The Inishowen Peninsula Is So Beautiful

7 October 2015, Wednesday

It was a pretty sunny day, much less mist, much more sun.

This morning’s view from the dining room—gorgeous! That’s Northern Ireland over there.

This morning’s view from the dining room—gorgeous! That’s Northern Ireland over there.

After breakfast we drove south on the R238 to Muff.

It’s such a pretty drive. In the distance, there, you’re probably looking at the City of Derry Airport.

It’s such a pretty drive. In the distance, there, you’re probably looking at the City of Derry Airport.

Then we got back on the exciting R239 we’d traversed two days before and found our way to Bridge End (pop. 497) and along the N13 to Burt. We were on our way to an ancient site (in use since 1700 BC)—a ringfort called the Grianán of Aileach.

Sometimes the things you want to visit in Ireland are right out where you can see them (the Cross of Carndonagh, for example). Other times they lie further afield, and this ring fort—built in an age when any unknown human most likely was an enemy, so your home had to be fortified—is no exception. We wound around and up and around and up, until we arrived at a high hill.

The view was positively stunning, and we stood there gaping. (And taking photographs.)

Standing on the edge of the parking lot, looking north at Inch Island, the communities of Tooban and Burnfoot to the east of the island, and Drongawn Lough to the south and west of Inch. The fort is behind us.

Standing on the edge of the parking lot, looking north at Inch Island, the communities of Tooban and Burnfoot to the east of the island, and Drongawn Lough to the south and west of Inch. The fort is behind us.

Zooming in, with Inch on the left, looking at Lough Swilly stretching all the way up to the North Atlantic.

Zooming in, with Inch on the left, looking at Lough Swilly stretching all the way up to the North Atlantic.

Here, Inch Island is to the left, out of the frame. The Inishowen Peninsula, with its myriad hills, stretches out before you. Note the wind turbines on the right in the distance.

Here, Inch Island is to the left, out of the frame. The Inishowen Peninsula, with its myriad hills, stretches out before you. Note the wind turbines on the right in the distance.

I kept looking further to the right (east, that is). Magnificent view!

I kept looking further to the right (east, that is). Magnificent view!

In retrospect, we spent too much time taking those photos before going up to the stone fort. There was only one other car in the parking lot when we got there—just three other people besides us and the wind.

Gerry climbing the hill to the fort; John behind him.

Gerry climbing the hill to the fort; John behind him.

John took this one. This frame looks south.

John took this one. This frame looks south.

And we went inside. This fort—the home of a Gaelic king—was built, they think, in the sixth or seventh century, atop a much older Bronze Age earthen rath, or hillfort.

It’s fifteen feet thick, with four distinct levels. That’s John near the top, Gerry in the center.

It’s fifteen feet thick, with four distinct levels. That’s John near the top, Gerry in the center.

It’s almost perfectly circular, and built without mortar.

It’s almost perfectly circular, and built without mortar.

Another angle of the Grianán of Aileach, October 2015.

Another angle of the Grianán of Aileach, October 2015.

It’s impossible to show the scope, really, with stills. Here is a video John took that may help.

We had about five minutes with the fort and our thoughts and the view before the tour buses started arriving—and between them vomited out about a hundred people. It just filled up with people. I am glad John didn’t take a photo of me then, because I won’t apologize for the sour owl manure* look that must have been on my face. It was too many people for the site.

Two huge tour buses and two smaller ones. Ugh.

Two huge tour buses and two smaller ones. Ugh.

And so we left.

The obligatory sheep photograph. :)

The obligatory sheep photograph. 🙂

We’d seen a little church marking the turn to head up the hill to the fort, and stopped to take a photograph of it.

St. Aengus’s [Catholic] Church in Burt, Ireland, built 1967.

St. Aengus’s [Catholic] Church in Burt, Ireland, built 1967.

We knew immediately that it was built to echo the stone fort up the road, but we had no idea it was famous! Begun in 1964 and opened in 1967, this little church was designated Building of the Century by the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland in 2000. Here’s a snippet of an article from ArchiSeek:

The eminent Donegal architect Liam McCormick designed St. Aengus’ Church or “Burt Chapel” as it is locally known during the period of 1964-67. McCormick’s distinct ability to read a site and produce remarkable buildings from that, sets him apart from any of his Irish church architect peers.

The building as most will know takes its inspiration from Grianán of Aileach, the Bronze Age fortification that dominates the landscape above Burt. The area around St.Aengus’ church is steeped in religious tradition, both Christian and Pagan—there has been some form of religious temple in the immediate area since the Bronze Age and McCormick has more than lived up to the task of facilitating an era of a rich tradition.

Now that I’ve read this article, I’m sorry we didn’t go in. (I did discover this sweet video of a wedding held at the church in 1975. Isn’t it just special? The clothing, the hairstyles, her dress, I love it. They’ve recently had their fortieth anniversary, this couple. That is, I hope they have. I wish there were information here about them.)

Instead, we drove onto Inch Island, which we’d already thoroughly documented in photos. I’d heard they had a nice bird sanctuary there. What I can tell you for sure are the roads are tiny—about a lane and a half. Use caution, friends.

You know a GPS is grand to get you to a specific place … but in the more remote areas, you really need a map. So we drove around aimlessly. How lost could we get? It’s five square miles. First we stumbled on a tiny church.

It was all very angled. On the other side of the fence is the road. Yep—narrow.

