Ireland’s “Answer To Alcatraz” leading Irish Tourism to Success

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Yes, you heard right people. Ireland has opened the doors of one of the oldest and most infamous prisons on our Emerald Isle. Despite tourism delights such as Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin City and Crumlin Road Gaol in Belfast, racking up hundreds of thousands of visitors per year, there has been one historical prison that remained in the shadows during these time. But not anymore? The gates to Spike Island Fortress and Prison are now open to the public, for all tourists and enthusiasts of the dark stories that surround such a place.

But many of you may be asking…what is Spike Island? Where is Spike Island? And…why have I never heard of Spike Island?

Spike Island is an island of the coast of Cork City, which dates right back to the 6th Century, where a monastery once stood upon its beautiful land; surrounded by the waters of Cork Harbour.

In the late 18th Century, the British built several military barracks on the island and also a series of forts, after seeing all the potential this isle had to offer. But by the turn of the 19th Century, times were changing, intolerance brewing and the crime rates at a serious high. It was not long before a Victorian prison was to be built on the island, becoming the largest ever jail in the history of Ireland and Britain.

The jail itself could hold over 2300 prisoners at one time, and by “hold,” this does not mean by comfortable standards, in the slightest. With city and town jails housing individuals of petty crime, these numbers quickly started to rise with the arrival of the potato famine. Spike Island Prison was designed to hold those prisoners of more serious crimes, with thousands of them being transported to British colonies across seas, such as Tasmania, Bermuda and Australia. Here, these men, women and children were sold to prospective buyers, becoming servants and slaves for the early settlers.

imageMany of the prisoners were subjected to hard, intensive labour, whilst awaiting the approaching transportation ships. Many people died even before the sails were cast; severely malnourished, and there were a number of those who took their own lives to escape the fate that was to follow.

However, the range of crimes that brought about imprisonment in this fortress were extensive. According to the book, Too Beautiful For Thieves and Pickpockets by Barra Ó Donnabháin and Cal McCarthy, an orphan named John Power, who was so badly brutalized by the authorities down through the years, he ended up killing a prison warder in Waterford, and was subsequently imprisoned for this. On the other hand, an upper class artist from Dublin called William Burke Kirwan, also passed through Spike Island’s gates…this time for the crime of murdering his wife. He spent a great portion of his sentence at the prison, and it wasn’t until 30 years later that he returned to Ireland, after the shame of being transported to Bermuda.

imageThe prison closed in 1883, but still remained under British rule, where troops still positioned themselves. But the history did not even stop there. A claim to fame that the Island is happy to boast about, is its connection to famous explorer Percy Fawcett; who was an employee at the War Office on the island from 1903-1906. He spent his whole life searching for the lost cities and kingdoms of South America. However, by 1914,  he had whittled down the search for an ancient kingdom hidden deep within the Amazon, which he called Z. It was not until 1925, when his expedition set off after becoming convinced of its location. But Percy never returned. What could have happened to Spike Island’s explorer? Did he find the City? Did he die looking for it? Did cannibals murder him, or did he join a tribe like many suggest? Others even believe that he may have been killed by nature itself, as he was always fascinated by the myths of giant anacondas. The story of such an expedition still makes people curious, and this month the movie adaption, Lost City of Z, starring Robert Pattinson and Charlie Hunnam was released, telling the story of the ill-fated explorer.

Despite this intriguing connection, Spike Island was finally given back to the Irish people in 1938, which may surprise some who would have thought the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1922 would have sealed this deal…but it did not. Since then, the island became home to several settlers and businesses, but still it lay in the shadow of the abandoned prison.

However, in 2015, Cork City Council, in conjunction with Failte Ireland, opened its doors to visitors and tourists, allowing people to see, for the first time, what “Ireland’s Answer To Alcatraz” was really like. In fact, many may not know this, but Alcatraz is small in comparison to Spike Island Prison; for the San Francisco attraction sits on a small 22 acre island, whereas Spike Island spans an enormous 104 acres. Pretty impressive, huh?

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In 2015, the prison welcomed 32,000 curious tourists and the numbered continued to rise. And thanks to a €6 Million investment in June 2016, the entire prison and surrounding buildings were able to be transformed into the fantastic tourist attraction, which we have all been waiting for. With tourist numbers expected to increase to well over 100,000, I know where I will be heading to once I come home from Toronto.

