So...this is really where our adventure of Ireland begins...
After we were in Belfast for three nights, we headed out on the open road, on the left side, in our VW Polo for Londonderry/Derry. We had a stop along the way in Northern Ireland. Our stop was called Springhill House, which was the estate of an Ulster family who were wealthy, powerful members of the British Army starting back with King James II.
Ten generations of the Lenox-Conyngham family resided in this plantation style home and in the 1950s, the estate could not survive and was bought as a landmark by the National Trust.
What I loved about this stop was, everything in the house belonged to the family. All of the furniture, paintings, an 1868 piano forte, everything, was the original pieces to the house. It had sprawling garden walks and an old remnant of a corn mill.
The guide at the house Zachary, told us many interesting facts about the family. There even was a charter to have one of the kings of England hanged with Oliver Cromwell's signature on it, one of 3 surviving copies. The library had over 500 books as well.
The walled garden and costume exhibit were my favorite parts. I enjoyed seeing the actual dresses and clothing the family wore, as it is a surviving piece of their history.
This dress was hand embroidered with beetles wings. The gardens attracted a certain type of beetle that the family ended up harvesting to create this dress. The lady who wore it was said to have shimmered with the pearlescent wings when walking into a room.
Springhill was definitely a great stop while on the way to Londonderry/Derry!
Now, onto Londonderry/Derry...
You are probably wondering why I keep calling it Londonderry/Derry...well, if you read my post on our Black Taxi tour, Londonderry/Derry was/is going through much the same thing. Like the riots in Belfast during the Troubles, this city had one of the worst riots/IRA uprisings in a neighborhood called Bogside.
What is confusing about Londonderry/Derry is, is instead of peace walls like Belfast, the city decided to have part of it join the Republic of Ireland and the other part stay Loyalist.
This sign welcomes you to Derry, removing the London part to distance themselves from anything English. But what is so confusing is, Londonderry/Derry when it was formed back in the 1600s, was primarily made up of English/Ulster(English-Irish) settlers. The town was supposed to be like Jamestown in the United States but failed miserably at first due to weak soil and climate.
Anyway, what makes it confusing is, those who are Loyalists call it Londonderry, it was called when it was settled by the English in the 1600s. But, those that live in the Free Derry side, call it Derry.
While you have all of these political things going on, which are so deep and heavy like Belfast, there are also these huge, massive brick walls that are still in existence from when they were built in the 17th century when Londonderry/Derry was colonized.
The walls are from the original colony and fort as well as when they were built up by other Kings and rulers of Londonderry/Derry. They outline where the original town once was beginning at Guildhall- the city's public office building.
What is amazing is, you are totally able to walk among the walls to get from place to place. Matt and I spent a good hour or so walking the walls, and the walls are high. Some parts going over the rooftops.
This is when I noticed the sign...the part of the wall we were walking on looked out onto the Londonderry side, the Loyalist side. The words on the mural and the colors of the Union Jack flag tell you what side you are in...
The walls were absolutely amazing and the fact that the modern city sprang up around them without tearing them down or removing them is just as amazing. In the United States, we are so quick to tear something down and build something bright and shiny, that I feel like we sometimes miss out on the wonderful things around us.
Like Belfast, Londonderry/Derry has much to overcome. They still have a lot of anger and differences to resolve as a community, which made it very hard for two people from another country to decide what to say or what to call the city. Depending on who you spoke to, depending if they were Catholic- Republicans it is Derry, Loyalists- Protestants it is Londonderry. Matt and I when speaking to someone in Northern Ireland always did the "Londonderry/Derry" just to be on the safe side and miss out on a lecture of politics. Hah.
While we were in Londonderry/Derry, we were touring Guildhall and noticed a sign to search your Irish roots. We asked about it with one of the receptionists and he told us about a man who does it and started a database of census lists from all over Nothern Ireland, beginning in the 1840s, the years that people began to leave Ireland through Londonderry/Derry to go to Canada and the United States. He asked what Matt's surname was and Maty told him it was Tinney. The man smiled and said, "Aye, I know a lot of Tinneys, it be a Northern Irish name."
So, after receiving some more information, later that night we accessed the database and discovered that Matt's great-great grandfather was baptized in 1839 in a church in Raphoe- a small town in Northern Ireland, near Letterkenny. After that, there doesn't seem to be much more information, so Matt plans on contacting the genealogist who might be able to help.
We made Raphoe a detour on our way to Donegal Castle, which Matt was happy about and happy to see the town in which his Irish ancestors came. Still a lot of research to do, seeing as we found two possible siblings of James, a William and an Isabella living in Raphoe in 1901.
After our detour, we arrived at Donegal Castle.
