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The Sea & Me

October 22, 2020

I’ve always been drawn to the water – my parents used to call me a mermaid. I used to spend my summers in Wexford and would spend days on Curracloe Beach with my family and friends.

Some of my favourite childhood memories are of running along the sand dunes and playing in the sea until my lips turned blue and my teeth were chattering. Running up to my family, absolutely rattling, and grinning from ear to ear. I’d wrap myself in towels and have a sandwich (with extra sand) while staring out at the waves – bliss!

Since then the water has been a source of comfort and relaxation. Whenever I find myself stressed or overwhelmed, I’m drawn towards nature, especially the sea. I’ll sit listening to the waves lap against the shore and it instantly lifts me. I’ve recently discovered that this is a phenomenon called ‘Blue Mind’.

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After cutting short an ill-fated trip to Barcelona in 2013 (long story), Joe, my now-husband, and I wanted to make the most of our remaining time off and booked a trip to Lahinch, Co. Clare. It was then that I rediscovered the fun and joy the water could bring. We started travelling to Lahinch regularly to surf.

Finding Sea Swimming

In 2015, on the way back from one of our surf trips, I started feeling strange. My face felt numb, followed by my arm and then my leg. After a few months in and out of hospital getting every test under the sun, I was diagnosed with chronic hemiplegic migraines. They are a rare form of migraine that mimic a stroke. I get paralysis down my right side and have balance issues, as well as all the more typical migraine auras.

I’ve had a headache every day since June 22nd, 2015, have had to take a year out of work, and learn to walk again. 

Migraine, who knew?!

Around the same time, Joe was going through a pretty stressful time at work and had suffered a couple of panic attacks. He was hoping to find an east coast alternative to surfing that would help him get into a “flow state” and relax. At this point, I should say he was not a confident swimmer, despite being able to surf.

After years of slow progress with my migraines, I heard about a documentary called ‘100 days of Vitamin Sea’ which followed a girl with similar issues to mine using wild swimming to manage her illness. I thought, what’s the harm? We decided to try sea swimming as a kind of an experiment to see what, if anything, would happen. This decision was nothing short of life-changing!

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More Than Mindfulness

So on June 1st, 2019, we went for our first sea swim at The Vico in Dalkey. It was a bit of a choppy day, so I gingerly entered the surprisingly icy water and swam about a little. Joe, not being a confident swimmer, belly-flopped in and went hell for leather to get to the ladder. 

It was a short but transformative experience. 

I entered the water with the right side of my face drooped from paralysis and emerged like a new person. My body buzzing from the zing of the cold, and a full smile plastered across my face.

Don’t believe me? You can see one of my sea transformations for yourself in the pictures below.

Forty Foot Fans

We started going regularly, venturing to different swimming spots depending on the tide. The day after our wedding was no exception. We got married in Dun Laoghaire in September 2019 and started our married life with a swim at the Forty Foot. 

A dip in the sea has become an essential part of my ongoing battle with migraines. 

Outside of the physical benefits, we both saw the mental benefits. Joe’s stress reduced after a few weeks and when the migraine took away the control I had over my own body, sea swimming gave me some control back. 

We both emerge from the water lighter and happier, somehow transformed by the water. Having the Forty Foot within driving distance of our home has made such a difference to our lives – I only wish we lived closer.

There’s an amazing community spirit around the Forty Foot and Sandycove. When you’re in the water there are no judgments made about job title or status. Everyone is on a level playing field. All squawking and laughing, united in their internal battle to take the initial plunge.

I never grow tired of seeing grown men line up, totally carefree, to gleefully jump off the rocks into the water. Greeted every time with friendly “hellos” and reassuring fibs of “it’s lovely and warm once you’re in there”, as you walk towards the steps. There’s a special kind of madness that bonds everyone.

We really struggled without this connection during the initial lockdown as the Forty Foot was beyond our 2km. Counting down the days until we could be reunited with the embrace of the sea and the buzz of other swimmers brought to life after their dip.

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Helping My Healer

Spending all that time in the water made us increasingly aware of the volume of plastic in our seas and the negative impacts humanity was having on our world.

We knew we had to try and do our bit to protect the sea we love so much. This was the beginning of a move towards living a more eco-friendly and sustainable lifestyle.

