• Irish Adventuring Heroes


    What is adventure? For most of us it can be as simple as a change in career, a move to a new country or a trip around the world. We all dream about our own adventures and sometimes, with luck, we get to live some of those dreams. Our adventures stay with us and memories sustain us through routine periods. Over time they may even grow in our imagination to the degree of heroism!

    Down through history there have been people who have pushed boundaries and created new frontiers through their adventures; be it expeditions or journeys of survival or perhaps quests for justice and equality. It is good to remember, celebrate and be inspired by such adventurers. Ireland has had no shortage of such people. Over the next number of weeks I’m going to share with you the story of four Irish adventurers. I hope you get some inspiration and entertainment from their stories.

    Margaret Ann Bulkley

    Margaret Ann Bulkley was born in Cork around 1789. Her life story is one that is truly fascinating. When Margaret was a young girl her father, Jeremiah Bulkley, ran a weigh house in Cork city. Due to financial difficulties and anti-Catholic sentiment against him, Jeremiah ran into trouble with the authorities, which resulted in him being sent to the debtor’s prison in Dublin. This left his family destitute and forced Margaret and her mother to move to London where they were supported by Margaret’s uncle, James Barry, a celebrated Irish painter living in London at the time.

    In London Margaret was tutored privately with the intention that she would eventually become a tutor herself. She proved to be an eager student with an academic mind that was nurtured by her teacher. As she grew older she wished to continue her education and attend university to study medicine, but at that time women were not educated beyond a particular level and they certainly never attended university.

    James Barry, her uncle who had financed her education, died in 1806, and it was his liberal friends who hatched a plan that allowed Margaret to pursue her dream. In 1809 Margaret dressed in men’s clothes and platform shoes, and with a distinctive high-pitched voice enrolled in Edinburgh University. She took her uncle’s name, James Barry, as her alias.

    During her time in university her outward appearance was that of a prepubescent boy, and because of ‘his’ apparent young age the college authorities attempted to remove James Barry from the university, but Margaret persevered and successfully graduated from university. She then enrolled in the United Hospital of Guy’s and St Thomas’s where she passed the examination for the Royal College of Surgeons of England. The plan that she and her uncle’s liberal friends had initially made was that after Margaret qualified as a doctor she would travel to South America where women were free to practise medicine, but she found this option closed to her because of a change in political circumstances. So in 1813 Dr James Barry got a job as a hospital assistant in the British army. What she had achieved by then was extraordinary. Not only had she qualified as a doctor, but she had also enrolled in the British army, all the while disguised as a man. But this was only the start of a lifelong career in the British army for Dr James Barry.

    Following military training Dr James Barry was stationed in Cape Town in South Africa. She proved to be an excellent doctor and an able leader, bringing about significant changes during her time in South Africa, including improvements to sanitation and water systems, improved conditions for enslaved people and provision of a sanctuary for the leper population. Dr James Barry carried out the first caesarean section on the continent of Africa and the first recorded caesarean section in the world where both the expectant mother and her newborn child survived (the child was christened James Barry Munnik in the doctor’s honour).

    In South Africa Margaret had a loyal servant, John Joseph Danson. John remained with Margaret for the remainder of her career. He and a few of her closest allies most likely knew her secret, but none of them ever revealed it to the authorities. After South Africa Dr James Barry served all around the British Empire – Mauritius, Jamaica, Saint Helena, the West Indies, Malta, Corfu and her final posting, Canada.

    During her career Dr James Barry rose to the rank of chief medical officer and deputy inspector general of hospitals. Everywhere she served she brought about improvements to sanitary conditions and the diet of both common soldiers and under-represented groups. She was outraged by unnecessary suffering and took a heavy-handed and sometimes tactless approach to demanding improvements for the poor and underprivileged. This sometimes got her in trouble. On one occasion Dr. James Barry was arrested and court-martialled on a charge of ‘conduct unbecoming of the character of an officer and a gentleman’. She was found not guilty and honourably acquitted. On another occasion Dr James Barry was accused of carrying on a homosexual relationship with her superior officer. If the rumour mill knew the truth, what gossip would have abounded?

