Tag Archives: Northern Ireland

Dizzy New Heights – Facing My Fear

16 Jan

There are relatively few things I’m afraid of. But heights are one of them.

I’m not really sure when, or why it started; I’m a fairly rational person but this is one of my quirks. Considering I’m 5ft ‘11 and routinely wear five inch heels, it probably seems a bit daft but quite frankly, I’m terrified of heights.

I said at the outset that this blog, and the challenges I take on for it, would often take me out of my comfort zone. I’ve no doubt that this particular task will do just that.

On Sunday 5th February, just a few weeks from now, I will attempt to complete a charity abseil. I honestly never thought I would do something like this. In fact, I could hardly think of a worse way to spend a Sunday. Or any day.

Towards the end of last year, we started working with sports charity, Special Olympics Ulster at MCE. During one of our first PR meetings, their fundraising manager told me they were organising an abseil off Victoria Square (also a client of ours). It was a strange and somewhat surreal moment, because without even being asked, I volunteered myself to take part.

I’d just started this blog, so finding challenges to task myself with was admittedly on my mind , but I think subconsciously I knew this was a fear I have to face head on. Still, I waked away from that meeting feeling a little sick at the thought of it; even writing about this now, I’m getting a little jittery.

I am scared but the money I raise will go to a great cause. I can genuinely say that Special Olympics Ulster makes a difference to the lives of people with intellectual disabilities here in Northern Ireland. During the last few months, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting several athletes that have blossomed through the chance to compete in Special Olympics sports competitions at local, national and international levels. Their achievements, against all the odds, are a continual reminder to me that anything is possible, if you put your mind to it.

Plus, I figure that if I’m ever going to do something like this, having the added pressure of not embarrassing myself very publicly in front of two clients might just be enough to help me face my fear.

Wish me luck, just don’t tell me to ‘break a leg’…

P.S. If anyone reading this would like to make a donation, however small, I would be extremely grateful. I’ve set up a Fundraising page on the Special Olympics Ulster website and you can donate securely here – http://fundraising.specialolympics.ie/fundraisingpage.aspx?uid=444&eid=528 Thank You!


The Glenmen – In a League of Their Own

13 Dec

Glentoran F.C.

Image via Wikipedia

My last post said that on Saturday past I was embarking on the third of my 29 Lives as a DJ. Scrap that. It will happen but not just yet.

So, when my schedule changed at the last minute, I decided to take on another challenge – to live in the shoes of a Glentoran fan, and take a trip with long-suffering Glenman, DJ and twitter aficionado, Rigsy to their home ground, The Oval.

Some of you might think this isn’t really a challenge. I beg to differ. I’m not a sports fan and I have a fairly long and protracted disaffection with football. It stems from two men in my life being extremely impatient with me and obsessive about the game. Firstly, my dad just didn’t have the will or want to explain how the game worked to my brother and I as kids. Secondly, my first boyfriend – a Reading fan – dragged me kicking and screaming to every game, home and away, back when Reading were a lot worse than they are now. It was enough to put me off for life. Until now.

My Saturday morning had been spent getting my much-needed pre-Christmas hair do done, plus a little Christmas shopping. So, in my skinny jeans, leopard print dress, boots and freshly coiffed hair, I was unexpectedly off for my first experience of Irish League football. (Rigsy: “It’s not often you hear the sound of heels walking into the Oval.”)


I could have picked a better day, a better time of year, or, in fairness, a better year to spend an afternoon in the shoes of a Glentoran fan.

Things are fairly despondent in the Glens camp at the moment. Not long ago the East Belfast club narrowly escaped going bust following a vital cash injection from a mystery benefactor, and they’ve had a bad start to the season with a run of really bad results that have further dampened spirits. This, Rigsy explained, whilst talking at warp speed on the drive over to The Oval, has left a bitter taste in the mouth of even the most faithful fans and attendances have plummeted.

