Willie Mason at the Open House Festival

Willy Mason and Co are Studio 1A as part of the Open House Festival.

I have been a fan of Willy Mason for many years now. I first stumbled across his music in the good old days of MTV2. A few years ago I was fit the burst when I got tickets to see him in The Limelight in Belfast. I loved every minute of this gig; his chilled out vibe, witty interaction with the crowd and, of course, the music.

Mason is one if those rare artists whose speaking voice is every bit as captivating as his singing voice; with a soothing drawl that oozes the blues, I could listen to him every day of the week. And so, I was beyond excited, when I heard he was coming back to Northern Ireland as part of the Open House Festival. The gig, which was in Studio 1A in Bangor, was a rapid sell out and so when a second date was added I didn’t hesitate when it came to booking tickets.

The concert, which took place on a Tuesday night, was a full house. From the opening song I was in heaven. Willy Mason, who was accompanied by a backing band which included the superbly talented Nina Violet, had the crowd in the palm of his hand. With songs that plow incredible depths, lyrics that stay with you and beautiful music that teases and haunts and captivates, a Willy Mason show is an affecting one that will move you from start to finish. As the playlist alternated from numbers with the band, such Where The Humans Eat, If The Oceans Get Rough and We Can Be Strong, to Mason playing solo numbers such as the insanely amazing Oxygen, the set was an intimate affair that did not disappoint.

Whilst the setting of the Theatre perhaps made the audience slightly more polite than say a pub setting – it was more a watch and listen vibe than dance and sing a long one – it was still a wonderful venue with fantastic acoustics.

This was the first gig I’ve attended as part of the Open House Festival (I know, shame on me!) but with such names as PiL and The Undertones, The Low Anthem, Simone Felice and Lisa Hannigan still to play, it certainly won’t be the last.


For more information on Willy Mason visit: http://willymasonmusic.com

For more information on the Open House Festival visit: https://www.openhousefestival.com


Flying High at Vertigo Skydiving

I have always been curious about skydiving. The experience looks completely thrilling – but also absolutely terrifying. However with We Are Vertigo recently launching its latest venture – Vertigo Indoor Skydiving – it is possible to get a taster for free-falling without having to fling yourself out of a plane to do it.

Located at the Titanic Quarter in Belfast, Vertigo Indoor Skydiving is Ireland’s only indoor skydiving centre and I was lucky to recently pay it a visit. On arrival I was checked in and welcomed by a friendly member of staff who helped me navigate my way through the Statement of Risk paperwork which must be signed before flying. Once that was out-of-the-way it was time to gear up (with a supplied flight suit, ear plugs, goggles and helmet) before watching a short, instructional video which explained all of the safety aspects of the flight as well as offering tips and pointers on how to make the most of the experience. After a quick warm up to stretch and loosen the muscles, it was time to put theory into practise and get ready to spread my wings and fly.

The instructor, Georgi, who was was friendly and put me immediately at ease, took me through to the tunnel and gave a quick demo before inviting me to join him to commence my flight. I have never tried anything like this before and so it was reassuring that the Georgi stayed with me throughout the duration and helped me to obtain the right posture over the airflow. Once I found my rhythm, we were able to soar quite high together which made for a truly memorable experience.

Once my feet were firmly on solid ground I have to admit I was buzzing with adrenalin and it took a while for the smile to leave my face. The experience, which takes place in a very open space, really replicates the feeling of flying; it was unlike anything I have ever tried before. Whilst it only takes approximately two minutes to free fall 24,000ft, you really use all your muscles and so by the time you are back on the ground you feel like you have completed a fun-filled workout.

From start to finish the staff were welcoming and knowledgable and you feel like you are in safe hands throughout. Vertigo Skydiving is perfect for all ages, whether it is a family day out or for a hen do with a difference; if you haven‚Äôt tried it before, one thing’s for sure, you will be flying high once you do.

Check out the video of my flight here.

Flights start from approx £45. If you book another session immediately after your flight you currently can get 20% off your next booking. Vertigo Indoor Skydiving will also be promoting theme days through the year on social media.

For more information visit: www.wearevertigo.com

Posted: 26/02/2018

Sisters’ Night

My sister and I recently organised a long overdue girls night and to make the most of the occasion we thought we would try two new(ish) spots to open in south Belfast: Bull and Ram, and House Belfast.


The sister restaurant of the award winning Bull and Ram in Ballynahinch, Bull and Ram Belfast is located in the Queen’s Quarter of the city. We’ve both wanted to try this restaurant since it opened its doors at the end of last year but we only managed to get a date locked down for Friday night.

