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

____________

book

Join me on Twitter | Facebook

Buy The River Shannon: A Journey Down Ireland’s Longest River

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’.

Lough Derg Canoe Trail

Check out the excellent app on offer from Every Trail at http://www.everytrail.com/guide/lough-derg-canoe-trail

All the information you would need to plan a canoe trip on Lough Derg is offered including maps, destination guides, photos, safety tips and advice. This is only 1 of 22 Shannon Region guides courtesy of Shannon Region Trails.

Holy Island Round Tower

The monastic remains on Holy Island are well preserved and consist of six churches, a round tower, several ballaun stones, high crosses, an 8th century cemetery and holy well.

The paddle across to Holy Island from Mountshannon was one of the highlights of my trip down the Shannon. We set off from the jetty at the Lakeside Holiday Camp http://www.lakesideireland.com/ where our tent was pitched in an excellent waterside spot. You can hire canoes at the campsite, which we did on this occasion. If you head straight out from Lakeside towards the island you will come to an old stone jetty which is a very short stroll from the monastic site.

Feeling less adventurous? Don’t worry, Ger Madden provides a boat trip and guided tour. For details see the East Clare Heritage website

A view of Lough Derg taken from Holy Island near Mountshannon

A view of Lough Derg taken from Holy Island near Mountshannon (c) Aiveen Cooper