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A walk on the wild side at Mount Plunkett



Pulling up at Mount Plunkett Nature Reserve, you’d be forgiven for thinking the place has been deserted, such is the peace and tranquility surrounding the area.

  It’s situated off the main Athlone Road in Lecarrow and this enables visitors to enjoy the fresh air and beautiful surrounds without the interruption of modern afflictions like traffic noise.

  I’m met by Padraig Corcoran at the entrance to the nature reserve. Padraig and his wife Bernadette along with their four children Ciara, Rachel, Laura and Patrick own and run the reserve. Padraig has kindly offered to give me a private tour of his lands ahead of the public tour, which will take place on Thursday evening (today) as part of Roscommon Lamb Festival.

  Padraig quickly informs me that as well as the farm and nature reserve, the land also contains historical gems such as an old schoolhouse and a former landlord’s stately mansion. Our first port of call takes us back to school.

  “This is the old Mount Plunkett School, it was built by the landlord, Patrick Crehan, in 1858. He actually owned all the estate around Mount Plunkett and down into St. John’s. He built it for the tenants’ children and it functioned as a national school from then until 1959,” said Padraig.

  The old landlord actually paid both teachers in the area at the time. He also built a sister school in St. John’s. The Corcorans have restored the old school at Mount Plunkett and have also put a roof on it.

  We leave the old schoolhouse behind and make our way around the lands, which act as both a reserve and a working farm. New spring lambs graze in a field which hosts a vibrant hedge habitat including plenty of fruit bearing trees.

  The hedges that Padraig has planted around his field have allowed bird life to thrive in the area and visitors are rewarded each morning with a beautiful dawn chorus which continues throughout the entire day.

  Padraig is a font of knowledge and the names of trees, plants and animals roll effortlessly off his tongue.

  “You have a woodland here that’s a broadleaf, semi-natural woodland. It’s very dry here but as you go through it, it drops back to wetter woodland,” he says.

  According to Padraig, this wetter woodland is the most diverse woodland you can get due to the abundance of vegetation and larvae it provides for insects.

  We make our way through the woodland as the birds serenade us and the sun casts rays and shadows through the canopy. I have rarely interviewed anyone in such a beautiful place.

  The former estate house suddenly looms into view. Patrick Crehan’s residence may have fallen into complete disrepair but with a little imagination it’s easy to recognise the appeal of building a home in such an area. We come across a path which Padraig says was used by local people in the nineteenth century. The stiles are still very much in evidence while the stately home is protected by what Padraig describes as a ‘Ha-Ha’ wall. The wall was built into the estate’s lawn in such a way as to prevent intruders or animals from gaining entry while at the same time offering an uninterrupted view of the surrounding countryside.

  As we make our way back up to Padraig’s own house, he highlights the importance of farmers working in harmony with the environment and with Mother Nature.

  “We embraced a lot of new ideas back in 2005 or so on a bio-diversity project. The crops, the ponds, the bird boxes and the bat boxes were done. I suppose about 2013 when GLAS started to come in and it embraced the ideas that we were putting forward. It’s nice to see that your vision was where things where going. It’s nice to see a lot of people now are also embracing what we’ve done,” he says.

  The entire family have played a part in establishing and maintaining Mount Plunkett Nature Reserve and it has become a popular destination for nature walks among local schools. That’s probably how the former landlord would have wanted it too.

  Padraig insisted however, that the work is ongoing and that sustainability is the name of the game and that the focus needs to be aimed at wetlands.

  “There are a lot more wetlands being abandoned and it’s leading to a huge loss of different species of birdlife. I think that there needs to be more focus on it and there needs to be more help for farmers,” he says.

  Our thirty minute walk around Mount Plunkett Nature Reserve was an eye opener and it is clear that the Corcorans’ forward thinking has enabled wildlife to flourish in the area. Education is key in this regard and guided walks around Mount Plunkett serve to highlight the importance of protecting and maintaining this wildlife.

  Today at 6 pm, members of the public are also invited to enjoy the unique sights and sounds of Mount Plunkett while also getting in touch with nature. The old schoolhouse may have shut down in 1959 but we still have an awful lot to learn about the countryside that surrounds it and Padraig Corcoran’s land is a great place to start.