It was all very angled. On the other side of the fence is the road. Yep—narrow.

As it turns out, this is the Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, built in 1932, near the Carnaghan community. I was both fascinated and repelled by a little grotto shrine near the front door, where the statue of Mary is packed tightly with all manner of mementos, stones, cheap stuffed toys, plastic flowers, and on and on. So I moved on to the cemetery for the gravestones.

Here’s a beautiful cross from February 1932.

Here’s a beautiful cross from February 1932.

There’s some vivid imagery here. The deceased here died in 1909 (and a second, her sister, in 1914), so this graveyard was here before the church, I guess.

There’s some vivid imagery here. The deceased here died in 1909 (and a second, her sister, in 1914), so this graveyard was here before the church, I guess.

At first I thought these shells might have been concrete, but I turned one over (to Gerry’s dismay—but I was careful to replace it!) and it is a real shell. They’ve been there for a long time, judging by the underside. Someone mows around them every week.

At first I thought these shells might have been concrete, but I turned one over (to Gerry’s dismay—but I was careful to replace it!) and it is a real shell. They’ve been there for a long time, judging by the underside. Someone mows around them every week.

We drove on … then stopped at a little beach (at Millbay, I believe). At one point we had to stop for cows crossing the road, being moved from one pasture to the next. John started to video but missed the cows. It’s worth watching, however, for the horses running excitedly along the fence.

What beautiful views. Big house on the hill, sheep keeping the lawn mowed.

What beautiful views. Big house on the hill, sheep keeping the lawn mowed.

Inch Island was gorgeous, with its tiny roads and beautiful homes. There were lots of what we’d call McMansions. (This trend continued up the west coast of the peninsula, thru Fahan and Buncrana; we concluded that property must be so cheap that people are buying here and commuting into Letterkenny or Derry.)

I mentioned the narrow roads, right? They’re all like this.

I mentioned the narrow roads, right? They’re all like this.

And then we found the bird sanctuary, and pulled in.

Those are quite possibly swans in the distance. They were large. That’s the west coast of the Inishowen Peninsula, across Lough Swilly.

Those are quite possibly swans in the distance. They were large. That’s the west coast of the Inishowen Peninsula, across Lough Swilly. (Remember, you can click on the photo to zoom in.)

From here we crossed back over to the peninsula and drove north, up the west coast on the R238 (again). We were going to see that famous slab cross in Fahan (pronounced fawn)—it was on my list of things to see. We found a church first (always a good sign when you are looking for a graveyard).

I screen-grabbed this from Google Maps, because it’s better than the one I took: St. Mura’s [Church of Ireland] Parish Church, Fahan, Co. Dublin.

I screen-grabbed this from Google Maps, because it’s better than the one I took: St. Mura’s [Church of Ireland] Parish Church, Fahan, Co. Dublin.

Built in 1820, this little church is dedicated to St. Mura, who was born in Co. Donegal around 550 and was later appointed (by St. Columba) the first abbot of a monastery here. (Margaret and I saw his crozier at the National Museum in Dublin in 2012.) Behind the church (we didn’t walk up that little rise) are sixty-eight World War 1 graves of Commonwealth soldiers; additionally there’s a memorial to the 256 seamen who lost their lives with the sinking of the HMS Laurentic (and forty-three tons of gold bullion)—right out front, so to speak, in Lough Swilly—in 1917.

But we were going to see a different church and a different gravestone.

St. Mura’s ruined church. This one was built in the sixteenth century, a thousand years after Mura lived. What a setting!

St. Mura’s ruined church. This one was built in the sixteenth century, a thousand years after Mura lived. What a setting!

Entrance to the ruined graveyard, with the sign pointing to the oldest cross, said to be St. Mura’s headstone.

Entrance to the ruined graveyard, with the sign pointing to the oldest cross, said to be St. Mura’s headstone.

I’m always a little taken aback to see these ancient things just sitting out in the open. But there it was, the slab cross. You know about them because we discussed this art in yesterday’s post: long before men had the tools to carve a shape out of stone, they carved lines into stone.

The Fahan Mura slab cross. For clearer photographs taken by a professional, refer to the link above.

The Fahan Mura slab cross. For clearer photographs taken by a professional, refer to the link above.

It’s larger than you thought it was. :)

It’s larger than you thought it was. 🙂

The graveyard was a riot of stones and mounds—quite a mess, really. And yet there were some pretty vistas.

A pretty bush behind iron and stone fences.

A pretty bush behind iron and stone fences.

I don’t know whose lawn that was beyond the stone fence, but it is very well kept.

I don’t know whose lawn that was beyond the stone fence, but it is very well kept.

As always, I admired the headstones.

These flowers are so pretty for a mother’s grave.

These flowers are so pretty for a mother’s grave.

This Victorian-era stone is fantastic.

There’s lots of detail here.

There’s lots of detail here.

 Closeup.

Closeup.

Closer still.

Closer still.

There’s another important grave in Fahan—that of Agnes Jones. Born into a well-to-do family who moved to Fahan when she was very young, Agnes became a nurse during the time when “nice girls” didn’t do such things. She trained at Florence Nightingale’s training school in London, and later became the first trained nursing supervisor of Liverpool Workhouse Infirmary (a hospital for the poor). She was just thirty-five when she died, but is still remembered for all she did for the poor of Liverpool.

The Victorians did a lot of fencing around important graves.

The Victorians did a lot of fencing around important graves—like Agnes Jones’s.

