Engaging Ireland News

Current news and information about Ireland and Irish travel

Rounding Begins in Ireland

Beginning on Wednesday, October 28, the Republic of Ireland will begin using a system of rounding in retail settings. “What is rounding?” you may ask. “The Central Bank today announced Wednesday 28 October as the rollout day for Rounding in Ireland. From that day, when consumers get change in cash in shops, the amount of that change will be rounded to the nearest 5 cent to reduce the need for 1 cent and 2 cent coins” (from www.centralbank.ie website).

In the Euro currency, there are 1- and 2-cent coins (as well as 5 cents, 10 cents, 20 cents, 50 cents, and 1- and 2- Euro coins). A 1 cent coin costs 1.65c to produce, while 2 cent coin costs 1.94c. Many people in Ireland don’t even carry those coins; you’ll find them in piggy banks and jars in every home across the country. Because of this, shops have to request more 1- and 2-cent coins; thus, the Central Bank must provide them, so retailers can provide the correct change.

In order to streamline the process and eliminate the demand and expense of the smaller-denomination coins, Ireland will join Belgium, the Netherlands, Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Hungary which already use a system of rounding.

Here’s an idea of how it will work:

• 1 and 2 would be rounded down to zero;
• 3 and 4 would be rounded up to 5;
• 6 and 7 would be rounded down to 5; and
• 8 and 9 would be rounded up to 10.

If you’d like more information on the rounding scheme, we encourage you to check out the information presented on the Central Bank website at http://www.centralbank.ie/press-area/press-releases/Pages/28OctoberisRoundingDay.aspx

Posted 2 years, 4 months ago at 11:34 am.

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Spike Island – One Island, Three Histories

Because of its strategic location in Cork Harbour just off the coast near Cobh, Spike Island has a long and varied history. There is much more to it than can be mentioned here, but this is a very general overview.

The earliest settlement gave it the start of its monastic history. St. Carthage is credited as having founded a monastery on the island in the seventh century.

Spike Island also has an extensive history as a place of detention. In the 1640s (during Cromwell’s campaign in Ireland) the island was used as a detention center for Irish who were being transplanted to live in Barbados as slaves. Until their ship came to pick them up, they were used as labor by the English forces who held the island.

During the years called “The Famine,” prisoners who had been sentenced to ‘transport’ (mainly to Australia and Tasmania) were held here until they were shipped out.

During the War of Independence, many members of the Irish Volunteers were held on Spike Island.

And from 1972 until 1982, it was used to hold military prisoners, most generally enlisted men who were found to have broken the rules of service.

The military moved off of Spike Island in 1983. In 1985 the Department of Defence turned over the island to the Irish Prison Service (Dept. of Justice), and a civilian prison was operated there until 2004.

As was already mentioned, Spike Island’s third history is a military one. Ireland’s Naval Service used the island as a military base from 1979 – 1985.

Prior to that, the English built Fort Westmoreland in the 1700s and Fort Westmoreland II was begun in the early 1800s and completed in 1840. This is the star-shaped fortification that can be seen today.

A visit to Spike Island from Kennedy Pier includes a short boat ride. It is not necessary to purchase a guided tour of the island; however, unless you are very familiar with the island or read Dr. Michael Martin’s book (shown above) about the history of the island, a guided tour is recommended. Otherwise, you will see many gray stone buildings and have no idea what you’re looking at. Tickets may be purchased here
(and pre-purchase is highly recommended, as the tours will not operate unless there are a minimum number of participants): http://www.titanic.ie/tours/spike-island-guided-walking-tour

The island has only been open for visitors for a couple of years now. Perhaps, in a few years there will be informational signs installed or an audio tour implemented, so visitors will know what the buildings were used for. For more information on Spike Island, visit the official website at http://www.spikeislandcork.ie

Posted 4 years, 4 months ago at 10:33 am.

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Happy New Year!

Wishing you all a very happy and prosperous New Year!!

