Two recent trips followed hot on the heels of each other. I seem to have made several forays into our Celtic fringe so far this year. Two visits to Wales – The Gower and the Ffestiniog Railway and now a couple of weeks in Ireland – North and South – and my second visit to Scotland – Walking The Scottish Borders. I mentioned my forthcoming visit to Ireland last month and referred to the fact that I was opening up My Irish Times again.
When planning my trip to Ireland in May I checked the Library Catalogue to see what was available and found this :
I was quite amazed at the amount, variety and quality of ancient monuments to be found, and visited, all over Ireland.
Newgrange from the approach lane
In order of age the earliest site that I visited, and featuring also at the beginning of the first chapter ‘Ireland Before History: The Stone Age’ is Knowth which, along with its, probably better known, neighbour, Newgrange, is “one of three great burial mounds erected in the ‘sacred landscape’ of the Lower Boyne Valley in Co. Meath.” The two passage-tombs under the great tumulus were probably erected before 2500BC. Around the main mound are several recently reconstructed ‘satellite’ tombs.
Knowth Main Mound
One of the Passage Tombs
I didn’t have time to visit both mounds as I was travelling between Co. Kildare and Co. Fermanagh but I did manage Knowth and will definitely return to see Newgrange, especially now that I know how the system for visiting works! My Heritage Ireland Card gave me free admittance to the site.
“Please note this is a very busy site and it is important to be at the Centre early in the day to ensure a visit to the monuments, as places on the tours are limited each day. There is no direct access to either Newgrange or Knowth. All access is through the Visitor Centre and by guided tour only.”
I had arrived across country and found the approach lanes surprisingly quiet but on arrival in the crowded car park and on joining the queues at the Visitor Centre I discovered that most people and all coaches arrive via the nearby Motorway. There’s plenty to see in the Centre and then time to catch the timed minibus to Knowth where you get a very full guided tour inside and outside the tumulus.
We were able to enter the tomb and to climb to the top for a wonderful view towards Newgrange and also The Hill of Tara the ‘most historic place in all Ireland, having played an important mythical and symbolic role in the country from the Stone Age to the 19th century, including the nominal centre of the ‘High Kingship’ of Ireland.’
The Surface on the Top of Knowth
Newgrange from Knowth
It’s quite amazing that the carved stones around the base of the mound have been preserved across the centuries.
Just one example of the stone carvings!
Quartz from the Wicklow Mountains and Granite from the Mountains of Mourne
I will definitely visit again and get to Newgrange and maybe also the site of the Hill Tara which seems to be very little visited.
WARNING These connections are very tenuous but I found them interesting and hope you do too!
The Parnell Monument in O’Connell Street, Dublin
Charles Stewart Parnell was dubbed “The Uncrowned King of Ireland” despite being a Protestant landowner in Ireland. He was also famous for his ‘scandalous’ affair with the married Kitty O’Shea. Read a resumé of his life and influence in Victorian Ireland here.
My maiden name was Parnell and when my sister-in-law and husband suggested a visit to Avondale House in Co. Wicklow, Parnell’s former home, I was delighted. As far as I am aware there is no family connection.
Surprisingly, Avondale House was open on weekdays in May. I’ve just looked at the website and see that it is now closed until further notice due to work being carried out.
“Avondale House, the birthplace and home of Charles Stewart Parnell (1846-1891) one of the greatest political leaders of Irish history. Set in a magnificent forest park of over 500 acres with tree trails and walks ranging in duration from one to five hours. This beautiful Georgian House designed by James Wyatt and built in 1777 contains fine plasterwork and many original pieces of furniture. The American Room is dedicated to Admiral Charles Stewart – Parnell’s American grandfather who manned the USS Constitution during the 1812 war. Visitors are introduced to this wonderful historical house by a specially commissioned audio visual presentation.”
There were no other visitors but I was able to tour the house, buy postcards and we enjoyed tea and cake outside at the picnic tables. The house and grounds are now owned and managed by Coilte Outdoors (Irish Forestry). We did come across a group of walkers who were enjoying the extensive estate and woodland/forest paths. If ever I’m lucky enough to return to Avondale I’d love to take a hike there.
Ground Floor Appartments
The house tour begins with a specially commissioned audio visual presentation. Most of the main rooms of the house can be visited and photography is allowed.
After visiting the ground floor apartments, which are suitably decorated and furnished for the period, the tour continues upstairs where there is some exhibition space and artefacts formerly belonging to Parnell and family.
