Day Fifty Six – Saturday 6th August – Ireland
The last day of the Feakle Traditional Irish Music Festival.
Poetry and singing in Bohan’s Pub – packed to the rafters with young and old, men and women. Poetry reading featured Joe Noonan, a retired postman with his touching observations on human nature and the passing of life and the old ways and Cormac Lally, a young dread-locked man who recited rap-like poems sharp with wit and political comment.
Both quite different but impressive. We bought a copy of the latter’s book of poems. Following them were a wide variety of singers – all ages, all singing unaccompanied without song sheets – from the heart. Many were sung in Irish (Gaelic), many love songs and some heartfelt ones on emigration and the history of oppression and resistance by Irish patriots. Each singer was plucked from the audience by the master of ceremonies and some featured later in the evening’s closing concert.
Everyone received warm applause – a great sense of celebration of Irish culture. Coincidentally, standing beside Kerrie was New Zealander from Raglan who’d come the year before and determined to return – going on to Edinburgh for the festival.
Dinner in pop up Italian restaurant just up the road, at Loughnane’s Hostel – Guinness Beef and Potatoes on the menu.
Concert in the community hall – where Mary’s school had been. Variety of bands and musical styles, including a band featuring Brian Corry and friends who’d been the waiter at the pop up restaurant! Last band were very special. Two accordionists and a concertina player, featuring a father and son, Seamus Begley and Eoin Begley and Joe Fitzgerald a 70 year old who had emigrated from a village near Feakle to Australia when he was 17 and encouraged to return for the music festival a few years ago – now a regular and restoring the old family home! His accent was as if he’d never left, passionate about Irish culture and language.
Played a remarkable mix of Irish and Australian tune including one by Eric Bogle. Seamus Begley was brilliantly funny – a local farmer from one of Ireland’s most acclaimed musical families with a passion for music and story-telling – and with a wickedly irreverent sense of humour and a master of the one-liner. A great conclusion to the festival.
Day Fifty Seven – Sunday 7th August – Ireland
Walked down to the Killaloe farmers market beside the canal for a coffee and cake and wander around. Bought vegetarian curry for dinner. Back home to pack and prep for tomorrow’s trip north.
Day Fifty Eight – Monday 8th August – Ireland
Mary drove us to Limmerick Bus Station to catch our bus north to Sligo. Express to Galway where we changed onto the ‘slow’ bus to Sligo which stopped off at numerous towns along the way, including Knock with its string of shops all selling religious artefacts and souvenirs. The town was packed with coaches and tourists. Turns out Knock is famous as a place of pilgrimage – with its own international airport, the site of a miraculous apparition in 1879, witnessed by no fewer than 15 people. The countryside was unexceptional until we approached Sligo and could see the mountains. We checked into the Sligo City Hotel – in the town centre and went for a wander. An attractive city, with the River Garavogue running through the centre. WB Yeats, the celebrated Irish poet is commemorated everywhere in statues and a dedicated centre. Bought maps for our walks and a slender volume of Yeats’ poems. Our friends, Dorothy and Rob arrived around 7pm – a long haul from Dundee in one day! We had dinner in an Italian restaurant – in Sligo’s Italian Quarter! The weather was up and down during the day but with signs that it could be fine for the morrow.
Day Fifty Nine – Tuesday 9th August – Ireland
After breakfast at the hotel (Full Irish!) we headed off to make the ascent of Ben Bulben – a dramatic escarpment north of Sligo, hoping the unpromising weather would hold off. We mentioned to the hotel reception (Ken) that we were off to do a tough walk and to send out a search party if we weren’t back by dinner. He replied it was his night off – and he didn’t want us to wreck it!!
Using Graham’s copy of Great Irish Walks for direction we found our way up a succession of every narrower roads and tracks into fairly wild and desolate country. We reached the starting point, but taking notice of a No Trespassing sign decided to park a little way back and walk up.
The first kilometre took us across boggy land that had been dug up for peat – dozens of plastic bags piled up across the fields – in some cases the peat that had been cored and looked like animal manure stacked and drying.
We followed a rough path up beside a stream, climbing steadily to the ridge. Colourfully dyed sheep scattered across the landscape – giving us some light entertainment (curious mix of red and blue). Up top – we had stunning views around Sligo, ominously tempered by clouds, with King’s Mountain to our left. We decided we’d do the walk in reverse from this point – head for Ben Bulben’s precipitous rocky bulwarks and circle back to King’s mountain and back the way we’d come.
It was sadly not to be!! As the book warned, the weather in mountains is forever changeable – and quite suddenly a front scudded in from the west from the Atlantic.
Clouds murkily covered the peaks and a steady rain set in. Visibility dropped to 20 metres. We decided that wisdom was the better part of valour (and safety) and retraced our steps, following sheep trails through the peaty, boggy terrain towards the valley we’d ascended.
We found our way to the stream (Rob gamely leading the way) and once we knew we were on track – we stopped for a warming cuppa, pastry and sausage sandwich.