    Dr James Barry retired from the army at the age of seventy. Margaret Bulkley had successfully disguised herself as a man for a long and distinguished career as one of the highest-ranking medical officers in the British army. Her last wishes were to be buried in the clothes she died in without her body being washed, but when Margaret died from dysentery on 25 July 1865 her final wishes were not honoured. When the nurse undressed the body to prepare it for burial she discovered two things: female anatomy and telltale stretch marks from pregnancy. This news spread like wildfire across Victorian England with many exaggerated and fanciful versions of the story emerging, including one that Dr James Barry was a hermaphrodite.

    The male-dominated society of the time did not celebrate her achievements and Margaret’s story faded away and has remained dormant in history, but her story is slowly re-emerging today and she is beginning to get the recognition she deserves.

    Tom Crean

    The second Irish adventurer in our series is Tom Crean, a member of three major expeditions to Antarctica in the early twentieth century during the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration.

    Tom was born in 1877 – one of ten children, and grew up in poverty on a small farm in Annascaul, County Kerry. At the age of fifteen Crean lied about his age and joined the British navy where he quickly became known for his hard work and quiet demeanour and grew to be well respected. When the Discovery Expedition, the first major expedition to the Antarctic, was announced in 1901, Crean volunteered to go. After serving on the Discovery Expedition under Captain Robert Scott, he subsequently served on the Terra Nova Expedition from 1910 to 1913, again under Captain Scott, and from 1914 to 1916 he served on the Endurance Expedition under Sir Ernest Shackleton.

    The accounts of the three expeditions were recorded by the educated, higher-ranking officers who kept detailed diaries. There was also an onboard photographer during the Endurance Expedition. Stories of the expeditions have been widely recorded and publicised and are well known to the public. Crean didn’t keep a diary during the expeditions, nor did he talk a lot about his endeavours after he returned to Ireland; perhaps because he returned to Ireland at a sensitive time – the War of Independence with the British was ending and Ireland was entering a divisive civil war. Tom Crean’s Antarctic exploits remained a side note in other people’s stories for a long time, and it was only through meticulous research of the diaries belonging to other members and accounts of the past expeditions that Tom’s story was pieced together. Much credit must be given to Michael Smith and his revealing book, An Unsung Hero. It shows in fantastic detail that through the three expeditions Tom truly was a hero. I have chosen two events that occurred during the expeditions that illustrate the type of man Tom Crean was.

    The first event occurred during Scott’s, ultimately ill-fated, Terra Nova Expedition. When the ship arrived at the Antarctic, Crean and the crew worked hard for months moving tons of supplies hundreds of miles across the ice to establish a route for the attempt on the Pole. When the supply route was ready and the men were rested, Scott selected a group to accompany him in the attempt to be the first men to reach the South Pole. As Scott progressed closer to the South Pole, the members of his support team were gradually reduced. Crean was part of an eight-man team that moved towards the Pole, but eventually Scott chose a final five to make the final push to the South Pole, and Tom Crean, Bill Lashly and Lieutenant Teddy Evans were ordered back to base. Tom was justifiably disappointed that he wasn’t chosen as part of the team for the final push because he was one of the fittest and most capable of the group, but he had to obey the orders that were given. After bidding farewell to Scott and his team, Crean and his two colleagues began their 750-mile journey across the rugged Antarctic ice back to the ship after already spending nine tough weeks on the ice. Over a month into the return Evans contracted scurvy and grew weaker by the day. Eventually he was no longer able to walk and he ordered the other two men to leave him behind and save themselves. Crean and Lashly ignored his orders and instead hauled Evans on a sledge. With determination, serious effort and little food, they hauled the now dying Evans 350 miles across the ice to within thirty-five miles of Hut Point. The remaining distance was a four- or five-day march away at their current pace and the situation was bleak. Tom set off alone on the thirty-five mile march, leaving his sleeping bag as he did not intend stopping, taking only a few biscuits and a little chocolate to sustain him. He reached Hut Point in eighteen hours and got the help required to return and save Evans’s life.

