Embrace Northern Ireland’s Giant Spirits

Four new locations added to the Northern Ireland Spirits Trail

Calling all spirit adventurers! The Northern Ireland Spirits Trail & Distillery Passport has been updated with four more distilleries and spirit-led experiences. 

Created by Tourism Northern Ireland, the NI Spirits Trail & Distillery Passport is a collection of 14 unique experiences, where tradition meets innovation, and every sip tells a story of people and place.

With the new additions, there has never been a better (or more exciting time) to visit.  Whether you are a spirit enthusiast or a curious explorer, Tourism Northern Ireland invites you to ignite your sense of adventure and discover what makes each of them so unique.

New highlights include a ‘double’ for Belfast, with the addition of Titanic Distillers, Belfast’s first working whiskey distillery in almost 90 years, which stands at the birthplace of the Titanic, and the captivating return of the iconic brand of McConnell’s, the city’s newest distillery located in the former Crumlin Road Gaol.

For those who want to create their own, one-of-a-kind spirit, make sure to check out the Earheart Gin School at the Walled City Brewery in Derry~Londonderry or discover why Two Stacks are emerging as one of the most innovative blenders of Irish Whiskey in County Down.

Whether it’s uncovering the secrets of small- batch distillation, indulging in a guided tour and tasting of award-winning spirits, or exploring the art of craft cocktail making, each stop promises an unforgettable experience.

NI Spirits Trail & Distillery Passport New Distilleries:


  • Step back in time at Titanic Distillers in Belfast, the city’s first working distillery in almost 90 years. Located at Thompson Dock where the Titanic once stood, it offers a fascinating glimpse into Belfast’s whiskey tradition and its recent revival. Now you can walk in the footsteps of the shipyard workers, the air thick with stories of former glory, and experience the new spirit of Belfast’s famous docklands.


  • McConnell’s Distillery, one of Ireland’s oldest whisky brands, it was born in Belfast in 1776. It has opened the doors of its new home in the landmark setting of the A-Wing of Crumlin Road Gaol. This state-of-the-art distillery and visitor experience hosts guided tours and cocktail masterclasses. Visit the tasting bar and retail offering or relax in its cosy café.


  • Discover the unique story of Two Stacks Irish Whiskey Bonders & Blenders in Newry. Home to ‘Dram in a Can’, a world first; learn about the true art of blending whiskey and enjoy exclusive access to Two Stacks’ ultra-rare casks, extracting and tasting the whiskey yourself.


  • Located at the end of the Peace Bridge, in Ebrington Square, the award-winning Walled City Brewery is housed in a historic military barracks. Their Earhart Gin School offers you the opportunity to craft your own gin. With your own miniature copper still, a wide array of botanicals to choose from, and expert guidance from the distillery team, you’ll embark on an unforgettable gin making adventure.


A key element of the Northern Ireland Spirits Trail is the Distillery Trail Passport. Visit each of the unique experiences, collect a stamp on your passport and receive a special souvenir when you have completed all fourteen locations.


Pick up you Distillery Trail Passport at any of the 14 distilleries or visit NI Spirits Trail | Distillery Passport to plan your next giant adventure.


Please drink responsibly. 

The Countdown is on to Ards International Guitar Festival!

The Ards International Guitar Festival arrives in Newtownards next week with a fantastic line-up celebrating local and international guitar talent. Featuring everything from classical to rock, the programme promises something for every musical taste. Hosted by Ards and North Down Borough Council, the festival runs from Wednesday 17 – Sunday 21 April.

Highlights on this year’s programme include the brilliant Martin Harley who has been making music and touring the world for almost 30 years. His down to earth sound explores roots, blues and slide guitar in a style The Guardian referred to as ‘spellbinding.’ Harley has released nine albums to date, four recorded on home soil and four across the Atlantic, in Texas and Nashville. Martin will take to the stage in The Queen’s Hall, Newtownards on Friday 19 April with support from Matt McGinn and Matt Curran.

One of the UK’s leading classical guitarists Manus Noble, will perform his show ‘A Bard’s Tale’ at Ards Arts Centre on Friday 19 April. Known for his unique sounds, original compositions and varied programmes, Noble has performed at some of the UK’s leading venues such as Wigmore Hall, King’s Hall and Royal Festival Hall. ‘A Bard’s Tale’ takes the audience on a journey across time and continent with music performed on guitar, Irish bouzouki, handspan, shruti box and voice.