Of course at that point the clouds lifted enough to make us pause and think about going back – but we were wet and cold and decided that it could just as easily change again – so we continued downwards. We made it back to the car safely – a round trip of 2 and a half hours.
We followed a tourist route around the mountains along narrow roads with barely room for two cars to pass each other – past stunning escarpments back-dropping signs for Yeats Country.
Drove out to Mullaghmore Head and stopped for a short walk on a beach with signposts warning of cattle – with a deal of evidence of their presence to be avoided!
Passed a lovely harbour and had a warming coffee before driving on around the peninsula, very scenic with a castle perched on a hilltop and dramatic slabs of rock “sliding” into the ocean.
Around here some of the ships from the Spanish Armada came aground, 1800 lives lost – some made it to shore.
We made our way to Lissadell House….
…home of the Gore-Booths – most notably Constance (later) Markievicz and her sister Eva. Constance was one of the leaders of Ireland’s 1916 Rising, and was the first woman to be elected to Dáil Eireann, where she served as Minister for Labour – the first woman minister in a modern Western European democracy. Yeats visited here and later wrote a poem about the sisters.
The visitor centre features extensive artwork by Jack Yeats, William’s brother and historic documents and photographs from the 19th and early 20th centuries. We took a tour of the Gore-Booth’s ancestral home – with more than 70 rooms, very grand, shades of Downton Abbey – now owned by a pair of Dublin barristers, as well as the beautiful Alpine Garden.
On our way back to Sligo we stopped at Drumcliff church and cemetery to see WB Yeats’ grave – he actually died in France and his bones were later repatriated although there’s some doubt the bones are actually his!
The cemetery also features an outstanding Celtic cross. Dinner at Donaghy’s pub – plentiful servings. A big but rewarding day!
Day Sixty – Wednesday 10th August – Ireland
We checked out of Sligo hotel – miserable wet and cloudy weather. To bolster our spirits, we had breakfast in the awarded Lyons café – the best vegetarian breakfast ever!
Despite the gloomy outlook, we decided to head to nearby Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery – spotted by Dorothy and Rob in their Lonely Planet Guide.
This is the largest cemetery of megalithic tombs in Ireland and is also among the country’s oldest, one of the great heartlands of megalithic culture in Western Europe with monuments ranging from five thousand to five thousand eight hundred years old.
Archaeologists have recorded over 60 tombs of which 30 are visible – the creation of neolithic peoples. The site contains rock circles, tunnels, tombs and dolmens – mostly assembled using gneiss.
We spent two hours going around the site and unceasing rain, becoming totally drenched – much to the admiration of the visitor centre staff!
We drove on to Strandhill on the Western end of the Knocknarea peninsula in search of the famous Mamma Johnston’s Ice Cream Parlour, our search was successful. Great ice cream, followed by steaming hot pot of tea and hearty cakes – just reward for our adventures. We headed north then – to our next night’s stop – Ardara in Donegal. Ardara is a delightful town, the centre of the Donegal Tweed manufacturing industry – on the Owenea River; we visited the tourist centre and a Eddie Doherty’s clothing and weaving shop, with Eddie himself working on the ancient loom.
Beautiful material and we just had to buy a little something – hats and socks which we felt we needed to stay warm in this classically wet and windy Irish summer weather.
We walked up a hill behind town for views of the valley. Dinner was at Nancy’s Seafood restaurant – excellent!
Day Sixty One – Thursday 11th August – Ireland
The weather still awful – low clouds, rain and no prospect of improvement. Still we decided to head south to see if there was any chance of catching a glimpse of Slieve League – Europe’s highest cliffs – where we had hoped to do a dramatic walk – had the weather been favourable. No such luck – the clouds stayed stubbornly low – we drove in hope to the westerly end of the peninsula to Malin Bay and down to Trabane Beach.
After a walk along the beach, we retired for comfort and warmth to a café which sold good coffee, scones and jam – and seaweed! We took the back road to Carrick and Teelin, starting point for the Slieve League classic walk.
The mountains and cliffs were shrouded in fog, however. Still, we decided to join a motley collection of hopeful tourists and walked the thirty minutes in misty, murky conditions past clumps of healthy looking heather up to the viewing platform.
We hung around for 15-20 minutes and were rewarded with a fleeting glimpse of the sea pounding on the rocky cliff base some 175 metres below – and just barely, the rocky outcrops known locally as the Giant’s Desk and Chair.
With this minimal view of what should have been a staggering outlook – we retreated to the car and drove to the fishing town of Killybegs, then north and turning west just south of Ardara we went to look at Maghera waterfall – which was suitably impressive, cascading with peaty ferocity, powered by all the rain!
A carved wooden Celtic cross guarded the falls and gave hope to the faithful and superstitious – numerous coins stuck in cracks and clefts. We added two more for good measure and with vain prayers to the weather gods for clear skies and sun! Opposite is Maghera Strand – a beautiful estuary with sand banks and dunes. Back to the Nesbitt Arms for hot showers and dinner.