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There are moments on the island of Ireland when it feels like you suddenly get it. Where your spirit feels lifted and your soul feels stirred. It might happen on a deserted Atlantic beach in mid-winter as you walk along buffeted by salty breezes, with the roar of waves in your ears and white-bellied seagulls swooping overhead. It might happen as you stroll an earthy forest trail and discover an abandoned medieval castle filled with crumbling stones and creeping ivy. Or it might happen in the middle of a traditional music session, where you can’t stop your toes from tapping along to the beat. But it will happen.

The island of Ireland has so much to offer any traveller. The island has a rich cultural heritage stretching back thousands of years to the Celts but also includes present-day attractions like filming locations for popular television shows such as HBO’s Game of the Thrones and the must-see Titanic Museum in Belfast. Tours cover the whole island so you can savour a flavour of the many diverse experiences to be had.

The island of Ireland is also a wonderland for those who love to explore and enjoy the great outdoors. Be sure to visit the stunning Cliffs of Moher, the UNESCO World Heritage Site the Giants Causeway, and the many pristine lochs and scenic trails scattered throughout the island. 

No matter where you travel on the island, be rest assured that you can do so in a way that helps support local communities and protects the environment. There is sustainable and eco-friendly accommodation all around the island and we can tailor-make your perfect bespoke sustainable trip for you which will enable you to see all the sights while leaving a positive impact.

At some point you will experience Ireland – you’ll feel it. And there’s a good reason why: for a small island on the edge of Europe, the island of Ireland has some truly unique, memory making experiences.

Join us on a 30-minute holiday to Ireland with the Travel Insider Podcast!

Hosted by Bec Miles, editor of Charitable Traveller Magazine, Charitable Travel’s Travel Insider Podcast lets you in on Travel’s best-kept secrets, hidden gems, and unforgettable experiences. In the Island of Ireland series, we visit Christ Church Cathedral in the heart of Dublin and speak to Susanne Reid who has worked at the Cathedral for over seven years. Journey through the Cathedral’s history, and uncover the stories it holds from the past 1,000 years.

We also visit an impressive spot on the Wild Atlantic Way, on the West Coast of Ireland. Positioned between the Atlantic Sea and the Killarney National Park, Derrynane is home to John Fitzgerald and his wife Kerryann, who own and run the Atlantic Irish Seaweed company in this remote spot.

And finally, it’s over to the town of Enniskillen on Lough Erne in County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland to speak to Barry Flanagan, owner of Erne Water Taxi as we explore this fascinating landscape from the water, and share stories of the people, castles, traditions, and food that have made this place home over the past 5,000 years!

Bec Miles: Hello, and welcome to Charitable Travel’s Travel Insider Podcast. My name’s Rebecca Miles, I’m a travel journalist and the host of this podcast series, otherwise known as TIPs. We hope to give you lots of great travel tips today, but most importantly we intend to transport you from wherever you are right now, perhaps you’re walking through the park, or maybe you’re squashed into a crowded commuter train, to a place that will inspire you.

Today, we’re traveling to Dublin. It’s a city I’m sure many of you are familiar with, but to help us get under the skin of the place and reveal an alternative side to it we’re talking to Susanne Reid, who works at Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin – more formally known as the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity.

The Cathedral has been at the centre of Dublin life for nearly 1,000 years. It celebrates its millennium in 2028, and Susanne has been working at the ancient building for seven of those years. While seven years to you or I is the time we typically spend at senior school, for Susanne, it’s made her appreciate that good things take time. The cathedral really was built to last.

Within the Cathedral’s grey stone walls, you’ll find one of the largest crypts in Britain and Ireland, lots of exquisitely detailed floor tiles, and many quiet corners. It’s these spots that Susanne finds most fascinating. And despite having worked here for seven years, she’s surprised at how often she uncovers new stories.

People come from all over the world to visit Christ Church Cathedral, because they’re religious or interested in the architecture or the history, and all the stories this building tells. Its position in Dublin, on the edge of Temple Bar and 10 minutes’ walk from Trinity college, makes it a must when exploring the city.

But you don’t want to hear me tell you all about this. I’m going to let Susanne the talking and share with us, her insight into Christ Church cathedral and the city of Dublin.

So welcome, Susanne. Thanks so much for joining us. Now. It’s been a long time since I’ve been to Dublin and visited Christ Church Cathedral. Can you take me back there? Metaphorically? What does it look like? How does it smell as you walk in? What can you hear?

Susanne Reid: I think Bec, even if it has been a long time since you were at Christ Church, I guess a building that has stood at the heart of a city for almost a thousand years, there’s that reassurance and comfort in that we don’t do dynamic or enormous changes.

So, there would be that comforting familiarity as you return to see us for another time. It’s right in the heart of Dublin city, surrounded by roads, and buses, and traffic, and city life. But once you come through the gates to the cathedral, It’s really a different time, and place, and space.

So, you’re, you’re coming into really an oasis in the city. You’ll, you know, there will be birds. We have two beehives in our, in our Chapter House ruins now, and there’s a lot of planting. And at particular times of the year, the, the colours change in the cathedral grounds. When you come into the cathedral, I suppose, there’s that comforting smell of again like beeswax and, and you see candles and you know, gentle lighting, and just an overwhelming sense of calm in that place.

Bec Miles: I can feel my shoulders dropping a few notches already just hearing you talk about that sort of peaceful calm place.

Susanne Reid: That’s it, and I think too, depending on what time of the day you’ve chosen to come in and see us, you know, you might catch one of our organists rehearsing, or you might catch the choir rehearsing.

Or you might even be there for one, one of the lovely song services that happen throughout the week as the choir maintain the centuries long pattern of song liturgy in the cathedral.

Bec: Gorgeous. So, when visitors arrive at the cathedral what’s the first thing they’re greeted with?

Susanne Reid: So, I guess I am slightly contradicting myself here because we’re always working on something at Christ Church and that’s what keeps it so relevant and vibrant in the city. So, when you come onto the grounds of the cathedral, now there is a lovely viewing platform which allows visitors to really take in the expanse of the cathedral and its precincts.

And also just, you know, it’s a great space for those photographs and the sort of setting of the scene, if you like. When you come onto the viewing platform, there is some bone conduction technology there, which allows visitors to use their own bones and cutting-edge hearing technology to feel and experience some of the sounds of the cathedral, the base sounds of the heavier cathedral bells, and also some sounds of the organ.

We then also have a new installation there, which is a bronze of the cathedral and its precincts in the 1370s, which sets the scene again for the visitor. They have some sense of the, you know, some of the buildings that are not in perfect repair on the grounds, what they would once have been, and some sense of the footprint of the cathedral at that time.

We’re very keen on being inclusive to all at Christ Church. So that bronze for example has braille on it and is it children’s height and wheelchair height so that anyone who comes on to the cathedral grounds can experience it and touch it.

Bec Miles: Oh, wonderful. I love the sound of that new cutting-edge technology, juxtaposed with this ancient building. So, do you have to actually wear the, is it a case of you have to wear something on your head to get the sound?

Susanne Reid: Not at all. It’s low tech in that regard. It’s your body that conducts the sound. So, you place your elbows on a railing, and there’s one at a children’s height and for those in wheelchair height as well, and by doing that you feel the vibration of the sound up through your body and into your ears. Yeah.

Bec Miles: Wow, how incredibly immersive.

Susanne Reid: Yes, exactly. Yeah. It’s certainly the only place we’re aware of it being used in Ireland, at the moment anyway.

So, then I guess we’re down onto the stone labyrinth, which people can use for a little bit of quiet reflection, what’s also very sweet is we see children using it just to kind of follow each other around in circles and the experience it in different ways. And then you’re coming into the building itself. I know some of you listening today will be wondering about bringing groups to the cathedral. and we welcome groups.

We have a web app which can be downloaded in advance. It’s available in five languages, French, German, English, Spanish, and Italian. And it takes the visitor through the cathedral and the stories and the interpretation there is in three different strands. Christ Church and the City, Power and Politics, and Music and Spirituality. So, visitors have the opportunity to do really quite a gentle Christ Church visit, which would take maybe around 35/40 minutes following one of those strands, they can hop between them or, they can spend hours in the building and do all three. But it really has brought the building to life. It’s done in an ‘eyes up’ way. So, you’re discovering and exploring as you walk through the building,

We’ve used the voices of the city, somewhat, in these audio guides. So, for example, we have the heart of Lawrence O’Toole in the cathedral, Dublin’s patron saint, and there is the member of Garda Síochána, the Irish police force who discovered the heart after it’s theft, who tells the story of it’s returned to the cathedral.

Bec Miles: Ah, brilliant. So, what’s it like working in such a historically significant building?

Susanne Reid: I think that sometimes, you know, people imagine when you work in a cathedral that it’s a very gentle space and that, you know, that there isn’t really, maybe that much to do. In fact, it’s, it’s quite the opposite.

It’s, a very busy environment to work in for those of us who are charged with, running the cathedral. Making sure it’s open 364 days a year, making sure that it’s kept to the standard that it needs to be, that it deserves to be kept to, and also delivering services, exhibitions, events, and tours for people coming on a daily basis.

