The Wonders of North Westmeath

Manchán Magan had a wonderful piece on The Right Hook extolling the virtues of The Midlands and North Westmeath, giving a flavour of what there is to see and do over a couple of days. You can listen back to the program by clicking below.

 

I thought it might be useful to add some photos I have taken of the places mentioned and help bring them to life:

 

SHERIDAN’S CHEESEMONGERS

Sheridan's

The shop adjoins the warehouse and head-office in the townland of Pottlereagh on the Meath Cavan border. The site was formerly the Virginia Road railway station. Sheridans received the Ellison award from An Taisce for their work in renovating and conserving the old railway store. This large stone building now houses their largest retail shop displaying Sheridan’s famous selection of quality cheeses, foods and wines.

They have a market every Saturday morning and a number of food festivals throughout the year. Keep an eye on their website!

 

 

MULLAGHMEEN FOREST

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Mullaghmeen Forest

There are well marked walks throughout this beech woodland. The canopy gives great shelter from wind and rain, and if you make your way up to the highest point there are some wonderful views of the lakes and countryside for miles around.

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Mullaghmeen Bluebells

Mullaghmeen is worth a special visit in spring when the Bluebells are out, giving a stunning display of colour with the blues of the bluebells and the fresh greens of the new beech leaves.

 

 

FORE ABBEY

The abbey is situated at the middle of Fore Valley which is littered with medieval buildings and is steeped in myth and legend. The abbey itself must have been a centre of great learning and importance, because it is not on the road to anywhere in particular and so must have been a destination in it’s own right. Travelling cross country during the medieval period would have been quite difficult, so it’s possible that Fore was accessed via Lough Derravarra which links to the Shannon via the River Inny and Lough Ree.

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Fore Abbey

 

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The Medieval Gateway into Fore

You no longer pass through the gates but they are right there by the side of the road and it is easy to imagine the village as it once might have been, set up around the abbey.

A 2 km looped walk has just been opened which takes in the abbey, the village and some of the surrounding countryside.

 

 

LOUGH CREW MEGALITHIC CAIRNS

Forget Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth, this is the place to go to see 5000 year old wonders at there best. Un-interpreted and un-restored. The main passage tomb aligns with the Spring and Autumn Equinox, so there are opportunities twice a year to get up early and watch the sun rise.

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Sunrise at Loughcrew

I was there for the Spring Equinox earlier this year and took this photo. It is possible to go into the cairn and see the light shining onto the carvings.

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Sun stone inside the cairn

The sun strikes this stone, moving from left to right illuminating different carvings as it goes.

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Loughcrew views

It’s worth the climb for the views alone. this photo is taken from on top of the main cairn.

 

 

THE HILL OF UISNEACH & THE CAT STONE

The mythology and importance of Uisneach and the Cat Stone can only really be properly described by Marty Mulligan as he recounts the stories and brings the myths to life.

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It’s importance goes way beyond Celtic mythology. In fact we had some Nez Perce Indians staying with us who were on there way to see the Cat Stone because of it’s significance to the North American Indians.

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The Cat Stone

The Cat Stone is both the actual centre and the mythological centre of Ireland. It represents the five provinces of Ireland, the four familiar ones namely Ulster, Munster, Leinster and Connaght and the less known Mide, which refers to the ancient Middle Kingdom of Ireland or fifth dimension.

Again, there are fabulous views in all directions taking in over 20 counties on a good, clear day.

 

Guided Tours of Uisneach may be arranged by emailing tours@uisneach.ie  An average tour will take approx 2 hours but longer tours of up to a full day can be arranged also . Public Tours are held regularly on weekends.

Uisneach is a privately owned, working farm. Due to Insurance constraints all tours are “guided”.

 

 

The Plight of the Honey Bee

Hives

The consequences of the poor autumn weather followed by a long winter are easily seen by the lack of grass in the fields and the seasons being a month behind. The deaths of livestock due to late snow and the fodder crisis have been all too visible in our national media, but the catastrophic loss of honey bees since February has gone largely unnoticed. Yes we’ve had coverage of Neonicotinoids, their effect on bees and the ensuing ban, but there has been very little mention of the weather related deaths of bees.
There are many reasons for the decline in honey bees and here we are talking about our native honey bee, Apis Melifera Melifera.

Our Bees
Last autumn I had 7 colonies of bees in excellent order and ready for winter.  The first warm day after 14th February I always take a quick look at each colony and give fondant, just in case stores are getting low. All 7 colonies were doing well with plenty of active bees and they were getting ready to increase numbers ready for the spring burst of blossom.

Over the next 2 months it was not possible to open the hives, but I have perspex crown boards on so I can see into the hives without opening them, allowing me to see if they have fondant and if there are bees present, but not much else. So I was able to see that 3 colonies had died off. I could see that there were bees in the other 4 but whenever I went to the apiary I knew that I wasn’t seeing enough bees flying around the hives.

