Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Five Counties in a Day


At breakfast I asked around as to where I might be able to get one of the small Roundstone St Paddy's Day Posters that I'd seen in windows of businesses & vehicles around the village.   When the lovely Eileen from Wits End B&B heard I was looking for one, she suddenly disappeared while we were still having our breakfast, returning 10 mins later with said poster!  She'd apparently pinched it off a van parked down the street.... I think she did tell [not 'ask', I'll bet] the owner of the van that she was taking it!  What a great gal she is & what a great souvenier of a wee village I absolutely loved!

Bog land, Connemara
It took me a while, when researching where to go in Ireland, to realize that Connemara wasn't a city, or a village or a county, but a region of Co. Galway.  Very much like The Burren in Co. Clare.   It's a barren but beautiful place with dark bog lands, lough's & mountains.

Kylemore Lough, Connemara
Connemara's bog lands began forming around 2,500 years ago.  During the Iron Age, the Celts apparently preserved butter in the bog!  One-third of Connemara is bog, so the turf [peat] that is cut from the bog, remains a predominant fuel source. 

Freshly cut peat bricks stacked & drying, Connemara
Peat drying off in the fields, Connemara
Cutting the peat from the bog requires a type of spade called a slane which slices the turf into bricks.  The bricks are then spread out on the ground to dry & then stacked in to piles to dry some more.   This interesting Turf Bog by Richard Bang video will give you a clearer idea about the bog & how it's formed.

The things you see on the road through Connemara, Co. Galway


Next stop was Cong. An unlikely name for an Irish village I've always thought. The village is half Co. Galway & half Co. Mayo. It's a gorgeous place. There are several attractions well worth a visit here. Cong has been made popular in more modern times for it's connection with the movie "The Quiet Man" [1952] starring John Wayne & Maureen O'Hara [a movie I've never actually seen]. 

Cong Abbey [right], Cong, Co. Mayo

Celtic Cross Gravestones, Cong Abbey, Cong

Cong Abbey Archway, Cong, Co. Mayo
Stone Cottage, used as the Revd & Mrs Playfair's home in the movie The Quiet Man, Cong
Stone bridge, Cong, Co. Mayo
The ruins of Cong Abbey, Co. Mayo

Cong Abbey was destroyed and restored on several occasions in its long history. Its initial establishment may go back as far as the 6th century. The abbey is set in a beautiful spot which leads down to the water to the monks fishing hut. This was built out over the water with a hole in the floor & a fireplace so the monks could keep warm while fishing!

Monk's Fishing House, Cong

Story has it that a net would be set in the river via the hole in the floor. Once enough fish had been caught, a bell would be rung and the cook would come down from the abbey to gather the fish to cook up for dinner.

Looking through the Archway gate toward the Monks Fishing House, Cong
Stone archway in the grounds of Cong Abbey, Co. Mayo

In the Woods, Cong Village
'The Quiet Man' Museum, Cong
Many scenes for the film were actually shot in and around the village & in the grounds of Cong's Ashford Castle.  Cong is now a wealthy small town and the castle a 5-star luxury hotel.

Ashford Castle, Cong, Co. Mayo

Ashford Castle, Cong
Ashford Castle was once the summer home of the Guinness family. On the way out of  the village we decided to take a drive through the Ashford Castle grounds.  We were slammed with a whopping €10 entry fee just to drive through the gate!   Later I read somewhere that after 5.30pm, when the gateman are gone, you can enter the grounds without paying - whether this is true or not, I'm not altogether sure.


Roscommon Castle, Roscommon
From Cong, we headed north to Claremorris to connect with the N60 which would take us all the way through to Roscommon.
Roscommon Castle was once a Royal Castle, built for an English King in the late 13th century & fortified against the threat of Irish rebellion.    It was then taken over in the 14th century by the Gaelic Irish but ended it's career as an English fortress in the 17th century.

The ruins of Roscommon Castle, Roscommon
Had we more time, we would have stopped to look around the Castle, but a view from the N60 would have to suffice on this occassion.

From Roscommon, we wanted to get to Abbeyshrule in Co. Longford but sitting in our way was Lough Ree, the second largest lake on the Shannon River.  This lake serves as a border between the counties of Longford & Westmeath on the eastern side and Roscommon on the western side.  So we had to head further north to Lanesborough before we could go south to Ballymahon.
Just outside Ballymahon, are the villages of Abbeyshrule, Tashinny & Colehill.  It was here in these small settlements that my travelling buddy Donna's ancestors came from.  At Abbeyshrule Cemetery we found distance ancestor graves & the ruins of the 12th century Abbeyshrule Cistercian Abbey.  This early monastic site was eventually closed by Queen Elizabeth 1 of England during the Tudor suppression of monasteries.
Abbeyshrule Cistercian Abbey, Co. Longford
Known also in early Christian times as Shrule, the picturesque town of Abbeyshrule takes its name from the Gaelic word for stream or river.   The Royal Canal that passes through Abbeyshrule stretches from the River Shannon to Dublin.

Abbeyshrule, nr Ballymahon, Co. Longford

One of the many stone bridges over the Royal Canal, Abbeyshrule, Co. Longford
Ancient stone bridges criss-cross the waterways of the River Inny & the Royal Canal which run through the village.
Last year, Abbeyshrule was awarded the Tidy Town winner for 2012 & when you visit, you understand why.

In preparation for the 2012 Tidy Towns awards several Bog Oak sculptures by Brendan Collum were commissioned for placement around the village, a reminder of the proximity of nearby bogland.

Bog Oak Sculpture of Abbeyshrule Cistercian Abbey, Abbeyshrule

Bog Oak Sculpture of Aeroplane honouring the connection with the nearby Aerodrome, Abbeyshrule, Co. Longford

Bog Oak Sculpture honouring the connection with the waterways that run through it, Abbeyshrule, Co. Longford
Driving down a narrow country lane nr Abbeyshrule, looking for another small settlement called Colehill, Donna suddenly stopped the car when she realized she recognized a cottage we'd just past.  Quickly checking a photo in her family history book taken many years before, we stared in amazement at the house in the photo & realized that we were parked outside the house that Donna's great grandmother was born in.

Donna with the owner of the house her Gt. Grandmother once lived in at Colehill

We continued on to a nearby school at Tashinny where her gt. gt. grandfather was the first headmaster, then visited distant relatives just down the road whom Donna had been directed to, before her exhilerating journey around her ancestral home was complete.

My namesake's Pub, Ballymahon, Co. Longford
We had planned to stay in Ballymahon the night but found very little in the way of accommodation here apart from Cooney's Hotel on the main street.  After much deliberation, we decided to drive the 30km on to Mullingar in Co. Westmeath


Consulting our B&B Ireland book once in Mullingar, we found the beautiful 4 star Marlinstown Court B&B just 1½ km from the town centre, on Old Dublin Road. 

Marlinstown Court B&B, Mullingar, Co. Westmeath
It had been a very long day, with lots of driving & lots of stops along the way.  We were both exhausted & wanted an early night..... yes, another one!   So we were relieved when Barbara & Larry, owners of the Marlinstown Court B&B, directed us across the road to the Mullingar Park Hotel, to Mr Wong's Chinese Restaurant where I thoroughly enjoyed one of the best chinese meals I've ever had.

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