The Road Less Travelled in the Hazelwood………

When we take the dogs for walk, we tend to try for places where they won’t annoy other people. That may sound a bit strange, but we like to let them run free where possible, and there are a lot of people who are wary of dogs.

We can’t guarantee that Missie won’t jump on the next child she sees or that Alfie won’t disappear like a rocket up the track to herd up the family ahead of us ( no matter how much training we have done). We’re very aware that every dog owner has a responsibility to be in control of their animals at all times, so in an attempt to preempt any issues, we keep them on leads where there are loads of people round and then let them loose off track through the woods or sand-hills.

One of our current walks is through the Hazelwood Demesne, about 5km outside Sligo. There are a series of walks here starting at Half-moon Bay, and stretching along the shores of Lough Gill.

Hazelwood was the seat of the Wynne family who owned the house and most of the surrounding lands for 300 years.  The Wynnes were a very important Sligo family and included members of parliament and High Sherrifs within their ranks. However in recent years the house has lain empty.
A factory was built on the grounds of Hazelwood House in the early 1970s for the Italian nylon manufacturer Snia. This factory closed down in 1982 and the premises were sold to Korean company Saehan Media which made video tapes at the plant for 15 years until 2006. Recently the entire site has been bought by Dublin entrepreneur David Raethorne and a new future secured as a tourist attraction and whiskey distillery!
Val has written a piece on the house in her blog Magnumlady.

We tend to head through the forest instead of along the waters edge.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Halfway through the forest we cut through the woods to the edge of the factory grounds. We never go through the grounds as it is clearly sign-posted as private property. There is no path as such, but it is walkable.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The dogs love it as they just play chase through the trees. No need for fancy obstacles courses here! And we obviously are not the first to come this way as we found the Sligo version of the sword in the stone: the knife in the tree!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

And when finally get through the woods, the view along the Garavogue River towards Dooney Rock and Benbulben are stunning.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Heading in the direction of Sligo  brings you to a very strange little building. It’s at the back gate to the old factory and I’ve been told that it was a pump house. I presume that the pump house was used to pump pressurised water into the factory as a source of energy. If anyone knows the hos and whys I would love to hear.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

You can continue on, but it leads to the side entrance of the House. There is a barbed wire fence across the end of the lane so we don’t go there. We come back along the shoreline part of the way, before cutting onto the track we started on. It’s a lovely walk at anytime of the day, but on Saturdays you might get to spot the local rowing club at play.
There used to be a collection of wooden art here when I first came to Sligo in 1991. Sadly the toadstools are the only remaining piece that I can find

*Sections of this route cross Coillte property, for up to date information on diversions/closures due to tree felling, please visit www.coillteoutdoors.ie

Swords Castle, Co Dublin.

When we were at the training weekend in Swords, we camped in the grounds of Swords Castle. Those of you that have read my posts before will probably have realised that I like old buildings so I was looking forward to seeing this one.

1-DSCF3328

The castle is in the centre of Swords town, which is about 15 Km north of Dublin City. It’s right beside the airport. The castle is the former residence of the Archbishop of Dublin and is reputed to be the only fortified residence of the Archbishop to survive today. Swords Castle was built over a period of 400 years starting before 1200 AD.
Brian Boru’s body is believed to have been brought here to be waked after the Battle of Clontarf in 1014.
I found a brief history of the castle here.

The entrance gateway is a beautiful archway and is flanked by two towers. It’s very like the entrance to Corfe Castle in Dorset (and just as narrow!).1-DSCF3327

To the right of the gateway is the restored church, where the stone work and windows  have been repaired as part of a joint project between FAS (the Irish government training organisation) and Swords Council. Hopefully they will continue the restoration project for the rest of the site!

 1-DSCF3328At the north end of the courtyard area is the Constable Tower.

1-DSCF3231

The ruins of a large hall are still visible along the east wall, though they are quite overgrown now. The fruit trees are here from the time that a previous owner used the grounds as an orchard.