The grave of Agnes Jones, in Fahan, Co. Donegal. October 2015.

The grave of Agnes Jones, in Fahan, Co. Donegal. October 2015.

We drove on in to Buncrana—the largest community on Inishowen, remember—and it was remarkably … unbusy. After the season, I guess. Easily found parking and walked across the street for lunch and a pot of tea at a place called Oscar’s. (I failed to take a photo but Gerry and I just found it by using street view on Google Maps. Technology—ain’t it grand!)

After lunch we followed the R238 (it’s everywhere!) northward toward the Mamore Gap. which is some stunning scenery—bleak and rocky—that I failed to photograph. It was late in the day and we were just ambling, taking it all in. The countryside on Inishowen was an interesting mix of seaside with countryside (tree-lined country lanes) and mixing in forestland (evergreens) and the bare, rocky hills.

Just outside Clonmany, we stopped at the Glenowen Traditional Craft Shop. It was one of those eureka moments when you realize you’d put this place on a list of things you wanted to visit, and there it was. Ann McGonigle is the owner; she was personable and fun to talk to. She displays crafts from artisans all over Donegal, and makes/weaves the wool tweed and makes garments from what she weaves. It was beautiful. I picked up a gorgeous throw blanket and Gerry said, “We could spend some of our wedding money.” We smiled at each other and chose the one we wanted. The prices were right. (Later we would regret not buying several.)

We kept following the R238 back through Carndonagh toward the Culdaff–Bocan–Gleneely area and spent an hour looking for things we did not find: standing stones, stone circle, tombs, and so on—Cloncha church, Cross of St. Bodan (by Cloncha), Larrahill court tomb, Bocan stone circle, Temple of Deen, Kindroyhead standing stone, Carrowmore crosses—all within a couple square miles. No really. We drove around and around and around, knowing we were close. We had GPS, we had smart phones. But finally we gave up.

The thing is, sometimes when you see these things you think they aren’t much. A pile of rocks. Gerry thinks we should have a bumper sticker: We brake for piles of rocks. But you have to consider how old they are, that these were important, sacred places for human beings who lived (who manipulated these rocks!) before the time of Christ. It makes me feel as if I am a part of something so vast … Well, I can’t explain it, really. I know it’s not for everybody. But I’ll tell you it was hard to give up that search.

So we went back to Redcastle. First, though, we’d been driving by this churchyard that was perched on the side of the hill—truly, precariously perched—and I wanted to take a photo of it every time. So this time we stopped.

A graveyard on a hill, near Redcastle on Inishowen.

A graveyard on a hill, near Redcastle on Inishowen.

Back at the hotel, we rested a couple hours—I answered email and worked on a manuscript—and then went out for dinner at Inish Fusion in Moville. I’d asked the young woman who gave me my massage yesterday for a recommendation. We’d seen it, of course—it’s hard to miss a purple building. Intimate space inside, and the meal was very good.

Dessert has been had, and we are stuffed.

Dessert has been had, and we are stuffed.

This would be our last evening with John. He would be flying back to Dublin the next afternoon, and to the States the morning after that. We had done a lot of laughing and playing and joking, the three of us. Good times. I think Margaret would have been pleased.

* Sour owl manure was one of my father’s phrases.

Exploring Inishowen

6 October 2015, Tuesday
The breakfast room at the Redcastle is spectacular—it sits right on the water and that wall of the room is almost entirely glass. Every morning we were there, I was fascinated by the rising sun and the views of Lough Foyle, either misty or clear. Stunning. (Though occasionally too much—on the sunny days, you might find yourself squinting.)

Watching the sun come up from the Redcastle dining room on the 6th October.

Watching the sun come up from the Redcastle dining room on the 6th October.

The breakfast room is always an interesting point of comparison from one hotel to another; we’d explored every dining option at the Portmarnock, so this was a new adventure. Different brands of white and black pudding, for example. And you could order trout or omelets from the kitchen.

Last time we were on InishowenInis Eoghain (Eoghain’s Island)—we just spent one night, and didn’t have a lot of time to really explore. I wasn’t going to let this opportunity lapse a second time. I’d done my research, and I had a list. 🙂 We had a few days to see it all. Maybe.

So off we went, driving a couple miles north up the coast to Moville. Dropped into a bookstore and picked up a map and a guidebook about the Wild Atlantic Way. (It’s a tourism thing.)

The R238 runs through Moville.

The R238 runs through Moville.

“[Moville’s] most attractive feature,” Wikipedia tells us, “is its handsome Green, a large seaside park in the Victorian style which features bandstands, walking trails, playgrounds, a coastal footpath and sweeping views east across the waters of the lough to Northern Ireland.”

Looking north from the green in Moville.

Looking north from the green in Moville.

We walked down to the green, in fact, though we didn’t go further. We were on our way to Malin Head. When we’d been here in 2003, I’d left Gerry watching a soccer game and gone off on my own to find the head—the most northerly point on the island of Ireland. (Oh, sure, the west coast of Scotland is up there. And the Faroe Islands, and Iceland and Greenland, before you get to the polar ice cap … but still.) But this was before GPS, even, really, before Google Maps. Certainly before the Wild Atlantic Way and the Inishowen 100, which between them have signposted every single little thing.

