Tuesday 21st March 2006
Today was Donegal day! After checking out, I headed west via Maghera and Claudy (successfully skirting Londonderry) to Letterkenny.
I have always wanted to do the circuit through Dunfanaghy and Dunglow and today managed it. I diverted once to view Doe Castle but could have saved myself the trouble because it was closed for the winter and, from what I saw of it from the gate, I didn’t miss a lot.
The road (N56) varied from the great – thanks to the European Community – to the dismal and, if the truth be known, the views were much the same. Some of the spring green farmlands with white sheep and whiter lambs were just beautiful, as were the peaty brown highlands; some views – often close to villages – were just, yes, dismal.
Having said that, the amount of residential building that is going on is amazing. Dotted throughout Donegal, and for that matter, along the Antrim coast, is any number of what can only be described as mansions that, for you Sydneysiders, wouldn’t look out of place in Dural or Kenthurst. And around Dunfanaghy, I passed at least three large construction sites where building was in various stages of completion for what I took to be luxury holiday homes for Ireland’s “nouveau riche”.
The overall impression one gets is that Ireland is booming!
With only minor navigational hiccups, I reached my “home” for the night – one of those “resorts” that boasts a leisure centre and, just what I was looking for, a “Wellness Centre”!
The room is nice, a bathroom with a bath and a shower – luxury to savour – but, for the rest, it’s just as you’d expect a place like this to be – modern but characterless and, dare I say it, soulless. Still it’s only for one night.
Wednesday 22nd March 2006
After a frost, but a light one, the weather today was as spring-like as it could be – blue sky, no breeze and, later, warm enough to have one of the car windows open for a brief period. So to make good use of it – the day that is, I took the circuitous route to Roscommon where I’ll be staying for the next couple of nights. When I say circuitous I mean that, as the map-plotters will derive from this route: Donegal, Ballyshannon, along the banks of Lower Lough Erne to Enniskillen, the Irvinestown, Dromore, Fintona, Fivemiletown, Maguire’s Bridge, Butler’s Bridge (of course, but I shouldn’t have bothered), Edgesworthstown, Longford to Roscommon. I didn’t take a lot of photos today but a couple I did, follow:
The 160-mile circuit – not all of which was intentional – took about 5 hours, partly because I was taking it very leisurely – and soaking up the spring scenery – and partly because of some significant delays for major roadworks. I’m sure now the Irish economy is indeed booming – more residential enclaves, more “manor houses”, more wider, straighter roads – but I regret to say that the scenery for which Ireland was justly famous is fast disappearing. Even on the heights of one of the moors I traversed today was a wind farm with its “herd”!
“So chunky you could carve it” would describe quite accurately last night’s seafood chowder at “Gleeson’s Townhouse and Restaurant” – chock full of prawns and bite-sized pieces of salmon and haddock – and beautiful.
The problem was that it was such a large serving that, for once, I failed to finish an equally sizeable – and delicious – serving of roasted breast of duck. Both servings would have fed two with ease, and some to spare!
Guess who’ll be restricting himself to one course tomorrow evening. It really was quite mortifying!
Thursday 23rd March 2006
Unfortunately, today’s weather wasn’t up to the high standard set yesterday, so that, combined with the need for a shorter spell at the wheel, I restricted myself to two visits – both recommended by the landlord.
First stop was “Strokestown Park” House & Garden. The house in the 18th century Palladian style is itself, quite ordinary. What makes it of interest is that it is still furnished as it was when the last owner’s widow (Olive Pakenham Mahon) left it more than 25 years ago, including books, magazines, toys, even clothes. No attempt has been made to restore anything, merely to conserve what is there.
Also on the site is the Irish National Famine Museum, which was established to balance the history of the “Big House” using documents from a Strokestown Park archives to tell the tenants’ story. For anyone with an interest in Irish history it’s worth a visit. It doesn’t have all “the bells and whistles” of so many museums but it still manages to communicate quite vividly that terrible period in Ireland’s past.
