By Tracey Holsgrove
Living in Ireland was always something I imagined I would end up doing. I wasn’t quite sure when or for how long, but I just felt it would happen eventually. Setting up an Irish tour company wasn’t something I foresaw however!
I grew up in south-west England with an Irish mother (from the Royal county of Meath) and an English father. We visited Ireland periodically to see family. As my love of and interest in history developed, so I wanted to learn more and more about my ancestral home. When I was applying for university I was overjoyed to discover that Liverpool University had an Irish Studies department. Needless to say that became my first choice!
Fast forward a few years and I have a Bachelor’s degree in History and Irish Studies followed up with a Master’s degree in History completed by a dissertation on a selection of Ireland’s holy wells and other aspects of Irish popular religion. At this stage, I’m working on a doctoral thesis on Irish women, power and religion. Not for the faint-hearted! Then I fell in love with an Irishman and we ended up in – where else – Ireland.
But interestingly we ended up on the edge of a small town I had never heard of, even though it is in my mother’s home county of Meath. Welcome to Oldcastle – centre of the known universe, as we like to think of it!!
Unlike some other towns, Oldcastle is still very definitely an old, small Irish town, unsullied by large scale commercial development. You will not find any vast shopping malls here, nor does the main retail part of the town have the insipid uniformity that has sadly encroached on so many places. This is not Main Street, Anytown.
Well after a few months of settling in this town and exploring the area I realized I had landed somewhere pretty special. Just a few minutes walk from my house I can see the majestic panorama of the Loughcrew Cairns, (Sliabh na Cailli). A place where on a clear day you can see over much of the island of Ireland, a place where you can make a wish in the Hag’s Chair and get up close to megalithic art dating back thousands of years, a place which has acted as a backdrop to the lives of untold generations of the people of north west Meath.
Just a few miles from Oldcastle is the natural splendour of Mullaghmeen Forest which is the largest planted beech forest in Ireland and home to a collection of native Irish trees. Wander a few miles further and you’ll encounter the village of Fore, where Christianity blends with legend and myth. It houses the remains of a thirteenth century Benedictine priory, itself preceded by a monastery founded c. 630. The ‘seven wonders of Fore’ combine folklore and religion. Well known locally the wonders include ‘the water that won’t boil’ and ‘the tree that won’t burn’.
I love this part of Ireland that I am so blessed to call home, so after innumerable discussions with a good friend we decided to share our love of the area and of the myth, history and natural beauty that this part of the world is so abundant in with others. I realized that by bringing tourists to this lesser known corner of Ireland I could combine my passion for teaching with my pride in my home place. And so was formed Beyond the Blarney, a tour company who specialize in giving our visitors a greater understanding of the complexities and richness of Irish culture, as well as having a great time! Spend some time with us and we will bring you beyond the shamrocks and leprechauns, and bring you closer to the real heart of Ireland.
© 2010 Tracey Holsgrove
Beyond the Blarney
History – Culture – Tours – Workshops