The American Room was the bedroom in later life of Parnell’s American mother, Delia Tudor Stewart the daughter of Admiral Charles Stewart who manned the USS Constitution during the 1812 War. Both he and his ship gained the nickname “Old Ironsides”. Delia died as a result of burns which she received after a fire in this room. The Wooton Desk was originally the property of her father.
The Wooton Desk
Wooton Desk Files
There is a well-known (in Ireland, anyway) song about Parnell – The Blackbird of Sweet Avondale.
“The Blackbird of Sweet Avondale Charles Stewart Parnell was imprisoned in Kilmainham Jail in Dublin in 1881 for the leading part he played in the Irish Land League. In songs of rebellion or songs that the government might consider seditions, it was common to use a synonym instead of a person’s real name. In this case, Parnell is “The Blackbird of Sweet Avondale“. [source]
It’s nice to think of this connection with Ireland
My other family connection is more real but it has been hard to find much concrete evidence.
During the War my Dad served in the RAF and for a while, early on in his career, for he spent most of the War in India, was stationed (presumably for training) in Northern Ireland. One of the places he used to talk about was Newtownbutler. Before I went to Ireland and whilst I was staying at the Crom Estate in Co. Fermanagh I tried to find out more about radar stations in the area but with no luck at all. I spoke with two chaps who were interested in finding out about what went on in the area but we were none of us able to shed any light on the situation. This was all we could find (and the date is too late for Dad as he was already on his way to India). Scroll down to two photos labelled Newtownbutler.
I’ll just to divert for a moment here to mention that The Crom Estate played an important role during the Second World War and there was a good exhibition in the National Trust Visitor Centre on the site.
In the autumn of 1942 American soldiers arrived and used the estate to prepare for D-Day. The officers lived in the Castle and the men in Nissen huts scattered throughout the site. They practised building bayley bridges, marching and manoeuvres.
I visited Newtownbutler itself, tried to find the site of the former radar station which is now private land and not easily accessible and enquired at the Co. Fermanagh Information Bureau in nearby Lisnaskea but all to no avail. The village was really just a couple of streets leading to a crossroads.
At the Crossroads in Newtownbutler
Still, I’m happy to have visited somewhere that Dad spent time and he talked about Northern Ireland with great affection. British forces, of course, were not allowed to cross the border into southern Ireland as it was a neutral country at the time.
Gate lodge, or gatelodge, seems me to be an Irish term for what we, over here, would just call a Lodge. In amongst the majority of what I could only call dross (although there was one excellent shelf of local (in the sense of Northern Irish) books [see photos below]) in the Library at The Barbican, an Irish Landmark Trust property on the coast of Antrim in Northern Ireland, I found a most interesting book. “The Gate Lodges of Ulster : a gazetteer” by J A K Dean; Ulster Architectural Heritage Society, 1994. The book came about as a result of research carried out by Dean 30 years earlier. Another look at the topic during the early 1990s revealed much demolition and decay had occurred and a comprehensive renewal of study lead to the publication of the gazetteer. I’m wondering whether a similar study has been carried out in the South – a much greater project. Gate lodges had much to teach about developing awareness and ambitions of their patrons, and the changing skills of builders and architects. There’s a huge variety- from vernacular tradition to architectural sophistication yet they had a single simple purpose – to house the gatekeeper and his family. The Gazetteer is a fascinating study of individual gate lodges. Here I’ve abstracted details from the book and added my photos.
Gate Lodge at Castle Coole – Weir’s Bridge Lodge
Built c1880 i.e. after the Weir’s Bridge was built to carry the Enniskillen-Florence Court-Belcoo line of the Sligo, Leitrim and Northern Counties Railway. It’s a fine building in the Lombardie style [sic]. Built from the highest quality ashlar sandstone with immaculately carved detailing. Single-storey on a T-plan. It has a raised stepped platform to form a “porte-cochere” with semi-circular headed arches.
Gate Lodges – Castle Coole Twin Lodges
These were even recorded as being dilapidated in 1834. They not even mentioned on OS maps until 1857. Now they’re presented as Georgian Gothick. Built so close together a family carriage could hardly pass through. The chimney stacks have now been lost. Armar Lowry-Corry (1st earl of Belmore) the builder died in 1802 and his son Somerset had an energetic building programme for 40 years. He built up a lasting relationship with architect Sir Richard Morrison.