Over the years, we’ve made changes to our lifestyle to reduce the amount of plastic we consume. We’ve also started doing our own #2MinuteBeachClean after our swims. I keep a produce bag and gardening gloves in my swimming bag – it makes it so much easier to do our bit. I plan to get something better down the road but this does the trick for now.

Doing my #2MinuteBeachClean

On the way back to our car we pick up any rubbish we see and put it in the public bins. Then it’s just a matter of flinging the bag and gloves in the wash with my swimming gear when I get in. The volume of litter and plastic you can pick up in a matter of minutes is truly heartbreaking. Finding seaweed entangled with countless pieces of plastic, you can’t help but think of how much must be out there.

It’s so sad to think that the people enjoying our coast are contributing so much to the damage. If you’re not able to fit in a #2MinuteBeachClean yourself, please ensure you leave no trace. If you can, please do them as often as possible. It may seem like a never-ending task, but if we all do our small part, we can make a difference.

We have recently started our own sustainable clothing brand called Against The Tide Apparel. With this, we hope to build a community of like-minded sea lovers who care for, and want to improve, the state of our planet and oceans.

The sea gives so much to us, we need to protect it and the wildlife that live there.

Dublin Things To Do

Stand Up Paddleboarding In Dun Laoghaire

September 3, 2020

Anyone who knows me knows I’m obsessed with the sea and a big believer in ‘Blue Mind’ (the mildly meditative state brought on when near, in, on, or underwater). You’ll regularly find me down at the Forty Foot, transformed into a big kid living her best mermaid life. One thing I wanted to try out for ages is stand up paddleboarding, so when I heard that the guys from BigStyle were opening their SUP school in Dun Laoghaire I was stalking their Instagram to see when we could go down. You’ll know from a previous post that I stayed in the BigStyle Atlantic Lodge last year and had an amazing time, so I knew we’d be in good hands.

Where in Dun Laoghaire?

You’ll find the lads in the car park of the West Pier in Dun Laoghaire. The stand up paddleboarding school is easy to spot as it’s made up of large shipping containers and looks unbelievable (see image above). It’s super accessible, there is loads of parking in the area (heads up: it’s paid, so bring a few euro for that) and if you’re on public transport, there are bus routes and a dart station a few minutes walk away.

What’s involved?

If you’ve tried stand up paddleboarding before, they offer rentals for €25 for an hour and a half (includes SUP, wetsuit and buoyancy aid). If, like me, you’re new to the world of SUP, you can book in for an hour and a half long lesson for just €45 (*pricing at time of posting). We went out in the evening to enjoy the sun setting at the end of our lesson.

We arrived down 15 minutes before our lesson, as requested. Our instructor Peter talked through all the safety measures, COVID measures, and kitted us out in our wetsuits and life jackets. With all of that done, we wandered towards the water. I was a little nervous because my balance isn’t the best and I’m possibly the least coordinated person on the planet but onto the water we went.

Dun Laoghaire Harbour is the perfect place to test out your stand up paddleboarding skills as it’s so sheltered and calm. When we got out on the water Peter showed us how to paddle properly and how to do some basic turns. We did a lap of the harbor, testing out some new skills along the way. I’ll admit, I started getting a bit cocky so Peter challenged us to try some more advanced turns and that’s when I came crashing back down to earth (or into the water in this case). I got my first full turn done, gloated, and then faceplanted into the water 🤣 Honestly though, it all just added to the fun and the experience.

By the end of the lesson, I was feeling really comfortable on the board and was confident that I could steer my way around and most importantly get back on if I fell off… 🤣 I’ll definitely be back down to the lads soon to rent some boards for some chilled out fun on the water. Check out the BigStyle website if you’d like to book in or find out more about stand up paddleboard lessons or rentals in Dun Laoghaire or the Atlantic Lodge.

Things To Do

My Favourite Hikes In Ireland

May 1, 2020

I’m an absolute lover of all things nature, not only do my hikes help me physically with my fitness but they also do wonders for my mental health. There’s nothing that grounds me more than immersing myself in nature – the best reset button you could ask for! While we’re on lock-down and staying safe, I’ve been reflecting on some of my favourite hikes in Ireland and ones I would love to do again. I thought I’d share a few with you to give you either inspiration for when we’re free to roam again or just a bit of respite for a few minutes while you read.

