Mind Over Masters ..

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I graduated with a Masters’ degree yesterday. Congratulatory well-wishes, hugs and handshakes aside, even before the ceremony and in the days preceding it I really had been (and still am) feeling a lot of love coming from all angles around me.

A love for life; a love for choosing life and friends and family and to be happy and healthy; a love for enjoyment and appreciation of the good things that I have, instead of buying into and believing warped and twisted thoughts and behaviours that constantly present themselves as options in my head. For so long I was used to just letting the negative win and succumbing to the same old rotation of self-hatred and deprecating thoughts – it was easy to fall into the rut of familiarity and stay there. Once I decided to focus my attention on reversing through the negativity, instead of flailing around blindly within it because it was ‘comfortable’ (and to be honest I just didn’t have the energy to fight it), I began to see that we really and truly are the sum of all our actions and thoughts over time. This attention had formerly been sucked up by the happiness-draining effort it took to uselessly attempt to control my surroundings.

A friend of mine once described it as a drip of water being fed to a plant. One drip of poison is not going to kill it, but a steady, continued flow of poisonous feed and negative thought accompanying it will inevitably have longterm effects, and more than likely kill it. Similarly, one drop of clean water is not going to have an immediate positive effect. It takes the same sort of steady and consistent stream of care and good, natural nourishment before the plant can start to stand up tall again by itself.

Our bodies and minds are these plants. If we continually tell ourselves something, over and over again repeatedly believing something we have declared to be true – we become it. ‘You Are What You Eat’ has never rung so true as it does in this sense. A repeated diet of the same foods results in the same as repeated thoughts – we literally, physically become what we eat. We become what we believe. I’ve finally been practicing the positives and believing the good stuff long enough now for me to really start to see and feel the benefits of self-care, and baffle myself as to why I never made it a priority before. I’ve finally made the transition from being able to recognise the thoughts and behaviours for the damaging ghosts that they are, to being able to ward them off by myself, to use their power and strength against themselves and channel that energy into bettering myself. We are always going to be presented with the negative option. It’s how we get around it and harness the time that would have been spent worrying and fretting over it’s potential enormity to turn it on it’s head and ask how exactly can we look at it in a more positive way that’s important.

In graduating from the initial stages of recognising the negatives for what they are, to actually becoming capable of avoiding them completely and living a life without the constant self-doubt, racing thoughts and worry, there is a liberation and sense of achievement bigger than even receiving my MA yesterday could have captured. It’s a constant work in progress, but I know once I remain aware and consistently vigilant against the potential spoilers of thoughts that seem to just pop to the forefront of my consciousness every now and again, for once I know, and this is a big deal for me to say, because this time I really and truly believe it; this time,

I know for sure that everything is actually going to be okay.

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4 Reasons To Visit the Aran Islands

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Bikes. Boats. Wind. Currachs. More wind. Sheep and cows and woolly jumpers your Granny made you wear at Christmas time that are great for keeping out the cold and also, you guessed it – the wind.
We’ve all been there, no??

As someone whose teenage Summers were spent for months on end in the Gaeltacht, and many a summer-holiday in my youth camped in fields with only some board games for entertainment, I had generally assumed that ‘Na hOileáin’ were a fairly standard destination for most Irish families at some point in their lives.
Being bundled into the back of the car with some ham & cheese sandwiches in ziplocked bags and cartons of Ribena to ‘keep you going ‘til teatime’ and driven cross-country to unknown destinations in the rain was generally what ‘holidays’ meant for us until the advent of Falcon package-holiday deals with kids’ clubs filtered its’ way to the forefront of my parents’ fairly limited knowledge of affordable travel options.
Given all this, I was shocked to discover recently that a colleague of mine who grew up in the Gaeltacht area, a mere 20-minute drive from the port at Ros a Mhíl, had never been to the islands!
His secret was revealed as we stood on the ferry crossing over to Inis Mór last week; the largest of the three bitesize chunks of Irish land, and the most popular with visitors from all over the world. Although I still found it hard to believe he’d never even been tempted to take the trip over, the more I considered it the more I realised how unusual a destination it is for many Irish people, even though it’s hailed as one of the country’s main tourist attractions.

