. You feel like simmering gumbo, stirred together with so many strange people—your flavors and stenches mixing, mingling with the notes of a distant band. A young woman melts into the sidewalk, a puddle of booze, pouring through the fingers of some boyfriend who has no idea how to collect her again out of the tumbling trash full of plastic cups and beads and food wrappers. You may wonder what appeals to people in that neon stew.

Don’t worry. Bourbon is just one street in New Orleans. Each has its own tempo, one suited for college kids on spring break and another for people like me—a middle-aged woman celebrating her 40th birthday. And the incredible thing is, no matter what happens the night before, the evidence is swept away before daybreak. Trash packed. Streets cleaned. Friends found. Swish, sweep, done. In the morning, you get a second chance to fall in love with the city and how everything from its food to its music is designed to be a celebration.

Spend some time wandering around on foot, and you’ll find the right street for you. Live jazz saunters out of Frenchman in the evenings, if that’s your thing. On the weekends, newlyweds may parade around Royal under parasols, followed by a trumpeting brass band. Decatur offers beignets, and they’re easy to find-just follow the trail of powered sugar down the sidewalk to Cafe Du Monde. A friendly ghost may join you on Chartres if you stop by Muriel’s for a cocktail. One of my favorite things was sitting outside at Muriel’s, leaning over the wrought-iron balcony with a Honey Child, watching the crowds at Jackson Square (the ghost never made an appearance).

By the time you leave New Orleans, the city will feel less like gumbo and more like a warm piece of bread pudding, dripping with whiskey sugar glaze, sweet and satisfying. You’ll be ten pounds heavier. You’ll develop a certain fondness for bartenders who call you “baby” and the Uber drivers who share their life stories during lazy trips in and out of the French Quarter. It’s hard not to fall in love with a place like that.

Jazz Band on Royal Street
Early evening on Bourbon Street
Random Couple that wandered into my frame
Beads from parades past dangle from trees
Another random passerby who added a little color to my shot
Lafayette Cemetery


Another way to get around the city
Food Staring at Me
My food is staring at me!
Bread pudding and shoe-fly pie
Newlyweds march through the French Quarter
Brass Band
Muriel’s on Jackson Square
Nikon at Muriels
Enjoying a Honey Child at Muriel’s
Jackson Square
Artist on Jackson Square

Capturing Iceland

This is my Iceland Writers Retreat writing competition submission. While I didn’t win this year, I was one of the finalists. I’m including the photos I took during the 2014 layover that inspired this piece.

The rules:
Iceland – Regard the Moon! Many authors have drawn parallels between Iceland and the moon. Write a max 500-word essay, story or poem on this theme.

Capturing Iceland

Stop One.
I’m completely alone. While evidence of human life surrounds me in the form of a lighthouse, a shipwreck, and a church of carved stone, I haven’t actually seen anyone in miles. The wind sandblasts my face raw as I step away from my rental car, and I wish for a scarf or a thicker jacket than what I’ve chosen to wear during my layover in Iceland. But this is okay. I’m on an exploratory mission, and thoughts of what I might find eclipse the desire for warmer outerwear.

Pictures are what I’m after. As a travel photographer, sitting in Keflavik International Airport and waiting six long hours for the next flight to Seattle isn’t an option. I never reject an opportunity to experience new places, and this layover affords me just enough time to circle the Reykjanes Peninsula with my camera. So I challenge the April winds, pushing ahead for the sake of art. A few clicks of the shutter later and I’m off again with a piece of Iceland safe in my memory card.