The festival is delighted to welcome back previous Lifetime Achievement Award Winner (2017) Sarah McQuaid, whose chocolatey voice combines with her engaging personality, “subtle mastery onstage” (Huffington Post) and “brilliant musicianship” (fRoots). Performing on acoustic and electric guitars, piano and (occasionally) drum, McQuaid’s performances create a truly immersive experience. McQuaid will be appearing at Ards Arts Centre on Sunday 21 April, supported by Martha Greer.

Other highlights of this year’s programme include; the Comedy Classic Soundtracks with Paul McMordie and Bill Campbell, Tony Villiers and The Villains at The Ivy Bar and Pictures in Rock, an exhibition of curated photographs by music photographer Keery Irvine at Ards Arts Centre.

Speaking about the festival, Ards Guitar Festival Director, Emily Crawford commented:

We are tuning up for a fantastic few days of live guitar music in Ards next week. There’s real Blues vibe running through this year’s festival and an opportunity to hear international acts like Martin Harley and Sarah McQuaid right on your doorstep. We have something to appeal to every taste.”

For ticket details or to view the full programme please visit: www.ardsguitarfestival.co.uk  or alternatively call Ards Arts Centre on 028 9181 0803


– Thousands of people expected to descend on Ulster American Folk Park this May  –

Set against the backdrop of Ulster American Folk Park, Bluegrass Omagh is back, and this year’s festival promises an unforgettable weekend of music, culture and history.

Scheduled for the May Bank Holiday weekend 4th to 6th, Bluegrass Omagh honours the enduring legacy of Appalachian settlers who carried their songs and stories across the Atlantic. The vibrant music and culture they left behind is reflected in the event’s programme, with performances from some of the finest bluegrass acts in the world.

From bluegrass and old-time to Americana and country genres, taking to the stage on both dates this year is an impressive array of local and international talent. The line-up includes European bands such as Rookie Riot, American bands such as Nothin’ Fancy and local musicians and songwriters such as I Draw Slow and Pilgrim St.

Now in its 32nd year, Bluegrass Omagh has always aimed to unite thousands of fans from across the world, fostering cultural exchange and community spirit whilst also highlighting the historical significance of Ulster’s connection to America, which the  Ulster American Folk Park is known for.

With accolades from professional Bluegrass associations and a prestigious nomination by the International Bluegrass Music Association for “Bluegrass Event of the Year,” John-Paul Coyle, General Manager at Ulster American Folk Park, discusses why Bluegrass Omagh resonates with audiences far and wide.

He said: “Over the last three decades, this event has become one of the largest bluegrass events outside of North America, welcoming thousands of fans every year. This is because Bluegrass Omagh offers a one-of-a-kind music event for visitors from both home and afar to delve into history and discover the rich heritage connecting Ulster and America through world-class bluegrass music. It’s become a flagship event at the Ulster American Folk Park because we’re a unique location to put on such an event, creating an inclusive and lively atmosphere for everyone while celebrating the shared history and music traditions of the people who emigrated to the heartland of Appalachian America. Whether you’re a history enthusiast, a big music fan, or simply seeking a unique cultural experience and something different for your bank holiday, there is something for everyone at Bluegrass Omagh and we hope to see an even bigger numbers join us for a weekend of fun this year.”

Chris Sexton, speaking on behalf of Nothin’ Fancy, expressed the band’s excitement about being part of the esteemed festival. He said: “It is a delight and an honour to be part of the Omagh festival lineup. We are stoked and ready to bring our music and entertainment to beautiful Northern Ireland, and this is a chance of a lifetime that we will certainly enjoy and remember for years to come.”

Since it began, the Bluegrass Omagh festival has become part of the fabric of Omagh that delivers for the local economy with domestic and international tourists enjoying the town’s hospitality offerings and other tourism hotspots in the region.

Speaking about the Bluegrass Festival, Chair of Fermanagh and Omagh District Council, Councillor Thomas O’Reilly, said: “I am delighted to see the return of the Bluegrass Festival this year.  Over the three decades which the Festival has been taking place, it has evolved to be the biggest Bluegrass Festival outside of America.

