Since the the referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU in June 2016 produced a result in favour of leaving, Brexit has meant a lot of uncertainty on the island of Ireland.
Based here in Belleek just inside County Fermanagh and Northern Ireland, we are going to be leaving the EU along with England, Scotland and Wales.
However, incredibly now 26 months on from the result of the referendum we are still no wiser as to how the issue of the Irish border will be dealt with. Talk of hard and soft Brexits leave me perplexed. It has become apparent that the UK government cannot reach a consensus amongst themselves and that has left the populations of the UK, Ireland and wider EU uncertain. The EU are awaiting a definitive proposal from the UK and the Irish government have a font row seat as the saga continues.
History has shown that decisions concerning a border on the island of Ireland have had negative impacts on the people, trade and freedom of movement. I hope that the dealmakers are cognisant of this fact. Peace on the island of Ireland was hard to achieve and in the interests of everyone its continuation must be paramount when. As Yanis Varoufakis, the former Greek Finance Minister said “Borders are invisible from space”.
Personally, I voted to remain in the EU. The EU is by no means perfect but in my opinion it has done more good than harm on the Island of Ireland. The EU has provided a source of funding to the Border Regions which has reinforced the Peace Process. Will the UK government pick up the shortfall and continue to provide such funding for building infrastructure and improving community relations in Northern Ireland? I am not convinced.
Since June 2016 we have regularly seen members of the UK government jockeying for position and talking up global trade deals post-Brexit. That is understandable but if they cannot find a workable proposal for the Irish border then it does not bode well for their negotiations with potential trading partners and in particular a certain Mr. Donald Trump.
Theresa May the UK Prime Minister was here in Belleek two weeks ago. A flying visit to Belleek Pottery was well choreographed with plenty of media coverage. Incredibly it was her first visit to the Irish Border since becoming Prime Minister. Unfortunately she was not available for one of our Turf Bog Tours. Had she come along I would have asked for her vision on how we will get our turf home from the bog in County Donegal post Brexit. Likewise, will Bailey (our sprocker spaniel) require a pet passport on her regular evening walk over the fields and across the border? These questions may appear flippant but they are good examples of the need for clarification on what form the border will take, trading arrangements and freedom of movement for people and goods.
October is the deadline for the UK withdrawal treaty deal to be agreed and 29th March is Brexit Day. We will watch on in hope.
Summer 2018 has this far been the best in a very long time. Blistering heat in June meant that we got all our turf dried and home by 1st of July – a record for the Store!
This has left us with plenty time to go swimming in the sea (no wetsuit required) and plenty cycle runs. When the weather in summer is good here in North West Ireland, daylight lasts from 4am to after 11pm. That’s a lot of daylight to enjoy.
We have been shipping orders of turf to folks who have discovered that a turf fire on a chiminea or firepit is a magical way to stay outdoors until very late on a summers evening. As a fuel, turf is very safe as it does not spark and it fends off midgies and other flying insects. All the while that unmistakable smoky aroma can transport you from anywhere in the world back to Ireland and a treat for your sense of nostalgia.
We have also recently launched our clothing label #burnit. Available in navy blue or fuschia pink it is our first foray in to the world of high fashion. It just goes to prove that in business nothing stands still and constant evolution is par for the course. Turf bog fashion is here to stay!
With August almost upon us we are hopeful of more good summer weather, staying active and turf fires in the great outdoors whilst wearing #burnit t-shirts of course!
The McAndrew’s Store story began back in 2005. Then in 2015 we started cutting turf the traditional way with a spade. It was this experience of cutting turf with a spade that provided us with the inspiration for our Turf Bog Tours.
What started out as a madcap idea has since 2017 been very popular with our visitors. Our clients are visitors to Ireland who want to see something of the real Ireland. We deliver this in spades (sorry for the pun) when we take them far from the madding crowds to the wilderness of our turf bog.
