Curious Fairies at Cushendun

Last Friday we attended a wonderful Curious Fairies event hosted by the National Trust in Cushendun.

Children searched high and low around the grounds of Glenmona House for the fairies emerging from their winter slumber, talking to elves and wizards along the way.

It really was such a lovely afternoon and Niamh had so much fun trying to find the fairy doors in the trees, and spotting little clues along the way, such as a washing line covered in tiny outfits and miniature tables and chairs.

Thanks to the National Trust for putting on such a magical event which the kids loved!

Santa at Hillmount Garden Centre

In a few weeks time my daughter will be two and this year, she’s starting to recognise Santa.

I’m not sure she knows exactly who he is or what he does, but she’s pointing him out on TV and in decorations! (Maybe it’s just the beard and the red outfit she recognises!)

We were invited along to Santa’s Grotto at Hillmount Garden Centre in Castlereagh and having been last year, I know that the set up is brilliant.

There are lots of different sections and things for kids to see and do before they even get to see the ‘big man’!

This includes meeting Mrs Claus who gives the kids a present and the adults a drink of mulled apple juice (or something a little stronger if you’re not driving!)

The displays are so well done and a lot of thought has clearly gone into the grotto. In another part of the garden centre there are “singing reindeers” and we finished up in the cafe where we enjoyed some tea and cake!

If you haven’t been to see Santa yet, consider Hillmount because the kids will love it!

It’s a Wonderful Wee Christmas

With Jack and the Beanstalk on at the Grand Opera House, The Elves and the Shoemaker showing at The Mac, Beauty and the Beast at the Waterfront, and Alice The Musical on in The Lyric, when I was invited along to see It’s a Wonderful Wee Christmas at the Theatre at the Mill in Newtownabbey, I thought it might be another panto/family-friendly play.

When I looked into it, however, I realised that this was an adult comedy bringing a unique Belfast twist to the classic It’s a Wonderful Life.

The play is based around Geordie, the manager of a credit union on the Falls Road and takes place on Christmas Eve.

Geordie is an ordinary bloke, well-respected and well-liked in the community, who would do anything for anyone. But he believes he is a failure and that he has let those closest to him down, not least his wife, whom he promised the world.

Enter a sassy angel Cara who, in order to gain ‘her wings’, must convince Geordie his life is worth living. Can this unconventional angel do it? We’re transported back to happier (and sad times) in Geordie’s past, including watching the beginning of his relationship with his loyal wife Mary.

The play is very easy to watch and funny (including a reference to a Christmas hit ‘Yer da sells Avon at Christmas’ on the local radio station), but it’s not just a comedy full of one-liners and groan-worthy Belfast references; it has a very serious message too.

The play touches on the themes of poverty, depression and suicide. This is covered very well without feeling in poor taste.

The play is written by Caroline Curran (angel Cara) and Julie Maxwell, (Mary), the writers of last year’s comedy The Nightshift Before Christmas. It’s a charming play with a wholly important message and I really enjoyed the evening.

It’s a Wonderful Wee Christmas is on at the Theatre at the Mill until 31st December. image1 (2)

‘The Band’ at the Grand Opera House

Last year when I watched Let it Shine, a BBC show to find the five guys who would play Take That in a new musical, I thought the production would be about the history of the band.

I assumed we’d see how they were formed, reenact their auditions, and learn about how they ‘gelled’ in the early days and months.

So, when I started reading about the production and the fact it centered on the story of teenage fans, I was surprised! Where would the band come into it? What would they be doing?

Well on Tuesday night I headed to the Grand Opera House for the opening night of ‘The Band’ and in the words of Gary Barlow, “that were absolutely fantastic!”

The show, set in 1993, features five 16-year-old girls obsessed with ‘the band’. They know all the words, they record their songs of the radio, they’re learning the dance moves, and they have posters in their school lockers and bedrooms.

The girls’ bond is unbreakable, despite the fact they all have very different personalities and different desires in life.

One wants to be a dancer on Top of the Pops, one wants to go to university, one wants to win an Olympic medal for diving, one is liked by all the boys and wants to have lots of children, and one longs to be happily married.

The story focuses on the girls going to their first concert and then shifts to 25 years later. Has the unbreakable bond broken? Have their dreams come true? What has changed since way back in 1993?

Well, what can I say? The show is exceptional. There are some extremely sad twists along the way which made me cry (and the person beside me!), but overall it is hugely funny with great one-liners.

And where does the band come into it? Well, they feature all the way through it. Popping up at convenient (and some inconvenient) moments!

The band sings slow songs during the sad parts, but they also put on a full-on show at times, complete with bright lights, costume changes and famous Take That dance moves.  You’d be forgiven for thinking you were at a concert!

All the classics feature, including Never Forget, Back for Good, A Million Love Songs, Relight My Fire and Rule the World.

The audience were absolutely loving it. Cheering, screaming, doing the ‘Never Forget’ hand clap, and dancing at their seats. This was heaven for Take That fans! I was transported back to the 1990s when I, too, had posters on my walls and knew all the words.