It was something of a relief to the senses to visit the garden – winter-bare as it still is.
Next call was at the “Cruachan Aí Heritage Centre” in the village of Tulsk. Although time, the increasing cold and the threat of rain meant that I was not able to visit any of them, there is an amazing array of archaeological remains located within a four mile radius of the centre, most dating from the Stone Age. These are “interpreted” in exhibition rooms that are as bright and modern as those in the Famine Museum were not, but in their different way displayed an intriguing mix of the archaeology, mythology and history of this particular region.
As it turned out, despite my pessimism, I got back to the hotel before the sleet arrived, and was more than grateful for both its shelter and the warmth of that open fire in the lounge. Tomorrow’s destination is Dublin, where I’ll be for the next four days, primarily to visit the National Library – and wherever else is suggested – to see if I can get any closer to identifying where in Waterford my early Butler forbears were born.
Friday 24th March 2006
The drive through to Dublin, despite the rain, was trouble-free; I even found the hotel without any involuntary diversions. So good a run was it, in fact, that I had time in the afternoon to walk into Dublin proper and get my bearings. Regrettably the fine break that persuaded me to do so didn’t last and I was more than grateful for my umbrella for the return trip.
Having had some difficulty getting somewhere in Dublin that was reasonably handy to the National Library and had parking, I ended up at the “Herbert Park”. It is somewhat more upmarket than I had hoped and everything about the place is priced accordingly. Fortunately my daily room rate includes a full Irish Breakfast, so that could well become my main meal of the day unless the weather clears enough to venture out to a local restaurant for an evening meal.
That may not, after all, be necessary now, as I had a quite reasonable grilled lamb cutlet “snack” in the hotel’s coffee shop which turned out to be not too badly priced.
Saturday 25th March 2006
An absolutely beautiful spring morning, so suitably replete, I again walked the mile and a half into the city and spent a very pleasant hour just sitting in the sun in St Stephen’s Green before the National Library opened.
Although not all the bedding plants are yet in flower, one bed of purple hyacinths with a matching pansy border was just a picture. As I intended to spend all morning in the Library I hadn’t taken my camera with me, but if it’s fine tomorrow I may just do that and explore Herbert Park which the hotel adjoins.
The National Library provides a genealogical advisory service to assist with individual research – not to do it for you but to get you started and point you in the right direction. With that help I was able to identify 14 of the 30 odd parishes in the County of Waterford that might have a record of my great great grandfather Stephen Butler’s baptism.
The next step was to identify which of these 14 had records at all and, if so, which had baptismal records for 1820 or thereabouts. Obviously, it would have been great if all 14 were available, but the 8 that are, will keep me well and truly chained to the microfilm readers in the Library on Monday and Tuesday at least. Here’s hoping!
Sunday 26th March 2006
Although the day was not as fine as yesterday, I thought I’d better take advantage of the opportunity to “go walkabout” before I get inactively absorbed by the microfilm reader. It ended up being a park day and plenty of walking.
First a return visit to St Stephen’s Green. Oh how I wished I taken my camera yesterday. The hyacinth and pansy bed that had such appeal yesterday had been all but flattened by the heavy rain in the afternoon, as had a number of other beds. I took some photos but the rain damage and the lower light levels didn’t let me do justice to what I was seeing.
That’s not to say it wasn’t pleasant and restful – just, from a photographic viewpoint, frustrating.
After another quick circuit of the “pedestrian only” shopping street, Grafton Street, stopping only occasionally to either window-shop or listen to the buskers, I headed back to Herbert Park.
This quite large (32 acre) park was once the site of the Dublin International Trades Exhibition in 1907 and now comprises tennis courts, football pitches and a bowling green (with a synthetic all-weather surface) in addition to the very large pond and ample open spaces. Again a very relaxing place to sit awhile and watch the world go by – that is, until it started to rain again. What’s the betting it’ll be fine tomorrow when I’m indoors?