Saturday 13 February 2016

Homeward Bound........

February 2011 was Ireland’s last General Election, coming on the back of the Financial Crisis, IMF and our Government’s meltdown, and in this election, we saw the collapse of Ireland’s dominant political party, the Soldiers of Destiny were blitzed in a sweep of National anger in that election, Ireland was at a very low ebb.

For me personally, it marks a point in time also, where I faced my own crisis like so many Irish people at the time, a business brought to its knees with all the financial and personal strain that that brings, I faced the reality of having to look abroad for work and an income, and so a few months later, I boarded a plane at Shannon, Dubai bound, via Manchester and on to Kandahar, Afghanistan to 53 degree heat in the weeks after Osama Bin Laden had been taken out by the US. Was this going to work?

Well, I sit here in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania today five years on from that last General Election In Ireland, heading into my final week of the ex-patriate life, yes, I’m going home next week and it feels damn good.

That journey has taken me from dusty Kandahar to mountains of Tarin Kowt in Uruzgan Province, on to Helmand for a short few months, to Riyadh in Saudi Arabia in 2012, where I lived until October 2014, with all its oddities and peculiarities, and had the opportunity to visit the wider Middle East region, to places like modern Dubai, the oasis of Al Ain, Abu Dhabi, Jeddah by the Red Sea, Doha, Abha, Dammam, Bahrain, Amman and Petra in Jordan, and Istanbul. The last stage of this period spent in Accra, Ghana and finally here by the Indian Ocean in Dar es Salaam.

I can already feel the excitement and emotion of taking that last flight next Friday from Dar to Abu Dhabi and arriving in Dublin on my birthday, and in time to vote again just like five years ago.
In that period, there has been tough times, sad times, lonely times, times when I missed my loved ones and watched my sons grow at a distance, missed birthdays, nights out, work colleagues, friends and neighbours, even a missed Christmas Day spent in Riyadh. There has also been some good days, days when you discover you had reserves of strength, days when you rediscover lost confidence and get excited and passionate about your work again, a particular day when I stood at Dubai airport misty eyed and emotional to welcome my two young sons who had flown on their own for hours from Dublin to spend a week the old man in the UAE.

I have met and made new friends and colleagues, many of them Irish like myself, who took to the airport in the same way to work abroad in this remarkable period in Ireland’s history, we have even lost some of them too sadly.

Thankfully, I return with the financial issues now resolved, I did not get into property, or lose money on shares, I simply had a small business connected to the Construction Industry that got caught in a perfect storm, like so many others. I also return to a different life, and know that it will take time to adjust back to Ireland, to a new life again and a new job. I look forward so much to Sunday lunches, walks on the beach, Friday nights with the Late Late, open fires, cycling with the lads, the odd gig, a decent pint of Guinness and even the mundanity of making breakfast for hungry young men while discussing the latest U-Tube hit or video game villain ! It’s all Good and I can’t wait to get back……..

Thursday 21 January 2016

Safari to Mikumi.....

Tanzania is long known for its impressive National Parks, an impressive 16 in all from the world famous Serengeti in the north to Selous in the south, covering over 40,000 (approx. half the entire area of Ireland).

Mikumi National Park is the closest one to Dar es Salaam and within driving distance, so ideal for a weekend road trip out of the hot and humid capital city.

An early Saturday morning start north out of Dar es Salaam, was the advice to escape the clutches of the weekend market traffic, especially on the Morogoro Road, so the advice was to travel north to Bagamoyo, then west to Msata, south to Chalinze and then turning west again directly to the city of Morogoro, a city nestled at the feet of the Uluguru Mountains and the gateway to Mikumi National Park. A journey of some five hours along very decent roads, so even though I took the trip alone, it was very enjoyable , I even managed to avoid the notorious Tanzanian traffic police, and at one stage found myself going down the wrong way on a oneway street in Morogoro packed with Saturday traders and shoppers ! (signs are kind of optional extras in Tanzania).

I stayed at the Nashera Hotel which I would highly recommend as it has amazing views of the Uluguru Mountains (named after a local tribe), has decent food and a nice bar, where I sat with a few locals and discussed the continued demise of Chelsea FC, while watching their latest capitulation! I also bumped into a couple from Killarney, Co. Kerry on a business trip here (Irish turn up everywhere, really, don’t they ?).