Coumshingaun Lake, Co. Waterford

I visited Waterford properly for the first time last year and couldn’t finish the trip without doing the stunning 7.5km Coumshingaun Lake Loop. It’s a glacier lake nestled below sheer c-shaped mountainsides, that was more spectacular than I could have imagined. There’s a decent walk up to the lake itself if you’re not feeling a long hike but if you have the time and the energy, my god it won’t disappoint! We fluked it by arriving on a glorious sunny day which highlighted all of the tones on the hills and made the water glisten.

We walked up the left side of the lake – I huffed and puffed my way up but damn it I got there! The views were amazing from the offset but when we reached the top of the hill and couldn’t see an obvious way to the very top so we climbed up the rocks and over (probably not to be advised but we made it). After we got over the rocks we reached the sweet, sweet flat ground at the top and my god the view was absolutely spectacular! We took loads of breaks up the top for snackies and to take in our surroundings.

Sitting on a rock at the top, is still one of my favourite memories! So many times you hear about a hike and it just doesn’t live up to your expectations but the hike at Coumshingaun was simply not one of them. The walk down was a little tricky but we sat and dangled our feet in the lake when we got down – I only wish we had our togs!

It instantly became one of my favourite hikes in Ireland and I genuinely look forward to being able to do it again!

The Spinc, Glendalough, Co. Wicklow

While we travel around a good bit trying out different hikes and places to go, The Spinc has to be my favourite hike close to home (Dublin). Situated in Glendalough, Co. Wicklow, we can travel there with ease when we’re looking to get a decent walk in. We’ve done this 9km hike at all times of the year and in all kinds of weather (mild blizzard included) and I never tire of it.

I’m not sure which is the ‘right way’ to do the loop but we usually go down the left side of the lake and up the steps in the woods – this is where I test any changes in my fitness… Once at the top, you can follow the trail made of railway sleepers while you look down on the beautiful glacier lake. This trail can be quite busy in parts in comparison to Coumshingaun where we came across a handful of people in our whole time there.

One of my favourite times to do this hike is around Autumn as you can hear the deer calling during the rutting season. That said, if you manage a sunny summer day without too much of a crowd, it’s hard to beat.

The view from the Spinc route in

Cliffs Of Moher Cliff Walk, Co. Clare

If you follow my Instagram account you’ll know that there’s a special place in my heart for the Cliffs of Moher. When thinking of hikes in Ireland it might not be something that springs to mind, but the cliff walk from Liscannor to Doolin is a really nice ‘little’ jaunt. Stretching over 13km along the cliffs from the Hags Head at Liscannor to the beautiful town of Doolin. The walk offers so many different views of the cliffs but one key tip is don’t forget to look back too so you don’t miss any of the amazing views the walk has to offer.

Nearly every time I’ve been in Clare, we’ve done at least part of this walk. We’ve walked it in all weathers and it is breathtaking regardless of whether the sun is beaming down or it’s overcast. On cloudier days, the cliffs look so dramatic but when the sun is out and bouncing off the water below I could sit there for hours. I have to say my favourite time is at sunset, just see the picture below and you’ll understand.

There’s a shuttle bus that runs between Liscannor, The Cliffs of Moher Visitor’s Centre and Doolin so you can walk from one end to the other and get the shuttle back. We’ve done the full walk before, had a pint of Guinness in Gus O’Connor’s pub, and then shuttled our way back to Liscannor where we were staying at the time. Our regular walk there is from the Hags Head to the Visitor’s Centre and back, followed by some food in Lahinch or Liscannor.

The Cliffs Of Moher at sunset - Hikes In Ireland

Gleninchaquin Park, Co. Kerry

A few years back, we asked for recommendations for places worth visiting near Kenmare and Gleninchaquin Park was by far my favourite. In such beautiful surroundings, every route will be a treat. You are met with a spectacular waterfall as soon as you arrive and the park has six different routes to suit any level of fitness.

Our first trip was on a seriously humid day, but all the huffing and puffing (and giant hair) was worthwhile. Looking out across the valley and lakes while standing on top of a waterfall is just something else. The hike up and over the waterfall is 3.9km and will have you both on and off-trail, following little red markers dotted along the mountainside.

Sheep roam freely in the park – I may have got too close to one accidentally and saw a look in it’s eye that I never want to see again! Joe nearly fell over laughing at me running and squealing! So worth a warning, if you’re not into being up close to animals, this one might not be for you… I’ve had so much fun on this trail and I’d go back in a heartbeat.