“I believe the success of the Festival is due to the unique location of the Ulster American Folk Park and the eclectic mix of local talent and performers from across the Atlantic.

“We are fortunate to have the Ulster American Folk Park in our District as this award-winning attraction and the range of events it hosts are a welcome boost to the local economy, in particular the tourism and hospitality sector.

“I would like to commend National Museums NI and the staff at the Ulster American Folk Park for another excellent programme.  I would encourage everybody to attend to the Festival to enjoy the atmosphere and celebration of music, culture and community.”

Over the bank holiday weekend, festival-goers can also enjoy an array of entertainment alongside warm hospitality, delicious food and traditional craftwork.

As anticipation builds for the event, Kathryn Thomson, Chief Executive at National Museums NI, emphasises the festival’s significance in bridging cultural connections. She said: “Ulster American Folk Park plays a pivotal role in exploring the narratives of Ulster emigration to America in the 18th and 19th centuries, serving as a gateway to understanding the successes endured by those who embarked on the journey across the Atlantic. Bluegrass Omagh stands as a testament to the importance of preserving and promoting cultural traditions through music and community engagement. We look forward to seeing our home-grown talent join their fellow international bluegrass bands come together to share their music.”

Festivities will kick off on May 3rd with a Friday Night Opening Concert at the Strule Arts Centre in Omagh, and finish with a bluegrass-themed Family Day at the Ulster American Folk Park on May 6th.

Festival attendees can access the event via Translink services, with return buses available from Belfast and Derry~Londonderry.

For more information about Bluegrass Omagh and to purchase tickets, visit ulsteramericanfolkpark.org/whats-on/bluegrass-omagh-2024

Green Lane Museum re-opens for new season

Mayor of Causeway Coast and Glens, Councillor Steven Callaghan has re-opened Green Lane Museum in the heart of the Roe Valley Country Park, offering visitors the opportunity to explore 19th and 20th century history relating to rural life in the Roe Valley.

There will be temporary exhibitions and craft demonstrations taking place at selected times throughout the spring and summer seasons.

The facility, which is free to visit, is now open every weekend and Bank Holiday between early April and the end of September.

After a period of closure, the museum reopened in April 2023 with the help of the Roe Vally Ancestral Research volunteers.

Since its reopening last year, the museum has welcomed over 4,000 visitors from across the UK, Republic of Ireland and further afield.

It is open to the public on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays from 11am until 3.30pm.

However, ‘Walk and Talk’ tours can be arranged for schools and other groups outside of these hours via a member of Roe Valley Ancestral Researchers.

Opening the museum, Cllr Callaghan said: “I just want to thank our generous volunteers for sacrificing their time and effort to help the public appreciate all that we have here.

“The Museum closed during COVID, but the collection, which is owned by Council, was looked after by Museum Services throughout this time and the building was maintained by DAERA.”

Cllr Callaghan also praised the team of “dedicated council staff” who look after the collection and maintain its accreditation.

“They have supported the Roe Valley Ancestral Researchers in enabling them to open to the public so thanks them also,” he said.

“The museum has been an important part of our Borough, keeping the memories of the past alive and allowing the younger generations to learn about the old ways of life.”

There are number of events coming up at the museum, including visitor portraits on the early May bank holiday and traditional home skills and dressing up on the late May bank Holiday.

For more information on upcoming events, email museums@causewaycoastandglens.gov.uk  or follow us on Facebook @CausewayCoastandGlensMuseumServices

Ards Arts Centre welcomes Exhibitions by Louise French and Keery Irvine

Part by Part, a solo exhibition by Louise French has opened in the Sunburst Gallery, Ards Arts Centre, Newtownards. Louise French is a recent graduate of Fine Art Painting from the National Art School, Australia and is interested in the life-cycle of objects.

This exhibition presents a series of paintings and assemblages that engage the viewer in the material qualities of the pieces, while they consider present and future artefacts. By using waste materials for assemblages and as a source for painterly interpretations, the exhibition explores the tension between the aesthetic appeal of consumer objects which at the same time are a toxic token of the current environmental crisis.

By dissecting contemporary waste and considering its continued existence hundreds of years from now, Part by Part will act as a marker of time. The exhibition runs until Thursday 23 May.