It is an extraordinary building, and it’s quite a privilege to work in it because, as I wander round, my favourite time to come into Christ Church is very early in the morning, and sometimes when I come in, the organ scholar is there ahead of me playing, and it might just be me and this wonderful music in this historic space and you’re reminded of the purpose of the building and also of what a privilege it is to be there. Maybe I’m there seven years, just it’s a real snapshot. And you think, you know, how long the cathedral has been there, almost 1,000 years, it’ll celebrate its millennium in 2028.

So, we do find ourselves increasingly having those requests sometimes for groups to come in before the daily pattern of worship commences or the visiting starts, and they experience that maybe that dappled light coming in stained glass or just the peace of the building.

It’s very special to be there by yourself. I like that quiet moment before the day starts, it sort of sets me up to handle the tasks that will be coming as the day goes on, and I’m also often struck as I wander around looking at things, or if I’m attending something in the cathedral sitting somewhere where I don’t normally sit that you’re looking at architectural features or stone masonry, or something in the floor tiles, or a light fitting, or just some feature that you don’t really remember having noticed before. And I think for those who have come to see us, maybe in the past, it’s definitely worth a second or a third foray into the building because you will definitely pick up something that you didn’t notice first or second or third time around.

So, I think that, you know, when people construct something like Christ Church, it’s, you know, they built these buildings to last and unfortunately, the fortunes of the cathedral have fluctuated down through the centuries, But the most recent piece of work that was done in the cathedral. And when I say recent, I mean the 1870s was thanks to money given to the cathedral by Henry Rowe, who was the largest distiller of whiskey in Europe at the time.

And he donated around the today’s equivalent around €29 Million for the restoration of Christ Church. And at the time they went to London and street George Edmond Street was the ecclesia architect who was brought to Dublin for the restoration of Christ Church. In my office, I’m lucky enough to have some photographs dating back to that restoration, and it’s definitely a different health and safety environment to the one that people see today because there’s scaffolding with big bamboos you know, held together with rope and these very serious looking gentlemen wearing top hats and tails standing, observing the, the work scene.

Bec Miles: So, no hard hats.

Susanne Reid: No, not a hard hat in sight. And Street’s approach was not the careful conservation one that is taken today. When anything happens in Christ Church, he liked a minimal aesthetic in, in a building. So, any of the monuments that he didn’t like were either thrown away or moved to the cathedral’s crypt

The result is, is something quite spectacular, but we certainly wouldn’t be attempting to do anything quite so dramatic these days that’s for sure

Bec Miles: No. I mean there must be, oh, no you carry on.

Susanne Reid: I was going to tell you a little bit about our crypt.

Bec Miles: Yeah, do. I’d love to hear more about the crypt. It sounds incredible.

Susanne Reid: So, the crypt is right underneath the whole length of the nave of the cathedral and its Eastern chapels. So, it’s the largest in Ireland. And as part of the millennium project in 2000, they put a proper floor in it, because up until then it was just loose clay floor.

And it really is quite an eclectic mix mixture of things that are stored down there. We have a mummified cat and rat that were found in the organ pipes and James Joyce references them in Finnegans Wake. The story goes that they couldn’t get a sound out of the largest organ pipes, and when they took them apart, they found this fellow, this, mummified cat and mummified rat in the organ. So, they’re kind of locally been given the name, Tom and Jerry, but sometimes our north American visitors refer to them as Itchy and Scratchy from The Simpsons.

We also have Ireland’s oldest copy of Magna Carta in the cathedral crypt and it’s Magna Carta Hibernia the Irish Magna Carta. So, it has all those wonderful headlines. That no man will be denied the right to justice, and all those great principles, but also they tell us who’s allowed to fish on the River Liffey down the hill from the cathedral and it’s situated

Bec Miles: Love the detail.

Susanne Reid: Yeah, [the Magna Carta is situated] just beside the Williamite commemorative plate, which was presented to the cathedral after the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, its entirely priceless. And the Silver Salver, which is the centrepiece of the, the plate is one of a pair. The other’s on display with the Crown Jewels in London, but for our visitors, I think it’s always interesting to remember that this, I suppose is a testament to the sort of the power and the politics of the cathedral, but also was not designed as an ornament.

It would’ve been put out on the high altar on highdays and holidays, big feast days like Christmas and Easter Sunday. Our visitors can get very close and see it in great detail and in general, there’s no time pressure for having to move all along. Like you, you do when you’re on the conveyor belt with the Crown Jewels.

Bec Miles: Yeah, absolutely.

Susanne Reid: So, the other thing that I would possibly mention, in the crypt is the have a lovely, dress up area, which we developed as something we thought would be used by, by children and by families. In fact, we find that it has huge appeal for all ages. So we see people dressed as strong bow or as a monk, having sword fights with each other in, in our crypt from time to time, right beside the costumes that Joan Bergen designed for the TV show, The Tudors which was filmed in Christ Church.

Bec Miles: Oh, my gosh, you got spanning all the ages. It’s fabulous. I imagine as well, people must visit the cathedral for all sorts of different reasons. I mean, if you’re particularly religious, what are the best bits to seek out? Or perhaps if you’re particularly into your history, what are the must-see’s?

Susanne Reid: So, I think I would really recommend that people who are interested in coming for worship purposes would try to choral service. The choir is we’ve maintained a professional choir for over five hundred years. It’s an adult mixed voice choir, adult men, and woman, and really considered to be the foremost church choir on the island of Ireland. No false modesty here.

Bec Miles: No, sing it loud.

Susanne Reid: Yeah. Loud and proud. So I would encourage anyone who has an interest in choral music or who would like to come for worship to come when the choir are singing.

However, sometimes people are drawn to the building, not because they want to participate or be part of a formal service, sometimes they really would like a quiet moment. And I would say then to maybe find the Lady Chapel or the Chapel of St. Blood and just have a moment or two to yourself there. And again, at the start of the day or, around lunch time tend to be quite quiet times in the building and they’re a good time to come for that purpose.

For visiting. I would you know, I think our audio guide really has enhanced the visitor experience for so many who come to see us. But please do also take the time, we have vergers who are like the caretakers of the building. They’re robed have a chat with one of those. Talk to our welcome desk team. Talk to the gang down at the gift shop because they love to tell the stories of the building to interact with the people coming and going. That’s why they’ve chosen to work in somewhere like Christ Church.

I would also say for those who are fit and able, it’s worthwhile considering taking one of our tower tours as well. Christ Church has nineteen bells which are rung in full circle. They added 2 as part of the millennium project and are now listed in the Guinness Book of Records, as the cathedral with the most bells, rung in full circle, anywhere in the world. the tower tour takes around 40 minutes. It’s really behind the scenes. So the Cathedral is always immaculate, beautiful serene, and people tend to behave quite formally when they’re in that space.

Bec Miles: Yeah.

Susanne Reid: We take them then up a winding medieval staircase, 86 stone stairs. They go across the roof at the level of the south transept(?) roof. So you have views out over the Dublin mountains, over Dublin city. Then you’re in a little tiny door. I always call it like a Hobbit door into the ringing chamber and that, you know, it’s quite informal, there’s a kettle, there’s a couch and our ringers are there for practice on a Friday and they ring on a Sunday. And also, for any major occasions.

Those on a bell who are learn about the numerical sequences of ringing, but also they get to have a go at ringing the cathedral bells as well.

So that’s wonderful.

Bec Miles: I love that sound.

Susanne Reid: Yeah, it’s quite special, you know and obviously, you know, photographs possible and, you know, we can see that. That people really enjoy getting behind the scenes a little bit, under the skin of the cathedral.

Bec Miles: Yeah, definitely. So, does that run every Friday?

Susanne Reid: It runs pretty much every day throughout the summer season. And then it’s definitely worth having a look at our website for other times of year. If you’re traveling out of season.

Bec Miles: Brilliant. Okay. Now we’ve touched on a few, but there must have been some really interesting characters throughout the history of the cathedral who were your favourites?

Susanne Reid: I think. You know, since I, I love the, I love that story of the, the heart of Lawrence O’Toole, you know, I love the idea that he was so fond of Dublin and of Christ Church, that his supporters brought his heart back from France. When he unfortunately passed away there, and this is in the 12th century,

We have a large lead heart-shaped object on display in the cathedral. This is the heart attributed to Lawrence O’Toole. And I love that story of people hiding in the cathedral in 2012 and the heart returning to us in 2018 and the, you know, the policeman in charge of the investigation taking the whole thing. So, so personally. I also love the, the story of Henry II coming up the Liffey in a flotilla to attend Christmas mass at Christ Church in the 12th century.

And [I’m] also fascinated that it was the, the cathedral of choice for the coronation of Lambert Simnel. One of the two pretenders to the throne [of England].

Bec Miles: I guess he would’ve had his pick of places.

Susanne Reid: Well, you would’ve thought so, but significant perhaps that it was to Ireland, he came for the coronation.

