Free Family-Friendly Events this Sunday National Trails Day 2011

Now in it’s forth year, National Trails Day takes place on Sunday 2nd October and with over fifty free family-friendly activity events on offer on local trails throughout Northern Ireland, National Trails Day 2011 is set to be bigger than ever.

Aideen Exley from the Countryside Access and Activities Network (CAAN) explains, “National Trails Day is all about getting people outdoors and discovering the wealth of opportunities available to us on our local trails. These could be nature-themed scavenger hunts, ‘have a go’ canoeing trips, off-road cycling trail rides or horse-riding trails. We want to showcase the wide variety of trails we have on offer to us all here in Northern Ireland and hope to do this with a whole host of exciting and informative free events this Sunday.”

These free events include a unique opportunity to get up close and personal with the much loved red squirrels in Glenariff and Gortin Glen Forest Parks or join expert guides from the RSPB to catch a glimpse of some unique birdlife on trails in Tollymore Forest Park.

For those after a little bit more adventure, there are no less than nine guided canoeing trips on a variety of Northern Ireland’s renowned canoe trails. These family-friendly canoe trips will teach you the basics of canoeing and allow you to explore the nooks and crannies of Lough Erne, the River Foyle and River Lagan to name just a few waterways open for exploration.

Aideen continues, “All events on offer this National Trails Day will be guided by local experts and completely free of charge with all safety gear and equipment rental included. The National Trust and Forest Service are also waiving park entrance fees to those taking part in National Trails Day events meaning that those who wish to get involved will not have to spend a penny.”

As well as providing a unique opportunity for us all to try our hands a new activities, National Trails Day is also about highlighting the great work of organisations which develop and maintain our trails and aims to educate trail users on ongoing sustainability issues.

Kathleen Conlon from the Department of Culture Arts and Leisure, comments “We are incredibly fortunate to have such a wonderful variety of trails in Northern Ireland and we want to use National Trails Day to celebrate these trails. We hope that families across Northern Ireland will take this great opportunity to enjoy these trails as well as learn about the history of their local area and how we can all conserve these great resources for future generations.”

National Trails Day has been funded by Waterways Ireland, the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, SportNI and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board with support from the Northern Ireland Forest Service, British Horse Society and the National Trust. There is a full list of all the free events taking place on and places will be allocated on a first come, first served basis.

NI firms can highlight successes in major all-island awards scheme Ulster Bank Launches 18th annual ‘Ulster Bank Business Achievers Awards’

Northern Ireland companies are being invited to enter the annual ‘Ulster Bank Business Achievers Awards’ which recognise business success, irrespective of offering, size, sector or location across the island of Ireland. The awards, now in their 18th year, are in association with Invest Northern Ireland, Enterprise Ireland and InterTradeIreland.

Ian Jordan, right, Ulster Bank’s Head of Business and Commercial Banking, Northern Ireland, gets the Ulster Bank Business Achievers Awards 2011 underway with Donal Durkan, Director, Life Sciences & Creative at Invest Northern Ireland.

Throughout each stage of the competition, companies will be judged on a variety of merits including financial performance, company milestones and achievements, future strategy for the business and development of innovative products and services.

Entries for the 2011 awards are open to businesses across all sectors and businesses can enter themselves in up to two of eight categories:

  1. Innovation & Emerging Technology Award *
  2. International Business Award
  3. Social Entrepreneurship Award
  4. Best Business Start-up Award *
  5. Family Run Business Award
  6. Green Business Award
  7. Agriculture, Food & Drink Award
  8. Service Business Award

*Businesses started in 2009, 2010 and 2011 only are eligible for these categories

Following an initial judging process at the preliminary stage of the awards, competing businesses will be shortlisted for provincial awards. Provincial award winners will then go on to compete in their respective categories at an all-island awards ceremony in 2012 where one category winner will also be crowned overall ‘Ulster Bank Business Achiever 2011’. Entries will close on Wednesday, 30th November, and the Provincial Award Winners will be announced at award ceremonies in January and February 2012.