1-DSCF3227

This was a lovely place to stay for the weekend. Unfortunately the castle courtyard is not currently open to the public due to issues about the safety of the entrance tower. This is such a pity – there are some beautiful buildings here, and I for one would have loved to have seen the dungeons under the church; been allowed to walk the battlements or even just sit in the restored church.
However it is possible to visit the outside areas of the castle – and peep through the gateway.

I’ve added a selection of the photos I took below. It was quite a dull wet day so they aren’t quite as I had hoped, but I hope you enjoy them.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Viking Training in Swords.

That sounds like a bit of a quirky title…… but Fingal Living History Society hosted a training weekend in the grounds of Swords Castle, Co Dublin; and yes, some of the training involved sword fighting.
Mind you, there were also spears and axes, and Dane axes and a bill hook if my eyes didn’t deceive me!

1-DSCF3230 1-DSCF3218

There was a really good attendance for this training weekend. There were around fifty fighters representing groups from Dublin, Waterford, Cork, Downpatrick, Clare and also from England (apologies if I managed to miss anyone out there!).

The re-enactors use the training weekends to brush up on their weapons of choice, and also to learn other fight techniques. The less experienced fighters learn from the more experienced, and they get to practice as well. Here is a small selection of photos of the fighters playing in the castle grounds.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The training can be one on one, or as a groups of fighters against other groups.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

There is also a huge social aspect to this event as it gives members of different groups to meet and socialise with each other.

But it’s not all about the fighters and their  toys; the crafters also get together for what is sometimes referred to as a ‘stitch and bitch’. I managed to teach some people how to nalbind, and a friend spent some time teaching a few of us how to finger braid with five loops. Unfortunately I didn’t take any photos, but I did find this site that has some instructions and pictures. The braids would have been used to decorate hems on garments.

Great weekend away with lots done; looking forward to the next event!

Dooney Rock, Sligo – another hidden gem!

Another of the hidden gems I’ve found in Ireland is Dooney Rock, located on the R287 from Sligo to Dromahaire.
Dooney Rock was  made famous by W.B. Yeats in his poem ‘The Fiddler of Dooney’. In the poem Yeats tells the story of an Irish fiddler who expresses himself though his music. The townland of ‘Kilvarnet’ which is referred to in the poem is a small parish near Collooney.

When you find it, there is a car park with a picnic area, and leading from there is a nature trail that loops around this wooded wonderland. The path initially leads to the edge of Lough Gill, before heading towards the top of Dooney Rock.

1-DSCF0694  1-DSCF0695

The trail leads through the woods and along the water edge; no matter which way you go there is always a beauty to be seen. As you walk along the shoreline there are views across Lough Gill. These photos were taken in February, and I love the starkness of the winter trees against the water and the distant mountains. It was also a wonderfully calm day, so the reflections in the water were great to capture.

1-DSCF0698    1-DSCF0706

1-DSCF0705   1-DSCF0734

1-DSCF0709

At regular intervals along the path, there benches that give the chance to sit and relax and there are also information posts giving details on the various trees and plants located in the area.

1-DSCF0718  1-DSCF0703

The path actually follows a figure eight loop; I returned to the edge of Lough Gill by the path through the forest. There were loads of old tree  stumps which to me resembled strange creatures frozen in wood.

1-DSCF0724  1-DSCF0719

There are little gems around each corner; I loved the little stream that trickles into the lough, and the moss covered boulders along the edge of Lough Gill.

1-DSCF0752  1-DSCF0742

When you reach the top of Dooney Rock itself there are views of the two mountains which dominate the Sligo landscape;  Benbulben and Knocknarea.

1-DSCF0763  1-DSCF0762

Benbulben is probably the mountain most associated with Sligo, and is part of the Dartry range of mountains.
The name is an Anglicization  of the Irish name “Binn Ghulbain”. “Binn” means peak or mountain, while “Ghulbain” refers to Conall Gulban, a son of Niall of the Nine Hostages. Another translation is jaw-shaped peak.

