Wander Woman: A Travel Podcast

Tales from the Riverbank: An Ireland Special

November 01, 2023 Phoebe Smith Season 2 Episode 2
Wander Woman: A Travel Podcast
Tales from the Riverbank: An Ireland Special
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Many of us have been to Ireland before – bought a pint of Guinness in Dublin, gazed at the Atlantic from Galway and maybe kissed the Blarney stone in Cork, but few of us - Phoebe included – have taken the time to explore the central valleys and hills of the Hidden Heartlands, which are home to the River Shannon – the longest river in the country. Desperate to see what stories would flow she jumps on a train, then ferry and heads to the source to follow the waterway all the way to sea…
 
 Also coming up: 

  • Learn how to enjoy Ireland for free with our Travel Hack of the Month; 
  • Discover the 10 best stops on the Wild Atlantic Way
  • Hear from Timmy Donovan, barman at the oldest pub in the world, who’s about to front a new series on Netflix about the origins of whiskey
  • What to pack if you are travelling in the ‘shoulder season’ in changeable weather
  • Hear from the inspiring Access for All Lough Ree who are working to ensure everyone can enjoy the outdoors
  • Wander Woman of the Month - Gráinne ni Mhaille aka Grace O’Malley  - Ireland’s Pirate Queen

Come wander with her…
 
 #WanderWomanWednesday

www.Phoebe-Smith.com; @PhoebeRSmith

Speaker 1:

On this month's Ireland special of the Wonder Woman podcast.

Speaker 2:

My God, I feel like I'm in a Shackleton, although I don't want to lose this boat.

Speaker 1:

I take my friend and hire a boat to explore the longest river in Ireland to learn the legends and local stories that line its riverbanks from source to sea. I also chat to Timmy Donovan, barman at the oldest pub in the world, who schools me in the history of making whisky, aka the world's earliest moonshine made by... monks.

Speaker 3:

They were not busy praying all day they were the biggest bootleggers in the world at the time.

Speaker 1:

And I meet the inspiring team behind a small community non-profit that has launched the first and only wheelchair accessible boat on Irish waterways to ensure that the river is truly open for all.

Speaker 4:

When you're on the water, the water brings everyone together and we're making sure that nobody's left behind on the shore.

Speaker 1:

Also coming up. My regular travel hack reveals the best thing to do for free in Ireland; as it celebrates its 10 year anniversary discover the 10 best stops (see what we did there) on the Wild Atlantic Way. And in my regular gear slot, I'll be advising how to pack for a trip during the shoulder season, when it's not quite summer but not fully winter. Finally, I'll be revealing this episode's Wander Woman of the Month, the traveler whose name is lost in the history books. You'll listen to the Wander Woman Podcast, an audio travel magazine, with me, Phoebe Smith, exploring off the beaten track destinations, responsible travel, wildlife encounters and the unsung heroes behind conservation efforts. Come wander with me...

Speaker 5:

My name is Danny and I am with Failte Ireland. I'm a national tour and, but I'm also the local Geopark guide nd we're just walking our way down here down to the Shannon Pot. So it's a gorgeous day it's sunny but windy, and there's the birds in the background.

Speaker 1:

I've always been fascinated by waterways well, with any water, to be honest but there's something special in particular when it comes to a river, because you can physically trace its entire journey from the place it begins to its very end. Many of us have been to Ireland before. Bought the pint of Guinness in Dublin, gazed at the Atlantic in Galway, maybe kissed the Blarney stone in Cork. But a few of us, myself included, have taken the time to explore the central valleys and hills of the hidden heartlands which are home to the River Shannon, the longest river in the country. Desperate to see what stories she would tell, I jumped on a train, then ferry, with a friend and picked up an electric car to head to the source known as the Shannon Pot, where I met Dani, and it didn't take long for the stories to begin to flow.

Speaker 5:

There's the story of Shinnon. She wanted to gain all of this knowledge, so she decided she would go and she would capture the Salmon of knowledge. And when she came to the Pot, he saw her and he became enraged and he caused the waters to rise up and it ended up that she was dragged down into the waters and she was the full length of Ireland. She travelled the full length of Ireland and that's how the river was formed. And that's how the river got its name as well, from Shinnon, which also means possessor of wisdom, so as known as the Wise River.

Speaker 1:

The Shannon Pot, where Shinnon, anglicised as Shannon, is said to have fallen in, is a pretty tree lined circle of water where you can see the beginnings of the river bubbling up from below. It's fed through its porous limestone from the Cuilcagh Mountains that rise behind it. But though the geology is fascinating to learn about, I was more interested in how central this great waterway was to people's lives.

Speaker 5:

It's significant for me because I grew up. I'm from Limerick originally and I grew up where the Shannon meets the sea, and now I'm living here and my children are growing up where the Shannon begins its journey.

Speaker 1:

I left Dani and made my way to Dawra, where the first bridge crosses over the river. Then on to the small town of Drumshambo, which sits on the southern edge of the first significant lake on the river Loch Allen. If you have a penchant for gin, you may have heard its name, as Drumshambo gunpowder gin is distilled here, but for river users, the more iconic thing here is Snake on the Lake 600 metres of floating boardwalk that forms part of a blueway, basically a public right of way that runs aside the river Shannon from here to Leitrim, 10 kilometres further south.