_DSC8500_DSC8478_DSC8489Stop Two.
A strip of faded asphalt cuts through a lunar plain. Down that road, the Eurasian and North American plates diverge in a tectonic rift. On a footbridge that crosses between the two sides, tourists have fastened padlocks to the chain links of the handrails. The love locks are red, purple, and gold—inscribed with names like Katja and Eros, couples who hope to stay together, even as the continents slowly drift apart. I raise my camera. Click._DSC8508-Recovered_DSC8526_DSC8522_DSC8519
Stop Three.
Beneath my feet, subterranean sea waters encounter cooling magma, and steam curls skyward from the earth’s crust—a thousand souls rising from sulfurous graves. A part of me thinks I should be afraid. This mysterious land could open up and cast me into its molten core. But, the explorer in me sees the beauty in it, recognizes her own insignificance and feels nothing but awe. Click._DSC8599
Stop Four.
I follow a sign that points to the Blue Lagoon. It’s a rapturous blue heart in the middle of a lava field in which—ah-ha!—every Reykjanes visitor has congregated! I want to stay, commune with fellow travelers. Dozens of heads bob up and down in the geothermal spa, and I envy them their cotton bathrobes and more time than myself. But, the layover hours have ticked away, and I must return to Keflavik. I aim my lens at the lagoon before departing. Click._DSC8543_DSC8551_DSC8545
Stop Five.
Reluctantly, I surrender my keys to the rental car company and pack up my camera. As I do, a thought strikes me—I have captured nothing. Iceland, in all of her tumultuous splendor, has captured me instead! How can I leave when there’s still so much left to see, things that don’t fit on a square inch of digital memory? As I head towards my gate, face thawing and hair a tangled mane, I’m already planning a solo mission to explore the rest.

American Refugee: 5 Reasons to Visit Inishturk, Ireland

Last summer I read an article about a tiny Irish island that would welcome American refugees if Donald Trump is elected President of the United States. It was a joke, of course, probably meant to drum up some tourism.

During every election season stretching as far back as I can remember, Americans threaten to leave the country if their candidate loses. And on the Wednesday morning following every election night, those same people get ready for work and carry on as usual. However, this being an especially contentious election, I thought some voters might finally make good on those threats. Would that tiny Irish island be a good place for American “refugees”? I thought it might be prudent to check it out and report back. (Or, more truthfully, I was just looking for another excuse to return to Ireland…)

Anyway, two weeks after reading the article I was standing on Roonagh Pier, waiting to catch a passenger-only ferry to Inishturk, an island 14 km off the coast of County Mayo. The wind whipped my hair as I listened to stories about a storm that had blown through two days earlier. The ferry operators warned that the waters were still a little choppy, so we should all be careful and hold on. I have never been seasick but worried about the hour-long journey nonetheless.

Loading supplies

A dozen passengers and a few crew members boarded the ferry. Some stayed inside the cabin. I chose to stand on deck and keep my eyes on the horizon. The waves were a little rough at first, but by the time we arrived on Inishturk, the waters were much smoother.

And you know what? I’m glad (kind of, not really) Donald Trump ran for President because if not, I’d have never heard of Inishturk! I don’t know that I’d ever live there (it’s very remote), but I’d definitely go back for a week just to disconnect from all the daily noise that can make life so exhausting sometimes.

If you’re planning a trip to Ireland, whether to escape politics or just for fun, there are several great reasons to choose Inishturk island.

Reason 1: Peace and Quiet
Approximately 58 residents live on Inishturk. You could probably meet each one in an afternoon on your 5 km walk around the island. And forget theaters, fancy eateries, and shopping centers. There is a beautiful community center that functions as a restaurant, pub, and library and there are only a few B&B’s from which to choose.  It’s the simple life at its best. Writers, photographers, and artists will love a visit.



_DSC8905Reason 2: The People
I stayed at Tranaun Beach House, strategically located next to the community center/restaurant/pub. It’s a bit of a hike from the pier, so my host, Phylomena Heaney, drove down to pick me up.

The aroma of freshly baked bread greeted me at the front door of the B&B. Phylomena ushered me into the dining room, serving me tea and scones as I enjoyed a view of the Ireland’s west coast. She was so hospitable and kind – like everyone else I met during my stay. Islanders and other tourists simply wanted to stop and chat, and even though I’d traveled there alone, I never once felt lonely.

_DSC8890Reason 3: Sheep!
I met Farmer Heaney (Phylomena’s brother-in-law, I believe) on my walk around the island. He’d herded his sheep into a pen because some of them needed a fresh coat of paint. Farmers spray paint sheep with their mark as a means of identification. I’d never seen this done before, so he let me observe and take some pictures.



Reason 4: The Scenery
Fresh air and a decent view. I couldn’t ask for much more…


_DSC8938Reason 5: Hiking
As I’ve mentioned, it’s a 5 km walk around the island. The first part is all uphill from the pier, and it’s a great workout after spending so much time in airplanes, rental cars, and ferries to get there.

