This Sweet Life : Vegan Desserts and Baking in the wilds of Connemara

This Sweet Life : Vegan Desserts and Baking in the wilds of Connemara

Justyna Janusiewicz is the creator of 'Sweet Nothings' vegan paleo desserts and treats containing no gluten, no dairy or refined sugar, based in Clifden, Connemara. She has developed a brand new business catering for an expanding market and influencing the community all through the power of her imagination, hard work and dedication to creating completely innovative and sumptuous desserts, and of course her own beautiful charisma and love of nature. 

I started learning about veganism nearly two years ago after one morning when I was making a good old fry for breakfast. I was looking at crackling bacon and bloody pudding in the pan and it just looked and felt so horribly wrong. Ever since then, I’ve been putting a lot of work into clean eating. I call myself a conscious eater rather than a vegan. I would have to be a total hypocrite if I told you that I am 100 percent positive that there were absolutely no traces of egg whites or dairy products in everything I had over the last year. It’s really hard to avoid it, especially when eating out and the choice is really limited. That’s why I prefer to cook at home where I eat only plant based food with no hidden ingredients. But veganism isn’t just about what you put in your belly. To me it’s more an ideology that encourages living more ethically, sustainably and having a healthier life without exploiting anything, anyone and repaying our planet a long overdue debt.


Sweet things have been always my weakness and since I decided to give up dairy, eggs and refined sugar I thought that my life was about to become very sweet-less and miserable.  Who can live and be happy without sweet treats in their life??

So I started researching and looking for plant substitutes for traditional butter, cream, eggs, etc.  It was a long period of experimenting and failing. Trying and failing again. I somehow managed to create a nice repertoire of plant-based sweets that I enjoyed myself but had a very little belief that anyone else would like them. Encouraged by my partner Stephen and his family I organised a tasting in a local health store about a year ago. To my extreme surprise the feedback was really positive.  I was amazed by the level of interest and appreciation for my product. It never occurred to me that Sweet Nothings might become a business in the future. I guess that day Sweet Nothings created its own story without me even knowing about it.

My approach to most things I do in life is intuitive and often accidental and I really like it. A lot of unexpected fun things can happen if you allow a bit of ‘not knowing ‘space in your life. I also apply this way of thinking to my baking.  There’s very little literature on making vegan food, so I get to be the ‘mad professor’ constantly experimenting , throwing things together in the pot and hoping that there’s method to this madness.  Usually there is not!  Very often my experimentation  ends up being  a total disaster but every now and again there are some small victories. Creativity and exploration is the most interesting part of my work. Discovering new aromatic herbs and tasting plants I’ve never heard of is extremely satisfying. I love being in a constant flow of making. It excites me a lot and makes my work stimulating and inspiring. 

My main influence is the place I live in. What I‘ve learned about myself over the last 13 years living in Connemara is that simplicity and living in harmony with nature and others is the key to everything . I strongly believe in ‘less is more’ way of living. I have a lot of appreciation for all the amazing gifts of nature that Connemara offers. Simple, wholesome, healthy and full of flavour ingredients. That’s  all  I want my food to be.


I would love to show as many people as possible that plant-based food isn’t just a bowl of boring salad.  There are so many exciting and really tasty ingredients out there that can substitute meat, cheese, cream, butter and eggs.  My dream is to educate people about nutritional benefits of what Sweet Nothings can offer and hopefully prove that vegan food can also be really tasty.

Sustainable living is one of the most important values in my personal hierarchy of ethos. To me it simply means living on the Earth as lightly as possible without putting too much unnecessary impact on our environment . It’s living respectfully towards our planet, all living organisms and each other. I don’t want to sound too preachy or Orwellian,  but the truth is:  we need to understand that if people don’t stop damaging the planet then the environment won’t be able to protect itself. It’s proven that vegetarian and vegan diet is more sustainable and that it largely contributes to reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, land occupation and cumulative energy demand . Some even suggest that plant-based eating is the future — or it is the more efficient, cleaner future.

I realise that it sounds a bit too unachievable and unreasonable and we would need a worldwide mass revolution to make everyone go vegan but even making small changes in our everyday routines would make big change. Like reducing  plastic for example. In my household we use flasks and reusable bamboo tea/coffee cups. We refuse using straws and remove plastic packaging from products bought in supermarkets and leave it on the shop premises as a statement. We love the idea of  bringing your own containers to the shop and filling them in with products if possible. As Sweet Nothings we have strictly  ‘no plastic’ policy. We use only carton bags, boxes, forks and cups.



