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.
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.