Playing Portadown – who aside from Linfield are one of Glentoran’s biggest rivals – can often be a highly charged affair, at home and away. Rigsy recounted recent clashes where there have been post-game riots and fireworks thrown onto the pitch. There was no such furore on Saturday. Several police landrovers were positioned on the grounds but aside from the burger vans’ crimes against food, they had little to worry about.

In the first half, we sat in the stand – Rigsy updating the official @Glentoran twitter account with match updates (of which there weren’t many) and me trying to follow what was happening without asking too many annoying questions, and perving on the players in the programme – the very impressive Glentoran Gazette.

With the score still a fruitless 0-0, just before half time we made a dash for the aforementioned burger van – I’d been told via twitter that I couldn’t leave the Oval without sampling one of the burgers. There literally are no words to describe the experience – I honestly don’t think I’ll ever forget that acrid greasy taste. Never again.

My tastebuds were not ready for this.

My mood was somewhat lifted meeting a few of Rigsy’s fellow Glens fans at half time, including Sam Robinson – a fourth generation supporter and the brains behind the excellent Glentoran Gazette. What, I asked him, brings him here week in, week out, in freezing temperatures to watch his team? “It’s in my blood,” was his reply. His grandfather was around when The Oval was bombed in the Second World War; East Belfast born and bred, he grew up streets away from the famed Glens ground and this is just what he does, every game, come rain, or shine. You’ve got to admire that commitment.

Me and Sam

Rigsy live-tweeting at the match.

After a quick trip to the club room for a warming cuppa and Christmas cake, where I got the chance to see some quirky memorabilia including a picture of the late George Best back when he played for Glentoran in the club’s centenary match against Man United, and this gem of a Titanic themed picture, we stopped into the bar for a nosey.


Some people pay their £10 in and watch the match in here. It seems a bit odd, but, in hindsight, after losing the feeling in my big toe to a near case of frostbite in the second half, I’m beginning to understand the rationale. When my cousins brought me along to Croke Park to watch Clare in the All-Ireland hurling final as a kid, there was a running joke that the Tipperary fans lunched on ham sandwiches on Hill 16. In the warmth, comfort and comradery of the supporters’ bar, a group of about eight Glentoran men were feasting on a picnic of cheese, tapenade, olives and sun blushed tomatoes – they clearly have more refined tastes.

Rejoining Sam et al back on the terrace, we spent the second half with the sight of snow on top of the mountains on the horizon just adding to the feeling that you were about to contract hyperthermia.

The match continued in much the same vein as the first half with no score in sight. Perhaps it was the cold sending me into a near comatose state but I felt myself losing concentration, brought back only by the banter from the boys, which included random chats about Weight Watchers success, my blog challenges, Rigsy’s attempts to single-handedly increase attendances, family and music – anything other than the dire game that was playing out before us.

Then Portadown scored. And with just minutes to go, they scored again. It was a good day for Portadown, beating their rivals 2-0 on their own turf, particularly given the day marked their manager’s 25th year with the club.

It was not such a good day for Glentoran. The frustration was palpable as fans started to leave before the match finished, shouting expletives at manager Scott Young as they made their way out. But even their cries were half-hearted – they’ve lost the will to even hurl abuse.

I limped out of the Oval with numb toes thinking one thing – being a true football fan – not just an armchair fan but a true fan – is a bit like being married. You make a commitment, for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health. Unfortunately for Glentoran fans at the moment, things are almost at their worst, their club’s pretty poor and they’re all sick of it. I hope for their sake, and sanity, that they experience a rekindling of their metaphorical marital bliss soon.

I was invited to tonight’s game at Coleraine – unfortunately I can’t make it but I will be back again sometime (perhaps when the temperatures increase slightly, or I purchase some thermals) – if only to provide some friendly moral support – god knows they need it.