I love fashion but I’m aware of it’s unethical dark side. That’s why traceability and fair trade are so important to me in fashion . My wardrobe is quite simple and not very demanding, mostly second hand clothes inherited from my female and male friends , some bought in charity shops. I like swapping clothes. I wish there were more places where you can exchange clothes.We are so blessed to have so many shops in the area that put so much work and heart into sourcing beautiful, ethically produced clothes. We are so thankful for having so many remarkable women who care about this in our tiny community.

One tip or idea that you try include in your lifestyle that contributes to caring for the world around you?

Invest in a flask or a keep cup. So cool and totally worth it!

As usual we asked Justyna the big three : 

Name one thing you are good at, one thing you could be better at, and one aspiration.

I think I’m quite good at listening. I really enjoy listening to what people have to say. I’m definitely better at this than talking. I am also not very good at physical activities. I wish I had more time for stuff I really like doing: jogging, yoga and Chi Kung. I would like to live a  good and happy life for as long as I can and I wish everyone the same. This is my one and only aspiration in life.

Justyna and 'Sweet Nothings' can be found at the Roundstone Country Market on a Sundays during the summer, she also has product in the WellBean Healthstore and Steam Café in Clifden. AND Yes! She bakes vegan magic to order.

Contact her by email on

Or call 0879701221 for more information or to place an order.



Ethel Feneran
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Ceramics: Exploring the intuitive nature of the process with Connemara artist Deborah Watkins

Ceramics: Exploring the intuitive nature of the process with Connemara artist Deborah Watkins

Deborah Watkins is a ceramics artist and art  and pottery teacher originally from Kildare, now living, working and bringing up her family in Connemara. She co-runs the Lavelle Gallery in Clifden with her husband and artist Gavin Lavelle. You may recognise her as one of the friendly Ohh! By Gum shop team!

I was drawn to clay during my first year at the National College of Art and Design, when I was given the opportunity to do a couple of weeks in the ceramics department. I was attracted to the hands on nature of the course and I immediately liked the tactile quality of the material. I continued with a five year degree course and returned to study a couple of years later to do a higher diploma in art education.

I moved to Connemara from County Kildare in the early 1990’s. I met my husband Gavin Lavelle in Clifden, although we had studied together for a year at N.C.A.D. Gavin is a fine art painter and he came here to take over the running of his father’s gallery. I came to Connemara for summer work, but loved the landscape and the people so much that I ended up staying for good. I started out in Kylemore Abbey Pottery and then I set up my own pottery workshop in town. Gavin sold my pots in our gallery and Michael D. Higgins opened an exhibition of ours here in the early years.


I took a break from clay when we had our three daughters, but I returned to creativity through painting around 2008 when the girls were still quite young. It was a practical decision as I needed to work from home and painting was simpler to manage than ceramics and in many ways just as enjoyable.


Clay and paint are very different materials. The pottery process is slow and disciplined and the rewards are somewhat delayed. You begin with a lump of soft malleable clay and you end up with something almost glass-like that is rigid and fragile. Each new piece is a technical challenge that requires slightly different processes. Working with paint is much more immediate – the colours are pure and instantly rewarding. I try to forget about technical issues when painting and focus on bringing some kind of energy into the work. Colour in ceramics is a science of its own - the glazes often appear very different when they are applied to the pots and they transform from powder to glass in the heat of the kiln. Everything is delayed while the firing takes place, usually over eight to ten hours,  with another day to cool, but nothing beats the excitement of opening the kiln door after a firing.

In general, I think that my approach to creativity is intuitive or I at least I try to allow that to happen. I often endeavour to capture the fluid properties of clay during the making process. The same is true for painting. I think about the landscape and try to recreate the feelings that it provokes while allowing the paint to guide the direction of each piece.

My influences are varied and ever expanding. I was greatly affected by a visit to an exhibition of Rodin’s sculpture as a young student on a trip to London. The massive scale of his work and the tenderness of many of the poses was very moving to me. The experience bore no resemblance to my previous impressions of his work through books. I also loved reading about the American expressive potters of the 1960s led by Paul Soldner. Their work was all about the intuitive nature of the process, the notion of discipline was rejected. He inspired me to experiment with a westernised version of the ancient eastern technique of ‘raku’ which I explored in my studio in Clifden.


(Paul Soldner in studio)                            (Rodin: La Danaise)

I love all forms of expressive design and bold use of colour. I admire the work of Sandy Brown, Andrew Luddick and Grayson Perry. My favourite painters include Emil Nolde, Egon Schiele and Van Gogh. Seeing Van Gogh’s work in real life at the Musee D’Orsay in Paris also had a great impact and once again bore no relation to viewing cheapened reproductions of his masterpieces in media and advertising. His paintings are thick with paint that is almost luminous. Every brush stroke is visible – you can almost feel his presence in each piece.

