Sunday, 25 March 2012

Dashing Through Donegal

I really did feel very sad saying goodbye to Myra this morning.  She had invited these two Kiwi girls, who she'd never met before, into her home without hesitation.  An amazing woman who's kindness I'll never forget.  I hope to be back though to see her again.
These last few days have been a 'full immersion' in to my ancestral roots and I feel my life [or should that be, Lizzie's life] has come full circle here.  I'll definitely be coming back.

Lough Erne, Co. Fermanagh
We left Enniskillen slowly, taking in one last look at this place where so many of my ancestors had been before & headed around Lough Erne to Tully where we stopped to take a look at the ruins of Tully Castle.
Tully Castle, Tully, Co. Fermanagh

Tully Castle lies on a hill overlooking the west shore of Lower Lough Erne, north of the village of Derrygonnelly, in County Fermanagh.  The impressive remains of this fortified house  are set on beautiful Tully Point and was first documented in 1619, shortly after being built for the Hume family, who lived there until 1641. However, the castle was attacked and burned on Christmas Eve in 1641 by Rory Maguire who massacred its inhabitants some time later. It has never been lived in since.
Tully Castle, Tully, Co. Fermanagh, Northern Ireland
So, for 350 years it has remained ruined and desolate. In the 1970s the site was cleared of ivy and growth revealing the paths of an old garden.

From here, we head on to Belleek where we hoped to visit the Belleek Pottery Centre.  However, being a Sunday, we weren't holding out much hope, which was just as well, as it was as we thought, closed.

Belleek Pottery Centre, Belleek, Co. Fermanagh
Belleek Pottery began trading in 1887 in this grand 19th Century building which dominates the border village of Belleek in Co. Fermanagh.   Famous for its ornate, creamy pottery - porcelain festooned with shamrocks or delicate, spaghetti-like strands woven into trellis-like plates.

Leaving Belleek, we cross into County Donegal & were now back in the Republic of Ireland, continuing on to the town of Donegal. 

Donegal Castle, Donegal, Co. Donegal

Donegal Castle, Donegal
Donegal Castle is in the heart of Donegal Town, you can't miss it.  Built in the 15th century, the castle was the seat of the O’Donnell chieftains. 
The O'Donnells fled Ireland in the 17th Century after being defeated by the English in the Battle of Kinsale, along with other Clans in what became known as the 'Flight of Earls'.   O'Donnell burned the keep before fleeing Ireland to prevent it being used by the English.
The walls of this castle are apparently 8 feet thick!  For the past two centuries most of Donegal Castle lay in ruins but in the late 1990’s the tower house was totally restored leaving the remaining wings as ruins.
The back view of Donegal Castle, Donegal
[Can you spot the Grey Heron?]

Just on the outskirts of Donegal, we see a sign directing us down to a Famine Graveyard.    1845 marked the onslaught of the potato crop failure in Ireland, culminating in the Famine & all the disastrous consequences that flowed from its horrors.

Famine Graveyard, Donegal

All that there is to see here at this mass grave site is a small grassed area surrounded by a stone wall, in the centre of which stands a simple white wooden cross.  A memorial plaque on the stone wall commemorates those lives lost to the famine & buried in this mass grave.  In Ireland, during the Famine, many graveyards were so quickly filled up that burial pits were opened to receive the bodies of the dead.   For such massive loss of life, this memorial seems almost too modest for the pain and suffering these people endured.
The Round Tower in the grounds of the Church of Saints Joseph and Conal,
Bruckless, Co. Donegal
From Donegal, we decided to head to the fishing settlement of Killybegs on the Donegal coast, on the way, passing through the tiny village of Bruckless overlooking Donegal Bay.  Driving through the town, you come across the Church of Saints Joseph which has situated within its grounds, a magnificient Round Tower.   Built as a belfry by the parish priest over a hundred years ago. 

Killybegs, Co. Donegal
We were heading to Ardara [pronounced Ard-Ra] to visit a first cousin of my grandfather's,  & had decided on the spur of the moment to drive via Killybegs.
The town itself is perched on a slope above a natural harbour, its buildings huddled around narrow cramped streets.   It really is a beautiful wee place & is a favourite holiday spot for the Irish.    
Fishing boats in Killybegs Harbour, Co. Donegal
At last arriving in Ardara, I visit Dorothy, who at 89 years of age is, along with Lillie from Enniskillen, are the last remaining first cousins of my late grandfather.  Dorothy only learned of 'me' & my trip to Ireland a few months ago & while she knew of her father's sister Lizzie who had gone to New Zealand to live, she'd never been in contact with any of her family before.
Ardara, Co. Donegal
Trying to shrug off the remainder of the flu, Dorothy was still not in the best of health but was excited about my visit and to talk about what she knew of an aunt & cousins she had never had contact with.    I wish my visit with her could have been a lot longer & really did feel sad about leaving so soon.  As a parting gift, this lovely lady was adamant she pay for our lunch at the Nesbitt Arms Hotel in Ardara, despite not being well enough to join us. 

Nesbitt Arms Hotel, Ardara, Co. Donegal
Ardara is a small commercial and market town with the Nesbitt Arms Hotel, lying in the hub of the place.    Built in 1838 The Nesbitt Arms Hotel takes its name from the last Whaling family in Ireland.    Interestingly, Thomas and Andrew Nesbitt set up a whaling business in Donegal Bay in 1759. Thomas was the inventor of the harpoon gun around the late 1700's which at the time, revolutionised the slaughter of whales.