    By late October, when Scott and his team had failed to return, Tom Crean joined a search party that went back across the ice to find their comrades. It was Crean who noticed something unusual protruding through the snow, which turned out to be the top of a tent. Inside the men discovered the frozen bodies of Scott, Wilson and Bowers. The dead were buried in the tent and the survivors returned to their ship and made the lonely journey home.

    The second event occurred while Tom served on the Endurance Expedition under Ernest Shackleton, who incidentally was Irish. During the expedition, as they sailed towards the Antarctic, their ship became trapped in the pack ice of the Weddell Sea. Eventually the ship was crushed and rendered useless by the ice. Shackleton and his crew could do nothing but look on from the ice as their ship sank. The crew of twenty-two were stranded on an ice sheet hundreds of miles from the sea.

    Thanks to the leadership qualities and the ingenuity of Shackleton an escape plan was formulated. First off they tried to drag, push and haul their supplies and lifeboats across the ice to reach the open sea, but ultimately they needed to wait patiently for the ice to break up. When it did, they set their three lifeboats into the sea. They sailed the boats across the Southern Ocean in horrific conditions with only basic navigational equipment. After seven days they landed on the small uninhabited Elephant Island in April 1915.

    From here, Crean was part of a six-man crew that was selected to sail 800 miles to South Georgia Island where they hoped to find help at a Norwegian whaling station.

    They sailed for two weeks in stormy weather and violent seas, and when they neared South Georgia they were hit by a hurricane forcing them to spend a further two nights at sea as an attempt to land would have crushed their tiny boat. In fact, the same hurricane sank a 500-ton Argentinian ship, Argos, only ten miles away, with the loss of all on board.

    On 10 May they eventually landed on the north side of the island, but regrettably the whaling station was on the other side of the island. The men were left with no option other than to cross the unexplored and uncharted interior of South Georgia. After resting, three of the most able men, Shackleton, Crean and Worsley, set off into the unknown. Roped together they faced peaks, glaciers, crevasses and freezing temperatures. They marched continuously for thirty-seven hours and miraculously they did reach the Stromness whaling station on the island’s eastern coast. They were relieved to find that the whaling station was manned and a rescue was quickly arranged for the three men stranded on the north side of the island. The sixteen men waiting on Elephant Island would have to wait another three months before being rescued.

    They then intercepted a ship returning to England and the entire crew headed back to England. Their survival was because of their desire to live, having a capable leader like Shackleton and because of the stamina and bravery of the men involved. Men like Tom Crean.

    Crean returned to the UK in 1916 to serve out the remaining time of World War l and was medically discharged in 1919. He married a local Irish girl and had three daughters. Crean and his wife then opened a pub called The South Pole Inn in Annascaul village, where he remained until his death in 1938.

    There is a Guinness ad from the 1990s that romanticises Crean’s march to Hut Point and times in the pub with a pint. Here’s the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eXf93CEI4t0

    Dr. Aidan Mac Carthy

    Our next adventurer was a man of compassion and strength who was blessed with no small amount of luck. Aidan MacCarthy was born in Castletownbere in West Cork in 1913. He studied and graduated with a medical degree from University College Cork. In 1938 he moved to London in search of work. Almost on a whim, while on a night out with some friends, he joined the British army as a medical officer. During his career in the British army he encountered many life-threatening situations, and his survival is nearly unbelievable.

    In 1940 he was posted to France – one of the thousands of Allied troops who retreated and were pinned in at Dunkirk. Here, while he was waiting for evacuation, he attended many wounded Allied soldiers. After three days in Dunkirk he boarded a rescue ship that was torpedoed and sank in the English Channel. MacCarthy was rescued from the sea and made it back to England.

    He was soon promoted to flight lieutenant and in 1941, while stationed at RAF Honington, he witnessed a plane crash-landing at the airfield. Without concern for his own life, MacCarthy rushed to the plane and helped rescue the crew members from the burning wreckage. For this he was awarded the George Medal. A year later he was sent to Africa and then the Far East.