Our table was booked for 6pm and from the minute we arrived the service we received was exceptional. We were shown to a table by the window (perfect for people watching) and presented with two menus Рan à la carte menu and a pre theatre menu (which runs Monday РSaturday 5-6.30 pm). The pre theatre menu had a varied choice and was great value for money (2 courses £17.50; 3 courses £21; or 3 courses and a cocktail £27) so we both opted for that option.

To start I ordered the braised chorizo with toasted sourdough whilst Gail went for the braised short rib and young buck blue cheese arancini. Both dishes were delivered promptly and smelt and looked divine. Whilst Gail enjoyed her arancini she said the chorizo had the edge which I whole heartedly agreed with; the wonderful combination of flavours really was a treat.

Braised chorizo and sourdough

For mains we both gave into temptation and ordered the dry-aged Himalayan salt chamber steak (for which there was a ¬£3 supplement), served with beef dripping chips, onion rings and pepper sauce. Unequivocally this was the best steak I’ve had; it was cooked to perfection. My granda used to have an expression that when a bit of meat was cooked nice and tender you could ‘cut it with your nose’, I now fully appreciate what that means – it felt like the knife simply melted through the meat.

Dry-aged Himalayan salt chamber steak

After our mains we were too stuffed to get dessert so we opted for a cocktail to finish off our meal. We both enjoy an espresso martini and whilst they didn’t have any on the cocktail menu, Patrick, our fantastic server for the evening, said they would still be able to make them for us. When they arrived, they were chilled and smooth and the perfect conclusion to our experience.

From start to finish I loved everything about Bull and Ram. The staff were professional, attentive and dedicated to ensuring that you enjoy every aspect of your visit. The atmosphere is intimate and welcoming whilst caliber of the food and drinks is truly remarkable. I really have fallen for this restaurant and will definitely be back.


A sisters’ night would not be complete without a nightcap (or three) and so we headed to House Belfast, the new kid on Botanic Avenue. Formerly Madison’s, this new venue, which offers food, drinks and accommodation, is unlike anywhere else in Belfast. When we arrived we were met at the door by a lovely member of staff who enquired if we were there for food (if you do fancy trying a bite to eat I would recommend booking a table in advance as it was absolutely buzzing when we visited). When we said we just fancied a drink however, he showed us to a table at one of the three bars in the downstairs area.

The vibe at House is eclectic and cool with fab accessories, cosy nooks, colourful bars and the pièce de résistance, an indoor cherry blossom tree; this really is one photogenic hot spot!

Rose Spritz (left) and Mariposa cocktails

Once we had a look over the drinks menu, we thought we would continue the cocktail theme with a Rose Spritz for Gail and a Mariposa for me. Both cocktails were colourful, fabulously presented and absolutely delicious. As the bar we were seated at specialised in whiskeys we thought this would be the ideal nightcap. With bottles on display ranging from Writer’s Tears to a classy Midleton 2017 this is pure heaven for any whiskey fan. Kyle, who was tending the bar, was an absolute legend; not only was he attentive throughout our visit but he was knowledgeable and professional and when it came to selecting a whiskey he gave us more of an insight into the ones we were interested in trying. In the end we sampled the Jameson The Distiller’s Safe and the Teeling Rum Cask Finish Irish Whiskey; both were beautiful.

As our evening came to a close I can honestly say it was a successful sisters’ night; not only did I get to catch up with my bestie, we also got to discover two outstanding gems in Belfast’s ever developing hospitality scene. With both boasting a superb product and faultless customer service, I would not hesitate to recommend Bull and Ram or House if you have yet to try them.

Posted: 11/02/2018

Review: Jake O’Kane at the Waterfront Hall

My sister Gail (left) and me with Jake O’Kane after his hilarious Still Sittin on the Fence show at the Waterfront Hall. 

My parents are huge fans of local panel show The Blame Game as well as one of its  resident panellists: Jake O’Kane. After several unsuccessful attempts at trying to secure tickets to see the live recording of the show, they also tried to book tickets for Jake’s stand up appearance last year to no avail. And so, when my sister Gail saw the announcement of tickets going on sale for Jake O’Kane’s Still Sittin’ on the Fence series of shows at the Waterfront Hall, Belfast, we knew we had found the perfect Christmas present for the parentals as well as an ideal family night out. 

The show ran from 9-13 January and we were lucky to book tickets for the four of us at the Saturday night show, which was consequently the last night of its run at the Waterfront Hall. 