Early start Sunday morning, picked up by Hamad my guide and companion for the day, at 5am, for my safari trip to the heart of Mikumi (Safari is the Swahili word for “journey”) and off we went into the dark morning further into the mountains for an hour and half until we arrived at the gates of the Park just in time for breakfast. A National Roadway runs through Mikumi, as it’s a major transport route from the busy Port city of Dar es Salaam running westwards to inland cities and indeed further to countries such as Zambia, Congo and Malawi. It makes for an unusual sight as large container trucks cutting through wild grasslands with giraffes grazing by the roadside.

After a welcome breakfast, we spent our day inside the Park, animal spotting. What struck me was the beauty and openness of the grassland savannah landscape and the surrounding mountains, Tanzania is a truly beautiful country, and to see the herds of Wildebeest and Buffalo wild in the open was breathtaking to be honest.

I had been promised by Hamad that I would definitely see Giraffe, Elephant, Impala, Zebra & Baboon, but that seeing the mighty Simba (Swahili word for Lion), can be a little more challenging.
We saw Zebra, Impala and Giraffes u close and personal and most impressive of all was the two families of Elephants bunched closely together under the shade of tress, and also cooling themselves in a lake, nothing compares to seeing them in the wild. We then also struck gold and came across a Lion with a few cubs, who came very close to us and prowled about, Hamad noted that she was angry but it was just amazing to see them in their own habitat up close like that. This is the real Africa at its rawest and most awe-inspiring.

Lunch in the Park completed a fantastic day, and i started back on my journey to Dar es Salaam.

A very satisfying weekend trip, thanks to Hamad and the folks at for a great trip, hopefully I’ll fit in a tip to Serengeti soon.

Thursday 9 July 2015

Elmina, West Africa’s Oldest Slave Post……

Built by the Portuguese in 1482, Elmina is the oldest European Building in Sub-Saharan Africa, though its infamy is much more noted as the most famous Slave Port on the Gulf of Guinea, located just west along the coast from Cape Coast as you drive towards Takoradi.

I paid a visit here (another UNESCO World Heritage Site) and was given a guided tour which gave the long and (let’s be honest sad) history of this castle.

St. George’s Castle was used for almost 200 years as a key Trading Post from Africa to the New World, and in its time was governed by the Portuguese, Dutch and also the British prior to Ghana’s Independence in 1957, when it became a Police Training Centre.

A walk into the Dungeons has a very foreboding feel, a real sense of a place where the walls could tell stories, some 500 slaves at a time were crammed in here, and you can feel the humidity and can only imagine the smell and heat in these small spaces in those dark days. Many died here long before they ever got close to the boats and were simply thrown into the sea. 

Slave traders brought slaves to Elmina from as far away as modern day Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Burkina Faso for “export”.

In the Inner courtyard, a cannonball was used to tie up misbehaving slaves in the open sun and without water, others were taken to a cell in another part of the castle where they were left to die of starvation, and of course the lucky ones eventually got taken the short walk to the “Door of No Return”, where they were taken to waiting ships to commence their journey to the cotton fields in the New World of the Caribbean and the America's.

Door of No Return
The Tour Guide provides an excellent and very honest narrative of the Castle and its Slave trade history, and also goes on to show the soldiers quarters and also the small school that was established at Elmina, for the children that were born there of colonial parentage.

An eye opening visit and well worth doing, even if it makes you feel upset, its provides a good understanding of the heritage of Africa and indeed further afield.

Isolation Cell

Sunday 5 July 2015

A Walk in the Rainforest at Kakum National Park, Ghana….

An early morning start from Accra, heading west along the coast towards the city of Cape Coast, a long drive, though in reality, only made long as the roads in Ghana also double up as Market’s in small towns and major junctions, which slows down the traffic significantly. After four hours driving, we turn north from the city of Cape Coast and head to Kakum National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site (

Kakum is a tropical rainforest, with a very famous suspended canopy walkway, that allows you to walk among the treetops at a level of 40m above the ground.

The greatest sensation you get here is the sounds of the forest, its alive below you as you walk along the rope bridges, monkeys , birds, a cacophony of sound all around, and of course the humidity hits you also.

Some pictures here to show you canopy walk, a super trip and a great experience.

Tuesday 5 May 2015

Jamestown, Accra....

The origins of old Accra I was told is the area known as Jamestown which sits right by the Ocean in a little Fishing Village, not far from the bustling shopping area of Osu, so I took myself down there on a sunny Saturday morning in late February last, in fact it was much more than sunny, it was seriously hot and humid.

Stephen is a driver I have used a number of times here in Accra, a native of the city and a really helpful and friendly man. We arrived at the Old Lighthouse at Jamestown and there was met by a local “tour guide” Godfrey, who is also in fact a teacher in the local school for children orphaned by fishermen lost at sea.

