The Lough Key Experience

Oh dear, I am embarrassed about how long it is since I have posted anything. I have no excuse – just life! I was inspired to return to the blog after a lovely weekend in Lough Key, Co. Roscommon. The Nieuwe Zorgen is moored there now so keep an eye our for her if you are in that neck of the woods.

The Nieuwe Zorgen moored at Dromon Island on Lough Key

The Nieuwe Zorgen moored at Dromon Island on Lough Key

The Lough Key Forest Park has been developed in recent years into an activity centre consisting of the Lough Key Experience, Boda Borg and Adventure Kingdom. The grounds of the park consist of a mix of non-native conifer woodland and mixed broadleaved woodland. Part of the Lough Key Experience is a 300 metre long tree canopy walk that brings you through part of the forest, 9 metres above the ground. The tree-top walk emerges at the waters edge, just next to the Waterways Ireland mooring facilities, where there are excellent views across the lake to Castle Island. Another interesting part of the ‘experience’ are the 19th century tunnels which lead out to the Moylurg Viewing Tower (the tunnels were my favourite part). The Tower stands in the place of Rockingham Estate, which was designed by the architect John Nash in 1809. Don’t worry if you don’t fancy climbing the stairs to the top, there is a lift. It is a must for the beautiful views of the park and across the lake. The house was destroyed by fire in 1957, and the surviving walls were demolished in 1971. The viewing tower was built in 1973.

The park is home to a variety of bat species such as Brown Long-eared (Plecotus auritus), Soprano Pipistrelle (Pipistrellus pygmaeus), Leisler’s (Nyctalus leisleri), Natterer’s (Myotis nattereri) and Daubenton’s Bats (Myotis daubentonii). All bats are protected in Ireland by Irish legislation and the EU Habitats Directive, but the Leisler’s Bat is of particular importance because despites being relatively common in Ireland it is rare in the rest of Europe. There are nine species of bat found in Ireland, all of which eat insects and hibernate during the winter. In late spring or early summer the bats awake and venture out from their roosts to hunt. Leisler’s Bat is the largest of our bat species, and flies at greater heights than our other bats. It emerges from its roost in a tree hole or under the roof tiles of a house, just after sunset to begin hunting over fields and water.

Brown long-eared bat (Plecotus auritus) (c)

Brown long-eared bat (Plecotus auritus) ID 36071474 © Edmongin | Dreamstime.com

Clonfert Cathedral

I saw a wonderful photo today by Christiaan Corlett of the Romanesque doorway at Killeshin Co. Laois pic.twitter.com/VJwNW0gcFp. It is very reminiscent of the one at Clonfert, although Clonfert is much more ornate. Thanks to my good friend Conor Cahill for the photo.

Romanesque doorway at Clonfert Cathedral

Romanesque doorway at Clonfert Cathedral

Excerpt from ‘The River Shannon – A Journey Down Ireland’s Longest River’.

The fishermen wave to us as we pass by, following the river away from Shannonbridge and the tower of the power station, not realising it is the last time we will see it. The river Suck (An tSuca) joins the Shannon from the west here, and we pass it by as come around a bend in the river that turns us in a south east direction towards our destination of Banagher. It has been possible to navigate the 16km up the Suck to Ballinasloe since 2001, which it has not been possible to do since the section of the Grand Canal here closed in 1961. The canal opened here in 1828, and was linked to the Dublin line of the canal by a wooden bridge over the Shannon for tracer horses.  The bridge was replaced by a cable-operated ferry in the 1840s, but with the arrival of the railway in 1851, the canal gradually declined until its eventual closure in 1961. The channel of the canal is still present, apart from a filled in section at the northern end, and you can follow its course from the Shannon to Ballinasloe. Various features have survived too, including two lock chambers and lock keeper’s houses, 4 bridges, 4 canal-related buildings and 4 of the original 7 aqueducts.

We continue on towards our destination of Banagher, passing under the industrial railway line that crosses from the west of the river to the power station. There is a fork in the river up ahead, but we bare left, following the navigation markers. We are passing close to the tiny village of Clonfert (Cluain Fearta, meaning the meadow of the grave) in Co. Galway, home of St. Brendan’s Cathedral. It could be possible to access the cathedral from here with some ingenuity and bravery, involving launching the canoe off the side of the boat and paddling across to the western bank of the river. There is a road from there that leads directly up to the cathedral, but the logistics are too difficult and we decide to leave Clonfert to a later date and access it by car.