Pictures in Rock, an exhibition of photography by Keery Irvine opens in Ards Arts Centre’s Georgian Gallery on Wednesday 17 April. The exhibition is part of Ards International Guitar Festival and will feature a curated selection of Keery Irvine’s career highlights. Expect images of local acts, including Guitar Festival headliner Dom Martin and Life-Time Achievement Award winners Ronnie Greer and Pat McManus.

Keery specialises in photographing Blues and rock gigs and festivals and is the official photographer for the Rory Gallery tribute festivals in Ballyshannon, Dublin, Netherlands and Nantwich. Pictures in Rock runs until Saturday 27 April.

Ards Arts Centre is currently temporarily closed for maintenance work but will reopen on Tuesday 16 April. Everyone is welcome to attend a preview event for both exhibitions in the Arts Centre on Thursday 18 April, 7pm – 9pm.


For more information visit; www.andculture.org.uk

10 things to do in Northern Ireland

Here are ten exciting things to do 8-14 April


  1. Brook Hall Estate and Gardens Open Weekend, Derry~Londonderry, County Londonderry, 13-14 April. The 18th century arboretum and gardens at Brook Hall are home to stunning collections of rhododendrons, magnolias and camellias as well as mature collections of conifers and native trees. All proceeds from admissions go to the National Garden Scheme charity.


  1. Lagan Valley Spring Wildflower Walk, Belfast, County Antrim, 13 April. Discover the first flush of flowers adding colour to Minnowburn – lesser celandine, wood sorrel, wood anemone, bluebells, violets and more – and learn about their colourful stories. Watch the woodlands and hedgerows come alive in springtime.


  1. Torchlight Bug Hunt, Holywood, County Down, 11 April. Join conservation officer and insect expert, Joshua Clarke, for a guided torchlight walk around the Ulster Folk Museum. This bug hunt will focus on Harvestmen (also known as Opiliones) – a taxonomic group related to spiders. Learn about these mysterious creatures and the tactics they use to avoid becoming prey. Keep your eyes peeled for other nocturnal invertebrates on this torchlight bug hunt and learn all about ecology and biodiversity on the way!


  1. LELP Beginners Fishing Course, Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, 13 April. On the shores of Fermanagh’s stunning lakelands, reconnect with nature and enjoy a free beginner’s fishing course. Delivered by the Lough Erne Landscape Partnership (LELP), this course is designed to teach basic fishing techniques to budding young anglers aged 8 – 15 years old and will help ensure Lough Erne’s unique natural heritage is protected and cherished by all.


  1. Weave a Willow Garden Obelisk in the Walled Garden, Helen’s Bay, County Down, 13 April. Immerse yourself in the natural beauty of Old Mill House for a relaxed, informal willow weaving workshop with willow artist, Heather Mcdermott, and learn the fundamental skills and techniques required to create a unique willow plant support. These supportive structures are perfect for your garden borders, for climbing roses, clematis, sweet peas or beans. Don’t miss this opportunity to learn a timeless skill.


  1. A Night to Remember at Titanic Belfast, Belfast, County Antrim, 14 April. On the 112th anniversary of the sinking of RMS Titanic embark on a commerative journey of reflection at Titanic Belfast. During this 90 minute experience, guests will be escorted by guides to key points throughout Titanic Belfast, Titanic Hotel Belfast and SS Nomadic where heartfelt stories will be told. Guests are welcome to stay until 23:40 when a candlelighting ceremony will take place on the slipways at the exact time Titanic struck the infamous iceberg.


  1. Wee Birds Art Workshop, Comber, County Down, 14 April. Families will be welcomed to WWT Castle Espie Wetland Centre for this mixed media experience led by Marianne Kennerley from Boom Studios and taught how to create a collage of birds inspired by the wildlife and landscape of Castle Espie.


