We visited the Shannon Pot, the source of the river Shannon, a very spiritual place in Ireland, yesterday. The rain was lashing but despite the weather it was magical. We spotted the first May blossom on the hawthorn this spring- and we have waited a long time for spring to arrive in Ireland in 2013. Hawthorn is a tree sacred to fairies. But since fairies come in all shapes and sizes we had more magic in store to witness. They’ve even been known to shape shift, often into animals who then communicate subtly with us.
The other magical sight was a solitary white horse in the pasture beside the the first flowing of the Shannon river as it rises from ‘the pot.’ In the rain it was sheltering beside the hawthorn in full flower. This reminded me of the story of the fairy horse, or eoiche uisce, that is associated with a lough within the Cavan Burren forest.
There is a fairy horse legend associated with a nearby lough on the Cavan Burren that inspired me to write a poem. This poem of mine tells the tale of why you need to be wary of the water horse who is, of course, a fairy horse.
Cautionary Fairy Tale
Young women, beware handsome men
with slicked back watery hair, ken
their fetching grins that show a lot of teeth.
For once in your ever young lives
defer to those older and more wise
who can read the reality beneath.
Handsome men that go wandering lough side,
all snake hipped swagger in full lust cry,
need heeding . Fleet foot yourself away!
For once in your ever young lives
defer to those older and more wise.
Head for home without further delay!
Handsome men wandering lough side
often lure with kisses and love sighs,
tempting young women to get carried away.
Yet at least once in your young lives
defer to those older and more wise.
Don’t yield and be led well astray.
Handsome men with their slicked back, watery hair
have a habit of making young women care.
Don’t be fooled – he’ll have you at his call and his beck.
Please for once in your ever young lives
defer to those older and more wise.
That devill’ll shake your life clear off its track.
That handsome man will turn to faerie beast.
That stallion will seek you for his own mortal feast.
He’ll love you. He’ll lave you, but never’ll leave you.
So for Heaven’s sake of your ever young lives
would you not defer to those older and more wise
who’d save you from riding to your doom?
For the skin turned water horse has only one true enclave.
Tullygubban Lough will always be his current consort’s grave.
© Bee Smith 2011
Storytelling, poetry, music and good conversation are all part of our Betwixt & Between Walks with Bee (and Tony) as we walk the Fairy Ireland landscape of West Cavan, South Fermanagh, Leitrim and Sligo. Charges are 30 euro per hour. Book your walk by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
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This summer if you are travelling to Northwest Ireland – especially West Cavan and Fermanagh – walk with Irish Blessings Tour guides Bee Smith and Tony Cuckson to some of the betwixt and between power places of this unique border region. With many visitors arriving in Ireland this summer for The Gathering 2013 walk the places where our ancestors have lived continuously since the times of the Megalith Makers.
Irish Blessings Tours creatrix, Bee Smith is a Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark trained tour guide. Her talks with walks will enhance your understanding of the ancient sites, natural heritage, mythology and local history. Storyteller and musician Tony Cuckson embellishes the walks with his beguiling Armagh accent and humour.
Allow poet, writer and storyteller Bee Smith to lead you on a fairy hunt in the magical places within the ancient Irish kingdom of Breifne. Bee’s tours will show you places where modern and mythic Ireland meet, sharing those ‘betwixt and between’ places of Tir na nÓg, the rainbow bridges between time and the timeless. No tour of Ireland is complete without that ‘tingle factor’ that this part of Ireland never fails to deliver.
So come walking Betwixt & Between with Bee to places where the fairies still thrive, where you can feel the ancestors watching your back and feel peace dropping slowly upon your soul.
Pricing- €30 per hour
Book via email to email@example.com or by phone 071 964 3936.
Payment should be made via PayPal upon receipt of confirming email or text message.
Groups up to eight people, children with focus welcome
Seeking the Source at Shannon Pot
This one hour tour of the source of Ireland’s longest river, the Shannon, includes storytelling and music with Tony Cuckson. Meadows, fairy trees, story and song. This walk is completely accessible.
Crossover with Crom Cruich
The Ancestors at our Back
This walking tour of the Cavan Burren is a minimum two hours and includes the guide’s own poetry inspired by the landscape and the folklore associated with it. A half day could be easily spent exploring dolmens, cairns, wedge tombs and boulder formations. A longer tour with a picnic included can be negotiated.
With the summer months I am lured away from the computer and desk binding tasks and find myself drawn outdoors. It’s been helped by the fact that we have had two hot and sunny spells. Not hot by North American standards maybe but as a Spanish friend said after returning from a trip back to visit family, “I’m not used to it anymore. My body has gone Irish.” So when the mercury is above 80 degrees Fahrenheit my brain feels fried. And a week of relentless sunshine just feels weird.
But we are back to overcast so my body feels normal in my regular attire of fleeces, socks and jeans. I’ve ditched my Factor 30 for the time being until then next outbreak of sun and hot weather. And I’m back to tell you of how amazing and beautiful is the Irish countryside and scenery in summertime.