Bec Miles: Fabulous. Yeah. It sounds like there’s just so much to explore. I mean, and as you say, visit once twice, three times more as you’ll always find something new. But once visitors have finished exploring Christ Church cathedral, where should they head to next?

Susanne Reid: Oh, I mean, I think that’s one of the great beauties of Dublin.

I had a friend here over the weekend and I think that’s what really struck him was just how we could get out and about very easily. It was so walkable. And it really depends on, you know, what, what people are interested in doing. But I think we’re right beside Dublin Castle and the, the great visit there. We’re right beside Teeling’s distillery across the river from the old Jameson distillery. So if people like to taste the whiskey and tour distillery, that very possible as well.

For those who are more into the heritage and that level, that side of culture. I would recommend a stroll from Christ Church down through temple bar, the little cobble streets, maybe a coffee or a glass of something on the way. And then through the front arch, into Trinity college where it it’s so lovely to walk through the college grounds and, and then perhaps visit the old library was the Book of Kells.

I then like to go out and over to Merrion Square, and I’m not one for spending a day in an art gallery, but I do love to pop in and they’ve restored the gallery quite recently.

So, the 18th century rooms are just beautiful. You have a real sense of grandeur and of people who knew how to construct things to last and of quality, but also, you know, you might just pop in and see a Caravaggio, or there are always ongoing exhibitions there, which the last one I went to was Vermeer, and it was excellent, but there’s always something to catch your eye in the National Gallery.

I love, myself, to pop in from time to time to Marsh’s Library. It’s the first public library in Europe. And I suppose we’re all quite used to, you know, picking a book up here or there even downloading one onto our Kindle, but there I think we’re reminded just how precious a commodity a book was. So Narcissus Marsh who founded the library, had some of the books are in chains and still are, and readers were put in cages so they could consult them, but not make off with them. So, it’s quite an interesting little spot to visit too.

There’s a relatively recent Museum of Literature, MoLI on Stephen’s Green. And for those who have a fondness for Dublin, the Little Museum of Dublin on Stephen’s Green is gorgeous. Everything from millennium milk bottles to bits of YouTube memorabilia and always worth calling in there to see what else they’ve decided to put on display.

Bec Miles: Awesome. I mean, it just sounds like it’s such a city for all the senses. You touched on those distilleries. Where else should we be if we’re wanting to eat and drink our way around the city? Where else are you heading to?

Susanne Reid: Well, I think just because where I’m situated, I tend to, you know, I love, it’s a weakness of mine, a nice cup of coffee and a bun or a nice cup of tea and a scone.

Bec Miles: Yes

Susanne Reid: So there’s a gorgeous bakery café just around the corner in Temple Bar from the cathedral called Queen of Tarts. So if you fancied a bowl of soup and then a lemon meringue or something delicious and homemade, I would recommend there. And throughout the summertime, when people are there in the summer, they have tables outside. But a gorgeous cosy interior throughout the year as well.

I think, there’s a lovely boardwalk on the Liffey now, so you can get right down the Liffey and stop off in other places, a gorgeous restaurant, just for quite a special lunch, would be the Winding Stair again, major focus on Irish produce, great selection for vegans and vegetarians as well. And for those who like to have a little glass or something lots of different and unusual wines by the glass.

Tomorrow night we will, in Christ Church, we’ll be having some people to come and do the tour, and at the end of that, we’re working with the chipper, which is across the road, Burdock’s chipper. They’re just across the road from the cathedral really. Tiny little fish and chip shop and they have some of the finest cod and chips on the island. I think. So people love to just get a takeaway fish and chips and come across and sit in the grounds of the cathedral and eat those.

But I think for anyone who likes seafood, or a good pint, or a social environment, Dublin has any amount of choice. I would also say that, you know, it’s very easy as well. If you’re a second- or third-time visitor to the city, it’s so easy to hop on a dart, or a bus and, and get to the seaside. You know, the dart is the local train that goes right along the coast at Dublin Bay. There’s some gorgeous scenery there and very easily you could be in Howth for a walk along the cliffs, or you could be out Dùn Laoghaire, which is a, a port just to the south of the city and get a little, a lovely walk at the Victorian harbour there. And of course, a nice ice cream or, something that lets you know, you’re on holidays at the end of that.

Bec Miles: Definitely what a brilliant mix.

Susanne Reid: Yeah.

Bec Miles: I mean you are so lucky to, to live in the city, live in the heart of it, but if you just have one day free to spend exactly as you wish how do you do it? What do you do?

Susanne Reid: So I would probably start at the, at the seaside and have a dip in the sea for, for, because in, in, on my perfect day, the weather allows me to do that.

Bec Miles: Yeah, absolutely. The weather is exactly as you wish.

Susanne Reid: Exactly. Then I’m having a nice coffee and a scone and getting the dart into the city centre. And probably because I am, I love bookshops, so I’m probably calling into the Gutter Bookshop on Cow’s Lane and probably calling into Dubray Books on Grafton Street. I might even pop into you know, just some of the old, some of the second-hand bookshops around time.

Then I’m meeting a friend and we’re, you know, we’re, we’re maybe doing a little bit of the sightseeing that I haven’t done in some time, or we’re going to experience one of the, the newer things. Like we might take an afternoon tea on the Double Decker bus with the Vintage Tea Time tours.

Bec Miles: Oh, wonderful.

Susanne Reid: On the tour of the city. Yeah. Or maybe I’m getting on the Viking splash tour and taking a World War II Duck or Amphibian through the city roaring at the rest of the people.

But, but really, I’m probably catching up with pals and certainly walking around and maybe just having a, you know, going to Stephen’s Green, which is always beautifully planted throughout the year. And people watching there for a while.

Not really, not being under any time pressure at any point in the day. And just, I suppose a bit like my own version of Ulysses, just having a stroll through the city and noticing the signs and the smells and the people and taking my time to do that.

Bec Miles: Oh, that sounds heavenly. Thank you. You’ve transported us perfectly.

To find out more and book your next holiday to Dublin. Visit www.charitable.travel. Remember that when you book your holiday with Charitable Travel, you can donate 5% of the cost of the trip to a charity of your choice, completely free.

And if you’ve been inspired by Susanne and want to find out more about Christ Church cathedral, visit www.christchurchcathedral.ie, or follow Christ Church Cathedral on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Rebecca Miles: Hello, and welcome to Charitable Travel’s Travel Insider Podcast. My name’s Rebecca Miles. I’m a travel journalist and the host of this podcast series that otherwise is known as TIPs. We hope to give you lots of great traveller tips today, but mostly we intend to transport you from wherever you are right now, perhaps you’re walking through the park or maybe you’re squashed into a crowded commuter train, to a place that will inspire you.

Today we’re travelling to the West Coast of Ireland to the county of Kerry, and a spot between the Atlantic Sea and the Killarney National Park. Derrynane is on the ring of Kerry and is part of the pristine coastline you’ll find on the Wild Atlantic Way.

Here we find John Fitzgerald and his wife Kerryann, who own and run the Atlantic Irish Seaweed company in this remote spot by the sea. The pair run seaweed discovery courses and workshops, allowing and encouraging visitors to the area to learn more about the many incredible benefits of seaweed. This rugged stretch of coastline at the western edge of Europe has a temperate climate, and in the sea beneath the nearly 2000 feet high cliffs and crashing on the Goldie Sandy beaches, you’ll find over 600 of the world’s 10,000 seaweed species. With views out to the Skellig Islands, 13 miles offshore, and its 6th century monastic ruins.

Visiting the Kerry coast can feel like travelling to a different time. But fortunately, Cork Airport is actually only a two-hour drive away and Kerry airport is even closer with direct flights to the UK. But I’m not going to tell you all about this. I’m going to let John do the talking and paint the picture of visiting this very special corner of Ireland for us.

Thanks so much for joining us, John. I’m sure a lot of our listeners will have heard how stunning, the West Coast of Ireland is, and that may have even seen it for themselves, but could you tell us what makes your patch around Derrynane so special?

John Fitzgerald: Sure, Bec. We’re blessed with an incredible rugged coastline. We’re right here at the edge of Europe with the magnificent Northeast Atlantic. We’ve also got the gulf stream washing up here. So we’ve got almost a temperate kind of hint of a climate here. So we’re way different than if you were to travel a few hours north. We’re blessed with milder winters.

We’ve got a larger and more diverse range of fish species and seaweed species, and plant species because of our situation here. So, the water’s warm enough to swim all year round, my wife tells me.

Rebecca Miles: You’re not a fan yourself.

John Fitzgerald: I do swim but I’m more of a warm water swimmer.

Rebecca Miles: I understand you grew up in Cork but used to holiday on the coast. You’ve now lived near Derrynane for 30 years. What is it that drew you back to the sea and convinced you to stay?

John Fitzgerald: Well, I guess in all my travels, I never lived too far from saltwater. But I guess there’s some magnetism here, with the Skellig Islands in the distance, it’s just one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited.

We were lucky enough to be brought here as children from Cork City, which is two hours away, and we would’ve spent all our summers here. And then wherever I was in the world, North America, the UK, I kept getting pulled back to here… and we were lucky enough to settle here and eke out a living from the ocean.