  1. Torrent Valley Heritage Trail, Donaghmore, County Tyrone, throughout April. Sample the rich history and culture of Torrent Valley. Learn of the area’s brewing history, explore the ruins of Castlecaulfield Castle and discover the story of Sir Toby Caulfield. While exploring, see if you can spot Donaghmore’s famous Old Cross – a 9th century relic from the area’s monastic settlement which lasted from the 6th – 12th


  1. Moneypenny’s Forge and Lockhouse, Portadown, County Armagh, 13-14 April. There is no better place to learn the traditional skills of blacksmithing than at the beautiful, and historic, Moneypenny’s Lock. Make sparks fly at the forge or visit the canal-themed museum in the lockhouse named after the Moneypenny family who looked after the lock from the early 1800s to its closure in the mid 20th


  1. Frock Around The Clock, Belfast, County Antrim, 14 This vintage and handmade fair is back at Belfast Castle! With 36 fabulous stalls featuring some amazing new exhibitors as well as returning favourites, you can expect to find cool collectables, on-trend homewares, beautiful jewellery and much more! You can browse and shop, chat with the exhibitors, walk around Belfast Castle’s beautiful gardens and stop for refreshments in the castle cellars.

For more information on what’s on, or to plan a short break in Northern Ireland, visit discovernorthernireland.com

Jacqueline shares her pick of what’s on this week across NI


‘Life Behind the Light’ – Larne Family History Society Talks Programme.  The Society meets in the Education Room at Larne Museum & Arts Centre.

Find out more HERE


One of the world’s most iconic and longest-running musicals, Les Misérables tells the story of Jean Valjean, a former convict who spends a lifetime seeking redemption. See it live on stage at the Marketplace Theatre.

Find out more HERE


Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered will be performed by soprano Wendy Ferguson and pianist Ruth McGinley, with songs from the golden age of music theatre. Live at The Mac.

Find out more HERE


Wee Birds Art Workshop at WWT Castle Espie Wetland Centre. Part of Experience Ards and North Down 2024. Click here to see the full programme. 


Caritas in Concert. live at the Ardhowen Theatre, Enniskillen.

Find out more HERE


Neil Delamere is back with a brand new show, Neil by Mouth. Roe Valley Arts Centre, Limavady.

Find out more HERE


Hey there future rugby stars and enthusiastic parents! Are you ready to kick off an adventure with RUGBYTOTS in Cookstown?

Find out HERE






Banbridge Woman Melissa Irvine Transforms Personal Care Experience into Social Work Passion

“I think small things can have the biggest impact on people”

For Melissa Irvine, social work has always been a goal. Even when she temporarily took a different path, she knew she wasn’t where she wanted to be.

The 30-year-old from Banbridge knew social work was something she admired following her personal experiences. It was from these that she decided that she wanted to be the person to help people too.

Speaking about where her passion for social work came from, Melissa said: “I had been looking after my grandparents, and I had my granny living at home with me receiving palliative care. I just remember the social worker being there and the difference that she made to those final days for my grandma and for our family.

“I know what that meant to me and so if I could get the chance to reciprocate that for someone else, it would be lovely.”

Melissa knew she wanted to help people, however, when applying for university courses through UCAS, she was put off applying for social work courses as her by teachers who advised her that it was difficult to get a place on the social work degree at the time.

Going down a different path, Melissa began studying psychology at Queen’s University Belfast, but within four months she knew that wasn’t what she wanted. She then went on to do a foundation degree in Early Childhood Studies. After taking a year out to have her son, she completed the course in 2016, but still felt like she wasn’t where she was supposed to be.

“Once I had the degree, I felt unfulfilled. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do, there were no jobs for that foundation level” she explained.

After getting married, buying a house and having her second child, Melissa decided it was time to get back to her original plan.

“I applied for social work at Queen’s and started in September 2020.”

Melissa’s experience with her grandparents sparked her interest in social work and she hoped to work with older people when she qualified.

She explained: “It was an area of my personal life that I had experience in, but not professionally. I wanted to challenge myself. That’s the beauty of social work, the training is generic so you can work in any field when you qualify to find your perfect fit.

“I just thought about older people’s services and how I enjoy that work. Older people have a wealth of knowledge but they can also be vulnerable. My experience and compassion are based around that.”

After taking part in one of the few face-to-face interviews in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Melissa began her course in September at a time when the education system had to make changes to the way students were taught.

“My experience at Queen’s was not how I imagined it at all. But I embraced it, just like everyone else. We had to get on with it and figure it out. I had a baby and a child in P1 at home so I was trying to home school them while also getting my degree. It’s not what I would have wanted” said Melissa.

The main thing that Covid altered for Melissa was her first placement. After being assigned to the South Eastern Trust on the Permanent Placement team, there were a lot of infection control measures that had to be taken in order to get into the care home.