Visitors from the USA, UK and France have sampled our tours and each one is unique. Every tour provides visitors with the chance to learn more about the tradition and cultural significance of turf cutting. Visitors learn that turf is much more than just a fuel but is the embodiment of Ireland much like Guinness or Tayto Crisps.
During the tour, visitors can experience for themselves cutting turf with a spade. Whilst learning a range of terms including pairing, spreading, footing, clamping, bagging and saving. This all takes place in a unique landscape full of flora, fauna and wildlife. On the bog and depending on the time of year you can hear the cuckoo, spot deer, see geese fly overhead and the hen harrier. At ground level you will encounter frogs and newts. We wont say too much about the midgies!
It is a family effort, Martin leads each and every tour. Callum demonstrates the art of turf cutting and helps visitors get to grips with a turf spade. Darragh is our resident wildlife expert and can produce frogs on demand. This year, Ava the youngest family member has joined the tour guiding scene. Plus Bailey our sprocker spaniel tags along, she will take any excuse to visit the turf bog.
Being located on the Fermanagh – Donegal border our visitors are always keen to discuss the issue of Brexit. Perhaps Theresa, Boris, Leo and Michel might join us for a tour and solve the Border issue once and for all? Likewise we enjoy hearing about the homelands of our visitors. It’s great to get a world view and become a bit wiser.
As part of the tour we divert to a lough hidden by a pine forest, at present the black peaty water is festooned with lillies. We also take in a WW2 plane crash site which was a huge event in these parts back in May 1944.
We can also adapt our itinerary to take in local crafts and arts such as Camlake Canvas. We have also included visits to Lough Navar viewpoint, which offers amazing views of this region. We have operated Turf Bog Tours in the depths of winter to the height of summer.
Each tour includes a mug of tea or coffee and home made bread out on the bog. If the weather is kind we even light a turf fire to let visitors sample the unique smoky aroma.
In this only our second year of operation enquiries and bookings are increasing. This is all helped by referrals, a Trip Advisor page, feature on Discover Ireland website plus our own website coupled with our social media efforts across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
So if 2018 is your year to visit Ireland be sure to contact us to arrange your very own Turf Bog Tour.
Last weekend we finished cutting this years turf. We started back in April and we were glad to reach the finish of that process. We purposefully never work for more than 4 hours at a time in the bog. Anything over that time and I find that efficiency drops.
Along the way we drained a bog hole. A very deep bog hole indeed. We achieved this feat of engineering thanks to the expert guidance of a local veteran turf cutter, Sean O’Loughlin. Another valuable lesson learned in our turf bog education. After four years at the turf cutting with a spade we have a formed a good knowledge through experience, but getting pearls of wisdom from the seasoned turf cutters like Sean is always helpful. Like I said, we were glad to reach the end of the cutting process as it now means we get a short break from the bog as this years turf sods start to dry. The fine weather this week and forecast to continue in to next week will be a huge help in the drying process.
Talking of good weather, these longer evening are just perfect for a turf fire in a firepit, chiminea or a camp fire. There’s nothing nicer than staying outdoors till late with the warming glow from a turf fire coupled with that unmistakable aroma. Try it for yourself, as an incentive, enjoy 10% off a Mighty Turf Sack with this discount code: May18
Earlier in the month we had another Turf Bog Tour and it was great to welcome back a previous Turf Bog Tourist in the form of Kathy from Texas. She enjoyed her Tour in 2017 so much that she came back for another experience in the turf bog. On the day, Callum provided a turf cutting demonstration, Darragh produced bugs from the dark boggy water and Ava (making her debut as a Turf Bog Guide) certainly talked a good game. We also showed Kathy the hidden gem that is Lough Navar viewpoint which commands amazing views across Lough Erne, the Atlantic Ocean and Counties Fermanagh, Donegal, Tyrone, Leitrim and Sligo. It goes without saying that the great weather on the day helped.