Speaker 6:

My name is Fergal McPartland. I live locally in Drumshambo.

Speaker 1:

Here I met Fergal, a member of the local community group. I have to say as an aside, their story is incredible. When the near century old jam factory closed here in the 1990s, putting 100 people around 20% of their residents out of work, they decided to not let their village die and instead purchased the factory and now, after a lot of hard work and time, have eight local food businesses here that employ 180 people keeping youngsters in the area. I asked him about the river and if the blueway has meant an increase in visitors.

Speaker 6:

There have been. I know up to last year, there were a million visits to the blueway, so there have been trips since it opened in 2017, now that's not a million individual people, they have a counter, and so that's phenomenal in a county like Leitrim that has a population of 35,000.

Speaker 1:

Further down the river, in Leitrim Village, another watery channel spurs out from the Shannon. This is the Shannon Erne Canal, a waterway of 63 kilometres or 39 miles that runs all the way into Northern Ireland and was reopened 30 years ago. After I rented a bike to cycle the short one hour trip along it to a tiny hamlet of Kilclair, where a pub still operates by the water, on the way I saw no one other than birds. It was the most peaceful two wheel trip I've ever had. When I returned the bike I spoke to owner Seamus Gibbons, whose family has lived here since 1903, and asked him how much difference having the river and the blueway has made to the survival of these communities.

Speaker 8:

I joined in the places and the goose, even though where you're going to now, Kilclair, there's nothing on it. It's a one-horse towel, it's a little pub, a little grocery shop, but even they have.

Speaker 1:

They have survived because of this Seamus now hopes that they will be linked by Blueway to Carrick on Shannon, the largest town in the county and my next destination, albeit by road. I wanted to get an actual river view now and to sort of dip my toe. I took an electric boat with a local called Fergal who not only guides on the river but sings on it too, on a big boat called Moon River. I asked him if the Shannon featured in any of his tunes.

Speaker 9:

There's a local song called Lovely Leitrum and that's all about how this person basically is singing, about how much they love their own county and the river that flows through, where the Shannon waters flow, and it's about having travelled and gone afar and seen everything from east to west, but the land they know and love is their own. It's the best kind of a thing. So that's the one I know, so that's the one that I would play on the boat. I'm half Leitrum, half Roscommon, so I'm half half. Shouldn't be singing it, my mother wouldn't be too impressed.

Speaker 1:

The River Divides.

Speaker 9:

Yeah, exactly, there's a big divide between Leitrum and Roscommon because they're so close together, and then local football clubs as well. There's like a huge rivalry. It's a good rivalry, but there's a huge rivalry between them.

Speaker 1:

This would not be the first time I heard about the river being something of an important boundary when it comes to sports, friendships and even marriage. For now, though, it was time for me and my friend Cerys to board a vessel of our own for a day and a night on the wise river Shannon.

Speaker 2:

Hey, okay, we're on the boat. Yeah, it's lovely, absolutely gorgeous.

Speaker 6:

Yes, and especially when you're having, the weather isn't soothing and it's like today, you have a 360 view of the whole river.

Speaker 1:

That's right, this was not just any boat. It was a two bedroom floating apartment with an outside upstairs. We felt spoiled, despite a bit of rain, but after a quick orientation, a driving lesson and being presented with a captain's bag of maps and binoculars, we were on our way and realizing that what lay outside the window was more five star than any interior.

Speaker 2:

We've seen a harem. We've seen lots of swans and loads of swans and no other boat is no boats.

Speaker 1:

After that we spied otter, kingfisher and cormorants. It felt at times like we were just skimming the surface of the water floating on a cloud Either side. The colours of water made for a russet palette of yellows, oranges and reds. On our arrival to Drummond we moored up and went for a pub meal. Then the following morning woke to feel utterly immersed in nature by the time we headed back to drop off the boat we were feeling at one with the Shannon, and Keras was sold on a return visit for longer, at the same time as year as we were there now.

Speaker 2:

But I think if you're new and if you're not so confident, coming at this time of year is perfect because there's nobody around. Coming on the shoulder is it called the shoulder season In the shoulder season is spot on.

Speaker 5:

I'm loving it.

Speaker 2:

There's nobody around, yeah, but the rain is not cold and you've got all your waterproofs on. It's cosy, my god.

Speaker 1:

I feel like I'm in a Shackleton, although I don't want to lose this boat we didn't lose it, but we did have to return it and carried on our way to the next big stop, the town of Athlone, which is sat at a very cool geographical point in Ireland.

Speaker 10:

So we're here standing on this map of Ireland. We see the Esqueria, there's the ancient road, the line that runs across here from Dublin to Galway, and we see the River Shannon. So we're right here at the crossing point in the centre of Ireland.

Speaker 1:

We had met with Vincent of Athlone Guided Tours. He's a former postmaster from up the road and spent the next 90 minutes regaling us with stories. He has loads of folklore, legends and history while taking us to the key sites. I'd love to play you all the tales he wove on our walking journeys, especially one about brave Mary McCann, who learned to swim in the Shannon here and went on to save many lives during a shipwreck in the US. But the one thing he did say that stuck with me was this all the houses in Athlone face the Shannon.