Speaking about her experience, she said: “the first placement was where I learned core skills like the social work process and reflection.

“My second was in my final year. I had to apply for special circumstances because my granny at that point was receiving palliative care. I asked to be placed within half an hour’s travel from home should I need to get to her.”

“Granny fell and broke her hip and although when she came out of hospital we arranged for her to go to a care home, she just wanted to go home. She was deteriorating so much.

I wanted to bring her home to live with me, so I phoned her social worker, Lisa.

“I knew it was a big ask, but I wanted her home for me for Christmas. It meant organising equipment and moving Granny from her house to mine, and all of that on the 23rd of December.

“Lisa got her home to me and two weeks after Christmas, she passed away. She was where she needed to be to let go.

“If it hadn’t been for Lisa and what she did for me, I wouldn’t have had that final time with her. She died surrounding people she loved and where she wanted to be,

“I now work with Lisa every day, and I want to do for other people what she what she did for me. She made me realise how valuable social work is.”

Reflecting on public awareness of social work with older people Melissa thought that more people knew about the role in children’s services. She said: “Older people services are actually carrying some of the highest levels of caseloads in the social work profession. We have an ageing population and there are more and more people needing our services.

“A lot of families don’t know about these services until they have a loved one needing to access support. We’re trying to respond and support people and families who have ever changing needs. There are a lot of demands on services and sometimes people have unrealistic expectations of what we can actually do”.

In terms of advice for others who hope to pursue a career in social work, Melissa said: “The degree gives you training but it felt like a big step up to become a qualified social worker. I think as a social worker there are things that you need to be able to bring to the table that you cannot learn, for example, your values, your empathy.

“Every area of social work is different. You need to believe in yourself. If you don’t have confidence in yourself, in what you’re doing and what you’re saying, then how can you expect other people to have confidence in you?

“The more you put into it, the more you’re going to get out of it. And the more you invest yourself in what you’re doing, the better outcomes you’re going to achieve.”

And when it comes to how difficult the profession is, Melissa explained: “The social work degree is demanding. I think it is that way for a reason.

“You’re being assessed and tested at every juncture to ensure you are going to be able to cope with the pressures, the workload and the pace and the difficulties that you’re going to face in day-to-day practice.

It’s the little unexpected things that make it worth it: “Just seeing people happy, and being able to be that person who can sometimes help them  fulfil their wishes.

“I think sometimes small things can have really big impacts on people.”

For more information on how you can train to be a social worker in Northern Ireland go to https://niscc.info/degree-in-social-work.

From Retail to Social Work: Tandragee Mum Embarks on Journey to Change Lives

“I just want to make a difference to anyone who is struggling”

From a young age Cathy Blevins knew she wanted to become a social worker. In her teenage years she wanted to give back to the community.

However, life got in the way, and Cathy missed out on her opportunity to pursue the career she dreamed of as an 18-year-old.

Now 34, the support worker who currently works for disability charity IncredABLE, she’s finally pursuing her dream.

The Tandragee mother of one 13-year-old is currently studying Social Work at Belfast Metropolitan College*. Although in her younger years she had encountered people who felt they had a negative experience with social workers she is excited about helping to dispel some of the myths around the work carried out by social workers in Northern Ireland.

Cathy, who currently helps families affected by disability, says having the ability to help people is one of the “best feelings” and something she is looking forward to bringing into her career as a social worker.

She said: “The reason I always had an interest in it was because I loved the thought of helping people and making changes for the better.

“When I told people I was applying for social work, they expressed their concerns because of what they thought the profession was about, but I want to prove to them that they’re wrong, I want to show them that social workers are there to help people.”

Despite wanting to enrol in social care when she was 18, Cathy’s life took a different path. She explained that school didn’t work out the way she wanted, she began working in retail and eventually became a mum to her son at 21.

Cathy then chose to put her career ambitions on hold as she wanted to watch her son grow up and be a stay at home mum.

But as her son started to get older Cathy realised it was time to do something for her. The feeling she should be helping people never left her, and three years ago she made the decision to return to her calling.

She explained: “I spent two years doing an access course and then I applied for university. I genuinely didn’t know if I would get in, but then I got the email to say I had been offered a place.

