Today’s ramble is easy on the eye, and the feet. Just a few km south of Bundoran is the River Duff (Dubh is the Irish for Black), and there is a very pleasant walk, almost where it reaches the sea. The Duff river is short, draining the Dartry Mountains, and it’s a popular kayak spot in winter time, and a popular salmon-fishing destination in the summer months. It also defines the border between the counties of Sligo and Leitrim. The water levels can change rapidly, depending on the rainfall, and as you may have noticed from our sequence of splendid isolation photos, we have had very little rain for the last two months! So the levels are pretty low right now. And pretty is the word, because the rhododendrons are decorating the walk, weaving in and out of the trees, and there’s lots of cowslip and cow parsley along the route too. So- seeing as we sent you to Purgatory yesterday, you deserve this little bit of heaven! Enjoy.
Today, I’m taking you to a place in Donegal which, in medieval times was one of the most famous places in Ireland. It is one of those places that has many layers of history, folklore, ritual and fascinating culture, located in an absolutely beautiful setting on a small lake called Lough Derg. Beautiful it may be, but many Irish people who have been to Station Island will not remember it for scenery!
First of all, when you get to the lake edge and look across to Station Island, it looks like an Irish Alcatraz – you can see the outline of a lot of tall grey buildings, and if you’re going, you take a boat. It is a place of pilgrimage, and not for the faint-hearted. ‘Doing’ Lough Derg usually means a three-day visit, and rituals include walking barefoot on stony ground, reciting prayers, fasting, and no sleep on the first night.
It is known as ‘St. Patrick’s Purgatory’, as legend says that a cave on Station Island was shown to Patrick, and he was told it was the gateway to Purgatory (which is a kind of holding-pen for Catholics not quite ready for Heaven.) There’s no evidence this actually happened, and if St. Patrick actually blessed all the wells, islands, rocks, mountains and hills that he’s supposed to have, he’d never have had time for a prayer! But there is evidence of a monastic site here associated with St. Dabheog (Davoge).
Back in medieval times, pilgrims would travel first to Saints Island, and when suitably prepared, would then go to the cave on Station Island for a purgatorial stint. The tradition was rooted in the practice of austerity that was popular among monks- isolating themselves in remote places, often islands, to focus on introspection and faith. Some of the original pilgrim’s pathway is still here, as per the photos. Saints Island is abandoned now, and pilgrims go directly to Station Island. It was very popular to ‘do’ a pilgrimage right up until the eighties, but numbers have fallen a lot in the last thirty years.
Seamus Heaney has a book of poems called ‘Station Island’, with a sequence of poems that use two real-life visits to the island as a reflection and clarification of his artistic, personal and public life. Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh also visited it, and probably sums it up very well –
‘The twentieth century blows across it now
But deeply it has kept an ancient vow.’
Today, I offer you the Atlantic in all its majesty. Once again, photos can not do justice to the sensation of standing on the rocks, foam flying everywhere, and the spray of the ocean in your face. This is just a few km along the coastline of Bundoran, and one of the benefits of a bit of weather! Get your coat on, and treat yourself to Donegal 🙂 Enjoy!
It’s a tough one today, folks- the Atlantic was letting us know who’s the boss, so if you are coming with me today, hold on to your hat! It was extremely windy, very low clouds and spitty rain, why would you bother? Because it’s still amazing – the sea thrifty clinging on to the cliff-edges, the churning cauldron underneath the Fairy Bridges, the endless white-capped waves, and the exhilarating fresh air! Enjoy!