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The opening season for 2017 is from March to October. For only €18 or less, you can purchase a ticket to take you from Kennedy Pier in Cobh, County Cork across the harbour to Spike Fortress, which actually covers the entry and tour itself. Tickets can be purchased at the kiosk at the Pier, but to save time, can be pre-purchased online, by clicking HERE. Coffee shops are located on the island, to make you trip with family and friends even more enjoyable.  They offer School Tours which would prove to be an enjoyable and educational experience for end of Primary school tours, or history class outings at high school. HINT HINT TEACHERS!!!

And for the more curious and brave individual, who likes things that go bump in the night, they also offer the choice to attend the Spike Island After Dark Tour, where you will hear of the scary tales of gruesome crimes and punishment, as well as taking a step along the abandoned cell blocks, where the chill of its former inhabitants still linger.

For more information on Spike Fortress, its history, tour information and how to get there, you can do so by visiting the official website, http://www.spikeislandcork.ie/.

Ireland is such a fantastic little island to live and visit, and with tourist spots like this NOW OPEN FOR BUSINESS, it won’t be long until this popular prison attraction will be competition for all others worldwide.

Embrace the Irish Spirit, our history and spread the word. This is a MUST-DO on your next road-trip to County Cork.

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Pet: The Film Review

imageWe’ve all heard the saying…A Pet is for Life, Not Just for Christmas. Well this statement couldn’t be more true for the new horror/thriller PET.

Written by Jeremy Slater; most famous for his work on the 2015 movie The Lazarus Effect and his participation in the outstanding current FOX TV series adaption of The Exorcist, it already goes without saying that his newest movie would be just as exciting and groundbreaking.

PET is the story of Seth, played by Dominic Monaghan (Lord of the Rings)who is somewhat of a recluse, a nobody…a loner if that description fits.

He spends his days working at a state county animal shelter, adopting more of a relationship with his animal companions than that of his occupational peers. He comes to work, he smiles, he waves, he keeps the place tidy and despite the lack of respect he is shown by his work colleagues, he just carries on as normal.

Sounds like a sweet guy…yeah? Think again. We soon find out that Seth commutes to work on the bus, with a girl called Holly (Ksenia Solo) who he has developed a crush on. The only thing is, he does not know her, has never spoken to her and she has no knowledge of his feelings.

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He soon sets out by finding out her name, and when he does, he uses the fantastic world of social media to learn everything about her. He learns her age, her educational history, her likes and dislikes, her favorite foods and restaurants…and most of all…her relationship status.

Now tell me if I wrong, but does this not creep you out in the slightest? We are all guilty of putting too much information of ourselves on social media, making one understand how easily it can be for predators to gain key facts and claim to know you.

In several early scenes we see Seth practicing scenarios where they possibly meet and start chatting, as he silently hopes for this clueless girl to fall in love with him. As Seth begins to visit the diner where she works; pretending he is an old high school buddy from back in the day and starts getting roses delivered, Holly starts to get scared and tells him she has a boyfriend. Little does she know, Seth knows for certain that she doesn’t.

She is completely oblivious to how he would know such intimate details about her…completely unaware of how simple it is to follow someones life online.

imageAs the film gets over introductions, we see Seth’s abduction of Holly, as she sleeps in her apartment. However, when she wakes up, nothing can prepare her for what she sees. For now, she is no longer in the comfort of her own bed, but in an animal cage in the basement of the abandoned premises of the animal shelter. The question that we are left with now is whether or not Seth wants a girlfriend or a PET.

But just like any great horror/thriller, there are many twists and turns, and soon the tables are turned. What we learn about both characters, as the movie progresses, will change your perception on the assumed villain.

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Dominic Monaghan plays the role of our male lead brilliantly, as he portrays his psychotic tendencies and instability with such passion and belief; making us feel sorry for him and then despise him later on. Wheareas, Ksenia Solo as Holly is a breath of fresh air on the movie scene, as she show viewers how victims of kidnapping soon put things into perspective and enter survival mode.