A reader of my blog is interested in traveling around Ireland but will only really be able to use public transport. She also wants to be able to access some of the fairy places and ancient sites. My short answer was, “Not impossible, but tricky.” It is doable with discipline, good organization, timekeeping and timetable literacy. To get to the more remote places you will probably meet amenable locals who will offer lifts and every assistance you could hope for, which is part of rural hospitality.
So Yes, you can really earn your Light Carbon Footprint badge using public transport. Using public transport in Ireland is also a way of seeing Ireland as an ecotourism destination.
You do need to wear waterproof outerwear and footwear because there will be times when you can only access some of the really interesting places by foot. If you are happy on a bike then also look into bike hire in places that you will visit. Also pack light as you will probably be wheeling, lugging or backpacking over a fair amount of distance. So consider your back’s health. I took a Redmond 40 litre rucksack for a one week trip. Allow for the inevitable books, gifts, CDs you will accumulate enroute. Leave some empty space in other words.
For instance, my enquirer would like to visit the Cavan Burren, which has many megalithic monuments. Now there is a wonderful opportunity to get guided bus tours during the Cathal Buí Festival week, in 2012 from 27th June to 2nd July. But outside of that festival you can still get a bus to Blacklion. While the Burren is a good six kilometres uphill and away someone who is happy to bicycle could enquire about bike hire in the Tourist information office. Otherwise it is a hike, but a taxi could fetch you home. Or your B&B proprietor would most likely see your right.
As I said, not impossible, but tricky. You cannot be shy about asking questions. Be clear where you would like to visit and then ask locals to help you figure out those logistics.
I do not have a full driver’s license and just over ten years ago when we were contemplating a move to rural Ireland I did a solo trip to see if it was possible to get around using just public transport. With the generous assistance of some B&B owners who gave me lifts to bus stops to make connections that didn’t work to plan, it did work out.
I did it by bus because there was an absolute steal of deal through Eurolines from England(where we were living at that time) to Dublin. All roads and transport links lead to Dublin so, bleary eyed from the over night ferry, I traveled onwards to Limerick where I fell comatose into my hostel bed and slept thirteen hours.
The bus services in Ireland are remarkably prompt. I encountered only one delay on my trip when some prankster had let a goat into the bus in Scariff overnight. The driver’s seat had been eaten. But even this amounted only to about a half hour delay while we waited for the replacement bus to arrive. You do need to be aware though that on Sundays and Bank Holidays (public holidays) the buses are fewer and farther between.
Since I am older now and not so lithe and limber of limb, I’d choose to take the train as my first preference. Whenever I return from transatlantic flights I take the early train to Sligo to get me to my bed in the shortest time. However, my outgoing journey to the airport is usually by bus. Bus Éireann is cheaper than Iaonród Éireann but if you combine the best of both you should be able to get around. Buses will take you deeper into the rural areas. Once in the very rural areas you may need to resort to kindly B&B proprietors, bicycle hire or shoe leather.
Irish Rail has a few options to suit the tourist. Check the prices, which will alter but there are three tickets for travelers around Ireland.The 4 Day Trekker Ticket is valid for 4 consecutive days and can be used on all Irish Rail Services.Useful for a short stay with brief hops between towns outlying Dublin.
The Irish Rover Rail ticket seems a better deal for transatlantic visitors who would like to see a number of destinations or sites over a two week period. This ticket is valid for 5 days of travel out of 15 consecutive days. It can be used on all Irish Rail Services including all Northern Ireland Railways services, which could allow you to take in Belfast, the Antrim coastal towns and Derry. With this option plus local bus you could conceivably see the Giant’s Causeway. Be aware that the timetables for the North of Ireland will be through Translink rather than on the Bus Éireann timetables.
If you are seriously wanting to get out into the countryside then you may want to spring for the Irish Explorer Rail and Bus ticket. This option is valid 8 days of travel out of 15 consecutive days and includes all Irish Rail Services and all Bus Éireann services.
If you have a bit of time you may get more bang for your buck by just using the tourist bus tickets available from Bus Éireann. They have an Open Road Ticket which is completely flexible in terms of length of time it will be valid. You choose your first and last travel dates. This is valid in the Republic only. If you want to include Northern Ireland on your itinerary then you probably should opt for the Irish Rover Ticket.
Depending on how long you will be touring, bear in mind that trains allow more leg room and opportunities to stretch your legs and wander around. But the buses will allow you to see more of the countryside on their routes.
On my trek those many years ago I was able to bus from Dublin to Limerick, Limerick to Mountshannon. My kind B&B proprietor, Mr. Waterstone, gave me a lift to Scariff on the morning that I went to Liscannor, via Limerick and some tourist time out in Ennis en route. I did a fair amount of walking that week in the Mountshannon area and it was a few miles hike to the Cliffs of Moher from my Liscannor B&B but I was prepared for wet weather and had good hiking boots. I was offered lifts and those that I accepted proved completely harmless but hitching lifts on your own in unknown territory is never a good idea.
