Category Archives: County Louth

County Louth: Dundalk

 

Tuesday 15th August 2017. Heavy rain

Dundalk (population 40,000) is a large town, just 10 kilometres (6 miles) from the border with “Northern Ireland”. It lies on the main Belfast-Dublin rail line. So a short 60 kilometres (36 miles) from my starting point at Portadown in County Armagh.

I got a train around 1pm and via Newry arrived at Dundalk at about 1.45pm.

In some ways, Dundalk is defined as a “border town”. It sometimes appears that when the “Republic’s” economy is doing well, then there are a lot of cross-border shoppers. And when the “North” is doing well, shoppers go to Newry. A lot also depends on the strength or weakness of the Euro against Pound Sterling.

But of course the Troubles also defined Dundalk. IRA volunteers from South Down and South Armagh often launched operations from safe houses and farmhouses in the Dundalk area.

It seemed in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, that there were a lot of Northerners in Dundalk and they were either “on the run” or pretending to be “on the run”.

DundalkCourt Clinton The Courthouse dominates the Town Square along with 1798 Rebellion statue and a new (to me) statue commemorating the visit of USA President Bill Clinton. As monuments are much in the news in the past few days with Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis protesting the removal of  a Confederate statue in Charlottesville, Virginia, I think that monuments are as much about the future as the past. It is a feature of so many towns in the Republic of Ireland that 1798 memorials were actually erected in 1898 for the centenary and to give a boost to the nationalist/republican sentiment which would manifest itself in 1916.

Across the road from these monuments is the constituency office of Gerry Adams, Sinn Féin leader who a few years ago de-camped from West Belfast. I note his office has a memorial to Martin McGuinness who died earlier this year and to “Sinn Féin” women from a century ago.

15028047715951502805107628 The women are Countess Markievicz, (third in command of the Irish Citizen Army, a leader of the Easter Rising in 1916), Dr Kathleen Lynn (also Citizen Army officer who took command at Dublin City Hall when Captain Seán Connolly was killed), Kathleen Clarke (widow of Thomas Clarke who signed the Proclamation and sister of Commandant Ned Daly …both were executed) and Grace Gifford, fiancé of Joseph Plunkett (a signatory of the Proclamation…she married him in the prison chapel hours before his execution.

In the Quay Street area, I spotted a memorial to a young man taken from his home and killed by British forces in 1921. Doubly poignant because just a few metres away wasa n identical monument to his brother.

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On a cheerier note, the nearby Castle Bar has a very amusing sign.

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Dundalk looks like a good base to explore more of County Louth.

Dundalk Train Station is named for Thomas J Clarke. there are fifteen stations in the Republic of Ireland, all named for the sixteen executed leaders of 1916. One station Pearse Station (Dublin) is named for the Pearse Brothers. Tom Clarke has no connexion with Dundalk but he was raised in Dungannon, County Tyrone and obviously there are no official monuments to the Rebels. I suppose Dundalk is the nearest station to Dungannon. As part of the 2016 Commemoration, these fifteen train stations have similar artwork.

1502815469815 Tom Clarke was the oldest signatory of the Proclamation . He was only 58 when he was shot by firing squad but he looks much older. He had spent fifteen years in British prisons in the late 19th century. He then moved to New York before returning to Ireland.

I think it is worth noting that these Rebels were in fact traitors to Britain. Rather like Robert E Lee, the Confederate general. But in the “Republic” at least, they are founding fathers of our nation. There is, I would argue no other comparison. The cause of Irish Freedom and the cause of the racist Confederacy cannot be reasonably compared.

And yet…it is only fair to say that Tom Clarke often talked about his life in New York in very racist terms.

 

 

 

County Louth: Carlingford

Wednesday 2nd August 2017. Heavy rain.

Carlingford is about 8 kilometres (5 miles) east of Omeath on the Cooley Peninsula and has a population of around 1,000 people.

Again, this is one of the places my family has tended to go for day trips.

As the suffix “-ford” suggests, there is a Viking connexion going back to the 9th century. a sea-battle was fought between Dubhgall and Fionngall (Black foreigners and White foreigners) in Carlingford Lough. It is generally assumed that these were Danish and Norwegian groups.

Carlingford seems more upmarket than Omeath…seafood restaurants and antiques. But it is also a centre for adventure sports such as kayaking at the harbour  and orienteering and hill-walking in the Cooley Mountains.