It would have been nice to have had one of these twelve years ago. :)

It would have been nice to have had one of these twelve years ago. 🙂

What I’m saying is, I didn’t actually find it in 2003. I drove along the northern coastline (the R242), though. 🙂

The terminology doesn’t help. What is a “head”? It’s often a point on the coast with a lighthouse sitting on it, though in the case of Malin Head that is not a true statement. It is a piece of land that projects out from the coast. And in the case of Malin Head, there is a high point (a hill, if you will), called Banba’s Crown, upon which sits a Martello tower. I had seen none of this in 2003. And if you follow your GPS, you likely won’t see it, either. Hence the purchase of the paper map.

If you follow the GPS, you’ll end up here.

If you follow the GPS, you’ll end up here.

Lovely view, though. We got out of the car, walked across the field.

And, well, here he is, outstanding in his field. :) (John took this photo.)

And, well, here he is, outstanding in his field. 🙂 (John took this photo.)

Then we started looking around. First …

A very old culvert.

A very old culvert.

And then: ooooooh … there it is. The Martello tower atop Banba’s Crown. West of us.

Banba’s Crown in the distance. On the left you can see the little one-lane road lined by rock walls.

Banba’s Crown in the distance. On the left you can see the little one-lane road lined by rock walls.

Just for comparison, here we are at Banba’s Crown, looking east, from whence we’d come. We were beyond the “finger” sticking into the sea.

Just for comparison, here we are at Banba’s Crown, looking east, from whence we’d come. We were beyond the “finger” sticking into the sea.

So we drove right up to it, parked in the lot below, and walked up to the tower, built in 1805 by the British to guard against French invasion during the Napoleonic Wars.

The Martello tower at Malin Head.

The Martello tower at Malin Head.

John took this one of Gerry and I.

John took this one of Gerry and I.

John at Malin Head.

John at Malin Head.

There’s a trail along the cliff, with all the appropriate warnings about no children, don’t get close to the edge, beware the winds, and so on—it was very windy—and John wandered down a little of it.

John took this photo of the trail along Malin Head, which he called “tame,” at least in this stretch.

John took this photo of the trail along Malin Head, which he called “tame,” at least in this stretch.

Meanwhile, Gerry and I took photos, including one of Ballyhillin Beach, which is a “raised beach,” meaning it’s still there when the tide is high, as it was this day. This is because it was formed about fifteen thousand years ago, when the glaciers began to melt and sea level was much higher. It’s a pebble beach, studded with semiprecious stones, it’s said. (One website I checked said it’s against the law to remove the stones, but—seriously? You’d really have to know what you were looking for.)

Looking east, that’s Ballyhillin Beach.

Looking east, that’s Ballyhillin Beach.

Just below the tower, you can see the word Eire spelled out in stones, put here in 1942-43 because Ireland was a neutral state; if Germans were going to bomb, they needed to move on down the highway to Scotland. Just three years earlier a Coastal Watch had been established to guard against invasion by the Germans; Malin Head was number 80. Allied pilots used these as navigational aids.

The Eire 80 sign.

The Eire 80 sign.

Malin Head is an important mavigational point for other types of pilots too. Only ocean lies between it and the Americas, so Malin Head provides a welcome resting point for migrating birds. This landmark also helps them locate feeding grounds around the loughs (Swilly and Foyle).

John wasn’t gone but a few minutes, and we walked back down the hill and drove on. Of course, we immediately came upon a little junk shop, at which it was imperative that we stop. I bought a piece of Royal Tara bone china—a little cream pitcher. The company was started in Galway in 1953 and closed rather abruptly in 2003, to much disappointment. My little pitcher—creamy white with shamrocks scattered around the top; I paid just €7 for it—is missing the matching sugar bowl, but a search around on the web indicates a sugar/creamer pair is valued at $50.

The Curiosity Stop. Of course! (John took this one.)

The Curiosity Stop. Of course! (John took this one.)

We drove back down to Malin village on R242 along the shallow Trawbreaga Bay (at low tide you can see just how shallow).

Looking across Trawbreaga Bay at high tide.

Looking across Trawbreaga Bay at high tide.

Malin is a seventeenth-century plantation village—plantation meaning the British brought in settlers to colonize the countryside away from the native Irish—with pretty features such as its ten-arch bridge and the triangular green in the center of town planted with lime, cherry, and sycamore trees.

John and Gerry getting ready to walk across the green to the grocer (in search of green teabags).

John and Gerry getting ready to walk across the green to the grocer (in search of green teabags).

More of the pretty village green, with the Church of Ireland in the background.

More of the pretty village green, with the Church of Ireland in the background.

Gerry and I spent a night here twelve years ago at the Malin Hotel, and remembered the experience with delight—particularly the wonderful meal we had in the pub (and the Molton Brown amenities in the room, which were the start of a lifelong and not inexpensive Molton Brown habit)—and all of us were ready for lunch. But when we got there, the sign on the hotel was faded, and, in fact, it was closed for the season. A man working nearby told me it was only open on the weekends even during the summer. (sigh) There was no joy at the grocer, either. Green tea is hard to find in the more remote places (i.e., on the Inishowen Peninsula).

So … we were still hungry and still needed to replenish our green tea supply. Off to Carndonagh, a couple miles away. I’ve since read that Buncrana is the largest town on Inishowen (pop. 6800), but when we drove into Carndonagh—remembering the burgh we’d seen in 2003—we were shocked.

How large you’ve grown, Carndonagh!

How large you’ve grown, Carndonagh!