Acclaimed designer Úna returns to her roots


Ahead of her Leather Design Workshop in Aras an Chontae this Saturday, multi-award winning leather designer Úna Burke spoke to Dan Dooner about her Roscommon roots and the inspiration for her globally acclaimed work.

Could you tell us a bit about your links to Co. Roscommon?

I was brought up in Knockvicar, Boyle, with my three older sisters and my little brother. My parents have a farm where they reared sheep and cattle. I helped my dad a lot with lambing season and loved nursing sick animals back to health. We have had both calves and lambs sleep in our kitchen! 

  I was terrified of the cows, although not as much as my sister who used to run away when they came near her, much to my dad’s dismay. 

  I visit home as much as possible and luckily I’m involved in lots of exhibitions and events back home in Ireland so that allows me to visit quite often, flying in and out of Knock airport which I love.

What first inspired you to choose a career in fashion and design?

I was lucky enough to know from an early age that I wanted to be a fashion designer. My mother taught me to sew on the sewing machine when I was very young. Then when I was about 14 years of age, I began dreaming about fashion. I would see models going up and down a catwalk and I could zoom in to see such detail as the stitching on the pockets.  I hadn’t seen these clothes anywhere in real life as I didn’t grow up surrounded by fashion magazines or fashion TV. I was surrounded by fields and flowers and animals so it was very strange for me! 

  I guess that watching my mother sew our childhood dresses must have influenced the visions though, as it gave me a knowledge of garment construction and my grandfather was a cobbler, so the love of leather must have been influenced somewhat by him.

Where do you get inspiration for your designs? 

My inspiration comes from many different aspects of life. My early work was influenced by my research into mental health and human resilience, especially relating to the subject of trauma and recovery.

  My intricate construction techniques and the structural forms of my work are inspired by military references, and particularly medieval battle armour. Armour museums worldwide have been visual research points for me, from the Tower of London, to the Wallace Collection to a wonderful museum in Valetta, Malta. The intricate construction of battle armour is just mesmerising and something that I wanted to translate from metalwork into leatherwork.

You’ve worked with some global stars and received acclaim worldwide. How has this affected your work and you as a designer?  

I would like to feel that this hasn’t affected me too much as a person. I’m not too interested in celebrity obsession but it works for me to have them wear my pieces because they have high profiles and can expose my work to a bigger market. They are just people too though and I am as happy to have somebody completely unknown wear my pieces as long as it makes them feel good. 

  My designs are not affected or based on famous people unless it’s a specific commission for them. It comes from my mind, not theirs and if they like it, great, but first and foremost I try to stay true to myself as a designer and hopefully the rest will follow. 

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

“We are not saving lives!” was once said to me when I was very stressed about work. It put things in perspective and took the pressure off so that I could think straight.

What one person would you love to design a piece for and why?

Bjork. I feel she is, and always has been, on the very edge of fashion and just wears the most amazing outfits. She doesn’t conform to any trends and shows her feelings through her outfits. I have always been a huge admirer and hopefully will get to make something uniquely for her.

What can those attending this Saturday’s Leather Design Workshop expect?

Attendees can expect a quick-fire tutorial on the many different techniques that I use.  There are many techniques that are used to construct even one small piece. People may be unaware of these. They will get a chance to use the tools that I use and to learn about the specific ‘vegetable tanned leather’ that I use too.


A labour of love on Antogher Road!



Val and Kelly Ann Browne recently built a luxurious new home near Roscommon town. A two storey home for the couple and their two children, Danny and Emily. From the outside, this house looks similar to any of the other homes in the area. It’s only apon entering the kitchen area that the uniqueness of the building becomes clear.

  The centrepiece of the house is a huge two and a half tonne stove. The stove was imported from Austria and is so large that it has its own foundation. It is built into the home in such a way that it doesn’t take away from the beautifully designed kitchen and living room area. Local stonemason, Mark Feeley, also designed a striking hearth which runs around the stove.

  Apart from the stove, the second thing you may notice when visiting the Brownes is the complete absence of radiators on the walls. The giant stove, with a little help from the sun, will heat the entire house throughout the year.

