The Lady of the Lake steamer, Lough Erne. Photograph by Robert Welch, © NMNI.
The Giant's Grave, a passage grave at Magheracar close to Bundoran.
Image by W. A. Green, © NMNI.

Excursion from Omagh to Sligo.

Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland.

Belfast News Letter Tuesday, June 23rd, 1896.

On Tuesday morning, 9th inst., the members assembled in front of the White Hart Hotel, Omagh, and took their seats in a number of well-equipped brakes to drive to Knockrnany, Augher, Clogher, and back to Omagh. The muster of members was about ninety, which, with a few local friends, swelled the total to fully one hundred. The start was made at 8-30 a.m. through a well-farmed district of Tyrone. The crops appeared luxuriant and not much affected by the long-continued drought.

The party were met near Knockmany by the Misses Gervais, sisters of the owner of the property, Mr. F. G. Gervais, who conducted them by the shortest route to the top of the hill dedicated to Ainie, an Irish Queen who flourished here almost two thousand years ago. The burial monument on the hill is a great Megalithic structure; some of the stones are in scribed with circles and spirals, something similar to those on the stones at New Grange. It does not look to have been disturbed, and it seemed to the experts to be worthy of further investigation, and that there was an inscription on the reverse side of the stones that lay on the ground, which can be felt by putting the hand underneath.

Decorated stone at the Knockmany passage-grave. Photograph by Robert Welch, © NMNI.
Decorated stone at the Knockmany passage-grave. Photograph by Robert Welch, © NMNI.

A most magnificent view of Tyrone may be obtained from the summit, the spot, no doubt, having been specially chosen foe the monument on that account. Her name is spelled Baine, and pronounced without the sound of the B. No doubt it was from this that the hill was called Knockmany.

The following extract from the "Annals of the. Four Masters" refers to it:— "Age of Christ 111, the first year of the reign of Felimy, son of Tuathal, as King of Ireland. Baine, the daughter of Saal, was mother of this Felimy; it was from her Cnoc-baine in Oriel was called, for it was there she was interred. It was by her also Rathmore, of Moy Leney, in Ulster, was erected." It is believed the Rathmore here referred to is the great earthen fort in Clogher Park, in which the Kings of Oriel, three hundred years later, had their chief residence.

The party next drove to Augher through the demesne of Cecil, the name by which Mr. Gervais's residence is known. The writer was informed by Miss Gervais that two cinerary urns had been found near the base of Knockrnany, and at another part of the property a golden collar, both of which are in Cecil House, but not available for exhibition on the day of our visit.

At Augher the members were shown over the old castle built by Ridgway, who got a grant of the land, which previously belonged to Sir Cormac O'Neill, a younger brother of Hugh, Earl of Tyrone. The entire barony of Clogher belonged to him, and though he had not fought against the English, his land was confiscated just the same, and he was imprisoned in the Tower of London till his death. During the rebellion of 1641 the castle was taken by Sir Phelim O'Neill, and afterwards retaken by the English. During the Williamite wars it also stood a siege. It is beautifully situated on the margin of a lake, which no doubt surrounded it entirely at one time. Sir Cormac O'Neill's house was probably built on the same spot, for it is recorded that it was a crannoge in a small lake.

The view from the Knockmany passage-grave. Photograph by Robert Welch, © NMNI.
The view from the Knockmany passage-grave. Photograph by Robert Welch, © NMNI.

Clogher, which is only two miles distant, was next visited. It in situated on a lofty eminence in the midst of a rich and beautiful country encircled by mountains the highest, Slieve Beagh, on the southern border, rises to 1,254 feet above level of the sea. Lumford Glen, situated at the base of Knockrnany, is a deep ravine, in which a stream of water flows through a cleft in the rock, and forms a beautiful cascade. A carriage drive, edged with fine plantations has been made to the waterfall, and the ascent to Knockmany can also be made from this side.

Clogher formerly returned two members to the Irish Parliament, and was a Bishop's See. It is now a place of very little consequence. The first business to occupy attention was luncheon, which had been forwarded from the White Hart in Omagh, and was laid out and ready in the Courthouse when the party arrived. The long drive and climb up Knockrnany had evidently given the members a good appetite, as thorough justice was done to the luncheon. These excursions are admirable for improving the appetite, particularly of those accustomed to city life, which was certainly verified during the whole tour.

After luncheon a visit was made to the cathedral, which is built on the top of the hill. It is a good, plain pansh church, with a few stained-glass windows. The stones in the churchyard are of interest to those who make a study of monumental stones.

Decorated stone at the Knockmany passage-grave. Photograph by Robert Welch, © NMNI.
The east face of the high-cross at Drumcliffe in County Sligo.
Image by W. A. Green, © NMNI.