(Grayson Perry's 2009 Walthamstow Tapestry :Partial)

I am in the early stages of setting up a pottery studio in my home. I work with clay in my teaching job at the Elm Tree Centre in Clifden, so I am in constant contact with the material but I am ready to make my own work in clay again. I made large decorative pots on the wheel before but I have grown to love hand building since working at the Elm Tree. I want to return to more figurative work and I think it will probably be quite colourful.

'Life experience is key to the development of any artist and the things that we do and see will naturally shine through our creative work. I see myself as an old lady in years to come, mucking about in her studio, experimenting with some new thing and being quite content with her lot'


I have lived in Connemara now for more than half my life. I can’t imagine being anywhere else. Our natural landscape is ever inspiring and it doesn’t always have to be the big stuff although the mountains, lakes and coastline in Galway never cease to impress. I enjoy the small things too - the simple beauty of our native plants and trees, the hedgerows and the heathers, the quiet and the damp clean air. Taking time out to appreciate my natural surroundings is the best kind of nourishment and it helps me to keep calm and focused in life.

Sustainable living for me means being aware of the impact we make on the world and trying to be responsible about it. I think we have to train ourselves to consume less and reuse and recycle more. I try to recycle regularly and locally when I can and I enjoy upcycling old and not so old pieces of furniture. Upcycling satisfies my creative and ecological needs all in one – win win!

I try to avoid buying supermarket produce with excessive amounts of packaging, especially fruit and vegetables. Most products we buy are excessively packaged and while some of the materials are recyclable, many are not and it all amounts to unnecessary waste. I believe that small changes can make a big impact and if we all let our supermarkets know that we would prefer less packaging, they might actually listen.

My eyes have been opened to sustainable clothing since I have known Sharon and the wonderful Ohh! By Gum. I love the clothes and am very happy to support this growing and very important part of the fashion industry. I love the striking designs of the Seasalt and Whitestuff ranges especially and find that they always wear well over time in contrast to most high street brands which are designed to be worn and thrown away.

A question we ask all our guest bloggers is : name one thing you are good at, one thing you could be better at, and one aspiration. 

I am very reliable and while I may take a while to make a decision, once it has been made I will see it through to the end.

I could be better at doing more exercise. While I am naturally quite an active person, I shirk from most forms of disciplined exercise.

I aspire to having more time to travel and see new things. I love visiting galleries and craft markets when on holiday. I would like to experience more of Europe and I would also like to get to Canada and Iceland. I have no great desire to visit the U.S.A., particularly under the current administration, but I would like to see New York and also San Francisco one day.

Deborah's art work, along with that of a number of local and national artists can be found at She is currently working on a number of ceramic works which will be available in coming months.





Ethel Feneran
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Local Knowledge: Unlocking Connemara's Potential

Local Knowledge: Unlocking Connemara's Potential

Rosaleen Ni Shúilleabhaín is a native of Rosmuc, and the Rural Recreation Officer for County Galway, working for Forum Connemara CLG.  She is involved in the development of The Connemara Greenway and Blueway initiative as well as The Western Way Long Distance Trail. An avid outdoor enthusiast, she loves sailing and races her own Pucan. While based in Clifden she commutes to West Cork regularly as her husband Damian is based in Dunmanway.

I always had a grá for the great outdoors. The sense of freedom and the mechanism in which nature works fascinates me.  As a child growing up in Chicago, I loved our camping trips to Wisconsin and Mom would bring us to the park as often as possible.  It was like a dream come true to a seven year old when we moved home to Rosmuc, where there were no boundaries to our playground.   I became an outdoor instructor in 2000 after being bitten by the sailing bug, I worked as an outdoor instructor on a fulltime/part-time basis in Petersburg Outdoor Education Centre between 2001 and 2012. Since then I have been working for Forum Connemara CLG as the Rural Recreation Officer.  I feel very fortunate to be involved in developing recreation infrastructure in Co. Galway, in particular Connemara.

(Pucan Racing)


The key ingredients in the creation, management and development of such projects as The Connemara Greenaway and Blueways initiatives are communication and patience.  Consultation is top of the list especially with landowners.  Once people are informed and you keep the lines of communication open, you have the basis for anything.  Establishing a good working relationship with a landowner can be equally, if not more satisfactory than opening a new trail.  In regard to patience, it is important to be patient with all relevant stake holders while they are brought to the table and during big decisions. However, it is just as important for me to be patient.  This type of work can be slow and as long as projects are moving forward, it is worth being patient because anything that is worthwhile doesn’t happen overnight.