The show is really well done and has been one of my favourite productions this year.  The Band is on until Saturday 24th and I would urge you to book the remaining tickets!!

Faye Christall as Young Rachel (centre) with Five To Five as The Band in The Band, credit Matt Crockett

LtoR Rachelle Diedericks, Sarah Kate Howarth, Faye Christall, Lauren Jacobs & Katy Clayton in The Band, credit Matt Crockett

LtoR Jayne McKenna as Zoe, Rachel Lumberg as Rachel, Emily Joyce as Heather & Alison Fitzjohn as Claire, with Five To Five as The Band in The Band, credit Matt Crockett

Shrek The Musical at The Grand Opera House

This week Shrek The Musical opened at The Grand Opera House following a record-breaking UK and Ireland Tour. Shrek is one of those films you can watch every time it’s on TV and it never gets any less funny!

If you don’t know the story (and I’m sure you do) the musical follows Shrek, the ogre, and his tag-along Donkey as they set off on a quest to rescue Princess Fiona from her tower, which is guarded by a fire-breathing dragon.

Shrek’s swamp has been taken over by fairytale misfits, exiled by the ‘vertically challenged’ Lord Farquaad, and the only way to regain control of his swamp is to bring the Princess to the Lord so they become husband and wife (and Farquaad can become king!)

The musical is based on the Oscar-winning film, with familiar characters, and even more familiar lines (You’re so wrapped up in layers, onion boy!).

I had high expectations for this show, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. The cast includes X-Factor star Amelia Lily as Princess Fiona, who plays the beautiful, if slightly crazy, princess perfectly. What a singing voice!

Then there’s Shrek, played by Steffan Harri who takes over two hours in makeup every night to transform into the big, green ogre! Steffan captures the awkwardness of Shrek well, with his one-liners and self-conscious, if aloof, manner. Of course, Shrek wouldn’t be Shrek without his ‘noble steed’ Donkey, played by Marcus Ayton, who is bold and sassy, with plenty of attitude!

But for me, the star of the show was Lord Farquaad, played by Samuel Holmes. He had the audience eating out of this hands. Samuel was on his knees with some comical short legs to depict Farquaad’s short stature. The way he pranced around the stage, with creepy actions to match, was just hilarious.

Over 23 actors sang and danced their way through the 2.5 hour musical, with stunning set design (especially the huge dragon!). It ended just as I hoped it would- a big rendition of ‘I’m a believer‘.

I would highly recommend you go to see the show if you’re a fan of the film. It’s clever, it’s funny and it’s heartwarming. What a great night.

Shrek The Musical is running at The Grand Opera House until Sunday 21 October.


Under the Hawthorn Tree by Cahoots NI

I read Under the Hawthorn Tree as a teenager and back then, it was one of my favourite novels. I’d forgotten all about it until I recently saw that it was being performed at The Mac by children’s theatre company Cahoots NI this autumn.

I was invited along to watch the play and although I don’t live in Belfast anymore, I couldn’t say no, as I had to see the story I’d loved so much.

Under the Hawthorn Tree tells the story of three siblings, Elly, Michael and Peggy, during the Great Irish Famine. The children’s baby sister has died and is buried under the hawthorn tree in the garden. Their hungry and desperate father goes to find work on the roads and when he doesn’t return, their mother leaves to search for him, telling her children she will be back soon. When she, too, doesn’t return they decide the only way to survive, and not end up separated in the workhouse, is to make the long journey across Ireland to find their great aunts whom their mother has told them stories about. (Particularly that they make delicious cakes!)

The play follows the young children as they battle sickness, hunger, weakness, danger, and the elements on the long and difficult journey. Despite the fact that the parts are played by adults, the children’s’ innocence shines through in their words, actions and movement.

The 1 hour play is by Charles Way and directed by Paul Bosco McEneaney, with an original score by Garth McConaghie. The band sits around the stage and the traditional music which accompanies the singing, a mix of hopeful song and lament, is really very moving.

Once again, Cahoots NI, excels at using limited staging, with most of the action taking place on a raised circular stage, with props emerging from trap doors.

The play, while following the story of the young children, also focuses on a very important part of Irish history, and the mass starvation, death and emigration it caused. One chaotic scene in particular sees actor Adam Dougal play the part of an English soldier who is frantically trying to control angry and starving Irish people who see food being shipped to England.

I found the story to be hopeful, funny, terribly sad and very moving all at the same time. Well done to all involved- it was as good as I remembered.

Under the Hawthorn Tree runs until the 7th October. Ticket prices are £10 per child and £12.50-£25 per adult.


24 hours along the Causeway Coastal Route- European Heritage Open Days

This weekend is ‘European Heritage Open Days’ where over 300 properties and attractions right across Northern Ireland will open their doors to the public, many for free.

It’s such a great opportunity to explore hidden gems, especially those which are not usually accessible to the public and I always look forward to this weekend each year to try out new places.

I now live in the Glens of Antrim so I was delighted when Discover NI got in contact asking if I would like to explore some of the highlights along the Causeway Coastal Route, making my way along the famous road to experience dramatic landscapes,  quaint villages and vibrant hidden heritage.