I finally got to open the hives on the May bank holiday weekend, and inspect each colony properly but I really wasn’t prepared for what I found.

Frames

Of my seven colonies in Nov 2012, I still had seven by mid February and I was confident that they had made it through winter. But between Feb and now, I have lost three and of the four remaining colonies, one definitely will make it; one should make it and two are very doubtful. I am having to pour inverted sugar directly onto the frames next to the bees and brush it into the cells so that they don’t have to leave the brood nest to feed!

And I am not the only one. But  what has happened? The truth is that nobody really knows and much of the evidence is anecdotal, and therefore has not been scientifically proven. But if we wait for scientific proof, every honey bee in Ireland will be dead. As it is there are probably no wild honey bees left.

Varroa
Since about 2000 the varroa mite has been a huge issue in Ireland, and has changed beekeeping forever. But we now have this under control and can do so by using a relatively natural product, an extract of the thyme plant called thymol which cause the varroa mites to drop off the bees and frames, and when used in conjunction with open mesh floors, they fall through onto the ground, where they cannot survive.
There are various other diseases of bees including Nosema and American Foul Brood, all of which conspire to make beekeeping more difficult, and the life of wild honey bees (ones that aren’t managed) almost impossible. Some of these diseases come in as spores in imported honey.

Weather
Another contributing factor which cannot have escaped anyone’s notice is that we have not really had a proper summer for about the last ten years. We have indeed had periods of warm dry weather, but unless these coincide with a major source of nectar then it is of no significance to honey bees. Just because a plant is in flower does not mean that a bee can get nectar from it. Different flowers yield up their nectar at different temperatures; for clover it needs to be 20ºC and humid! When was the last time we had a day like that?

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Perfect Storm
Combine a wet autumn, a long drawn out winter and an east wind driving the arrival of spring back by at least 4 weeks, and you have a real problem. Not only was it too cold for bees to forage, there was nothing to forage on. The flowering of the dandelion was delayed by a month as well. Dandelion is a hughly  important flower: it flowers early, yields nectar at low temperatures and has abundant pollen which is a bees only source of protein.

Worker bees have a short life span. In summer they live about 3 weeks and the ones born in November which have to carry the colony over the winter live about 4 months. Because the arrival of nectar and pollen was so late and because there wasn’t enough stored pollen in the hives, the winter workers started to die off before they were able to replace themselves adequately. So that now we have colonies without enough bees to harvest the bounty that will be available when the whitethorn, chestnut and sycamore come into flower. By the time they build up numbers adequately, we will be into July!

I should be doing swarm inspections every 10 days with the expectation of swarming from June Bank Holiday weekend and the hives full of bees and covering all ten frames. My colonies are so small  that there are only enough bees to cover 2 frames, there are no drones and consequently no chance of swarming. Bees can’t swarm without drones because without drones, which are male, there is nothing to mate with new queens. Drones are only produced in times of plenty; they can’t forage, can’t even feed themselves and are a drain on resources.

This is going to make replacing lost colonies very difficult and very late in the season and that’s if we have a good summer and autumn. If we get weather like last year than we are looking at an absolute disaster.

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Oil Seed Rape
I don’t like oil seed rape honey, it’s very high in glucose, very sweet and sets like stone, so I don’t let my bees onto it. It’s not difficult, you just have to make sure there is none within 3 miles!

But it is a huge source of nectar so most beekeepers do. Not only is it a great resource for honey but it’s a great way of getting wax drawn on empty frames. You need to have time and experience, though, because everything happens very quickly. If you don’t extract honey quickly enough it sets in the frame, if you don’t keep a very close eye numbers build up very quickly and you’re into swarming, and if you don’t control that you lose your bees.

Quite apart from all that, there is the risk of insecticides. Having said that, it is only an issue when the crop is in flower, because if it’s not in flower, there won’t be any bees on it. In most instances farmers and beekeepers have an understanding and the farmer will contact the beekeeper the day before spraying and the bees can be closed in for the following day so that there are none on the crop when it is sprayed. If the bees don’t come into contact with the spray they won’t be killed.

The problem with Neonicotinoid seed treatments is that they are systemic, they are in the plant and if their intent is insecticidal, how is it possible that they don’t effect bees?

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Experience
One member of our association is well known in beekeeping circles as being an authority on honey bees. He has kept them all his life, and it’s fair to say, bees and their welfare are an obsession. He hosts all our workshops and demonstrations, and never stops thinking and researching about how to improve beekeeping.
He does not lose bees….. ever, not even by accident! He takes it personally if even one bee is accidently squashed during a demonstration.
This year, he has lost more colonies than he has in total over the last ten years. If someone with this much experience and knowledge loses 60% of his bees, what hope is there for the rest of us!