It is great to see movies like this being made, as it not only highlights the importance of being curious questionable of some behaviors, but it also makes us take a look at our own. Why do we put on the internet that we like a certain food, why do we tag ourselves into our favorite coffee shop each week, why do we inform the world of our love life or lack of it, with just one click?

The answer is different for everyone? Maybe you want to be seen as outgoing and enjoying life, maybe you want some much needed attention or maybe you want to feel like the world is watching. However, maybe somebody is watching and the attention they seek is somewhat opposite.

imagePET was released during Christmas 2016, to mediocre turnouts at movie theatres, but this is understandable due to December being every cinema’s hardest month to draw in movie-goers. Nevertheless, it is a great film, full of terrific plot twists and wonderful character development.

I would encourage fans of this genre to purchase this on DVD, as it is definitely one for the weekend movie marathon with friends and family. Currently the movie is on sale on AMAZON UK for a very affordable price, making it an absolute steal.

Hope you enjoy the shock fest. Get your pillow ready.

Fashion Hits Home & It’s Everything We Hoped For

imageWe all yearn for it, search for it and aim to be the definition of it… and that my friends… is FASHION. Like myself, we all aim for that signature look; something so unique, memorable and most of all stunning, that will make you the talk of the town and make jaws drop from a block around. Fashion enthusiasts across the globe look in many directions…first to the runway, then to the style capitals like Paris, Milan, London & New York, and finally we take tips from the media, by recreating celebrity red carpet looks.

However, despite the coverage and hype, the question poses itself, “Can we afford to achieve that level of style?” Well, I am here to tell you simply, “YES YOU CAN!” Style is not meant to be difficult to achieve. It’s not there to be admired only on high profile clients. But it is meant to be accessible and affordable to all.

Ever since moving to Toronto, I have promised to continue to write about my passions; not just here but back home also. And it didn’t take me long to find my next article to place my fairy dust upon.

You may or may not already know, but in the past few months, a new fashion outlet has opened in my hometown of Crossmaglen; much to the delight of its residents, visitors and far-away closet fashionistas like myself. In the last few years, Crossmaglen has surprised us all by finally stepping outside the shadow of the 20th Century, and embracing retail change and advancement. And what better time to step forward into the limelight than now…and this is what new store Couture Grandeur has done.

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Since opening its doors for business recently, it has been going from strength to strength, and proving ever popular with all the ladies who visit the premises. From what I have been hearing, the clothing outlet is becoming somewhat of a treasure trove or what I would call an Aladdins’s Cave. Contacts cannot stop raving about the range that there is on offer, as well as the endless amount of accessories to compliment and complete a desired look.

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But the immediate and continued success of this already popular business is not simply down to its selection of fabulous finery. Every person I have spoken to and every online review I have read, highlight the warm, helpful, welcoming nature of its proprietor Yvonne McCoy. From the moment you walk in the door to the second you leave, customers have commented on how courteous and professional this lady is.

imageWith the styling talents of Yvonne and her incredible eye for detail, Couture Grandeur is quickly becoming the hot, in-vogue, trendsetter in Northern Ireland’s fashion retail. Whether you want to adopt the elegant, glamorous styling of Michelle Obama, the hipster chic look of Jennifer Aniston, or maybe even the romantic, classic look of Emma WatsonCouture Grandeur can offer it all, for an affordable price.

It makes me happy to see my hometown grow in popularity with these new, innovative businesses putting their own touch of magic into the retail sector. But what makes me even more proud is seeing the increasing number of women following their dreams and bringing them to life. Having been surrounded by many influential and inspiring females my whole life, it is wonderful to see businesswomen like Yvonne and many others in my hometown taking that step and giving the public what they’ve been looking for.

I would like to take this time to wish Couture Grandeur continued success and when I finally get home from my travels, I will definitely being paying this ‘style haven’ a visit myself.

Couture Grandeur is located at Unit 2, Casey’s Complex, Crossmaglen, Newry, Northern Ireland.

Opening Hours:

Monday-Thursday 10am-6pm

Friday 10am-8pm

Saturday 10am-7pm

Facebook media link can be found HERE

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“Proof” at The Red Sandcastle Theatre: The Review

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Last night, an opportunity presented itself for me to witness one of my favorite stories brought to life on the Toronto stage. So how could I turn away from that? Walking down through my favorite area of “The Six,“…Queen St East, on a crisp Thursday evening, I was surprised to know that this theatre existed, despite this being a place I often frequent. But there it was…the Red Sandcastle Theatre.