The feature in Clogher Park is the great Rath, with numerous smaller ones, that constituted the seat of the Kings of Oriel fourteen hundred years ago. No remnant of any building remains, but the huge earthworks, almost indestructible, are still as fresh as when they were made. The view from the spot almost equalled Knockrnany. It extended for a distance of eight or ten miles around over a beautiful, fertile, and well-wooded country. Mr. Macartney conducted the gentlemen of the party-over the Palace, whilst Mrs. Macartney supplied tea to the ladies.

The return journey was made by Aughentaine, an old castle built in Plantation times. Here the society were received by Coionel Knox Browne, the proprietor, who exhibited an interesting type of stone hammer, with the ancient leather fastening still attached to it.

Devenish monastic complex.
Devenish monastic complex. Photograph by Robert Welch, © NMNI.

The site of William Carleton's house was passed shortly after, but not a stone of the building is now left. The route home was by Seskinore, which gave an opportunity of a good view of the country, which was looking extremely well.

After dinner was partaken of the members adjourned to the Ulster Hall, where Mr. Philips, of Belfast, read a moat interesting paper on "Anglo-Norman Architecture in Ulster," which has already been given in your columns. Mr. Milligan showed a selection of lantern slides illustrating the scenery and antiquities of various parts of Tyrone, Fermanagh, and Sligo. The meetings in Omagh were largely attended by the inhabitants who seemed to take an intelligent interest in all the proceedings.

The high-cross and round tower at Devenish in County Fermanagh.
Photograph by Robert Welch
The high-cross and round tower at Devenish in County Fermanagh.
Photograph by Robert Welch, © NMNI.

On Wednesday the party left by 8-30 a.m. train for Enniskiilen, the luggage being sent on direct to Bundoran, where they were to sleep. Mr. Thomas Piunkett, M.R.I. A., met the members at Enniskiilen station, and escorted them to the Forthill, Portora, and other interesting districts of the town.

On the summit of the Forthill the inhabitants of Enniskiilen have erected a clock tower in honour of Mr. Piunkett, who was chairman of Commissioners for many years. It was during his term of office that the improvements on the hill were carried out, as well as a complete drainage system, which makes Enniskiilen probably the best-drained town in the kingdom. On the clock tower there is a bronze medallion, a striking likeness of Mr. Piunkett, the work of a young lady artist of Belfast, which reflects great credit on her.

After viewing the beauties of this historic town the members proceeded to the steamer that was in waiting to convey them down Lough Erne to Belleek. A stop was made at Devenish Island to examine the round tower and remains of the monastery. The tower is one of the most perfect in Ireland, but not much of the ancient monastery remains. There are some beautiful sculptured tombs in the cemetery.

The Lady of the Lake steamer, Lough Erne. Photograph by Robert Welch, © NMNI.
The Lady of the Lake steamer, Lough Erne. Photograph by Robert Welch, © NMNI.

Luncheon was served on board the steamer going down the lake. The lovely scenery of Lough Erne was quite a revelation to those who had not seen it before. The Dublin members were much surprised that the beauties of such a lake were not better known. Each member was supplied with an illustrated guide, which described the castles and religious houses, remains of which still testify that they were very numerous here in ancient times. A great many stone and bronze implements have been found at various times in the lake, and a very fine shrine was found a few years ago, and secured by Mr. Piunkett for the Royal Irish Academy, of which he is a distinguished member.

On passing an island called Trasna the residence was pointed out there where an old lady called Peggy Elliott had lived. She died a few years ago, aged 107 years. The writer visited Peggy, got her photograph taken, and gave an account in the journal of the society of his interview, which was of an interesting character. These islands are noted for long-lived inhabitants, who frequently attain a hundred years.

Space will not permit a lengthened description of the varied beauties of Lough Erne, but the writer would strongly advise those who are interested in the scenery of their own country to sail down this lovely lake in a little steamer that now runs daily in connection with trains from Dublin and Belfast, returning again in the evening. It is possible to leave-Belfast in the morning, sail down Lough Erne, catch the train at Belleek, and return to Belfast the same night. Some improvements are required for landing passengers at  Belleek, and should be attended to at once to make the lough sailings a thorough success.

Belleek pottery. Photograph by Robert Welch, © NMNI.
Belleek pottery. Photograph by Robert Welch, © NMNI.

Before leaving Belleek our party made a visit to the pottery, and were, received and shown over it by the chairman, Mr. Robert Sweeny, J.P., of Ballyshannon. The processes for making the beautiful ware are very interesting, and give employment to a large number of the inhabitants of the village. Belleek is a great place for fishermen, who make it their head quarters whilst fishing in the Erne, which is a first-class salmon river. A private house the writer called into was occupied by twelve gentlemen who had taken lodgings during their stay whilst indulging in their favourite pursuit. A great deal of money is spent in this way principally by Englishmen, who are very fond of fishing the Erne.