And if the weather doesn’t improve this year……well, let’s not go there.

How can you help?
There is huge concern out there for the plight of our bees. My tweet about the theft of bees from a local keeper was read far and wide. We got calls from local and national newpapers as well as local and national radio!

Small things can help:
Plant a corner of your garden with plants bees like, such as borage, but particularly ones that flower early or late in the season.
Don’t mow your dandelions early in the season or at least until the chestnut flowers!
Don’t kill bees. If you have a swarm, call a local beekeeper.
Become a beekeeper!
Accept that anecdotal evidence may have to be sufficient, because if we wait for scientific proof, it may be too late.

Our Honey
We will have no honey this year!

HAPPY CHRISTMAS

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December 2012

Where to start? We won’t mention the weather or the economy other than to say that our heads are still just above water at the end of 2012!

Had an interesting year with the Moiles. We brought a cow & calf to the Inishfood Festival which was having a rare breed workshop, and got a great response. We also replaced our stock bull, and ‘Tiny Tim’ has taken over the reins from McCabe.
All the calves born this year were bulls, but at least our only draught foal was a filly
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Helen and the horses went to a few shows around the country and she continues to ride Clorin, who after ten foals, has turned into the perfect riding horse.

Christopher got to spend a weekend with his camera on the Antrim coast, doing a photography course (see photo above!) and continues to take the odd good photo around the farm, some of which used to go on the Blog. It will be up and active again in the New Year! Had a bit of bloggers block, having done one year, but a good dose of liver salts and a drop of liquid parafin should sort that out!

This year we put in some hunt jumps and gates along the bottom of the farm to allow the Westmeath Hunt go through for the first time. This they did in November, and a great day was had by all, they will be here again sometime in the spring.
Our faithful old sheepdog ‘Twig’ died in November at the age of 17, and while she had retired from sheepdog duties some time ago the yard just isn’t the same without her. The trio of terriers – Smidgen, Iota and Snip try to persuade us that they really do work for a living, but the fireside is in reality more appealing.

The winter store cupboards are full of farm and garden produce, so it’s still safe to visit and expect more than a cup of tea.
The apple trees managed some fruit and what we didn’t eat or cook was juiced and frozen for B&B breakfasts.
After a very promising start, it was a very difficult year for bees with very little surplus honey for us to extract, but we did get a small amount from clover & blackberry which should see us through to next year.

Wishing you a safe and peaceful Christmas & New Year.

From
Christopher & Helen.

Photos from the Orchard

In a rare 20 minutes of sunshine, I took the camera out to the orchard last Saturday to take some photos of the apple blossom.

The two James Grieves were bursting with blossom, and were buzzing with honey bees and bumble bees!

A rare sight this year, and I mean the blue sky not the bee! Our honey bees were taking full advantage,

and were collecting pollen and nectar from the blossom.

 

Notice the apple pollen on its back legs.

Pollen is the only protein available to bees and they can’t rear brood without it.

Once they’re loaded up it’s back to the hive with their precious cargo.

Not forgetting the humble bumble who was also busy in his work!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After about twenty minutes it clouded over and started to rain again.

The weather has been so poor that I have been feeding the bees all spring! I have supers on the hives, but the only reason they are on is to give the bees more room and hopefully prevent swarming until a bit later in the summer. Just by the by, when the supers are on, I feed them Fondant which they don’t store and which they only use when they need.

Irish Draught Foal

Two years ago our young Irish Draught mare lost her foal at foaling. We decided not to put her back in foal and give her time to recover from the trauma.
Last year a deep breath was taken the mare was covered again and eleven months later this foal was born.

 

We’re always hoping for filly foals, and as this is the only foal that was due this year we’re more than delighted that it is a filly!

 

A grey horse is never born grey, the animals coat changes colour over the years until eventually the coat is white (but called grey!) Both the sire and dam of this foal are grey but interestingly I think the foal will stay chesnut in colour. Usually you can see a few grey hairs around the eyes if they are going to change.

Derrynagarra Celeste is a purebred Irish Draught mare. All Draught mares should be inspected to see if they meet the breed standards and Celeste was inspected as a two year old and given the status Registered Irish Draught (RID), her filly foal will just be  Irish Draught (ID) until she in turn goes forward for inspection in a few years time. In the mean time she can enjoy the sunshine at Lough Bishop House alongside her dam.The foal is by the RID stallion Crystal Crest who has since been exported to the USA.

Now we have to think of a name……….

 

 

 

 

Lemon Curd

The hens are in full production now, so there are plenty of eggs to be consumed. Now that pancake day has been and gone, and while there are still lots of lemons in the house thoughts turn to lemon curd.

It’s really very quick and easy to make. We only make small amounts at any one time because delicious as it is it has a relatively limited shelf life and needs to be kept in the fridge once made.