We took a walk down to the shore where there were traditional fishing boats cut from trunks of trees,
and carved with motifs, the waterfront doubling up as an open workshop for building boats.

Jamestown is a shanty town of approximately 5000 people fitting in a small triangle of land surrounded by the sea of two sides and the old Fort on the other side, its actually hard to believe that so many people live in such a small space.

As we walked through the narrow lanes, it was clear how simple these people lived, the community is essentially supported by the sea, the men, Godfrey explained to me go out to sea as far as Ivory Coast to the west and Togo and Benin to the east to fish in these simple craft, so can be absent fathers for long periods, and sadly some do get lost to the Atlantic on these trips, thus the schools for children who have lost one or both parents.

Jamestown is alive and active on this Saturday morning, Fishermen are fixing nets, boys are swimming in the sea and screaming with delight, fish are laid out to dry and being smoked over barrels and everywhere there is chatter, music and football being played. It’s a real community here, and though there is poverty, it’s also a way of life , as they’ve existed here while Accra has grown to become one of the fastest growing cities in West Africa around them. It’s a fascinating place.

We finished the tour with a visit to the school that Godfrey teaches in and also a quick visit to the Fort where slaves were once held and sold to the new world and where Ghana’s founding president Kwame Nkrumah was once held, and we finish with a climb up the lighthouse accompanied by another local named “Nice One”, yes that’s really his name….. 

Jamestown Lighthouse, Accra, Ghana

Tuesday 7 April 2015

And then Africa…….

I write this from my new Apartment on the 7th floor of an Residential Block in the Msasani Area of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, I’ve been on a bit of a journey over the past six months that has brought me from the Middle East to East Africa via West Africa.

In that time, I’ve rather neglected “Sun Tan”, primarily, as I have gone through an extremely busy time and moved twice in that period to two new countries, Ghana and Tanzania, and I guess I also felt it was a time when I was either extremely busy or just not in the right frame of mind to sit and write.

So I’ll leave you with this great photo of Kilimanjaro from my seat on the flight from Nairobi last week and this other image of a “Bajaj”, a preferred form of transport in Dar es Salaam and I’ll look forward to posting a few more pieces very soon……

Thursday 21 August 2014

Gaelic Football in the Kingdom ??

A taxi ride at rush hour through Riyadh’s chaotic traffic for almost forty minutes brings us to the gateway of one of Riyadh’s better compounds to the north of the city. Any taxi ride around this city is eventful to say the least, road etiquette simply doesn’t exist and neither does public transport, and add in the fact that women are not permitted to drive (though there’s no specific written law on this !) and that the city has a population of some six million people, gives you an idea of what traffic can be like here.

It’s Sunday evening, which is the first working day of the week, and it’s also the beginning of pre-season training for Riyadh’s Naomh Alee Riyadh GAA Club, a fully affiliated GAA club, founded twenty years ago and a member of the broader Middle East GAA Family which includes other clubs in UAE, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman & Kuwait.

It’s still around 38 degrees when we start our workout on the floodlit grass pitch which has just been much sought after these past few seasons, the group grows to over forty people by the time training kicks off in earnest at 8pm, which is of course is in complete darkness at this time of the evening all year around. This session is led by Sean O’Sullivan from Cork, Patrick Moynagh from Cavan and Tony Robinson from Derry and the participants and club members come from Dublin, Fermanagh, Clare, Galway, Antrim, Down, Wexford, Offaly, Cavan, Derry, Westmeath, Louth, Meath, Tipperary and a few lads from Cork. It doesn’t end there of course as a further sizeable contingent in this group and the club as a whole come from much further afield, such as United Kingdom, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, United States and Jordan. At one point in the session, one could even hear a strong Australian accent count out “a H-aon, A do, a tri….” while the squad does press ups.

In recent years, Naomh Alee Riyadh GAA Club has seen a strong revival in Riyadh, coinciding with the economic slump back in Ireland which has brought additional numbers of professionals to the Kingdom securing work in sectors such as Banking, Construction, Education, Agriculture and Nursing, the club has seen increased participation and is now running a number of both Men’s and Ladies Teams in the Middle East League, and competing very consistently and competitively in the past few years. They provide Gaelic Football only at the moment, however in its early years in the late 1990’s, it was initially a hurling club, and there are ambitions to once again field a hurling team in the future.