During my hike, I witnessed the islanders setting up for a festival that would expand their population from 58 to 150 over the weekend. I was tempted to stay on for that, but, as you can imagine, all of the B&B’s were booked and tents filled.




BONUS Reason:  On my way back to the mainland the next morning, several dolphins swam towards the ferry! They stayed alongside us for a few moments before diving below the surface and disappearing. Even the seasoned ferry captain was excited to see them!

Some tips before you go:

  • Ask your hosts if they need anything from the mainland. It’s expensive and time-consuming to go off-island. They’ll appreciate the offer.
  • Bring your Wellies! This goes for Ireland in general, but it’s especially helpful here. Your hike around the island will take you off road and through some soggy hillsides. Totally worth it for the view, though!

Slainte! And don’t forget to vote!!

Sand Dune Sunset

_DSC9838Death Valley, California

After looking at routes out of Las Vegas back to Washington State, I decided to drive through Death Valley. I’d never been there before, and I wanted to visit – very briefly – the hottest place on earth.

Stepping out of my car to take pictures was like stepping into a furnace. Even at 7 p.m., the temperature gauge in my car reported 115 degrees! That’s just a little too hot for my Pacific Northwest blood!

Even so, it was worth seeing. This picture belies the deadly heat that oppresses the valley, and shows how beauty and life can still exist in the most inhospitable places.

The Melissani Cave

Argostoli Underground Lake

I wanted to like Melissani Cave, located on the Greek island of Kefalonia. The  Costa Cruise excursion brochure said that our guide would lead a select few down a tunnel and into a subterranean world, where a wooden boat would be waiting on the shore of an underground lake. It sounded like some secret adventure far away from the majority of Costa’s passengers, and it was paired with a winery tour, so I booked it.

One of the cons of taking a cruise is that you are at the mercy of the cruise line’s schedule. You can’t beat the crowds at your destination by avoiding peak hours. There’s no hope of capturing the coveted morning or sunset light (which is a big deal for photographers). You explore when you’re in port, and there are only a few hours to do it. Still, I hoped for a good photo opportunity.

An hour after disembarking from the ship in Argostoli, my bus kicked up gravel in the Melissani Cave parking lot. A line of other tourists, maybe 100 deep, already snaked around souvenir shops.


The Costa Cruise tour guide gave each of its passengers a playing card. This was our admission ticket into the cave. So I grabbed my card and got in line, inching forward under the hot Kefalonia sun as sweat trickled down my neck and back.

Eventually, I made it to the entrance of a dark tunnel, and at the end of it was the proverbial light. Standing on tip-toe, I caught a glimpse of the underground lake over the shoulders of other tourists. Its teal blue waters reflected light from a hole in the cave’s partially collapsed ceiling (done in by a 1953 earthquake).

I arrived at the dock, immediately  overtaken by the unobstructed view, but there was no time for pictures. An singing oarsman took my hand and hurried me aboard along with 10 others. Soon, we’d be rowing over those clear waters and on our way to stalactites and hidden caverns. Great! Lots of photo opportunities! That sense of mystery and excitement returned for a moment…

And only a moment.

Smashed against the oarlock, each rotation of the paddle hit me in the head. Not that I had to endure if for long. The whole boat ride was over 10 minutes – if I’m being generous. It wasn’t enough time to enjoy the cave or even really document it on camera. The oarsman passed around a tip bucket and shooed us away and back up the dark tunnel to buy souvenirs.

I’m not sure it was worth the hour drive from Argostoli.

If I were to return to Kefalonia, it wouldn’t be on a cruise line. And I wouldn’t waste time at tourist traps in the middle of the afternoon. I’d fly in and rent a car. From ancient city walls, fortresses, monasteries, and wineries, there seems to be plenty to do on that island if a traveler has the time to enjoy it. Seems like it’s worth a second chance (especially if a trip to Robola vineyards is included).