Rebecca Miles: Fabulous. Tell me where here is exactly. What can you see? Are you in your study at the moment? What can you see out the window?

John Fitzgerald: I’m in the kitchen. I’m in the kitchen of our house and we’ve got the ocean, literally a stone throw away. And we’re also surrounded by… we’ve got a lovely little river rowing and flowing nearby the house.

And lots and lots of trees and the mountains up behind us. So as farmland goes, this is designated as disadvantaged, but it’s not the ginormous rolling fields that you might see further north or further east in, in the golden veil around. Like in Cork, Tipperary, and Milford, with the large, large farms. This is more mountains and bog and rock, trees, and of course ocean. It sounds incredible.

Rebecca Miles: So it’s right on the tip. We’re talking right down on the tip of the southwest, aren’t we?

John Fitzgerald: Yes. So leaving here. First stop 12 kilometres off you have the Skellig Islands, and then the next step after that is North America.

Rebecca Miles: Crikey. Okay. Now tell me, seaweed, it’s a very specialist thing, isn’t it? How did you become such a fan of this incredible plant?

John Fitzgerald: Well, I had studied science in university before taking off for America and going on my travels. When I came back here, I would hang out in, in the ocean all the time fishing, swimming and snorkelling and all the rest.

So I would’ve been grazing all along, and just there was an increased interest in seaweed starting maybe 15-20 years ago. There was a lady who I was actually in college with who wrote a big book called, The Irish Seaweed Kitchen, and that became an international bestseller. It was being mentioned on the radio a lot and she was being interviewed and my ears pricked and I started to pay more attention and more attention, and then start researching and reading, and researching and reading. And I guess, it just started to bloom naturally then.

Rebecca Miles: Literally. Seaweed, it’s such an incredibly sustainable resource. I’d love to know more about the benefits of seaweed. I understand it’s having a big impact on the local food scene.

John Fitzgerald: Sure, we had a French chef here the other day now who’s running a five-star restaurant in a big fancy hotel, and we had him at the shore for a few hours.

If you go back 10 years, I would’ve gotten, one call a year from a chef. Now we’re getting, a few calls a week. It seems certainly if you’re going up the food chain, no pun unintended towards Mitchelin and Stars and stuff, you got to have seaweed on your menu. You know that the whole foraging thing is so on trend also.

But I guess part of that might be driven by people being less trustful of large corporations and how they may or may not have had our best interests in heart, at heart all along. So they’re kind of trying to look for more sustainable, but more honest foods, if you like. And then of course there’s exponential research going on into seaweeds and their benefits, which are vast and, and we’re finding out more and more stuff everyday about, about how good these plants are for us.

Rebecca Miles: Can you tell me more about those benefits? What is it? Is it simply from eating it or are there other benefits too?

John Fitzgerald: Well, let’s say seaweed has a lot of active compounds and molecules, which aren’t present in in any land plants. And these, can do some amazing stuff.

Say take Bladder Wrack fucus vesiculosus a really common, brown seaweed that you’d have there all over the coast of the UK. It’s the one with the paired air bladders that the kids tend to pop. This contains a substance called a Fucoidan, and it’s a sulfated polysaccharide.

In Japan, they’ve, they’ve published the medical papers, the research has taken place, and they learned that the Fucoidan in the Bladder wrack binds Helicobacter pylori bacteria in the gut. So H. Pylori is really harmful for bacteria around. One in 10 of us in the West are unlucky enough to be afflicted by it. We go to the doctors, they put us on antibiotics, and antibiotics and more antibiotics.

And then if we’re unlucky, we can’t beat it. We go to get triple bypass surgery. Whereas in Japan, if you go to a medical doctor, she or he will send you down to the local shop to buy this fucus vesiculosus, which is one of our most common seaweeds, like there’s billions. Theres tons of them around the coast.

If you take that twice a day the doctor will say, come back and see them again in a month. And what it does is it continually flushes out. So right there in that common plant that we would’ve traditionally use as fertilizer, maybe a bit of animal feed, if we’re using it at all, that contains a remedy for something that’s really harmful to us.

Rebecca Miles: That’s incredible. And it’s just growing there, right on the shore, hiding in plain sight, in vast abundance. It’s incredible. Any other specifics?

John Fitzgerald: Sure. There’s got Egg wrack, another really common one that’s the traditional one for fertilizer. This would be the giant single air bladders in a row.

It’s a brown seaweed that lives near Bladder wrack on, between the high and the low water mark. You’ll always see it when you go down to the shore that contains a substance which softens black and tarter on your teeth and gums. So, there’s a company in Sweden with a subsidiary actually in the UK and another subsidiary in Ireland.

And they, they figured this out because their dog started eating the young shoots of this when they took them for a walk at the beach. And the dog was really old and with bad teeth and gums. And after a few weeks, they noticed there was a vast improvement here. So they took a chance and they brought it home, they dried it, powdered it, and sent it off for analysis, and they hit the jackpot because there’s an active compound in there that softens plaque and tartar on your teeth and gums.

So for about seven or eight years now, I’ve been showing their product on our walks just because I love the fact that they stopped and then they paid attention to the dog and they said, there’s something going on here. And then they said let’s take a chance. And they’ve spent a few hundred bucks checking it, having it analysed, and now they’ve made millions supplying this product, which is just that seaweed Ascophyllum nodosum or Egg wrack just dried and powdered.

So they sell it in a little tub for your dog or a bigger tub, or a little tub for your cat. And after about six or seven years, they brought out a human version. So that’s the exact same thing, that it’s inside in a cell loose capsule and you just take a capsule in the morning and a capsule in the evening. It dissolves in your gut.

It appears in your saliva, but it’s colourless, tasteless and odourless so you don’t know it’s there and it’s working night and day on your teeth and gums. So again, yeah, so clever and they’ve made an absolute fortune. And I show the product. I don’t sell it, but I show it because I just love the fact that they paid attention, and it paid off.

Because we, a lot of the time we go out into nature, but our eyes are, might only be half open or we’ve pre preconceived notions about what’s actually going on there.

Rebecca Miles: That’s so true.

John Fitzgerald: We’re very arrogant. When it, when it can come to science, we have a tendency to think we’re the smartest guy in the room.

Rebcca Miles: Yes, you’re right. Cause you sell on your, on your website you sell cutlery. That’s right. Is that right? From, um seaweed.

John Fitzgerald: Sure. Yes, that’s right. At one stage I went back to university in Northhampton. The British School of Leather Technology there in the University of Northhampton, who, who were very good to me. And I, I had this, um, totally normal obsession with attempting to turn the skin of fishes into leather. So…

Rebecca Miles: Oh, I mean, everyone does that, don’t they?

John Fitzgerald: Yeah. Everybody goes through that phase, right? It’s like, you know, getting an earring or something. So this cost me about three years, but I went back and forth to Northhampton with the loads of salted salmon skins and eventually, I came up with an amazing formula and we used to make wallets and handbags and belts and dog collars and so, and shoes at one stage.

The same principle when I looked at the, the giant kelp rods being washed up after the southerly gales in the wintertime. These are obviously, this is the forest kelp, Laminaria hyperborean. So I was going, looking at this saying, right, this is the ancestors of the forest here on land. Could we do anything with these rods. Is there a way of curing them? Stabilizing them?

So, the same principle is tanning. You take out what you don’t want, you put in what you do want you, you lock it down, and then you polish it up and you, if it looks good…you might find a purpose for it. So, we did this and my wife and I, we messed around with some cutlery pieces and we made the most beautiful handles, which look a bit like deer horn.

So, at the moment as we speak, my wife is out in the workshop working on a commission for a Norwegian restaurant called Under, Under.no I know is their website, and it’s a Michelin starred underwater restaurant. So, it’s under the ocean, it’s under the Atlantic. You go in at sea level, you walk down, you’re sitting there eating.

If you can get a table, I think there’s something like an eight-month waiting list, and you’d have to sell your car to eat there. So, we’re hoping to deliver that, that order in November. But what we’ve got then is this amazing story, whereby seaweeds come up out of the Atlantic, thrown up by the storm, their storm cast onto our Skellig coast here on the Wild Atlantic Way.

We collect them, we repurpose them, and six months later they go back where they belong back under the ocean. This time in the, in the, the best restaurant in Norway.

Rebecca Miles: Gosh, So gorgeous. So cyclical. It’s wonderful.

John Fitzgerald: Yeah.

Rebecca Miles: I get the impression that seaweed has been really important throughout Kerry’s history. When did people first realize the importance of seaweed?

John Fitzgerald: Well, we’ve got evidence here of early settlers down there in the harbour. We’ve got what’s called a shell midden. This is listed in the national monuments as an archaeological find and on the north side of Abby Island in Derrynane Harbor.

