Last Sunday I was walking the Glenfarne Sculpture Trail in Leitrim with another tour guide. We were chatting about approaches to visiting Ireland. Both of us have lived in other parts of the world and come to live in Ireland in middle-age. Why would you want to race around Ireland, packing in the maximum sights, traveling the length and breadth of the island at break neck speed? You could see just as much without a change of pillow every night by centering your holiday in one region.
This is the primary joy of slow travel. You get to savor as many types of site and sights but without the hectic fervor of a gallop. Slow travel is more of a canter. Slow travel allows for in depth exploration, the joy of serendipity as well as a relaxing and reviving vacation. The northwest of Ireland really lends itself to that sort of vacation experience. It’s a real holiday (holy day) and authentic experience of Ireland.
While many North American tourists look at a map and realise that Ireland is the size of Indiana, they don’t realise that in Fairy Ireland no road goes straight from A to B. You have to realise that most routes are as intricate, beautiful and surprising as a Celtic knot. So why would you try and dizzy yourself whirling around these ways when you could simply stop, look, stare, and soak up the spell of this country by taking a slow travel vacation.
John and I live in Northwest Ireland where the Slow Food and organic movements are well established. So, too, with both of us having seen much of what Ireland can offer the visit, we can recommend northwest Ireland as the best place for a slow travel experience. As John is quick to point out, in Sligo alone there are 3,000 ancient monuments. Sligo and Leitrim are the home to much of the action in Tuatha de Danaan lore. As one friend quipped, the pair of us could be a Come to the Sidhe Tourism Board! Without a doubt, the unspoiled environment and scenic beauty of northwest Ireland is very Fairy Ireland.
If the stones in this geological gem of Ireland could just speak! The limestone, sandstone, sedimentary rocks all can tell a story. It’s no little wonder that this region became the first international, cross-border global geopark. Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark takes in both built and natural heritage in counties Cavan and Fermanagh.
The place names of each townland are full of myth and legend. Tullydermot Falls, Co. Cavan in the photo right was one of the brief resting spots in the Flight of Grainne and Diarmuid. Diarmuid lost his life at Benwisken, Co. Sligo. Grainne, who returned to her husband Finn MacColl, is said to be buried on Sheebeg, Co. Leitrim.
The Tuatha de Danaan’s homeplace is in Co. Leitrim where they are said to have landed on Slieve Anieran. The Battle of Moytura where they were finally defeated is located on the Roscommon/Sligo boundary. What better place to contact the faerie than in Fairy Ireland homeland?
Northwest Ireland has stunning coastline that reveals the fossil record of this region. The whale backed drumlins march from the inland lakeland counties of Cavan, Leitrim and Fermanagh towards the Atlantic coast of Donegal and Sligo. The region offers thousands of ancient sites and monuments, relicts of Neolithic Ireland, peaceful roads to explore on footea or bicycle or by car. The region inspired poets and artists like William and Jack Yeats. It also educated literary giants like Oscar Wilde and Samuel Beckett.
Within a compact region that can easily be explored on day trips you can have the whole of the authentic Ireland vacation experience. To make it even more relaxing you won’t need to pack up everyday and sleep on a new pillow each night. You can breathe in the cleanest air in western Europe and sleep soundly after a day’s fairy hunting, communing with the land spirits, eating good food, and enjoying the genuine hospitality of this region’s locals.
The northwest of Ireland offers many byways, boreens and serendipitous left turns. It’s how we wound up setting here in the first place! Northwest Ireland definitely has the X Factor.
Bee Smith created Irish Blessings Tours to serve travellers to Ireland who want the unique and inspirational packaged for their group’s desires and needs. Bee seeks the source to manifest your dream Irish vacation according to your budget and time scale. She has a special interest in Fairy folklore, Celtic Spirituality and the Natural Heritage of northwestern Ireland and Northern Ireland. In 2011 Bee became one of the first trained tour guides that act at ambassadors for the UNESCO designated Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark. Send her your dreams for your Ireland vacation package to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Country Fermanagh is the southwestern corner of Northern Ireland and a full third of this county’s acreage is water. It vies with its neighbour to claim the title as Lakeland Ireland. With Lower and Upper Loughs Erne dominating the landscape this border county abounds with outdoor water activities. But it also has many other things to do and see other than fishing, cruising on the lakes and the Ulster Canal, kayaking and wind surfing. Other than these laudable waterside activities these are seven other things to see and do in County Fermanagh.