You may want to have a smart phone and buy an Irish pay as you go SIM card while traveling so you can access the internet and check bus and train timetables. Depending on the area where you travel you will have to gauge which provider to use. Vodaphone is strong in rural areas. O2 seems to be popular in built up areas. Meteor is getting better in rural coverage. Ask at the shop, tell them where you intend to tour and enquire about the coverage in the areas you will visit.
So, once you know where you want to go and what you want to see, start perusing the online bus and train timetables to figure how you can pack it all in to one very eco-friendly itinerary. Traveling by public transport is slower, but you will meet people, chat, see a great deal of the countryside from your window. You can be independent but also secure as a lone woman traveler. And that lone woman trekker can walk lightly leaving less of a carbon footprint if she uses public transport.
In my A-Z of Things to See in Ireland I recommend archaeological evidence of Neolithic Ireland for the letter N. The fascination with such megalithic memorials to loved ones is hard to suppress. We have to take this in context. Newgrange in Co. Meath is as old as the Valley of the Kings Pyramids in Egypt. But it is also estimated that Newgrange, one of the greatest passage tombs of Neolithic Ireland, is older than Stonehenge! This is considered the stone age.
Let’s put this in context. Before Neolithic Ireland than was Mesolithic Ireland. These people were hunter gatherers who lived before 4,500 BCE. They used stone tools and treated their dead with reverence. The period that concerns Neolithic Ireland is roughly from 4,500 –2,500 BCE. During those two millennia the inhabitants of Ancient Ireland moved from a hunter gatherer lifestyle to introducing farming. By the end of the era they had discovered how to develop metal tools. The Bronze Age began.
Many visitors to Ireland want to make sure that they see a dolmen. So the letter D in my A-Z of Things to See in Ireland is represented by dolmens. Now a dolmen is an ancient monument with at least two upright or standing stones with a capstone forming a sort of roof for the monument. Dolmens are assumed to be tombs. They date from Neolithic times. If the archaeologists are right then our hunter/gatherer ancestors were very reverential with regard to the internment of the human corpse.
There are at least four types of dolmen- portal tombs, wedge tombs, passage tombs and court tombs.
We are spoiled for choice when we come to the letter C in my A-Z of things to see in Ireland. So this is a bit of a whistle stop tour to whet your interest about all things beginning with C to see in Ireland!
Many visitors arrive in the country through Dublin’s airport or ferry port. So if you would like to get your cathedral fix from the off there are two significant cathedrals to visit in Dublin. There is the Dublin Pro Cathedral and Christchurch. A cathedral has been on Christchurch’s site since 1028 and the current cathedral has many medieval flourishes but was last renovated by the Victorians. The bells chime out the hour. The Roman Catholic archbishopric is at St. Mary’s, also known as Dublin Pro Cathedral.
In the Ireland -land of mists and rainbows, holy wells and magical woods you enter the realm of fairy.
They are known by many names - ’thin places’, thresholds between the worlds, fairy portals, liminal spaces. Ireland has many power places that draw on how whisper thin is the division between ‘our world’ and the fairy world. Some people refer to the Good Folk as the Little People or leprechauns who have a rather jolly reputation. Fairies (or faeries) are earth elementals. They were originally the Tuatha de Danaan, the mythic people who lived in Old Ireland who, after being defeated by the invading Milesians at the Second Battle of Moytura, went to ground (or underground).
They are often referred to as the sidhe, pronounced shee. Everyone has probably heard and shuddered just to be reminded of the legend of the banshee, but really the word is just a transliteration of the Irish word for fairy woman.
The Tuatha de Danaan first appeared on Slieve Anieran on the Cavan/Leitrim border. After they were defeated the legend shows that they headed back to this part of Erin to their original homeplace. Being earth elementals it makes this part of Ireland particularly fertile fairy hunting ground.
The photo I’ve posted was taken in the Cavan Burren Forest, which is a part of the Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark, which is the first international, cross-border park in the world to earn this UNESCO designation.
The Geopark is in County Fermanagh in Northern Ireland and County Fermanagh in the Republic of Ireland. The Cavan Burren Forest has many examples of Bronze Age and Iron Age megaliths, cairns, dolmens, portal tombs and wedge tombs.
Burren means stony place in Irish. The Cavan Burren has been had human occupation since the first hunter gatheers left evidence of their flint tools on the shore of Lough MacNean. The geology of the landscape – limesetone, sandstone, mudstone and other sedimentary rock makes for a wildishly beautiful scenery. Those early ancestors made amazing burials. Amidst the lush and biodiverse flora and fauna you are likely to sense those ‘earth elementals’ or fairies.
The Calf Hut dolmen is an example of how people have adapted and worked with the landscape. Landscape is never standing still. It’s a work in constant progress. This dolmen started out as a portal tomb with the entrance at what some would consider ‘the back’ of it. A farmer adapted this collapsed tomb as a shelter for when his cow calved. ‘Hence the name ‘calf hut.’
Walking around the Cavan Burren Forest, the sense of the ancients brushing up against us in our modern day is palpable.