I am very passionate about is the Western Way Long distance walking trail. It starts in Oughterard and over 200kms later finishes in Bunnyconnlon on the Mayo/Sligo boarder. The trail brings you across mountain passes, along riversides, through wild and isolated places. Towns and villages welcome you passing through. I’m working very closely with my counterpart in Mayo Martin Dillane on it as an interterritorial project.

We believe the Western Way has the potential to be one of the top three long distance trails in Ireland competing with the Kerry Way and the Wicklow Way.

In terms of sustainable local industry the seaweed industry was a very good as it gave the local people a small renewable income.  The way in which they cut the seaweed was by hand and each cutter was knowledgeable in where and when to cut and how much.  Not sure how exciting my father would say it was, but with everything happening in Ireland today with the threat of mechanical harvesting, I would hope it would make a comeback.

Sometimes I feel we need to go back and look at how people did things 50-100 years ago in order to move forward.  I would like to see specialised shops and lots of local trades’ people being able to make a living from their shop or profession.  I try to support local as best as I can. 

[courtesy of The Irish Times]

Without sounding too much like a hippie, I often think if we still worshiped Mother Nature the way our ancient ancestors did, would we treat our Earth better.  I feel there is a huge disconnect with nature.  There are huge amounts of nature loving groups online, but how many of its followers actually get out in it and get their hands dirty?

I believe, treat it the way you would like to be treated, whether it’s another human being, a goat, a flower or a thing.  I love minding things, like my VW Golf estate and I feel it wrong for the government to bully us into selling things because they put an expiry date on it and punishing us for taking care of things.  Take my car, as someone said to me before the only thing wrong with your car is the registration plate.  How much energy does it take to make a new car?

[ Lúibín Mhaoirois]

I’m a very positive person and I’m very proud of where I live and come from and tend to see the best in everything.  This comes from growing up in a strong connected community.  As an Irish speaker, I feel a huge connection with our culture.  The language is still strong in the Connemara Gaeltacht which I’m very proud of.  I feel this is partly due to the fact that we use it as a living language.  We mix it with a bit of Béarla and don’t get too caught up in grammar.  I have a huge appreciation for grammar, but feel it can intimidate those trying to speak it.   Stephen Fry once said that language has to evolve in order to survive. 

I hold my diary close to my heart, without it life would be chaotic I’m sure.  It is hard being away from Damian and Lucy our beautiful German Shepard, but I’m very fortunate that I am married to a very patient and understanding West Cork fella who loves being in Connemara too.   I am also very lucky with work.  Forum Connemara has been very good and flexible with me.


I’m extremely conscious of the massive carbon foot print I am creating, but try to combine my journeys between Clifden and Dunmanway, Co. Cork with meetings and site visits.  I try to squeeze every second out of every day and make the most of things. It also saves on individual trips.

I always carry my travel mug, stainless steel water bottle and cotton carry bag.  Small steps, but I feel I’m doing something.  I am trying to only use cruel –free and natural products.  The key with this again is to be organised.  If you run out of toothpaste for example, it very hard to find cruel free products in your local super market!  I have an appreciation for good quality, sustainable clothing and love products like Skunk Funk, Thought and Sea salt, but I am still a devil for Penny’s!!

Name one thing you are good at, one thing you could be better at, and one aspiration.

I like to think I’m objective and a good listener.  I like to gather all the information, process it and then look at the best possible approach or approaches.  I would like to be better at keeping in touch, especially with my siblings.  They often contact me first and even though I think of them an awful lot, I never seem to make the time to pick up the phone. This I will take as an action moving forward.




Ethel Feneran
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Communications and a Spirit of Adventure born in Connemara

Communications and a Spirit of Adventure born in Connemara

Deirdre Veldon is the Deputy Editor of The Irish Times, since joining The Irish Times in 1996 she has held roles including that of editor of, duty editor and editor of the health supplement. She is a native of Letterfrack, Connemara, mother of 4,an enthusiastic home cook and 'Good Life' gardener as well as being a regular here at Ohh! By Gum.


Back when the Internet was in its infancy in the mid-1990s, The Irish Times came calling for journalists to help run its equally new website. At the time, it was one of the first newspapers to go online, so this was a very bold move, but of course none of us knew what the Internet was or how it would grow.   

Students who come into The Irish Times now look askance when we talk about a time before the Internet, but it was just as alien to us “young folk” at that time we started as it was to seasoned journalists who had spent their lives around the smell of ink and the rattle of typewriters.  So we spent some time figuring out what a journalist should be doing in the digital environment.

