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.

 

 

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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.

 

County Sligo: Enniscrone

Thursday 27th July 2017. Heavy Rain in afternoon and evening.

Enniscrone (population about 1,200) is a small seaside town, 15 kilometres (9 miles) from Ballina. It is in County Sligo.

There are a lot of “holiday cottages” here and my wife, son, daughter in law, baby and some members of her family had rented one for a week. Holiday cottages are a feature of Irish seaside towns. They are modern and easily identified by their uniformity. Typically four bedroomed and while pricey for the average family, they are ideally suited to an extended family. Typically two or more cars sit outside each house. And typically, the registration plates on the cars indicate that the holiday makers are from different parts of Ireland.

Enniscrone has a very fine “links” golf course and a centre for salmon fishing, so no surprise to see a very modern and expensive looking hotel at the edge of the town. A strange statue…a black pig, is situated across the road from the hotel. “The Black Pig” is the mascot of the town.

The “multiview” postcard below sums it up. Beach, Black Pig, Golf, Seaweed Baths and Sunsets.

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But the big problem with Irish seaside holidays is the weather. Yes, of course we have warm summer days and pleasant to be on a beach. But our weather is less reliable than Spain, Portugal and Greece and many Irish people travel abroad in summer.

Beach holidays in Ireland are endured as much as enjoyed and during my visit to Enniscrone, the evening weather was pretty bad. But with Enniscrone being one of Ireland’s leading Surfing venues, there were a couple of folks braving the elements. Not exactly Beach Boys and California Girls.

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This was the first night of the annual weekend “Black Pig Festival”. A small carnival/funfair in town and a group playing Elvis Presley songs outside the Catholic Church. A small parade of about fifty children was led by a very large inflatable and very pink pig.

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This kinda festival is fairly typical of Irish life. The local hook in Enniscrone is the ancient legend of a murderous and very savage black pig who caused havoc and was eventually defeated and eaten by the local people.

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I only had one night in Enniscrone and next afternoon, I returned to Dublin via the Route 22 Coach from Ballina.

County Mayo: Ballina

Thursday 27th July 2017. Rain.

An early start. Left Belfast on 3am coach to Dublin Airport. Had to get into Dubliin City to catch the 7am coach (Route 22) to Ballina in County Mayo. My wife, son, daughter in law and their baby were spending a week in nearby Enniscrone and I joined them for two days.

The coach travelled thru west Dublin and towns including  Maynooth (County Kildare), Mullingar (County Westmeath), Edgeworthstown and Longford (County Longford), Strokestown, Frenchpark and Ballaghderreen (County Roscommon) and Charlestown, Swinford and Foxford (County Mayo).

Although the journey was long, it was informative for planning future trips this summer. I can certainly visit some of the towns mentioned above.

I arrived in Ballina at 11.15am.

Ballina is 235 kilometres (146 miles) west of Dublin. It has a population of 10,700.

The River Moy flows thru the town and many tourists come for the salmon fishing. It is a common sight to see anglers wading in the river.

The Cathedral Church of the Diocese of Killala is on the quay by the River Moy.

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Ballina was a major centre for the western theatre of the 1798 Rebellion. With the United Irishmen already defeated in the northern theatre (Antrim/Down) and the southern theatre (Wexford/Wicklow/Kildare), the French landed near the village of Killala and took Ballina and recruited Irish rebels. They would win a battle at Castlebar but were crushed and massacred at Ballinamuck in County Longford.

The novel “The Year of the French” (Thomas Flanagan) fictionalises the landing of General Humbert.

I tend to believe that the 1798 Rebellion had three distinct characteristics. The northern rising was inspired by Presbyterian Enlightenment, the southern rising was a mix of Enlightenment and peasant revolt, a jacquerie….but the western rising was distinctly Catholic in character. The irony is that Humbert and his troops had previously violently suppressed Catholicism in the Vendée region of France.

The memorial to General Humbert and the 1798 Rebellion was unveiled by Maud Gonne in 1898. The Gaelic Revival….culture, language, sport, literature and nationalism of the late 19th century tapped into the folk memory of the 1798 Rebellion…specifically with ballads and monuments.

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I note that the Ballina monument references local rebel leaders including Fr Andrew Conroy.

Having met up with my family in Ballina, I was driven to Enniscrone.