Speaker 10:

They use the Shannon as the main road you know the houses to their main form of transport and up where they lived on the countryside. People intermarried across the Shannon. Here we didn't those people over there, they were foreign people.

Speaker 1:

Once more, I was hearing about the River as a divider, which was quite ironic given that this place is home to the oldest pub in Ireland, a great meeting point that dates back as far as the 900s. But the water always does have the power to do both. We decided to take to the water once more with a man called Pearse from Hidden Heartland Boat Tours, who took us on the second major lake of the river, Lake of the Kings. Once more, the sight of the autumn colours under a setting sun took my breath away, but there was another sense that suddenly heightened.

Speaker 5:

That smell is quite nice.

Speaker 11:

Yeah, even as I was a child, I used to run top. I could go away for three or four days and I'd come back and I'd say do you know the way, if you're having it every day, you don't smell it right. But you go away for a few days and you come back and say, oh, there's a smell again.

Speaker 1:

I can't even begin to describe it. It's not like your normal water smell it's weety, it's grassy yeah, it's grassy wheaty, and it's amazing. All senses were buzzing as we continued south towards Killaloo, a small town on the banks of Lough Dearg, the third final sizable lake on the river. Along the way we made our own chocolates in the small bankside Wilde Chocolate Factory. I opted for hazelnuts that represent the trees that once ringed the Shannon pot at the source, and salt to represent the sea. We took in views over to one of several holy isles, stopped for a stroll around the remains of an 11th century ring fort that had a strategic place on the waterway so that the king could charge those trying to pass on the river. On the edge of town we met James, owner of Spirits of Killaloo Cruises, who, on the waters of Lough Dearg, over the best Irish coffee I've ever tasted, told us the importance of the lake.

Speaker 11:

Two thousand years ago you drank water from the river, you washed yourself in the river, you cut salmon in the river the water, you know it's an essential thing for humans to have. We're made up of water, we came from the water, so it's the reason we have a town here.

Speaker 1:

Then he made a joke.

Speaker 11:

You wouldn't marry a girl from the other side of the river, no way.

Speaker 1:

From good-humoured rivalry across the riverbank I made my way to Limerick, where the now wide river meets the waters of the Atlantic. Here I took to a kayak to see the biggest city on the river from a water's eye view. When I spoke to the owner, he said the water city tour not only appealed to tourists but also was a great tool for team-building days out. Once more, the river was pulling people together, though it physically divides these great settlements apart. I thought then my journey along the river shannon was going to end, so headed to a pub where traditional Irish songs played and I bashed in the satisfaction of knowing that my journey had finished. Also, I thought the story is like rivers they bend, they change course and mind. Here took one final diversion, this time with a chance meeting with a man called Manus, who lives out in the estuary section of the shannon in a village called , and convinced me that I couldn't end my river wanderings without seeing the mouth. I arrived to the village where the water flows. The unmistakable briny scent of the ocean fills the air here. Manus, who has opened his own glamping site with a key focus on sustainability, tells me locals have launched a number of homegrown industries, but with a different mindset than most places.

Speaker 8:

I was really nice about this and it's very important. This is not about tours. This is all these projects along here about the community community first and afterwards. Then it also benefits the tours that come as well. It's given people opportunities and it's a very slow burner. We are open since 2019 here. At the same time in the village a pottery painting studio and cafe opened up. So that is given employment for kids during the summer. You know, college students that can stay at home, gives them a vibrancy to the village. It also has given the school in the areas increased its number. I'm not saying that's because of tourism, but it's because of the feeling or the vibrancy and the feel good factor. Younger people who have moved away to get educated are more inclined to come back with their families because there is that vibrancy around the area. So it's a chain reaction. It's all interlinked together. I think it's very summed up really well by somebody who was here a few weeks ago when they said five years ago you could not stop to get a cup of coffee from when you left in until you got Kilrush along this road. Now you can get it in 5 villahes, and I think that sums it up very simply that there's a vibrancy and it's the local people that drink the coffee all winter, not all the tourists.

Speaker 1:

It was wonderful to hear that Manus's village is one of several along the estuarine shannon using their location along the water to bring opportunities to everyone on both sides of the banks.

Speaker 8:

There is great interconnections between both sides of the river through marriages, through friendships, and I think I told you a story last night about a young lady, a friend of mine, who built a house, but her neighbours on the river side are watching the house being built as much as the people here.

Speaker 1:

It was truly wonderful to think that, though the river here may be at its very widest, the people are somehow closer than anywhere else. That was me reporting from Ireland on my meandering journey along the beautiful and wise River shannon. There's always something quite magical about following a waterway from source to sea, but the shannon, with its many myths and legends and so many inspiring locals, was extra special. Thank you, Tourism Ireland this episode podcast partners for showing me the fastest way to slow down Slainte. Not only is Ireland bursting with stories and inspirational locals, but it's also a place with a ton of bewitching, bedazzling and beguiling things that you can see and experience even when you're on a budget. Don't believe me, this month's travel hack is all about the best things you can do on the Emerald Isle without spending a single euro. Listen up. First, let's turn our attention to the great outdoors. There's a hugely diverse range of landscapes to discover, from the Ring of Coastal Mountains to the Central Lowlands and some of the most dramatic coastline anywhere on Earth. Aramot Island in County Donegal is not only little visited but, with the exception of the 15 euro ferry ticket, completely free to explore the pathways, teeter above tall cliffs smashed by the Atlantic and I'd recommend the 14 kilometre loop that circles the island past a lighthouse and you're almost assured plenty of sea and bird life. Also in Donegal is the pilgrim's path at Slieve League that finishes on one of the highest sea cliffs in Europe. It's a short four kilometres, but that is more than made up for in elevation and views. Chances are you'll already have heard about Killarny National Park. It's home to Ireland's highest mountain ranges, the magnificently named McGillicuddy's Reeks but it's far from overcrowded. It's perfect for walking and there's some particularly good road cycling around its winding mountain highways. Let's keep the altitude with the ancient pilgrim route at Crough Patrick, where St Patrick is believed to have fasted for 40 days in the year 441. A believer or not, the Reek, as it's known, has incredible views over Clew Bay, a legendary place you'll later learn about in my Wander Woman of the Month. In Ireland's southeast corner is the Waterford Greenway, a 46 kilometre route from Waterford City to Dungarvan along a disused railway line. It's a brilliant and largely flat way to wander at the mountains and rivers of the region. The viaducts are particularly fun, but it doesn't have to be all outdoors If rain stops or just slows play. Many of Ireland's historical sites are also free to visit. In County Meath, north of Dublin, you can discover the Hill of Tara, a series of ancient monuments that were once the seat of the High King of Ireland. There are free guided tours every day. And then there are the cities teeming with life. Galway is especially lively, with artisan markets popping up around the streets, while music can be heard in the pubs and from buskers on the streets. The promenade of salt hill is always busy, and in the summer, be sure to take a refreshing leap from the Black Rock Diving Tower. Even in Dublin, you can fill your days with free visits to the National Museum of Ireland, the National Gallery of Ireland and the Irish Museum of Modern Art without spending anything at all. With a bit of planning and research, the best of Ireland needn't cost a cent. That was my Wander Woman travel hack the insider knowledge. I offer every single episode to make your travels enriching, even if you're not rich. Now, money is not the only barrier for some people to experience the joys of travel. Having a disability can also limit opportunities to partake in adventures, but that shouldn't be the case. I truly believe that everyone should have the chance to experience the wild side of a destination and know the utter joy felt when immersed in nature. I'm not the only one who thinks this, as this episode's hidden hero demonstrates, access for All is based on the edge of Loch Ree, on the River Shannon, and it began as two friends one in a wheelchair, one without who wanted to go fishing together.

Speaker 12:

I'm Liam Grimes. I'm the manager here at Lough Ree Access for All.

Speaker 4:

My name's Lisa and I'm a skipper and a sales and marketing here at Lough Reee Access for All.

Speaker 7:

Shane Moran. Receptionist and marketing assistant.

Speaker 12:

Basically, it was a brainchild of a couple of local community guys here that were very invested in the whole Lanesborough Valley League. Kieran was one, and a friend his called called Alan Broderick was a fisherman and he used to actually take fishermen out on boat trips he was a fishing guide, in other words and one of Alan's friends was disabled and Alan was getting increasingly frustrated. There was no way for Alan to bring his friend out on a boat. And going back to is it 2015, 2016 at that stage and so they came together and they said wouldn't it be brilliant if we could get a specially adopted boat that I could bring my friend out and anyone from around the community could come out on these boat trips, fishing trips, whatever sites they were in trips. So that's basically how it started, with two people coming together with a common interest around 2015, 2016. So a rise in from that. And I just asked Shane. Shane will give you an experience of one time Shane went on a boat. He had to be hoisted onto the boat which is absolutely, and I don't think you'd mind me saying, Shane, there's no dignity above that at all.

Speaker 7:

You just lift it on like a bag of potatoes, just lift it on like just high and that really just two people catching, just put the lift into the boat. I wanted to do a fishing for the day. I was going to do a scan to the boat, Just get lifted into the boat and go on the boat. Well, it was in the boat, it was sitting on the boat or into the boat. It was okay for today. Getting into the boat and getting out of the boat, it's a bigger problem.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, and what difference has it made with something like that?

Speaker 7:

disability disappears because you just wheel on with off. You have no problems fishing. It's natural. It's normal, but normal.

Speaker 4:

So the boat takes 10 people walking and for space we allow three wheelchair users and three to four people with them and that's for one and a half hour trips three times a day. For sightseeing, historical tours, bird watching, fishing trips. And for the fishing trips we take max four people for a treat for four hour durations. It sounds long to me that you yourself wouldn't be fishing, but actually time flies when you're having fun. I do drive for the fishing trips and I can tell you that I can see how beneficial it is and it impacts the people like for the weeks and months ahead. There's a man that comes out with us and he does love me to tell his story. He used to fish years ago with his son and his son sadly died in a car crash and his father got sick and he ended up as a wheelchair user now and he's lost his voice a little bit and has a few ailments. But this boat allows him to not think, to just come out on the boat, and he comes to us regularly because he says that being on our boat brings back memories of the son, that when he was fishing years ago with him and that he feels when he's out in the Shannon that his son is there with him. It never stops being rewarding, like every person that comes out with us is a different story to tell and you just never get tired of it. Like bringing people out and seeing the joy on people's faces it's just a smile that speaks a thousand words. Tourists are discovering that the Hidden Heartlands has a lot to offer, that we're not just bogs around here. There's a lot of history and heritage to offer and we've had a lot of European, swiss and French and German, australian, australians, loads of Americans that, yes, while they love the coast and touring, they like to get away from all the crowds. They're getting to explore that a lot of the history and the monuments here and that are actually predate a lot of things on the coast, because we're right in the middle, like the fact that we are in between two counties, lomford and Roscommon, and we get the benefits of both, and before this border towns were forgotten. But when you're on the water, the water brings everyone together and we're making sure that nobody's left behind on the shore.