That’s the Church of the Sacred Heart up there on the hill. I got a kick out of this somewhat snippy commentary from this architectural site (from which I’ve gotten a lot of good information over the years)—

Large Roman Catholic church that proclaims its position over the town and countryside. Done in a vaguely Italianate style with the campanile and crossing tower and dome, described as “Neo-Italianate” at the time. Clearly an example of the mid-century church building in Ireland, as epitomised by buildings of the period in Dublin – vast, lacking in architectural detail, and historically dubious.

—partly because I’ve seen new churches built here in Tennessee that I would call “historically dubious” (and, frankly, ugly too).

There’s a historically very important (seventh century) cross in Carndonagh, right on a main street. We’d seen it in 2003 and thought it would be easy to find, but what with urban sprawl, we weren’t having any luck. We pulled into a parking lot to reconnoiter and realized there was a good-sized grocery store there, and when we went inside, we also found a little restaurant. So we had a pause, found the cross on a paper map, and went back.

The Carndonagh Cross, October 2015.

The Carndonagh Cross, October 2015.

This is one of the earliest and most important high crosses in Ireland. To understand why, you need to know that before the tools had been invented to carve stone into three-dimensional shapes, humans simply carved outlines on stone—like line drawings on paper. So you had a slab of rock and you scratched out a picture on it. This article at Megalithic Ireland (in addition to having much better photographs than mine*) explains, “This early Christian cross is thought to represent the transition from crosses carved on slabs, such as that at Fahan Mura, to a slab that is cut out in the shape of a cross” (emphasis mine). Do read this article. Note that unlike later high crosses that depicted Christ at the point where horizontal and vertical crossed, here he is further down, on the shaft. (Here’s another interesting article, with photos likely taken several decades ago.)

This is the other side of the Carndonagh Cross, flanked by the two pillar stones, with Gerry in the background. You can see in the pillar stones, how the artist would simply use unshaped (or barely shaped) stone, upon which he’d scratch out a drawing. That’s King David with his harp on the left.

This is the other side of the Carndonagh Cross, flanked by the two pillar stones, with Gerry in the background. You can see in the pillar stones, how the artist would simply use unshaped (or barely shaped) stone, upon which he’d scratch out a drawing. That’s King David with his harp on the left.

Here’s David holding the harp, closer. It was an imprecise art, trying to find a suitable stone. This pillar has, perhaps, three sides, with a fourth side too small to draw on.

Here’s David holding the harp, closer. It was an imprecise art, trying to find a suitable stone. This pillar has, perhaps, three sides, with a fourth side too small to draw on.

A better look at the crucified Christ in the center of the cross’s shaft.

A better look at the crucified Christ in the center of the cross’s shaft.

Here are those three figures—possibly the women who discovered the empty tomb—at the base of the cross.

Here are those three figures—possibly the women who discovered the empty tomb—at the base of the cross.

This is on the opposite side of the Psalmist: David the warrior. Or, perhaps, Goliath. Who knows?

This is on the opposite side of the Psalmist: David the warrior. Or, perhaps, Goliath. Who knows?

Inishowen is a small place. We crisscrossed the peninsula several times over the days we were there. On this particular day the shadows were growing long and we meandered back to the hotel—because I had a 5pm appointment in the spa for a foot and leg treatment.

It was wonderful. Worth every penny, and the young woman who did the work was a delight to chat with. I asked her for a restaurant recommendation in Moville and she gave me one we would try out the next day.

And that was the day. Gerry and I made an early night of it.

* It helps when you have professional lighting!

We’re Off!

5 October 2015, Monday
Gerry and I had—weeks ago—a heated exchange about the best way to get to the Inishowen Peninsula from Portmarnock. I, being the driver, assumed that one plotted the shortest distance between the two points (which would take us through Northern Ireland) and started driving. But Gerry had been told by several locals that the most efficient way was to “go through Sligo.”

“What?” This just made no sense to me. Look at the map—you’ll see.

 

Until I got to looking at some online discussions about this very route. Turns out those Northern Ireland roads go through small villages, traffic gets backed up, etc. So … we went through Sligo. 🙂

We were up early for breakfast and then hit the road; it would be five hours in the car, plus whatever else we might get up to, so the adventure needed to get underway smartly.

I’m a big one for stopping to stretch one’s legs on a long trip, and on the N4, not far from Boyle in Co. Roscommon, we all saw … something … on a hill in the distance. With a turnout. Curiosity got the better of us, so that’s where we stopped.

It was a statue. Some guy on a horse. “Tonto,” Gerry shouted as he and John got close.

Gerry and John, with “Tonto” in the distance.

Gerry and John, with “Tonto” in the distance.

I’ve seen stranger things in Ireland, so I reserved judgment until I got close. Actually, it’s called The Gaelic Chieftain (sculptor Maurice Harron) and it was inspired by the Battle of Curlew Pass, which it overlooks (the pass, that is). Fought in 1599, this was a classic Gaelic Irish ambush—the English were surprised and routed while marching through a pass in the Curlew Mountains.

It’s massive.

It’s massive, this statue.

There have been visitors before us.

There have been visitors before us. (Remember, you can click to enlarge and zoom in.)

There were other things to see, so I took a few photos …

Camera in my hand!

John took this one of us—camera in my hand!

Mist on the hills in the distance.

Mist on the hills in the distance.

Mist on Lough Key.

Mist on Lough Key.

… and then we got started again. By the time we neared Sligo town, it was time for tea. And something to eat.