May the friendships you make
Be those which endure
And all of your gray clouds
Be small ones for sure
And trusting in Him
To Whom we all pray
May a song fill your heart
Every step of the way

Posted 5 years, 1 month ago at 1:30 pm.

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Nollaig shona dhaoibh! Happy Christmas to All!


Nollaig shona dhaoibh! We wish you all a very Happy Christmas and a safe and healthy New Year.

May love and laughter light your days,
and warm your heart and home.
May good and faithful friends be yours,
wherever you may roam.
May peace and plenty bless your world
with joy that long endures.
May all life’s passing seasons
bring the best to you and yours.

Posted 5 years, 1 month ago at 9:21 pm.

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At the Foot of the Sperrins: Springhill

The house at Springhill. Photo by Kenneth Allen (2006) in the Creative Commons.

Springhill, located just outside Moneymore in County Londonderry, may not be the most well-known attraction in Northern Ireland, but it is well worth a visit. We weren’t sure we were going to be able to fit a visit into our schedule, but the day we had planned to hike in the Sperrins started out soft and turned quite rainy before too long. Not wishing to risk getting injured or lost in the mist and fog, we headed out to take in some sights that included indoor elements.

We arrived on the grounds of Springhill well before the noon opening time and took advantage of that time to stroll around the grounds and the walled gardens. The grounds are open daily, with the exception of Christmas Day, from dawn to dusk. Admission to the house is only allowed by guided tour, and, since tour sizes are limited, tickets are provided by the attendant at the kiosk when you enter the grounds. The ticket will indicate your assigned tour time.

Springhill is a late 17th century Plantation House built by William (“Good-Will”) Conyngham for his new bride, Ann. Its design and style are a mix of traditional Irish architecture and more modern (for the time) elements. Though the house doesn’t maintain much of its original look, the grounds, gardens, and outbuildings remain much as they were when they were developed.

The tour of the Springhill house takes you on a fascinating journey into the lives of the Lenox-Conyngham family, who lived in the house for over 300 years. As with any family, the Lenox-Conynghams have experienced times of great prosperity and times of strife, and our tour guide deftly led us through some of the highlights of the generations who lived in the home. We wouldn’t be giving away any secrets if we told you that one of the stories involves the ghost of Olivia, second wife of George Lenox-Conyngham, which is said to haunt the house to this day. It is said that Olivia was distraught over not being able to prevent George’s suicide in 1816 and was unable to leave the house behind upon her death.

In addition to the house tour, be sure to head over to the East Pavilion (the old laundry) to view the Costume Collection, featuring clothing from the 18th century to the present. The items on display rotate from year to year.

The Tearoom at Springhill.

And drop into the Tearoom and Gift Shop, located in the Servants’ Hall to the rear of the house. Its opening hours mirror those of the main house. Though the Tearoom does not serve meals, they do have a selection of beverages and treats for you to enjoy.

The grounds of Springhill also include several short walking paths, a picnic/play area, the previously-mentioned walled gardens, and the Well Read Bookshop, which is a second-hand bookshop run by volunteers. It is located near the Coach Exit in a charming little cottage, but the opening hours vary depending upon the availability of volunteers.

The house and grounds have been in the care of the National Trust since 1957. More information on the house, opening times, admission prices, and special events that take place at Springhill each year can be found on the Springhill page at the National Trust website: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/springhill/.

A portion of the walled garden and barn.


Posted 5 years, 11 months ago at 11:44 am.

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“Free Derry” Takes on a New Meaning

Cannon on Derry’s city wall.


Time is running out to take advantage of this special deal at Derry City Independent Hostel.

The following article was published in the Derry Journal on 3 February 2012:

A Derry hostel has come up with a novel way of beating the recession – by letting backpackers stay for free. “There’s no catch,” says Kylie Barsdell, owner of Derry City Independent Hostel on Great James Street. “Backpackers can stay from two to four nights free until Easter week and then through the winter season right up until St Patrick’s Day next year,” he says.