Provincial and category winners will receive a specially commissioned award, PR opportunities, entry into the all-island awards and a dedicated profile page on the Ulster Bank Business Achievers Awards website.

Over 400 businesses, North and South, entered last year’s awards, where Belfast based scientific digital camera company, Andor Technology, was awarded the ‘International Business Award’ and crowned ‘Ulster Bank Business Achiever 2010’. North West business BubbleBum won the all-island Start-Up Business Category.

Speaking at the launch of the 2011 awards, Ian Jordan, Head of Business and Commercial Banking Northern Ireland, Ulster Bank said, “The awards received a record number of entries last year, including very strong entry levels in Northern Ireland, and highlighted some incredibly strong examples of business success in a difficult environment. The success of local businesses Andor and BubbleBum on the all-island stage will hopefully inspire even more Northern Ireland companies to enter this year to take the opportunity to highlight their good work and accomplishments.”

Donal Durkan, Director at Invest NI, said:  “The economic environment remains challenging so it is vital that local companies focus on export development and commercial creativity to achieve effective growth.  These awards are an opportunity to recognise the Northern Ireland firms that are working hard to boost their competitiveness and provide a platform for thriving businesses to promote their continued success.”

The 2011 Ulster Bank Business Achiever will receive a comprehensive prize package including an Executive Education programme at Harvard University Business School and a one year membership of the Institute of Directors.

For further information and to enter your business in the 2011 Ulster Bank Business Achievers Awards, go to Terms and conditions apply.

Echo Echo Dance tour a fantastical family show this autumn…

The wacky and wonderful children’s dance theatre show Undercurrent is coming to a venue near you this autumn to delight local children with fairytales, superheroes and blue monsters.

Created and performed by Echo Echo Dance Theatre Company, known as Northern Ireland’s leading dance company, the show will tour the province in October and November to Belfast, Derry, Omagh, Letterkenny, Donaghmore, Limavady, Newtownabbey and Downpatrick.

Undercurrent is aimed at primary-aged children and families and was the brainchild of Associate Artistic Director of Echo Echo, Ayesha Mailey. She was inspired by all the superhero greats, comic book vocabulary and Grimm fairytales.

The show has previously been performed at the Hidden Treasures Children’s Festival in Derry, the Pick N Mix Festival in Belfast and Imaginosity Children’s Museum in Dublin.

Jane Coyle from Culture Northern Ireland described Undercurrent as:

“A colourful piece that invites children and their parents or adult companions into a madcap world of fairytales and nursery rhymes, inhabited by strange creatures and colourful toys. The company takes delight in breaking the rules and having a laugh and the joy on the emerging audience’s faces after the production speaks volumes for what they have just experienced.”

Having been performed for hundreds of children and adults alike, Echo Echo hopes that Undercurrent will tickle local audiences pink with its playful movement, imagination and illusion.

Echo Echo’s Development Officer, Sarah Bryden said:

“Echo Echo is incredibly excited about performing Undercurrent at eight different venues across Northern Ireland. This tour is one of the company’s biggest since 2007 so the dancers have been in intensive rehearsals since early September to ensure that audiences get a fantastic show.”

Echo Echo Dance Theatre Company is based in Derry-Londonderry and regularly produces and tours internationally with original new performance work for an ensemble of local and international dancers. The company also has a strong commitment to developing dance as an accessible art form maintaining a busy dance education and outreach programme for people of all ages and abilities.

For full details of the Undercurrent performances and associated venue workshops, visit

Echo Echo is supported by The Arts Council of Northern Ireland.



Pictured launching the Guinness Arthur’s Day countdown is John Fitzsimons, CEO Camara Ireland, beneficiary of the Arthur Guinness Fund and Leinster Rugby star Shane Horgan.