 In the late 1990s, I became editor of the website and I’ve overseen most of the changes since in various roles. Even though I now have a wider role in The Irish Times, I am still very involved with our digital presence.

I’m in the communications business so I guess some of the biggest changes of the last couple of decades relate to how we communicate. It is a huge boon that people have better and easier access to knowledge than ever before. This has been instrumental in advancing social change in Ireland, in particular, and in creating a truly open and progressive society.

And yet, there are downsides. Despite ready access to a world of information, literacy levels are not improving.  People can filter out information or opinions they don’t want to hear. The tone of discourse can get very sour, very quickly. It is very difficult to be a private citizen now.

We are feeling the impact of all these changes and haven’t yet worked out how we can navigate through them.

I grew up in the local pub and shop in Letterfrack, Connemara. It meant we were at the centre of the local community in a very real sense.  Life in a rural area carries its own challenges so I suppose we learned a lot about how much you can achieve if you get your community galvanised to change things.

(View from Diamond Mountain, Connemara National Park, Letterfrack)

I have always appreciated coming from this unique place. At primary school, we spent a lot of time studying the local flora, fauna and traditions – instead of doing our Gaeilge, I suppose – but that was the foundation for a lifelong appreciation of the natural beauty of the area.

Connemara is special in many other ways too. Life in a place which is so heavily dependent on tourism has a particular cadence to it, and so much energy goes into making sure local businesses survive and thrive by keeping their customers happy. A lot of effort also needs to go into managing life during the slough of the winter months too.

(Inisbofin, one of Deirdre’s favourite places)

In 2014 Deirdre, her husband Paul Cullen, and her young family travelled to Nicaragua on a 5 month sabbatical and adventure of a lifetime.

(Nicaragua with husband Paul , and children, Ella, Tana, Rosa and Luca)

What we wanted for ourselves and the children from the experience in Nicaragua was an appreciation of a very different way of life.  The children got a lot from being exposed to another language and education system and different food and culture, while we appreciated life slowing down long enough for us to enjoy it.  It took a bit of organisation as our youngest was just four months old when we went, but it was so well worth doing as a family. We’d do it again in a heartbeat.

(Mombacho Volcano – Granada, Nicaragua)

As a family, we try to reduce our impact on the environment.  Everything gets very well used in our house before it moves on to the second hand shop or the bring centre. We recycle and compost what we can. We have a car, but beyond trips to Connemara, don’t use it all that often in Dublin. We try to manage our consumption of electricity and water as best we can and keep screen use to a minimum at home. We aspire to become 'Good Life' gardeners, but fail mostly.

All of us in our daily lives seem to spend a lot of time charging around in pursuit of an elusive goal. At times, that gets a bit frenetic, making people feel very stressed. I’d like life to be a bit simpler, I suppose. I'm a very keen home cook and its a great relaxant for me. I like nothing better than making a cake after a hard day in the office. At this time of year, as a family we look forward to picking fresh fruits, to use, freeze or make jams.


(Strawberries from the garden and the family visiting Inishbofin)

Staying with a communications theme, I think one of the big challenges for those involved in protecting the environment is to get their message across in creative and engaging ways. People don’t want to feel they are being lectured to. We all need to know that caring for the environment can be interesting and fun.

The ethical and sustainable criteria I have for the clothes that I wear is softness, and comfort above all, so I’m very happy with natural fabrics. I try to declutter regularly and make sure clothes I’m not wearing any more go to a good home.

Name one thing you are good at, one thing you could be better at, and one aspiration.


Keeping all the balls in the air!

To keep on learning.

Deirdre's blog called Travelling Light, on her family's adventures in Central America can be found here:


Ethel Feneran
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Ethical Fashion : Some insider knowledge

We are delighted to welcome our friend and the UK and Ireland brand and sales manager for Armedangels, Serena Francis.  Armedangels is a terrific German label which is one of our very favourites here at OBG.  Serena, now a home based working Mum in London, started off in fashion working on shop floors, has risen through the ranks of sales and merchandising and has a great insight into the production of sustainable and ethical clothing.

I started as a part time weekend assistant in Harrods, then, I moved to work at Harvey Nichols in Central London.

My first wholesale role was working with a brand called Milla but I really got the fashion bug when I moved into a brand called Joseph Ribkoff. I started as the customer service assistant then moved into sales and VM where I travelled to Canada and through -out Europe.

Sustainable living for me as a working mum means reducing my waste, riding my bike when I do not need to drive, recycling and teaching my son about recycling & the planet (planting the seed from early so he is much more conscious than me) & buying more consciously. For example, my son gets £5 to spend on any toys he loves from the Charity Shop. This £5 means more to him than if I took him to chain store and spend £45.00 on the latest toy, he feels like he’s earnt the £5 and these toys are getting a new lease of life.