“I was initially in two minds about it because I’m getting married next year and knew this would mean I would have to come out of full-time employment and so I started worrying about how I could afford everything, but I knew I hadn’t just worked the last two years for nothing.”

Despite not having studied for many years, Cathy was able to return to education with few struggles.

“Everyone has been really supportive,” she said, adding: “The biggest challenge is that I live in Tandragee, so to avoid traffic I’m leaving the house before seven in the morning.

“I’ve had a lot of mum guilt that’s led me to question myself. But I know that it’s something that I really want to do and I know it will be worth it.”

While she completes her course, Cathy is also working as a Support Worker and Project Worker for people with learning disabilities and autism. Through this she participates in a number of different programmes.

She said: “We support and empower people by taking them out, we want to give them support while having their own freedom.”

The hands-on experience from her job has helped her in many different elements of the course, Cathy explained: “I have a better insight. In my job, we have reports to write and there’s been people on the course who have no idea how to do all of that yet.”

Describing the course itself, Cathy said it’s important for people to understand what they’re getting into: “There is a huge workload. I completely understand why we have so much to do. You can’t leave things to the last minute.

“The lecturers and tutors have been so brilliant across all my modules and really do make it easier for you.”

In hindsight, by deciding not to continue on her journey into social work when she was 18, it gave Cathy time to grow up and find herself.

She said: “If I had gotten onto the course when I was 18 I definitely would not have dealt the same with it. I wouldn’t have the same maturity. At 18 my heart wouldn’t have been in it the way it is now.

“I had my son when I was 21 and that made me grow up and I’m 34 now and I’ve been in situations where it’s given me a better understanding.”

For Cathy the journey may have taken a while but the satisfaction that she feels when she helps people is the reason that she keeps on going. Although her preference would be mental health, she knows that wherever she ends up, it’ll be for the right reasons.

“I knew whenever I was going into social work that I wanted to be involved with the healthcare side of things. It’s not just the supporting individuals, but we’re also supporting their families,” she said.

“That’s when I started to fall in love with it. When I saw that I was making a difference to not only one person’s life, but to their entire families. It’s just the most rewarding thing.”

Working in social work also comes with a lot of tough moments, something which Cathy is aware of and is ready to tackle.

She said: “There’s obviously some emotionally draining times where you feel that you’re not making progress with someone. A lot of people just tell you to not get attached, but we’re human beings. It does break my heart sometimes.”

Looking at her own life in comparison to some of the things that she experiences in her job makes Cathy feel a huge sense of gratitude and helps get her through rough times.

She added: “I have a 13-year old son and he is completely healthy, so you definitely do realise that people take life for granted sometimes. But, when you’re able to help somebody, or you see progression that someone is making, it just makes you feel so good for them and for yourself.”

Cathy not only is now on her way to becoming fully qualified, but she also already knows what area of social work she would love to work on.

She said, “At the moment, my passion is working with people with mental health issues, probably due to personal reasons. I know that that field is going to be challenging but I just really want to make a difference.

“People don’t understand mental health and there’s a real misunderstanding, so I just want to make a difference to anybody who is struggling.”

When looking to the future Cathy tries to just make it through each stage instead of looking to the end, but one thing she knows for sure is that it will be worth it in the end.

“I know it was the right decision to apply for this course, and I know it will be absolutely worth it”.

For more information on how you can train to be a social worker in Northern Ireland go to https://niscc.info/degree-in-social-work.  

Offers of the week from Discover Northern Ireland

Stormont Hotel, Belfast, County Antrim

  • Whisk yourself away for a sparkling stay at the Stormont Hotel. Along with the perfect night’s sleep, you’ll receive a bottle of Prosecco in your room, and awaken the following morning to a full Irish breakfast. From £180 per room. Visit com for more information.

Bishop’s Gate Hotel, Derry~Londonderry, County Londonderry

  • Enjoy a stay in the heart of the Walled City for a fabulous foodie break! Treat yourself to a complimentary glass of Prosecco on arrival before you explore the unique and vibrant city full of culinary delights. After you finish exploring, tuck into a gourmet three-course dinner. Wake up to a cooked to order Irish Breakfast in the morning. From £175 per night based on two guests sharing. Visit com for more information.

Book in advance to avoid disappointment. Subject to availability.

For more information on what’s on or to plan a short break in Northern Ireland, visit discovernorthernireland.com