    In Java, MacCarthy was captured and imprisoned by the Japanese. In prison he used his medical and diplomatic skills to keep many prisoners alive. He negotiated with the guards to get basic medicines for those nearing death. He also used his knowledge of nutrition to help keep the living healthy. As the war progressed and the Japanese retreated, MacCarthy was transported back to mainland Japan. During transportation the ship he was in was torpedoed and sunk by a US submarine. Most of the people onboard died but miraculously MacCarthy survived. The crew of a passing fishing boat pulled him out of the ocean and took him to Japan, where he was imprisoned in Nagasaki.

    MacCarthy was in charge of a working party in Nagasaki when the atomic bomb was dropped on the city on 9 August 1945, and he survived one of the most devastating attacks mankind has ever known. When the war ended and the prisoners were set free, some of the ex-prisoners attempted to kill their Japanese captors. MacCarthy, who was the senior Allied serviceman in Japan at the time of the Japanese surrender, didn’t want this to happen. Instead he locked the Japanese guards in cells for their own safety, saving their lives. Later, before leaving Japan, and as a thanks, one of the Japanese guards presented MacCarthy with his samurai sword, one of the highest marks of respect you can receive from a Japanese person.

    For years after Dr MacCarthy worked as a doctor in northern England. He died in 1995 at the age of eighty-two. MacCarthy’s Bar is located in Castletownbere in West Cork and it is run by his daughters. If you visit the bar, you will see his medals and sword. There is a book and a television documentary available that tell his story, both are titled A Doctor’s Sword.

    Mother Jones

    The last in our series of Irish adventurers is Mother Jones. Born as Mary Harris in 1837 in County Cork, Mother Jones holds an important position in American history because of her struggle to achieve equality and justice for the country’s industrial labourers. She is even included in The Guardian’s list of the world’s top ten revolutionaries: https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2015/aug/28/10-best-revolutionaries-che-guevara-mahatma-gandhi-leon-trotsky

    In the early 1850s, as a result of the Irish potato famine, Mary and her family, like a million other Irish people, were forced to leave Ireland in search of a better life elsewhere.
    She and her family travelled across the Atlantic Ocean, in what became known as a famine ship, and settled in Toronto. Here, Mary attended school and university and qualified as a teacher. She later moved to the USA where she married and had a family.

    In 1867, Mary’s husband and her four children died from yellow fever during the epidemic in Memphis. She moved to Chicago to start a new life as a dressmaker, but here she was again cursed when she lost everything in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Her past experiences cemented her resolve and her desire to fight for the survival and equality of others, and after the Chicago fire she became active in the labour movement. Her many quotes give us some insight into her spirit: ‘My address is like my shoes. It travels with me. I abide where there is a fight against wrong’.

    Through the 1880s she worked with the labour movement. Jones was involved in the Great Railroad Strike of 1877 in Pittsburgh and the strikes that led to the Haymarket Riot in Chicago in 1886. By the early 1890s, her reputation as a devoted labour leader was well established, and she had earned the name ‘Mother Jones’. She led organising efforts in striking mining communities and she was one of the organisers of Coxey’s Army, a group of unemployed men who marched on Washington in 1894 to demand a federal jobs programme. After this her reputation grew to a national scale. She worked tirelessly and spoke on behalf of the workers, and she raised money for strikes and explained their cause to those who were unfamiliar. When once asked about her humanitarian struggles, she replied saying ‘I’m not a humanitarian, I’m a hell-raiser’.

    Jones was a major influence on Irish republican and socialist leader James Connolly, another entry in the world’s top ten revolutionaries. The pair met in the early twentieth century while they were both actively campaigning for labour rights in the US.

    She was also an active proponent of legislation to prohibit child labour. She was one of the founders of the Social Democratic Party in 1898 and the Industrial Workers of the World in 1905. Her last important struggle was for the steel workers in 1919. Today, Mother Jones’ legacy lives on and she is remembered as a mother to millions of working men, women and children.

    At a remarkable eighty-three years of age she was imprisoned and sentenced to twenty years in jail, for which she was eventually pardoned. In 1925, she released her own account of her experiences in the labour movement as The Autobiography of Mother Jones, and she died in 1930. You can find out more about Mother Jones here: https://motherjonescork.com/.

    Perhaps the best way to remember Mother Jones is through one of her most famous quotes, ‘Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living’.

  • Cork’s International Cuisine.