And what’s there is basically the soil is peat, so it’s acidic, so it’s brilliant at preserving. What would’ve happened way back in the day, they would’ve gathered seaweeds and shellfish, sat around in a circle, chatted about the big game or whatever. Then they would have thrown through the empty seashells into a pit or a hole in the ground. Then they would’ve covered that in so they weren’t annoyed by vermin, which back then would’ve probably been seabird, seagulls and such.

Because the rats didn’t arrive from the West until thousands of years later. They haven’t carbon dated the shell midden, but they say it could date back up to 10,000 years, which was when Ireland was settled first after the last ice age.

So we, we knew that after the last ice age when Ireland was first settled, they came across the ice bridge from Central Europe. They came across the ice bridge, then into Britain, and then across from Britain, into Ireland. And they always stayed by the coast. And this is repeated all over the world. They stayed by the coast because they had a ready supply of food in the form of shellfish and seaweed all year round.

Every day of the year, there’s a variety for you to choose from. It’s kind of no special tools or skills required, which is what attracted me to it. And they thrived because they had a fantastic diet. They also had shelter in the sand dunes which they would borrow into like rabbits. They had fire and they had freshwater streams running down from the mountains.

So they had everything they needed right there.

Rebecca Miles: Sounds like we could learn a lot from them.

John Fitzgerald: It’s funny that in North America, the same thing happened when they came across the icecap over from the north. They went down the Pacific side and the Atlantic side, and they hugged the coast all the way down.

So, they pinched in and then they# repeated the process and went all the way down both sides of South America and it’s referred as the Kelp Highway. Same thing happened on both main islands in Japan. They hugged the coast and if you think about it logically, the country would’ve been covered by forest back then. And if we remember old fairy tales if you went down to the woods, it never ended well.

Well back then, if you went back 6,000-7,000 years and you went off into the forest for 15 minutes and were sat there laughing.

Rebecca Miles: Yeah.

John Fitzgerald: You’ve got bears, wolves, wild boars, and other tribes to worry about. And you quite simply would just get lost because you’ve never been in one before and you have no idea how to get in or out. And you haven’t figured out the whole compass business, and your Google Earth isn’t working.

Rebecca Miles: No. Incredible. So, coming a little bit more recent by a few thousand years. How about the, the monks, they were important weren’t they? On the coast and, they really understood the benefits of the seaweed, didn’t they?

John Fitzgerald: Well it’s almost as philosophical a question as scientific. If you take the monks on Skellig Michael, the UNESCO heritage site, that’s 12 kilometres offshore. These guys went out there in the 6th century, and they stayed there from the 6th to the 12th century. But the word Skellig, translates from the Irish and from the Gaelic.

It even sounds like if the word Skellig translates as chard or jagged rock, because that’s essentially what it is out in the ocean.

Rebecca Miles: Yeah.

John Fitzgerald: It’s not farmland. It’s jagged, almost bear rock. So, their diet out there was really, really tricky. They didn’t have a goji berries, blueberry, citrus grove, or Amazon deliveries.

So, their source of vitamin C was hugely important, especially during the winter.

Rebecca Miles: Mm-hmm. So, they ate one particular seaweed called Dulse, every day. So they gathered it when they could, but this was their sole source of Vitamin C, so they wouldn’t have survived one winter out there on that bare rock without it.

Remember, at the time, this is the 6th-7th century. If you went past Skellig Michael, you went over the edge and down in, into the abyss because the world was flat. So, so it was the most remote place known to man.

Rebecca Miles: Of course. So I’ve got to ask what on earth attracted them to this barren rock on the edge of the world?

John Fitzgerald: Oh its quite simple really, the question is really what pushed them out. And it, it’s warfare in Europe. It was the dark ages, so Europe was perpetually at war. It was just bloodshed the whole time. So, they swapped our image of the, the happy monk with his wine, women, and song. And they swapped that for the peace.

They needed peace to be able to do their stuff. They’re meditating, they’re praying, write their annals, practice science, all that.

Rebecca Miles: Mm.

So, they swap the convenience, if you like, of the mainland for peace, to get on with what they wanted to do. So, they went to the most remote place they could possibly get to, which was Skellig Michael, like that was more remote for us. Obviously, we’re thinking of the Moon and Mars and wherever else.

Back then this was more remote than any desert or, you know. So, it’s ironic then that in the early 9th century, the Norse Vikings started raiding Ireland. They raided Skellig Michael first in 814 AD and they continued to do it throughout the 9th century.

But the irony is that the Vikings carried the same seaweed, dillisk or dulse on every voyage for the same reason, for vitamin C to prevent scurvy.

Rebecca Miles: These people were so wise.

John Fitzgerald: Yeah. They, no, they couldn’t write down say, the molecular structure of vitamin C. They didn’t know how to spell it, but they knew if we eat this, our teeth stay in and if we don’t eat it, our teeth fall out. It’s that simple.

So, the monks were the ones who always accumulated knowledge. I think the rest of us just accumulated grudges. That’s the various churches were so deeply rooted in education is because they were the custodians of civilization or their version of it.

And they were the gatherers and purveyors of knowledge. So, they knew this. But again, I’d say it’s almost more of a philosophical question than a historically one, because it’s almost like you know who ate the first oyster?

Rebecca Miles: Yes.

John Fitzgerald: The answer of course is, I don’t know because I wasn’t there, you know?

But yeah, it’s just interesting from a historical perspective then, that the monks were going to all these places, not just Skellig Michael, by the way, you’ve got places like Lindisfarne, et cetera. All of the remote monastic settlements to get away from the warfare and do their business.

But you’ve also got the Vikings then opening all the trade routes. Cause if you look at all the Irish coastal cities; Cork first, then Milford, then Dublin, then Limerick. These were all Viking trading posts. And the cities were essentially founded by the Vikings. The same happened, I believe, with the Danish Vikings in the UK.

St. Brendan, the navigator and Irish monk left Brandon in North Kerry, about two hours northwest of here, and he voyaged West. As far as North America, in the year 501 AD. There’s a fabulous documentary made by the BBC and RTE TV documentary, you can look it up. It’s called the Brendan Voyage.

A British adventurer called Tim Severin, who sadly is no longer with us, he re-enacted the voyage. They rebuilt the boat using animal hides and using all the old tools. And they completed the voyage landing in Canada after leaving North Kerry.

So, the Vikings did the same thing. Now, so that was early 6th century. The Vikings did the same thing some 200 years later. The Vikings also went east as far as Russia and south as far as the Mediterranean. They opened up all these trade routes, like half the genetics of Iceland are from Scotland and Ireland. The Vikings, they have great PR, but they weren’t the nicest. They stole women basically and brought them to Iceland as slaves.

By opening all these trade routes, it really shaped European history, that one particular seaweed. Because it allowed all those voyages you must remember. This is before the compass. It’s before Google Earth. It’s before any of this, and it was dilisk or dulse. That particular seaweed, by giving them vitamin C to prevent scurvy that allowed all that to happen. That’s why it’s all so tied to seaweed. It allowed the monks to survive. They wouldn’t have survived one winter, never mind, 600 years out on those islands. It’s all tied in.

And then if you want to just jump forward over a thousand years later, the largest navy in the history of the world, that’s the British Navy.

They figured out in 1747 that you’ve got to give your crew vitamin C every day to prevent scurvy in the form of citrus fruit. Hence earning the nicknames Limeys and Limey Land. So, it was over a thousand years earlier, but the custodians of civilization out in Skellig Michael and Lindisfarne and places like that, not just Skellig Michael and the marauding men from the north, the Norse and the Danish Vikings. They had the same knowledge. They couldn’t explain it, but they knew you eat this your teeth stay in, you don’t eat it, your teeth fall out.

So, it really did, it shaped hundreds and hundreds of years of history.

Rebecca Miles: And is it possible now to visit Skellig Island and see and sort of retrace those footsteps of the monks?

John Fitzgerald: Absolutely. I was in the harbour this morning delivering a small boat to a pal of mine and I saw our friend driving out there. There are trips daily in the summer months, and weather permitting, you can land, but it’s very limited. So, if it’s on your bucket list and I believe it should be on everybody’s bucket list, it’s an incredible place to visit. It’s staggering.

Rebecca Miles: And you mean there’s no sort of harbour built there or Marina?

John Fitzgerald: There’s a small landing on the north side. No, they didn’t get planning for the marina. In certain conditions, there’s a good chance most days in the summertime that you can land there. The boats are limited. The amount of boats, the quote, I believe there’s, 12 boats can carry 12 passengers each. It’s well worth trying to book in advance trips to Skellig. It’s absolutely spectacular.

Rebecca Miles: Gorgeous. So, tell me, what does a typical day look like for you? I imagine a typical day doesn’t really exist, but…

John Fitzgerald: Thankfully not. I get up have breakfast, get on the tube, try not to fight with anybody and then I get up sneak home again and mow the lawn for a bit. Then I’ll watch Come Dine with Me and Desperate Housewives.

Thankfully there is no such thing as a typical day, but it would always involve going down to the shore at least once, if not two, or three times. I think I’ve been there four times today. Now I have a tour after this and I will go to visit two sites at low tide to check what seaweeds are there. Everyone gets to taste the seaweeds and learn about those particular ones, what they were used for in the past, what they’re used for now, and also learn how to find them, how to identify them, how to sustainably harvest them. And they learn whether they like them or not.