In business nothing stands still and this Friday 25th May is the day when the new EU General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) come in to effect. In preparing for this we have developed a GDPR policy for The Store. In terms of actions, we now have to get all our Newsletter subscribers to re-subscribe to comply with the legislation. It is really simple to do so, and will ensure that you will always receive our regular updates via e-mail. The form is here
So all in all May has been a very busy month here at The Store, here’s to more good weather as we head in to June and the start of Summer!Posted by
As we enter the final week of April I am happy to report that Season 2018 turf cutting operations are proceeding nicely.
After a very long winter and a delayed start to Spring season, we have in the past couple of weeks enjoyed some drier and sunnier weather. This has enabled us to get turf cutting process under way. The bonuses are that I am topping up my turf bog tan and getting some great workouts too.
As ever our objective is to cut all the turf by end of May at the latest. This will ensure that any June sunshine should accelerate the drying process. Plus it means we should limit our encounters with the curse of the bog, midgies! It’s a short window in which to get the turf cut but it’s good to make progress now and then the pressure is off to a degree going in to the summer months.
This year is our fourth year of cutting turf the traditional way with a spade. It’s amazing how much more efficient we have become since 2015. Getting hands on with a turf spade, learning from our mistakes and from listening to seasoned turf bog experts we have become much slicker out on the bog. Our turf bank is even a bit straighter this year!
The two boys and even youngest daughter have ventured to the Bog. Callum our resident engineer, is a great worker and a good sounding board when it comes to turf bog strategy. Darragh announced in advance of his first venture that he wouldn’t be working, he would rather go hunting frogs and checking on the welfare of the local tadpole population. Ava helped spread two barrow loads of turf sods and then took off with Darragh hunting wildlife. Ever present is Bailey Dog, the turf bog with it’s array of birdlife, hares and landscape is like Disneyland to a sprocker spaniel.
The cuckoo has returned to the bog landscape and is calling from first to last light. The last of the geese who winter here seem to be ready for take off to Iceland. Add in the lesser spotted McAndrew Clan and the bog is definitely coming to life this April.
Of all the times of year to take one of our Turf Bog Tours, this time when cutting operations are at full speed is perfect. We will even let you cut the turf, barrow it away for tipping and then spread the turf sods. You will definitely earn the mug of tea and homemade bread!
More than half way through March and it’s been a cold month this far in Belleek. We dodged the worst of the snow from the “Beast from the East” and the follow up cold spell on St. Patrick’s Weekend.
The East Coast and South East of Ireland have had a good covering of snow on both occasions. Once this latest spell ends we might get some Spring-like weather?!
Anyhow March has been a busy month here at The Store. We took delivery of a new batch of our ever popular Mighty Turf Sacks and we are well chuffed with them. This new batch even features smoke coming from the cottage chimney. They are sure to add a touch of Ireland to fireplaces. We also updated our gift tags which come with each Mighty Turf Sack and our Breesy Mountain postcard was re-printed for 2018 too. We are currently offering 10% off each purchase of a Mighty Turf Sack, just enter the following code in the discount code box on our Checkout page: spring
We have also upgraded our computer system, if truth be told I was getting a bit frustrated with the lack of speed of our computer. This is a consequence of our business getting ever busier. So in order to maintain our quality of customer care and speed of order processing we went for the the upgrade. Big thanks are due to Callum our in-house IT Specialist who did a superb job.
With Spring coming we also made some changes to our turf store with installation of a new floor. It helps maximise the space we now need to store stock and have it ready for despatch. Both Callum and Darragh helped implement these changes.
Next Sunday, 25th March, morning the clocks will go forward by one hour. The longer evenings will be with us then and before long we will be maximising the longer days with the commencement of turf cutting operations 2018. Of course you will be welcome to join us out on the Bog by taking one of of our Turf Bog Tours.
Now for some of that Spring-like weather……
We were delighted to host our first Turf Bog Tour of 2018 earlier this month. Our intrepid tourists, Maria and Kevin, came from New Jersey in the USA. On the day we were fortunate with great weather, clear blue skies, sunshine and no wind.