Single gate Lodge at Castle Coole
Gate Lodge at Crom
The main entrance lodge at Crom was built in 1838 by Edward Blore, architect. Blore was responsible for many other buildings on the Crom Estate. It’s an irregular Tudor picturesque cottage on one and a half storeys. Dean’s book also contains interior plans. It has two main gables and pretty serrated bargeboards plus finialed hipknobs. On Wikipedia I found that a Hip-knob, in architecture, is the finial on the hip of a roof, between the barge-boards of a gable. The small gabled hall/porch has the only remaining lattice panes.
Gate Lodge at Springhill
The Gate Lodge at the National Trust property Springhill in County Londonderry is now the secondhand bookshop. It stands at the original main entrance (which is now now the exit) and was built not long after George Lenox-Conyngham succeeded to the property in 1788. It is the sole survivor of a pair of Georgian Gothick porters’ lodges. Their gables faced each other across the avenue entrance. It is a simple rectangular two roomed structure, has steeply pitched gables with a wide door opening and a minuscule lancet opening above to light a bed loft.
The Well Read Bookshop
The Glenarm Barbican
Built in 1824, the Barbican’s architect was William Vitruvius Morrison. Dean writes : “Beloved of photographers and Victorian illustrators for its dramatic architecture and romantic setting. Approached across a two-arched bridge spanning the Glenarm River the Barbican is a three-storey castellated gatehouse. An ancient sandstone coat of arms was inserted.” This had originally graced the front of the castle when it had been built by the first earl in 1636, while the other side of The Barbican was also given a commemorative plaque: THIS GATEWAY WAS BUILT AND THE CASTLE RESTORED BY EDMUND M’DONNELL, ESQUIRE, AND HIS WIFE ANNE KATHERINE, IN HER OWN RIGHT COUNTESS OF ANTRIM AND VISCOUNTESS DUNLUCE A.D. 1825. Attached to one side is the two-storey porter’s accommodation – one up and one down.
Rear of the Barbican
The Barbican Bookshelf
One of my favourite kinds of walk is on well marked paths around estates such as Fountains Abbey, Endsleigh, Astley Castle and Hackfall with an interesting variety of landscapes and views and ‘eye-catcher’ structures to add to the interest.
Despite the rain this afternoon I set out on such a walk here at The Crom Estate in Co. Fermanagh, Northern Ireland. The estate comprises almost 2,000 acres of woodland, wetlands, farmland and parkland on the shores of Upper Lough Erne. According to the map leaflet it was laid out in 1838 and is one of the best preserved and most extensive landscapes designed by William Gilpin in the British Isles. Its unique character rests upon the scale and relationship of water, wetland, woods and parkland with its veteran trees. The Great Yew Tree is located at the Old Castle ruins and was nominated as one of 50 Great British Trees for the Queens Jubilee Year 2002.
The Ancient Yews in the Castle Ruins
There are many fine buildings on the estate walk. Crom Old Castle was built on the shore by Michael Balfour, Laird of Mountwhinney in 1610. It withstood two sieges in 1689 but was destroyed by an accidental fire in 1764. The yew trees within the ruins are reputed to be the oldest in Ireland.
Approaching the Castle Ruins
The Crichton Tower was built on Gad Island in 1848. Its architect is unknown.
The Boathouse is a complex structure with decorated bargeboards and battlements designed in 1841 by Edward Blore. For many years it was the Lough Erne Yacht Club and the social centre for the Victorian houses in the area.
The Summer House was built around 1880 out of the structure of an old school house on the site. It was built for Lady Florence who used it as a picturesque retreat. Rustic inside, it had a woven straw mat, a cupboard above the fireplace with cups and other teatime items, a round table and chairs and a box for firewood. The original boathouse of the demesne, later made into a folly, lies below the summer house.
The Summer House
View from The Summer House
A white iron bridge connects the mainland with Inisherk (Inis means island in Irish) and a track leads straight across to another small jetty. There are two cottages – Bridge and Gamekeeper’s – and the remains of a Walled Garden.
Gate to The Walled Garden
The Garden was completed in 1833 and included a hot house, potting sheds and a propagating house, built in later years. The Garden remained in use until the 1950s. Lately the Trust has carried out extensive repairs to the walls including the rebuilding of a large section of south wall.
The extensive Walled Garden
Returning over the bridge a track through woodland brought me to the Stable Yard (now NT Offices) and The Riding School (apparently never used as such as it was commandeered by the US Air Force for D-Day preparations/training).
Oak Sapling Commemorating the USAF Presence
“This oak tree was planted on 6th June 2014 to commemorate the 70th anniversary of D-Day and the United States forces stationed here in WWII”
Nearby are The Turf House, also designed by Blore and built with an adjacent pier in 1840 for peat fuel to be originally unloaded here for the castle later in the century a sawmill was established, and an Ice House.