* Apologies for the lateness of this post, a technical glitch of entirely my own doing meant that the first time I wrote this, I lost it. Grrrr.*

P.S. I’d like to go and experience some other sports as part of this ‘The Sports Fan’ challenge, so if you follow a team you think I should see, let me know! Also, Sam blogs at http://eastbelfastiswonderful.blogspot.com/ – it’s really worth a look.

Birds, Burgers and Banter – My Day As A Butcher Part 3

29 Nov

Banter and micro-blogging: Owner Michael McCormick gives me a twitter demo, with a few jokes thrown in for good measure.

In my first post in this thread, I said that Murphy’s Butchers is one of the last bastions of a Belfast of a bygone era. Seeing as I only published that statement earlier today, I obviously still stand by it. However, what Murphy’s has managed to do, where many others have failed, is to make their business relevant to a modern clientele.

For those of you that follow me on twitter (I’m @SineadDoyle if you don’t), you may already know that this challenge was negotiated on twitter. At a sprightly 60, Murphy’s owner, Michael McCormick  has thrown himself full-force into the world of micro-blogging and when I put out a call for a butcher, baker and  candlestick maker, he replied almost instantly. A quick follow-up phone call later, I was all set with the second of my 29 Lives.

I was impressed, even at that stage, with his aptitude for twitter and knew, from the tone of the tweets in his timeline, that I was in for a fun day.

Enter Murphy’s and find yourself behind the counter and you may be forgiven for feeling like you’re living in a real-life @MurphysButchers twitter timeline. Gentle joshing with the boys  is mixed with lively chat with regular customers; Ulster Rugby players pop in for fillet steak; recipes and cooking advice is offered as standard and there are jokes and banter aplenty.

The Murphy’s team work hard, but they know how to have fun too. Three hours into my shift, Robert, the  youngest of the Murphy’s team, asked me what time I thought it was. I thought I had been there an hour. His reply: “The day goes in quick, doesn’t it?”  It does, when you’re having fun.

Me and the Murphy’s Butchers Boys – a Great Bunch of Lads!

As I outlined in my first post, the purpose of this 29 Lives challenge is to step out of my comfort zone and try new things. Whilst I had never made burgers, or manhandled turkeys before, my experience of life as a butcher at Murphy’s wasn’t out of my comfort zone – it was highly enjoyable and that’s down to the people who make Murphy’s special – Michael and his team. I’ll most certainly be back but maybe as a customer next time- to buy me some of those legendary steak burgers, perhaps.  Thank you boys.

Thanks also to my fantastic friend, Alice Woods who was snap happy all afternoon documenting my day at Murphy’s. You can find Alice on twitter at @Oohlalalice (she’s very funny and worth a follow). Ever creative, Alice has also recently launched a new blog, where she’s embarking on her own personal challenge – to write and illustrate a children’s book for her niece and nephew – check it out, here: http://colouringmein.wordpress.com

I’ll be back with news on the next of my 29 Lives soon – watch this space!

Birds, Burgers and Banter – My Day As A Butcher Part 2

29 Nov

It’s official, Christmas is coming. Almost every shopping centre in Northern Ireland is twinkling under thousands of lights; Fairytale of New York is on the radio at least twice a day; and filler conversation has morphed from “It’s getting dark very early, isn’t it?‘ to ‘Have you finished your Christmas Shopping yet?’

When I think of Christmas, I think of a few things; family, friends, presents, hot port and turkey. I’ve cooked many a Christmas dinner over the years but if I’m honest, I’ve never given much thought to how the bird makes its way from the butchers into my oven tray (plus mum usually buys it, so I couldn’t even tell you where she gets ours from).

When, during my day as a butcher at Murphy’s Butchers on Belfast’s Lisburn, owner Michael McCormick asked me if I would like to learn how to ‘dress a turkey,’ I was slightly bafffled. Thankfully, I resisted the urge to start talking about potential poultry fashion trends and bit my tongue, waiting for the explanation, which was quickly forthcoming.

‘To Dress a turkey,’ Michael explained, is essentially to gut it. Lovely.