With only days to go, millions of people around the world are preparing to join in the Arthur’s Day™ celebrations which will commence at exactly 17:59 on Thursday, 22nd September!

Across the island of Ireland, the celebrations have grown to include ticket events in four hub cities, including Belfast, Cork, Limerick and Dublin, whilst celebrations will also take place in over 1,500 pubs.

At 17:59 around the world, countries including Italy, Germany, Spain, Caribbean nations, Malaysia, Indonesia, Australia, Singapore and South Korea will all join in the celebration.

Orla Flanagan, Senior Brand Manager, Guinness® commented: ‘Arthur’s Day is a truly global celebration. The eyes of the world will be on Ireland at 17:59 as it kicks off the festivities, which this year takes place in 40 countries and for the first time Belfast will be at the heart of the celebrations. Renowned artists such as Kelis, Horslips, The Enemy and DJ Fresh as well as home grown talent, Ash and Cashier No.9 will come together to perform in the intimate surroundings of a local pub and raise a toast to Arthur in front of packed audiences.

There are a limited number of tickets left for The Ulster Hall and pub venues around the city. The big question on everyone’s lips on the night will be, “where will the studio acts turn up to perform in the official Arthur’s Day pubs?”  One thing’s for sure, good things come to those who wait!’

All ticket proceeds from Arthur’s Day directly benefits the Arthur Guinness Fund™, which identifies and supports social entrepreneurs aiming to make positive changes in their communities. To date, twenty social entrepreneurs on the Island of Ireland have received funding from the Arthur Guinness Fund with a total of €1.65 million distributed since 2010.

Arthur was the original philanthropist and to continue his legacy, a further €500,000 could potentially be donated by Guinness to the Arthur Guinness Fund on Arthur’s Day, with the help of Guinness fans who will be celebrating on the day.

Guinness fans with smart phones are invited to ‘Check-In’ via Facebook whilst in the pub on Arthur’s Day. For every ‘Check-In’ to a pub via Facebook places, Guinness will donate £5 to the Arthur Guinness Fund up to a maximum of €500,000! Check out for full details.

Tickets can be purchased from Ticketmaster until 4pm on Wednesday, 21st September.

Something Old… or Something New?

Local baker Jeannie Johnston shows off some of her more unusual creations for weddings in preparation for the Quirky Weddings Alternative Wedding Fair.

Jeannie Johnston, of J Bird Bakery on Bloomfield Avenue takes a break from baking to prepare for the Quirky Weddings Alternative Wedding Fair. The event takes place in the Crescent Arts Centre on Sunday 9 October from 1pm-5pm

“I love working with couples who want something different for their wedding cake” explains Jeannie.
“ More and more couples want to really inject their personality into their day and not just stick to the traditional fruit cake with white icing. It’s great to get a chance to come up with something really special and unique. I recently made a wedding cake with mathematical symbols on it for a couple who were both maths teachers! I’m looking forward to meeting more creative couples at the fair”

Quirky Weddings, the brainchild of two local entrepreneurs, Cate Conway and Saima Akram, is the first of its kind in Northern Ireland to offer “couples to be” an eclectic mix of unusual yet remarkable ideas to help in the all important Wedding Day preparations.

Changing tastes, styles and trends have sparked a revolution in the wedding industry with more and more people looking for alternatives to the traditional approach. The Alternative Wedding Fair organised by Quirky Weddings, takes place on Sunday 9 October at the Crescent Arts Centre on University Road in Belfast.

Co-Founder Saima Akram explains  “To add to our alternative approach we have launched a wedding listings site with a difference. Our Facebook page is growing in popularity daily. It’s become the go-to page for couples trying to source something out of the ordinary. Couples can expect to see some very unusual offerings at the fair. It’s perfect for anyone looking for something that little bit different…or completely different!”