The Islands attract thousands of tourists a year, and yet many of us remain completely oblivious to the stunning simplicity and beauty lying right on our doorstep – attractions we would be the first to aquaint ourselves with were we travelling abroad and not a 45-minute drive outside Galway city to the ferry port. As the last stop off in the Atlantic before America heading West from Ireland, the Islands have always held a special place in many Irish people’s hearts, with their spectacular landscapes, views, fascinating history, and enviable easygoing way of life – at times it can feel like you’ve stepped back in time.

The Views.
If you’re lucky enough to get a clear day, the famous preoccupation and fascination with Irish coastland and scenery finally hits home and starts making sense in a place like Aran.

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Poll na bPéist

Poll na bPéist (‘Wormhole’, as Gaeilge) has played host to the Red Bull Cliffdiving competition, a highly anticpated and attended event which promoted the Wild Atlantic Way and Ireland as a prime location for adventure sports and water fun and just as a really really awesome place in general.
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Bike & Walking Tours

A choice between bicycle hire for the day or walking tours – it’s possible to see the entire island of Inis Mór, (‘mór’ meaning ‘big’ as Gaeilge, for anyone who doesn’t know) and cycle all over within a day, so what better way to do so than to hire a bike from Aran Island Bicycle Hire – your steed for the day will see you safely over terrain that you wouldn’t dream of trying to cross without it!
Having undertaken both the walking and cycling tours myself now at various stages over the years, I would highly recommended cycling to anyone slightly impatient like me who likes to get places fast – the other half of our group chose to walk, and we ended up over an hour ahead of schedule due to the various terrifyingly steep downhill pathways. It was an exhilarating yet extremely bumpy experience, and one that should not be undertaken with anything less than an Aran-approved bicycle – good suspension is a necessity.
While it is also possible to get bus tours, there really is no more authentic way to see the island and fit as much into your day as possible than by hiring a bike.

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Entertainment

Although I have yet to experience a night out in one of the various pubs on Aran, it’s definitely something on the to-do list for my next trip, and I’ve heard wonderful things about the music and craic there is to be had there. Joe Watty’s Pub is a renowned spot, yet there were also quite a few other unassuming places along the ‘main street’, if you can call it that, which looked like they would be lively enough after dark.

The Lios Aengus Café at Dún Aenghus is a great bet to refuel after a long trek or cycle, as is The Pier House Restaurant by the pier (no way!). Both of these places also came up a step or two in my books when at various times they allowed us to nip in to use the toilet after long cycles!

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If that’s not enough to persuade you to visit the Aran Islands then all you have to do is take a peek at another one of those stunning views I was raving about earlier.

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Aran Ferries run regular services to and from the islands throughout the day, and Aer Arann also have recently increased their services running from Connemara airport. More details below.

Useful Links:

Bus Tours
Inis Mór Ferries
Aer Arann
Joe Watty’s Pub
Bike Hire

The Importance of a Travel-Itinerary

After seeing a good friend do the same for her parents, I decided to write up a rough itinerary of my trip to supply mine with, to ease the itching worries I’m sure they only express half of and to stem the flow of questions over dinner the night before departure.

I’ll admit it felt quite childish writing out the name, address and contact number for each place we are going to be staying, almost like when my Mum used to ring the house of the friend I was sleeping over in to check I was actually there; but when I look at the bigger picture I can see now and understand perfectly why it is so important to have a record of such things. Even if it wasn’t to be given to my mother, but a friend, other relative, or just somebody who I trust and who would be dependable were something to happen abroad, and I was rendered uncontactable, a general itinerary and outline of your travel plans is vital to have laid out before you go.

Too often we hear of travel-stories from hell – things going wrong, phones being lost, people getting lost or too drunk or kidnapped or attacked…it’s bleak and scary to think about, but it should never be ruled out as a possibility.

That’s why by letting someone at home know where you plan to be (give or take) on certain days and nights, even if you veer off course slightly or decide to accompany some new travel friends for a night in a different city or take a tour you hadn’t planned on, there basic structure and outline of the trip will be there to work from should something happen, and you can’t be contacted.