    Cork is the real capital of food and it is home to many incredible restaurants. There is a fantastic choice of international cuisine in Cork representing many cultures, from Indian to Mediterranean. Here are 6 of Cork’s best international casual cuisine offerings. These are great places to satisfy your appetite after you have enjoyed our Cork City Cycle Tour.


    Iyers is a family run, authentic south Indian cafe and it is rated ‘the most authentic southern Indian food outside of India’. Located on Popes Quay, its menu lists lots of street food staples you might find in southern India. The menu regularly changes depending on the season but is entirely vegetarian and everything is prepared freshly on site. Some popular Indian specialities like dosas and samosas are regularly featured, including Samosa Chaat; an enhanced version of the classic with chickpea chole (curry), red onion, rice puffs and garnish, it is crunchy, judiciously spiced and very tasty. If you are unfamiliar with Indian cuisine do not worry as the friendly and helpful staff are happy to explain their menu. Iyers are currently open for takeaway and outdoor dining on Fridays, Saturdays & Sundays. 

    Iyer’s Cafe


    Ristorante Rossini located on Princes street has been one of Cork’s most popular authentic Italian restaurants since it first opened its doors in 1994. It serves fresh, beautifully prepared food, served with care and pride in the Italian tradition. All ingredients are fresh and selected daily from Cork’s famous English Market. They serve a wide range of delicious pizzas, pastas and chicken dishes which will make you feel like you’re right in the heart of Italy. Ristorante rossini are offering a takeaway and delivery service. They also have outdoor dining in the now famous Princes street dining corridor.

    Ristorante Rossini


    Sakura is a Japanese restaurant located on MacCurtain Street. It is Cork’s premier Japanese cuisine destination and offers a selection of beautiful and tasty hand-crafted Japanese dishes including sushi, sashimi, norimaki, tempura, teppanyaki, noodles and ramen. Sakura chefs use only the freshest produce and embrace both traditional methods and contemporary trends – delivering a unique taste of Japanese food. Sakura are operating both an indoor and a takeaway service.

    Sakura Japanese


    In it’s short existence Tequila Jacks – Mexican Restaurant & Tequila Bar has quickly become the most popular Mexican restaurant in Cork. It is located on the vibrant boardwalk on Lapp’s Quay overlooking the River Lee. Tequila Jacks is an authentic Mexican restaurant that serves ‘the best Mexican dishes in Cork’ bringing a taste of Mexico to Cork City. They have a wide range of Mexican food on their menu including enchiladas, burritos, tacos and fajitas. They also have a great bar with amazing cocktails and claim that they serve ‘ the best margaritas in town’. Tequila Jacks – Mexican Restaurant & Tequila Bar have heated seated outdoor dining as well as takeaway service.

    Tequila Jacks


    ‘Izz cafe’ is a modern and classic Palestinian restaurant situated on Georges Quay. Run by a Palestine immigrant family, Izz and Eman who provide fresh, authentic and tasty Palestine food with a modern twist to the City. The cafe is ‘a taste of Palestine in Cork’. They have a wide range on their menu, they specialise in the Middle Eastern flatbreads known as manakeesh as well Hummus, Tabbouleh, Beetroot Hummus, Babaganoush, and Makdous. Not forgetting a delicious variation of Palestinian desserts including saffron cake and cinnamon rolls. For these beautiful summer days, Izz cafe also prepare picnic boxes for 3 or more people. Izz Cafe has indoor and outdoor dining as well as a takeaway service.

    Izz Cafe


    Within the Jewel that is The English Market sits a gem of The Real Olive Company, it has had a stall in the English Market since 1993. They stock a wide variety of olives, olive oils, balsamic vinegar, sundried tomatoes, cheeses as well as other meditaranian specialties. The Real Olive company have high importance on both the providence and the quality of their produce and the go to great lengths to keep the standards high. They source from independent market traders from the mediteranian region who they have establish long trusting relationships with. For a lunch treat you could do a lot worse than buying a selection of olive’s, sun-dried tomatoes, cheese and other tasty treats from The Real Olive Company. Add a loaf of freshly baked Sourdough from the nearby Alternative Bread Company stall. Find yourself a seat underneath a tree on the Grand Parade and you will have yourself a picnic lunch to enjoy at your leisure.