Instead of paying the usual rates for accommodation, the hostel owner says payment will be left to the discretion of backpackers.  “We will give everyone the chance to make a contribution to the hostel’s running costs when they are leaving. If they want, they can ‘tip’ us what they think the hostel was worth to them. But if they decide that they cannot make any contribution, that’s up to them. It will be free. ”

The unique move is designed to encourage more people to come to the city.  “Some backpackers’ hostel occupancy rates in Ireland have almost halved in the last four years and many have closed down or gone part time,” Kyle says. “We saw that we had a lot of free beds in the winter months and decided that we might as well be filling the beds if we are open, in a bid to get more people to come to Derry.”

He says potentially giving away free stays can help put Derry firmly back on the backpacking map. “Hopefully by making a real Free Derry Hostel , we can drive backpackers numbers back up and make Derry city the ‘must visit destination’ that we want it to be.”

Section of the Derry city wall.

Posted 6 years ago at 11:19 am.

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National Vote for the Cliffs Day

Time is winding down on the voting for the New 7 Wonders of Nature. You have until November 11, 2011, to place your votes for your favorite 7 among the 28 finalists. Among those esteemed finalists you will find the iconic Cliffs of Moher, which are perched at the edge of Ireland on the beautiful wild west coast of County Clare (http://www.cliffsofmoher.ie).

Friday, October 7, has been dubbed “National Vote Day.” It’s a push to encourage people to vote for the Cliffs and make Ireland more visible on the map of the world that is located on the New 7 Wonders of Nature website (http://www.new7wonders.com/).

We encourage you to get out the vote for  Ireland and the Cliffs of Moher. Make your voice heard!

Posted 6 years, 4 months ago at 2:42 pm.

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Northern Ireland – Don’t Miss Out!

We recently returned from a 3-week trip to Ulster, most of which was spent in Northern Ireland. We spent time in every county in N.I. and visited several locations in each county. We met many people who are suffering doubly right now with the downturn in the economy and recent news accounts about renewed violence in the country. Several people (from Facebook, from our website, and from our friends, family, and others) have made comments or asked us questions about how safe it is to travel in the country and about whether or not we were concerned about our personal safety while traveling.

We had no hesitation about traveling in and around N.I. and will tell anyone willing to listen that there is no reason to avoid the country. The potential of encountering crime or violence in Northern Ireland is actually less than when you travel in the United States (or other areas of the world, for that matter). Levels of crime in bigger cities are lower in Northern Ireland than they are in most larger cities of the world.

The violence that has occurred in Northern Ireland is not now (nor has it ever been) random acts of violence/terror against any persons who happen to be in the area. Most of the acts of violence/terror have been focused by one group of people against a specific other group of people (e.g. loyalist against republican or vice versa or republican
against the British forces that occupy Northern Ireland to “keep the peace”). There is not a general danger to tourists, nor has the violence occurred in mainly tourist areas like the Antrim Coast. That being said, this is not to imply that innocent people have never been hurt. If you wander into a conflict area, you may end up getting caught in the crossfire, so it is prudent to avoid areas where conflict may occur. However, it is not like some of the randomized
violence that occurs, for instance, in the United States in the form of car jackings or muggings.

We did not fear for our safety at any time in any of the places we visited (and we visited Belfast during the initial days of the recent rioting). Prudence would suggest that travelers to Northern Ireland keep an eye on news casts while traveling in the country and avoid areas that might be experiencing conflict (or where there could potentially be conflict, as with the case during scheduled marches or demonstrations), perhaps most specifically at night. We used public transportation in several places in Northern Ireland (including Derry City and Belfast) and never had any issues at all with feeling uncomfortable or out-of-place. You just need to do your research, know where you’re going and what you’re doing, and pay attention (be vigilant!). We would give this advice to people if they were traveling anywhere in the world, however. It is not just applicable to Northern Ireland.

Here is what the U.S. Department of State says on its website about dissident groups in N.I.