  Val Browne, who is an engineer by trade, explains the thinking behind the design of the house:

  “I designed the house myself. It’s a timber frame with cellulose fiber insulation. So I employed a timber frame company to construct the frame off-site to my plans. The emphasis is really on the insulation and breathability of the structure. It’s designed in such a way to make the most of solar gain. So we get the sunlight in the kitchen in the morning and it tracks the whole way around the house to the living room in the evening.

  “Central to the whole house is the stove. The stove is the only source of heat we have apart from the sun. We do have triple-glazed units in the front of the house, which is the north side, because it gets no sun. We also have a heat recovery ventilation system which distributes heat around the house,” he says.

  From the outside and indeed from the inside, there’s no way of telling that this is a timber frame house. Val recommends them due to the speed at which they can be erected.

  He adds: “On Saturday, the timber frame company will be sending a representative to explain it. The supplier of the stove will be here too. The stove, I imported. That came on three pallets from Austria!”

  Val says that while it was a labour of love for himself as project manager, Kelly Ann wasn’t so sure starting out.

  “It was a leap of faith for Kelly Ann, my wife, to not put in radiators or underfloor (heating) but I had a lot of it worked out in my head…in theory!”

  I remark that it’s strange not seeing radiators on walls.

  “And nowhere to dry clothes,” laughs Val.

  “No button to press!” shouts Kelly Ann from the the living room.

  “If we want heat,” says Val “we have to light a fire.”

  However, Kelly Ann adds that it’s not as labour intensive as a regular fire.

  “One of the saving graces is that you don’t have to take the ashes out…only maybe twice a year,” she says.

  Val explains that the fire works due to the fact that the stove extracts the maximum amount of energy possible out of the timber so that it can provide heat for up to 18 hours.

  He concludes: “I think the whole airtight house, more efficient houses and more efficient insulation is the future. Even if we had rads here, it would take very little to heat this house.”

  Val, Kelly Ann, Danny and Emily will play host to an open day at their beautiful home on Antogher Road this Saturday from 2 pm as part of Roscommon Lamb Festival. There will be representatives on hand from Irish Eco Homes who provided the timber frame and Eco Fire Ireland who supplied the stove.


Bluegrass fit for a ‘King’ at the Lamb Festival


Music at yesterday’s official opening of Roscommon Lamb Festival was provided by King Street Bluegrass from Virginia. King Street will also play in Murray’s of Knockcroghery alongside South Roscommon Singers Circle tomorrow evening (Friday, 29th). The group will then finish their tour of Roscommon in PJ’s of Castlecoote on Sunday (30th) night at 8.30 pm.

  The King Street Bluegrass band has showcased a number of talented musicians over the years. It all started when Nancy Lisi met Freddie Szilagi at a jam session at Frying Pan Park in Virginia. They were joined by Dave Brunston on upright bass and Bobby Bales while Roger Hart and his harmonica would join the group during street performances. Other musicians would also join in along the way. This is the true essence of bluegrass; talented musicians coming together to produce a unique sound.

  Throughout the group’s history, numerous talented performers have been added to the bill – musicians like Justin Lago and Stacey Sinclair and singers such as John Georgiou, Dan Rilko and Donnie Faulkner.

  The group’s current line-up features Faulkner on vocals, founding member Robert Swain, Roger Hart on harmonica, Nancy Lisi on upright bass, Rob Waller on banjo and lead guitar, Stacey Rae Sinclair on fiddle, Kieth Arneson on banjo and Arthur Lisi on keyboards.

  The group were first invited to Roscommon by Declan Coyne and Johnny Johnston in 2014 following a chance meeting at a charity gig. King Street Bluegrass are certainly no strangers to charity performances and have raised in the region of $100,000 for various local causes back home.

  Ahead of their trip to Roscommon this week, band member and manager, Nancy Lisi, spoke to Dan Dooner.

Are you guys looking forward to performing at the Roscommon Lamb Festival?

Yes! We are fired up! Our banjoist even got some extra exercise to make sure he was up to the task!

Bluegrass is obviously well-known in the States, what is the essence of this type of music?