This part of the world—counties Sligo and Leitrim (though Gerry said, Dubliner that he is, “The best thing that came out of Leitrim was the road to Dublin”)—is known as Yeats Country: the great poet wrote movingly of the mountains, lakes, and lore of this region. (Though born in Dublin, the family relocated to Sligo—it was his mother’s family’s place—and Yeats regarded it as his childhood home.)

Just past Sligo town, the village of Drumcliff is where Yeats is buried (or maybe not!)—in the graveyard of St. Columba’s Church of Ireland church, where his paternal grandfather was rector—and, right on the N15, is the appropriately named Yeats Tavern (and Davis’s Restaurant). Easy off and on to the highway, so we stopped.

Leek and potato soup with brown bread. Just what I needed. Along with copious amounts of tea.

Leek and potato soup with brown bread. Just what I needed. Along with copious amounts of tea.

In the lobby of the restaurant there was a series of signed prints by Annie West. They were hilarious—poking fun at William Butler Yeats—and that night in our hotel we looked up the artist. The entire series of prints is available in a limited edition book, and Gerry ordered it. It was waiting for us (in the post office) when we got home. I have tried and tried to take an adequate photo or four, but it’s a large book. (Check her website instead.)

This is the best I could do.

This is the best I could do.

No trip through these parts would be complete without the obligatory oohing and aahing over Ben Bulben—the large plateau in the Darty Mountains immortalized on Yeats’s gravestone:

Under bare Ben Bulben’s head
In Drumcliff churchyard Yeats is laid.
An ancestor was rector there
Long years ago, a church stands near,
By the road an ancient cross.
No marble, no conventional phrase;
On limestone quarried near the spot
By his command these words are cut:
Cast a cold eye
On life, on death.
Horseman, pass by!

Going through Sligo: Ben Bulben. It’s quite a sight!

Going through Sligo: Ben Bulben. It’s quite a sight!

We drove along the coastline for a while … Grange, Cliffony, Tullaghan, Bundoran, through Donegal town … and then turned inland as we crossed County Donegal from west to east, heading for the Inishowen Peninsula. The last time we’d been here was 2003, and I’d forgotten: Inishowen truly is another world (and I mean that in the very best way). It’s rural and beautiful.

We skirted Derry and got on the R239. This makes it sound like more than the road is—and soon we were all shrieking and giggling at the ride. OK, maybe that was just me—but John took a video of the drive from the backseat (here’s the link). When I posted it on Facebook later, my friends all commented “Slow down!” and I told them I was only doing 35 mph.

So we had a good laugh and enjoyed the drive. When we got to Muff (I just report these things, kids), we swung left and got onto the R238, which drives right along the east coast of the peninsula, overlooking Lough Foyle (really, practically an inland sea, separated from the Atlantic by a gap of just a couple hundred yards).

Muff, Quigley’s Point, and then Redcastle village, whose only claim to fame, really, is the Redcastle Oceanfront Golf & Spa Hotel.

Yes, it is a picturesque setting! I got this photo from the hotel’s website.

Yes, it is a picturesque setting! I got this photo from the hotel’s website.

You can’t miss the sign, and when you turn onto the property, the driveway twists and winds through a gorgeous, tree-covered park. (Watch out for that lady in the BMW going 50 mph, though. Good grief, lady!) And then you arrive. You can see Lough Foyle on the other side of the building, and you, um, gasp.

Arrival at Redcastle Inn—the lake in the distance.

Arrival at Redcastle Inn—the lake in the distance.

The website has a little bit of history—the original ownership of the land dates from the 1500s—but not enough. And there are gaps. What little I was able to find dates the structure, the house, as eighteenth century. So it was built during the 1700s (the gap in the website history), but modern ownership—of the estate—started in 1862 when a local man bought it, and it remained in that family until 1986. They’d started the hotel business, but a developer bought it and modernized the property into the golf/spa venue it is today.

I’ll be frank: it’s not all that modern yet. The place is like a maze, with several public rooms packed with couches and tables (typical of Irish hotel style) and halls and fire doors between halls and stairs up and down and turn here, turn there, elevator up to the second floor, then switch elevators to go further. (And woe be to the poor American who thinks of the bottom floor as the first floor, and the floor above it as the second. I do know this is a uniquely American problem.) If it weren’t for Gerry I would have been completely and utterly lost.

In the photo above of the hotel, our room was on an upper floor of the wing that extends inland on the left, and our room was on the outside; we overlooked a little stream and what looked like a gardener’s shed. Not much of a view … but then we were not giving a party here. 🙂 John, on the other hand, was in a room that was part of the original home, on the ground floor with the water lapping against the outside wall—a spectacular view!

It had been a long day, and I didn’t feel like driving any more, so we met in the bar for supper. One thing we noticed was a big change in accents—a lot of the staff were Northern Irish, which has a very Scots sound to it, and can be very, very thick.

Gerry and John, laughing about something, in the bar at the Redcastle.

Gerry and John, laughing about something, in the bar at the Redcastle.

The punchline.

The punchline.

It was good. And then we made an early night of it.

On a Clear Night You Can See the Northern Lights

Sunday, 21 September 2003
Glencolmcille, Co. Donegal – Malin, Co. Donegal

As always, we were up early. Carrying luggage out to the car, I passed the landlady in the hall, and she said “You’re up early!” rather disapprovingly, which made me laugh.

