Sligo

Posts tagged with: 'Sligo'

Connacht

Ireland’s western province, Connacht, holds an especially intriguing place in the national self-perception. Far from the seat of power and the more densely populated Leinster, Connacht is a little-understood part of our country.

Connacht

Coat of Arms of Connacht

As far back as the first millenium, Connacht was already seen as different, wild and distant. An early poet described the characteristics of the (then) five Cúigí, or provinces, of Ireland. While Ulster was about war, Leinster about wealth and Munster about music and art, Connacht was said to be about learning. Cúige na Mí, of course, was about kingship. This idea of Connacht being about learning may perhaps come from the notion that druidic influence may have lasted longer out west than elsewhere in a land being increasingly dominated by Christian teaching. ‘Learning’ evokes notions of druids’ knowledge, teaching, stories and chronicles – essentially the domain of people more in tune with their natural surroundings, their own culture and the teachings of elders passed down over the millenia.

During the Middle Ages, then, came the famous declaration, attributed to Cromwell, of “To Hell or to Connacht”. In the 1650s, as English efforts to suppress the resisting Irish continued, Cromwell’s army was trying to shift the native Irish away from the fertile lands of the east and south of the country. The choice facing the displaced Gaelic Irish was, essentially, between ‘hell’ and the far-away, infertile, damp and rocky boglands to the west.

By the late 19th Century, Connacht was firmly depicted as the real, the essential, the historical Ireland. Rural, poor and agricultural, the province was very much the opposite to the rich, urban, developed, sophisticated east (which, of course, was in turn backward compared to the affluent and sophisticated London and England of that era).

Connacht continues to evoke two very different images among the Irish. Is it, on the one hand, backward, conservative and inferior ? Or, on the other hand, is it uncorrupted and deeply rooted ? Is Connacht desolate and isolated, a land covered by endless useless wet and boggy ground ? Or is it, in fact, natural and unconstrained in its beautiful simplicity ?

Connacht Today

Today, Connacht comprises the five counties of Sligo, Leitrim, Roscommon, Mayo and Galway. With a population of just over 540,000, it is the least populated province of Ireland and, apart from Galway city (75,000), has no urban area with more than 25,000 residents. The province is roughly bordered to the west and north by the Atlantic ocean, to the south by the Burren of Co. Clare and to the east by the River Shannon, although half of Leitrim is, in fact, on the east side of the river.

Physical Features of Connacht

Ireland’s largest offshore island is Achill, Co. Mayo. The country’s only true fjord, the Killary, forms part of the border between counties Mayo and Galway. Our second largest lake, Corrib, is mostly in county Galway and other great lakes of Connacht include Loughs Carra, Conn, Cullin and Mask. Mountain ranges include the Nephin Begs of Mayo, the Twelve Bens and Maumturks of Galway and the smaller ranges of Dartry and Ox in Sligo. Northwest Mayo contains the two largest tracts of land in Ireland without through-roads.

Come to Connacht and experience authentic, true, wild and wonderful Ireland !

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The Pursuit of International Scale

Back in June of this year, while speaking at a tourism conference, I outlined my dream of a great 100 km long “Nephin Beg Mountains Loop” – a single continuous, entirely off-road track for cycling and walking that would circumnavigate our beautiful and wild west Mayo mountain range. Complimenting this loop would be the already in situ Bangor Trail, for serious walkers only, which would cut the loop in half for choice of route. See my previous post, with map, here.

However, that 100 km loop is really only one part of what I believe could be provided in Mayo, to bring this county up to genuine international scale as a walking and cycling destination. The recent unsurprising decision by government to scrap the plan to extend the Western Rail Corridor northwards beyond Athenry reinforces my belief.