It is a combination of Celtic, American, and African influences that originated among the mountain people of the Appalachians. Before there was television, radio or other forms of entertainment, everyone in the family could play an instrument or dance and they’d get together in the evenings after work. During the depression a lot of these families were displaced and moved into urban areas where the music has been embraced by city people.

Is your visit to Roscommon part of a wider tour?

Yes, we will be playing Gibbons’ Pillar House on Thursday (tonight) in Ballinasloe as a ticketed event. We will then appear in Murray’s of Knockcroghery with the Singers Circle on Friday night (28th) and in PJ’s in Castlecoote on Sunday (30th).

  There will also be jam sessions with our friends from the band Coíllín. We are also hoping to hear Patsy Hanly who really impressed us last time we were here.

What can the people of Roscommon expect from your performances next week?

Basically we will be doing traditional Bluegrass, it’s what we do the best! We mix in a little country, folk and blues music. We will also be performing a song that we wrote on our last visit and recorded this winter in collaboration with Roscommon Singers Circle members, Angela Gavigan and Jack Plunkett. That’s available on our website and we have brought a few copies over to give away as gifts!

You guys are no strangers to county fairs and weekend festivals. Looking ahead to this weekend, what elements make these festivals so special?

The first is friendship and goodwill along with a heavy dose of helpfulness for those less fortunate.

  The second is abundance: the lambs, gardens and the greenery of nature with which we are blessed on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.

  The third is music and singing together. It seems to always bring everyone together in the best way!

County Youth Theatre present ‘Animal Farm’


Roscommon County Youth Theatre, take to the stage with their 2017 production of George Orwell’s classic ‘Animal Farm’, in Roscommon Arts Centre from Thursday, 27th of April to Saturday, 29th of April.

  This production is suitable for adults and young people 10+. School groups welcome. Animal Farm is also on the Junior Cycle syllabus.

  Tickets can be booked with Roscommon Arts Centre on 090-6625824 or www.roscommonartscentre.ie.

Go fund that sculpture!


Sheep farmers from County Roscommon and others who make their living from the sheep trade are this week being encouraged to help fund a new sculpture which will be on permanent display in Roscommon.

  A sculpture of a Roscommon ewe and lamb has been completed by local sculptor Mark Feeley, using Lecarrow limestone and following yesterday’s unveiling, will be put on permanent display in Roscommon.

  The sculpture acknowledges Roscommon town’s linkages to the history and culture of sheep farming, being located centrally among the plains of Roscommon famed for sheep rearing. It was commissioned to mark ten years of Roscommon Lamb Festival and is being funded through a novel fundraising initiative on gofundme.com. Lamb Festival organisers are hoping to raise €5,000 for the sculpture from local people and already, over €1,000 has been donated through the gofundme page.

  Lamb Festival Chairman Gerry Browne has asked local sheep farmers and others involved in the lamb trade to make a small donation of €5, €10 or €20 towards the commission, which will ensure that the people of Roscommon are behind the creation of this new and novel piece of public art.

  For further information or to make a donation, visit https://www.gofundme.com/gj2ypx-roscommon-limestone-ewe-and-lamb.


Lions and friends walk the walk…€3k raised


We were delighted to receive news from Roscommon Lions Club President Noel Connolly this week which reveals that the club’s recent inaugural Charity Walk raised €3,000.

  Funds raised will go towards the Lions International Safe Centre Project  for Syrian refugee children in the Lebanon and also towards a local project, i.e. the Roscommon Gaels dressing rooms project.

  Roscommon Lions Club again thanks everyone who supported this very successful Walk.


Mary to launch latest Poetry Collection


A new poetry collection, Other Routes, by Mary Turley-McGrath, will be launched in Coláiste Mhuire, Ballygar, on Friday 5th May at 8 pm.

  Mary is a native of Mount Talbot, and has been involved in poetry events in the Roscommon/ Galway area for many years. Mary Mullins, Roscommon Arts Officer, will introduce the launch on the evening. Arlen House, the Galway based press publishes this third collection.