A winery tour of Robola vineyards helped ease my disappointment



Skellig Michael: An Adventure Worth Repeating

Portmagee Harbor

A Dublin cabbie once told me he’d climbed the island of Skellig Michael—a jagged tooth cutting the waters off of South West Ireland—and he’s glad he did it, but he’d never do it again. I knew what he meant; I flung myself out of a perfectly good airplane once and would never do that again. I somehow managed to survive a fire academy in my early 30’s and wouldn’t repeat that either. Skellig Michael was different for me, though, and I didn’t share the cabbie’s feelings. Climbing it was hard work, but I’d go back again.

My Skelligs experience started aboard the Skelluna on a misty, late-September morning. Skelluna was a small fishing boat, and it had two metal benches tied back to back on the main deck for passenger seating. Two couples from the Pacific Northwest, a couple from North Carolina, and another from Germany joined me. There was a solo female traveler who, unlike the other passengers, had no interest in hiking boots or Patagonia jackets. Black hair pulled back with feathered clips, she wore make-up and glided over the platform in high-heeled black boots with such grace and ease you’d swear she had been born in those things. We chatted for a few minutes while waiting for our Captain, Brendan Casey, and wondered aloud about the lack of life preservers.

Mr. Casey, who’d been making the trip to Skellig Michael for over three decades, boarded the vessel shortly after ten, providing a few instructions but most importantly, “Hold on. This boat is fast!”
High Heel Girl

Several other boats beat us out of Portmagee’s harbor, and we trailed Ursula Mary through the crests and troughs of the north Atlantic as though competing in a race. After getting sprayed with salt water for the third time, I decided to relocate into the drier Captain’s cabin. I stood up and was immediately knocked off balance, falling into the lap of North Carolina Husband. And every time I regained my balance, another dip into a trough would, to his wife’s horror, send me straight back into his lap.

Finally, I teetered into the Captain’s Cabin as we climbed waves that resembled mountains. Skelluna chugged over each one on this water highway, past the island of Little Skellig and its circling masses of white Gannett.

I asked Mr. Casey lots of questions about the boat (are you going too fast?), the ocean (are today’s waves bigger than normal?), and life in general (just how long have you been doing this?).

His accent was thick, and I couldn’t decipher most of his answers over the loud grinding of the engine. However, I gathered that the oceans weren’t any more choppy than usual, we would all live, and it was important for me to find true love back on dry land and have at least one child before I turned 40.

Ursula Mary won the 45 minute race and docked before us. Docking is the part of the trip that can really “feck up your day”. Mr. Casey tethered us to a slick platform when it was our turn, and the boat bobbed up and down in the water next to it. One by one, we grabbed the hand of a man already on shore and disembarked. The jump off had to be timed carefully, otherwise I could have fallen back into the boat or, worse yet, between the boat and rock wall of the platform.
Trailing Ursula Mary

off the Skelluna

I made it without incident and then had two and a half hours to climb, explore the huts, and get back down to the boat. Climbing was the hard part. There were nearly 700 rock-cut steps to the top, where the monk’s beehive huts are found. High Heal Girl strode ahead of me to Christ’s Saddle on the wings of an angel, resting only to snap a few pictures on the terrace before ascending the last set of steep steps.
Skellig Michael Keep Climbing

With sweat rolling down my back, I huffed and puffed all the way to the top while cursing my lack of interest in daily exercise. How on earth did those monks ever find this island, 8 miles off the coast of Ireland anyway? And how did they manage to build all of those huts on the edge of its peak and then scale the mountain every day? I couldn’t fathom it. Every trip would have been a small pilgrimage.

Skellig Michael Climb

I rested at each terrace, using my camera as an excuse to pause and catch my breath while people twice my age passed. Still, it was worth it. Reaching the summit is like winning a race with yourself, conquering the thing inside of you that begs to quit. I wrestle with that thing all the time in Ireland, because for some reason – as I’ve mentioned in other blog posts – anything worth seeing here usually requires a lot of climbing.

Skellig Michael, conquered

I stood on that incisor of land and peered straight down at the ocean. Deadly in its form, beautiful and mysterious to look upon, I could understand the draw. The stone huts behind me faced Ireland, and I could imagine waking up on sunny mornings to a view that no artist could ever hope to capture.