    The English Market
  • Saint Patrick’s Day

    On the 17th of March each year Saint Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, is celebrated in Ireland and many other countries around the world. In fact, Saint Patrick’s Day is celebrated in more countries than any other national festival globally. The day originally was a commemoration of Saint Patrick and the arrival of Christianity in Ireland, but it has grown into a celebration of all things Irish, particularly Ireland’s heritage, culture and the millions of Irish diasporas who are scattered around the globe.

    St. Patrick

    You may be surprised to hear that Saint Patrick was born in Britain. When he was young, he was captured by Irish pirates and was sold as a slave in Ireland. While in captivity in Ireland, he was put to work as a shepherd. During this time, he grew to know the Irish people and learned the Irish language. After six years, he escaped and returned home. Years later, Patrick travelled to Paris where he studied and became a cleric. He then returned to Ireland and set about converting the Irish people to Christianity. As part of his teachings, he used the shamrock to explain the concept of the holy trinity, each leaf representing the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This tradition was handed down through Irish generations and the shamrock is now synonymous with Irish identity. People wear it every year on Saint Patrick’s Day.

    There are multiple locations across the island of Ireland that are associated with Saint Patrick. Here is a small selection of some of these places.

    Croagh Patrick, Co. Mayo

    Croagh Patrick Mountain is located about 5 miles outside Westport. The mountain has a distinctive conical shape and scree covered slopes that sparkle under the sun which allows it to dominate the skyline of the Clew Bay area. Here, Patrick climbed to the summit of the mountain where he fasted for the forty days of Lent. This gave rise to the name of the mountain – Croagh Patrick, Ireland’s Holy Mountain. Each year in July thousands of pilgrims’ flock to the mountain and climb it honour the Saint. Some even climb the mountain barefoot.

    Croagh Patrick, County Mayo, Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way.
    Croagh Patrick, County Mayo

    You can feel the energy of the place when you stand beneath the mountain. Our 8-Day Explorer Tour visits here on the route into Westport, and our guests get the opportunity to experience the place first-hand.

    St Patrick's Chapel, Croagh Patrick.
    St. Patrick Chapel, Croagh Patrick

    Lough Derg, Co. Donegal

    Lough Derg is a lake in Co Donegal. On the lake there is a small island where Saint Patrick went to pray and reflect during his time in Ireland. Because of this, it is known as Saint Patrick’s Purgatory and it has been a site of uninterrupted pilgrimage for over 1500 years. The pilgrimage takes place over three days on the Island. It is a programme of prayer, fasting, walking bare-footed and undertaking a 24-hour Vigil.

    Without shoes and sleep and with little food, pilgrims are confronted with the essential aspects of life, an experience which can enable them to discover their hidden strengths and rediscover what really matters in life. Many people find that their pilgrimage to Lough Derg helps them to deal better with life’s ordinary struggles”.

    My father has completed the pilgrimage many times, and I have completed it myself on a few occasions. Each time I completed the pilgrimage was a different experience. It was always worth-while, but some were more challenging than others. You are given a ‘Lough Derg’ cup when you join the pilgrimage, which you use to enjoy the Lough Derg soup (hot water with a dash of pepper!) When I hiked the Appalachian trail in 2013, I took my Lough Derg cup with me. Perhaps as a little inspiration to help me through the challenging times on the trail.

    The priest who oversees the island on Lough Derg completed the pilgrimage in 2020 to continue the 1500 years of uninterrupted ritual.

    Downpatrick Head, Co. Mayo

    Downpatrick Head is a spectacular headland in county Mayo with fantastic views out onto the Atlantic. Here, Saint Patrick founded a church. The ruins of which you can still see today alongside a statue of Saint Patrick. Translated as the broken fort, Dun Briste is a sea stack close to the edge of the cliffs, which is 63 metres by 23 metres wide, 45 metres high and 228 metres from shore. In 1393, it was separated from the coast as a result of high seas and violent stormy weather. Old annals say people who lived there were taken off using ships ropes.  ‘Dun Briste’ is best viewed from Downpatrick Head.