Tullaghan cross, County Leitrim. Photograph by Robert Welch, © NMNI.
Tullaghan cross, County Leitrim. Photograph by Robert Welch, © NMNI.

Our party, led by Mr. Sweeny on a car, drove through the private grounds of Cliff Lodge, formerly the residence of the once celebrated Tom Connolly, M.P. for Donegal, but now owned by Mr. Moore, who also owns the Foyle and the Bann fisheries. He has introduced hatcheries for the artificial propagation of the fish in all his rivers, which have been most successful

On reaching Ballyshannon a visit was made to the salmon leap, or the ancient falls of Assaroe, well known in Irish history. Some of the members drove on to the ruins of the old monastery of Assaroe, whilst others proceeded to Bundoran, which was the stopping place for the night.

The salmon-leap at the Falls of Assaroe, Ballyshannon. Photograph by Robert Welch, © NMNI.
The salmon-leap at the Falls of Assaroe, Ballyshannon. Photograph by Robert Welch, © NMNI.

The headquarters of the society was the new hotel connected with the Great Northern Railway, built on a charming site on the headlands of Bundoran. A great many of the members put up at Hamilton's and Sweeny's hotel, where they were most comfortably housed and well entertained. Now that the Great Northern Railway are running a train to Bundoran on Saturdays in four hours from Belfast, returning in the same time on Monday morning, a great many Belfast people will visit this splendid watering place, which for natural advantages is unequalled in Ireland.

Quite a number of Belfast people turned up on Sunday morning, much to the surprise of the members hailing from the northern city. One of them, a solicitor, assured the writer that Bundoran only required to be better known to be one of the most popular watering places in Ireland, and that it was the combined railway and hotel ticket that induced him to come there. The Great Northern Hotel is at present being enlarged, as the accommodation was found inadequate for the great numbers who visit it for bathing and golf.

Spinning wool for yarn at Cliffoney. Photograph by Robert Welch, © NMNI.
Spinning wool for yarn at Cliffoney. Photograph by Robert Welch, © NMNI.

The party started on waggonettes for Sligo at 8-30 next morning; the weather was charming, the members all in good humour, and everything seemed, most propitious. The first stop was made at Cliffoney, about nine miles from Bundoran, where the party all alighted to examine Saint Bridget's well and a giant's grave. There is a very ancient incised cross set up at the well, with a Pagan symbol carved on it called a swastica, supposed to have been an emblem of sun worship, which was at one time prevalent in Ireland.

For six miles along this road by Cliffoney the cottages are all pure white, and the walls covered with most luxuriant growths of roses and honeysuckle. The property at one time belonged to Lord Palmerston, who introduced prizes for the cleanest and best kept cottages, and his successor, the Honourable Evelyn Ashley, still takes an interest in the tenantry, which accounts for the neat white-washed cottages and flower gardens which are such a prominent feature on this road.

The round tower at Drumcliffe. Image by W. A. Green, © NMNI.
The round tower at Drumcliffe. Image by W. A. Green, © NMNI.

The next stop was made at Drumcliffe, where there is a round tower, sculptured cross, and the shaft of a second cross; besides a huge giant's grave, with what are known as cup-markings. The country around Drumcliffe is very beautiful, the great mountain of Benbulbin overhangs the village. The farming is extremely good, and the local landlord, Sir Henry Gore Booth, is one of the good old type, and in every way encourages good farming.

The monastery at Druncliffe.
Horseman pass by: An early photo of Drumcliffe. image taken by Robert French some time before 1917.
Source: National Library of Ireland.

A creamery for the manufacture of butter is doing good work; it is in the centre of a splendid grazing district, and turns out a very superior article. The whole process was explained to our party, and it was said it this butter was brought to Belfast it would command a ready sale. The address is:— The Creamery Co., Limited, Drumcliffe, County Sligo. The principal market for it is London. The writer ascertained that the farmers are paid three pence three farthings a gallon for the milk, and get back the skim milk free, which is used for feeding purposes.

At Lissadel there used to be a famous oyster bed, but it has been dredged out in recent years. American oysters have been brought over and planted here. They fatten well, and are much improved in flavour by the change of ground.

The Abbey of Sligo. Photograph by Robert Welch, © NMNI.
The Abbey of Sligo. Photograph by Robert Welch, © NMNI.

Sligo was reached about 1-30. The party were well provided for in every way in the Victoria and Imperial Hotels, who vied with each other as to which would cater best for the visitors. Some had to sleep in private houses, but had their meals at the hotels. After luncheon the members proceeded to the abbey, which is a very fine ruin of a Dominican house, built by Maurice Fitzgerald in the year 1252. The members were unanimous in the opinion that the abbey should be closed for the future against interments, and that it should be kept in better order.

