Published in ‘Ulster’ the official publication of the Ulster Development Association Ltd., 1939
“And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening’s full of the linnet’s wings.”
W. B. Yeats
County Fermanagh derives its name from Firmonach, the men of Monach, a Leinster tribe of which some members settled around the shores of Lough Erne early in the Christian era. Fermanagh is bounded on the east by Tyrone and Monaghan, on the north by Tyrone, on the north-west and west by Donegal, and on the south-west and south by Leitrim and Cavan, and the County is completely divided by its two great lakes.
The river which forms the main source of these rises in Co. Longford, and after passing through Co. Cavan to the southern border of Ulster and of Co. Fermanagh, unites with two other rivers to form Upper Lough Erne, a lake about 15 miles in length and 4 miles in breadth.
At its northern extremity Upper Lough Erne narrows into two channels around the island on which Enniskillen is built, and about a mile to the north-west of that town the confluence broadens into the magnificent sheet of water known as Lower Lough Erne, which is about 20 miles in length, and at its widest point about 7 miles in breadth. Near the western border of the county this lake again narrows into a river before its waters enter on their final journey past Belleek and Ballyshannon into the Atlantic Ocean. With a navigable course of over fifty miles amongst scores of islands, many of which are covered with trees and luxuriant foliage to the water’s edge, Upper and Lower Lough Erne, as well as the adjoining lakes of Macnean and Melvin, present to the yachtsman and the oarsman, as well as to the motorist and the pedestrian, scenes of unrivalled beauty. “The beauty of Ireland is the beauty of its waters,” says Mr. Stephen Gwynn, and these words are singularly appropriate when applied to the Lake district of Ulster. The tranquil beauty of the wooded islands as they stud the placid bosom of Lough Erne, the exquisite settings of the sylvan scenes which surround the sun-kissed waters, the purple heaths which crown the wild declivities, the grey rocks, and storm-pitted cliffs combine each with the other
to create a veritable dream of loveliness. In few counties do the territorial families maintain their mansion houses and demesne lands in keeping with family traditions to the same extent as in Fermanagh, contributing thereby to the well being of the district, and adding to the charm of lake and countryside by the profuseness of the woods and plantations. Amid such surroundings it would be difficult to find more effective settings for the many ruined and picturesque castles whose weather-worn and war-scarred battlements reflect the turbulent history of the Ulster Plantation.
Previous to the reign of James I. Enniskillen, the capital of Fermanagh, was a stronghold of the Maguires, the chieftains of Fermanagh, one of whose castles stood on an island in the river connecting Upper with Lower Lough Erne. The old name of this island was Innis Cethlen or Cethlen’s Island, thought to have been so called from Cethlen, wife of Balor of the Mighty Blows, one of the mythical Fomorian Kings of Ireland. In 1607 we find William Cole in possession of a castle as its captain and warden, and between 1611 and 1613 the advantage of the situation induced James I. to make him considerable grants of land, including one-third of the Island of Inniskilling on condition that he thereon built a town and settled twenty British families who were to be incorporated as burgesses. This castle was situated to the west of the town in what is now called the Castle Barracks, and of it very little remains except a turreted gateway which may be seen on the river side.
Captain William Cole was ancestor of the Earls of Enniskillen, and since 1756 the family have resided in the palatial mansion of Florencecourt, which, with a frontage of 260 feet is probably the finest mid-Georgian mansion in Northern Ireland.
The Royal School.
In 1618, under Royal Charter, there was founded the celebrated Royal School of Enniskillen. At first carried on at Lisnaskea, the school was subsequently transferred to Enniskillen. In 1777 the main portion of the present building, which has since been largely added to, was erected in the beautiful Enniskillen suburb of Portora. Many Portora boys have become famous, amongst such being the first Lord Plunkett, Rev. H. F. Lyte (author of “Abide with Me” ), Archbishop Magee of Dublin, and the brilliant but unfortunate Oscar Wilde.
The Enniskillen Regiments.
During the Revolution of I 689 the residents of Enniskillen who were mainly the Protestant descendants of English and Scottish settlers, learning that two companies of infantry belonging to the army of James II. were to be quartered on the inhabitants, decided on resistance, and, in an engagement fought outside the town, were successful in dispersing the invading forces. Throughout the remainder of this campaign Enniskillen was held for William III., under the governorship of Gustavus Hamilton, a Fermanagh gentleman of Monea Castle. From the men who fought for Enniskillen at this time there subsequently developed those well-known regiments of the British Army, the 6th Inniskilling Dragoons and Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, regiments which have brought fame to Enniskillen throughout the British Empire.
The Episcopalian Cathedral, formerly the Parish Church of Enniskillen, with nave, chancel and side aisles, built in 1842 on the site of an older church, contains a statue to the memory of General the Hon. Sir Galbraith Lowry Cole, G.C.B., Commander of the 4th Division during the Peninsular War . The three guidons of the Inniskilling Dragoons and the colours of the lnniskilling Fusiliers are deposited here.