Speaker 1:

That was Liam, Lisa and Shane, part of the small team behind non-profit Access4all Lough Ree, who, I have to say, were truly inspiring. I love the way that they actively encourage non-disabled people to use their boats too. Inclusivity really is the key. Let's hope that one day all boats will be wheelchair accessible so that we can all explore these beautiful places as equals together. Do check out their trips at LoughReeBoatTrips. com and if you are headed to Ireland, I urge you to pay a visit to their offices to meet the team, grab a coffee and, of course, head out on the water. Speaking of water, can you believe it's about to be 10 years since Ireland's wild Atlantic Way, the world's longest to find coastal route, was officially designated? Running along the western fringes of the country between Conty, Donegal and County Cork, it spans 2,600 kilometres or 1,600 miles. So how on earth do you know where to stop on your way? Fear not, this episode's top 10 will reveal the best bits. Whether journey along it by electric car seriously hire one, like I did, and do this the sustainable way bike, boot or swimming yes, people really have done it. In at number 10, it's Silverstrand Beach in County Donegal. It's only accessible by descending 155 steps down from the cliff or from the sea if you're feeling particularly adventurous. It's well worth the visit in any weather, but with a bit of sunshine it's as perfect as any spot in the Caribbean. In at 9 is a lighthouse that subtly changed world history. Black sod in County Mayo is a pretty but unassuming building with some of the best views anywhere along the coast, but in the 1940s it was used as a weather station making reports to the Allied forces. Maureen Sweeney was starting a shift here on her 21st birthday, the 3rd of June 1944, and made a reading that suggested a storm. Eisenhower heard her forecast and within hours postponed the D-Day landings for a few days, potentially saving thousands of lives. We can relax a little for number eight as we're plunging into the Kilcullen Seaweed Baths . It reflects a practice dating back centuries when monks harvested seaweed to give to the poor for nourishment. Visitors have been submersing themselves in the healing properties of seaweed here for more than a hundred years. Many of the original Edwardian furnishings are still in place, from the large porcelain bathtubs to the wooden sauna boxes heaven on earth. At number seven we're visiting Ennisboffin Island, maybe by paddle board. This small island off the coast of Connemara in County Galway was once believed to be floating, and on a foggy day it certainly seems so. For an island that's only six square miles, it has had a huge influence on Irish history, from the founding of a monastery that dated back to 665 and playing a pivotal role in the years following the 1641 Irish rebellion. Now, as someone who loves a dip in the ocean, the stop at number six is certainly one close to my heart. The Pollock holes are natural sea pools and a well known sea swimming spot among the locals. To take a dip, park at the Diamond Rocks Cafe and walk along the flagstones to the pools at low tide and immerse yourself in the Atlantic. The depths of the pools range from between one and two and a half metres. For number five, we travel along one of the most stunning stretches of road along the wild Atlantic way Between the little changed villages of Cloghane and Brandon and County Kerry. It's at the foot of Ireland's second highest mountain and on the shore of the Dingle Peninsula. Spot the fishermen landing their catches on the key of Brandon. Before exploring the traditional stone huts still standing in Cloghane, at number four, we're heading to the new National Surf Centre, if ever we need to see the power of the Atlantic coast. It's here, on Strand Hill Beach, the National Surf Centre in County Sligo opened in summer 2023 to highlight the reputation of the county as the world class surfing destination. Instructors from this purpose built centre will have you catching waves in no time. Rebel Surf, in particular, focuses on lessons specially for women. At number three, we're catching a ferry to Garnish Island, a rather remarkable place, why? Well, believe it or not, it enjoys a subtropical climate, being sheltered and a recipient of the warm weathers of the Gulf Stream, and, as a consequence, it's used as a sanctuary for plants from around the world, come in May and June for flowering rho ddendrons or azaleas, or in the summer for herbecious perennials. At number two, we're on two wheels and a along bike trail, a loop, but one that uniquely involves a ferry. Yet you'll curve around the coastline of Clew Bay before a visit to Clare Island. It'll take around four hours, not including the ferry trip to Clare Island, starting and finishing in Westport. And at number one, the Healy Pass. Google it and the first question you'll see is is the Healy Pass scary to drive? No, it's the short answer, but it is one of the most beautiful drives. All cycles in well anywhere. This winding road climbs through the incredible scenery of the isolated Beara Peninsula, crossing the boundary of County Cork and County Kerry. It's a defining part of the wild Atlantic way and well deserving of our top spot. Having grown up by the sea in North Wales, even just thinking about a coastal journey gets my feet itching to hit the trails. I've told you about the top ten places to visit, but I could have easily made it the top 100. If you're considering it, my advice is just to go. You won't regret it. Now, as you know, I've just returned from Ireland in October, in the so called shoulder season, which is that time between the peak holiday season and the off season when some attractions can close, and I have to say that for me, a person who avoids crowds whenever I can, it was the perfect time of year to visit. It can save you money too, but one thing you do need to be aware of is the weather. Though it can change at any time of the year, in the in between it can be particularly changeable. So how to pack for it? Listen up to this month's gear chat coming up next. There's a certain time of the year in travel that we affectionately refer to as the shoulder season, and even if you've not heard of the phrase before, you will be familiar with its characteristics. It's usually in the autumn or spring, and it's the season when the crowds go, the schools are back, prices drop, but the weather can, and often does, take a turn. There's no need to worry, though. As the old adage goes, there's no such thing as an appropriate weather only in appropriate clothing. So it all comes down to packing and packing well. First, remember to pack lots of layers, think vests, t-shirts, both short and long sleeve, for every type of situation. Remember that even if it's cold out, some restaurants and hotels can be hot inside as they crank up their heating. Then you'll need something for warmth. A fleece is cheap but great for instant coziness when you get a sudden cold snap. Water proofs are definitely key, both jacket and trousers, but I've also started taking umbrella with me, which is ideal for when the wind is low but the rain does fall. A hat can be your friend, especially a cap, great for sunshine, but also to keep the rain out of your eyes if you get caught out, and a thin pair of gloves can be a lifesaver just in case. Shoe wise, I love taking a pair of comfy multi terrain shoes, aka trainers or approach shoes, walking shoes, whatever you know them as they are a light, water resistant and comfy pair. But I also pack a pair of black sliders or flip flops. Once I'm back inside, they'll also double up pretty well as something you can wear in restaurants and hotels at night. And if you'll be walking whatever you do, don't forget your waterproof liner bags for inside your rucksack or day pack, because no matter how resistant to water the bag you have says it is, in a rainstorm, some will always find a way in and remember one for your phone too, so that you can still snap pics of all your adventures, whatever the weather. That was my regular indulgence in my pet love of travel gear chat. I hope it eases the worry when packing for your own Irish adventure. Now, speaking of shoulders, one of the places you're sure to sun shoulder to shoulder with someone in Ireland is inside the oldest bar in the world. Its name is Shaun's Bar and inside I met a stalwart barman who'd started work here in his 20s and, three decades on, is about to front two documentaries on the place that are soon to appear on Netflix and the History Channel. We talked about the origins of the pub, as well as the origins of one of his most popular drinks, Irish whiskey, which turns out is a whole other story. Just to note here we were chatting in a busy bar, so please forgive the sound of laughter. And doors opening and closing.