Abandoned Famine Cottage, Co. Donegal

From Ardara, we drove north via Glenties & Gweedore on the N56 then turning right on to the R251 we travelled alongside beautiful Loughs toward Dunlewey with Mt Errigal looming nearer & nearer.  Consisting mostly of blanket bog, much of the cultivated land around this region is reclaimed from peat and boulders.
Mt Errigal, Co. Donegal

Mt Errigal, Co. Donegal
At 2,464 ft, Mt Errigal's quartz scree strewn peak is the 76th tallest peak in Ireland. 
Nestled at the foot of Errigal & overlooking the beautiful Poisoned Glen sits the imposing  Church of the Sacred Heart in Dunlewey, a relatively new church built in 1875.

Sacred Heart Church, Dunlewey, Co. Donegal

The Poisoned Glen is one of the most beautiful spots in Donegal, Ireland - it's a small glacial valley sandwiched between Errigal, Lake Dunlewey, and the Glenveagh National Park

Looking towards the Poisoned Glen, Dunlewey, Co. Dunegal
The Poisoned Glen nr Dunlewey, Co. Donegal

Why the "poisoned glen"?  The Irish word for poison, “neimhe” (pronounced niv-uh), differs in its spelling by only one letter from the word for Heaven, “neamhe” (pronounced nyow-uh). The glen used to be called the Heavenly Glen by local people.   Predictably, an English cartographer made the mistake in translation that was to ‘poison’ the name of one of Ireland’s most beautiful places for ever.  True or False?  ... I'm not sure anyone really knows for sure.

Drying stacks of peat, nr Glenveagh, Co. Donegal

Between Dunlewey & Glenveagh, Co. Donegal

Just north of Dunlewey, we head into the beautiful Glenveagh National Park.  This is a spectacular drive & one I'm glad I didnt miss.
Glenveagh National Park is one of six national parks in Ireland. Situated in the Northwest of Co. Donegal, the park  encompasses some 16,000 acres in the heart of the Derryveagh Mountains, with it's centrepiece, Glenveagh Castle.

Glenveagh Castle, Glenveagh National Park, Co. Donegal
From the Glenveagh Car Park there is a short walk to the visitors centre where you can either purchase a bus ticket to the Castle or walk the 3km along the lakeside.   The walk begins at the bus shelter where you can take in the stunning views of the Glenveagh Valley &  Lough Veagh. It is possible to walk one way and return on the bus by obtaining a ticket at the castle reception.
In the grounds of Glenveagh Castle, Co. Donegal
It was such a hot sunny day that there were many people out walking the 3km track & getting sunburnt to boot! 

Before the area became a national park in 1975, it was managed as a private deer forest. The park was officially opened to the public in 1986. Within the estate is Glenveagh Castle, a stylish 19th century mansion constructed between 1867 and 1873 by John Adair as a romantic highland retreat.

Lough Beagh, Glenveagh National Park, Co. Donegal
Today Glenveagh castle is a magnificient & tranquil place, but there is a darker side to Castle's history.

The estate of Glenveagh was purchased in the mid 1850's by John Adair, a wealthy land speculator from Co. Laois, who was to later incur infamy throughout Donegal and Ireland by ruthlessly evicting over 250 tenants from Derryveagh in 1861, their ancestral homeland. Adair [referred to as 'Black Jack'], uproots them all. Some die on the roads, others in the workhouse. 143 of the younger Derryveagh victims were given assisted passage to Australia. Funds were collected for all in Donegal who would like to start a new life in Australia, paying their passage and purchasing a plot of land for them.

A review by Paul J. McGeady of the book "Land War and Evictions in Derryveagh" by Liam Dolan about the Derryveagh evictions is well worth a read to get a feeling for how horrifying & tragic this incident was.

According to Dolan, after John Adair died of natural causes in 1885 his wife had the face of a large rock inscribed with his name and the inscription "Brave, Just and Generous". One night, during a raging thunderstorm, a bolt of lightning struck the rock and sent it crashing in bits to the bottom of the lake.

Spring growth, Glenveagh Estate, Co. Donegal
It was nearly 5pm by the time we left Glenveagh & headed for Letterkenny where we'd decided we'd stay the night. 
Arriving in Letterkenny, we parked up at a Service Station to phone a B&B to enquire about accomodation & get directions from where we were parked.  Unbeknown to us, we were parked right next door to the B&B we were ringing!!  However, we had to wait 20 mins for the hosts of the Whitepark B&B to return home as they too had been soaking up the sun at Glenveagh Castle for the day!

Eugene & Ann O'Donnell were very kind, warm people making us feel very welcome.  There was a small cozy lounge for guests, with a comfy couch where I was able to spend a quiet few hours  relaxing & making use of their free WiFi to catch up on my social media obligations. J
The lovely pot of tea, scones & jam we were served on arrival, was all I needed for supper, as I was still digesting the mammoth meal I'd had for lunch in Ardara.   
White Park B&B, Letterkenny, Co. Donegal
I have to admit, I was surprised we had been able to cover so much ground today & through doing so, had picked up an extra day which we could now use to spend around the North Antrim Coast.  While County Donegal is well worth more time, our days in Ireland were running out.  We only had 3 more nights left.

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