1) Castles – With the Ulster Plantation in the 17th century there were many buildings with the ‘castle’ appellation built in the county. If it is ruins that you find romantic you should take a gander at Monea, which dates from around 1616.
The military garrison Enniskillen Castle, sometimes also known as the watergate, presides over the county town and is now a museum with a full programme of events year round.
But if you have ever had a hankering after Mr. Darcy than Castle Coole, a Regency palace finished in in 1798, is everything your romantic imagination could conjure. It is a National Trust property on the outskirts of Enniskillen.
Photo above left is of one of the trees in the Coole House Arboretum.
2) Early Christian Relicts – With Lough Erne as the main thoroughfare through the region from early Christian throughout the medieval period there is a wealth of Celtic spiritual past to peruse. Boa Island is the home of a Janus figure and ‘The Lusty Man’ removed here from nearby Lustybeg. These are more likely from the early Christian period when both the pagan and Christian paths intersected. Boa Island takes its name from the Irish goddess Babdh, who was one of the warrior goddesses The Morrigan.
The photo of the Janus figure, right, is by Gareth McCormack Photography.
Boa Island is really more a peninsula. You need an actual boat to get to see the stone carvings of characters from the Romanesque period on White Island. Many people refer to one of these figures as a Sheela-na-gig. Actually, this grinning female figure has a demurely draped breast and does not display her yoni. So to be truthful this is the Fermanagh Sheela-na-gig that isn’t one since she is neither bare of breast or displaying her genitalia. She is probably of a similar period. The Sheela-na-gigs are early Christian carvings although they seem to our modern eyes to harken to a pagan past.
3) Natural History – With its limestone geology Fermanagh hosts a network of underground caverns. You can tour one of these caves at the Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark near Florencecourt. The Marlbank Scenic Drive climbs high up Cuilcagh giving breathtaking view of the county. Or you can get some exercise by walking up to the caves via Claddagh Glen, a wet ash woodland with waterfalls and a fast running river.
4) Holy Wells – The most famous of Fermanagh’s curing waters (and reputedly the coldest!) is in Belcoo. St. Patrick’s Well is immaculately maintained and reputedly has the cure for stomach and nervous complaints. The ritual pattern of prayers is still celebrated in July on Garland Sunday and unbroken tradition honouring sacred water from pre-Christian times.
St. Ninndh’s Well is located in Derrylin on the south west corner of Upper Lough Erne close by the lakeshore. St. Ninndh was a sixth century saint who reputedly visited St. Brigit on her deathbed.
The photo below right was taken at St. Patrick’s Holywell near Belcoo.
5) Ancient Sites - Drumskinny Stone Circle is a 39 stone Bronze Age complex that dates from around 2,500 years ago. Located near Kesh, the stone on the grassy mound aligns with sun rise on winter solstice.
The Aghanaglack Dual Court Tomb is located not far from St. Patrick’s Holy Well, Belcoo. It can be found down a forestry track. The court cairn excavation revealed the cremated remains of a child, red deer and the teeth of pig, pottery, flint tools and weapons from the late neolithic period. Just east from here is the Belmore Mountain Passage Cairn on the mountain road from Boho. Newgrange is the most famous but not the only Passage Tomb. It is considered to be early Bronze Age and the National Museum in Dublin displays some of this passage cairn’s grave goods.
6) Clan Maguire Country – Fermanagh, as well as Cavan, were inhabited by the Maguire clan who have leant their name to towns like Maguiresbridge. The border country close to Derrylin and Lisnakea and the mountain Benaghlin are especially associated with the Maguire chieftains. Routinely, there are festivals that celebrate the associations this ancient Gaelic clan had with this county.
7) The Ardhowen Theatre – Ireland has many regional theatres and Fermanagh’s, located just east of Enniskillen town centre, was opened in 1986. The theatre was created as an addition to the McDonagh family’s Edwardian home and hosts a year round programme. Unlike many of Ireland’s regional theatres, you can actually putter up with your cruiser and moor on the Ardhowen’s jetty before show time.
While some people reckon the beginning of summer is marked by the solstice near 21st June, in the old Irish way of seeing the wheel of the year summer begins with May. It still may be chilly, especially at night; we could still be in for a frost and anxiously tuck up tender plants. The days are quite long and the showers are gentle and infrequent. But May, or Bealtaine in the Irish language, is the start of the fast and furious schedule of festivals, fleadhs and feis. I do have to say the Bealtaine is my favourite month of the year in Ireland. To my mind the month of May, or Bealtaine, is the most blissful and best time of year to visit Ireland.