St. Brendan the Navigator founded a monastery here in the 6th Century, but there are no remains left of that original church. That is not surprising seeing as the monastery was destroyed by fire in 744, 748 and 749 and then in the 9th Century it was attacked by Vikings on 4 occasions and reduced to ashes after one of the attacks. The fact that the monastery was located within a large sweeping bend in the river and therefore exposed to the river on three sides meant that in addition to being very  was particularly vulnerable to attack. The cathedral that stands on the site today is only the most recent in a series of ecclesiastical buildings on that site since Early Christian times. The oldest feature to survive is the western doorway, which is the largest and most elaborate example of a Romanesque doorway in Ireland.

We continue along downstream, passing green fields on one side and a sea of brown on the other where the peat is currently being removed, probably for the power station at Shannonbridge. As we approach the area around Shannon Harbour, we pass by the first in a series of islands that the river winds around between here and Banagher – Ash Island, Lehinch, Inshinaskeagh, Minus, Bullock, Grants and Birds. Just after Inshinaskeagh the channel splits off to our left, up towards Shannon Harbour. This is the point where many boaters begin their Shannon Journey as this is where the Grand Canal ends, and via the 36th lock you can enter the Shannon system. The River Brosna meets the Shannon here also, just below the 36th Lock.

Introducing The Nieuwe Zorgen

aiveencooper:

I haven’t seen my brother in a while and he is Shannon bound this week. So to let him know we are thinking of him I am reblogging my previous post about his boat.

Originally posted on Aiveen Cooper:

One of my modes of transport on this Shannon Journey was a 100-year-old Dutch Sailing Barge called Nieuwe Zorgen. This type of barge is known as a Skutsje Tjalk, and this particular one is my brother Eric’s home.

A Tjalk is one of a variety of Dutch commercial barges, each type built for a specific purpose. The Nieuwe Zorgen was designed for carrying cargo on the shallow lakes, canals and rivers of Friesland in the North of The Netherlands, thus the low stern and bow. To pass quickly under the many low canal and river bridges, the Skipper had to drop and raise the mast and sails repeatedly, so the mast has a counter weight which allows it to pivot. Probably the most distinctive feature of the boat are the fan-shaped leeboards.

We know that Nieuwe Zorgen was built in 1904, and started out as a freight carrier. Many of…

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Loop Head: A Destination of Excellence

Originally posted on Aiveen Cooper:

Of the 1,400 destinations nominated for ‘best place to holiday in Ireland’, Loop Head has been chosen by the Irish Times as the overall winner. According to one of the judges,Rosita Boland from the Irish Times, “This competition was partly about finding lesser-known places, and also acknowledging what’s being done in areas to make the best of what they have. Loop Head does that really well, has a diversely beautiful landscape, is remote, and has great tourism initiatives.”

In Catherine Mack’s blog about Loop Head in Co. Clare she talks about the EU Destinations of Excellence or EDEN scheme. I’m embarrassed to say that this is the first time I have heard of this scheme, but I totally understand why Loop Head is one of five such destinations in Ireland.

Catherine travelled the peninsula on bike, following the Loop Head Cycleway to take in the breathtaking scenery and sights such…

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Loop Head: A Destination of Excellence

Of the 1,400 destinations nominated for ‘best place to holiday in Ireland’, Loop Head has been chosen by the Irish Times as the overall winner. According to one of the judges,Rosita Boland from the Irish Times, “This competition was partly about finding lesser-known places, and also acknowledging what’s being done in areas to make the best of what they have. Loop Head does that really well, has a diversely beautiful landscape, is remote, and has great tourism initiatives.”

In Catherine Mack’s blog about Loop Head in Co. Clare she talks about the EU Destinations of Excellence or EDEN scheme. I’m embarrassed to say that this is the first time I have heard of this scheme, but I totally understand why Loop Head is one of five such destinations in Ireland.

