The misty Slieve Bloom mountains

Welcome to the first blog post of 2017. This was intended as the last blog of 2016 but the revelries of Christmas did get in the way a little! I had a great time over the holidays and I hope 2017 is a great year for everyone, full of promise and prosperity! 

My last wedding of 2016 on the 28th of December was all the way down in the Southwest of our beautiful little country in the most Southwesterly town in Europe - Cahersiveen. It's a stop along the famed Ring of Kerry. It's a beautiful rugged area filled with eye dropping wild Atlantic scenery. The Skellig Islands and Vanentia Island are only a short hop further down the road. Unfortunately I didn't have time to check them out this time. They'll have to wait for now!

 Cahersiveen, Co Kerry.

Cahersiveen, Co Kerry.

Congratulations to Louise and Alan who tied the knot in the beautiful Foilmore Church (Pictured below) just outside of Cahersiveen. After the ceremony and a few pictures we traveled on to one of my favorite wedding reception venues - Ballygarry House in Tralee. The staff there are just the soundest bunch around. I couldn't recommend the place highly enough. I also had the pleasure of working with a great photographer and all round gentleman John Beasley. We had a good chat about music and surfing (not that I know much about it!) and much more over the course of the day.

 Foilmore Church, Cahersiveen.

Foilmore Church, Cahersiveen.

It's a long drive back to Dublin from Tralee so I decided to stay the night in County Limerick. Before I set out on the way home the following day I scanned the map for something interesting to check out along the drive home. The midlands of Ireland which I would pass through is a distinctly flat area with a lot of bog and little elevation. I was pining for a bit of the mountainous glories of the ring of Kerry scenery so I spotted the Slieve Bloom mountains not too far off my course back to Dublin. It would be an hour and half or so of extra driving but I had some time to kill.

I took a detour off the motorway and on to the first stop which was the sleepy little village of Kinnitty in Co. Offaly (pictured below). Probably best known for it's famous wedding venue Kinnitty Castle where I have shot many a wedding (Including this lovely one).

 Kinnitty, Co Offaly.

Kinnitty, Co Offaly.

From Kinnitty I followed the R440 road heading east rising gently up over the mountains with the ultimate destination being Mountrath in Co Laois some 24km of undulating roadway ahead.

 The R440 (bottom middle) with the village of Kinnitty in the background

The R440 (bottom middle) with the village of Kinnitty in the background

 The gentle gradients of the R440.

The gentle gradients of the R440.

The Slieve Bloom mountains, along with the Massif Central in France, are the oldest mountains in Europe; they were once also the highest at 3,700m apparently! Weathering has reduced them to a more managable 527m. On a clear day it is said that one can see the high points of the four ancient provinces of Ireland. They are best described as gentle hills with a mixture of terrain which varies from woodland to blanket bog. The first section is a little reminiscent of taking a drive through the Shire (If they had roads in the Shire!)

 The mixture of scenery along the R440

The mixture of scenery along the R440

There are numerous picnic spots, pull in points, forest walks and wild and managed forests.

 An old stone fireplace and picnic spot along the R440

An old stone fireplace and picnic spot along the R440

 Glenregan forest recreation area

Glenregan forest recreation area

As the road approaches the highest point the scenery is dominated by the blanket bog of the Slieve Bloom nature reserve. This high point also marks the boundaries of counties Offaly and Laois. At over 2,300 hectares it's Ireland's largest state owned nature reserve.  It was set up ensure the conservation of the mountainous blanket bog ecosystem. One of it's resident's is the hen harrier, a rare bird of prey - I didn't see any. Maybe they were all nesting up on the giant mobile phone towers which sit smack in the middle of the reserve. (You can see these pictured below in the top left corner of image)

 The top of the mountain with the Slieve Bloom nature reserve in the distance.

The top of the mountain with the Slieve Bloom nature reserve in the distance.

 The Offaly - Laois border

The Offaly - Laois border

All the aerial shots were taken on my trusty Phantom 4 Drone. It's just made from terrain like this. I have to confess I was pretty lazy I didn't stray more than 50 feet from my car to take the photos. The drone however lets me soar down into the valleys and up over the hills and obtain vistas of the landscape that were previously impossible to capture. Here's me taking a picture of myself taking a selfie on the drone.

 The Phantom 4 - It rocks!

The Phantom 4 - It rocks!

The mist and cloud rolled in as I crossed the highest point on the road and over to the Laois side of the mountains obscuring the view somewhat on the way down. There were still some lovely forest walks and more Shire like landscapes to take in before descending back down to ground level and to the flat plains of the midlands.

 The Laois side of the R440

The Laois side of the R440

 An old farmhouse on the Laois side of the R440

An old farmhouse on the Laois side of the R440

The Last couple of kilometres into Mountrath and back toward the motorway are decided flat and very midlandsy (I just made up that word). The town of Mountrath seems to have suffered the fate of many other midlands towns. The good times have long passed it by and boarded up shops and houses and the deserted streets are testament to it's slow passage into being yet another midlands ghost town. Sad to see really but at least it looks good from the air. Doesn't everything look great from up in the air.

 Mountrath, Co Laois.

Mountrath, Co Laois.

I also made a little film of the Slieve Bloom drive and you can check it here.