The field before the waterfall in Gleninchaquin Park, Co. Kerry, dotted with sheep - Hikes In Ireland

Mullaghmore Mountain, Co. Clare

Of all of the hikes in Ireland that I’ve done, this one is the most unique in my opinion! Mullaghmore is a mountain in the middle of the Burren that looks like, what I can only describe as, a soft-serve ice cream. You set off across the moonscape of the Burren and follow little markers that stand out against the vast grey surroundings.

Again, with this one, there are a few different routes marked out but we followed the 7.5km one that would allow us to see as much as possible. There is a bit of scree and a little bit of climbing involved. It’s definitely not one for people with weak ankles unless in supportive boots as there are unsteady rocks throughout.

We hiked up and over the top of the mountain, offering views across the entire Burren from the summit. On our way back down you could see Fr.Ted’s house off in the distance. Queue, Niamh quoting Fr Ted and singing the theme song the whole way back to the car… I’m a great hiking partner – I swear!

I am starting my decent from Mullaghmore Mountin in The Burren - Hikes In Ireland

Have you tried any of these? I’m making a list for hikes in Ireland to try out when things settle down, please leave me any recommendations in the comments below.

Dublin Things To Do

Mobile Sauna In Dun Laoghaire Is Bringing Sea Swims To A New Level

March 17, 2020

Sea swimming has taken on somewhat of a renaissance. There are amazing people who have been doing this for years but there seems to be new generation of sea swimmers – like myself – who are just getting into it. Most of us have decided to take the plunge due to the health and mindfulness benefits associated with it. 

Dublin (and Ireland) has an abundance of amazing swimming spots. The key ones for me include Sandycove, The Forty Foot, Sea Point, Hawk Cliff and White Rock. Each spot has its own character and community of dedicated sea swimmers. FYI, sea swimmers are some of the friendliest people you will ever meet. If you’re tight on time and can’t always work with the tides then White Rock and The Forty Foot are the spots for you. Both will allow you to swim at high or low tide without having to walk out for miles. Recently, Sandycove/The Forty Foot have been winning out over all others for me due to the addition of Dublin’s first mobile sauna – you heard that right, a mobile sauna!

My Swimming Experience

I started sea swimming in on the 1st of June this year, after hearing about a documentary called 100 Days Of Vitamin Sea. It follows a girl with chronic migraine using wild swimming in the treatment of her migraines. Naturally intrigued, after suffering with chronic migraine for nearly five years, I decided to give it a try…

From day one, I fell in love with the post-swim feeling! It also helps to relieve my symptoms which is amazing, even if it’s temporary. Over the summer we went to White Rock a few times a week and enjoyed bobbing in the water watching the Dart go by. As we swam, I couldn’t shift this nervous feeling that I wouldn’t be able to keep it up during the winter months – I’m well known for my cold blooded, lizard-like qualities. However, just in time for the colder months, Fad Saoil Saunas came to my rescue.

Post-Swim, Sandycove

Mobile Sauna

Fad Saoil is an amazing mobile sauna that can be found at the Forty Foot from Friday-Sunday every week. Offering you a toasty 15 minute sauna session for just €10. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of accomplishment after braving the elements and getting into the sea. However, I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’m loving the cheeky bonus of knowing that there’s a delish sauna to hop into afterwards. The sauna also has a large window facing out over the Forty Foot, so you get views across to Howth while you sit, soaking in the warmth – magic!

Joe in Fad Saoil Mobile Sauna

Our self-care routine over the weekend now factors in the sauna as a must. We swim in Sandycove for approx 10 minutes (this has dropped dramatically from our time over the summer) and then hop into the sauna for 15 minutes, before finishing with a quick dip in the sea to close our pores after. I can’t stress enough how much this sets you up for the day when done in the mornings.

Health Benefits

There are loads of health benefits associated with sauna use and cold exposure. I’m not an expert so here’s a video with Dr. Rhonda Patrick discussing some of the benefits with Joe Rogan, if you’re interested.

Booking for weekends opens on Tuesdays and can be booked on their website or through the GloFox App. If you’re like me and use the sauna on a regular basis, you can buy a block of credits at a discount. They can also be booked for private events – the magic of being mobile. If you’re interested in giving it a try, check out  Fad Saoil Saunas website to find out more and to book.