Speaker 3:

My name is Timmy Donovan and you're here in Shaun's Bar in Athlone in Ireland and you have found the oldest pub in the world.

Speaker 5:

Wow, so take me back. When did it start? How is it here?

Speaker 3:

It dates right back to 900 AD. We're 1123 years old. I better check that in the calculator now to make sure I'm right. Yeah, from 900 AD we're here and we are dated not only by the National Museum of Ireland but certified by the Guinness Book of World Records right back to 900 and the oldest pub anywhere. As you walk in there, that is the original bar as it was built back in 900. Halfway down through the bar you'll see part of the old walls on display, made of what's called wattle and wicker, which is interwoven hazel sticks held together with horse hair and clay, and what you see in that cabinet is inside all of the walls, the hallway right around inside and upstairs. It is the same original building made from wattle and wicker, built right back in 900 AD. You will also notice that there is a slope on the floor coming the hallway through the bar. One or two more points to that and it will be demonstrated on your way out. That is the original drainage system. The water would flow down the hill in the front door, down the slope out the back and into the river and it would put outside us to soak up all excess water down. Going back to 900, a man called Lewin built the bar here. The reason he situated it here is because you have the river Shannon out the back, fed by Lough Ree huge lake that had funnelled into the river here at Athlone. But you'd have to come the whole way around the lake and the very first crossing point she came to was directly at the back door here and Lewin set up a crossing point. He had a raft system in place and he guided both people and their animals over and back to treacherous waters here and he charged them. Now most towns or cities here in Ireland are built up around either a castle or a fort, apart from which, was built around a pub. He actually had their priorities right. They built the bar here first and then a settlement built up around the pub and crossing point, and they didn't bother with a castle in a town until 1129 when King Tarluk the Conard, the very last hiking of Ireland, built the first wooden castle here to actually guard the settlement that had built up around the pub and crossing point.

Speaker 1:

And what would have been the drink of choice back then.

