By Margaret Sheedy, Kildorrery
The following is the account of a recent tour undertaken by members of a North Cork group, organised by Margaret Sheedy, established some 29 years ago.
On Friday, 26th October, 55 locals from Shanballymore, Castletownroche, Doneraile, Killavullen, Mallow and Buttevant set off at the early hour of 8am heading north for the weekend.
Our first stop was The Park Hotel, Charleville for breakfast and was surely to our expectation, a fantastic breakfast. We were thanked for calling and wished well for our weekend by Barbara O’Riordan, banquet manager and both she and staff members waved us off.
All set, we headed for Galway to help “boost the economy”, we all made our way to the busy centre and to the shopping centre where we spent over 2 hours. Back in the coach we began our journey to Sligo where we were joined en route by our tour guide Brendan Mulvey.
We left the bypass and went on to Coolaney, the village which won a Gold Medal in the Tidy Town competition in September. It is located on a small hill south of Sligo.
The rising of 1798, a milestone in Irish history, is commemorated by the Teeling monument in the village. This quaint village has many tourist attractions – the eagles flying is a great attraction in the area with nature and wildlife areas, it is famous for scuba and snorkeling, boat tours and water sports.
Clearly to be seen were the ruins of the old mill, which was once a hive of industry and employed all locals and some travelled out from Sligo. It boasts of its many turf bogs and residents from the Sligo and Leitrim area have their turf rights. This is a busy season in the area.
Leaving the area we travelled on to Sligo and left many industrial buildings around us. We arrived in Sligo, which is the vibrant heart of the North West of Ireland and the biggest town in the region.
Built on the banks of the Garavogue River, it connects Lough Gill to the Atlantic Ocean and boasts the magnificent backdrop of Benbulben Mountain. It has pedestrian streets lined with inviting shop fronts, stone bridges spanning the River Garavogue.
Sligo makes a fantastic, low-key and easily manageable base for exploring Yeats country, and the countryside out of town. Our guide filled us with so much local knowledge, it was fantastic to hear.
Leaving Sligo, we headed for destination Bundoran travelling through the village of Grange, where Brendan gave us the history of this little village but so busy in times past. It is close by Streedagh beach, where on the 25th September 1588 three Spanish Armada ships were foundered, resulting in a horrendous loss of life.
Close by is Drumcliffe, directly under the foot of Benbulben and famous as the final resting place of W.B. Yeats, whose grave is in the churchyard under a simple headstone with the inscription ‘Cast a cold eye on life, on death, horseman, pass by’.
BUNDORAN & ONWARDS
Here our guide left us and we journey on to the Great Northern Hotel, Bundoran, where we enjoyed a drinks reception, delicious evening meal and some lively music.
After the band stopped our Mallow girls’ – choir girls to be precise – began a very lively session of singing and gave a demonstration of their lesson in The Laughing Yoga relaxation, before retiring for the night. What an end to a good day, and we were blessed with a lovely fine day.
Saturday morning it was up early and we enjoyed a good Irish breakfast before we headed for the city of Derry/Londonderry, the City of Culture. On arrival, we had some light refreshments in the Millennium Forum Arbutus Restaurant. Immediately after, we were joined by Emma our Blue Badge tour guide. The traffic flows freely thanks to the excellent road networks. This historic city and its impressive walls have a long and varied history.
We were taken on a coach tour first and all points of history were noted to us and in particular, the Free City and The Peace Bridge which was opened in June 2011. The bridge physically and symbolically unites both sides of the river.
There is a pair of identical curved suspension structures each allied to opposing banks symbolising hands reaching out and friendship made. Apparently at night the bridge is illuminated and looks spectacular.
We did have some light rain and to avoid this we had a longer tour before the group went on the tour of the city walls. The walls are about a mile round and up to 35ft thick. They have withstood several sieges and still today are unbroken and intact.
It is the best way to experience these magnificent 400 year old walls strolling along the rampart walkway. The walls are still owned by The Honourable The Irish Society today. So much history to be learned in this tour and the residents very welcoming to the visitors for coming.
Driving by, we saw St. Columba’s Cathedral, the first Catholic church to be built in the city after the reformation. We drove under Magazine Gate, and passed along Grand Parade, St. Augustine’s Church and Hangman’s Bastion.
Travelling out from the city, we toured along to Grianán of Aileach. The view from Aileach is breathtaking. The glistering waters of Lough Foyle and Lough Swilly are clear, as is the form of the entire peninsula. Grianan has been a silent witness to the history of Ireland.