Here’s how I spent my 24 hours along the Causeway Coastal Route

Tuesday 4th September- Dobbins Inn

I started my tour 11 miles from Belfast in Carrickfergus, where I spent the evening at the Dobbins Inn. The Inn is situated in the heart of Carrick and has a unique legacy spanning over  800 years. Built in the early 13th Century, the Inn is a listed building with period features including a 16th Century Priest Hole and Elizabethan Fireplace, as well as a resident ghost Maud! (Thankfully I didn’t experience anything ‘spooky’ but, I’m told, she’s well-known to stroke the faces of guests in their sleep!) The owners of the Dobbins Inn are currently exploring the history of the building and are stripping back much of the plaster to see what original stone and brick work lies underneath. Carrickfergus Castle is right across the street so the hotel is a great place for exploring and starting your tour along the Coast.

Wednesday 5th September AM- Whitehead

Once I’d checked out, I made the short distance to the small town of Whitehead, which is known as the “town with no streets” (given that no road there has the suffix street!) The classic Victorian architecture is evident and it’s full of pretty cafes and shops. Of course, I had to go to the Marina to see the famous colourful houses while I was there too! As part of the European Heritage Open Days, Whitehead Art Gallery will be open so visitors can explore the Gallery and go on tours of the Edwardian House.

The Gobbins

After my walk around Whitehead, it was time to head to Islandmagee to visit the world-famous attraction, The Gobbins. The Gobbins is an old Victorian walkway, with the path first opening in 1902. It was abandoned in the 1960s before being relaunched in 2015 and is now enjoyed by thousands of visitors from across the world each year. And I can see why! You’re walking right on the edge of cliffs along a narrow path and into caves below sea level. The views of the coastline and native sea birds are just spectacular. The tour takes about 2.5 hours and explores the history of the area and the path, tales of local smugglers, as well as hearing about the flora and fauna. I can’t recommend it enough.(The Gobbins isn’t a part of European Heritage Open Days but there are some tickets available for this weekend so make it a part of your plans, if you can!)

PM- Glenarm Castle

After my 2.5 tour I jumped back in the car and travelled the furthest distance of the day (about 20 miles) to Glenarm Castle. The Castle is the home of Viscount and Viscountess Dunluce, and is well-known for the Walled Garden, charming Tea Rooms and being home of Glenarm beef and lamb. I met with the Estate Manager Adrian who showed me around the beautiful, colourful gardens before we went to the Tea Rooms for lunch. Of course I had to try the Shorthorn Beef farmed in the estate (I couldn’t resist!) and went for the Shorthorn beef burger with cheese, bacon, crispy onions and tomato and chilli jam. Glenarm is such a lovely venue so stop for lunch on your tour this weekend! (If you’re heading to Glenarm, you can visit the restored Gatelodge, built in 1825, as part of European Heritage Open Days.)


After lunch it was just a short drive to the village of Carnlough, recently increasing in popularity due to it being a film location in Game of Thrones (where Arya Stark jumped into the water after her fight with The Waif.) I had a quick look around the village and the harbour before I meet with local guide Mary Watson at the Heritage Hub. The recently opened Hub exhibition reflects on how Carnlough and the Glens have been shaped by industry, trade and engineering. Mary is full of knowledge about the local area and, as someone who has recently moved to the Glens, I’d love to get back down and explore the Hub in more detail. The Heritage Hub will be open this Saturday and Sunday as part of European Heritage Open Days.

Ballygally Castle

After hearing about the history of the Glens, I headed back down the Coast Road to the village of Ballygally where my last stop of the day was dinner at Ballygally Castle. The Hotel is a unique 17th Century Castle which overlooks Ballygally Bay and is reportedly haunted by a friendly ghost, Lady Isabella (my second haunted hotel in just 24 hours!). Brave guests can even visit the “ghost room” in the tower! I headed up to the haunted room and again, thankfully, didn’t experience anything spooky! It’s such an eerie room though, so I only took a few quick snaps before heading back downstairs! For dinner I availed of the set menu, which is 2 courses and a glass of wine (I had a soft drink as I was driving) for £20.  For mains I had the Chicken Fillet, stuffed and wrapped with Northern Irish Dry Cure Bacon with Gracehill Black Pudding and champ croquettes,  followed by Clandeboye Yoghurt and Honey cheesecake for dessert. As expected the meal was delicious (I’ve eaten in here numerous times and can’t fault it), and I finished the evening with a stroll around the Hotel’s Walled Garden.

I had a brilliant time exploring the Causeway Coastal Route and it was great to hear more about the history and culture of the coastal villages and attractions. Thank you to Discover NI for the fab itinerary. Check out to see all that you can explore this weekend in Mid and East Antrim and the Causeway Coast and Glens. Some real gems to be discovered!

#DiscoverNI #EYCH2018

Disclaimer: My overnight stay, tickets to The Gobbins, lunch and dinner were complimentary. All other extras, including travel and refreshments were at my own expense.