Garrison (Co. Fermanagh / Southwest)
Garrison (pop. 360) was named for a barracks erected in 1691 by King William III, who halted here after the Battle of Aughrim. The village is on the Roogagh River, which runs into nearby Lough Melvin.
Garrison was a thriving town before the 1969 – 1996 Troubles, when cross-Border roads were sealed off. The Melvin Hotel was blown up by the IRA during the middle of an RC wedding reception, reportedly as retaliation for allowing members of the security forces to stay on the premises. The village has found its feet again since the roads reopened in 1994.The PSNI came under gun attack in the town in November 2009.
The Bilberry restaurant is well renowned in the Northwest region, and two local pubs host musical sessions.
Visitors to Garrison can choose from a wide range of local guesthouses and self-catering holiday chalets, and enjoy activities such as hill-walking, cycling, horse riding, camping caving, fishing and water sports.
The Lough Melvin Holiday Centre caters for large groups.
Lough Melvin (Loch Meilbhe), straddling the Border between Co. Fermanagh in Northern Ireland and Co. Leitrim in the Republic, is internationally renowned for its unique range of plants and animals.
In relatively pristine condition, the 2000 hectare lake is famous for its early “run” of Atlantic salmon.
Otters, Arctic Char, and at least two unique species of trout, sonaghan and gillaroo (from Giolla Rua – “red fellow”, so called due to the species’ distinctive bright crimson and vermillion spots on buttery golden flanks) are among the many species that live in or around the lake. The endangered globeflower, Molinia meadows and sessile oak woodlands can also be found nearby.
The lake and its 265 km² catchment area are valued by anglers, tourists, scientists and the local community.
Knockaraven was where, according to the UK Met Office, the highest temperature was ever recorded in Northern Ireland – 30.8 °C / 87.4 °F, on 30 June 1976.
Belleek / Beleek (from Béal Leice – “mouth of the flagstone”) (pop. 850) is a Border village, partly in County Donegal (in the Republic of Ireland) but mainly in County Fermanagh (in Northern Ireland), making it the western-most village in the United Kingdom.
Founded on the Blennerhassett estate during the Ulster Plantation of the early 1600s, Belleek nowadays has a variety of pubs, shops, restaurants and a hotel. A street mart is held every third Tuesday of the month, where local crafts and goods can be bought and sold.
Belleek Pottery, a major employer in the region since 1857, is Ireland’s oldest pottery, and has long been a global icon for Irish craft and design.
It produces distinctive fine white parian china creations, highly prized by collectors all over the world, with 70% being manufactured for export.
Founder John Caldwell Bloomfield, of Castle Caldwell on Lough Erne, declared that any piece with the slightest flaw would be destroyed, and this is still the case today. The pottery is currently owned by USA-based Dundalk man, George Moore.
The award winning Visitor Centre provides guided tours of the works for 150,000 people per annum.
(We think Belleek pottery is hideous, but à chacun son goût!)
Belleek parish church (CoI), dating from 1809, has three modern stained glass windows commemorating the founders of Belleek Pottery; one, Robert Williams Armstrong, architect, ceramics expert and first works manager, is buried in the church yard, as is William Henshall, who played a major role in bringing the arts of basket weaving and flower making to the pottery.
St Patrick’s church (RC), built in 1903 at a cost of £2000, has a stained glass window above the altar featuring a potter’s hands.
Belleek Falls is where, according to legend, Fionn mac Cumhail’s men sharpened their swords on a big limestone rock.
Belleek is the northwestern terminal of the Shannon – Erne Waterway System, and a noted location for angling and other recreational activities.
Pettigo / Pettigoe (Paiteagó) (pop.400) is a small village bisected by the Termon River which forms the border between Co. Donegal in the Republic of Ireland and Co. Fermanagh in Northern Ireland. The British portion of the village, officially called Tullyhommon, is locally known as “High Street” due to its hillside position overlooking the remainder of the village, where the principal streets all meet at the central Diamond. There are four village churches (RC, CoI, Presbyterian and Methodist).
In June 1922, at the tail end of the War of Independence, Pettigo was occupied by an IRA unit from Donegal in the new Irish Free State. A British Army battalion bombarded the village and then stormed it, killing seven IRA men, wounding six and capturing four. One British soldier was also killed in the fighting.
Once a thriving market village on the Great Northern Railway line, the village suffered from partition in 1922, the demise of the railway in 1957 and the closure of numerous cross-border roads at the height of the Troubles of 1968 – 1996, cutting Pettigo off from much of its rural hinterland. Although relatively unscathed by the conflict compared with many border towns and villages, Pettigo did suffer a number of bomb attacks during the 1970s. The reopening of many of the cross-border roads in recent years has improved economic prospects, providing access for locals and tourists alike.
Castle McGrath, built in the 1600s, belonged to the notorious Bishop Miler McGrath, who commissioned an underground escape tunnel to the nearby river. Besieged and captured during the 1641 Rebellion and soon after abandoned, the castle and lands were sold to the Leslie family of County Monaghan, who controlled the Pettigo estate until the early C20th.