I like the taste of them. I have to start every tour by saying two things. First of all, there’s no seaweeds in Irish waters that are toxic or in UK waters either. So, once you’re at a clean site, you’re pretty safe. There’s two things you’ve got to be a little bit careful of. One is that kelps contain a lot of iodine.

And Sea Lettuce, which is a green seaweed that looks like lettuce. You can’t mistake it for anything else. If there’s loads of that somewhere, it can mean that there’s pollution. So, you better go somewhere else to do your experiments and you’re harvesting. So, and obviously stay away from population bases, industry, and intensive farming.

And thankfully we’ve none of the above here.

Rebecca Miles: So, when, if visitors are joining one of your tours, is this the sort of thing you cover?

John Fitzgerald: Absolutely. It’s basically a stroll on the beach, right? So, people find the concept daunting. They wonder do I need a wetsuit, you don’t even need wellies.

You’re just going to walk along the beach. I might have wellies, or I might be barefoot, and I’d go in a bit and grab the bits that are there. But we work with the tides, so we try and get their low tide which is when we see the most stuff. They get to, like I say, learn how to find, identify, and sustainably harvest say 16 of the seaweeds.

We get to see 14 or 16 of the seaweed and we get to learn what they’re for, then at the end of each tour, everybody gets a pair of postcards. And on these postcards on the front is a seaweed image, but on the back is our website and our email. Then if they, if they send us an email, we send them on a coloured identification chart, the nutritional chart, and the synopsis of all the lies I told at the shore.

Rebecca Miles: Fabulous. So, if you are visiting, what else beyond obviously spending some time with you, what else is there to do in the area?

John Fitzgerald: Well, I’m very lucky to work adjacent to Derrynane House and Gardens. Now, Derrynane House is a museum. It’s an old house that’s owned now by the state, but it was the ancestral home of Daniel O’Connell, the liberator, one of Ireland’s most important statesmen.

And that would’ve been the best way to describe him. He would’ve been our Gandhi. So, when he was born as a Catholic, he couldn’t vote, own land or get an education. He was quite lucky to be raised by his uncle at Derrynane. His uncle had a smuggling business, and he was smuggled to France with his brother Fred to be educated.

And he received a fabulous education and became an incredible lawyer. And then he entered politics. So, by the time he died in 1847 those acts had been repealed. So, Catholics could own land, they could vote, and they could get an education. And he was a lifelong passivist. And very importantly he was an abolitionist. So, an incredible, incredible guy. There’s a lovely museum to him there. There’s a lovely cafe there, and there’s a national park with beautiful gardens and plants from all over the world. A lovely, lovely place to visit. Um, just up the road there’s Staigue Fort. Dating back around 3000 years.

Rebecca Miles: Wow.

John Fitzgerald: It’s in the top two or three in the whole country. It’s a huge stone fort. It’s an incredible structure in great condition. Believed to have been owned by one of the top chieftains in the whole area that he would’ve brought his people into if there was danger coming in from the sea. So that’s an amazing place to visit also.

And then you can just go in, on or under the ocean.

Rebecca Miles: Oh, brilliant. Okay.

John Fitzgerald: Always a must.

Rebecca Miles: Yeah. So, it’s all part of the Wild Atlantic way, isn’t it? How easy is it to get around?

John Fitzgerald: We’re on a strip of the Wild Atlantic Way, in fact, on our business card. That’s what it says. It says graze along the Wild Atlantic Way. Don’t just look at it. Get out of the car and walk along and go one step further and start to eat it because they’ll tell you it’s a roadway, but it, it’s the rocks with the seaweed detached that is the actual Wild Atlantic Way. So you get to graze seaweed on the Wild Atlantic Way and eat it.

To get around you can hire a car. There are some really good coach tours that go around. We’re on one loop. Killarney, Kenmare and Cork are all very close by. Kerry airport is about an hour and a half away and Cork airport is about two hours away.

And then of course we have Rosslare Ferry, which is maybe four hours away. So, you drive across yourself if you’re coming from the UK or you fly in and rent a car or come with a reputable tour operator that stops and allows you to do the seaweed walk.

Rebecca Miles: Yes. You don’t just want to rush past all this, do you?

John Fitzgerald: No.

Rebecca Miles: So lastly, if you had one day free to spend exactly as you wished in Kerry what would you do?

John Fitzgerald: I guess, I’d pretty much do a lot of the stuff I’d be doing anyway.

Rebecca Miles: Ha, you are so lucky.

John Fitzgerald: But people get so jealous when I start the tour by saying, okay, I’m working from home again today.

Rebecca Miles: What a spot.

John Fitzgerlad: Yeah, just incredible. So, I guess it it’d all be under, or on the water. We’d probably take an early morning boat trip out, say hi to the Dolphins, maybe land on one of the islands out in Derryanne Bay and have a picnic, maybe visit some old archaeological sites out there.

There’s one spectacular island just there in the bay called Scariff, which is 365 acres with an amazing history. It was occupied up until the 1930s and its beautiful farmland. It was basically a dairy farm that was just cut off from the mainland. So, the two families that lived out there were working as dairy farmers. The butter came ashore then. And was exported out through Cork all over the world.

But on the 23rd of June, 1653, an amazing guy called the Red Monk of Scarriff was murdered out there by Cromwellian Bounty Hunters because he was the head of the Franciscan order. So there, there was priest hunting at the time, if you like, but his body’s still out there and his skull is in a friary in Killarney, there’s just an amazing history on the island.

You can go back 350 years just by standing out on the island and see how amazing times must have been back then, you know? But yeah, the place is packed with stuff to do. Like, absolutely. And of course, a trip to Skellig is a must.

Rebecca Miles: Definitely. Oh, fabulous. Well, thank you so much, John. It’s been incredible hearing more about it. Thank you for joining us.

John Fitzgerald: Wonderful. We’ll expect you to pop around the corner any day.

Rebecca Miles: We definitely will. Thank you. If you’ve been inspired today and want to find out more and book your next holiday to Ireland, visit www.charitable.travel today.

For more information on John and the work he does, visit www.atlanticirishseaweed.com or follow Atlantic Irish Seaweed on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. If you enjoy this episode, don’t forget to rate and subscribe. You can also follow Charitable Travel on social media for even more travel inspiration.

Thanks for tuning in and see you soon for another 30-minute holiday.

Rebecca Miles: Hello and welcome to Charitable Travel’s Travel Insider Podcast. My name’s Rebecca Miles, I’m a travel journalist and the host of this podcast series that’s otherwise known as TIPs. We want to give you lots of great travel tips today, but mostly we want to transport you from wherever you are right now… perhaps you’re walking through the park, or maybe you’re squashed into a crowded commuter train to a place that will inspire you.

Today we’re travelling to the town of Enniskillen on Lough Erne in County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland. An hour and a half drive west from Belfast and its international Airport.

Lough Erne is the second-largest lake system in Northern Ireland and is rich in history, wildlife and outdoor activities. Among the 150-plus islands of upper and lower Lough Erne, we find Barry Flanagan, owner of Erne Water Taxis. Based in Enniskillen, Barry and his team spend their days helping visitors explore this fascinating landscape and sharing stories of the people, castles, traditions, and food that have made this place home over the past 5,000 years.

But Enniskillen isn’t just rich with history. It’s also fast becoming a great destination for an active and adventurous outdoors holiday with plenty to do both on and off the water. So let’s hand things over to Barry, the expert in the area to share with us what makes Lough Erne and Enniskillen so special.

Well, thanks so much for joining us. So paint the picture of where you are for us please. Where are you based and what’s your current view?

Barry Flanagan: Sure, Rebecca! We’re here based on Lough Erne and I’m looking out at the water as I sit on one of our boats here at the moment. It’s a beautiful day. You can see the water just shimmering on the top of the surface here, and I’m looking across it a little in the middle of our town here. Yeah, beautiful day. Blue skies, so I can’t complain.

Rebecca Miles: Sounds gorgeous. Tell us some more about Erne Water Taxi. What do you do there and what can the visitors expect?

Barry Flanagan: Sure. Well, Lough Erne is a beautiful waterway and I’d spent a few years travelling around the lough when I worked as an outdoor instructor and I was teaching kids how to kayak and canoe.

I realised that the lake was quite quiet and it seemed to be too quiet, in fact. So I thought to myself, wouldn’t it be great if more people can see this landscape? Cause it’s an absolutely wonderful landscape and I wanted to share it with people. So we set up a business in 2016 to try and promote Lough Erne and showcase it and bring people to these far-flung islands across the lough and tell them the history about the place.

So we bought a couple of boats with a cabin on top, and they’re quite nice, luxurious boats that have got leather seats, mohair carpets and wooden floors, and they’ve got a nice roof and cabin and they can travel a high speed, which is key to the whole business because we can show people quite a lot in a short space of time.

