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.
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.
There are two Armaghs. The City of Armagh is the ecclesiastical capital of Ireland. Like Rome it is built on seven hills. It’s also known as the city of saints and scholars because in early Christian Ireland it was the prime seat of learning. The county of Armagh is known as the Orchard County and in the rolling hills are filled with apple blossom come April. The combination of rural landscape and county town and cathedral city make Armagh a great destination for visitors with plenty of things to see and do while in Ireland. I’ve been visiting this county since 1984 and these are my top recommendations. Here are my top seven things to do and see in County Armagh.
1) The Cathedrals – Okay, technically there are two St. Patrick’s Cathedrals. The Church of Ireland Cathedral is older and has the grave of Brian Boru as well as pre-Christian artefacts. One known as the Tandragee Idol is thought to depict Nuada of the Silver Arm, a king of the Tuatha de Danaan. There is also the donkey-eared carving of Labhraidh Loingseach. This cathedral is also host to the Centre for Celtic Spirituality.
The twin spires of the Roman Catholic St. Patrick’s Cathedral dominate the horizon of the cityscape. Begun ion 1840, this Gothic Revival cathedral had to suspend construction during the hard Famine Years. There is an amazing blue mosaic vaulted ceiling and the Lady Chapel displays the caps of every cardinal.
This You Tube Clip starts out at the Church of Ireland St. Patrick’s Cathedral and shows the Armagh Rhymers make their way through the town to the St. Brigid’s Well near the Palace Stables to celebrate St. Brigid’s Day on 1st February.
2) The Mall – Rhyme that with Pal rather than say it like the long mile that is home to many of the Smithsonian’s Museums in Washington, D.C. This elegant green space began life as the town’s racecourse. It is edged by some of the finest examples of Georgian architecture outside of Dublin. It also is home to the County Museum , the Courthouse and the Cricket Club.
3) A short walk heading out the Portadown Road will lead you to Armagh’s Observatory and Planetarium. If you are at all star struck or have inquisitive children then you are sure to while away your time full of wonder.
4) Retracing your steps back past The Mall and heading out the Killylea Road you have the Palace Stables. Originally Archbishop Robinson’s Residence the Palace Stables now house a Heritage Centre, which brings Georgian era Ireland to life. Archbishop Robinson, also a Baron, was the guiding force that shaped how Armagh looks today by creating the Mall, endowing and building the library, renovating the Cathedral and other public buildings. With a playground and woodland walks as well as guided tours and special events this is a very family friendly venue with a wide choice of things to see and do to please all age ranges.
5) Carry on a bit further along this road and you will find the amazing Navan Fort or Emain Macha. This is the Height (Ard) of Macha, the goddess who gave her name as this was her seat of power. Archaeology studies have created an amazing exhibit with plenty of everything you might want to know about Celtic Ireland. There are guided tours but there is a really good self-guided exhibit. And then you get to walk up the giant earthwork that is Macha’s Height. Learn about how the early Irish before St. Patrick lived with the reenactments of Early Irish life.
6) Now it’s time to head out the Markethill Road for a bit of outdoor activity. Gosford Castle Forest Park offers camping and caravan berths, a stunning arboretum, mountain bike trails, woodland walks, a walled garden and deer park. In the 240 hectare demesne you can even rent a self-catering apartment in the Castle! So there is no need to rough it if that is not your style.
Rather you can imagine how the landed gentry who created this amazing country seat lived. Jonathan Swift, who was Dean of Dublin for a time, used to vacation here and one of the woodland walks takes you to a favourite resting spot, Dean Swift’s Seat. The current castle was constructed in the 1800s after Dean Swift’s holiday with the aristocratic owners and has been converted into private homes.
I’m on my last recommendation of things to see and do in County Armagh. I’ve covered the ecclesiastical side, the early Christian and pre-Christian aspect as well as the Georgian period. My jaunt around has also offered you outdoor activities, the opportunity to see castles and cathedrals and to learn about heritage. So what is left? Well, entertainment.
7) The Market Place Theatre and Arts Centre offers not just theatre, music concerts and art exhibition space. It also have an ongoing programme of workshops and activities. But I’ll let their YouTube explain all that’s on offer to see and do at this amazing arts space.
Bee Smith created Irish Blessings Tours to serve travelers 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 email@example.com.
This introduces a new series of blogs with ideas of things to see and do in Ireland county by county. Rather than doing an alphabetical listing I thought I would start with the county where Tony and I made our home ten years ago, County Cavan. Over the years we have discovered that there are plenty of things to see and do in County Cavan but these are seven favourites.
1) The Lough MacNean Park, Blacklion is an enhanced lay by and lakeside picnic area a kilometre outside the border village along the N16. This is a particularly nice spot of those touring Ireland to schedule a rest stop. There is outdoor sculpture, a play park for children, swans on the lake and wondrous views of a crannog in the middle of Lough MacNean. Despite being a long a main national road there is a peacefulness that even traffic cannot distract.
2) The Cavan Burren is also signposted from Blacklion and offers over 200 acres of woodland walking with megalithic tombs, rock art and other Bronze and Iron Age archaeological remains to view. Part of the Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark this limestone landscape has beautiful ‘glacial erratics’, dry river valleys and much more.
3) Visit the Source of the River Shannon taking the R206 between Blacklion and Glangevlin you will find the turn off for the Shannon Pot, which marks the point where the underground rivers that feed the longest river in Ireland surfaces. The Shannon Pot is a quiet, contemplative spot. Cattle low, a solitary fairy tree can be seen in adjacent fields. If you are lucky enough to visit in June the meadow beside the car park is full of rare and beautiful species, cowslips and wild orchids just to name two of the wildflowers growing in this unspoilt landscape.