 

The Recipe we use for Lemon curd is as follows:

50g butter

110g caster sugar

grated zest and juice of 2 lemons

2 organic eggs and 1 organic egg yolk

Melt the butter on a very low heat. Add the sugar, lemon zest and juice, and finally whisk the eggs and stir in over a very gentle heat. Once the mixture has thickened, pot, and when cool refrigerate.

All the recipes say ‘best eaten within a fortnight’. It’s so delicious on toast or fresh bread that it is unusual for there to be any left after a fortnight.

Sheep’s Wool Insulation

This winter has been relatively mild, but going on the theory that you can never have too much insulation and the fact that heating cost are only going to rise, we decided to put more insulation in the attic.

In the hall waiting to go upstairs!

We went with sheep’s wool insulation because it is a natural product, is environmentally friendly and because Lough Bishop House is Green Hospitality Certified. Another factor is that we are doing the job ourselves and it is really nice to handle, quite apart from the fact that we have sheep ourselves and even though it’s not our wool in the attic we are least supporting the industry! The only downside is that it is much more expensive than fibreglass. But who knows, if demand increases maybe the price will eventually come down.

The actual product we used is Thermafleece PB20 which comes in easy to handle rolls and which will fit through the attic trap door.  We were a bit disappointed to discover that it contains recycled polyester, but were assured that this is because, having been so tightly compressed, it requires the polyester to make it spring back out to 100mm!

Wool laid over fibreglass

We already have 100mm  (4″ in old money) of fibre glass insulation up there laid out between the joists and with another 100mm of sheeps wool insulation over the top we’ll have 200mm (8″) in total, two layers laid at 90 degrees to each other ensuring no gaps and hopefully minimal heat loss.

All the advertising literature shows lovely big attics you can stand up in with heaps of room to unroll the insulation. Not ours! Head room is a dizzying 3′ with supports coming down to carry the ceiling joists so it was a case of doing the whole job lying down and crawling from joist to joist. Hard on the knees.

It probably took about a day to complete the job, quite satisfying and it certainly looks the part. We saved money by doing the job ourselves and running up the stairs with rolls of  insulation was great exercise! So here’s to a warmer house.

>Seville Orange Marmalade and Oat Biscuits

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It’s January, so as always its time to take advantage of the short Seville orange season and make marmalade.
I’m on batch number two of the 2012 season, but once all the slicing is done there is alot of hanging around in the kitchen while things boil, so today I decided to make some Oat Biscuits.
We use Pat Lalor’s “Kilbeggan Organic Porridge Oats” for both porridge and flapjacks but just before Christmas we were at an event where the Lalor’s were promoting their oats and had made biscuits. They were kindly giving samples and the recipe to all who were interested. They were delicious, so today was the day to make them at home.
Kilbeggan Porridge Oat Biscuits:
3ozs soft brown sugar
30zs plain four
4 ozs Kilbeggan organic porrdige oats
5ozs butter
half a teaspoon of bread soda
Mix all the ingredients together. Roll into small balls and place on a baking sheet 2 inches apart. Flatten them slightly, and then bake until golden – roughly 15 minutes in the Aga.
Once cooled the biscuits just about get onto a plate before they are devoured by family and friends.
At this stage the marmalade should  have reached setting point! So its time to pot up before relaxing with a cup of tea and a Kilbeggan Porridge Oat Biscuit.  Yummy!

>New Year

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Leeks are the only thing left in the garden at this time of year.
But once the chores are done it is nice to sit by the fire in the evening and browse through the seed catalogues.
have all sent out their catalogues and somehow it is nicer than browsing on the computer. Pen in hand we mark all the seeds we think we might like, and then cut down our order trying to be realistic about the amount of time and space we have. Never enough of either!

>A little bit sad

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“When loved ones die, you have to live on their behalf. See things as though with their eyes. Remember how they used to say things, and use those words oneself. Be thankful that you can do things that they cannot, and also feel the sadness of it” Louis de Berniere, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin.
Helen’s father died at the end of October. He had helped us at every stage of Lough Bishop House’s development. From the septic tank to the roof he was there with practical assistance and good humour.
He was diagnosed with cancer in February of this year and asked us if we would plant a tree for him. He particularly wanted a Wellingtonia and after much searching O’Mearas Garden Centre just outside Mullingar managed to source one for us.
We brought the tree home in October.

And in December we finally got around to planting “Graham’s Tree”. All who come to visit us at Lough Bishop House will now be met at our entrance by a Wellingtonia (Sequoiadendron Giganteum). As its name suggests this tree will grow to be very big and I suppose we won’t get to see that either.
John McCabe, from McCabe Contracters, was coming to do a little digger work, so we took advantage of the opportunity and got the machine to dig the hole for  us. Christopher mixed in a bag of compost to the loosened soil and the job was complete.
In a few hundred years time it will look like this, and will probably be blocking the avenue if not the road!
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