Friday, October 16, 2009

Fri 16th- Yeats Country & Northern Ireland

After a slow start the next morning and while David caught up on some work from home I took the car down to the end of Rosses Point; I’d only caught a glimpse of it the night before when we were searching for a B&B. There were a number of large inlets and beaches at the end of a rather windswept peninsula and it was here that I saw another of my “I wonder if I’ll see that in Ireland” things. While I was researching for our trip I had found a picture of this character directing boat traffic who made me smile, I had then forgotten all about him. I didn’t even know where he was located. Unfortunately he was a wee way out into the channel and my zoom didn’t make him that much clearer. We need a few of these dotted around the inner harbour back home in Tauranga.

This lighthouse was across the channel on Coney Island

Located nearby was this poignant and beautiful sculpture of a woman “Waiting on Shore”

This could quite easily be a New Zealand beach!

Back to the hotel and with the car packed we were ready to hit the road. We’d (or rather I had) made a major decision the night before to change our itinerary, today we should have been heading right up north into County Donegal, the further most north west county in Ireland but now knowing how winding and narrow the coast roads were, we decided that it was just going to be too far to try and fit what we had planned to do into a two day/one night journey. This was a shame as it was one county I was really keen on seeing. I will just have to keep it for a return visit. So we readjusted our plans and decided to head inland and through into Northern Ireland one day earlier. We aimed to stay in Omagh before heading onto Ballycastle where we had the next confirmed B&B booking.

So with the change in plan in place we were away. First stop was only a few kilometres down the road at Drumcliff. County Sligo is also known as Yeats Country as the scenery inspired many of the Nobel Prize winning writer WB Yeats great works, his family lived in the area and his grave is located in a churchyard in Drumcliffe.

W B Yeats Grave

In front of the church is a sculpture honoring Yeats’ work by physically illustrating his poem “He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven.” It depicts a bald, shirtless man crouching above a blanket engraven with the words of the poem.

By stopping at the churchyard you not only get a dead poet you also get a very old round tower, two high crosses, a stunning view of Ben Bulben and a great coffee! A monastery was founded on this site in the 6th century, only a part of the round tower(which was struck by lightning in 1396) and two high crosses remain.

This high cross stands 3.83 meters tall and is highly decorated with carvings of Adam & Eve, Cain & Abel, Daniel in the Lion’s Den and Christ in Glory along with many animals. High Crosses were used to illustrate stories from the bible for the largely illiterate congregations.

What is left of the Round Tower-

Ben Bulben is a prominent table top like mountain that W B Yeats wrote about in his very last poem and in fact the final 3 lines decorate his headstone-
Cast a cold eye
On life, on death
Horseman, pass by!

Back on the road it wasn’t long before we “had” to stop again, I had earmarked another tomb to visit if we had the time. The Creevykeel Court Cairn is located right on the side of the road and with this one, there was a major difference. It was excavated in 1935 and shortly afterwards restored, the top has been taken right the way off. Again dating from the Neolithic Period, 4000-2500 BC, this site is one of the best examples of a Court Cairn in Ireland. It an entrance passage, an oval court and a double chamber gallery. The Cairn is wedge shaped and the court (where rituals were performed) is about 15 meters in length. It was very interesting to see a cairn opened up, apparently a lot of this Creevykeel has disappeared over time as farmers used the stones in house and fence building.

Looking over the cairn towards the central courtyard

The large capstone over the interal entrance to another chamber. Capstones supported the build up of stones over the top of the cairn.

Inside the central courtyard

It was here that we also saw our second rag tree at the entrance way into the cairn.

After a short stop we passed briefly through County Leitrim and into County Donegal, I was sad that a few short kilometres were all we were going to see of County Donegal after our change of plans. At Ballyshannon we turned inland heading towards Enniskillen along the banks of Lough Erne. Just before the Lough we crossed the border into Northern Ireland without much fanfare at all and in fact we only noticed it when suddenly the speed signs changed from kilometres to miles. Of course not too long ago there would have been a major border control in place, now anybody can cross back and forth at will. We do notice that the roads are generally in much better condition north of the border and it seems to be a bit more prosperous. In fact you could be driving just about anywhere in mainland UK, it looked very similar. Hmmm…..I’m not sure I like that, not because it's the UK just because Ireland is Ireland.

We were now in County Fermanagh (are you getting the picture I love the County names), I’m keeping track of the Counties so I can say how many we visited at the end of the trip! The scenery changed from rugged barren coastal views to lush fields and autumnal colours and a few thatched houses. It wasn’t the first time that I compared it to New Zealand although we don’t have so many deciduous trees or any thatched cottages!. We took a few side tracks to have a look at the lake and see if we could find some wildlife. That was a negative.

We then stopped in Enniskillen for lunch after which we drove around until we found the right view of the castle. No time to visit, this was the closest we were going to get to it.

There was a pike fishing competition happening along the sides of the waterway, very serious men in their camouflage outfits and waders(even though they were fishing from the boardwalk!), sun chairs, fishing boxes and fishing rod support poles(that’s not fishing!) They weren’t in any mood to talk either, this was serious stuff! They were spaced out about 10 meters apart all the way along both sides.

Next stop Omagh(well nearly) but before we left town we followed another sign that said “Castle” and came across the ruins of the Portora Castle on the banks of the lake. Why is there always a flock of crows flying over castle ruins?

Portora Castle was built in 1612 and is very strategically placed by the narrow exit of the River Erne from the lake. In the latter part of the 19th century gales and an experimental explosion made by some local schoolboys contributed to the castle ruin. Below the castle ruins is the weir and boat lock at the head of the river. You surely couldn't miss the arrows that point you in the direction of the lock and if you did, it would probably be the last thing you did as you knocked your head off! :)

As we were walking back to the car we came across a farmer who in the peace and quiet of the countryside, was hollering loudly to his cattle. We stopped for a yarn. He was teaching his cattle to come running from the back of the paddock so he had them all trained up and ready when he needed to load them onto a truck as feed was getting low. He had a bucket of pellets that he was sprinkling on the ground. The older cattle had already tuned into it, the calves were still a little hesitant. He was keen to talk about NZ’s dairy industry and we spent a pleasant 20 minutes or so passing the time of day with him. He couldn’t understand why we were where we were!

By now it's late afternoon and we still have a little way to go so it was back on the road and no stops until we get to Omagh in County Tyrone. I have another couple of B&Bs numbers to call, the first is full and the second was closed but if it’s just the two of us they’ll fit us in. The lady of the house gives us some directions and we turn in towards Fintona; now it really is looking like New Zealand farming country. We come out of the main road south of Omagh and just a short of the B&B. Tattykeel House is very grand with 2 acres of beautiful gardens surrounding it. Inside the house it's all chintz and floral, the hostess is also a very good painter going by the number of beautiful painting hanging throughout the house and in her studio. After our rather large lunch we decide that we don't need dinner and retire for an early night.

Taken the next morning surrounded by a thick blanket of fog!

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