View of the Forty Foot at Fad Saoil Mobile Sauna
Mayo Places To Stay Things To Do

Not Just A Yoga Retreat On The Wild Atlantic Way

March 17, 2020

In September, we decided to honeymoon around Ireland, we wanted to stay local as we’re very aware of the carbon footprint that would be involved in doing long haul flights. There are so many amazing things to do right on our doorstep, so we decided to take advantage of it and offset our carbon footprint by planting native trees. We spent five days doing the “not just a yoga retreat” in the BigStyle Atlantic Lodge on the Wild Atlantic Way. We couldn’t have been happier with our decision.

Driving through Louisburg, we looked at each other with thinking “what did we get ourselves into?”. On arrival, that feeling totally lifted! We were welcomed into the lodge, which immediately felt like an old friends house. Kris and the lads have really created something magical on the Wild Atlantic Way.

The Atlantic Lodge is reminiscent of Irish College but for grown-ups. Once you step into the Lodge the rest of the world just kind of melts away. Thankfully, in this particular Irish College, the Irish and awkward dancing is replaced with surfing, hiking and outdoor hot tubs. I remember during my Irish college days, the food was questionable at best so I survived on a diet of Drifter Bars, brown bread and jam. But in the Lodge you are spoiled with an array of comforting and delicious vegetarian goodness. Porridge, paella, pizza and chickpea burgers to die for.

Our Arrival To The Yoga Retreat

Day one, we drove up from Lahinch, had something quick to eat and then prepared for our first surf lesson. Getting in the sea is one of my favourite things to do – nothing really bonds you with a group more than collectively being battered by the sea 🙂

Me Post Surf At Atlantic Lodge Yoga Retreat

I don’t know what exactly I was expecting from the rooms but it was so much better than what I had in my head. It was like a slightly pared-back version of a modern hotel room rather than a hostel. There was a fab ensuite and an incredibly comfy bed (probably made more comfy with the post surf tiredness). The walls in the rooms and corridors were covered in pictures of the guys adventures around the world. The style and pictures gave it a really personal touch, which I loved.

We went downstairs for a chill out by the fire while Pete, our fantastic yoga instructor, cooked us up a feast. This man is a miracle worker, he managed to get Joe to happily eat vegetarian for the full five days. We genuinely thought he’d be sneaking out for a steak at some point to keep him going. The pizza making workshop was so much fun. Everyone got hands on, rolled out a pizza and topped it with whatever hey fancied. We all had a couple of drinks and shared the pizzas as they came out of the oven.

Pizza Workshop At Atlantic Lodge Yoga Retreat

Yoga & Other Bits

Every morning we did a yoga class and followed it up with a hearty breakfast. Activities consisted of hikes, surf lessons, acro yoga (this was so much fun), a massage workshop and sea swims. There was a good amount of chill out time between activities which was great. Being forced to sit and chill was a blessing in disguise. During the down time, people just chatted, played games, read books and just completely unwound.

There was nothing about this yoga retreat that didn’t leave you feeling revitalised and centred again. We were there from Mon – Fri and when we left we were the perfect balance of rested and energised. It also isn’t your average yoga retreat as you are free to have a few drinks if you fancy it. One of my favourite moments was following up a sea swim with a couple of beers and chats in the hot tub while looking out across the bay, soaking in the Wild Atlantic Way.

Outdoor area with Hot Tubs At Atlantic Lodge Yoga Retreat

The key to this amazing place is the team that work here – they’re more like a family than colleagues. As I said before, it’s like being welcomed into an old friend’s home. With stunning views of the West Coast, this is a place I was genuinely sad to leave and I would go back without hesitation.

They also provide amazing surf and adventure retreats to Portugal, so you have the added bonus of some (pretty much guaranteed) sun. Regardless of the retreat you choose, you’re guaranteed to have the craic and return home reenergised.

If you’re looking for a yoga retreat on the Wild atlanticWay, I couldn’t recommend a stay in the Atlantic Lodge more, you can find all the info you need on the BigStyle website.

The lads are building a new stand up paddle boarding school in Dun Laoghaire this summer. I will definitely be down the second it opens and will report back.

View From Atlantic Lodge Yoga Retreat