    Dun Briste is associated with the conflict between Saint Patrick and the pagan chieftain or pagan God named Crom Dubh, who refused to convert to Christianity and attempted to throw Patrick into his everlasting fire. Patrick picked up a stone from the ground and scratched a cross on it, then he threw the stone into the fire. The fire collapsed into the sea forming a blowhole known as Poll a Sean Tine, meaning ‘the hole of the ancient fire’ Crom Dubh retreated into his fortress on the top of the cliff, but Patrick struck the ground with his crozier, the stack and his fort were separated from the mainland, leaving Crom Dubh isolated on the stack and devoured by midges.

    Folklore & Legends of Ireland

    Like many other cultures, the legends and folklore tales of ancient Ireland have been passed down through the generations through story telling. This has been a great way to keep traditions alive. In the centuries after Saint Patrick, Monasteries flourished and Ireland became the stronghold of Christianity in Europe. After the decline of Christianity in Europe, missionaries from Ireland helped bring Christianity back to the people. It was also in these monasteries that many of the old folklore tales and legends were first written down. The endings of the tales were sometimes changed, by the Monks who wrote them down, to have the hero of the tale meet Saint Patrick, where Patrick converted them to Christianity. One of my favourites of these tales is the tale of Oisín, his love for Niamh and their journey together to the land of Tír na nÓg, a magical land of eternal youth. It goes something like this.

    Many years ago, in Ireland, there lived a great noble warrior of untold strength named Oisín, son of the epic hero Fionn Mac Cumhaill. One day while out hunting with his father’s tribe the Fianna, Oisín came across the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. The woman introduced herself as Niamh, the daughter of the King of Tír na nÓg. As their eyes met they instantly fell in love, but Niamh was bound to return to Tír na nÓg.

    Unable to bear leaving her beloved Oisín, she invited him to come back with her. Oisín pleaded with his father to allow him go with Niamh. Fionn granted him permission under the condition he never forgot his own people and that he would return. He left his family and fellow warriors behind, and crossed over the sea with Niamh to the realm of Tír na nÓg. In Tír na nÓg he received all of the gifts it was famous for, everlasting beauty, health, and of course, the ultimate happiness with his new love. 

    As time passed, he began to miss the family he left behind. Overtime he couldn’t bear the loneliness for his homeland, for his friends and for his family any longer. Niamh gave him her horse so he could travel back to Ireland to see them. She warned him that he could not touch the ground, or he would become mortal again, and would never be able to return to Tír na nÓg.

    Oisín travelled across the water to his former home. As he travelled through the land, he discovered that everyone he had once known was gone and the land had changed beyond recognition. Riding through the countryside, he came across three men who were trying to move a large boulder. As Oisín was of unmeasurable strength he knew he could help them. Knowing that he could not touch the ground he leaned to the side gripping the horses reins tightly and pushed the boulder. The three men looked on in amazement as this lone man moved the boulder that the three of them could not. As he did this, the straps securing the saddle of the horse couldn’t take the pressure and snapped.  Oisín fell to the ground and he instantly transformed into an old man.

    The three men took Oisín to a cave to rest. They brought a holy man to pray over him. This holy man was Saint Patrick. Oisín told Saint Patrick all of the old stories and legends while Saint Patrick told Oisín of Christianity. Through Oisíns and Patricks conversation they discovered that 300 years had passed since Oisin had left Ireland; although to Oisín it seemed only like 30 years. Oisín, grew weaker and weaker. Before he passed, Saint Patrick baptised Oisín.

    Should you visit Ireland today and travel along the world-famous Ring of Kerry, you will come to a small seaside village called Glenbeigh. An ocean break out to sea causes waves to crash, these waves are known as Oisín and Niamh. Inland from here in a remote and rugged area, through it runs a scenic road, called Ballach Oisín, which translates as ‘the way of Oisín’. Eventhough the tale may sound fanciful, the couple still live in the landscape and memory of Ireland. Should you wish to walk in the footsteps of Oisín, both my 5-Day Hiker Tour and the 6-Day Adventurer Tour travel through this area.