Whether it’s history, literature or a subterranean adventure you’re after, Ballyconnell and the Shannon-Erne Waterway delivers.
For a part of Ireland so completely enveloped in natural beauty, it’d be easy to think that all the attractions around Ballyconnell and the Shannon-Erne are outdoors. Not so. This is a place that is packed with cultural offerings from the surprising to the showstopping. One thing you’ll certainly notice when travelling around here is that there are reminders of the past everywhere: a 13th century island castle that ripples with tales of bloody battles and rival clans; a tower house destroyed by fire in the 19th century when its owners were at a party; a peaceful abbey founded by St Columba that was attacked and burned in 1261. There are subterranean caves, intriguing little museums, and a seemingly endless array of historic treasures.
Glenview Folk Museum, Ballinamore
For a real taste of local history, pop into the Glenview Folk Museum, near Ballinamore. This private collection of over 6,000 items from pre-Famine Ireland gives an incredible insight into the lives, hardships and tragedy of people in the area, through everything from reconstructed shops to farm machinery. A highlight of the museum is the fully reconstructed street scene from the 1930s, complete with thatched pub, grocer, post office, cobblers and more. There's also a memorabilia from local writer, John McGahern, who died in 1006. Browse the museum yourself, or book in for a pre-arranged tour.
Solas Art Gallery
Set within a beautiful modern space in Ballinamore town, the Solas Art Gallery is a hive of creative activity and stages the work of both emerging and recognised artists. There are three group exhibitions, as well as solo and joint exhibitions so whenever you drop in there will be something on, with September's annual culture night a particularly vibrant time to visit. Check out their Facebook page for updates and contact details.
Once one of the most important monastic schools in Europe, Fenagh Abbey is thought to have been founded by St Caillin in the 5th century. Visit today and you'll discover ruins of the 15th century abbey as well as a building that is thought to have been used as accommodation for the monks. Sacked by Crownwellian forces in 1652, the church at the abbey was in use by the local Anglican community until the 18th century and the last service was held here in 1729.
Stand at the ruins of the Old Castle in Crom and a scene of pastoral beauty unfolds all around you, from the glassy waters to the old yew trees to Crichton Tower on an island in the lake. It's an exceptionally scenic place – a landscape graced with islands, woodland and historic ruins including a boathouse and summerhouse. Whether you wish to take afternoon tea in the tea rooms or wander one of the walking trails, Crom's sedate elegance and languid beauty is hard to resist.
Marble Arch Caves
Underneath the lush County Fermanagh countryside lies a mysterious subterranean world, long believed by suspicious locals to be home to fairies. The Marble Arch Caves are among the finest show caves in Europe, an intriguing collection of winding passages and echoing chambers, carved out of the limestone over millennia by the rivers flowing down from nearby Cuilcagh Mountain. Step onto one of the shallow-bottomed tour boats and your guide will point out some of the caves' most intriguing features, such as cave curtains draped from the roof, and creamy stalactites and stalagmites that take a century to grow just one millimetre.
Clough Oughter Castle
Clough Oughter Castle, east of Killeshandra, may only be accessible by boat or canoe, but that's all part of the fun (Cavan Adventure Centre offers guided motorboat tours). Unlike most Irish castles, Clough Oughter is round rather than square and has been under the control of the O'Rourkes, the Anglo-Norman lord William Gorm de Lacy and the O'Reillys. It dates back to the early 13th century and has witnessed rebellions, been bombarded by cannons and has even been used as a prison over the centuries.
Sixth-century monks had something of a knack when it came to choosing monastic sites. Deep in the heart of the resplendent green County Cavan countryside in a gloriously tranquil spot overlooking Garfinny Lough is Drumlane Abbey, part of the Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark. Founded by Saint Columba in 555AD, the site consists of an abbey, round tower and church – a peaceful place that was later ruled by the O'Farrelly clan in the middle ages. It's hard to imagine, standing here, that the abbey was attacked and burned in 1261, and was then suppressed as part of the 17th -century Reformation. Despite its turbulent history, its beauty stands strong making it a delightfully languid retreat from the hustle of the world.
Belturbet Heritage Railway Station
Surrounded by a delightfully pastoral hinterland, Belturbet is an attractive village with a lovely old stone post office, friendly local shops and pubs, and a scenic marina. This is a place of hidden stories and fascinating history, including tales from the Great Railway Age, which are on display at Belturbet Heritage Railway Station. The station, which is beautifully constructed from local cut stone, opened in 1885, and connected the Great Northern Railway and the Cavan and Leitrim Railway lines.
Belturbet and Turbet Island
Surrounded by a delightfully pastoral hinterland, Belturbet is an attractive village with a lovely old stone post office, friendly local shops and pubs, and a scenic marina. Turbet Island, which can be accessed on foot along the River Erne, boasts an archaeologist's dream find: the first ever remnants of a woolly mammoth to be found in Europe were discovered right here on Turbet Island (they're currently on display in the National Museum in Dublin). Keep an eye out also for the motte and bailey on the island, set on what was once a strategic crossing on the river.
Leitrim Genealogy Centre
You can turn your holiday in Leitrim into an exciting exploration of your ancestry at the Leitrim Genealogy Centre. If you know your ancestors originated in the county, then the centre should be your first stop to connect with the past. Using a variety of sources including church and civil records of baptism, marriage and deaths, gravestone inscriptions, the 1901 and the 1911 census, the centre can provide you with a Comprehensive Family History Report, with an initial assessment fee of €150.