Wednesday, 25 February 2015


North Americans often don't realize just how far north we are here in Ireland, perched way up there at 53 degrees N latitude. In the winter we get less than seven hours of daylight a day, and in the summer, well, it seems like the sun hardly sets at all. If we were living at the same latitude, but in Canada, we'd probably be buried up to our eyeballs in snow and/or freezing our huevos right off. (Heck, with the way this winter has been back home, if we were living anywhere north of about 40 degrees we'd probably be up to our eyeballs in snow and frozen solid, but I digress....)

Unlike other locales, being situated right on the cusp of the warmth-channelling Gulf stream as we are, and washed on all sides by a large, moderating ocean (Hi North Atlantic!), this far-north latitude means relatively mild weather year-round. While we definitely do have seasons here, we rarely get much below freezing, even in the depths of winter, and we rarely get above 70 degrees F, even in the heights of summer. In August, when all I want to do is please-please-so-help-me-God just go outside without a jacket, my feelings on the Irish weather can be expressed in less-than-mild terms. But now, in late February, all this mildness means one thing: an early Spring!

I LOVE daffodils in February!
Love love love....

Now. If someone could just remind me of these gorgeous flowers come August, when I haven't bothered to unpack my summer clothes for the third year in a row, and I'm considering lighting a fire in the stove because it's so dang cold outside, it'd be great, m'kay? Thanks!

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Most winter mornings...

Most winter mornings, the first order of business is a trip to the shed to fill up the coal shuttle. We don't have central heating in our little cottage, so our only source of warmth in these cold, windy months comes from the small multi-fuel stove nestled into an awkward corner of our dining room/lounge. It's a very small stove, but then, it's a very small cottage. The original owner cleverly installed an intricate back boiler system, so when the temperature in the stove gets hot enough, a pump clicks on and hot water, heated in coils on the back of the stove, circulates throughout the cottage. There are radiators in every room and soon enough a gentle, warming heat can be felt in every corner of the house. In such circumstances, one little stove is more than enough.

Waiting for the coal to catch...
Although it is really very efficient - especially as compared with the smelly, expensive oil boiler systems that are so common in Ireland - we try not to waste any of our little stove's many offerings. We boil our water for tea and dishes on top of it, we dry our clothes in front of it, we've even been known to cook on it. (Okay, so the cooking doesn't work all that great, but it's possible, is my point.) This is our first winter in the cottage, so we're mostly buying in fuel, but going forward we hope to supply at least half of our own wood from the many, many trees on our land. In the short term, there are the branches and entire trees that we've cleared to open up the view and site the garden. In the longer term, we're scheming to cultivate a coppice on the back half-acre.

Tea kettle at the ready
I have to admit, it's kind of a hassle, when the stove has gone cold overnight as it often does, to shuffle out in the wind and rain to gather fuel, when all you really want is to be warm and dry with a steaming cup of coffee in hand. It's kind of a hassle to build the fire, then wait the half hour for the coal to catch, then for the temperature to rise high enough that the back boiler clicks on. And of course, one has to remember to refuel on a regular basis throughout the day. Already there have been several occasions when "WHO LET THE FIRE DIE DOWN?" has rebounded off our hills. (Um, that would be me, sorry... I forgot!) But despite the frustrations and petty inconveniences, I really love this heating system of ours. For the first time since moving to Ireland, I'm actually warm and comfortable inside my house. (When we moved out of our last rental house, I'm sure I channelled Scarlett O'Hara when I vowed - "As God as my witness, I'll never be freezing again!") We are warmer than we ever have been and we're actually saving money in the process. Truly, at the end of it all, nothing beats the warm, radiating heat of a solid fuel stove.

Sunday, 15 February 2015


Bohreen is an Irish word, meaning little lane or pathway. As the road – if you can call it that – to our cottage is barely wide enough to accommodate a single vehicle and has a strip of grass growing down the centre, it certainly qualifies as such. We live down the bohreen in a tiny cottage on the green hill, on two overgrown acres of land in West Mayo that overlook Croagh Patrick and the drumlin islands of Clew Bay.

I like to think that living down the bohreen is also a mentality – the act of following the path less travelled by to a place where we live by our wits and our forethought and whatever our hands can do for themselves. It’s a place where there’s always peat smoke wafting from the chimney, and something hearty and delicious bubbling on the hob. It’s a place where the garden produces nutritious, sustaining fruit and vegetables year round. Potatoes and cabbages, of course (this is Ireland after all), but also heirloom varieties of leafy greens; peas, melons and squash; and flavourful herbs. It’s a place where we split our own firewood and cut our own peat, to keep us warm in the moment and warm the year round when the fierce winter winds blow off the north Atlantic. It’s a place where laughter, prayer, and a few choice curse words can be heard echoing off the hills between the lowing of the cattle and the clucking of the chickens. We work for a living here, yes, but we also work for a life. A life that is honest and real, bought with faith, sweat, and a few torn blisters.

You’re welcome to visit us at our humble cottage any time you like. It’s just down the bohreen, around past the split, third gate on the right. Bring a good story to share and I’ll put the kettle on.