Dublin City: Rathgar

Wednesday 19th July 2017. Heavy Rain.

Travelling back to Dublin on the LUAS from Dundrum, I stopped off at Ranelagh. This is a south Dublin district.

Not a lot to see…but at least I saw it.

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Then back on the LUAS to Stephen’s Green.

County Dublin: Dundrum

Wednesday 19th July 2017. Rain.

Dundrum is about 11 kilometres (just over 6 miles) south of Dublin. Always hard to distinguish between a village swallowed up by the City and a suburb. I went out to Dundrum on the “Route 14 Dundrum” bus.

It is a journey that begins at Ashton Quay  on the north side of the River Liffey, crosses O’Connell Bridge and goes out past Rathmines, past Rathgar and thru Ballinteer to Dundrum. Some of Dundrum still appears like a village, this shop in the main street being typical. But the large and very upmarket shopping mall (House of Fraser, Hamleys and Harvey Nicholls are tenants) are reminders of Regent Street in London.

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Indeed the shopping mall is pointedly called “Dundrum Town Centre”.

Having spent an hour in Dundrum, I went to the LUAS stop to catch the tram back to Dublin. This is the first time that I have travelled on the LUAS “Red Line” which runs from Sandyford in South County Dublin into Stephen’s Green.

A curious footnote: one of the stops on the LUAS “Red Line” is Cowper, named for a Cromwellian officer who fought at the Battle of Rathmines and was granted this land by Oliver Cromwell.

 

Dublin City: Rathmines

Friday 14th July 2017. Warm evening.

Having returned to O’Connell Street from Finglas, there was still time to take a trip to another Dublin suburb. So the random choice was “Route 140 Rathmines”, a short trip. Rathmines is only 5 kilometres (3 miles) from the City Centre.

Rathmines The bus travels south over O’Connell Street, along Dame Street, turns left at Great George’s Street. along Aungier Street and from there a straight road to Rathmines.

Rathmines, I first heard mentioned while studying the Seán O’Casey play “The Plough and the Stars” in 1968. Indeed I read the part of a Rathmines woman …a posh lady caught up in the traffic chaos in the Easter Rising. “Rathmines” is a kinda shorthand for English “West Briton” sentiment. Like much of South Dublin, it is the centre of “garrison sports” such as Cricket and (Field) Hockey. This is not as pronounced in 2017 as it would have been in previous generations.

To underscore the “West Briton” influence, it is worth noting that in the 1918 Westminster Election (the last before Irish Independence), the Irish Unionist Party actually won a seat in Rathmines. Their only other seats were in Ulster. “Southern” Irish Unionism had no reason to exist after Independence but influence in financial institutions (Bank of Ireland), industry (Guinness, Jameson), higher education (Trinity College), business (Arnotts) and the traditional base of Anglicanism (Church of Ireland) and the Anglo-Irish aristocracy and landlords was always beyond their numbers.

Having reached Rathmines and walking along the Main Street, I decided to walk the short distance back to the city centre. What was once a separate town, with its own ambience is now absorbed as a suburb. Many of the town houses are now made into apartments for a growing student population and young bank-workers etc. Dublin Institute of Technology has several sites around the city and some are in the Camden area. This changes the atmosphere considerably. Clearly a lot of businesses…including stationary, typing/printing are geared to students.

Leo Burdock Fish & Chip Restaurant is a Dublin institution. If it is good enough for Bruce Springsteen, Cuba Gooding Junior, Mick Jagger….

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This trip coincided with Bastille Day and a lot of the bars and restaurants have a cosmopolitan feel.

1500054136920 Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité…and Croissants!

Rathmines seems an unlikely site for a very bloody battle. Urbanisation has largely disguised the fact that in 1649, this area was countryside and outside the Dublin Walls. at that time a small garrison loyal to the Cromwellian English Parliament defeated a much larger force of English Royalists and Irish Catholic Confederates. Around 3,000 people died in the battle. Few signs remain. But tourists who stop to take a photograph at The Bleeding Horse Bar because it sounds tasteless are unaware that a wounded cavalry horse sought refuge in the bar and the owner renamed the bar for him.

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Is the “Bleeding Horse” story true? Well in a country, where History, Legend and Myth are entangled, the best answer to this question is “probably”. But in this case…it is true.