Donegal Castle is located in Donegal, a town in the Republic of Ireland, en route to the Wild Atlantic Way, which is a coastal drive stretching from Donegal all the way down to the Ring of Kerry. The castle was a stronghold built by the O"Donnell clan who settled in Donegal in 1474.
The castle was almost in ruins in the 1990s, when it was made a National Ireland Hertiage sight and restored almost completely. It consists of the man stronghold and a later Jacobian wing that was added on in the 17th century.
The room above the dining room, according to the information pamphlet, was had a fourth floor above it at one point for housing servants and knights that guarded the castle. That was evident by the fireplaces that seemed to be floating on the walls and the window placement on the top floor level. But, instead of finishing it and making it a fourth floor, the restorers wanted visitors to enjoy the open timber ceilings and windows, making the room light.
After Donegal Castle, we continued on the Wild Atlantic Way to Sligo(Sly-go, not Sleh-go). Sligo is a coastal town in Co. Sligo. The area is known for its coastal scenery and Benbulben Mountain as well as being nicknames "Yeats Country" because W.B. Yeats vacationed there as a child and later in in life made the area and town of Drumcliffe his home. Several of his poems are written about the natural beauty of the county.
With Ben Bulben looming in the distance, we found Drumcliffe church where Yeats is buried.
Ben Bulben is part of the Darty Mountains and a log of Irish legend surrounds the mountain. Finn McCool again, was said to have tricked a mighty warrior into fighting an enchanted boar on Ben Bulben. Irish mythology warrior queen Grianne is also said to be buried among the rocks of Ben Bulben.
In this small church in Drumcliffe, W.B. Yeats and his family attended church while vacationing in Drumcliffe, and it is where Yeats wanted to be buried, against the backdrop of the county he loved so well.
"Under bare Ben Bulben's head
In Drumcliff churchyard Yeats is laid,
An ancestor was rector there
Long years ago; a church stands near,
By the road an ancient Cross.
No marble, no conventional phrase,
On limestone quarried near the spot
By his command these words are cut:
Cast a cold eye
On life, on death.
Horseman, pass by!"
- excerpt from "Under Benbulben"
It was such a lovely place to be your last spot and I could see why Yeats loved Co. Sligo so much.
Next we went into Sligo to visit Sligo Abbey. Sligo Abbey is a ruin Dominican Friary that was built in 1235 by order of Baron Maurice Fitzgerald of Offaly. In 1414, a fire destroyed part of the abbey, then in 1595 by the Nine Year's War, and then more destruction in 1641 during the Ulster Uprisings.
Like some of the sites we went to, Sligo Abbey was in the middle of a busy street and the road was built around the ruin along with modern buildings.
Sligo Abbey had a gorgeous cloister. There were, of course grave stones in the walk ways, but it added to the ambiance and peacefulness of the site.
After the friars left the abbey for another one in Sligo, it was bought by Lord Palmerston who restored parts of the abbey and made it into a graveyard where many of his family is buried.
From Sligo we continued our trip to Westport. This really was one of the longest driving days so far. Before Westport, we stopped at a megalithic burial site called Carrowmore with over 60 tombs some the oldest in Ireland.
It was so gorgeous and the views were breathtaking! However, both Matt and I did manage to get sunburned! Who would have thought in Ireland, but we both left Carrowmore with a definite sunburn on our cheeks and noses! Should have packed a travel size sunscreen, jeeze!
After a long drive, we arrived in Westport Co. Mayo. Westport is another coastal town that lies along the Clew Bay. It is also near the Murrisk Mountains and Croagh Patrick, the famous mountain that St. Patrick is said to have made his pilgrimage and fast for 40 days and 40 nights. It still attracts hundreds of visitors who make the trek to the summit where he fasted.
Westport also is home to Matt Malloy's. If you have ever heard of the Irish group, the Cheiftans, then you would know that Matt Malloy is one of the flute players in the band and native to the area. His pub has many traditional music sessions called trad sessions. We loved this pub so much! We went back twice, once before dinner and then after!
We ate dinner at a restaurant at the base of Croagh Patrick. Great seafood from the Clew Bay.
Then we drove around and found the entrance to Croagh Patrick summit.
There was so much fog rolling off the top, you can't even tell in my picture where the top is and it makes it look smaller than it really is. The mountain was huge, one of the tallest in Ireland.
We were only in Westport for a night, which was alright, but I would have enjoyed one more day. There was a lot to do and see in that area, especially the town of Cong where the movie The Quiet Man was filmed. We just had too many places to get to and we had to decide what was the most accessible on our routes to Co. Kerry. But we keep telling ourselves the next time we come we can do the rest. (Smile and sigh).
This concludes the first leg of the journey to Co. Kerry and Killarney. Tomorrow check for a blog on Connemara National Park, Kylemore Abbey, and Cliffs of Moher! Thanks for reading. Slainte!