A taste of paradise on our doorstep…

When I was invited to sample the delights of the Lough Erne Resort with a guest a few weeks ago I jumped at the chance as Fermanagh is not an area I am overly familiar with and having a busy job & three children – my husband and I rarely get the chance to spend quality time together.  We arrived at Lough Erne Resort at approx 3pm on Friday afternoon – full of anticipation of what the next 24 hrs had in store and we were not going to be disappointed.

A lovely warm Fermanagh welcome awaited us at check in from Nichola and  Sinead Maguire who gave us a quick tour of the hotel.  “Gordon the Golfer”  took us and our small bag (we travel light!) to room 221 while filling us in on a brief history of Lough Erne resort and going to great lengths to point out every facility in the room.  The room…what can I say – opulent, luxurious, comfortable, well appointed with a view of the lake as promised, tastefully decorated with all the standards you would expect from a 5 star room and then some.

My first impression of the resort was “over delivery” – just the way I like to run my own business…… “under promise and over deliver”.   We took some time to  take in the “Room with a View” (not a hint of Julian Sands in sight though!)  before making our way to the Thai Spa via the private stair case (purpose built for guests to make their way to and from the spa without having to navigate through the main hotel area).  We were greeted with grace and warmth and invited to make use of the Thermal Suite  (Infinity Pool, sauna and steam rooms) which overlooks Castle Hume Lough and the 18th green of the Faldo Couse.

After a swim in the 14 m pool and a spell in the steam room we were guided to the pre- treatment Sabi Sabi Area, (Health and Happiness) for a taste of  Thailand with an exotic fruit juice of the day (coconut, pineapple and banana) before our treatment.  We were called by name at 4pm by our respective  therapists ( mine was Lek ) and led down a long hall which transported us to the far east for a completely unique experience.

My husband had opted for a traditional Thai massage which he would later find out was a brave choice for a newbie – described in the brochure as  “Exotic and unique this is the ultimate sublime body workout. Using techniques passed down though generations, this treatment is a blend of deep tissue massage using pressure points and stretching techniques. Traditional Thai Massage releases tension, increases vitality and flexibility and synchronizes the mind, body and spirit, and he certainly got a work out but thoroughly enjoyed it.   I had selected the Relaxing Aroma “Indulgence Abandon your body to a state of deep relaxation. Lemongrass melts away tension while orange calms busy minds. Enjoy a moment of serenity unwind and exhale.” An hour of indulgence…

Both treatments followed a foot bath and personally speaking was probably one of the most sublime 60 minutes I have ever spent.  Thank you to my thai massage therapist Lek who was most considerate asking me if the pressure was ok for me and made me feel very comfortable during the treatment after which we were  led to the Lap Sabai, meaning ‘deep sleep’ area and offered  an infused herbal tea, fresh fruit and advised to drink water.

The Thai Spa brings the only wholly Thai Spa experience to Ireland and the UK withThai treatments, by Thai therapists who originate from and are expertly trained in Thailand, using Traditional Thai Therapies and Thai-made Ytsara products. Ytsara is a range of Thai products and experiences which offer a unique approach to age-old Asian holistic practices for use in the modern spa.

The Lap Sabai at the Thai Spa, Lough Erne Resort, meaning 'deep sleep' area. Contact The Thai Spa Reception to Book your Thai Spa Experience Today Tel: +44 (0)28 6634 5728

We spent some time relaxing here before returning to the pool area for a quick jaccuzi before returning to our room to get ready for dinner….

Telfords Pork Plate – Braised Cheeks – Confit Belly – Roast Fillet Creamed Potato – Pickled Cabbage – Apple Sauce : from Noel McMeel's menu at the Catalina Restaurant.