I walked through the signature red entrance, and inside the magic began. New theatre company, Theatre UnBlocked; lead by their creator and producer Carina Cojeen, have decided to bring the public a show that not only has a high degree of relevance today and relatable to many aspects of life, but is a Tony Award winning play and Pultitzer Prize winner also. This show is none other than the wonderful and thought provoking, “PROOF,” which plays from March 9-March 19 2017.

As the lights dim around us, and centre on the stage, we are introduced to our lead character, Catherine (Karen Slater). It’s Catherine’s 25th Birthday and she sits alone in her house. However, unlike many twenty-five year old girls on their birthday, she is in no mood to celebrate. Celebrate what? All the years lost? All the years spent in the shadow of her genius, mathematician father? Or possibly all the time spent caring for the genius, when he began to lose his mind, by the ravages of mental illness.

imageWe soon are told that her father Robert (Dan Willmott) has died a week earlier and her older sister Claire (Andrea Irwin) is on her way home from Manhattan to Chicago for the funeral. But when she returns, what she finds is an empty shell of a girl once full of life and ambition. Despite having inherited much of her father’s mathematical knowledge and thinking, she fears that she has inherited his history of mental illness also. And she is not the only one who thinks so…her sister feels the same her.

Catherine’s erratic and unstable behavior don’t help to challenge this mental diagnosis, as we watch her sudden outbursts towards her sibling and witness her paranoia regarding her father’s ex-student Hal (Chris Peterson) in his struggle to decipher her father’s final math notes, theories and equations.

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Here is a girl; who against her sibling’s advice, decided to take care of her father at home, rather than entrust his care to a facility. Here is a girl, who had to give up her own career to ensure the memory of her father’s one, would not be tarnished by the stigma of mental illness. But most of all, here is a girl, who has been left to fend on her own and through these unfortunate circumstances, has developed a distrust for the outside world.

But everything changes when Hal uncovers a hidden journal, believed to be Robert’s final works. Inside a theory, an equation and a solution to one of mathematics hardest problems. But confusion soon surrounds this discovery. Is this Proof that Robert was not as crazy as people may have thought? Or is Catherine the true author of this ground-breaking discovery. Is she capable of doing such a thing? Where is the PROOF?

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To prevent spoilers, I will tell you all no more.

However, one thing I can say is that the play is absolutely fantastic. As producer of her inaugural production for Theatre UnBlockedCarina Cojeen along with wonderful director Carl Jackson, have put together a wonderful adaption of this well-known play; putting their own stamp on an interesting story-line.

The set was simplistic and intimate, creating a feeling of audience involvement in the performance. I personally love sets like this because it not only feels like you are experiencing the action up-close, but it allows unforgettable acting performances to shine through.

In terms of the acting ability, the performances were second to none. Karen Slater who played our female protagonist Catherine, was a joy to watch and captivated the theatre-goers. She portrayed her character with such passion and determination…making it a believable and natural performance.

Dan Willmott was delightful as father Robert, and easily won the audience over with his take on the loving character, who was the perfect example of both brains and heart.

Andrea Irwin was outstanding as the uptight sister, Claire, and brought to life a character who I related to quite a bit. She became her character in every way; full of grace and poise, but with a hidden fun-factor.

Finally, Chris Peterson was brilliant as the charming and endearing Hal. He succeeded in depicting the determined nature of his character, in his relationship with both academia and his attraction to our leading lady.

Although mental health topics can be seen as a somewhat dark area, David Auburn’s play PROOF, is the perfect challenge to this opinion. It is filled full of humor, especially through the sisterly tension, which will have you chuckling throughout. But it also opens your mind to other possibilities. Proof shows the impact of instability within the family unit. It highlights the struggle of not only the sufferer but the people around them, who have to witness the changes brought by these debilitating diseases. It can bring people together or tear them apart. And sometimes in the darkest of moments, can you finally see the situation for what it truly is. An opportunity to grow, learn and become stronger from.