Speaker 3:

I can tell you exactly what to drink. You know, there's a huge, huge history here on Whiskey. The whole origin of Whiskey began here on Lough Ree and travelled right around the world. Now, this is not a story. This is something we have 14 years of research, going into the whole history and origin of Whiskey itself, beginning here on the lake. Now, going back 14 years ago, there was no Google. It was all hands-on, up and down to the National Museum in a weekly base. I go up one week chasing that and I come back with that the following week. I will be chasing that and I'll be back with that and that and that that. I never went up for whatsoever. It was all hands-on meeting with local historians, meeting with people who'd written books on La Rue in its islands, meeting with people who lived on the islands getting their history that was handed down from generation to generation, going to lectures on the huge, huge Viking history here on the lake also, which is absolutely massive. So it was all hands-on and, as a result of this, all our research was done with and through the National Museum of Ireland. So much so now all this history has gone into book form right now and there's actually two documentaries coming on board very, very shortly. One is Netflix and the other is the History Channel, both doing two separate documentaries on the origin of our Whiskey here. It was actually the monks on the island; same order of monks, two different monasteries, who were the first people to distill Whiskey in the world, where they actually took distillation. Distillation itself began in the Middle East, but not as an alcohol. It began as a perfume. So the next time you're drinking a Whiskey, you're actually drinking a perfume and if you spill it on yourself, you'll be grand. It was the monks from here. It basically is the Moors, who were traders from Northern Spain. They had trade links with the Middle East at the time. That's where it began. They brought back various spices etc. They also brought back the art of distilling this perfume with them to Northern Spain. The monks happened to be there in Northern Spain under missions at the time and somehow managed to take this perfume and turn it into an alcoholic beverage. Or in other words, it smelled lovely and wanted to drink it. That's exactly what happened had a bit of a funny effect on him, probably the best night of his life ever. But as a result, these monks actually taught the spirit, cured all illnesses, and they brought back the art of distilling the spirit with them to the two main monasteries in the whole country. Now it became their main form of trade and they traded massively in this. The monks on here spoke Irish. They called the spirit ish-gabah, meaning the water of life, because they taught it to cure everything Probably did in those days. The monks spoke Latin, the international language at the time. They taught in Latin and they called the spirit aquavite, also meaning the water of life. I would say these monks traded massively in this and it spread from here right around the world. They also traded with all the different factions based here on the late true out the centuries, right down to and including the Vikings. Now, the Vikings first arrived here in the 800s. Yes, they were marauded, plundered, killed, stole and everything else that went with it, but then to settle down here on Lough Ree and everything was grand again. One of the biggest Viking settlements in the whole country is here on Lough Ree. Now there were farmers, there were traders, they traded with the locals. The intermarried with the locals. They traded massively with the monks for this spirit, simple reason being the Vikings loved their alcohol, viking drinking horns, etc. The Vikings had gold and silver. The monks wanted gold and silver in order to make their chalices and their crosses, all of which can be seen in the National Museum today. Now, everybody thinks that the Vikings and the monks clattered 7 colors of hell over one another. Not at all. They traded together for centuries. The Vikings in turn, brought the art of distillation with them back to the Scandinavian countries and to this day, the national drink of all the Scandinavian countries is a drink called Aquavit, coming from Aquavite, from from here monks . That's where it came from. The Vikings in turn then brought it further afield and from Scandinavia onto Iceland, onto Greenland and onto Mufinland, where they landed at a place called Lanson Meadows. Bringing the art of distillation with them from here.. e . It eventually made it without Canada, and then distillation spread the whole way through the states known as different names along the W hite white Lightning and Moonshine, for example. Now, with this Netflix documentary is actually going to do. It's going to begin here with me on the original island exactly the showing originally distilled the whisky. From there whiskey will be going to Scandinavia to show how Aquavit is made to this day, then onto Newfoundland, but after that we're going to four areas Carolina, kentucky, tennessee ,K Kentucky ,T Tennessee Virginia to visit four proper, real moonshine sites right across the whole spectrum to show that to this day the method of distillation used by moonshineers is the exact same and original recipe that the monks actually put together themselves. It is the same thing. So that's what this whole documentary is actually doing. So if I don't manage to get myself either shot or arrested at some still site in the middle of Kentucky, there will be a documentary, and if there's no documentary, you know what happened. Getting back to the origin again, the very first written account of whisky in the world actually comes from the monks , where to speak about a local chieftain who on Christmas day he consumed way, way, way too much aquavite and he keeled over and died. So much for being aquavite, the water of life. It did not do what I said in the label. In his case it was more aqua mortis than aquavite, and that is the first written account of whisky in the world. The name whiskey comes from us. Also not many people even realize this where after the Vikings you actually had the English armies of King Henry II and Turb based the lake up at Rindoon. Now they huge army based here, simple reason being they could mobilise and deploy their huge army up and down the length and breadth of the country by using the waterways of the Shannon system here, but they were right next door to the monks and of course the monks cashed in on this big time, traded hugely with these English armies. We even have a record of a ship belong to King Henry II leaving La Rie and between both of those monasteries Lough Ree ship's entire cargo was whisky. Only they were not busy praying or the biggest bootleggers in the world at the time, and your whole idea now of an Irish monk sitting quietly in the corner with his bina pray in the way that's got his in a h ina the window for everyone.