Rebecca Miles: So Lough Erne is actually pretty big, isn’t it? Tell us a bit more about the size of the water…

Barry Flanagan: We have a river which is around 100 miles long, and it flows from County Cavan, which is south of here. It flows through County Cavan as a river, and then it flows through Fermanagh as a lake. It widens out and becomes this beautiful Lough Erne, and then it flows as a river again out into the Atlantic and Donegal.

So we have about 60 miles of that is navigable and yeah, it’s a landscape which is covered in islands. There’s 154 islands across the whole lake, and they all have a story to tell. So it’s a pretty amazing place.

Rebecca Miles: Oh, fabulous. And as Erne Water Taxi, you are offering guided tours and that sort of thing?

Barry Flanagan: That’s exactly what we do. Yeah. We do guided tours of Lough Erne, bespoke guided tours across the whole lake. So you get into one of our water taxis with a tour guide who then tells you all about history and it’s very relaxed. It’s quite conversational, the tour because you have your own private boat to yourself.

So if you have a family group or a group of eight people, friends say they can go out and explore this landscape together in a very relaxed atmosphere.

Rebecca Miles: So it just sounds, as you say, it sounds incredibly rich with history. Can you give us, I mean we’ve, we’ve only got half an hour or so. Can you give us a potted history of the area?

Barry Flanagan: Of course, yeah. I suppose the landscape, it was always used as a means of travel. The lake was the main highway through Ireland. If you know the geography of Ireland, you’ve got the Shannon River, which is the longest river. Well, it connected up with the Erne. And the Erne and the Shannon were known as the ancient highways of Ireland.

So people were travelling this landscape. From way back from when the very first settlers arrived in to the country, they arrived into the mouth of the river and would’ve brought their boats onto the lake and would have made their homes across islands on Lough Erne. We have bronze burial, we’ve monastic sites dotted across islands all across the, we have beautiful plantation castles, which are overlooking Lough Erne all the way around the lake as well.

There’s a huge amount of history and the landscape can really help to tell the story of the history of Ireland because this was the means of travel.

Rebecca Miles: So how long, how far back are we talking?

Barry Flanagan: I mean, you can go back. I mean we’ve stone carvings on islands on Lough Erne, they’re said to be back from 3000 years ago.

But the first settlers probably settled on islands as far back as 5,000 years ago on Lough Erne. And we have beautiful stone carvings all around. Which tell the story actually of how these people made their home on islands here on Lough Erne.

Rebecca Miles: And they lived out on these, these tiny islands? Are so some of them sort of literally, you know, just little rocks in the water? What’s, what’s the sort of scale of things?

Barry Flanagan: They’re quite sizeable. The islands, for example… our town Enniskillen is the centre of Lough Erne, and the town itself is actually built on an island. So all our shops and businesses and churches are all based on this one island in the middle of Lough Erne. So that’s very unique in itself. But if you go further up or down the lake, you’ll see islands that are about maybe a hundred acres.

Some of them are smaller, 20 acres. They vary in size. You only have to go back about a hundred years ago when there was people living on a lot of these islands. So I would always say like, every island tells its own story and he can actually discover a huge amount about islander living and how people lived here by just going to an island and talking about the people who live there.

Rebecca Miles: I mean, there must have been some really interesting characters based here over time. Can you tell us about a few of your favourites?

Barry Flanagan: Yeah, of course. There was a man called John Rehill who I had a real fondness of. He was a real character. He had an island on Lough Erne and they called him the last of the islanders of Lough Erne, because he was one of the men who lived on an island without a bridge at the last surviving island, and he lived on the island with his wife Sheila.

And they would’ve farmed the island and fished like a lot of the islanders. But they also had a little café and they used to welcome people off, the lough, people that were cruising up and down the lock in their boats, and they used to come in and visit John and Sheila and John used to love to entertain, so he would take out the fiddle and play them a song, and Sheila would cook them a big slap up meal, and they would then sit maybe into the wee hours discussing the history of Fermanagh over a, over a drink or two.

So he was a really nice man. Yeah, there was a great place to visit. Yeah. Another person I suppose that comes to mind is a woman called Peggy Elliot. Her nickname was Orange Peggy. She lived on an island on Lough Erne and she lived to 108… The oldest living islander on Lough Erne.

Yeah. So the story behind Peggy Elliott was, or Orange Peggy seeing was really big into the Orange Laws and the Orange Orders, and she had her own big drum that she used to play on the 12th of July and march around the island, but she used to welcome people into the island as well. And she brewed a bit of an illicit alcohol poitín, as we call it!

And people used to come in and her and get a little bit of dram off her as well. So she was quite a popular lady on the lake. The good thing about the islands where the customs man could never find where the poitín stills were because the islanders used to notify each other by boat and tell them if the customs men were on the way, so they would move the still quickly.

Rebecca Miles: Brilliant. Yeah. There must have been some great hiding spots.

Barry Flanagan: Oh, definitely. Yeah. No, no shortage.

Rebecca Miles: How about the must-see sites in the area? You’ve mentioned castles, ancient stones, monastic ruins. What’s what’s top of the list for people to see?

Barry Flanagan: I suppose when people come to Fermanagh, they always, when they go out in the lake, they always go to see one site in particular, and that’s Devenish Island, which was a sixth-century monastic site with one of the best round towers in the whole of Ireland.

Totally intact, and you can go inside and around the tower as well. And it’s, it’s just a wonderful structure, about a hundred feet tall. We also have a few other monastic sites with beautiful stone carvings, high crosses, and facial carvings of monks dotted all around the lough, So there’s some really unique sites, but one of them I always love to bring people to is a place called Crom Estate where there’s a castle, a 19th century castle overlooking the lake.

And it’s got its own boathouse down by the shoreline. You can also see a few of the islands that the estate owned and they had their own Foleys on the island, so the little, little small castles on, on islands as well. So it was a brilliant place for sailing. And again, we love to tell the stories of that landscape and, and what went on down on Crom Estate, including the big sailing and regatta days…

Rebecca Miles: Oh wow. Yes. I mean, as you with all this water around, it must be a great place to spend lots of time outdoors and just being active on the water. What activities are available and where are visitors best basing themselves to explore that?

Barry Flanagan: Yeah. Well, if you wanted to go into Enniskillen and our main town, it’s a great base because you can get a bus there from either airport, Belfast or Dublin, very easily about an hour and a half, two hours up the road.

You can also go in out into the countryside and there’s a huge amount of activities strewn across the whole of Fermanagh, a lot of it is water-based or around the shoreline. And activities you can do is like day boat hire, so you can hire your own boat and skipper it yourself. You can also do the guided tours.

You can also do plenty of your own personal water activities. Paddleboarding, kayaks, you’ve got canoes. You’ve also got these new hydro-bikes, bikes that you cycle on the water.

Rebecca Miles: How do they work?

Barry Flanagan: They’re just a little bike with a propeller on the back and a couple of floats and you paddle them around the island. You can actually circumnavigate our island town of Enniskillen by hydro-bike.

We also have electric boards. These electric stand-up paddle boards. If you don’t want to paddle that is, and you can just stand and use a little accelerator and you can be motored around the lough on your personal watercraft.

Rebecca Miles: Oh, it sounds wonderfully peaceful on the whole. So no jet skis or anything like that, much more paddling yourself.

Barry Flanagan: Well, around the town Enniskillen and it’s very, yeah, very peaceful. Everything, everybody has to slow down around the towns and marinas was, you can only do five knots, so your speed restricted and once you get out onto the lake, the faster boats, like the speed boats and the jet skis, they can open up.

But it’s such a big lake. You never feel like it’s, it’s busy. You never feel inundated with boats or you never feel like you’re going to get stuck in a traffic jam. It just doesn’t happen.

Rebecca Miles: The lough sounds fabulous. Is it all about the water? Are there any other sort of adventurous activities you can be doing on land?

Barry Flanagan: Absolutely. There’s huge amount of walks around the shoreline, up into the mountains. We have a really unique mountain trail, Cuilcagh Mountain, and it’s been nicknamed the Stairway to Heaven. So you can actually climb from the bottom of the mountain all the way to the top on a boardwalk. And that’s attracted a huge amount of people in the last few years.

We have mountains that you can drive to the top of and get views of the lake. You can walk around the shoreline. We’ve got beautiful shoreline walks all the way around the lake. Beautiful stately homes that people can visit and go inside and see what it used to be like. And the stately homes, National Trust properties, there’s a huge amount in Fermanagh, and you could easily fill a week or two here on a stay.

Rebecca Miles: Sounds gorgeous. How about the wildlife? What’s uh, what can visitors expect to see?

Barry Flanagan: Yeah. Well, mostly when you’re on the lake, you see a lot of bird life. We see a huge amount of grebes and moorhens and coots in the reeds, making their nests and the reeds. We see swans and cygnets of course we have grebes [unintelligible] migrating birds such as the Canadian geese, and we also have a beautiful bird called the kingfisher.

And we often see the kingfisher flying up and down the banks of Lough Erne on our trips. So it’s a real treat per customers when they look out the window and they see this turquoise flash going. Or a kingfisher diving off a branch and catching a fish. They always love that.