We managed a quick drink at  the Blaney Bar before being greeted by the lovely Clare who showed us to our table, at the window in the Catalina Restaurant, where Anna introduced herself , presented us with menus and told us the special main course of the evening. The Catalina is headed up by award winning Noel McMeel, recently voted ‘Best Chef’ (Ulster),  at the Santa Rita/Sunday Independent Irish Restaurant Awards 2011.   Now, trust me, I am no culinary expert that’s for sure but my parting comment to Clare as we left was “I think I can safely say that’s the best meal we have ever had” and that’s an understatement! With freshly baked soda bread (from a choice of three breads) which was just bread to die for, a pre starter, starter, main course and desert – each course was more than worthy of the two AA Rosettes for culinary excellence so proudly displayed comprising fresh, local produce.

I had the chicken while my husband had the pork – see the menu we had to chose from HERE.  We were offered more potatoes and vegetables (served in mini copper saucepans) but quite frankly that would just have been greedy! The portions served were more than enough.  For desert I had the Chocolate and Nigel went for the Strawberry – see the full desert menu HERE which was just heavenly. In fact we couldn’t speak after it – and for anyone who knows me that’s no mean feat ..

The Catalina Restaurant is open Daily for Dinner 6.30pm to 10pm and for Lunch on Sundays from 1.00pm to 2.30pm.The Catalina Restaurant's Signature Dish is 'The Lough Erne Mixed Grill'

I am a stickler for customer service no matter what the business. In a previous incarnation of me I worked for Gulf Air for 3 years and was lucky enough to fly to approx 40 -50 cities from Euope and Africa, across the middle and Far East and as far as Australia.  I have stayed in some amazing hotels – luckily good old Gulf Air did not scrimp on our accommodation and can safely say that the Lough Erne resort is world class.  Nothing is left to chance – every detail taken care of. From checking in when Nichola noticed my husband carrying my laptop for me (thanks Nigel!) and offered me a wifi voucher for the duration of our stay – to check out.

And how pleasant on returning to our room from dinner to find our rooms tidied and the bed turned down for the evening and to top it all off there was a firework display over the lake later that night thanks to the wedding party  – for details on wedding packages see – the only venue where you can arrive by seaplane!!

The last line in the Resort Room Guide is “enjoy both a pleasurable and memorable stay” – we did. The location is breathtaking, service outstanding , facilities amazing. You will not be disappointed.

I would like to thank Lough Erne Resort and their superb level of professionalism and service and for making our stay one that we will certainly never forget.

Highlight of the weekend – seeing my husband’s face when the waiter (Ryan you wee legend) saying he would be back to “decrumb” the table.

To find out more go to .  See the Thai Spa Brochure HERE. Click HERE for current special offers including Thursdays at Lough Erne and Spa September.

Further tickets released for free Snow Patrol show at the Ulster Hall!

As part of the Good Vibrations film, Snow Patrol are playing a free, acoustic set at the Ulster Hall and a limited number of tickets have been made available on the door. The audience will be filmed as extras in the Northern Irish film before being treated to a special performance from Gary Lightbody and Nathan Connolly.

Tickets for this show were snapped up in a matter of hours but we have some additional tickets to give away to any fans who missed out!

Remember this is a gig of two parts- you will be filmed as an extra as you watch actors fill the parts of Rudi and The Outcasts for the film Good Vibrations- the story of Terri Hooley. Then Nathan and Gary will close the evening with some of your favourite Snow Patrol tracks as well as some tasters for the new album ‘Fallen Empires’

This is a unique opportunity for the lucky entrants to hear these songs in the iconic setting of the Ulster Hall.

To be in with a chance of taking part in the filming and show, people should show up when doors open at 6.30pm. The doors will close at 7pm for filming. It is expected that there will be an extremely high demand for these tickets so organisers advise that you arrive early!

After a great 2 years of festival fun, the 3rd Annual Yellow Fever Independent Film Festival has arrived!

Full schedule available here:

Weekend of International Films – Zombie-Aid Charity Walk – Premiere of BOTB: Directors Cut – LicX Live on Stage – Rockband Challenge – Special Guest Mike Leeder – Award Ceremony – Premiere of The Last Light – Movie Star Ball -… Competitions and Prizes – and Much, Much, More!!!

