Why not give an activity this year?

How about a day out with the Twitchers as a Christmas gift? Author and expert Eric Dempsey of Birds Ireland offers a number of trips and full-day workshops from his base in Co Wicklow.

Why not give an activity this year?

The exquisite moments of life are in doing — not in having. This Christmas, encourage someone you care about to do an activity or course that will enrich their life. I’ve picked a couple of examples, but these should just spur your ideas, based on your intimate knowledge of friends and family.


One of the most useful and touching presents I have ever received was a sewing kit, from my much-loved friend Anne. Presented in an up-cycled sweetie box, beautifully decoupaged with Victorian cherubs, it contained a simple array of everything I would need to sew a button, hem a skirt or refasten a teddy’s orphaned eye. That some of the reels and accessories were second-hand, from my friend’s arsenal, made them extra special, and she included a religious medal, an Irish tradition when a gift is given from one woman to another.

Any good haberdasher will be delighted to suggest what to include in a kit:a small set of scissors, a set of needles to daintily pick or darn, or a pin cushion (that can be a witty personalised piece), a selection of threads (go large on white and black), needle threaders or seam rippers etc. And throw in a miniature cross stitch kit from the Crafters Basket in Sligo, just €6.95 each with a delicious scented thread. www.craftersbasket.com.

There’s also a large selection of slightly more ambitious pieces at Go Woolly, www.gowoolly.ie or have a look at the adorable Sheepy Sheep wall hanging (€15) from a selection of inviting projects offered by the Sewing Shed in Kerry, www.thesewingshed.ie.


Having recently returned to knitting, spurred on by my daughter (she told her home economics teacher I was ‘hopeless’), I am a demented and enthusiastic prodigal.

Two stitches, plain and purl, will get even the most ham-fisted crafter on their way and with a few additional skills including reducing and increasing (to shape garments) it really is a skill open to all. Most people will find it deeply relaxing once they have ripped back and cursed their way through the first 12 attempts and if you think men can’t/don’t knit, take a look at the work of Kaffe Fassett online.

Two to three balls of a medium weight yarn, needles to match (again sing out for help in the shop) and a pattern (€1 to €4 depending on brand) and you have a great little present for anyone from the age of six up.

There are a number of useful websites to tutor the starter, intermediate or skilled knitter with video demonstrations of key talents easily found on YouTube as well as dedicated free sites such as Ethknits.co.uk.

Expect to pay in the area of €15 to get needles and wool for a pure wool scarf and consider throwing in some sort of bag to contain it as a gift and act as a knitting bag in the future.

Don’t forget your local retailer, a fund of information and often the introduction to a bonding knitting circle and other crafting adventures. Mine is Angela at the Lismore Design Workshop, Co Waterford.

Knit Knit, www.knitknit.ie offer not only supplies online from their West Cork base, but also mobile DIY Woolly Get Togethers throughout Cork.


Short home and garden courses make unusual and stimulating gifts but if the dates are set in stone, ensure your gift will suit the recipient.

¦ Ballymaloe Cookery School, are busy finalising their schedule for 2013 and included in their €95, short day range is Cooking Natural Food for Baby, a perfect escape for any young parent or expectant mother: 2pm — 5.30pm, March 8.

Cookery demonstrations start from just €70 and you can make sushi, churn butter or cure a pig, the full list is online at www.cookingisfun.ie. Tel: 021-4646785

¦ Based in the luscious country of Scarriff, Co Clare, a one day course with Irish Seed Savers, Creating an Orchard will light up a single day in February. Discover how to choose a site, how to lay out an orchard, choose rootstocks, prepare soil and even basic pruning techniques for new trees. Cost €60; supporters €54. Full calendar of events at the home of the Native Apple Collection, at www.irishseedsavers.ie. Tel: 061-921866.

¦ There’s a morning course for just €25 in a similar vein run by the Sustainability Institute in Westport, Mayo. www.fruitandnut.ie.

¦ Glenn Lucas is much feted for his wood turning school in the foothills of Mount Leinster in County Carlow, and runs regular one, three and half day classes at his Woodturning Study Centre. Each turner has a top-of-the-range lathe and tool panel with all necessary tools and chucks. All wood is supplied and participants will come away with their hand turned piece. Prices start from €130 for a full day, group class. Gift vouchers for a forthcoming day class are available online at www.glenlucas.com.

¦ Upcycling furniture can seem a daunting notion to even a keen DIY virgin, but cut out the priming and it’s one step closer to success. The Paint Pot on Anglesea Street in Cork offer one day workshops using the eco-friendly gorgeous shades of Annie Sloan chalk paint. Learn to stencil, distress, marble and decoupage at a morning workshop for €60. For upcoming events contact Jackie or Connie at www.thepaintpot.ie.

¦ Anyone interested in the wildlife teeming through the garden would enjoy a workshop with author and expert Eric Dempsey of Birds Ireland, near Newcastle in County Wicklow. Discover Ireland’s raptors, reel with gulls, or discover the wonders in the dawn chorus on full day workshops with like-minded twitchers. Prices start from €65 for a full day with lunch at the lodge, and €110 for a weekend course (accommodation not included): January 20, it’s all about garden birds. Go to www.birdsireland.com for a full programme. Email: birdsireland@gmail.com.


A handmade gift of fragrant and spicy, pot pourri

You can gift this project to a friend or keep it for yourself. Including a good piece of pottery allows the receiver to sling the dusty contents into the compost heap in the future and keep the bowl. Don’t incinerate the oranges and lemons!


¦ Two oranges

¦ Handful of star anise

¦ Handful of pine cones

¦ Cinnamon sticks

¦ A wide glass or ceramic bowl. (Try to make it Irish pottery or glass — 20cm plus is ideal)

¦ Clear cellophane wrap

¦ Raffia or ribbon to tie


1. Slice oranges cross-wise into thin slices approx 5mm

2. Press slices between kitchen towels to blot away excess juice

3. Place slices on racks in oven and dry for 3 hours at 140°C (280°F), or 120°C (250°F) if fan-forced. Check regularly.

4. Heap the ingredients with your now cooled slices into the bowl.

5. Add one or two drops of a citrus essential oil. Orange or lemon is ideal.

6. Set bowl on a sheet of cellophane wrap and pull up to the top.

7. Secure with raffia or a nice generous ribbon. Go further — look through your foraging finds from the beach and woods for things to add to your mixture. Shredded bark, beech nut cases, dried moss, lovely pebbles and dried flowers leaves (including whole fragrant bay pinched from the larder) add textural interest.

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