Rebecca Miles: Is there a particularly good time of year to visit and or time of day even to get out on the water?

Barry Flanagan: Yeah, I suppose. The best time of year is June and July. August. It is always a good time because Fermanagh is quite a small county, although there’s more visitors in the summer, it never feels like it’s too busy, but if you wanted that peaceful, quiet, relaxing break, the shoulder seasons are perfect.

I mean, you can visit right up until November and we have quite a mild temperate climate. People come here all year round really. I mean, you can get a lovely peaceful break and you can get a boat trip on Lough Erne all year round as well.

Rebecca Miles: Oh, brilliant. Yeah, that would be good. And you mentioned as well about people being able to take their own boats out. Is that available year-round?

Barry Flanagan: Yes, indeed. Yeah. You can hire your own boat to skipper a boat and head out and explore some islands all year round. And in fact, in the wintertime, a lot of the fishermen will come here, take a boat, or maybe have a guide with them, to show them the best fishing spots. And so it’s a fantastic place to get out in the water, just really and go and explore.

Rebecca Miles: You’ve recently launched a food tour. Can you tell us some more about that, please?

Barry Flanagan: Sure. There’s a gentleman in Enniskillen here who runs the Enniskillen Taste Experience. His name’s Mark Edwards and he does a fantastic food tour, a walking food tour around the island town of Enniskillen. And so his tour has about 11 stops and it brings you around the island town and, and tell, tells you all about the different history, the food history.

You get to sample all the local produce, food and drink, and you end up in a really beautiful restaurant in the town, 28 At The Hollow where you get to experience some of the likes of Fermanagh and how local our produce can be here. And we’ve teamed up with Mark to produce this lake lander food experience.

So it’s not just on the land, it’s also on the lake. And we have a pre-starter on the boat with free drinks lined up for our customers for when they arrive. We have an hour-long boat trip that tells you all about the history, and in particular, the food history. And then we go up into the town with Mark and he tells us all about the town.

And you get to stop off in a restaurant, for your starter, another restaurant, for your main course and dessert. So it’s a real treat and a way to see the landscape through food. 

Rebecca Miles: Brilliant. What would people, what can people expect to eat on it? What is the local food?

Barry Flanagan: Yeah, we’ve got, well, we’re well known for pork and beef cause a lot of animals are reared here on islands across Lough Erne.

And the difference between, I suppose, mainland cattle and island cattle and pigs is, is what they’re eating. They’re eating wild herbs and plants. They’re drinking the lake water. Quality of beef we have and the quality of pork is phenomenal. One product called Fermanagh and Black Bacon, which is always part of the food tour.

We’ve got some lovely gin, a local gin called Boatyard Distillery have started brewing gin, and that’s part of the food tour. We’ve got another beer called Inish Max St. Beer, and then we have game as well. Like duck, for example, is always part of the menu in 28 At The Hollow. So there’s some beautiful food to be had on the tour.

Rebecca Miles: Yes, you’re making my mouth water. Thank you. Tell us a little bit more about Enniskillen as well. If people are basing themselves there, it sounds like there’s fantastic food. What else can people expect?

Barry Flanagan: Yeah, well, with Enniskillen being such a unique town, it’s, it’s actually an island. As I said before, you know, you can walk around the shoreline of Enniskillen island and you really get the experience being on an island.

You understand, although you cross the bridge to get onto it, you can understand that it’s an island when you walk around that shoreline. So I would always say that’s a great way to orientate yourself. Do that first of all, then get up into, into the middle of the town. The town is a beautiful English market town layout, which was designed after the plantation of Ulster. 

And so when people walk up into the town, they’re walking through streets. They haven’t changed much in hundreds of years, and we have loads of family-run businesses. If you’re into your shopping, it’s a great place for getting into these lovely little unique shops, which are all family-run.

We’re really lucky because the island town hasn’t been affected as much as other smaller towns that where people have seen shops closing and such. Like we, we’ve all our business are, are thriving.

Rebecca Miles: That’s good to hear. We should cover a few practicalities as well. Are there places that you’d recommend people to stay and how easy is it to get around Fermanagh?

Barry Flanagan: Yeah, there’s any amount of places to stay. We have, you know, we’ve got really unique places you can choose to stay in, like a bubble dome, for example. We’ve got a place called Finn Lough

Rebecca Miles: What’s that?

Barry Flanagan: Well Finn Lough is a beautiful little resort that has a forest spa where you can walk through this forest spa, which is mostly outdoors and you walk from treatment to treatment through a forest trail and you can stay in a bubble dome overnight on the site and you can be looking out at the stars while you stay there.

Rebecca Miles: Yes please, that sounds gorgeous

Barry Flanagan: Another place we have, you’ve got plenty of glamping pods all over the county now that become very popular and because we’re in a lake land, the glamping pods just aren’t any old ordinary glamping pod. They’re overlooking the lake. You’ve got these wonderful views. Lake shore walks your own personal hot tub outside overlooking the lake as well.

So fantastic places to stay. We’ve got beautiful hotels like five-star hotels with their own golf courses like the Lough Erne Resort, manor houses along the shoreline. There’s a lot of choice actually when it comes to accommodation, but I would say book early because in the summer months, Fermanagh is always booked out of its accommodation.

Rebecca Miles: Be organized people! And do you tend to need a car to get around when you’re there or is it cycling possible or public transport?

Barry Flanagan: A car is definitely available because if you want to see the county, really you need to get out into the countryside locations outside the town itself.

The likes of the Marble Arch Caves, which is a very unique cave system, requires a car to get there, although there is now a bus service from Enniskillen as well. But there’s a huge amount to see around the county if you do have a car, but you can get the bus and base yourself in Enniskillen as well.

Rebecca Miles: And what’s the Marble Arch Caves? Can you tell us more about those?

Barry Flanagan: Sure. Well, we’re very lucky to have this Marble Arch Caves, Global Geo Park here in county Fermanagh. So people come here and they get to see the Marble Arch Caves, which is this, the most unique and the best show caves in Europe. So when you get down underground, you get to see these stalactites that have taken thousands of years to form.

There’s a little underground walk, which brings you through your cave system and includes a small boat trip as well underneath the ground. So it’s really unique and the Geo Park is a much wider, expansive part of the landscape. And it includes islands on Lough Erne. It includes shoreline walks, but there’s loads of great infrastructure for people to experience when they’re here.

So, walks along the shoreline, walks up in the mountains, bike trails are all part of the Geo Park as well, and you get to understand a lot more about the county because you have personal guides that will take you around and do that with you.

Rebecca Miles: Oh, wow. I mean, it sounds like you could spend weeks and weeks exploring as, as you are lucky enough to do!

Barry Flanagan: Yes. Yeah, definitely. Without a doubt.

Rebecca Miles: Let’s wrap things up last with a final question. If one of your oldest friends was visiting for the day, hadn’t seen for ages, how would you show off the area the best and sort of how would your dream day pan out?

Barry Flanagan: I suppose there’d be no surprise that it would be on the water.

Rebecca Miles: Of course. I was hoping you’d say that.

Barry Flanagan: So I would definitely take them out, probably take them out on a, probably a canoe or a kayak trip early in the morning and get to see the sunrise across the lake. We could head out to one of the islands for lunch, go for a picnic, maybe in the water taxi, or maybe go out in a sailboat.

You know, there’s so many ways to experience the water, but definitely an island picnic is the way I would spend the day. Plenty of food and just graze over a few hours while looking out across the landscape and, you know, maybe go for a hike later in the evening, go up to one of the hills overlooking the shoreline.

There’s lots of experiences that you can do with friends across the lake, so I always love to treat new friends too when they come to Fermanagh. Take them out on the boat and, and show them the place because I love it. I love the landscape. You know?

Rebecca Miles: Definitely. I mean, how do you choose which island to stop at?

Barry Flanagan: Oh, exactly. That’s the tough part. It’s very seasonal as well. You know, it depends on the season. If it’s May, I’ll take people out early May to an island called Bluebell Island just covered in bluebells and you’re just walking through this forest of bluebells, which is amazing. You can go to other islands at the height of summer and they have, and they have their own little bars and restaurants, so you can go up there for a little bit of entertainment as well.

So, There’s a huge range and a huge choice. If you’re into your wildlife, there’s islands just to see the wildlife as well. So, so much choice really. It is hard to choose with 154 islands. Definitely. Yeah,

Rebecca Miles: Absolutely. Well, people just need to get on a boat with you and start exploring it sounds.

Barry Flanagan: Yeah, no, definitely. And they’re always welcome. We’d love to have more folk visit Fermanagh and I’d love to take them out and show them.

Rebecca Miles: Thank you so much for your time today, Barry. It’s been great to chat

Barry Flanagan: Thank you, Rebecca. Appreciate your time as well. Thank you very much.

Rebecca Miles to find out more and to book your next holiday to Lough Erne and Enniskillen, visit charitable.travel/the-island-of-ireland and for more info on Erne Water Taxi, visit ernewatertaxi.com or follow them on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube.

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