Knocknarea is reputed to be the burial site of Queen Maeve of Connaught. You might just be able to make out the cairn on the top of the mountain.
The name is also anglicized from “Cnoc na Riabh” (meaning “hill of the stripes”). However, another interpretation is “Cnoc na Riaghadh” (“hill of the executions”).

This was another great chill out place to visit; it’s quite close to Sligo town, but to me it gives that feeling of quiet stillness. If you’re in the area have a look!

Information for Knocknarea and Benbulben  taken from Wikipedia.

Dublin Viking Festival 2010……… a trip back in time!

Did you know that Dublin city in Ireland was once a viking settlement?
The vikings named their settlement ‘Dyflinn’,  probably from the  Irish ‘Dubh Linn’ meaning  the black pool. The river basin provided an ideal shelter from the fierce storms they would have encountered as they crossed the Northern seas.
Ireland’s temperate climate and access to vast forests made it an ideal place to over winter, offering the vikings a place to repair and rebuild their longboats during the Viking off-season. But they didn’t just over-winter; they stayed. In fact the Norse ruled Dublin until 1014 when they were defeated by Brian Boru’s army at the Battle of Clontarf.

In 2010 we were privileged to attend a Dublin Viking Festival organised by Dublin City Council and Fingal Living History Society at Wood Quay. The location was the grounds of the Dublin Corporation offices, just beside Christ Church Cathedral. Between 1974 and 1981, the site was excavated extensively and revealed a complete viking settlement with over 200 houses. The finds from the excavations are on display at the National Museum of Ireland, and the remains of the old city walls are still visible on the Wood Quay site.

1-038I have to admit I was thrilled when we said we would go; we would get to do an event on an actual viking settlement site (albeit 1000 years after they were there!).

The show proved to be truely international, with Irish, English, Polish, German and Danish re-enactors taking part. The event followed the usual routine; a living history village showing the various crafts and skills that the vikings practiced and fight demonstrations. For more information on what Fingal provides as a living history display you can click here.

1-033    1-034.1

The handcrafts included tablet weaving, nalbinding and woodcarving.

1-050-001  1-047-001

There was also a kitchen display to show what the vikings would have eaten, and how they would have cooked.

1-065-001

All the displays were interaction driven; as living history re-enactors we love people to ask questions so we can explain what we are doing.

The fight demonstrations were as spectacular as always; it was great that we had the international element to the displays, as it gave our Irish vikings a chance to pit their skills against these modern viking invaders.
The weapons used are metal but blunt edged, and are recreations of actual weapons that have been found during archaeological excavations.

1-009  1-023

Most fighters seem to prefer using swords; to be honest, in viking times only the most wealthy warriors could have afforded to own a sword. Most would have used either an axe or a spear.

1-062  1-063-001

To be allowed to combat on the re-enactment field, these fighters would have trained for months beforehand, and there is usually as assessment before they are allowed to participate. Modern day health and safety rules all events!!

1-021  1-018

As you can imagine, there is a lot of  ‘acting’ on the battlefield when the time comes to die!

1-020   1-019

It was a great event to attend.
And here’s a thought; in 1014 Brian Boru defeated the vikings at the Battle of Clontarf. Wouldn’t it be great if there was an event in 2014 to celebrate the 1000 years since the victory? There is one planned; hopefully that event will take place……… looking forward to it already!

Glencar Waterfall; to the waters and the wild….

.1-DSCF0677    1-DSCF0672

‘Where the wandering water gushes
From the hills above Glen-Car,
In pools among the rushes
That scarce could bathe a star,
We seek for slumbering trout
And whispering in their ears
Give them unquiet dreams;
Leaning softly out
From ferns that drop their tears
Over the young streams
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand‘.