Pettigo Mill, built by the Leslie family, first appeared on a map dated 1767, but is probably much older. It was described as a woollen cloth mill, but probably also ground oats and other grains, including maize or Indian meal as it was called during the Great Famine, and later became a saw mill, producing 12-egg boxes to send local eggs Belfast, Dublin and Britain.
The marshy local land is largely given over to rearing sheep and cattle, with old blanket bogs used for Coillte forestry plantations where peat extraction has been completed.
Pettigo is the traditional “gateway” to St Patrick’s Purgatory, a pilgrimage site on an island in Lough Derg. Although its popularity has dwindled in recent years, the pilgrimage is still an important source of tourism revenue.
Lough Derg (Loch Dearg, a corruption of Loch Geirg – “Geirg’s loch”), a small lake in the Pullans range of hills County Donegal, can only be reached by road from Pettigoe. Measuring about 890 hectares / 2200 acres in size, the lake is quite shallow, making it dangerous during bad weather. It has five islands and stocks of pike, perch and brown trout for angling.
Lough Derg is best known for St Patrick’s Purgatory, an ascetic pilgrimage that according to tradition has taken place since 445 AD, when Saint Patrick had a vision of the punishments of Hell in a cave on either Station Island or Saint’s Island. The importance of the pilgrimage in medieval times is apparent in the fact that the lake is the only Irish site named on a world map of 1492.
Station Island has some ancient beehive cells, assumed to date from the C5th, when Saint Dabheog, the patron saint of Lough Derg, cared for the site. At that time the custom was for pilgrim monks to fast and meditate within their cells for about a month.
The Canons Regular of St Augustine took over in the C12th, and as the fame of the pilgrimage spread they built a monastery and church on Saints’ Island to allow for preparatory processing of penitent participants, who would be given their final sacraments before the short sailing trip to Station Island.
Visitors from all over Europe were soon travelling across the northern Irish countryside and walking the pilgrim path around Lough Derg. A fascinating description of such a journey was written in 1397 by Spanish pilgrim Ramon de Perillos.
Another C12th account, Tractatus de Purgatorio Sancti Patricii, by the monk Henry of Saltrey, was translated and expanded by Marie de France (widely believed to have been King Henry II’s half-sister) into L’Espurgatoire Seint Patriz, or The Legend of the Purgatory of St. Patrick, in which an Irish knight named Owein is visited by several demons who show him unholy scenes of torture to try to get him to renounce his religion. St Patrick’s Purgatory, a ballad by Robert Southey, is directly based on the legend, versions of which are often included in compliations of Arthurian lore.
The Reformation, King Henry VIII’s 1539 Dissolution of the Monasteries, the Nine Years War, the Plantation of Ulster, the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, the Williamite War and the various Penal Laws that followed did not prevent pilgrims from continuing to arrive at Lough Derg, where Franciscans ministered to the faithful.
The first modern church, built in 1763 by Anthony O’Doherty and dedicated to St Mary of Angels, still stands on the Island. The Franciscans continued to run the operation until 1780, when the Diocese of Clogher put its own priests in charge. The caves were finally closed, replaced by a church dedicated to St Patrick, known as the ‘Prison Chapel’ because of its use for vigil.
The new church of St. Patrick, designed in the Hiberno-Romanesque style by WA Scott, was consecrated in 1931, and soon constituted a Minor Basilica by Pope Pius XI. The strong octagonal form is capped with a faceted, copper clad dome. The edifice has 169 windows, 14 containing original stained glass designs by Harry Clarke. A deeply incised Latin cross set in the wall is known as St Brigid’s Cross.
Though Lough Derg’s international fame has diminished, St. Patrick’s Purgatory is still held on Station Island between 1st June and 15th August every year. Participants must be at least 15 years of age, in good health and able to walk and kneel unaided. Having fasted from the previous midnight, they are allowed only one daily meal of black tea / coffee and dry toast / oatcakes during their three-day stay, incorporating a 24-hour vigil and barefoot walking circuits (called ‘stations’) around the remains of the beehive cells (nicknamed ‘beds’) and an ancient column known as St Patrick’s Cross, where they kneel or stand and repeat the Our Father, the Hail Mary and the Apostles’ Creed.
Station Island is a long poem written by Séamus Heaney about his own pilgrimage. The Pilgrimage to Lough Derg by William Carleton recounts his experiences there, which led him to abandon thoughts of becoming a Roman Catholic priest and convert to the Church of Ireland. McCarthy’s Bar includes a description of Pete McCarthy‘s visit in 1998.
The Pullans and the Bluestack Mountains form a scenic but intimidating backdrop to the local scenery.
Pettigo is linked by the R232 Pettigo Road to Donegal Town, which, like most other parts of the mountainous county, can also be reached (in theory) from Lough Derg via rural / forest tracks (NOT recommended in anything less than a 4×4).