Made It

Little Skellig View

beehive huts2

beehive huts

Little Skellig View 2

Wind-beaten and muscles aching, I walked through the ruins of the huts, church, and graveyard for the next hour. The clouds dissipated, and the sun burnt off the morning haze for my climb back down.
The Road Less Traveled

The tour boats swayed in the distance, waiting to collect their passengers before returning to Portmagee. The waters had grown somewhat more violent during the day, and Skelluna shot up and dove down in the waves, making boarding a challenge. With the support of the captain and fellow passengers, we all made it – except for the German couple who ran to the edge of the rock just as Mr. Casey was getting ready to untether us.
Leaving the SkelligsLittle Skellig Birds

And then, the unthinkable happened. The rope snapped just as Mr. Casey was about to grab German Wife’s hand! Skelluna launched backward into the wave, and German Husband grabbed her, nearly falling back onto the rocky platform. Mr. Casey put the boat into reverse and then pulled up to the dock again, securing us with a new rope. It held, and the German couple safely boarded Skelluna.

Disaster thwarted, we pulled away to circle Little Skellig before heading back to shore. I wedged myself between a metal rail and the Captain’s Cabin on the way back, watching the teeming Gannet cover the smaller island in patches of white. It was smooth sailing from that point on.

My Skellig experience wasn’t just about the destination. It was, of course, (and forgive me for sounding cliche) about the journey. That’s the reason you should book a trip and go yourself and while I’ll likely return one day. You should get a little salt water in your face, meet people who share a common goal, and do something that makes your heart beat just a little faster.

Dingle Photo Walk

The Dingle Peninsula is one of several peninsulas in South West Ireland. Each one is memorable for different reasons – Beara for its winding passes and clusters of standing stones, the Ring of Kerry for its long stretches of sandy beaches and all the tour buses coming into Killarney, and Dingle for Slea Head and, of course, Dingle town itself.

What I love about Dingle town is all the colorful buildings. My friend Anna, who visited in July, was looking to capture a door of every color while in Ireland, so we went on a little photo walk. She completed her project, and I got a few shots for my own portfolio.




ice cream cone














Hazel Mountain Chocolate: Yield to Temptation

The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it…

I have seen that Oscar Wilde quote scrawled across pub and cafe walls all over Ireland. I suppose it’s good for business; if you’re trying to decide between one more pint of Smithwicks and going home, those words might inspire you to buy the pint.

As for myself, I don’t spend a lot of time in pubs these days. (What was that? A collective gasp from my American friends?) It’s true. I spend more time driving around looking for the real Ireland, the one found on roads my GPS doesn’t recognize. And you know, temptation can even strike in the middle of nowhere!

Between Galway and Doolin on the Wild Atlantic Way, a Burren Chocolatier sign points down one of those lazy roads, coaxing you to take a quick detour. I have driven by it countless times since 2012, and every time I tell myself, “Nope. You are not going there. You’ll end up with a bag full of chocolates, and you’ll say they’re gifts, but that’s a lie. They’ll be gone before you make it back to the B&B. Don’t turn down that road!”

However, I can only drive by a sign pointing to chocolate so many times before turning my car in that direction. A few weeks ago, I finally did it. I turned, and I don’t feel the least bit guilty about it! I’d yield to Hazel Mountain Chocolate over and over and over again too… I even have some good reasons.

Located in the rugged foothills of the Burren, it’s close to places like Doolin, the Cliffs of Moher, and Poulnabrone dolmen. I drove through 6,000 years of history to get there.

Hazel Mountain Chocolate has a cafe, shop, and factory. Whether you choose to eat in the cafe or simply snag a couple of truffles in the shop, you can enjoy it indoors to satisfy your frilly feminine sensibilities or head outdoors to admire the County Clare landscape.




Cake! And Everything is Gluten Free!
The cafe had a gluten and dairy free lime and blueberry cakeI couldn’t say no to that! Neither could you, even if you’re not on a restricted diet. Plus, all cakes and pastries are made in their kitchen with locally sourced ingredients, whenever possible. They taste especially good with a cup of tea.

I’ve gotten a lot of good home decor ideas in Ireland.
Strawberries and walnuts are one of my favorite combinations. And yes, even this is gluten free!
I’l take the whole cake, please.


A slice of heaven.