This club is like no other in the sense that it doesn’t have a dedicated pitch and must arrange to use facilities such as this one within a compound, it also uniquely must travel abroad to play competitive matches given the lack of any other GAA in the Kingdom at the moment and the difficulties in getting visa’s to allow a travelling team to come to Riyadh to play the home team, so Noamh Alee Riyadh GAA Club will travel over six weekends over the winter season to Bahrain, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Doha and Al Ain to play fixtures in the Middle East League and other Competitions in the region. It’s a huge commitment from players and management alike and a great credit to all of them. The Club has also been very well supported by way of sponsorship from Irish Businesses working in Saudi Arabia in recent times, such as Jones Engineering Group, Bruce Shaw, First Staff Recruitment and CCM Recruitment.

Beyond sport however, the Club represents so much more, it’s a very natural stop off point for Irish emigrants passing through Riyadh , whether on a long stint here over many years or a one year assignment. It provides a vital conduit for those just arrived to find out how to make one’s way around this vast city and integrated into their new surroundings and culture, it’s a vital sporting and social outlet for the many Irish, British, Australian and New Zealand nurses who play on the ladies squad, and a great way of building and sustaining the Irish Community in Riyadh, fostering new friendships and also having some great fun.
Naomh Alee Riyadh GAA Club also run a Juvenile programme for young boys and girls to take up the sport. They also promote Irish culture and with the on-going support of the Irish Embassy, has been to the forefront of all things Irish in Riyadh.

The session finishes up just before 10pm with a warm down led by Tony, and the exhausted and rather sweaty group of people head off into the Riyadh night chatting as they go, off to recover, get home, have a shower and a good sleep before the next day’s work and the next training session the following Wednesday…….

If you are Interested in participating in Gaelic Football, want to stay fit and also get to know more people in Riyadh, or maybe you are considering a move to Riyadh soon, get in touch, as the club is always looking for new members and is here to help….
Contact details as follows…



Monday 30 June 2014

Sitting in Bahrain Airport the other day.......

Sitting in Bahrain Airport the other day, waiting for a flight back to Riyadh and sipping on a cold beer, that old familiar feeling returned that I know so well, here I go again back to Riyadh, starting back to another year in the Kingdom, and reflecting on how transient and different and sometimes  lonely life has become in the last few years…

July 2011, I left Ireland to take up a posting on a remote Military base in Afghanistan, Its now three years later, I’m working in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and life is so different to what it was ten years ago
I can only describe the last few years as a mixture of adventure, relief, grief, a sense of a transient lifestyle, sometimes loneliness, always interesting but to be absolutely frank, a world completely turned upside down from where I was ten years ago.

Back in 2004, I was married, I had just set up my own business, I was Dad to a two year old son and was anticipating the arrival of a second , was about to go on holiday to Lake Garda in Italy which turned out to be a fantastic trip abroad that summer. I can still remember having Daithi perched  on my shoulders heading off for pizza in the warm evenings.

This is not where I now compare life to the present day and bemoan the cards I’ve been dealt, that is of no use to me or indeed to you the reader and I actually  believe I’ve been fairly  fortunate,  though the ride has certainly been rough at times and like many things, some aspects are positive, others not so.

The Financial meltdown from 2008 was a massive blow to Ireland, and its repercussions are still being felt, though there are now signs of recovery in parts, primarily the greater Dublin area and also Cork. This is certainly to be welcomed, though I personally would have concerns about other Irish towns such as Limerick for example where recovery is somewhat slower and I belong to an industry that was effectively wiped out and will take some time to recover properly back home.

My experience of the years from 2008 to 2011 was of running a business which was less than five years old and seeing turnover literally collapse by 80% in two months, Its only now when I look back, i appreciate how dramatic that was for business owners up and down the country and the effects it had on families and local communities, right up to this day and beyond in the form of failed businesses, unemployment and for many of us, emigration.

When I finally gave up on the business in 2011 after doing as much as I could possibly do to keep it alive and to also re-invent myself for other roles, it came with a huge sense of failure, that you have let your staff down, your family down, you deny it and try to battle on, but it’s actually a huge sense of failure which can lead to a dark place if it’s not addressed.

Emigration has been a way back, a sort of redemption, a return in confidence, not something I had anticipated in the first year when based in Afghanistan and with confidence, comes perspective again and a new focus on the future. I have recovered a lot of lost ground financially thankfully, and have relocated here to Riyadh since 2012 with an Irish Company and I have much to be grateful for and which I am.