Bailey Dog came along too for the experience. One of the best things about Turf Bog Tours is that both the boys and myself learn as much about other cultures from our Turf Bog Tourists. There are always a wide range of topics discussed and it helps us form a world view. Just to demonstrate this, topics discussed included Brexit, the high dependency on the motor car in Ireland, World War 2 and how many chickens you can keep in your backyard in suburban USA!
Our Turf Bog Tourists were blown away by the tranquility of the landscape. This was particularly true down on the shore of Lough Finn where it was perfectly still. It made me realise that many folk rarely get to experience an escape from the modern noisy world.
It begs the question, that in this world of wi-fi, mobile technology, do we ever really get a chance to truly switch off and re-connect with Mother Nature?
It once again made me aware of how lucky I am (apart from the rainfall!) to live in this part of the world. There have been, and no doubt will be times again, when I have just needed to escape for a while from the every day pressures and challenges of modern life. My solution is to indulge in some landscape therapy with a visit on foot or on the bike to the wilderness of the turf bog. This connection to nature helps the human condition greatly with fresh air, combined with exercise, fantastic scenery and the sound of silence. It is a great way to take some time out and recharge the energy and spirit. Even an hour of this landscape therapy is a tonic.
One of our team members here at The Store loves the turf bog more than the rest of us put together. That member is none other than Bailey Dog. Bailey just loves the freedom of the turf bog and whilst we toil in the bog she plays.
The turf bog and it’s wide array of wildlife complete with scents, ease of access to a pine forest and numerous water sources is a perfect playground for a sprocker spaniel with boundless energy.
Bailey is first in the jeep on trips to the bog, I am sure she is worried that she wont get to go. I’ve recently invested in front seat covers so that she can ride in her favourite position on the front passenger seat. That will save the interior upholstery at least! She even manages to position her head and nose next to the gear stick so every time I change gear she nuzzles my hand.
She’s great company in the turf bog. She belts off in pursuit of birds, rabbits and deer. Often you hear her yelps as part of a high speed chase. Afterwards she returns to check in with us.
Last May at the peak of the turf cutting season, with blue skies overhead and rising temperatures, I reached the end of my energy for turf cutting and sat down on the edge of the turf bank. Bailey must have been similarly played out and joined me for a moment that that affirmed that special connection between us humans and canines. She also shared my lunch!
Our plans for 2018 include bringing Bailey along on our Turf Bog Tours. Obviously we will check beforehand that our visitors will be happy with this. We reckon that Bailey will be a great addition to the Turf Bog Tour experience!
We are lucky to have Bailey in our lives. She started life with friends of ours, she was to be a hunting dog. However, Bailey was gun shy and was made redundant! When we were offered the chance to adopt Bailey we did not hesitate.
Despite her working dog hardiness, Bailey likes her comforts. In addition to travelling up front in the jeep she “moved” in to the back hall in our house and takes any opportunity to get in to the sitting room. Plus she has gravy on her food. She is worth it though, she has a gentle disposition (even getting on well with our two cats) and is a great companion. She is always on good form and pleased to see you, the perfect tonic if you haven’t had a good day.
Bailey even graces our social media posts from time to time ,when she stands still long enough for a photo that is. Posts featuring Bailey are amongst the most popular.
Over these winter months, Bailey and I take a nightly walk without fail, in the rain, hail, sleet, snow or gale and always in the dark. I think we are both looking forward to the lengthening of the days and the Spring and the return of regular trips to the turf bog!
In this blog post, we take a nostalgic look back at 2017 with 10 highlights from throughout the year.
1. Turf Bog Tours
Our latest venture and diversification was to introduce our Turf Bog Tours in March 2017. Since then we have operated a number of tours showing out Turf Bog to visitors from France, USA and England. Turf Bog Tours are now on Trip Advisor and also featured on the Discover Ireland website for 2018.