On our way north, we stopped in Ardara, which is, the D-K Guide Book says, “… the weaving capital of Donegal and it has a proliferation of shops selling locally made tweeds and hand-knitted sweaters.” I’d wanted to buy a Donegal sweater for Jesse, and it was here that I did so (I’d purchased an Aran sweater for myself earlier in the trip).

We were headed, ultimately, for the Inishowen Peninsula, still in Donegal, where we were to stay in the village of Malin, the closest place to Malin Head, which is the most northerly point on the island. But first—the Giant’s Causeway, which is in the north of Ireland. Donegal, of course, is very much in the north of Ireland, but it’s a part of the Republic. The Giant’s Causeway is in Northern Ireland, and we were going to drive through two of the six Irish counties over which Great Britain claims sovereignty.

Taken outside Letterkenny on the way to Derry. This is Lough Swilly—really a sea inlet.

Taken outside Letterkenny on the way to Derry. This is Lough Swilly—really a sea inlet.

Everything changes in the North … Most importantly, we could not use our cash there, as England has yet to accept the euro (don’t get me started!). We passed through Derry (Londonderry on your map, though no Irishman would call it thus), and then Coleraine, taking main highways, rather than scenic ones, so as not to linger.

Once we got to the site, we had to pay to get into the parking lot (a common—and to my mind, convenient—way that entrance fees are handled on the island): five pounds. We didn’t have pounds, of course; the attendant, when pressed, would take euro, but the price increased by about one-third, to 10 euro. This was the first of several minor annoyances, all related to the pound-versus-euro issue, which soon had Gerry growling crossly, “Get me back to the Republic!”—after all, we were still on the island of Ireland, and many of the tourists here were Irish and/or European. Yet the venue still holds strictly to its pounds sterling policy.

It had been raining—not heavily—off and on all day. When we got out of the car, it was raining and cold, so we put our coats on and headed off to the unusual geologic formation known as the Giant’s Causeway. The official guidebook says, “It is composed of thousands of strangely symmetrical basalt columns which jut out of the sea” on the northern shore of County Antrim in Northern Ireland. “… The Causeway is a product of the volcanic activity which altered the face of Ireland, Scotland, Iceland and Greenland many millions of years ago.” Most of the columns are hexagonal, and are about twelve inches across; it is a purely weird sight, I tell you.

It’s tricky walking. Here I was picking my way down to the water’s edge.

It’s tricky walking. Here I was picking my way down to the water’s edge.

It was very wet and misty, as you can see.

It was very wet and misty, as you can see. Click to enlarge.

Pretty astonishing! Giant’s Causeway, 2003.

Pretty astonishing! Giant’s Causeway, 2003.

The name Giant’s Causeway comes from an old Irish legend about a giant, Finn MacCool, who laid the causeway to provide a path across the sea to his girlfriend, who lived on the island of Staffa in Scotland—and, in fact, similar basalt columns are found there. I tried to research Finn MacCool online, and it seems that the character has basis in fact: “Finn MacCool (Fionn mac Cumhail) is a semimythical character said to have been the greatest leader of the Fianna, the military elite of ancient Ireland responsible for guarding the High King. The Fianna were founded in 300 BC by the High King Fiachadh (fee-a-kuh). Until Finn MacCool implemented a code of honor among them, the Fianna were an unruly band. Finn challenged the Fianna to become champions of the people and to make of themselves models of chivalry and justice. Some argue that the tales of the Fianna are the basis of the legends of the Knights of the Round Table.” (The website I took this information from is no longer found, sadly.)

At the top of the path, Gerry stopped. It was a long, loooong walk, all downhill, disappearing around a bend at the bottom of the cliffs. “Are you sure you want to climb back up?” he asked me. But yes, I did want to see the Giant’s Causeway, and on our way down we were passed by shuttle buses, and were thus comforted that there was, in fact, a way back up.

I definitely thought it was worth it.

I definitely thought it was worth it.

The sight was worth it, although it was swarming with people, one of the busiest places we’d been on the trip. I took lots of pictures, and, when we were ready, lined up with others for the shuttle bus … but when it arrived, I learned that my money wouldn’t work. The trip was just 60 pence, a pittance, but no euro were accepted. Dagnabbit! The official Giant’s Causeway Web site says that they get over 500,000 visitors a year—and I find it astounding that the euro is not welcome there.

I’m calling for a boycott! 🙂

So guess what—I saw the Giant’s Causeway, and unlike the thousands of tourists who see it annually, I walked all the way down, and all the way back up. (Yes, it took me some time to quit panting, and Gerry did laugh at me—he also carried my very heavy camera—but I don’t care because I did it.) My only disappointment is that they don’t sell T-shirts that proclaim “I saw the Giant’s Causeway on foot”—purchasable in the gift shop for 20 pounds sterling, of course (or with Visa, the international currency)!

After that adventure, we high-tailed it back to the Republic, backtracking over the route we’d recently come. Our destination: the Inishowen Peninsula, ancestral home of the O’Doherty clan, and the eastern-most part of County Donegal. Once again a distinctly different terrain, Inishowen is the largest peninsula in the north (twenty-six miles in length, and at its widest twenty-six miles too), and is surrounded by the sea on three sides.

On the Inishowen Peninsula, 2003.

On the Inishowen Peninsula, 2003.

There’s no good way to get to Inishowen, really, without driving through Northern Ireland (which has, by the way, a very distinctive accent, as does each region in Ireland). Today one barely registers the change in country—there’s no elaborate border crossing, which might surprise some of you—but I suspect that some years ago that was not the case, given its proximity to Derry, which has been at times a hotbed of sectarian infighting.

