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Journey to Ireland for The Gathering: Part Two

Mariellen Ward at Cobh Ireland for The Gathering

With Annie Moore statute at the Port of Cobh where my ancestors left Ireland in 1800

The search leads to a sad farewell and an ancient castle

Researching my family history in Dublin, boarding a famine ship in Wexford and discovering an ancestral castle in Cork: These were just some of the highlights of my trip to Ireland to connect with the land my ancestors left behind more than 200 years ago when they journeyed to British North America (now Canada) for the chance of a better life. I was on what genealogist Helen Kelly describes as the “goose bump trail” to walk the ground of my ancestors during Ireland’s Year of The Gathering. And, yes, there were goose bumps indeed…

Continued from Part One

It was the next day that I drove from Wexford to neighbouring Cork, and to the port of Cobh, where there is a large museum, The Cobh Heritage Centre, on the dock to recreate and honour the emigrant experience. More than 2.5 million Irish left Ireland from Cobh (formerly Queenstown) during the famine years (1845-50). My ancestors left many years before, but I am sure the experience was very similar. Continue Reading →


Journey to Ireland for The Gathering: Part One

Me at Blackwater Castle in my ancestral village, Cork, Ireland for The Gathering

Me at Blackwater Castle in my ancestral village, Cork, Ireland for The Gathering

On the goose bump trail to find my ancestral home in Ireland

Researching my family history in Dublin, boarding a famine ship in Wexford and discovering an ancestral castle in Cork: These were just some of the highlights of my trip to Ireland to connect with the land my ancestors left behind more than 200 years ago when they journeyed to British North America (now Canada) for the chance of a better life. I was on what genealogist Helen Kelly describes as the “goose bump trail” to walk the ground of my ancestors during Ireland’s Year of The Gathering. And, yes, there were goose bumps indeed…

Apple orchard on the Blackwater Castle Estate in Castletownroche, Cork, Ireland

As I wrote this post in Dublin, I was eating a crisp apple that came from an orchard on the Blackwater Castle estate in Castletownroche, Ireland. It was perhaps the best apple I have ever eaten — certainly the most significant, for I picked it myself just a day or two before. Climbing the 12th century tower of Blackwater Castle to survey the village and environs of Castletownroche in Cork was one of the highlights of my Gathering trip to Ireland — for it was from Castletownroche that my ancestors left Ireland, more than 200 years ago. Continue Reading →


Opening up the world of oysters in PEI and Ireland

oyster bed PEI

Raspberry Point Oyster farm, Prince Edward Island, Canada.

My search for the world’s best — and most elusive — oyster

I travelled to Prince Edward Island and, after stumbling upon the secret world of oysters and oyster shuckers, went on a quest to Ireland in search of the rare and delicious Irish oyster. 

“The thing you need to know about oysters is that there is more than one species,” John Petcoff, proprietor of Oyster Boy in Toronto tells me. “The crassostrea virginica is the species found all up and down the east coast of Canada and the USA. On the Pacific coast you find crassostrea gigas. The gigas is native to Japan and was imported in 1915. Then there’s the varietals, like malpeque, the oyster from Prince Edward Island.”
PEI malpeque oysters

Prince Edward Island is to oysters the way France is to wine. They’re the best.

John is telling me this in the middle of a rowdy party known as the Shucker’s Ball, held in Charlottetown the night before the Raspberry Point International Oyster Shucking Championship at the PEI International Shellfish Festival.

“What about Irish oysters?” I ask, as I’m two days away from leaving for the Emerald Isle.

“In Ireland you get the ostrea edulis, though they’re bringing in the gigas,” John explains. “You can tell the difference because the ostrea edulis is round and flat; the gigas is oblong and has a scalloped edge.”

I make a mental note, so I can discern the difference when I’m in Ireland. Continue Reading →


Learn basic Hindi for travel in India

elephant in a temple in India

Photo of temple elephant in India by Shalu Sharma.

 A little Hindi goes a long way in India

This is a guest post by Indian blogger Shalu Sharma, who recently published a book called “Essential Words and Phrases for Travellers to India.” To learn some of the basic phrases you will need, and to buy the book, read on.

As long as you know English, there will be few communication issues in India. Most Indians know some English, however some will not be able to converse as fluently as you would prefer including taxi drivers, waiters, porters and hotel staff. This is where some basic Hindi words, phrases and sentences can come handy.

Continue Reading →


Seafood tour of the gentle island

Red cliffs of Prince Edward IslandIn Prince Edward Island, all that matters is on the platter: oysters, lobster, mussels and clams

I’m in a sprawling white tent on a red sand beach watching a vivid sunset over the Atlantic Ocean and eating a plump lobster, freshly cooked in a briny bath of seawater. Celebrity chef and island local Michael Smith gets up to talk to us, a group of travel media from Canada and around the world. He stands, tall and rangy with a mop of wild hair, and addresses us in a booming voice brimming with passion for food and for his adopted homeland, Canada’s smallest province.

“Prince Edward Island is a great big giant green farm, surrounded by an abundant deep blue sea and filled with people and stories,” he booms out. I’m having my first defining moment of PEI. Continue Reading →


My link with Ireland: Nana

Nana, Whelan, Ireland, The Gathering

My grandmother, Nana, as a teenager in northern Ontario.

Getting ready to trace my Whelan roots in Ireland for The Gathering

On September 17, I will set foot in Ireland, land of my ancestors, for the first time. My trip is the culmination of more than a year of planning and research — and it’s all part of The Gathering, a massive, year-long tourism initiative to celebrate Irish culture and bring the Irish Diaspora back to the homeland.