And this time we are going to town – or coming to town rather, as we move location and dates for an all new, all better event! Taking place at the fantastic BLACK BOX at the Cathedral Quarter, Belfast, guests will now be able to access the festival a lot easier and have many other needs close by…

Tickets are available at the door. Festival begins Friday 16th at 5pm until Sunday 18th at midnight. Don’t miss the action packed film event of the year!

City Hall Big Screen to show Proms in the Park

FOR those unable to get tickets for the BBC’s Proms in the Park event at Castle Park in Bangor this Saturday night, the event will be shown on the Live Screen in the grounds of Belfast City Hall.

As well as live coverage from Bangor, there will be link ups to London’s Royal Albert Hall and the world famous Last Night of the Proms.

With the event running from 8pm to 10 45pm, it is expected that the public will congregate on the front lawn of City Hall from around 7pm. A picnic area on the East Lawn will have food stalls offering a selection of choices to ensure a real sense of occasion.

Popular soprano Lesley Garrett and Belfast-born pianist Barry Douglas will be featured on screen alongside internationally acclaimed Australian guitarist Craig Ogden, multi-talented singer/songwriter Declan O’Rourke and other well known names in classical and contemporary music.

This weekend’s Proms coverage will be one of many live screenings in the run up to the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. The Ireland versus Australia Rugby World Cup game will be screened at 9 30am on Saturday 17 September with the Rugby World Cup Final being screened from 9am on Sunday 23 October.
Belfast is one of 21 Live Sites operating at locations across the UK. It has been erected and is run in partnership between the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG), the BBC and various Live Site venues, in association with London 2012 partners BT and Lloyds TSB, supporter Cisco and the National Lottery through the Olympic Lottery Distributor.

The Belfast Live Site screen is assisted locally by Belfast City Council, the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure and the Department for Social Development.
No tickets are required for Saturday’s screening and entry is free.

You can view a schedule of events and live screenings at


More than 1,000 Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queen’s tickets worth £25,000 are being made available to community groups throughout Northern Ireland through the Ulster Bank Community Tickets scheme.

Richard Donnan, Chief Executive, Retail Markets Ulster Bank and Seana Skeffington, Marketing Manager, Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queen’s is joined by Aoife Loughlin from Opportunity Youth, to launch a major initiative designed to give community groups and charities across Northern Ireland the chance to get on-the-house tickets to some of the top shows featuring at this year’s Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queen’s, including the opening concert.
Groups and charities are being encouraged to register their interest in securing on-the-house tickets via the website. Tickets are being made available to some of the best acts in this year’s festival including the opening concert featuring Joanna McGregor, Le Mystere Des Voix Bulgares, Irish Sea Sessions, Shlomo, Woyzeck on the Highveld, and Animals and Children took to the Streets.

Over the three years of the scheme Ulster Bank will have made tickets worth a staggering £75,000 accessible to community groups throughout Northern Ireland.

Richard Donnan, Chief Executive of Ulster Bank, Retail Markets, says the scheme has proven to be hugely popular.

“Ulster Bank is playing a vital role in making the arts accessible to all,” he says. “An event featuring plays and concerts of international class should be available to everyone. People and community groups throughout Northern Ireland who may not usually have the opportunity to experience visual arts performances or live theatre will now get the chance through the 1,100 tickets we are offering.”

Festival marketing manager Seana Skeffington says the arts are an essential part of life.

“Anything which helps bring the arts in all it forms to people who might not have easy access to them is very welcome. We are delighted this scheme is back this year and look forward to greeting over a thousand more festival goers in addition to the 50,000 expected,” says Ms Skeffington.

To register your interest log on to Tickets will be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis. Transport may be provided to and from the venue for those successful applicants who live outside a 20 mile radius of Belfast city centre.