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This play debuted on Broadway in 2000, and as mentioned before, has won several awards and recognition. So much so, that in 2005 a movie adaption starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Anthony Hopkins and Jake Gyllenhaal graced the silver screen.

So if you want to see this touching and though provoking play on the Toronto theatre scene, get down to the RED SANDCASTLE THEATRE on 922 Queen Street East from MARCH 9-19.

Tickets can be purchased at the theatre on the night, but to avoid disappointment, can be purchased in advance online, by clicking http://theatreunblocked.brownpapertickets.com/.

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This is a show that should not be missed. Have a break from your hectic schedule and relax. What better place than at this lovely show? Surrounded by all the wonderful restaurants, cafes and bars that Queen St has to offer, it will help to top of a memorable night.

***Stay Tuned for a follow up interview with producer Carina Cojeen, and hear her take on this incredible play, and what she has in store for us in the future***

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(Production Photography courtesy of Bruce Peters)

Little Shop of Horrors: Lower Ossington Theatre promises a musical with a BITE

imageWe all know by now that one of my favorite theatre companies has to be; without a doubt, the Lower Ossington Theatre (LOT). With the wide selection of theatre avenues that they explore, it is not surprising that they give the public something that will appeal to each one of their tastes. Whether it is comedy, musical, classic play or drama, The LOT really knows how to deliver.

As you can guess, with theatres, there is a specific time frame after the festive holiday season in December, when all the theatrical organizers gather to plan the upcoming season’s brochure of exciting new shows.

In reality, the last show I attended at this establishment was actually in December 2016, and you can only imagine the anticipation I feel surrounding the new show. Program specialists have thought long and hard about what would be the most appropriate show to start off the season with a bang. But what could that be? We like to be excited, thrilled, shocked, humored and entertained. But mostly we want to witness something with a fresh new BITE on the Toronto stage…so trust me…this will be the show for you.

From March 24-May 14, the stage adaption of the movie classic “LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS” will be delighting all who attend this marvelous show. If you are looking for a performance with originality, humor, suspense and a memorable score of musical tunes, then go no further.

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Based on the 1986 Sci-Fi movie of the same name, Little Shop of Horrors , is a horror-comedy musical classic, which follows the story of a nerdy, down and out NYC florist called Seymour Krelborn. With the help of his assistant Audrey, they run Mushnik’s Flower Shop in an area quickly starting to be referred to as skid row. Struggling to make ends meet; despite their passion and effort, Seymour starts to decide it could be time to “fold.” But thoughtful and dreamy Audrey proposes a plan to him, which could possibly bring more custom to the ever-empty business.

imageShe encourages him to display a specific plant to the public, which he has never done so before. This plant is in fact an unusual botanical species that he purchased from a Chinese Flower Shop during the last solar eclipse. As soon as he displays it for the passing public to see, it grabs the attention of all, and within a short period of time increases custom and talk about the flower shop. Seymour names the plant “Audrey II” but soon realizes than the plant is withering. Despite many botany interventions to save this growing tourist attraction, the plant continues to die…that is until…Seymour pricks his finger on the plant while tending to it.

He immediately witnesses the effect blood has on Audrey II, and in no time at all, the plant grows into a hot-headed, foul-mouthed, R&B singing diva with a carnivorous appetite.

imageBut what is Seymour to do? To ensure the continued success and ever-growing customer influx to his store, would it be wrong if he fed a few of them to Audrey II, to keep her at bay? No that’s wrong…OR IS IT?

The stage production of this horror musical comedy, is sure to be as entertaining and exciting as the original movie; filled full of dark humor and laughs. With its musical score composed by the one-and-only Alan Menkin (famous for the music of Aladdin, Sister Act, Enchanted, The Little Mermaid and many more), you can only imagine how catchy the show-tunes will be.

This musical originally premiered on the Off-Broadway stage in 1982 and garnered success for many years on both sides of the Atlantic. So much so that it just completed a West End Tour in 2016. But now it’s Toronto’s turn to see this spectacular production, and the company & cast of the Lower Ossington Theatre will undoubtedly keep the success of this musical alive.

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Performances will be held FRIDAY’S, SATURDAY’S AND SUNDAY’S from March 24 – May 14 at The Lower Ossington Theatre, located at 100A Lower Ossington Avenue, Toronto.