Catherine travelled the peninsula on bike, following the Loop Head Cycleway to take in the breathtaking scenery and sights such as the Bridges of Ross and the Shannon Estuary dolphins.

Catherine was disappointed that she couldn’t stay in the Loop Head Lighthouse, an Irish Landmark Trust property. I was fortunate enough to spend three days there in November 2010 during some very wild weather. From Catherine’s beautiful photos I can assume she got better weather than we did!

My photo of Loop Head Lighthouse. Don't be fooled by the blue sky - it didn't last!

My photo of Loop Head Lighthouse. Don’t be fooled by the blue sky – it didn’t last!

If you are planning to head west anytime soon, check out Catherine’s blog and you will definitely be adding Loop Head to your itinerary.

Loop Head – going in search of Eden, and finding heaven

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Killaloe and Brian Boru

We were very happy to get an invite to Killaloe this June bank holiday from our good friends T & C. Of course this made me think of my last visit there when I was conducting the research for my book. Killaloe in Co. Clare and Ballina in Co. Tipperary lie on opposite banks of the river Shannon at the southern end of Lough Derg. The towns are connected by an 19th century bridge that used to have 13 arches, but 4 were removed to insert the navigation section. The settlements developed at an important fording point (now submerged) that has been utilised since the prehistoric period. The approach to these twin towns is spectacular. The lake narrows below Scarriff Bay, and is enclosed by the Slieve Bernagh mountains to the west and the Arra mountains to the east.

The River Shannon at Killaloe-Ballina

The River Shannon at Killaloe-Ballina

Perhaps the most famous son of Killaloe was Brian Boru, High King of Ireland from 1002 to 1014. His palace of Kincora stood on the hill in Killaloe where the Roman Catholic church, the green and some of the nearby houses are today, but there is no trace of Kincora to be found.

Brian Boru was the leader of the Dál gCais sept of Co. Clare. In Irish he is called Brian Bórumha or Bóirmhe, which are variations of the word bóraimhe which means ‘cattle-tribute’. However, Dáithi Ó hÓgáin in his book ‘Myth, Legend and Romance’, mentions a poem that refers to Brian Boru as ‘Brian from Bórumha’. This could be Beal Bórumha on the right bank of the Shannon just north of Killaloe. This translates as ‘the port of the cattle tribute’, and Brian may have grown up there. Brian and his brother Mathghamhain (Mahon) battled constantly against rival septs and the Scandinavian invaders commonly called Vikings (although they referred to themselves as Ostmen). It is the struggle against the Vikings for which Brian Boru is probably most well known. Brian became leader of the Dál gCais on the assassination of his brother in 976 and went on to become the High King of Ireland. His reign came to an end in 1014 at the battle of Clontarf in Dublin.

Brian’s power in Ireland had remained unchallenged until a revolt by the Vikings and Leinstermen under Mailmora and Sitric of the silken beard (the son of Gormlaith who had previously been married to Brian Boru). The Vikings enlisted aid from the western isles of Scotland and from the Isle of Man, but to no avail as the forces of the elderly Brian Boru and his son Murrogh defeated them at Clontarf on Good Friday 1014. On the night before the battle a lady of the otherworld called Aoibheall came to the aged Brian and told him he would be killed the next day. As Brian’s forces were beginning to subdue the Leinstermen and their Viking allies, a fleeing Dane called Brodir saw Brian praying in his tent and attacked him. Despite severing Brodir’s leg with his sword, the Dane manged to smash Brian’s skull with his axe, killing the High King. The descendents of Brian Boru, the O’Briens, held the high kingship of Ireland for a while after Brian’s death, but eventually lost it to the O’Connors. The O’Briens remained Kings of Thomond for centuries, until they allied themselves with the English, when they were granted an Earldom. Brian is described in the Book of Armagh as Imperator Scotorum, ‘emperor of the Irish’.

Spencer Harbour Lough Allen

Spencer Harbour is one of my favourite spots on Lough Allen. The first time I visited the harbour it was shrouded in thick fog and we couldn’t see the jetty or the water. The November sunshine quickly burned through to reveal the lovely scene below.