Inside the Turf House today
From the Stable Yard area the track continues through woodland after which I joined a grassy path alongside the Deer Park fencing with views of Crom Castle itself which is still a private residence and not open to the public.
Crom Castle and Deer Park
And so back to dear Alder Cottage to dry off after a fascinating two hour walk.
For the month of May I’ll be away; mostly in Ireland but I’m driving to South Wales first and combining my trip with a visit to a dear friend in Powys.
My Itinerary :
1st – 5th May in Wales
5th May Ferry from Fishguard to Rosslare
6th to 11th May staying at Cappoquin, near Lismore, Co. Waterford
11th to 14th May staying with family in Co. Kildare
14th to 18th May volunteer helper at Ballymaloe Lit Fest, Co. Cork
18th to 26th May back in Co.Kildare
26th to 29th May at National Trust, Crom Estate, Co. Fermanagh
29th to 31st May at Glenarm on the Antrim coast
31st May Returning home from Belfast to Liverpool (actually, Birkenhead)
I had initially applied to ‘Workaway’ as I did in Switzerland two years ago but out of nine applications only four responded. Of those that did respond one has invited me to visit and another put me in touch with the Ballymaloe Festival.
I’m hoping to post daily again as I did in 2013 (although I may not have internet access each day) : so if you’re interested sign up to follow me here : My Irish Times : Round Ireland with a Book Box. The subtitle is from Tony Hawks’s book : Round Ireland with a Fridge. But I won’t be hitching – I’m taking my car – and I won’t have a fridge. I thought about saying ‘with a cool box’ but as I wrote this to a friend I thought, no, I’m more likely to have a box of books than a cool box of food.
As Seen at Leeds City Station
Well, we only touched the tip of the iceberg on our visit to Belfast. Our day was divided into three – time to look around the centre unaccompanied, a bus tour with a Blue Guide and the Titanic Experience – Belfast’s all new, all singing, all dancing visitor attraction!
Our coach dropped us off bright and early in the centre of Belfast on Great Victoria Street. We crossed the road and went to peer in the windows of the beautifully preserved Crown Liquor Saloon. This pub, right opposite the most bombed hotel in the world – The Europa Hotel – is now owned by the National Trust. In fact it was the first pub that the NT ever took over in 1978.
Of course, the pub wasn’t due to open until 11.30 by which time we would be well into our city tour but we were lucky enough to catch an employee who very kindly showed us into the side door for a quick look round and gave us each a leaflet on the history of the bar. Dating back to 1826 it was originally called The Railway Tavern but in 1885 the son of the then owner, being a student of architecture, decided to brighten up the old family bar. It was mainly due to skilled Italian craftsmen employed elsewhere in the city who supplemented their incomes by moonlighting at The Crown and who made it the prize gem of Victoriana that it still is today.
We decided to stay around the centre of Belfast in the area around Donegall Square in the middle of which is the City Hall. We discovered on the guided tour that it is possible to book a tour of the building, that it houses a decent cafe called Bobbin and that there is a Titanic Memorial Garden in its grounds.
Then we came across a real treasure. 17 Donegall Square North is the address of the soon to be 225 years old Linen Hall Library. Founded in 1788 it’s a subscription library like The Leeds Library but it’s doors are open to the public.
You have to subscribe as a member if you wish to borrow books. It houses a very nice cafe and has exhibition space. The current exhibition is called ‘Troubled Images’ :
“All 70 political posters from our ‘Troubled Images’ exhibition, documenting the years of the Northern Ireland conflict, have been hung five storeys high in our Vertical Gallery.
The exhibition has travelled throughout the world to inform and educate the general public about the turbulent years of Northern Ireland’s ‘Troubles’. It’s now ‘home’ again and available for all to see.”
Trouble Images in the Vertical Exhibition Space
An Oasis of Calm in the busy City Centre
We re-joined our coach at 11 and enjoyed a 90 minute guided tour of Belfast learning many facts about the city and seeing The Queen’s University, the Grand Opera House, the (leaning!) Albert Memorial Clock, the River Lagan which forms the boundary between County Down and County Antrim, St Anne’s Cathedral, the Botanic Gardens, the Falls Road and, most significantly, Stormont, the seat of the Northern Ireland Assembly, and its surrounding parkland.
Approach Avenue to Stormont
“And as the smart ship grew
In stature, grace, and hue,