In Belmore Street will be seen two handsome War Memorials; one in memory of the Fermanagh men who made the supreme sacrifice in the Great War , and the other commemorative of the officers and men of the Inniskilling Dragoons and Inniskilling Fusiliers who fell in the last South African War . Enniskillen is fortunate in having a well laid out public park, known as Forthill. This contains a magnificent pillar and statue erected to General the Hon. Sir Galbraith Lowry Cole, G.C.B., which can be seen at considerable distances from the town.
Amongst the Fermanagh men who became famous abroad were Dr. Wm. Irvine, born in Enniskillen in 1741, who raised and equipped the 6th Pennsylvania Regiment, and was in command of the North Western Frontier during the American War of Independence, also Colonel Francis Nichols, born at Crieve Hill, Co. Fermanagh, 1737, who achieved distinction at the same time.
One of the stateliest residences in Ireland is Castle Coole, seat of the Earl of Belmore. Surrounded by a well wooded demesne of 1,500 acres, which is much admired by visitors entering Enniskillen via the road from Belfast and Dublin, the mansion was erected at the beginning of the nineteenth century, and is built of Portland stone, which in the wholesome air of Co. Fermanagh has retained its wonderful whiteness. It is stated the cost was £54,000, a princely sum at that period.
It would be difficult to imagine a more charming or romantic district for the holiday-maker than can be found in the neighbourhood of Enniskillen, and visitors will, therefore, regard that town as a convenient centre from which to arrange their itineraries. The respective train and bus services concentrate on the town where there are excellent hotels such as the Imperial, Royal, and Railway, as well as the prettily situated Lough Erne Hotel at Killadeas, about seven miles distant.
No one who desires to see Fermanagh can omit the magnificent drive around the shores of Lower Lough Erne, and as the distance via Belleek is only fifty-seven miles over excellent roads, the journey can be done in a few hours.
Leaving Enniskillen at the eastern end the motorist bears left at the South African War Memorial, and after a few miles passes Trory Church, “Rossfad,” the residence of Colonel Richardson, “St. Angelo,” the residence of the Bishop of Clogher, the Lough Erne Hotel at Killadeas, and later the village of Lisnarick and Castle Archdale, with its pretty church adjoining the road.
In the early years of the 17th century Irish roads were few and travelling was dangerous; in consequence, the under-takers of the Ulster Plantation quickly recognised the advantage afforded by residence on a great watery high-way like Lough Erne, which provided a method of communication which was speedy and secure. Many of the sites then chosen for the Plantation castles are remarkable for their beauty, and, in this respect, it would be difficult to find a more picturesquely situated ruin than that of the original Castle Archdale, which is a fine example of the architectural design of the period. The modern castle, a noble structure, is the home of Mr. H. B. Archdale.
After passing Castle Archdale, the motorist is recommended to leave the main road for a little, and keep to the left by the Clareview road. As this is an old highway and somewhat narrow, drivers are advised to exercise care, but the entrancing view, which is quickly obtained, of White Island and its surroundings on Lough Erne, will well repay any inconvenience caused by the quality of the road.
Continuing by this route Crevenish Castle, another Plantation residence, is passed on the left before reaching the village of Kesh. Crevenish was built by Thomas Blennerhasset, early in the seventeenth century. During the out-break of 1641 Captain Rory Maguire, brother of Lord Maguire, who was executed at Tyburn Hill for complicity in the insurrection, resided here through having married Lady Deborah Blennerhasset. On reaching the village of Kesh, the main road to Belleek is again resumed, and two miles later the splendid new bridge is crossed into Boa Island, which is four miles in length.
Leaving Boa Island and proceeding five miles further, near Castle Caldwell Railway Station, will be seen the well-known fiddle stone, with its quaint reminder of the fate that befell the fiddler in 1770.
“On firm land only, exercise your skill,
There you may play and safely drink your fill.”
Should it be desired at this point to shorten the return journey to Enniskillen, the new Rosscor Bridge can be crossed to the southern shore of the lake, but if possible it is advisable to continue the journey to Belleek (the ford mouth of the flax stone) , where visitors can arrange to inspect the beautiful productions of the celebrated porcelain factory which was originally founded by Mr. J. C. Bloomfield, D.L., of Castle Caldwell, through the enterprise of the late Mr. McBirney, of Dublin. An opportunity
may also be taken of seeing the great sluice gates, which control the level of Lough Erne. As a fishing resort, Belleek is one of the most popular and convenient centres in Fermanagh. Proceeding from Belleek on the return journey to Enniskillen by the southern shore of the lake, motorists should note that the first few hundred yards of road between Belleek Bridge and the British Customs Hut are in Eire, and that while permission is granted by the Eire authorities to use this road, motorists must not stop until they have crossed into Northern Ireland territory.
The fascinating and fairy-like beauty which presents itself on the 22 miles run from Belleek to Enniskillen can be but faintly sketched by pen or pencil. Motorist, cyclist, and pedestrian will readily agree with the celebrated traveller, Harry De Wint, who once said:- “Nothing in Great Britain, perhaps nothing in Europe, can surpass the beauty of the whole road that leads to Enniskillen.”
About 12 miles from Belleek will be seen the picturesque ruins of Tully Castle, built by Sir John Hume, and said to have been burnt in 1641 by Captain Rory Maguire.