The whole party next proceeded up Lough Gill in boats provided by the Victoria Hotel, who also supplied an excellent tea on one of the islands on the lake. Fully five and half hours were spent on the lake, and the members will not soon forget that visit. They pulled to Tober N'alt Holywell, from thence to Doonie Rock, next to Cottage Island for tea, and afterwards through Hazlewood Demesne home. Some of the party visited Church Island farther up the lake. There was an ancient Celtic monastery on Cottage Island. The small church is still m a fairly good state, and some of the surroundings go to show it was a place of some importance in the ancient Church of Ireland.

The scenery of Lough Gill is scarcely surpassed by that of Killarney. Its lovely wooded islands add a picturesque beauty quite equal to that of the southern lake, but the encircling mountains are not quite so high. The arbutus tree grows luxuriantly on the islands and in the demesne of Hazlewood, which skirts the north-western margin of the lake. As a centre for the archaeologist, botanist, and angler, Sligo is unequalled in the United Kingdom.

The Great Lintel at Deerpark.
The Great Lintel at Deerpark, the huge court-cairn at Maghernamush. Image by W. A. Green, © NMNI.

On Friday, 12th inst, the last and best, day of the excursions, a start was first made to the Deer Park, situated about five miles out on the Enniskiilen road. Here there is a great Pagan burial monument 104 feet in length, and some 25 feet in breadth at the widest part. It is composed of stones set on end, some with covering stones or trilithons.

A painting of the Sidhe by AEON.
The great neolithic court-cairn at Deerpark in County Sligo.
Photograph by Robert Welch, © NMNI.

Human remains have been very frequently found here, and no doubt exists as to what the structure was erected for. Further down this hill are the remains of a great cashel, or fort, and further over another sepulchral monument. There are several other interesting ruins in the Deer Park, which there was not time to visit. The hill on which these ruins are situated overlooks the upper waters of Lough Gill, towards the village of Dromahaire.

On returning to Sligo, about one o'clock, luncheon was partaken of previous to starting for Carrowmore and the hill of Knocknarea. There are some 60 or more, cromlechs, stone circles, and other ancient Pagan monuments in this district, which have been fully described in the pages of the journal of the society. They are of the most interesting character, and are not surpassed in the world.

Queen Maeve's cairn, the huge neolithic monument on. the summit of Knocknarea.
Photograph by Robert Welch, © NMNI.
Queen Maeve's cairn, the huge neolithic monument on. the summit of Knocknarea.
Photograph by Robert Welch, © NMNI.

The Hill of Knocknarea, on the summit of which stands a huge cairn, is about 1,100 feet high, and notwithstanding all the previous fatigues of the day, fully the three-fourths of the members climbed to the top to enjoy the wonderful view from it. The Glen was also visited; the botanists of the party were charmed; they had never seen a more delightful place. One Dublin gentleman said he would have been well repaid for all his labour had he seen nothing but the Glen.

After dinner on Friday night, on the conclusion of the tour, all the members assembled in the Victoria Hotel to say good-bye, and passed a cordial vote of thanks to one of the members for having helped to carry out to a successful issue one of the pleasantest excursions the members have ever had.

Passage-graves Numbers 56 and 57 at the Carrowmore megalithic complex. Photograph by Robert Welch, © NMNI.
Passage-graves Numbers 56 and 57 at the Carrowmore megalithic complex. Photograph by Robert Welch, © NMNI.

Before separating on Saturday morning a large number of members visited the local brewery, which has been established in Sligo for almost a century. The present owners Messrs. Foley &  Co. have greatly improved the manufacture and increased the production. It was the unanimous opinion of all present that it was a porter of superior excellence, and scarcely to be distinguished from that of the most celebrated brands.

The water of Lough Gill, which is used in the manufacture, is first class for this purpose, and all the ingredients are of best quality. The whole process of making was shown to the members, who were greatly interested in it. The same firm also manufacture aerated waters. With the exception of flour milling this is the only industry in Sligo.

The Abbey of Sligo. Photograph by Robert Welch, © NMNI.
The cave and rock called the Lion's Paw, West End, Bundoran.
Image by W. A. Green, © NMNI.

About a dozen and a half of the party returned to Bundoran to spend the Sunday, where they spent a most enjoyable day. The train left on Monday at 8 a.m., and reached Belfast at 12 noon, a period of only four hours, which used to take almost double that time. The meetings and tours of the Royal Society of Antiquaries have done, and are still doing, a great deal towards developing the tourist districts of Ireland, as well as educating the people in the antiquities and history of their country.

The Sleeping Giant: the view of Keelogyboy Mountain from across Lough Gill.
Image by W. A. Green, © NMNI.
The Sleeping Giant: the view of Keelogyboy Mountain from across Lough Gill.
Image by W. A. Green, © NMNI.