On the (from a tourism development viewpoint) much maligned eastern side of Mayo, we have the disused Claremorris to Collooney (Co. Sligo) railway line, part of the famous Western Rail Corridor. This line, at 76 km long, will doubtless never be reinstated for use as a railroad. To the south of Claremorris are the remains of the old branch line down to Ballinrobe, 22 km long. Ditto for its future as a railway. To my knowledge, only 1 km of that line has become a road surface, with the remainder through predominantly farmland. Together, these two track beds could get a cyclist or walker from just south of Sligo town to Ballinrobe, on the shores of Lough Mask in south county Mayo – off road! That’s a distance of around 100 km.

Walking, hiking, cycling in Mayo, Ireland

Around Mayo Loop – Northern Section

RED = OFF ROAD

RED DASH = WHERE THE ROUTE COULD EASILY BE TAKEN OFF-ROAD

PURPLE = ON MINOR ROADS

BLUE = MAIN ROADS

Ballinrobe is just a short 11 km hop from the beautiful forests at Cong and Clonbur, where a further 10 km of off-road tracks already exist (more, if you include the gorgeous local loop trails by the lakes).

From there to Westport (79 km) would admittedly use 45 km of roadways, but minor ones. Using the 10 km long Seanbhóthair between Clonbur and Cornamona, then the 24 km of off-road sections of the Western Way would give a total of 34 km off-road. This part of the trail would take the walker or cyclist along the edge of the magnificent Lough Corrib and by the lovely Sheaffry Hills to Westport. Indeed, this south Mayo stretch of The Western Way could hopefully be taken much more off-road. This work has already begun.

Now we’ve reached Westport from Collooney, a distance of some 200 km, with around 144 km off-road and 56 km on small and minor roads.

As we know, the off-road Greenway already exists from Westport quay north through Newport and Mulranny to Achill. Leaving the Greenway just north of Newport, you could turn inland, on very minor roadways for 7 km and then take The Western Way all the way to the north Mayo coast, at Ballycastle and the Céide Fields. There are just 8 km on-road, which could relatively easily be converted to off-road by the local authorities.

Walking & Cycling in Mayo, West of Ireland

Around Mayo Loop – Southern Section

RED = OFF ROAD

PURPLE = ON MINOR ROADS

BLUE = MAIN ROADS

To Ballycastle, this would give a walking and cycling trail that would be a total 281 km long, with just 71 km on-road – and virtually all very minor roads at that. That’s 210 km of off-road cycling and walking !

The final piece in the jigsaw would be to join Ballycastle, on the breath-taking north Co. Mayo coastline, taking in the superb abbeys at Moyne and Rosserk, back down to the old railway at Swinford, using minor roads via Ballina and the low Ox Mountains, plus The Foxford Way.

Total trail length : approx. 353 km

Total off-road : approx. 226 km

Total minor roads : approx. 111 km

Total other, larger roads : approx. 16 km (8 km of which could be quickly taken off-road)

Fantastic !

Mayo is in a pretty small country. However, ours is a very large county and we have the real opportunity to produce a (mostly) off-road walking and cycling experience that would actually be of international quality length. Beginning with my proposal and with vision from the local authorities (who are already doing great work here), we would then have the motivation to get ever more of this potentially fantastic trail off-road, until, one day, it all would be.

What, there’s more ? Yes there is.

This trail would have four rail access points directly on it, at Collooney, Claremorris, Westport and Ballina. Also, just imagine what this could do for small tourism providers, local food producers, artists and craftspeople, traditional pubs, etc., along the route – particularly in the more remote areas. Now that’s sustainable tourism.

Check out the Sligo Mayo Greenway website, which proposes the conversion of the Collooney to Claremorris rail line.

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Conall Brutally Killed

Conall, barely 10 months old, was recently found brutally killed in the mountains of the Sligo Leitrim border.

Not the first child of his kind to have his short life savagely ended in this disgusting way, serious questions must be asked of the supposed law enforcement authorities in this country and of those charged with the care of such a young male.

