Sunday, September 19, 2010

More Hidden Gems in Donegal - Culture, Freebies and a New Teapot

I hadn't planned another post on our recent trip to Donegal and Northern Ireland but when I went through the photos I just had to write this one, as I made a side trip to a hilltop Ring Fort called Grianan of Aileach. This is just south of the Inishowen Peninsula and affords tremendously panoramic vistas over the entire peninsula and the surrounding countryside. I was wandering around Buncrana on the first morning of our staycation (thanks Ann for the term - hadn't thought of it before!) looking at a map of the town, obviously lost and trying to get reoriented, when a woman approached me and asked if I was lost. She was so nice about it I could forgive her the Sybil/Basil the Rat moment (See Fawlty Towers) of stating the Bleeding Obvious, and when she put me on the right road she suggested I should visit the village of Burt where the Ring Fort is situated.

I wanted to get to a particular chemist shop, one of many businesses in Buncrana that offered discounts and goody bags for delegates to the AMAI conference hubby was attending. Needless to say I absconded with the vouchers booklet and made some contribution to the local economy, no doubt raising the GDP of Buncrana in the process. I got a lovely goody bag full of toiletries and a nice bottle of my fave perfume -Red Door by Elizabeth Arden. For this I had to spend €20 in the shop, not a bad deal as you can never have too much toothpaste and shampoo - both of which I'd left home without packing. I also mooched around a lovely gift and homewares shop where I set my sights on this lovely teapot, which enhances my growing collection - I now have four purely on aesthetic grounds - that they are receptacles for my fave beverage is coincidental! Don't you just love the sentiments? After my own heart indeed, and it came with a 20% discount too! I also got some bargain-basement wool in a lovely shop, and I am busy making socks with some of it - one down and one to go.

But I digress - this was supposed to be about the cultural history of ancient Donegal - I drove up to the Ring Fort which was visible for miles around as a bump atop of one of the hills south of Buncrana - and the winding boreen led to a magical place - with the most spectacular view in a 360 degree panorama I've yet seen in Ireland. There are other wonderful vistas like The Vee nearer home just over the Waterford border in Co. Tipperary, but they aren't full circle views.
Looking north you see Inishowen and the inlets of Lough Swilly and Lough Foyle; looking east there's Derry and beyond, and looking west there's Letterkenny. South is...well, the rest of Ireland I suppose! In all you can see seven counties from the hill ford and here are some of the photos so you can see for yourself.

The Ring Fort is massive, over 3000 years old and featured in Ptolemy of Alexandria's 2nd Century Map of Ireland. This snippet is lifted from some of the tourist information I picked up in the delegates pack. It sits atop Grianan Hill at an elevation of 244 metres above sea level. It's an Iron Age fort, and underwent many changes over the next two centuries, until its destruction according to the Irish Annals in 1101. It was rebuilt to its present state in the late 19th century and much of the stone used was from the 1101 destruction. I'm sure it's an archaeologist's dream and Time Team would have a wonderful three days excavating the place to look for more clues about its origins and functions.

I just enjoyed the solitary beauty of the place, scrambling over the walls and trying to ignore any hint of vertigo as I scaled the narrow steps to the ramparts on the inside walls, walking the perimeter and taking photos from every side/angle. (Irish joke aside - how do you confuse a Kerryman? Put him in a Round Tower and tell him to stand in the corner! Caveat - Irish jokes told in Ireland use the Kerryman as scapegoat instead of the Irishman - a universal practice I'm sure!)

I hope you enjoy the photos and reading about this hidden gem in Donegal - I certainly enjoyed exploring another lovely spot in Ireland - a great country for a holiday or a staycation once you get decent weather as we were lucky to get on this break for the border.

Photos from the top:

  • My Chocolate Teapot (Born to Shop brand)
  • My Goody Bag Giveaway Contents (they came in a Christmas Bag!)
  • Grianan of Aileach - Various Views
  • Looking north to Lough Swilly and Lough Foyle
  • Looking east to Derry and Northern Ireland
  • The Ramparts of the inner Ring Fort
  • The Gate of the Fort


Susan/aflowergal said...

Grianan of Aileach is one of my favorite places. I wound up there & in the Burt area pretty much by accident about 15 years ago, & I felt really strongly moved by the place. Myself & 2 friends ended up cycling to Grianan of Aileach from Buncranna, & on the way back I got quite ahead of them, & somehow found an old ruined graveyard/abbey/church hidden in some forest-y bits. I spent a very odd but moving 15-20 minutes there 'alone'(my friends missed it & cycled by). Two years later I was doing family geneology & found out (a complete surprise) that many of my father's family came from Burt parish to America..... Thanks for sharing this special place in your post, Catherine!

diane b said...

What a great staycation (I learnt a new word today-thanks) The 360* view is beautiful and just how I remember Ireland when we were there. I love the teapot too.

Ann said...

Absolutely loving that teapot. The photos are wonderful. Such a wonderful trip.

Unknown said...

Hi Catharine,

I have just come across your Blog - and a really interesting one. Thank you.

As an Irish exile in another historic location (the old Roman town of St. Albans, to the north of London), it is always pleasing to see my parents' county through others' eyes.

You may or may not be familiar with a Brian Friel play called "Translations," about the work of a 19th century British Army regiment carrying out a survey of Ireland (the first "Ordinance Survey"). It deals with the work of the regiment in rendering the Irish language placenames into English. An excellent play.

This survey of Templemore - the city and county of Derry, my home city, next door to Grianan and of course another Ulster county - in real life, was carried out by men under the auspices of a Colonel Colby, in what was to have been a survey of all the counties of Ireland. I am lucky enough to have a copy of one of the originals dating from 1837.

If you wanted to have a look at it and some of the beautiful drawings and descriptions of Grianan, you can do on Google Books where it has been "re-published."

Thanks again - John Bradley

MTeacress said...

What a beautiful place, your country. You've got me wishing to see it myself.
The saying on the teapot is a gem. It's fun to find treasures like that while exploring places. Thanks for sharing all those pictures. :)

Joyti said...

What a beautiful little spot! The socks are very cute as well.

Catherine said...

Thanks all for visiting - glad you like the post!
Susan - what a coincidence to find the family connection with Burt! It's a lovely part of the country. Glad I went there even though it wasn't on any of the tours they organised.

Diane - I only used staycation when Ann mentioned it! The teapot is great isn't it? And it makes a nice cuppa too!

Ann - Yes, great teapot indeed and the whole place was terrific, I really enjoyed Donegal.

John - thanks for all that info -I've heard about Translations by Friel but didn't read it or see it, and I didn't know its subject matter. There's a lot of interest in things past now in Ireland and of course a lot of the primary sources on the population was lost with the fire at the custom house in 1922 - the 1901 and 1911 census data has been terrific. Must google that survey on Grianan.

MT - Ireland's a lovely country when the weather is good. Sadly it's often awful, though this summer has been really good. Try to get here sometime. The teapot was too hilarious to miss - had to have it!

Indie.Tea - thanks! Lovely socks too -glad you like them and if you do knit you can get the pattern free online. Love your blog with all that mouthwatering food.

All the best and keep on visiting! Catherine xxx

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

So jealous - of the teapot, the adventure, the general Irishness. Also: My husband's name is Kerry. Somehow I don't think he'll appreciate the jokes! LOL