Nearer Enniskillen the well-wooded lands of Ely Lodge, residence of Lord Loftus, and Castle Hume, add a pleasing feature to this part of the journey.
Of the ancient ecclesiastical remains in Fermanagh those on the island of Devenish in Lower Lough Erne are the most important. Founded in the sixth century by St. Molaise, the oldest remaining building is the little ruined church built in that early style described as cyclopean and which is known as Molaise’s House. Originally a stone-roofed edifice, the roofing stones were somewhat ruthlessly removed early in the nineteenth century. The beautiful carving of the pilaster quoins was probably done some centuries after the date of erection. Although not the oldest, the most attractive feature is the Round Tower. Primarily used as belfries, and secondly as storehouses for the preservation of the monastic treasures during the Danish invasions, none of the Irish Round Towers retains its original beauty and perfection to a greater degree than the Devenish example. With a total vertical height of 81 feet 4 3/4 inches, the tower was originally divided into five stories, each floor being lighted by a small window, except the upper which has four windows facing the cardinal points. A feature of this tower is its richly sculptured cornice, under the cap, which displays four carved human heads over the four windows which may represent Saints Patrick, Columba, Molaise, and Brigid. The Old Abbey or Teampul Mor, the great church, was probably erected in the twelfth century and extended at later dates. A feature is the deeply embayed arched window in the south wall, near which is the mausoleum of a branch of the Maguire family.
St. Mary’s Abbey retains many traces of its architectural splendour. The quadrangular belfry tower, and the groining of its vault, together with the decorated pointed door in the northern wall are worth inspection. The cloister and the Abbey buildings lay to the north of this church. South of the Abbey is a somewhat remarkable type of ornamental cross with the Crucifixion in relief carved on its eastern side.
If time permits antiquarians might also visit White Island, with its Romanesque door and curious sculptured figures.
Six miles north of Enniskillen, this little village stands on the banks of a good trout stream. It will no doubt be of interest to many readers to learn that two daughters of the Rev. George McDonald who were born here were respectively the mothers of Earl Baldwin and Rudyard Kipling. Two other daughters married Sir Edward Burne-Jones, the painter, and Sir Edward Poynter .
Five miles from Enniskillen is the village of Lisbellaw, near which on Lough Eyes may be seen a number of crannoges or lake dwellings.
Six miles to the south-west of Lisbellaw is Lisnaskea, which was one of the inauguration places of the Maguire chieftains, and where Sir James Balfour built his castle in 1615.
Six miles further south is the Earl of Erne’s demesne and castle of Crom, where will be seen the remains of the charmingly situated old castle which twice withstood the sieges of the army of King James II. Close by is a yew tree of gigantic dimensions. Visitors are usually admitted here on Fridays.
The Marble Arch.
No more delightful excursion can be arranged than one to the Marble Arch, two miles from Florencecourt, for which permits should be obtained from the Estate Office, Middleton Street, Enniskillen. Approached through a glen of great beauty, the Arch is the mouth of an underground river, which after flowing through unknown caverns here returns to the light of day. With the aid of a canvas boat some of these caves were explored by Martel, the French speleologist, accompanied by the late Dr. H. Lyster Jameson.
A short distance from here, at Gortatole, is a splendid mountain road, with magnificent panoramic views of Upper and Lower Lough Macnean, as well as of Cuilcagh Mountain, where the River Shannon rises. Close to this road are three cashels.
On the eastern slopes of Benaughlin Mountain, at a distance of about half a mile from the Enniskillen-Swanlinbar road, is the celebrated star shaped monument of Doohat to the south of which at a distance of a few yards is a horned cairn, the whole suggesting a star and crescent.
Among the most accessible of the Fermanagh caves are those at Boho, about six miles from Enniskillen. Colonies of Daubenton’s bat may here be found.
Several other caves may be explored in this district, while at Knockmore, near the village of Derrygonnelly, are caves on whose walls will be seen scribings or carvings believed to be the work of primitive man.
No finer view of Upper Lough Erne can be obtained than from Knockninny Hill, ten miles south of Enniskillen. Here also will be found a cave used as a sepulchre by early man, while on the summit are three prehistoric cairns, and at short distance two “Giants’ Graves” of the dolmen type.
Looking in a north-westerly direction the beautiful island of Bellisle will be seen. In the monastery which once stood on this island Cathal Maguire, who died in 1498, compiled “The Annals of Ulster.”
No Fermanagh holiday should conclude without a visit to Garrison, the haunt of Izaac Walton’s disciples on the beautiful Lough Melvin, and if this is approached through Belcoo very fine views will be obtained of Upper and Lower Lough Macnean.
The ancient churches of Templenaffrin (the church of the Mass), and Holywell are passed near Belcoo, and in both of these the antiquary will find points of interest.
About 14 miles from Enniskillen on the road running through the Clogher Valley is the fine old plantation mansion and demesne of Sir Basil S. S. Brooke, Bart., Minister of Agriculture in Northern Ireland. Here in December, 1935, Their Royal Highnesses The Duke and Duchess of Gloucester spent some days of their honeymoon enjoying the excellent shooting to be obtained over the estate.