Tickets can be purchased at the in-theatre box office, or can be purchased online in advance by clicking HERE. Also, as an added bonus, when purchasing online, make sure to use the code FEEDME25 to enjoy 25% discount on all available seats and tables.

Come along and see this popular show for yourself…I promise…we don’t BITE. 

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Lavish & Squalor: The Perfect Mix of Past and Present

imageEarlier this week, I went once again in search of Toronto’s most unique, appealing and desirable stores. Now as we all know, Queen St. is one of those places where you can find anything and everything. Whether its fashionable clothing, eye-catching homemade jewelry, professionally brewed beer or the high market cosmetic ranges…this stretch of Downtown has it all.

But as Toronto becomes more modernized by the day, I find that the city is at risk of loosing its character and its much-loved architectural links to the past. I remember as a young child back home in Ireland, there were several retail stores that when you entered their doors, you were greeted by a whole new world inside. The proprietors still used the old-fashioned lead scales and sometimes school desks with inkwells from bygone days, were used for product display purposes. Despite necessity being the reason for this, rather than fashion…it always made me feel like this is what a store should aim to be.

And finally I have found the ultimate example of this style, hidden right here, in the big city. At 253 Queen St W, you will find a building, whose dark painted exterior, Greek pillared entrance and wide-span windows will catch your eye immediately. As I walked through its period-style wooden doors, I was warmly welcomed into the treasure trove that is Lavish & Squalor.

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And this is where your adventure begins. With stunning exposed brick walls, and rustic wooden beams and support pillars, I felt like I had been transported back in time to a Wild West saloon. From the low, warm lighting to the fantastic antique furniture and service counters, I quickly forgot about the bustling city that lay beyond its doors.

imageBut what about what’s on sale? From the beautiful, handmade necklaces that would make anyone’s eyes twinkle to the woolen shawls and stylish jackets that would make you the envy of all your friends. From the natural cosmetic products for both men and women (homemade in Canada) to the stunning glassware, cutlery and ornaments that would give your home that much-needed lift. It has it all.

As a person who plans to build their own house at some point, this store gave me wonderful ideas for not only decorating it, but the character I aim to achieve. I went in looking to purchase a gift and came out with a newfound creative outlook. But not only does this gem sell apparel gifts for all, but it has on display a wide range of food products and treats that are enjoyed by all. Teas, sweets, honeys, jams, ginger beer and tonic, as well as highly sought-after spices and flavorings, are only a small glimpse into what is on offer in the food-beverage department.

imageBut, in all honesty, what topped the whole experience off for me was something that lay at the rear of the shop. As I sailed through the different spaces filled with unique gifts and clothing, and ran my fingers along the neat collection of shelved literature, I started to get the caffeine urge.

But how was I going to get a coffee fix in here? Well, I quickly took that statement back. For as I traveled to the back of the store; following the familiar smell of coffee beans and brewing whistles, I soon realized Lavish & Squalor has its own in-store espresso bar. And believe me…its damn good coffee. With an extensive range of coffee and hot tea choices, as well as a selection of baked goods, this store is the reason why I still believe in creativity and retail progression.

I have many friends; both who enjoy retail therapy and the instant pleasure of coffee…so this is the perfect combination of both. And even if you have that partner, spouse, family member or friend who doesn’t like shopping, all you need to do is park them up at the coffee bar with a nice brew in their hand, as you explore the treasures that surround you. With friendly staff, helpful baristas, affordable prices and an unforgettable array of locally sourced products (which you will never find in the big-name chains), this is a place I will come back to, time and time again.

With my family coming to visit me from the Emerald Isle in May, what better place to show them than the delights of Lavish & Squalor.

The premises describes itself as “A Shop where Nostalgia meets Today’s Lifestyle,” and in truth, I couldn’t put it better myself. So get down now and see what all the buzz is about!!! I’m sure you will love it, just as much as I do.

For more information on the store and its range of products, please click  HERE.

Opening Hours are as follows:

Mon to Wed: 11am-7:30pm

Thurs: 11am-8pm

Fri: 11am-8:30pm

Sat: 11am-7pm

Sun: 11am-6pm

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