The change is challenging, there is very little one can do about it other than adapt. Here in Riyadh, its very transient, people (particularly ex-pats) come and go fairly regularly, Its incredibility hot,( 43 this week), it lacks a sense of place for a lot of us and its culture and societal norms can take a lot of getting used to by comparison to other near-by countries. I have formed new friendships and relationships, I’ve sadly lost others, but life is going on and there is much to look forward to also. My boys are growing bigger and smarter, the banks now write polite letters to me (wasn’t expecting that, and to be honest, I don’t take it too seriously either), I get more time off than I used to in my own business, I’ve visited a lot of countries I never expected to and have come to understand the Middle East so much more than I did before, and on the other side, yes, It’s been a struggle at times, I really do miss home and look forward to the day when I can return and re-establish a life in Ireland. Now there’s something to look forward to.

"It doesn't matter which side of the fence you get off on sometimes, What matters most is getting off. You cannot make progress without making decisions" - Jim Rohn

Wednesday 18 June 2014

A few things I miss from Home….

I am just about to commence my fourth year away from Ireland and am already into my third here in Saudi Arabia, where does the time go ? Its been a time of great change for me both personally and professionally and I’m often asked what I miss most...

My Sons
The recent trip to UAE with Daithi & Oisin was amazing and we all enjoyed it hugely and it won’t be long before the next trip back to Ireland for a trip to West Cork, but of course, it doesn’t replace the school homework, eating together, going to the movies and regular “tickling fights”, though we do our best to catch up on those when I’m home !

Talk Radio
I’m always struck at how little radio exists here in Riyadh, everything from music to chat show, yes, there are some but very limited and certainly don’t replace some of the shows I used to listen to back home, "The Last Word" with Matt Cooper was a favourite of mine in the evenings , with great discussions on current affairs, sports and the odd wacky interview with a “Healy-Rae” about pot holes or drink driving or Kilgarvan hosting the World Cup as an alternative to Qatar…

The Pint
Saudi Arabia is a “dry” country so I really miss the Friday evening Pint of Guinness, or a few watching Munster in the Rugby or Clare in the hurling….

When I was a child, there was no coffee and even when there was, it was in a jar and tasting “horrific”, however there was always “Tay”, and copious amounts of it for every possible punctuation in the day, for every chat, or break. You can get Tea here of course its just not the same as Barry's Tea or the like which we were all reared on back home. The suitcase on the return journey to Riyadh is always packed up with at least 80/100 teabags to see me through to the next juncture. 


Though I have made many new friends here in the Kingdom, and we do socialise as much as we can, It just doesn’t replace meeting friends you have had for many years. I left Ireland later in life like others as a result of the economic problems, it wasn’t ever my plan, so I've left behind many good friends and I struggle to catch up in person on trips home and relying on Skype and Facebook is just not the same as meeting in person and finding out how things are with them.

I'm sure this list could go on and on, its just a few of the things that I miss, some small and some far more significant......

Friday 2 May 2014

Boys in Arabia....

It’s been almost three years now since I left home to come and work in the Middle East region, and I’ve mentioned many times here how I miss my sons, who are now 11 & 9. We had a great trip last summer to London and it was there that we hatched a plan to do a trip to Dubai in 2014.

So on April 11th last, I took a flight from Riyadh to Dubai and arrived there just before my two sons boarded an Emirates flight from Dublin for the first time on their own, to meet me in Dubai.

It’s a strange feeling knowing your children are in the air on their own for over seven hours, an odd feeling where they’re not in either parents care, rather un-nerving…
Late that evening, in fact after midnight, I waited anxiously at Terminal 3 at Dubai Airport and along they both came to arrivals, cool as you like, as only boys of that age can be, “Hi Dad”, an incredible feeling, here they were, in “my world” after 3 years, a great feeling of pride, my two sons, older, bigger, confident, discovering the world, a very emotional moment that will stay long in the memory.

What followed was an amazing week, a road trip around the United Arab Emirates in which they discovered and ran free in the sand dunes of Al Ain, rode the fastest roller-coaster in the world in Abu Dhabi, walked through the beautiful Sheikh Zayed Mosque, went to the 124th floor of the world’s tallest building in Dubai, visited the Souks and bought a traditional Kandoura, Gutra and Agal (Traditional Emerati Clothing), and took a boat trip across the Dubai Creek.

It meant so much to me to share this time with my lads, as it wasn’t that long ago when I doubted whether I could ever take them on holiday at all, given the difficult times back home. Daithi & Oisin went back to Dubai Airport after their week, at least 2 inches taller in their sense of confidence and sense of discovery and adventure, yes, a poignant moment, but also a great moment. Simply an Amazing week…..