Our tour was about to come to an end, but not without visiting Guild Hall in the city. Just outside the city walls, the hall is immaculately kept and the famous stained glass windows depict almost every episode of note in the city’s history.
I must say all on the coach were loud in the praises of our guide Emma, a great ambassador of Derry/Londonderry and who was telling us had enjoyed a tour of Doneraile Park.
After a day packed with history and scenery, we bade fond farewell to lovely Derry on the banks of the Foyle. We started our journey back and we made a stop at Stranorlar, it comprises of the villages of Ballybofey and Stranorlar linked by an arch bridge which face each other across the River Finn.
It has major stores with strong Donegal names, some made a dash to the stores, others to restaurants and phone shops and some of us frantic looking for a chemist!
After a break of approx. one hour, we made our way back travelling through Barnesmore Gap, the impressive gateway between north and south Donegal past Lough Eske, surrounded by the Bluestack Mountains.
It was back to the hotel to make a quick exit to Mass in Bundoran. After Mass we enjoyed a more than welcome dinner and our entertainment for the night.
Sunday morning we were all glad of that extra hour’s rest bringing in the old time, our tour guide Brendan was waiting for us and at 9am left the hotel for West Donegal. Our day was lovely, bright and dry.
We had a full history of the places we travelled before coming to Donegal Town, a bustling town during the week and then we made our way to Killybegs, a fishing town with Ireland’s largest fleet of trawlers – local and foreign ships tower the quayside.
Here we had some light refreshments. Some strolled along the walks, but it was a fishy smell all the way. Killybegs is the main employment town in Donegal.
Leaving here we went to Kilcar and Carrick, picturesque areas with mountains, valleys, beaches and bays. We arrived at Sliabh League, the highest marine cliffs in Europe. Here we were taken in two shuttle buses, a family business established over 30 years ago by Joe Haughey, as access to the cliffs is unsuitable for large coaches.
The shuttle drivers also provide guided tours and are fluent Irish speakers. Along with the breathtaking views, the local area is steeped in history.
On our short journey to the cliffs the guides pointed out all of the interesting landmarks and structures of the cliffs from hundreds of years ago, such as the Napoleonic towers and the navigational aids used by aircraft in World War II.
The cliffs were fantastic, “awesome” would be the word to use. We were blessed with brilliant sunshine and a fine day The cliffs are the signature point on the Wild Atlantic Way coastal touring route, and are the highest accessible sea cliffs in Europe where the cliff face of Bunglas rises over 600m above the ocean below.
Some panoramic view across Donegal Bay which is simply breathtaking. Some of the group walked to the cliff viewing point, so as not to miss the exciting scenery of the area. Our drivers again pointed out some more historical sites on our way down, and again several points of history were showed to us.
As we travelled down one but could not be lost in the wonderful scenery. It was the highlight of our weekend and again blessed with the weather.
All back in our coach we headed for Glencolumbkille, renowned for its wealth of traditional culture, music and prehistoric settlements. The folk village comprises of thatched cottages of fishermen, traditional pub/grocers and a 19th century school. Here, we enjoyed homemade soup, tea/sandwiches and some lovely cakes which were very welcome.
Leaving here we made our way back to base, taking the scenic route through Glengesh Pass, Ardara and on to Glenties. I must say our guide Brendan made the trip more interesting and his local knowledge and wit added to our day.
After refreshing, we thoroughly enjoyed our dinner, before adjourning to the dance floor.
On Monday morning up early for a good Irish breakfast and departed the hotel with memories of a fantastic weekend. Leaving the hotel, we travelled by to Sligo town and took the road westwards – there we hoped to view the beautiful seaside village of Strandhill and on to Enniscrone, but unfortunately due to roadworks had to travel to Ballina and to Knock.
Here, everyone was free to lounge around and enjoyed a tea break before heading for the coach where we left for our journey south. We stopped at Corbett Court for evening dinner, which was served in a most comfortable dining room and a big open fire to greet us.
A delicious meal was enjoyed and some presentations were made in appreciation of the enjoyable weekend. Our driver Kevin was very obliging and thanked accordingly. The question asked leaving was “where next year?” – we will get over the Christmas and then start thinking!
To all the friends, new and old, I would like to wish you all a very happy, healthy Christmas and best wishes for 2019.