Our website was revamped by Tick Tock Design towards the end of 2016 and with improved functionality including a slicker e-commerce facility we really saw the benefits in 2017.
Our business continued to grow in 2017, our mainstay of the business, turf sales, increased again. December 2017 has been the busiest month ever in the history of the Store.
4. Bog Endeavours
2017 was the third year we had cut turf in the traditional way with a spade. We definitely operated well getting all the years turf cut in the dry spring weather. Our roles became more established, Callum wields the turf spade, I push/pull the loaded barrow and Darragh is the spreader in chief. Whilst the weather broke in late July we were lucky enough to have had our turf all home by then.
5. Social Media
In 2017 we continued to use Facebook, Twitter and Instgram to good effect to connect with customers and followers. We spend a lot of time and energy on this area and it continues to be effective.
We started producing our own unique brand of video adverts for the Store in 2017. From April Fool’s Day to Halloween from Russian Submarine Commanders to Conor McGregor we have produced some memorable adverts! Check out our Youtube channel.
At various points in 2017 we chased and captured many spectacular sunsets. A brilliant way to spend the end of a day in some of Ireland’s most scenic locations. Here’s to catching more in 2018.
We like to escape the turf bog once in a while and in 2017 we ventured to Cliffoney Beach, Fort Dunree, Maghera Beach & Caves and An Grianan Aileach. All these attractions are within close proximity to us and visits linger long in the mind.
In October I undertook the endurance race here in Fermanagh known as FEAR. Featuring gruelling trail running and road cycling, it was a real physical challenge. I plan to do it again in 2018 as doing all the training is a great way to get fit.
From the work on the turf bog to making videos to packing orders, McAndrew’s Store is a real clan effort. Big thanks to Callum who can edit videos as well as cut and pack turf. Credit also to Darragh more than often the star of our videos and an expert in locating wildlife on Turf Bog Tours.
November and with it Autumn are all but over. Winter and Christmas are fast approaching. Not surprisingly this period is one of our busiest times of the year here at the Store. Orders are coming in thick and fast, it is very much all hands on deck now.
Our Christmas ordering deadline is Monday 18th December (make a note of it!), so between now and then things will be busy. The trick is to stay focused on the end game and everything will be just fine. As stated in a previous blog post, the key to handling the seasonal rush is to grab any opportunity for some exercise and go easy on the mince pies. This is not easy when your instinct is to sit by a turf fire and hibernate!
At the same time we have one eye very much on 2018. That’s the thing with a business, no matter how big or small that enterprise is you never stand still. January will be an opportunity to take stock and plan ahead for the Spring. By late March we will aim to be back in the turf bog. From then on it will be another busy time as we cut the turf and as the days lengthen start the drying process. That particular period of activity reaches it’s conclusion at the end of May by when we will have all the turf cut for the year.
During the Spring months our Turf Bog Tours will once again come to the fore, at this stage we already have bookings for tours in April and May.
You see, we don’t stand still here at the Store!
This is our first blog post since August. September came and went in a flash. October is going at a similar rate!
We have been busy fulfilling orders as our busiest time of year for sales fast approaches. In addition we are always working away in the background on growing the business.
The profile of the business is something we are always working on and developing. From providing good customer care through to managing our social media presence it is important to us to maintain a genuine profile.
Our core values are very much focussed on being ourselves and being sincere. Treat folk as we like to be treated ourselves, is a simple yet effective mantra. Sincerity is an underrated commodity these days. Personally I get fed up of people in business and life in general who talk a good game and then spectacularly fail to deliver. Here at The Store we ensure that our turf products match customer expectation and we add value with our customer care.
This approach works for us and is evidenced by the high levels of repeat business we enjoy. As a cottage enterprise we don’t have a huge marketing budget so in order to grow our business we are well aware we have to deliver the complete package and look after our customers.
