Welcome to the first 2024 edition of Irish Country Living. As a team, we wish you and your family a happy and healthy year ahead.

As I write this, I am looking at a very sad Christmas tree. Where once its strong branches proudly displayed my treasured decorations, they are now drooping under the weight of them. The twinkling lights on my fireplace aren’t shining quite so bright, mostly due to the thick layer of dust that has amassed. When it comes to Christmas, I am one of those people who really drags it out until the bitter end.

Soon though, those decorations will be packed away neatly and the house will go back to normal. It will feel more spacious and de-cluttered but a bit bare all the same.

Mumble and grumble

Some people mumble and grumble through January - its cold, they’re broke and the days feel a lot darker without those festive lights. I don’t mind the first month of the year quite so much. I’m not one of those eager beavers taking up hillwalking or embarking on the couch to 5k. No, a few years ago, I found I’m a lot happier if I ease myself into the new year. After all the indulgence of Christmas, I like to go back to healthier ways but its nourishing soups, stews and casseroles that I revert to as opposed to a crash diet. Walks are gentle strolls rather than pounding the pavements and I enjoy restful weekends as opposed to the busy schedule of December.

Resolutions aren’t really my thing, but Claire Lyons Forde has an interesting piece on page 14 about making the choice to be kinder and gentler to yourself this year.

January is, of course, a time to plan and, on many farms - especially those looking ahead to a busy lambing and calving season - the motto of ‘fail to prepare; prepare to fail’ will be embraced as pens are prepared, equipment is cleaned and checked and bedding is ready. As part of this preparation though, January is a time to prepare the body – to rest and sleep when you can, knowing that when cows start to calve, there will be late nights and early mornings. Unfortunately, we can’t bank sleep but entering the season well rested will pay off in the long-term.

Speaking of sleep, our patterns can be all out of whack following the December fun, especially for children. Late nights and sleep-ins can take their toll on adults but when it comes to children and teenagers, it can really throw off their mood, appetite and concentration. Rebecca Lenehan has some excellent advice on page 18 about the importance of getting routines back on track before school starts again.

New contributor

As it’s the new year, we look forward to providing you with lots of interesting articles in 2024. With that, we have a new contributor. Ciaran Mullooly is a familiar face to many. He was on our TV screens on RTÉ for 28 years, most notably as the midlands correspondent on the news. Ciaran retired two years ago but, as his column points out, retirement isn’t quite as relaxing as he thought. As well as his new gig here, he has a role with Roscommon Leader. Ciaran has his finger on the pulse of a whole host of rural matters and while this week is something of an introduction, next week he has a heartwarming piece about older people making connections post-pandemic.

You’ll find Ciaran’s column, ‘Mullooly Matters’, on the back page but don’t worry, that doesn’t mean Margaret Leahy is gone. She’ll be back next week and her columns will now be published inside the paper.