My Nana is the reason I have long wanted to go to Ireland. When I was growing up in southern Ontario, my grandmother, Nana (born Monica Whelan), lived with us and was like a second mother to me. I always thought there was something very Irish about her — despite the fact that she was 5th generation Irish-Canadian. She died when I was a teenager, a huge loss for me. So, going to Ireland will, I think, help me feel reconnected to her — and to my roots, too.

Will I feel at home in Ireland? Will I feel the call “of the blood?” Will I feel I am with my people? And will they seem familiar to me, because of my Nana? This is what I want to find out when I “walk the ground” of my ancestors. Continue Reading →


A Tale of Two Countries: India

Mariellen Ward of Breathedreamgo at Taj Mahal IndiaMy experience of travel in India as a solo woman: 5 reasons I love India

Many people have asked me to comment on the CNN story about Michaela Cross, a young woman visitor to India who wrote about the trauma of experiencing sexual harassment while there. The story has “gone viral” with over a million hits, thousands of comments and a subsequent flood of media stories and blog posts. I started a very spirited discussion on my Facebook page that lead to some very heated words being exchanged. This story has really triggered people — people who feel compassionately for Michaela Cross, people who are concerned about the treatment of women in India, people who are concerned this story stereotypes the country and distracts from the misogyny, sexual harassment and rape that is rampant all over the globe, and people who are using the story for sensationalizing purposes to boost traffic and to bash India.

It all reminds me of the Indian story of the five blind men who encounter an elephant for the first time. One feels the tusk and says the elephant is smooth and hard; another feels the hide and says the elephant is dry and wrinkled; and so on. We each have our own experiences based on many factors that could include our age, attitude, luck, karma, destiny, timing, perception, interpretation, etc. It is the nature of the mind to find patterns and want to make things black-and-white, and discern the inherent truth in each story. But I prefer a personal interpretation of truth. And my truth is that I have had overwhelmingly positive experiences of travel in India. So here’s another India story for your consideration: 5 reasons I love India. Continue Reading →


Four years of dreaming and doing

Taj Mahal, Agra, India.

This was the photo on the original Breathedreamgo blog header.

Celebrating the four-year “blogiversary” of Breathedreamgo

TODAY, AUGUST 23, is the four-year anniversary of Breathedreamgo. Back in August 2009, I rushed my web designer / builder, Jennifer Johannesen of, to get it ready to launch on Ganesh Chaturthi, birthday of the elephant-headed god of luck and auspicious beginnings.

lord-ganapathi-picture-ganesh-wallpapersAugust 23 was the day the site was launched, but of course the idea for it was born much earlier. I started blogging, casually, when I first travelled in India in 2005-2006. I have written about this journey many times, including in My StoryA woman’s voice and 7 years of blogging. I was at the lowest ebb of my life, when I thought I might be finished with life, and needed to do something to get my life re-started. So I decided to take a huge leap of faith and go travelling, to India, for six months.

It worked: The trip gave me a muse (India), got me writing, connected me with a long-buried wanderlust and kick-started my life in so many ways. But as many people discover, sometimes the real journey begins when you get home. Since arriving back in Toronto in June, 2006, my life has taken a completely different course, with some highs and lows that have totally surprised me. Continue Reading →


Surrendering to the Goa vibe

On the beach in Goa, IndiaGoing, going, gone in Goa

I walked out of the small, crowded airport in Goa to find my pre-paid taxi, pushing past the usual throng of sharks looking for a fare. On the 30-minute drive south to Benaulim, where I was to stay in the home of a friend from Bangalore, I caught sight of a billboard with this declaration, hand-painted in glaring tropical colours:

Goa is like a refrigerator. There is nothing to do here but chill.

Oh man, I was already in trouble. I had all but lost the ability to chill. And I wasn’t sure I was in the mood. Years of hard work building my freelance writing and blogging career was wearing me down. Plus, I was recovering from a nasty sinus cold I picked up in Odisha. And I felt sluggish and heavy from spending way to much time sitting at a computer. How the hell was I going to catch the famous Goa vibe, hit the beach and just chill?! Continue Reading →


Om Sweet Om:
At a yoga ashram in Canada

Sivananda Yoga Camp, Quebec, Canada

Satsang in the big yoga hall.

My reinvigorating weekend at the Sivananda Yoga Camp in Quebec

I awake at 5:15 am in the women’s dorm and begin to get ready for the 6 am start to the day at Sivananda Yoga Camp. I walk out into the half-light of dawn in the Laurentian Mountains, and the cool air spiked with dew is refreshing. I feel part of a big, green, living eco-system. After a quick shower in the communal women’s bathhouse, and a stop at the artesian well to fill my water bottle with sweet water, I take my place in the temple for morning satsang. The community gathers around me and we begin the day with meditation followed by joyful chanting and a talk by one of the spiritual leaders.

After a short break, we assemble for yoga — there is a class for beginners and another for intermediate students, who are familiar with the Sivananda style of yoga. The beginner’s class is gentle and instructive; the intermediate class is invigorating and challenges students to push the comfort zone we habitually occupy. After a lengthy sivasana and more devotional chanting, we head to the dining hall for a big, healthy vegetarian breakfast. I sit outside at a wooden picnic table, surrounded by glorious views of the rolling, forest-covered mountains and the big, dramatic sky that changes moment to moment. It is an incredibly energizing way to begin the day and will, I hope, help give me the clarity I need to face an anxiety-provoking dilemma in my life.  Continue Reading →