Social media has revolutionised the way businesses market themselves nowadays. Here at The Store we have embraced Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. We even star in our own home made videos, in Darragh we have a budding movie star whilst Callum prefers to stay behind the camera producing “quality” productions . No sharp suits in sight, just us McAndrew’s being ourselves and exhibiting our unique brand of Celtic humour!
At present we are just a few Likes away from reaching 2000 Likes for our Facebook page, a great achievement and thanks to everyone who supports us. Through our social media presence we have also made good connections with other businesses in NW Ireland and beyond. From Gilmartin’s Craft Shop here in Belleek to Camlake Canvas to Bogman Designs plus we have even established a source of visitors for our Turf Bog Tours from Brittany thanks to Une Bouffee D’Eire
Going forward we will maintain our high standards and as a result hopefully grow sales of turf products further and expand our Turf Bog Tours as well. The future’s bright, the future is Turf!Posted by
Now past the half way point in August we are heading fast for September and the beginning of Autumn. Whilst July was largely dry with a few days of sunshine and blue sky, August has been a bit more changeable. Rain showers and sunny spells have been the order of the day.
All things considered summer 2017 has been a better one than 2016 and 2015. The best weather does seem to happen from May onwards and it would appear that once the school holidays begin then the weather becomes typically Irish!
In terms of Turf Bog operations, we had the vast majority of our turf home by mid July. I reckon we have up to 20 sacks worth of turf still out on the bog awaiting collection. A couple of good days dry weather and we will be out to collect and bring it home. This year has definitely been the best year we have experienced since starting to cut the traditional way with a spade back in 2015.
We have operated a few of our Turf Bog Tours during the summer months and so far we have escaped major soakings from the rain and encounters with midgies have also been avoided. Hopefully this trend will continue.
From a leisure pursuits point of view we have had mixed results. We have not managed to get camping. We did head to Dungloe in late July with the intention of camping up there or in Fintown (well worth a visit with it’s quaint Railway) but the rain and wind descended so we opted not to pitch up.
Likewise we have not been kayaking, this will have to be addressed as I have signed up to do FEAR, an endurance race here in Fermanagh in October. The race involves running, cycling and kayaking. Therefore I am hoping for an Indian Summer starting in September to give me ideal conditions for training. After being fitter during turf cutting operations it has been hard to maintain a fitness routine during the summer.
We have however been able to take in some amazing sunsets, there was one week in July where we ventured out every evening capturing stunning sunsets and views. The colours and scenery combined to make for an amazing show, reminding you of the amazing place we live in with an array of landscapes, coast, loughs and forests.
We have also taken some time out to go exploring and discover some of the wonders of this part of Ireland. From the old regular haunts of Breesy Mountain, Loughnavar viewpoint, Little Dog forest to the further afield locations of An Grianan Aileagh, Maghera Beach Caves, Assaranca Waterfall and even Tipperary to visit the Clan down there (it really is a long way) we have been able to enjoy all these locations.
As stated previously, Autumn is fast approaching and I can even see some of the Chestnut trees leaves starting to turn from green to yellow. Our apple trees are hanging with ripe fruit and hedgerows are full of juicy brambles. There is also a different air and smell, it’s hard to explain, but it is definitely different to early summer. Plus when the clouds roll back at night leaving a clear sky, there is definitely a chill in the air. Just last night I lit our stove. It was a dark wet evening and the glow from the stove (last fired in April) was much appreciated. I can confirm that our 2017 vintage turf burnt very well indeed.
With turf orders starting to pick up we are gearing up once more for our busiest few months of the year. Callum is spending the last couple of weeks of his summer holidays packing turf so our stockpile is ready to meet the surge of demand. Already a number of our regular customers have been placing their orders and getting stocked up for the start of Autumn. It is always good to see that repeat business and hearing from our regular customers. Just in time for the Autumn rush we have introduced a great deal on 6 Boxes of Turf for the price of 5 Boxes. This deal is already proving popular.
So enjoy the last couple of weeks of Summer and here’s to a great Autumn.