4) The All Ireland Fleadh will be held in Cavan this August for ten days between 10th and 20th August. Besides the wonderful traditional music sessions, concerts and workshops there will be many more events offering plenty to see and do in Ireland during this annual event.
5) Belturbet is an excellent base for exploring the Shannon Erne Waterway. This former garrison town with a 600 year history offers canal side walks as well as all the usual town amenities. More importantly it is part of the Shannon Erne Cruise route. You can hire a narrowboat or cruiser and have a leisurely vacation tooling along the Shannon and Erne waterways system that runs from Ballinamore in County Leitrim right up to Enniskillen in Northern Ireland.
6) Everyone finds castles very romantic. How about going to see a castle that even Cromwell could only dent. Set on an island Castle Oughter is set within one of Ireland’s greatest geological wonders, the largest ribbed moraine in the world. This accounts for the crenulated lake landscape that stretches between Belturbet and Killeshandra. Besides seeing romantic castles this area is great for outdoor activities like fishing and canoeing.
7) Travelling from the N87 there is a turn off for the R200 towards Glangevlin. This is a wonder to behold on a clear day. From this direction heading south toward Glangevlin and Dowra you climb up to moorland and cross the spectacular Bellavally Gap. On a bright day you will see spectacular mountain range spread before you. To the west is Slieve Anieran where the ancestral fairy people the Tuatha de Danaan landed when they first arrived in Erin.In the middle is Ben Croy and to the east is Slievenakilla and it’s distinctive sphinx like terminus. The Bellavally Gap was created, according to myth, by the giant green cow that belonged to the Tuatha de Danaan’s smith Govannon. Like Paul Bunyan’s ox Babe this Bo Glas must have been built on majestic lines. You pass Maguire’s Chair, which is said to be the convention seat for the Maguire Clan. There is a brief turn down a lane to Tullydermot Falls, a stunning waterfall that is connected with the mythological flight of Diarmuid and Grainne.
Having not even covered half the county I’ve already run out of space listing all the things to see and do in Ireland. I’m sure this taster will lure you to explore the countryside of west Cavan more thoroughly.
We have megaliths and meadowland, mountains and lakes, castles and canals, dolmens and Druid’s Chairs. There is hiking, fishing, canoeing, natural history safaris and wildlife watches. This is truly a place where the mythic and modern Ireland rub shoulders. West Cavan offers the tourist a wealth of things to see and do in Ireland.
Bee Smith created Irish Blessings Tours to serve travelers to Ireland who want the unique and inspirational packages 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.
This is the final article in my A-Z of Things to See in Ireland series. And Z stands for getting your zzzzzzs! When touring Ireland sleep, rest and pacing yourself on tour is absolutely key to maximising your enjoyment of the sights, activities and people you meet. And if you decide to tour the Northwest of Ireland, with the purest air in Western Europe, be prepared for how unpolluted atmosphere work like knock out drops!
So pack your favourite PJs, some ear plugs, an eye shade and your favourite sleepy herbal remedy. Allow yourself a couple days to acclimatise to the new time zone. Allow yourself to see things at a leisurely pace. People watch. Get used to the new currency. Let your stomach curl with pleasure every time you hear an Irish accent and …EVERYONE is talking with an Irish accent! Gently ease yourself into a different culture. Pacing yourself while touring Ireland will pay off in maximising your pleasure over the days and weeks you spend with us.
For many North Americans a tour to Ireland may be a once in a lifetime trip and you want to pack in as much as possible over a fortnight or less. This is a mistake.
If you read this entire series you can see just about every item if your itinerary is planned with care. You don’t have to run rings around yourself trying to tour Ireland. By prioritising what you want to see you will begin to discover in this series that you can see many of things you want to see and do in Ireland are within a circular tour.
X is for the spot to mark on the map where you suddenly turned left and happened upon that hidden gem not in the guide book as one of the things to see in Ireland. So X in my A-Z of things to see in Ireland is that unknown factor, that surprise to quicken your pulse, that place or site that becomes a secret sanctuary or sacred place. In other words, be open to serendipity. Be prepared to be a bit flexible and brave enough to go a bit off itinerary. Ireland is a country where you need to to open to allow her to take her where she wants to take you.
It’s wise when planning your itinerary for a trip to Ireland to allow some ‘give’ so you can be open to that magical moment that may be the making of your tour of Ireland.
There are only a few more letters in the alphabet to go in my A-Z of Things to See in Ireland. We have travelled quite a way, ranging around many parts of the island of Ireland. So it seems fitting to mention the many Walking Paths that you can tread in Ireland. Along these way marked ways there are plenty of things to see and do in Ireland. Because they are often situated in spectacular scenery and national parks, you will experience many of things to see in Ireland mentioned in this series.
In my A-Z of Things to See in Ireland V is indisputably for the Vale of Avoca. This beautiful part of Irish countryside is very close to Dublin. For the time pressed visitor to Ireland with very few days for sight seeing, the Vale of Avoca can offer spectacular scenery along with the opportunity to see some early Christian sites at Glendalough. Personally, I do not feel that you get to know Ireland if you only stick to the cities. If you only have four days for a visit to Ireland you can have a leisurely visit to Dublin and the Vale of Avoca.
Arriving at the letter ‘U’ brings us up in Northern Ireland, where there are, of course, many things to see and do. In the ancient kingdom of Ireland Ulster was the Northern kingdom and included the six counties of Northern Ireland as well as Donegal, Monaghan and Cavan, which are in the Republic of Ireland. Of particular interest to North American visitors is the Ulster American Folk Park, which is about five miles north of Omagh on the Strabane Road, in County Tyrone.