Another benefit of doing out an itinerary is that it makes you clearer yourself on the plan for the trip, saving you from frantically checking dates and hostel names at the last minute. It’s almost like doing a bit of study on the places you’re heading beforehand, so all the information is fresh and clear in your head!

If nothing else it’s also an excuse to get excited for your trip and doodle around a page of travel-plans when you’re supposed to be working!

The ‘Hills’ of Donegal

‘The Hills of Donegal’

‘Hill’ being my mother’s maiden name, this phrase has often proven the source of some quality punnage and cheap jokes in my family, any relatives hailing from that side automatically being granted free entry into the category so often sung about towards the end of a drunken night out in Coppers.

I came to visit some of the Hills of Donegal recently for an extended long weekend, in order to escape the haste and mind-melting suffocation of the suburbs of Dublin, and hopefully find some sort of respite. What I found here I still can’t quite put my finger on, but I just know it has been good for my soul.

Home to fairy forts, ancient standing stones, a world war 2 crash site, isolated, pristine beaches and a round tower said to date back to the time of Niall of the Nine-Hostages, the area surrounding Dunree and Buncrana where my godfather lives is truly a treat to explore. Given my haste to leave the capitol, I foolishly packed an assortment of ill-suited clothing for my undefined stay, and so on my arrival I was forced to borrow a warm fleece, and buy the cheapest set of leggings I could find in the local Sainsbury’s just over the Derry border to wear under my thin Summer-dress and tights.

Once I was properly kitted out, (for though the weather was actually fine, a cool breeze cuts through most types of clothing at any time of the year around here), we headed off down the beach for a glimpse of the sunset, after one of the first days this year when the sun has been properly visible for over a couple of minutes at a time. The battery on my phone had died after a painstaking 4-hour bus journey (NEVER travel with Bus Éireann), so you’ll just have to take my word for it without pictures – but it was beautiful.

The cottage itself is exactly what you’d expect for such a rural area – a large, cosy living area with both a turf fire and a huge range that when lit provides heating for the rest of the house too, and a slanting garden home to various plant pits, a huge greenhouse, and an impressive ‘bonfire area’ as they call it, used for parties and gatherings of local musicians and other vagabonds during the summer months. The road down to the right outside the gate leads down to a beach so large and isolated that it makes the Salthill prom appear like a kindergarden’s rockpool. This (even though it’s only April) has been the hottest day of the year so far – where are all the people??

Apparantly, this is one of the Northern-most beaches in the area, and so by the time sun-soakers reach the turn to come down here, they have already passed numerous opportune locations to spend the day roaming the sands and taking ‘shellfies’ with the local marine-life, leaving local inhabitants of Dunree free to bask in the isolated beauty of their beach without having to worry about careless carts of unsupervised children and other littering tourists – it really is a special place.

When the tide is low, there are caves and rockpools to be explored that lead around the coastline to the right of the beach, continuing on jutting in and out dangerously, yet they consistently draw my gaze as I wander up and down the sands, dodging jetstreams in futile attempts to keep my pathetic Penney’s tennis shoes dry. This is what I needed. This is where I should be right now.

Whatever your understanding of or the scientific explanation behind the sensation of ‘Déja Vú’, my aunt’s continued referral to it as ‘a sign that you are in the place you are meant to be’ comes back to me even now, and I can’t deny that there is a solace and truth in her words that ring true for me when in Dunree. I experienced Déja Vú an unusual number of times this weekend, and given that I’d only ever visited here once before as a gangly, awkward teenager who complained about every last step that had to be taken outside in the rain (even if it meant a breathtaking view at the end of the road), I found it increasingly strange and began to believe her words more and more each time it occurred. I am comfortable here. I am at peace. I am not entirely warm, but nor am I cold.

I’ve experienced a glimpse of the balance, calmness, and joy there is to be gotten out of life, if you just stop to recognise it. Because I must leave soon and return to normal life at home (if you can call it normal), I know that it won’t last. But then, I am also aware that nothing lasts. Nothing stays the same, and while I enjoy the peace and collectiveness there is to be found in this place, my sense of self and purpose being more pronounced than they have been in ages, I know I must return. I must go back, and face the inevitable shift into another reality that I may or may not be comortable with. I’ll have to wait and see.