Bean to Bar
When I finished my cake and tea, I visited the chocolate shop and had a little conversation about cocoa beans.

Hazel Mountain’s beans are imported directly from cacao farmers and then prepared on site. The process of converting beans into chocolate bars takes about one month, but it ensures consumers are getting some of the finest chocolate in Europe. I liked being able to watch employees make the truffles through the glass.





I resisted the temptation to buy one of everything and purchased ONE dark chocolate bar, which I opened as soon as I got in the car. After devouring one square, I packed the rest away. I would later enjoy it slowly, one square at a time, with a glass of wine back in Sneem.

I think Oscar Wilde would approve.

Rhubarb and pink pepper gave my chocolate a bit of a bite.
Rhubarb and pink pepper gave my chocolate a bit of a bite.

I am the Falconer

Last October, my sister Carole and I visited Ireland’s School of Falconry for an afternoon. I had been looking for a unique Irish experience, something Carole could go home and tell her children about, and this seemed perfect. Lilly (7) would love the pictures of a castle and Isaac (9) would be interested in the birds. Plus, having grown up in the farmlands of Minnesota, there’s nothing so dramatic as driving up to a place like Ashford Castle with its guarded front gate and perfectly manicured grounds.  You feel like you’ve been dropped into the middle of a fairytale.

Ashford Caste
photo credit:

School of Falconry sign

Located within the forested acres surrounding the castle, the school is enclosed by an ivy-covered stone wall, and its massive wood doors are like an entrance to another world. I half expected Dumbledore to open them instead of a young woman in a green pullover. The woman led us inside and to a weathering yard, where a dozen Harris hawks perched behind screens. Within minutes of arriving we were introduced to our instructor, who selected our bird for the private, hour-long Hawk Walk.

There was a long list of names on a board inside, and I really wanted Uisce because that’s the name of my favorite bar back home. However, Uisce wasn’t at a good flying weight that day, and hawks will only cooperate at this magical number. A few ounces over and they won’t be hungry enough to fly; the meat you are offering as a reward won’t interest them. A few ounces under and they may fly off and find something still alive to be hunted and preyed upon.

My memory being what it is, I can no longer recall the name of our hawk. I’ll call it Killary, as she seems to be popular among the other travel photographers who visited Ireland’s School of Falconry around the same time period, although I know it was a name more Irish and unpronounceable than that (probably Siobhan, Aoife, or Naimh).

Instructor with Harris Hawk

I let Carole have the first go so I could take pictures. Neither of us were nervous about handling Killary. I don’t even remember being worried about if the talons would hurt or if she would land anywhere other than the glove. Mostly, we were excited to try something new.

Strips of leather were threaded through a ring around Killary’s legs. Carole held them to secure the hawk while we walked outside the gates and into the woods. To release Killary, Carole simply uncurled her fingers from around the jesses. She was a complete natural.Carole and Harris HawkHarris Hawk on glove

We walked through the grounds at a leisurely pace, and Killary flew from tree to tree, jingling the bells on her feet and giving away her position. Whenever Carole or I wanted her to land, we held up our gloved arm and Killary swooped down, taking the meat from our hands. I didn’t feel a thing, except for her weight and her strength as she gripped the glove. How could I not be in awe? There was something very alert, intelligent and even a little sly behind those eyes.

School of Falconry Hawk WalkHarris Hawk in Tree

Hawks are impressive birds. Their eyesight is eight times better than humans, and unlike many animals, they see in color. During a hunt, they can dive at 150 miles per hour to catch their prey. That doesn’t bode well for a little field mouse, scurrying home at only 8 mph.

Harris Hawk taking offHarris Hawk Landing

Some people believe there is a bond between bird and falconer, and maybe that’s true. I think it’s simply operant conditioning. The hawk trusts the falconer for food and shelter and the falconer trusts that the hawk will fly back. Our instructor said that if a falconer calls the bird without a reward (meat), soon the bird will quit returning.Harris Hawk in Cage

The school also keeps an owl named Dingle and Peregrine falcons, formidable hunters that dive after prey at speeds up to 200 miles per hour. These beautiful creatures are worth a visit for anyone traveling through the village of Cong or staying at Ashford Castle. You can call yourself a Falconer!