Once seated, the audience’s funny bones were warmed up by north Belfast comedian Terry McHugh . From his relocation to Co Tyrone with his ‘culchie’ wife to his daily shenanigans as a father of three (you’ll never think of an iPhone in the same way) to his unbreakable mother who has survived seven mild strokes, two major ones and tried to walk off a heart attack, McHugh’s take on family life is unique and highly amusing and by the time he left the stage a smile was already firmly in place on my face. 

Whilst I enjoyed a really good chuckle at Terry McHugh, I literally howled with laughter once Jake O’Kane took to the stage. The show is a loose end-of-the-year review, looking back at what made 2017 memorable – for all the wrong reasons. His repertoire of material combines so many subjects, such as local and international politics, from the fall out of Brexit to his campaign to harass MLAs on a daily basis on twitter; the pitfalls of being ginger; recent health scares; the legacy of a mixed marriage; and why you should never, ever, swim with dolphins. The end result: pure, unadulterated hilarity. From start to finish I crackled so much my stomach ached. And I wasn’t the only one. The audience were constantly exchanging tear filled glances whilst practically doubled over from laughing so much. 

Jake O’Kane’s end-of-the-year shows has become an annual must-see and now I know why. With the structure, material and timing to make the audience laugh with total abandon for the full duration, Jake O’Kane’s Still Sittin’ on Fences is, in my opinion, a comedic masterpiece; this is one comedian that I would happily watch again and again. 

For more information on Jake O’Kane and his upcoming gigs visit: https://m.facebook.com/jake.okane/

Dining at Cyprus Avenue 

During the Christmas break my Geordie sister (from a different mister), Frankie, came for a visit to Belfast. Everytime she comes to town my sister Gail and I try to think of somewhere new to try whilst she’s here. This time Gail suggested Cyprus Avenue for lunch. 

Located on Upper Newtownards Road, beside the Avenue made famous by Van Morrison, Cyprus Avenue is a gorgeous restaurant that blends together deep teal tones with exposed brick work and dark wood to create a wonderfully warm and inviting space. We were seated in a booth towards the back which gave us the perfect spot to soak up the atmosphere in the restaurant as well as to peruse the offerings on the menu. 

It is very clear that local produce is very important to the restaurant. Not only is the menu filled with it (with dishes comprised of such delights such as Strangford mussels and Finnebrogue venison) but there is fantastic artwork adorning the walls by AJ Laird Art, which showcases the suppliers Cyprus Avenue works with on a regular basis; this is such a wonderful touch to the decor which also helps illustrate the ethos of the restaurant. 

After we pored over the menu we decided to have the breads and tapenade to share as a starter. It was fresh and delicious and the perfect way to whet the appetite. 

BBQ boneless beef ribs

For mains Frankie and I ordered the BBQ boneless beef ribs served with roast corn, CA slaw,  and Corey’s seasoned fries. Gail opted for Darren Rogers’ pork, apricot, treacle, Leon’s veg and confit potato. When the beautifully presented mains were served, it was a testament to how well they tasted that all conversation at our table seemed to cease. The ribs were succulent and tender and the slaw proved a wonderful accompaniment. The fries were full of flavour and so moreish. Gail thoroughly enjoyed the pork dish which was cooked to perfection and superbly matched together a wonderful mix of flavours and textures. 
Darren Rogers’ pork dish

Although seriously tempted by dessert (the idea of the warm caramel shortcake and Valhrona chocolate brownie sundae had me practically salivating whilst Gail was very intrigued by the Cyprus Avenue cheese on toast with mushroom ketchup), we were too stuffed and so opted for a selection of coffee and herbal teas (served in gorgeous glass pots) to conclude our meal. 

Cyprus Avenue is a wonderful spot. With beautiful surroundings, quality and locally sourced food and fantastic service, the overall experience was superb. Whatever the occasion, wether a girly catch up, a family meal or an intimate dinner for two, Cyprus Avenue should definitely be on the menu!

Sisters reunited: Kellie, Gail and Frankie 

Posted: 06/01/2018 

Feeling Festive at The Heritage Killenard 

Gail and Kellie at The Heritage’s grand staircase.

Christmas can be a stressful time. With getting gifts for your loved ones, writing cards, decorating the house and trying to arrange catch ups with all your friends, by the time 25 December rolls round, you are exhausted. This year however, my sister and I came with a plan to take back Christmas: a spa break at The Heritage Killenard.

Situated in the Laois countryside, this 5 star hotel encompasses a spa with thermal suite, a health club with leisure pool, walking trails, a golf course and children’s play areas; there is really something onsite that will appeal to all visitors.