It is picturesque. Dominated by (English) King John’s Castle. Named for him in , it is actually some decades older. In the 1990s, my wife and I used to shout “be careful!” to our two sons as they ran up the overgrown path to storm the castle. So it was amusing to hear one son and daughter-in-law shout the same warnings at their children in 2017.

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The village has buildings from the same period. The Gatehouse with prison cell, the Mint and Taaffes Townhouse (often referred to as a “castle”).

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The streets are narrow. One pub offers free “baby sitting” for any baby over 18 years old.

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The long abandoned railway station serves as a tourist information centre and has an exhibition on Thomas D’Arcy Magee who was born in the area. There is also a prominent monument unveiled in 1991 by Brian Mulroney when Prime Minister of Canada. An earlier plaque was presented by Canadian premier, John Diefenbaker in the 1960s.

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It seems that History might have been re-written. Magee was an Irish nationalist who fearing arrest for his politics fled to the United States. He then moved to Canada. He renounced his republican views and embraced British imperialism as a safeguard against the United States republicanism. As a consequence he was disowned by North American Fenians. He was shot dead by Patrick Whelan in Ottawa, Canada in 1868. Whelan was subsequently hanged.

So Magee is certainly a founding father of Canada. But the question has to be asked why his subsequent anti-republican views justifies a monument in Ireland.

While there is “written” and “re-written” History in Carlingford, there is also a nod to  “unwritten” History…the legend of Setanta and The Táin (the Ulster Cycle).

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Always a good place to visit.

 

 

County Louth: Omeath

Wednesday 2nd August 2017. Heavy Rain.

My older son qualified as a driver last year and has never driven in the Republic. We went into the Republic in a two-car “convoy”. My wife, self and granddaughter in one car and my son, His wife and two other children in the second car.

Omeath (population 600) in County Louth is just 5 kilometres (3 miles) across the border. There are of course no security or customs checks. In real terms, the border does not exist. How that will change when BREXIT becomes effective might well be a problem.

Carlingford14 County Louth, nicknamed the “Wee County” is the smallest in Ireland but has two well populated towns, Dundalk and Drogheda. Like all border counties, it is partly defined by the Border itself. A Border that no nationalist, north or south wanted, there is nevertheless a cottage industry of Smuggling. Whether it was previously cattle or sheep, border farmers often availed of subsidies in Ireland and the “United Kingdom”. Simply cattle and sheep don’t know that the fields they are being driven into are in the north or south. So subsidies and grants were often claimed twice on the same animal.

In 2017, there are more sophisticated forms of Smuggling…Fuel for example. Drivers in border areas will often fill tanks on the side of the border that happens to be most beneficial. And The Troubles certainly added to a specific “border mentality”. Arguably the Peace Process is under-pinned by British authorities turning a blind eye to scams such as money-laundering. After all, the North uses Sterling and the Republic uses the Euro.

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It was always like this. Across Carlingford Lough is Warrenpoint in County Down. As a child, over fifty years ago, I watched on a Sunday as seemingly old motor boats filled up with passengers, nearly all men to be taken to Omeath. The passengers landed at the (now) disused jetty. Why?

Well until the early 1980s, pubs were not allowed to open on Sundays in “Northern Ireland” and the unlikely seafarers satisfied their thirst in Omeath.

The Troubles in the North gave rise to northerners who worked in places like Newry, choosing to buy houses in Omeath and raise children away from the toxic north. As the border is now invisible, the commute is even easier now. Newry is about 10 minutes by car. There are also a lot of holiday homes in the area.

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Omeath is part of the Cooley Peninsula, somewhat isolated from the rest of County Louth. A road runs from the Newry border thru Omeath, Carlingford (and close to a small port, Greenore) and to Dundalk thru Lordship. The road encircles the Cooley Mountain. According to legend, this was the mountain on which the boy Setanta, later the Red Branch warrior Cuchulain played hurling. Each year, the Poc Fada (Long Hit) Competition is held. Hurlers from all over Ireland will gather on the mountain to commemorate Setanta.

On the outskirts of the village is Calvary, a garden administered by the Catholic Order of Rosminians. The feature here is the fourteen Stations of the Cross, a shrine to St Jude (patron of Lost Causes) and an oratory constructed in 2014. There is also a small burial plot for members of the Rosminian Order.

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It is a family tradition to stop at Calvary. It was one of my late mother’s favourite places.

We then drove the short 8 kilometres (5 miles) to Carlingford.