”These groups have used firearms and explosives to target police and
military personnel, attacking private vehicles and homes of security
personnel, police stations, and other justice sector buildings. While
these incidents have the potential for some spillover into Ireland,
American citizens and tourists have not been targeted.”

We believe that one of the most important things people need to remember with regard to what they’re seeing about violence in Northern Ireland is that the media are in the business of making money and generally do so by sensationalizing issues. (i.e. “What should we be afraid of this week?”) So don’t let the media coverage scare you into not visiting some of the most lovely places on the island!

Posted 6 years, 7 months ago at 8:09 am.


Lough Navar Forest Drive

Lough Navar Forest Park

On our second day in Northern Ireland, while driving around Lower Lough Erne in county Fermanagh, we detoured to Lough Navar forest park. With picnic areas, walking trails, lakes perfect for fishing and the breathtaking cliffs of Magho viewpoint, which overlooks a wide expanse of county Fermanagh and Lower Lough Erne, the Navar Forest park is a great place to spend a day (especially a sunny day).

In the interest of full disclosure, this forest park, as with many others in Northern Ireland, is a managed forest, and is regularly logged, so sections of it aren’t particularly pretty.  However, the parts of it that are left untouched are quite beautiful.

The Cliffs of Magho Viewpoint

More information on the forest park can be found at:


Information about the Lough Navar forest walk can be found at:


Posted 6 years, 8 months ago at 4:00 pm.

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A visit to Florence Court, County Fermanagh

Florence Court

On our most recent trip to Ireland (June 2011), we decided to spend the majority of our time in Northern Ireland, starting our trip in the Lough Erne area of County Fermanagh. One of the first sites we visited in the area was Florence Court, which is managed by the National Trust.

Depending upon what you choose to do there, you could spend a few hours, an afternoon, or a full day at the Florence Court demesne. In addition to a guided tour of the house, visitors may also stroll through the Pleasure Garden and the Walled Garden, or take one of the many forest park walks (the demesne is part of the Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark complex).

The main house at Florence Court was built in the early to mid-18th century and was the owned by the Coles, Earls of Enniskillen, until the home was turned over to the National Trust in 1954. The agreement between the National Trust and the family ensured the Cole lineage the right to continue to live in the house and also allowed them to retain ownership of the furniture in the house. (The family ceased residence in the home and the furniture was dispersed a few decades ago; however, the National Trust was able to reacquire some of the original pieces – when they came up at auction – due to the generosity of some donors.) A tour of the house takes about an hour, with the last tour beginning about one hour before closing (which is 5 p.m.).

The property also includes a tearoom, which offers a variety of flavors of local ice cream, sandwiches and soup, and a variety of baked goods. For a few pounds, you can also purchase a picnic lunch to enjoy on the grounds. Other amenities include a gift shop, bathrooms, and Tracker Packs (cute little ladybug or frog backpacks) for kids to use temporarily while they’re at Florence Court (a £5 refundable deposit is required). Dogs on leash are allowed in the gardens and grounds but not in the house itself.

The Pleasure Garden

Admission fees for 2011 are as follows:

Garden/Grounds entry (paid when you enter the gate of the grounds) -

Adult £3.25, Child £1.75, Family £7.75

House Tour (purchase tickets at Reception in the Tearoom) -

Adult £5, Child £2, Family £12

If you would be interested in wandering the grounds on your own after everyone has left for the evening, you might consider renting one of the self-catering accommodations located on the Florence Court demesne: Men’s Way is an apartment located above the old rooms used in the laundry yard (formerly the area of the servants’ quarters), and Rose Cottage is the former home of the Florence Court Groundskeeper/Gardener. You may obtain more information or check availability of this property by visiting the National Trust Holiday Cottages website for the Rose Cottage at http://www.nationaltrustholidays.org.uk/holiday-cottage/rose-cottage-enniskillen-county-fermanagh/.

Rose Cottage

Posted 6 years, 8 months ago at 1:01 pm.

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