I work from home so I have to be super disciplined.  In the morning I meditate , do my gratitude journal , take my son to school , go for a quick run ( about 3xs a week) then I get ready in my home office for the day.

I would not say I have many influences when it comes to work. I try to be a better version of myself and push myself outside of my comfort zone.  With working from home I love listening to podcasts such as:

School of Greatness: Lewes Howes

Super Soul Sessions: Oprah Winfrey

How I built this: Guy Raz


I do not truly believe there is such a thing as a work/life balance! I think the aim is to do the best you can and not be too hard on oneself.  I also have a wonderful family who help me with my son.  I could not achieve anything without the support of my family.


To be successful at anything there needs to be a slight obsession in order to go the extra mile.  I read a book by Shonda Rhimes called ‘The year of Yes’, she talks about how she subconsciously became a workaholic , (she is the creator of Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal), but when her little girl asks her to play, Shonda stops everything and plays with her daughter before carrying on with her day.  I try to use an aspect of this with my son.  Connor is only 6 years old but when he says “Mummy play with me” I say to myself give him 10 minutes.  I mean in the grand scheme of things what is 10 minutes? But this is still something I struggle with.

I have come from a Jamaican background, growing up as a child my grandmother used to cook food from scratch, using fresh ingredients, apart from on Fridays when I was allowed to eat junk food like,  frozen pizza. This was handed down to my mother and now to me.

made me so eager to learn from people from all walks of life. For example I was recently in Dublin and the taxi driver and I was discussing & reminiscing about how there are so many similarities within the Irish and Jamaican culture.

Now I have been exposed to the ethical sustainable fashion sector I can tell the difference between mass production and ethical, sustainable product. As soon as you feel a garment from Armedangels you are completely sold by the softness of the fabric against the skin because we only use organic cotton.


Spend the extra €10-€20 and buy into investment items that are not going to fall apart in the wash and are trans-seasonal, wardrobe pieces that you will wear again & again & make you look and feel so much better from the inside out. Also support the indies that stock ethical brands, why?

For many reasons that include you will be helping to support the production chain within the fashion industry by bringing focus to fashion ‘fair’ the usage of sustainable fabrics which in turn help the environment. The clothing industry is the 2nd largest polluter in the world after the oil industry, we can all do our bit where we can… this will go a long way.

To be honest before I worked for Armedangels I did not comprehend what sustainability meant in terms of ‘the fashion industry’. This kind of information was something that isn’t taught within the education system but more you would have to seek out and have a vested interest in this topic.

It is fascinating to know that 1 pound of cotton (the plant used to make our clothes) requires over a 100 grams of pesticide (takes 227 grams of cotton to make one T-shirt) and over 1,500 gallons of water to make a single pair of jeans.

{Serena at the Premium Fashion Expo in Berlin this year}

My main project at the moment is to continue to spread the ARMEDANGELS message throughout the UK and Ireland & to help ethical, sustainable brands be a common fixture on the shop floor.

There is a lot more news reported in the media about the big fashion houses which are starting to recognise the importance of “sustainable, slow fashion.”

Name one thing you are good at, one thing you could be better at, and one aspiration.

I love this question, thank you for asking!

I am good at creating ideas and turning them into a reality

I could be better at Excel!

Practising gratitude every day makes you appreciate everything you ‘have’ instead of focusing on what you do not have.

Check out the Armedangels range at

FYI! If you like the hoodie Serena is wearing in her pictures standby!  We have them on order for AW18! Sure to be a sell out!

Ethel Feneran
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Gardening : A Proactive Retirement in Connemara

Gardening : A Proactive Retirement in Connemara

The Water Tower is delighted to introduce Gary Brow, a retired surgeon from life and work in Dublin, living happily with members of his family and adjusting to the challenges of the weather in Connemara, and in rediscovering gardening has become a member of the Connemara Gardening Club.

My garden.

Our Connemara holiday home served us well during our Dublin working lives and in this latter period we visited it more frequently and a long term plan for retirement in the West became a notion. The cottage, a half kilometre from the shore with a boggy field in front and a small area to the rear filled with opportunistic sycamore, measured about half an acre. Modernisation of the cottage for all year occupancy, along with the promise on my retirement of a polytunnel from my work colleagues, brought this to fruition. The purchase and preparation of a small piece of adjacent very rough ground for the position of this polytunnel was a physical challenge. The subsequent layout of this ground was by accident through necessity and opportunity. Learning from a helpful neighbour that for solving any discovered problem there was “more than one way to skin a cat”, made the task less daunting, enjoyable and skill learning.