How can people who poison the likes of Conall still be out there, rather than in prison, where they clearly belong ? How many people are there willfully poisoning their neighbours in this fashion ? How difficult can it really be to apprehend and punish severely those who willfully poison others ?

The communities in which this type of scandalous act of killing occur, whether Sligo, Leitrim, Kerry, or wherever, are small. Johnny knows Mick and Mick knows Billy. Get out and catch them and spare our society these criminals, who have no compassion, much less love, for those we share this island nation with.

I have enormous sympathy and respect for the NPWS team who work on these re-introduction programmes. I’m just not sure that this is a good thing.

But more questions :

How can Scotland and Norway continue to send their children to our shores, to be put at very real risk of falling victim to this wanton destruction ? How can their governments allow the exporting of their defenceless sons and daughters to another country where, seemingly, not enough is done to protect them ?

What role has education played in these eagle re-introduction programmes ? Have rural people and farmers been educated about these birds ? Farmers from the donating countries should be talking to our farmers about these birds and co-existing with them.

Shame on Scotland. Shame on Norway. Most of all, shame on Ireland. I am disgusted by all three of you.

Read more here. And here.

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Minke Whales Beached at Enniscrone and Mullet

Minke whales were not among the creatures I expected to see while out and about this winter. However, as it turned out, I had not one but two unfortunate dead specimens.

Minke Whale at Enniscrone Beach 2009

I grabbed the kids from school and took a spin up to Enniscrone this morning, to see the unfortunate dead Minke Whale, washed up on the brilliantly named Diamond Valley Beach.

The whale measures 8.7 m and will remain there until at least this evening and maybe even until tomorrow morning, according to Sligo County Council’s local office.

Minke are quite common off Ireland’s West coast and are the smallest baleen whale (i.e. they have baleen plates for filtering their food, rather than teeth). They have white spots on their flippers and their dorsal fin is quite small and set quite far back along the back.

Minke Whale Enniscrone

The Enniscrone whale

Minke Whale Sligo

Minke at Enniscrone, showing baleen in top jaw

2010 Update : Minke Whale on The Mullet Peninsula

Friday last (Feb 2010) was a beautiful day up on The Mullet peninsula. I went to Caisleaán strand, on the western side, to see if I could spot some Barnacle Geese, over on the mainland for the day from their winter stronghold of Iniskea beyond. What I actually found were 9 Brent plus the small matter of a beached Minke Whale.

A local farmer told me the whale had been there several days and if you compare the pictures below with those I took of the beached Minke at Enniscrone last September, which was less than 24 hours on the beach at the time, you can see the difference in skin discolouration. Also, both the jaw area and dorsal fin of the Caisleán whale had been buried in the sand by the time I got there.

I estimated this whale at around 9 metres long.

Minke Whale, The Mullet

Minke Whale, The Mullet Peninsula

Minke Whale Mayo

Minke Whale flipper, showing white mark

You’ve heard it before : If you’re not out there, you can’t expect to see these incredible sights. Get out and about and learn to enjoy the outdoors – especially in winter!

Visit the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group website, where you can review sightings and strandings of whales and dolphins in Ireland. We can be proud that Ireland was the first country in the world to declare the totality of its territorial waters a whale and dolphin sanctuary, back in 1991.

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Short Walk on Ox Mountains

I had some time to spare yesterday, so I took an admittedly short, but nonetheless very pleasant stroll up the Ox Mountains behind Coolaney.

I must incorporate some parts of the Ox into a future walk, because what you have here is lovely heather covered rolling hills, to around 400 m, with wonderful views out over Sligo Bay to the north and the plains of Mayo to the south.

Not only that, but in the area between the N17 to the east, the N5 to the south and Ballina town to the west, you really have unspoiled land, with quaint little villages that no main road goes through, which would remind you of your youth in the ’60s and ’70s.

And yesterday was just gorgeous, with clear blue skies and temperatures of 18 C. Bliss.

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