Lovely Leitrim they call it on the welcome signs into the county and this small county promises some of the most unspoilt scenery in Ireland. For lovers of the beautiful Irish countryside Leitrim will never disappoint. For those of you who love Irish mythology you cannot miss visiting Slieve Anieran, or Iron Mountain, where the legendary Tuatha de Danaan first arrived in Ireland with their four gifts- Nuada’s sword, Lugh’s spear, Dagda’s cauldron and the stone of destiny.
So here are my top seven suggestions for things to see and do in Ireland.
1) Go fairy hunting on Slieve Anieran
This mountain ranges along the R207 between Drumshambo and Ballinagleragh with dramatic views of Lough Allen. Drive carefully over the minute track between Ballinamore and Ballinagleragh to the top of the mountain. The Leitrim Way will lead you up to a Mass Rock, where Catholics heard mass said during the days when practicing that faith was illegal.
2) Visit a Holy Well and Sweat House
Along the R207 at the foot of Slieve Anieran near the Lough Allen Adventure Centre is a sign leading to St. Aodh’s Holy Well. Holy wells are well maintained through out Ireland; holy wells are an atavism of the old Celtic spiritual reverence of nature, water in particular being regarded as sacred. Wells were venerated not just as having cures but also, coming underground, as being thin places or portals between this world and the spiritual world.
Leitrim and West Cavan are distinctive in having many examples of sweat houses. These were Irish country saunas. Turf was lit in the tiny stone structures and kept going for five house. The embers were raked and then wet rushes were put on top to create the steam. The Ballinagleragh Sweat House is interesting as there is a stream where you could plunge after your steam. Folklore says that they were used for arthritis, rheumatism and fever cures. But given Ireland’s climate why are they not wider spread throughout the island? Is this another gift that the Tuatha de Danaan brought with them and the tradition remained strong in the de Danaan homeplace?
3) The Costello Chapel in Carrick on Shannon
Reputedly the second smallest chapel in the world and certainly the smallest one in Ireland this minute place of worship was built as one Irishman’s Taj Mahal to a beloved wife. The gentleman who commissioned this chapel is laid to rest beside his wife, although outliving her by decades. A curiosity in terms of Victorian era monument making it is an interesting neo-Gothic piece of architecture.
The chapel is on the corner of Leitrim’s county town’s Main Street where it intersects Bridge Street, opposite the Market Yard where there is one of Ireland’s best Farmer’s Markets each Thursday.
4) Take to the Boats!
There is fine fishing in Lough Allen and the other lakes in the centre of the county. However, if angling is not your sport you can hire a narrowboat and putter along the Shannon Erne Waterway, exploring the stops along the network of canal locks until you enter Lough Erne in County Fermanagh. Ballinamore is a good base for narrowboat adventures.
But if you don’t have a week or even a weekend for slow travel you may fancy a shorter jaunt on the water. Carrick on Shannon’s Moon River Boat hosts many events during the high season. If you are a lover of Yeat’s poetry you may want to visit Parkes Castle and take a trip out to the Isle of Innisfree in Lough Gill, which inspired Yeats’ poem of that name.
5) Glencar Waterfalls and Lake
While on the subject of William Butler Lake’s it is worth mentioning another beauty spot that inspired his poem “The Stolen Child.” Up at the tip of North Leitrim close to the Sligo boundary is Glencar Waterfall. This peaceful spot is accessed from a turn off the N16 between Manorhamilton and Sligo. It is also a good fairy hunting spot so be sure to bring a little offering for the fairies and they may show themselves. Remember, they like chocolate! And shiny things like coins, but please do not toss coins into the the stream.
6) The Organic Centre
One comment I’ve heard about this garden is that it is always changing and evolving. A major training centre in Ireland promoting organic and sustainable living, the Organic Centre has polytunnels, orchard, willow nursery and woodland to explore. It’s distinctive grass roof and reed bed system shows that it walks its talk. Weekend courses are run year round and there is a shop where you can buy seeds, books and other useful garden equipment. A nursery provides vegetable, herb, shrub and flower plant stock, too.
7) The Séan Mac Diarmuida Memorial Cottage
Irish history lovers will not want to miss this historical monument to one of the 1916 signatories of Ireland’s Declaration of Independence. A native of Kiltyclogher, the family homeplace of Séan McDermott (or Mac Diarmuida) is now a small museum. You can find this by turning right off the N16 at the Rainbow Ballroom of Romance. There is a left hand turning posted on this road traveling through Glenfarne, one of Leitrim’s Seven Glens, towards Kiltyclogher. There is also a memorial in the centre of the village to their local hero.
There are many more things to see and do in Lovely Leitrim but these few pointers will put you on track to discover some of your own favourites no matter which part of the county you decide to explore.