My draw to gardening.

The legacy of food scarcities during the 1940’s were probably responsible for my father’s interest and time spent in his garden which he developed with vegetables, fruit, the forerunner of a “man shed” and a pond. In my Dublin home during my working life, which commenced before mobile phones, the necessity of urgent attendance at work made leisure time in the garden an accessible alternative to the more isolated traditional pursuits on the golf course or sea. Oblivious, apparently to my family, as I grew a variety of fruit and vegetables which were rarely harvested to appear at the table.

Most favourite time of year in the garden.

March is probably my most favourite month in the garden as spring has arrived, when garden growth is encouragingly visible and the results from the necessary past autumn and over winter maintenance become apparent. Seed sowing is underway and the apprehension of the physical duty of care to the garden for the coming year is now usually reduced by longer daylight and drier, warmer, brighter weather. Some semblance of order and purpose returns for the year ahead.

 For me, the most satisfying and contented time in the garden is the pre-supper “ward round”, with a glass of wine in hand to view what has been done today and that for tomorrow.

 (Broadbean shoots)

 Sustainable living and the garden.

In this “retirement” stage of life sustainability must include not just the biodiversity aspect but also the cost implications. Using free readily available necessary substances for a healthy garden will not only reduce your costs but recycle many by products from the environment. Shore line seaweed, wood ash, composted waste and garden material, pony dung and bedding, along with garden chippings can replace fertilizers, bought compost, nutrient supplements and commercial weed/pest/disease control agents.

Bladderwrack seaweed as compost

(Locally available bladderwrack seaweed makes an excellent fertiliser)

One thing to change in the garden.

I never had a grand design for my garden, rather it evolved from ideas seen in other gardens, gleaned from magazines, or the wish to grow a specific plant and all influenced by the terrain, the climate and what I could physically manage. These influences could only be altered minimally and no beneficial climate change is currently predicted.

So in retrospect and from an age perspective, a change would be to have incorporated some future proofing by minimising the labour required for garden maintenance. Think long term requirements for mature plant size, hedge growth control, grass cutting, path weed control, vegetable plot size etc. My past relatively sedentary life has adjusted to this late expenditure of energy, which according to health professional’s recommendations for longevity, should extend my time in the garden!

Gary Brow's Garden

(Gary's Garden)

Advice for beginner gardener.

I would advise them to look and learn from many other gardens in a similar location. Note what thrives but don’t dismiss something you may want to include. Do not be dissuaded by text book descriptions of a plant’s growing requirements, give it a try. Be aware of long term maintenance sustainability, choose appropriate sites for different functional areas you require (BBQ, children’s play, shed, vegetables, compost etc) and try and have the surprise of an unexpected space.

The Connemara Garden club offers informative topical and relevant monthly meetings including local and away garden visits. In particular garden problems can be aired and advice offered to all levels of experience within the community. Membership allowed me admission to many old and new gardens not immediately available to the general public and an appreciation of what gardening was carried out over the past centuries in our local climate.

Favourite thing to grow.

The taste and variety of one’s own indoor grown tomatoes would be my favourite garden produce. The relief in taste after 8 months of imported or artificially ripened commercial equivalents is a flavoursome pleasure. In addition the grandchildren will eat these tasty smaller varieties like sweets and the larger varieties  are dried and preserved in olive oil for an out of season treat.

Organically grown tomatoes Gary Brow winning the Tom Feneran Memorial Shield for Best Tomatoes Connemara Pony Show 2017

(Gary's organically grown tomatoes, & Gary having won the Tom Feneran Memorial Shield for Best Tomatoes at the Clifden Connemara Pony Show 2017)

The Connemara Garden Club are happy to welcome new members at any time and host an annual plant sale in Clifden early summer. 

Contact :




Ethel Feneran
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The positive influence of Yoga in living a more sustainable life

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 We are delighted to introduce to you, Susan Gray. She is a Galway native and has lived in Connemara for many years, raising her family and working as a Satyananda Yoga Instructor from her popular practice based in Letterfrack. Susan’s silky voice is a gift for guided meditation called Yoga Nidra which she also teaches in Clifden.  She is an Ohh! By Gum supporter and endeavours, like many of us, to lead a ‘sustainable’ life.

Yoga essentially means "that which brings you to reality." In very simple words, giving care to your body, mind and breath is yoga. This means that the centuries-old practice which originated in India includes yoga postures (asanas), breathing techniques (pranayamas) and meditation. There are many different schools of practice, and since the 70’s has become world-wide healthy living phenomenon.