The road to Laois.

When we set off from Belfast to Co Laois, it was the morning after a total snow fest, however thankfully by Saturday morning the roads south were clear and three hours later we arrived at The Heritage. 

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We were booked in for the Tea, Treats and Overnight Stay package and once we checked into our room, we dropped off our bags and made our way to the Thermal Suite at the spa. Encompassing tropical showers, foot salt baths, jacuzzi, sauna and steam room, this was the perfect place to relax after the drive. It was hard to think the relaxation could get any better, but it did when we were treated to a half hour back massage and a half hour facial. I honestly think what unfolded during that hour was the best massage and facial I have ever had. Not only did it relax the knots in my back and leave my face feeling soft and supple, but my therapist was fantastic at explaining what she was doing, the benefits it would have and how to maintain a healthy back and keep my skin in better condition going forward.

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Once the stresses of everyday life had melted away, it was time to get showered, changed and ready for part two of our indulgent getaway: festive afternoon tea. Served in the Lounge, we were seated by the fire and were perfectly located to soak up the festivities. The afternoon tea consisted of a selection of finger sandwiches, fruit and plain scones, and several sweet treats such a Christmas log, coconut macaroon in the shape of a snowman, mini mince pies and chocolate gateaux, all washed down with a glass of mulled wine.

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Once we could eat no more, we explored the hotel, from the stunning winter scenes at the entrance to the ceiling high Christmas tree as well as the gorgeous and cosy reading nook. We were hoping to explore the Fairy Garden outside but as it was chilly we opted to enjoy a few drinks at the Slieve Bloom Bar instead.

The ‘winter wonderland’ views we woke up to.

When it was time to call it a night, we retreated to our beautiful twin room where we slept the night through in plush and snug beds. When we awoke the next morning it was to a winter wonderland as snow had fallen overnight. The scenery looked truly magical however we thought we would need to head back to Belfast sooner rather than later as the snow was falling pretty heavily and was forecast to be on the rest of the day. So to fortify us for the journey home we headed to the Arlington Restaurant for breakfast. You could choose from a cooked breakfast off the menu or help yourself to the hot buffet, as well as to a selection of cereals, cold meats, pastries and breads, including a terrific gluten free section. With a plate of sausages, eggs, tomato, mushrooms and hash browns demolished, it was time to pack up and hit the road. As we checked out we were each given a bottle of water at our reception for our journey back to Belfast which I thought was such a thoughtful farewell from the Hotel.

From start to finish I thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of my stay at The Heritage Killenard; from the delicious food, luxurious treatments, stunning accommodation and I have to say the most professional staff who really made you feel like a VIP, it was a fabulous experience. My sister are already plotting a return visit to this wonderful haven – and who knows, maybe even a new Christmas tradition has been born! 

Posted 23/12/2017

SIX 4 GOOD Opening 

Christmas came early yesterday when I got the chance to check out the new SIX 4 GOOD store, located on the upper level of CastleCourt Shopping Centre, Belfast. Whilst this may just look like a fabulous accessories store on the surface, this is a charity shop with a real difference. 

The SIX 4 GOOD store is stocked to bursting with an excellent selection of jewellery, hair accessories, hats, bags, scarves, purses and more, that has been generously donated by European brand SIX, free of charge, so that profits from all sales go directly to Oxfam Ireland to support the charity’s work worldwide. How amazing is that?! 

The SIX 4 GOOD store in Belfast is the first of its kind in Northern Ireland and is part of an ongoing corporate partnership with SIX, a brand of the Beeline fashion group, one of Europe’s leading suppliers of jewellery and accessories, and Oxfam Ireland. The result is spectacular. The bright, spacious interior, combined with fabulous, high quality products at a very affordable price (SIX 4 GOOD knock approx a third off the recommended retail price) make this a destination shop for those wanting to purchase something special for themselves or as a gift for a loved one. And for those struggling to find stocking fillers or Secret Santa presents, you are sure to find something perfect in store. During my visit I picked up some fabulous, on trend, gifts for Christmas and of course a little treat for myself, a chunky knit snood whose purchase could not have been timed any better after today’s snow fest! 

If you are planning on getting into the Christmas spirit in Belfast city centre, I urge you to check out SIX 4 GOOD for yourself. This unique store will not only have accessories to make you look good, but the profits raised from your purchases will help those in need through Oxfam Ireland. I don’t think there is any better excuse to start spending this festive season – I already have a wish list for my return visit, which trust me, will be very soon! 

Posted: 8/12/2017