Now for my pictorial account of my experience of ‘dressing a turkey’ at Murphy’s, under the ever-watchful and expert eyes of legendary Belfast butcher, Michael McCormick. Again, many thanks to the wonderful Alice Woods, who, much to her credit, was by my side capturing all of this, as it unfolded. (I’m going to try a picture gallery for this post – still getting to grips with WordPress but would welcome feedback on which style you think works best).

A further post on the banter-fuelled day of being a butcher will follow shortly. But for now, here are the money shots.

*Disclaimer: As before, if you’re of a sensitive disposition when it comes to blood and gore, navigate away from this page now…*

I may never look at my Christmas dinner in quite the same way again. You may expect me to say that I’ve sworn off a festive feast of turkey and all the trimmings after this experience but, in fact, quite the opposite is true.

Whilst it wasn’t actually MY Christmas turkey I was preparing, it was satisfying to see the bird as something other than a cellophane wrapped plucked carcass; to make the connection that it was once a living creature. This might sound strange, cruel or even morbid to some people, particularly vegetarians but (aside from the smell, which I’m not sure I’ll ever forget), I found the experience of taking that bird – with its head, feet and feathers still in tact – and preparing it with my own hands into a ready-to-roast Christmas turkey quite an experience.

Now, where’s the cranberry sauce?

The Countdown to 30 is ON!

17 Nov

So, the day has  come. Today I turned 29. I have one year left of my twenties and I’ve decided I’m going to make it count.

Life is good. Very good in fact. If this last year is anything to go by, making big changes to your life (whilst admittedly scary), can make a big difference.  In April, after 1o months counting points, I successfully shed five stone and dropped four dress sizes. In July, after five and a half years working as a magazine editor in Belfast, I took the plunge and changed careers, moving into Public Relations. Whilst I don’t want to sound like a drama queen, both of these events have been life-changing.

It’s not that I was unhappy before – I loved my job, my family and friends but I had gotten stuck in a rut. I know I’m not alone.

A few weeks ago, Belfast became a hiving hotbed of activity with Belfast Music Week and the MTV EMAs propelling a positive image of Northern Ireland onto the world stage. That week I essentially took up residence in the Ulster Hall, and witnessed some of the best live music amongst some of the best company you could wish for. At the last minute on Sunday 6th November, I received an invitation to attend the MTV EMAs as a guest. I got the call about 40 minutes before the doors were closing. For a split second, I thought to myself  ‘there’s no way I can get ready and get there that quickly.’ But it was just a split second and after a mad dash,  much clothes-flinging about the house and slapping on make-up on the move, I made it. Needless to say it was a world-class event and a night I’ll never forget as long as I live. The events of that week got me thinking how easy it can be, after a long day in the office, to go home, sit in front of the TV and vegetate. It also made me think that there’s an alternative – to get out more, do more and live life to the full.

So, I’m setting myself a challenge. In the next 12 months, in the run-up to my 30th birthday, I am pledging that I will step outside of my comfort zone; try new things; adopt a can-do attitude, and, here’s the punchline – I will attempt to try 29 different lives.  I’m not talking trying new foods or bars here – I mean 29 significant things, activities, challenges that will require that I live life in someone else’s shoes; putting my fears, reservations and/or embarrassment to one side. On average, that’s around 2.4 sizeable challenges a month.

Number one is setting up this blog (something I’ve never done before) and committing to this very public challenge to have ‘29 Lives‘ in the next 12 months.

I’ve spoken to some friends and colleagues in advance of launching this blog and there have been a number of suggestions as to things I should do as part of my ‘Leap Year‘ challenge. I have a few in the pipeline already, which I will share with you in due course. But for now, I welcome you to give me your suggestions.

This is not a Danny Wallace-esque Yes Man challenge. I’m not saying I will do everything that’s thrown at me, but I’m most certainly up for a challenge.

We’re here for a good time, not a long time folks.

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