From a magic hill, to a musical bridge, why not try some sights off the beaten track, says Jonathan deBurca Butler
MOST of us remember childhood days with family visiting the sites of Ireland. Many of us have gazed at that beautiful Antrim causeway, our little gobs wide open, imagining two giants battling it out.
We’ve looked on at the ‘lunar’ landscape that is the magical Burren, while mammy got the flasks of tea and ‘sambos’ out. If you’ve been there, you’ll know that the Skelligs are unforgettable. These are our famous landmarks, but hidden away among the fields and stone walls are some rather unusual little gems.
Echo Gate, Trim, Co Meath
Recent reports of the echo’s disappearance have been exaggerated. It has not “fecked off to Australia like everyone else” (— Twitter). On our way to the famous cow gate, we stopped in the village of Killtale, where a middle-aged sage gave us good advice. “Make sure you stand right in the middle of the two gate posts,” he said. “Otherwise, it won’t work.” He was spot on; a foot either side of the middle and you’ll have an echo no-show. The gate is on a main road, just before Trim, and sits across from the ruins of an old friary. The famous river Boyne flows through the valley below. Shout whatever you like across to the other side, but keep it clean. You’ll hear the echo, but walkers on the other side of the river will also hear you.
Donnelly’s Hollow, The Curragh, Co Kildare
A popular place with locals on sunny weekends, the monument at the bottom of this natural amphitheatre was erected in honour of bare-knuckle boxer Dan Donnelly. Although he only fought three times, he is a pugilistic legend because the people he pulverised were English. In a time of political upheaval, that made you popular. Twenty thousand people saw him on this spot when he beat then legend George Cooper, in 1815. Donnelly died aged 32, but his arm, which was cut off at the time of his death, is still with us and, until recently, it could be viewed in a local pub.
The tree that will not burn, Fore, Co Westmeath
One of the seven wonders of Fore, in Co Westmeath, it is said that this tree will not burn, due to a miracle performed by local do-gooder, Saint Fechin. Not content with just a child-safe tree, he left six other miracles behind, including water that goes up a hill, a monastery built on a bog, and water that doesn’t boil; hardly surprising, if there’s no wood to boil it with. This is a nice, quiet area, which also includes the remains of an impressive 13th century Benedictine abbey. Well worth a visit.
The Musical Bridge, Bellacorick, Co Mayo
Sitting over the River Owenmore, in north Mayo, is this early 19th century bridge, built by the unfortunately named William Bald. To look at, the bridge is nothing particularly special, but should you pick up a nearby limestone and run it along the left-hand parapet, going towards Ballina, the result is a veritable symphony. Well, not really. But it does sound strangely like some sort of drunk xylophone and it is rather funny. The bridge is said to be cursed, however, and anyone who attempts to finish it will be struck down. Hence, a stone is missing from one end of the parapet. You’ve been warned.
The Magic Hill, Mahon Falls, Co Waterford
There are a few of these ‘magic roads’ around the country, but this is perhaps the most picturesque. Driving toward the Mahon falls in the Comeragh Mountains, you’ll come to the bottom of a road with a fairy tree.
Stop at the tree and let your hand brake off, making sure that Gay Byrne, or anyone else, is not around. Miraculously, you’ll find that instead of going down the hill, you’ll be going back up it. Not for the faint-hearted.
The Mad Well, Glenn na nGealt, Co Kerry
According to locals, people have been coming to drink water from this well for centuries. A simple stone with a hole punched through it, it is not the most spectacular-looking well in the world. However, it is said that by drinking the water regularly and eating the watercress that grows in and around the well, a patient will be cured of madness. Recent samples taken from this spring of sanity have shown up traces of lithium … allegedly (cough, cough). It might be worth a stop if the kids are driving you around the bend.
John Lennon’s Island, Clew Bay, Mayo
If you’re a Beatles nut, it may be worth getting in touch with Kevin Groden, of Clew Bay Sea Safari, who runs trips to Dorinish Island in Clew Bay, Co Mayo. As well getting the most spectacular views of Croagh Patrick and the surrounding tapestry of islands, Kevin will tell you the story of how John Lennon bought this island in an auction with a view to building a house on it. Although he didn’t ever build here, he did stay here twice; once in a caravan that he had ferried over on a raft. And it’s for sale again.
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