W. B. Yeats (excerpt from ‘The Stolen Child’).

Sometimes when I feel the need to escape, I take a drive to the Glencar mentioned in W.B. Yeats poem. It’s just north of Sligo town on the way to Manorhamilton.

Yeats often used references to Irish myths and legends in his early poetry; The Stolen Child’ was written in 1886 and is one of Yeats’ early poems.
Personally, I have always loved the poem. The full version tells of a human child beguiled away by the fairies. There is a line in the poem that reads ‘to the waters and the wild’ which has always captivated me. To me it represents an escape from the maddening crowded world I sometimes find myself in. The real Glencar offers no less an escape.
The Waterboys included the poem in their recording ‘The Stolen Child’ on their album ‘Fishermans Blues’. The words of the poem are spoken in it and it never fails to move me.

When you get there, Glencar is a pleasant, peaceful place.
As you park in the nearby car park you can look out across Glencar Lake towards the beauty that is Ben Bulben, and hear the roar of the waterfall in the background.

1-DSCF0648   1-DSCF0657

The path to the main waterfall crosses a little bridge, and there are a series of smaller waterfalls on the way the main one. The area is lightly wooded, but there are well maintained paths that you can follow.

1-DSCF0658    1-DSCF0683

1-DSCF0659   1-DSCF0670

As you walk along the path, you pass an old style lamp post which always reminds of Narnia; I often wondered if the path to that magical land lay behind the waterfall and if Aslan will one day roar at me as I walk past (who needs a wardrobe?)!

1-DSCF0668     1-DSCF0671

The ferns that drop their tears Over the young streams’ grow all around, especially at the main waterfall itself. They glisten gently from the spray of the waterfall.

1-DSCF0676     1-DSCF0675-002

Glencar is beautiful all year round. These photos were taken in February after there had been quite a lot of rain and the waterfall is always more impressive after sustained rainfall.
It is a place well worth a visit anytime you happen to be in the Sligo/Leitrim area, and you feel the need to escape to the waters and the wild.

1-DSCF0669

Gougane Barra; the little church in the lake..

During our recent visit to Cork, we decided to take a spin down west to Gougane Barra to see St Finbarrs oratory, a little hidden gem west of Macroom. I’d been here years ago when I lived in Cork, and had memories of a little stone church on an small island, nestled below the mountains. As we turned the corner for our first sight of the church, these memories proved true.

1-DSCF3072

It was quite cold this day, but we decided to take a wander round the little island. The name in Irish is Guagán Barra, meaning “the rock of Barra”.
“Barra” refers to St Finbarr, the patron saint of Cork, who is reputed to have built a monastery here during the 6th century.
As you enter the grounds you pass the old well. The church looks as beautiful closer up as it does from the road, and an old bell hangs from the remains of the 6th century monastery walls.

1-DSCF3106  1-DSCF3075

1-DSCF3078

The present building dates to the 1700’s. It’s a tiny church, with only four small pews on either side. But it’s a beautiful place, with lovely stained glass windows and intricate stone carvings.

1-DSCF3097 1-DSCF3096

1-DSCF3099

Outside, the remains of the monastery are crumbled moss covered ruins; there is feeling of peacefulness in this west Cork valley. It is believed that St Finbarr spent time here before making his way to Cork city. There he established another settlement close to the current site of St Finbarrs Anglican Cathedral.

1-DSCF3092  1-DSCF3077

Going up the steps you reach the remains of the monastery, with the Stations of the Cross  in Irish placed above the old prayer cells of the monks. Standing there, the words contemplation and mediation come to mind.

  1-DSCF3103  1-DSCF3081

Gougane Barra is set in a beautiful spot; the scenery is breath-taking, and it although it is more spectacular in summer, even in deepest winter it has a unique charm.

1-DSCF3076  1-DSCF3115 1-DSCF3104  1-DSCF3084

If you happen to be passing; stop and have a wander.