We are going down a little forest trail today, where I spotted some fallen trees that were sporting some very colourful fungi. These are mostly what are known as ‘bracket’ fungi -they look more like layers or shelves of growth rather than our typical mushroomy lads. Anyway, they have some great names, especially the ‘turkey tail’ fungus. I think the big white fellow is a birch polypore, but open to correction on this one. Did you know that fungi of this kind were used as writing material, back in the past? I found a reference to fungi being used in Irish hedge schools, and also during the Roman Empire, for this purpose, and there is a species of polypore actually called ‘Artist’s Conk’ because of its suitability for writing and drawing upon. (Facts like this might be why you should never get stuck sitting me for dinner)… Also, some other very interesting things to see- the lovely little Spring Snowflake, which has these delicate green spots on the bottom of each tepal – it is like a beautiful polka-dot dress. The fir trees are currently two-tone ; the new leaves are an almost luminous bright green, providing a marked contrast with the older, dark green leaves. They would be the Ska Boys of the forest. There was also a lump of glistening white rock in the middle of it all – quartzite or marble, I’m not sure, and don’t know why it’s there. Geologists? It was raining as I explored today, so some of the photos just appeal to me because they are shiny and rain-droppy. I’ll say it again- the weather in Ireland is IDEAL – because there is so much to discover, and the climate allows you to be outside in all weathers, with no extreme temperatures either way, and nothing dangerous in the forests, fields or oceans. Anyway- you will need your raincoat today for this, and no eating the ‘shrooms! Enjoy
Today’s walk was to the end of Tullan Strand, Bundoran, where the Erne river meets the sea. The Erne River is compelling in itself- rising in the midlands, and making its way to the North West via the magical lakes (Upper and Lower, of which there will be more trips) and then through Ballyshannon to the sea. It’s historic- many’s a battle was fought, and many’s a castle build, or an escape made upon the Erne. It features in many poems and stories and myths of the past. And it finally greets the Wild Atlantic at this point here, -you can see the distinctive silhouette of St. Anne’s Church in Ballyshannon in the background, and where freshwater meets salt water, and river meets tide, you have soft sands, magnificent shape-shifting dunes, and all sorts of wildlife- including the Irish Army, who have one of their major bases at Finner Camp, just to the right of the Estuary. But it was the sky I enjoyed most on this particular walk – a big sky of rolling, thunderous-looking fellows, who, at their most ominous, separated abruptly, and let the sun glitter the water. It was bare feet for me today, so kick off your shoes and follow! Enjoy!
Lough Gill means ‘bright lake’ and it is a beautiful freshwater lake between the counties of Sligo and Leitrim. It’s amazing scenic surrounds have been documented by much of the work of the talented Yeats family, and hence the area is known as Yeats Country. But it has a much older history- for centuries, the O’Rourkes ruled the area, and the site of their castle, remodelled in the 17th Century by the Parkes family, is one of the most beautiful features of the lakeside. This particular walk is just around the shoreline at the castle- I have more treasures to show you at Lough Gill at a later date. It was a calm still day, gentle rain, brooding skies, and slippy enough for me to go into the lake when taking photos of the long grasses, but worth it all! The drive around the lake from the castle to Dromohair is as jaw-dropping a scenic journey as I have seen anywhere in Ireland, but so peaceful and empty. Enjoy!
Today’s walk is to an amazing old abbey, tucked away in the Glens of Leitrim. I forgot to tell you that I fell into a river on yesterday’s walk, so my boots were too wet for a hike 🙂 This was an easier, and didn’t require the boots.
This is Creevelea Abbey – the last Franciscan Friary to be build in Ireland before good ole Henry VIII shut them all down. This Abbey was founded by Mairéad Ní Bhrian, (Margaret O’ Brien) who was married to O’Rourke, of the kingdom of Breffni, in 1508. It’s still a stunning place to explore, with incredible views over the landscape and the beautiful river Bonet. It really is off the beaten track, but worth it – even with the cloudy skies- and just around down the road you’ll find the mighty O’Rourke Castle overlooking Lough Gill. We’ll go there tomorrow. Meanwhile, get in here and whisper to the ghosts!
An Bearnas Mór means ‘the big gap’, and this mountain pass is situated in the Bluestack Mountains in County Donegal. It’s the main route between South Donegal and North Donegal, – and I’ve promised myself a million times that some day, I’ll stop the car and get out and climb it. Today was the day!
Barnesmore was, for several hundred years up to about 1800, a notorious haunt of brigands ambushing travelers and removing them of their goods, and sometimes, their lives!
One of the things I wanted to explore was the old railway line- now defunct, but up until the late 1950s diesel rail-cars ran through the gap connecting Stranorlar in the east to Donegal Town, and through to Killybegs in the west. The tracks are gone now, but you can still clearly see where they were, and I’ve always wanted to walk it.
As you’ll see from the photos, it was a very misty and cloudy morning, which was fine by me, – perhaps the views weren’t as good as they would be on a clear day, but it was all conducive to imagining the rapparees hiding in the mists, waiting for their prey. So wrap up well for this one, folks! And leave the purse at home…