Inishowen Peninsula, 2003. Spectacular view from that house, no?

Inishowen Peninsula, 2003. Spectacular view from that house, no?

We were going to Malin, which is just seven miles from Malin Head, the most northerly point of the island of Ireland. Malin is a seventeenth-century plantation village (like the Israelis who persist in building towns in territory not truly their own in the hopes of taking it over through sheer numbers, the English “planted” thousands of their countrymen in Ireland—and they very nearly did succeed in taking it over). An interesting feature of the approach to the town is the bridge with its ten arches spanning Trawbreaga Bay, upon which the village sits. It is the second largest stone bridge in Ireland!

Ten arches, built in 1758: the bridge at Malin, 2003.

Ten arches, built in 1758: the bridge at Malin, 2003.

The original triangular village green is still intact, planted with limes, sycamore and cherries, and recently with oaks to commemorate the O’Doherty clan. We were booked into the Malin Hotel, which sits right on that delightful village green. There’s only ten rooms in the hotel (I just looked that up!), but when we arrived there, the bar and restaurants (there were at least two) were packed with locals enjoying their Sunday lunch (kinda like the Cracker Barrel in Murfreesboro at noon on a Sunday).

I loved this place!

I loved this place!

The Malin Hotel was definitely my favorite hostelry on the entire trip—everything matched (without looking like it’d had the heavy hand of an interior designer), and on every wall there were beautiful works of art by contemporary Irish artists. I’d been searching during the whole trip for a nice print to splurge on, but all I’d seen in the gift shops on “the tourist trail” was this stuff by a Philip Gray, Ireland’s answer to Thomas Kinkade—very over-the-top, idealized and saccharine, and they weren’t even good-quality prints. Finally, here in this tiny hotel was a veritable treasure trove of exactly what I was looking for! After a few enquiries, I learned that the owners bought most of their pieces in Belfast (pronounce this, please, with the accent on the second syllable: “bell-FAST”), and we weren’t going there.

There is a happy ending to this story, but you’ll have to wait for it. 🙂

Now here we were in a lovely hotel on a Sunday afternoon, just in time for the football match—Manchester United versus Arsenal—so you can imagine what happened next: I left Gerry ensconced in the bar watching the game, while I went off in search of Malin Head, snapping photos all the way. Although it was overcast, the sun was breaking through in spots and it had stopped raining—a beautiful day after all! And Malin Head was inspiring.

On the road to Malin Head, 2003.

On the road to Malin Head, 2003.

Getting closer. See the road?

Getting closer. See the road? Don’t forget, you can click on any photo to enlarge it.

And then, there it was.

And then, there it was: the North Sea.

This was what it looked like everywhere. The flora of Malin Head, closeup.

This was what it looked like everywhere. The flora of Malin Head, closeup.

After that, I went in search of a seventh-century cross in the neighboring town of Carndonough, but I never did find it. (There’s a happy ending to this story too.)

By the time I returned to the hotel, the game was just ending (for those of you who follow soccer, this was the game during which there was so much unsportsmanlike conduct that two of Arsenal’s players have just been suspended for three and four games respectively, and four others fined; the events of this match were discussed on radio and television for the rest of my stay in the country), and it was dinnertime. We ate in the bar, which was still packed with local residents (for once I believe I might have been the only American on the premises!). The accents on Inishowen are very much a Northern Ireland accent, which is very thick and Scottish-sounding when they are speaking English; many in that bar, though, were speaking Irish. Most of the time I could barely understand what was being said.

Later we watched a documentary television show on the Celts, which raised interesting questions regarding how they came to give their language and craft to Ireland, how that culture came to dominate the landscape, although there were certainly plenty of other influences. The program basically asked why we automatically think Celtic when we think Ireland. And the whole thing was in Irish (Gaelic), with English subtitles. There’s a treat for you.

OK, OK, that’s enough for one day! But before I go, I have to leave you with the following, which I found whilst trying to locate a succinct explanation of the origins of the Gaelic language, a language that, written, looks absolutely nothing like what it sounds like (example: would you have guessed that the word taoiseach—meaning prime minister, as in “Bernie Ahern, at forty-five, is the youngest Taoiseach Ireland has had”—would be pronounced TEE-shock? Neither would I).

I found nothing succinct, but I did find this, entitled “What is a Celt and who are the Glasgow Celtics?” which made me laugh out loud:

The people who made up the various tribes of concern were called ‘Galli’ by the Romans and ‘Galatai’ or ‘Keltoi’ by the Greeks, terms meaning barbarian. It is from the Greek ‘Keltoi’ that Celt is derived. Since no soft ‘c’ exists in Greek, Celt and Celtic and all permutations should be pronounced with a hard ‘k’ sound. It is interesting to note that when the British Empire was distinguishing itself as better and separate from the rest of humanity, it was decided that British Latin should have different pronunciation from other spoken Latin. Therefore, one of these distinguishing pronunciational differences was to make many of the previously hard ‘k’ sounds move to a soft ‘s’ sound, hence the Glasgow and Boston Celtics. It is the view of many today that this soft ‘c’ pronunciation should be reserved for sports teams since there is obviously nothing to link them with the original noble savagery and furor associated with the Celts.

Tomorrow: the tale of the stealth sheep, mentioned earlier and for which I know you have been waiting with ’bated breath!