Blue skies, bright sunshine and mild days made the days after Easter very suitable for free time with family and friends for a bit of fresh air and fun. I trust that everyone who could was delighted to be out and about and with those you love and care for.
I was free all day on Tuesday and headed off early in the morning. I hadn’t seen my younger sister since New Year’s Day and I’ve missed her. As we often do we find somewhere to meet ‘in the middle’, I drive North, she heads South and we find a suitable place to sit and enjoy some food together. Her brainwave this time was to choose the Strandfield café just off the M1 at the Ballymascanlon turn off. The owners of this exceptional shop, garden centre and vegetarian café have built up their business to be among the very best in Ireland. The freshest of produce, a superb indoor/out door dining area, goats, sheep and domestic animals for the children to admire, an exceptionally pleasant place to eat and chat and hear the news. All around us families and visitors seemed so happy out, and we were struck by the number of young couples with little children. In a world with so much sorrow recently and with all the challenges of Covid, to see the willingness of these young couples to bring new life into the world, to commit themselves to the selfless love of parenting, giving their lives for years to come to the upbringing of these kids, it was very uplifting.
When we finished with Strandfield, Roisin suggested we drive just the few kilometres to Slieve Gullion Forest Park. So, with Google Maps to guide us we headed back towards Newry and at the border turned into the left at Jonesborough. For my entire adult life, this road into South Armagh, to Micah, where bombs were often placed to disrupt the Belfast to Dublin train, to Crossmaglen where even the police and army were reluctant to venture, this for us was ‘bandit territory.’ So, I had never seen the magnificent Slieve Gullion Park before. Not only does it have all the facilities you might expect, but also a wonderful children centred walk, with fairy doors, huge musical instruments, board walks, and little houses into which no adult could squeeze. Besides all of this there is the 5 km Forest Drive, surely one of the best kept secrets in Ireland. This safe, but twisty road makes its way around the rim of mountains that a volcano created, meaning the route is a circle in the sky with breath taking views over the ancient land of Chulainn. I was mesmerised at the beauty so close to home that I had simply never seen. All of this is an hour up the road! Who needs to travel any further!