  The poems range wider than in previous collections, New Grass under Snow and Forget the Lake. They revolve on journeys both real and imaginary, and reflect on the ‘mystery and magic’ of new destinations. The poems explore ‘roots’ as well as ‘routes’, and some are based in the Suck Valley landscape. They celebrate the delights of exploration, ranging from home to homeland, and across the seas to Spain, the Holy Land, and Canada.

  The book has received tributes from Mark Roper and Catherine Phil McCarthy, previous editors of Poetry Ireland Review. A number of poems from the book were broadcast on RTE 1 Sunday Miscellany.

  On the evening, there will also be readings from local writers, and music. Light refreshments will be served. All are welcome.


Golf Classic in aid of Roscommon Cancer Support


Roscommon Cancer Care was established in June 2013 and is affiliated to the Irish Cancer Society. They are a registered charity that provides support to cancer patients and their families, which are having treatment, awaiting treatment or have completed their treatment.

  Through the generosity of the people of Roscommon and its environs, we are able to provide a range of support services to the individuals and their family members. Almost four years on we are delighted to say we are making a difference and helping cancer sufferers on a daily basis. We are entirely funded by donations from the general public and local fundraising.

  Our first fundraising event of 2017 is a Golf Classic on the 5th of May at Roscommon Golf Club, which we are hoping will be an enjoyable day. We are looking for your support. You can enter a team into our golf classic – €120 for teams of four, (any combination of Ladies/Gents) or sponsor a tee/green for €100. Your sponsorship will be recognised at the event on the day as well as on our website and social media. All donations will be gratefully accepted on the day to the charity. 

  Prizes on the day include wine hampers and green fees for a selection of golf courses. Also, be in with the chance of winning 4 Ball green fee voucher to the K Club on the day. The time sheet for the day is on display in the bar at Roscommon Golf Club from Thursday, 13th of April or alternatively call the Golf Club on 090-6626382 to book your place. To sponsor a tee/green call Laura on 087-9334942 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Local Darkness Into Light Walks – raising funds and awareness


The annual Darkness Into Light Walk, held in numerous locations nationwide, is the main fundraiser for Pieta House, the suicide and bereavement charity.

  This unique event begins in darkness at 4.15 am as people walk or run a 5km route while the dawn is breaking.

  This year, walks will be held in a number of towns in Roscommon and East Galway on Saturday, 6th of May.

  In Roscommon town, people as asked to assemble at the Convent Gym for the 5th Roscommon Town Walk.

  Registration is open online now at www.pieta.ie and there will also be registration in Fleming’s SuperValu, Main Street, Roscommon on Saturday, April 29th from 10 am to 6 pm and again in the former Hynes Butchers building (Main Street, Roscommon) on Wednesday, May 3rd and Thursday, May 4th (5 pm to 8 pm).

  If you, or anyone you know needs support with any issue, please contact Pieta House on Freephone 1800 247 247.

Ballygar pre-registration

This year’s Ballygar Darkness Into Light pre-registration will take place on Saturday, 29th of April in Holmes Centra, Ballygar. This will coincide with the Ballygar Annual Bag Pack which will take place on Friday, 28th and Saturday, 29th of April, also in Holmes Centra. 

  This is Ballygar’s fifth Darkness Into Light. Last year, the town raised €24,250 for Pieta House.

Inaugural Walk in Glenamaddy

Glenamaddy is to host its inaugural Darkness Into Light Walk. The launch took place in Glenamaddy Community School recently, where students provided traditional Irish music and the school choir – directed by their teacher Niamh O’Flanagan – sang a number of songs, which mirrored the theme of hope embodied by Darkness Into Light.

  Representatives from local organisations, including Pieta House West, spoke about the importance of raising awareness of mental health issues in communities such as Glenamaddy. Michael Fitzmaurice, TD, complimented the committee on the dedication and determination that they had already shown in getting DIL up and running. Students from Glenamaddy Community School also took the opportunity to present Pieta House with the proceeds from a fundraising CD.

  DIL Glenamaddy Chairperson, Mary Jo Comer, said that she was humbled by the response she had received from the moment the idea had been raised. 

  The walk will commence at Glenamaddy Community School on Saturday, 6th of May.




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