I first met Susan 12 or more years ago, when I first attended one of her yoga classes in Letterfrack.  She is a perfect embodiment of grace, kindness and consciousness which I clearly see in her role as teacher and as a mother too.   Her outlook on life is infectious and I am learning so much about myself and tuning into the world around me by attending her Yoga classes.   Susan has a real sense of being grounded and at the same time being lots of fun!  I love when she comes and visits us in the shop because we have fun trying new pieces and I like to see if she picks out the particular ones that I have bought with her in mind.  I think it’s wonderful we have some one of her talents locally.  Our community gains so much from people who bring something back from far flung places and infuse us with new understanding and practices for better living’  - Sharon, Founder of Ohh! By Gum

I was born and raised in Galway. When I was young I had the opportunity to travel a lot with my family - and later as an adult, I travelled a lot with friends. I worked in my own business in Galway City for many years. I started attending a regular yoga class in Galway in 1991.

I had a desire to Scuba Dive and with a trip to Israel planned - I decided to get certified as a Scuba diver in Ireland before travelling. Hence Scuba diving at Scubadive West in Connemara! Where there I met my future husband and have lived ever since!

Susan's View from her back door


I was attending regular Yoga classes in Galway City which I found hugely beneficial while running my own business in the city. A friend in London had just qualified and suggested the teacher training to me. The very next day I bumped into my Yoga teacher in Galway, she put me on the right track. Two and a half years later I was fully qualified in the Satyananda tradition of Yoga. The hardest but best thing I could have done. Satyananda Yoga is very much in touch with the ancient tradition of Yoga.

I keep improving my knowledge by attending Ashrams in India and Greece and by taking new certification courses here in Ireland. I am really looking forward to a Prana Vidya course in March. Prana Vidya is an advanced yogic practice distilled from the classical traditions and developed in the Satyananda Yoga system. It involves a deep exploration of prana , the life force, though meditation   


The view from Susan's backdoor  

Sustainable living is important to me. We are squandering the planets finite resources to fuel a disposable economy. We are all doing it every day.  I am constantly making small changes and educating my children to live more in harmony with nature. Single use disposable water bottles are gone from our house! We each have stainless steel or copper drinking bottles. A weekly treat for me is a coffee to go in Galway or Clifden. So my ‘keep cup’ is essential to bring along and get filled. Some Cafes give you 10 cent off the price of your coffee when you bring your own cup! Drive the car less often, walk whenever possible. Car pool - ‘don’t make unnecessary journeys!’

Everything about where I live, here in Connemara affects my outlook. The energy from the sea, the stability of the mountains, the clean air, the freshness - a bit too much rain though! The variety helps me to see the beauty and colour.  It’s a reminder that each day is unique and precious.

I buy from small, owner operator stores as much as possible. My husband and I each run a small business and we know the difference it makes when people choose local.

I don’t have a need for a huge wardrobe but when I buy.  I look for organic, sustainable clothing. I am lucky to have such a beautiful selection available on my doorstep in Clifden. 

                                       Susan's Buddha Garden at home


The obvious benefits of Yoga are physical - flexibility, bone density, muscle strength, protection from injury, and increased energy levels. The less obvious benefits are subtle and really important - Yoga and Meditation with a suitably qualified instructor will give you the tools to cope with life on a day to day basis on every level, mentally, emotionally and physically.

Meditation is a powerful tonic for the world we live in today. It gives us the opportunity to clear the mind of noise and clutter.

Yoga makes us aware, you start by attending yoga class and, over time the benefits filter into daily life.

When you first start out with Yoga, the most important thing is not to have any expectations.

When you need it Yoga will find you!

Trust a Yoga programme that retains the ancient practices. Be patient, listen to your body, be aware of your noisy mind. 


Susan is wearing the Thought Delphy Top and Jay leggings  


We like to keep it a bit fun at Ohh! By Gum so we have to ask…..

Name one thing you are good at, one thing you could be better at, and one aspiration.


I am a good minder, good at creating a safe space for my students, I suppose it’s just a continuation (hopefully!) of being a good mom. I enjoy providing healthy and nutritious food, no packets! Which, to my detriment often involves spending two hours prepping a meal but it’s worth it.

I could be better at social media and technology - not good at all! This interview is a big step! I don’t feel comfortable putting myself out there.

I would like to continue to live a healthy, happy, active yogic lifestyle. Trying not to engage in the disposable culture, do I need a new phone? No.  I’ll hold onto it for another year.

I bought a ‘keep cup’ for my takeaway coffee. I want to eliminate single use plastic from my life. We really have a long way to go, but we can do our bit from home. Composting, recycling and reducing clutter.


Sharon Griffin
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