Spencer Harbour Lough Allen

Spencer Harbour Lough Allen

Spencer Harbour is named after John Poyntz Spencer, the 5th Earl of Spencer (1835 – 1910) and Viscount Althorp, also known as the ‘Red Earl’ thanks to his flowing red beard. The names Spencer and Althorp are probably ringing a bell, and that is because he is an ancestor of the late Diana, Princess of Wales whose family home is the Althorp Estate in England. The 5th Earl was Lord Lieutenant or Viceroy of Ireland twice, first for 6 years in 1886 and then for three years in 1882. His second term as Lord Lieutenant came about when the Chief Secretary for Ireland resigned following the release of the Irish nationalist Charles Stewart Parnell from prison. Spencer’s other political duties were neglected so that he could take charge of the government’s Irish policy. Spencer was a close friend of the British Prime Minister William Gladstone and an early supporter of Irish home rule.

Spencer Harbour Ironworks

Spencer Harbour Ironworks

A solitary red brick chimney stands in the middle of a field behind the harbour. It is all that remains of a 19th century ironworking site. Although there are no facilities to speak of in Spencer Harbour, the harbour has beauty and peace to offer the boater who manages to make it this far north on the Shannon. Lough Allen is not a widely used section of the Shannon navigation, so if it is peace and quiet you are after I can highly recommend a visit.

The Shannon-Erne Waterway

I spotted a lovely blog recently by Andy and Sally http://nbthepuzzler.blogspot.ie. The account of their travels along the Shannon-Erne Waterway reminded me how interesting I found the story of the construction of this canal.

The waterway was originally called the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell canal  and work started on it in 1846. The construction of the canal employed around 7,000 people during the great famine.  With picks and shovels these 7,000 souls cut through the soggy Leitrim soil and bog, and toiled for 14 years to build a canal that was of poor quality and that became redundant after a very short period. During the 14 years of construction the railway had come to Leitrim, making the canal system redundant, so that during the 8 years when the canal was in operation, only 9 boats travelled along it.  By 1869 the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell canal was no longer in use and fell into dereliction.

The Ballinamore-Ballyconnell canal was renamed the Shannon-Erne Waterway in 1994 when it was reopened as part of a cross-border flagship scheme. The £30 million sterling project involved the governments of Ireland and Britain, The OPW, Northern Ireland Department of Agriculture, the International Fund for Ireland and the ESB. The Shannon-Erne waterway stretches over 36 miles of remote countryside in Counties Fermanagh, Cavan and Leitrim. The waterway makes it possible to travel over 400 kilometres from Limerick to Belleek in Co. Fermanagh, making it the longest leisure navigation in Europe.

Andy and Sally’s narrow barge The Puzzler on the Shannon-Erne Waterway at Ballyduff Lough

Introducing The Nieuwe Zorgen

One of my modes of transport on this Shannon Journey was a 100-year-old Dutch Sailing Barge called Nieuwe Zorgen. This type of barge is known as a Skutsje Tjalk, and this particular one is my brother Eric’s home.

The Nieuwe Zorgen by Eric Kemp

The Nieuwe Zorgen by Eric Kemp

A Tjalk is one of a variety of Dutch commercial barges, each type built for a specific purpose. The Nieuwe Zorgen was designed for carrying cargo on the shallow lakes, canals and rivers of Friesland in the North of The Netherlands, thus the low stern and bow. To pass quickly under the many low canal and river bridges, the Skipper had to drop and raise the mast and sails repeatedly, so the mast has a counter weight which allows it to pivot. Probably the most distinctive feature of the boat are the fan-shaped leeboards.

We know that Nieuwe Zorgen was built in 1904, and started out as a freight carrier. Many of these sailing barges were confiscated during WWII to be used against the allies by the occupying forces, but the Zorgen  escaped this  fate when the owner sank her to stop the Nazis from getting their hands on her. She was then recovered when the war ended.

The Nieuwe Zorgen on Lough Derg

The Nieuwe Zorgen on Lough Derg

Nowadays these types of Tjalk are used for racing  in the annual Skutsjesil, a tradition that dates back to the 19th Century when the skippers used to race each other to get the best spots on the town quay.

By the way, in case you are wondering – Nieuwe Zorgen means ‘New Worry’. Don’t ask, we don’t know either!