Speaker 1:

That was the very charismatic Timmy Donovan, coming to a screen or two near you very soon. I cannot wait to hear more of his wonderful tales of monks, vikings and bootlegging. And already it's only the end of the episode, so time for me to share with you the Wander Woman of the Month. I hope you've enjoyed what you've heard. If you have, please do subscribe so that you never miss an episode, and please do leave a review. It means so very much. You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram @PhoebeR Smith and go to my website Phoebe-Smith. com to get in touch with me. And, of course, do check out my friends friends a a a icom . com who took Wander this very grateful Wonder Woman on an Go Ramah Agut Now, without further ado. It's my pleasure to introduce a swashbuckling, rip-rawing and trailblazing seafarer in this episode's Wander Woman of the Month. Our story begins in the year 1541 with an 11 year old girl who pleads with her father to accompany him on his trading ship to Spain. Her name is Gronya Nyawalia or, when anglicised,G Grace O'Malley. He refuses, arguing that her long hair will get caught up in the ship's ropes. Her response to cut off all her hair. He's still forbidden from going, but in the seafaring communities of the west coast of Ireland, this wee girl, now nicknamed Gronya Viall or Bald Gronya, was quickly becoming notorious. Her father was King of Umea, which is now County Mayo, and despite this setback on his death, it was she, and not her brother, who assumed the chieftain of the O'Malley clan, a clan that had already developed a fierce fame, controlling the west coast of Ireland and plundering ships trading through Galway Bay. Her stronghold was around Clue Clew , with hundreds of small islands protecting its shores. On Clare Island, the largest, a castle still stands today, which guarded the entrance to the bay. Just five years later, Grace had already secured a strategic marriage to Donald, the heir to the O'Flaherty clan, based on what is County Galway today. She had three children Owen, maeve and Murrah. Murrah, her third child, was said to have been born on a ship while on a trading mission to the Mediterranean. Only a few hours after his birth, the ship was attacked by Algerian corsairs. She is said to have wrapped up Murrah picked up her weapons and joined her men on deck, slaughtering many and capturing the loot on their ship. When her husband was killed later in an ambush in 1565, she went back to her own lands, commanding control from her old home on Clare Island. However, as a leader, she gained so much loyalty that many of the men of the O'Flaherty clan went with her. While there, she took a shipwrecked sailor as her lover. We don't know his name, but we do know that when he was murdered by the clan,M<acmohan of Balevoy Grace took vengeance by summoning her troops and attacking the clan's stronghold on Duna Castle. She murdered her lover's assassins, and her attack on Duna Castle earned her the nickname of the Dark Lady of Duna. In 1566, now known as the Pirate Queen of Ireland, she married a man called Richard Burke, who was a chieftain, and had another child with him called Tibbet Burke, who later would become a member of the Irish House of Commons. During this period, the English Tudors continued to exert their influence across Ireland, and the English leaders did not like Grania one bit. She fought them back at every stage and successfully fended off attacks on her castle, but she was battling the tide. In 1593, her son Tibbet and half-brother Donald were arrested by Sir Richard Bingham, a leader of the British conquest in Ireland. She wrote to Queen Elizabeth bargaining for their release. Receiving a response, she sailed to England to meet the Queen herself at Greenwich Palace. It's sometimes said that she refused to bow to the Queen, being a Queen herself, but the meeting was a success and secured their release. This cemented her reputation as a fearless leader and a fearsome pirate, as well as an astute politician. Later she rebuilt her fleet with three large galleys and again took control of her waters, but it was the skirmishes against the English that dominated the remainder of her life. She died in 1603, aged 72 or 73, at Rockfleet Castle in Mayo that still stands today and buried at Clare Island Abbey in the O'Malley tomb. You can visit the tomb today and you should, for her legacy as a woman who fought for passion for her children, for her clan and for her country is certainly something that deserves respect. She may well be remembered in her native island, but deserves to be known far beyond these boundaries as historian and novelist Anne Chambers, who has perhaps done more than anyone to highlight Gronya Noelia's story, says she was a fearless leader by land and by sea, a political pragmatist and politician, a ruthless plunderer, a mercenary, a rebel, a shrewd and able negotiator and protective matriarch of her family and tribe, a genuine inheritor of mother goddess and warrior queen attributes of her remote ancestors. Above all else, she emerges as a woman who broke the mould and thereby played a unique role in history For refusing to be defined by her gender, for leading where others would follow and fighting politics with as much class as she fought seafarers. Gronya Noelia's, aka Grace O'Malley, the pirate queen of Ireland, is_our oWander Wander W ander W W W oman woman of the month. After spending some time on Irish waters, I can picture the might of Gronya Noelia or Grace O'Malley commanding the seas. What a legend. We salute you. In the next episode of the Wander Woman podcast, I challenge myself to go an entire day without speaking a word by joining a silent pilgrimage. But will I be able to keep my mouth shut? You'll have to tune in to find out. It may be quite a peaceful one. I meet the lawyer and former BBC reporter Turned Nuns, who are now leading and discovering hiking routes up and Down DPatrick, northern Ireland. To counter all the hushing of my walk, my travel hack will consider I'll be discussing the joys of walking poles and how to use them properly in my gear guide, and also meeting the woman who decided to make it her mission to save the endangered spirit horse in her native Canada by turning a former Tex-Mex restaurant into a cultural hub. See you, then, wonder Woman out. The Wonder Wander podcast is written and edited by me, phoebe Smith. The producer for this episode and writer of additional material is Daniel Nielsen. The logo was designed by John Summerton, thanks to this episode's podcast partners, partners . . com And a final thanks to all the people I met on my journey and were willing to talk to me. It's because of you that this podcast is able to happen at all.