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The following first appeared on Carrick on Line in 2003
The Carrick area offers such a variety of interest, scenic, archaeological, historical, geological, not to mention song, music and folklore, that the first time visitor can hope only to sample some of what is to be seen and heard. Sliabh a'liag dominates the lower half of the glen river valley and geologists tell us that its rocks were laid down on the bottom of a long vanished ocean half a billion years ago. On a visit to Bunglas or Harrigan Head we can see the stresses and strains they have been subject to since. More recent geological events, the ice ages of the past million years or so, carved out the two corries, which hold lough Agh and Croleavy lough. The one man's pass overlooks the former and the steep slopes above the lake provide a unique botanical and ornithological habitat identified by the wildlife conservation as an area of international scientific interest.
When the ice eventually melted about 10,000 years ago, plants, animals and finally man arrived, probably by sea into Teelin bay. Among his earliest handiworks known to us is uaghneenderg and uaigh an fhir fhada just off the road to Bunglas in Croaghlin townland. These megalithic monuments probably date from the third millennium bc with the coming of the Christian era tradition tells us that no less than five saints and six pilgrimages, (four in glen and two in Teelin) are associated with the parish of Glencolmcille. There are few areas of similar size in Ireland that can claim to have such intimate and enduring association with five saints who incidentally were Aodh MacBricne, Athnaid, Aonall, and Asicus, and of course Colmcille. Surviving remains from that period are to be seen on the top of sliabh a 'liag and Rhannakilla.
Aodh MacBricne's monastery on sliabh a'liag is the earlier of the two, he lived in the sixth century and was famous for his ability to cure headaches. On the mountaintop are the remains of his church, holy well and cairns of stones connected with his station. The holy well tobar na mban naofa in Rhannakilla with its surrounding structures is probably slightly later and later still is the ruined church on the pier at Teelin point. The church is built partly of water rolled boulders reminiscent of the round tower on Tory Island. Tobar na mban naofa - the well of the holy women is dedicated to three nuns named after the Christian virtues of tuigse, (understanding) ciall, (sense) and naire, (modesty).
A turas or pilgrimage is still made to it ~ on bonfire night the eve of the feast of St. John. In bygone days the pilgrims sat up until daylight praying all night at the well and keeping a bonfire alight. Fishing fleets sailing out of Teelin bay traditionally lowered their sails in salute on passing tobar na mban naofa. Tobar na corrach or well of the fair winds is nearby and during a storm at sea it was believed that by cleaning and respecting this holy water, favourable winds would speed the fishing fleets home safely.
Until the 1820's the area was rather inaccessible except by sea but this all changed with the construction of Carrick bridge in 1824 leading to the growth of the village and the advent of a post office, police and revenue police in quick succession. Before the church was built in 1862 the only facility the people had for public worship was a scalan or mass house which can be seen to the present day. About 1829 the penal laws against Catholics was abrogated and as a result every parish throughout Ireland was building churches. It is to the eternal credit of the Carrick people that to save expense they carried in their hands Sunday after Sunday the stones that built St. Columba's chapel as they walked their way to mass.
From time immemorial the parish of Glencolmcille had always been church land, but it passed into the hands of the church of Ireland during the time of the ulster plantation who later sold it to the conolly's of Castletown, Kildare. Tradition bathes their reign in a rosy retrospective glow, which may not have been entirely deserved. In 1867 they sold the estate to the Musgraves from Belfast who soon acquired a different reputation. They were frequently at odds with clergy and laity until the estate was purchased by the Irish land commission around 1920.
The years since then have seen changes undreamed of by our forefathers, in language, culture, employment, industry, and migration. Probably more people have moved into the area in the past 20 years than in the previous 200 so that as well as being a very old community we are also a very young one. As we try to combine the best of the old values with the most useful of the new, we recollect that we have existed as a community in this very beautiful if sometimes spartan valley for five millennia and we face the next millennium with confidence and hope.
The following excerpt is from an old & very rare guide book published by the Irish times in 1888. The author (possibly Archer Martin) receives a great insight into the area, while staying at the Glencolmcille hotel. His view seem as relevant today, more than a century later. Unfortunately the Glencolmcille hotel was destroyed in 1912 by arson, which was a major blow to the economy of the area. One can only wonder how thing might have been different, had the hotel developed in the intervening years.
Carrick & round about - "terra umbilicus"
In these highlands of Ireland there is no more fascinating place than Carrick. Whatever may be his predilection, the tourist is at home the Glencolumbkille hotel affords every comfort. It is splendidly furnished, and so excellently managed that no sojourner can find the slightest fault, with cuisine or attendance or in those conveniences which the nature of the district requires. All around is a country full of historic recollection, and of natural grandeur.
We, for our part, consider the place the "terra umbilicus" of the far north. The antiquarian, the geologist, the poet, the painter, the fishermen, the mere health-seeker, and idler-all may find here their element. The rocks have a story to be investigated. Those rugged mountains and deep-hewn valleys are lavish of inspiration. These lakes and streams are full of fish, and all the country side abounds in beauties that never are advertised in tourist circulars, but that yet impress the imagination of the few that have seen them with a sentiment that neither time nor any other scenes, wherever witnessed, can obliterate weeks may be spent here in exploration, talk of the wonders of borrowdale, the desolation of waste water, the wilds of sca-fell, the crags of helvellyn. Beautiful they are, indeed, beautiful to the fancy of the poet who wrote in the spirit of a salvator rosa;
"i love all waste and solitary places."
But there is something more exquisite still in the unvisited wilds of Northern Ireland, concerning which we now so feebly discourse-something grander in their lonelier desolation, and nobler in their utter isolation, for all this is out of the beaten track how few have trodden these mountain paths! How few have stood above those awful cliffs
"In the deep bosom of the ocean buried."
How few have looked seawards over that glorious expanse from Carrigan Head, or from the heights of Slieve League have witnessed the wildest and rarest scene in all nature's gorgeous panorama! Wonders cap wonders here, nature revels in her own utter solitude from such eminences we see immeasurable distances of land and sea-sea broken at our feet by long lines of precipitous capes and cliffs, and then, stretching beyond, a dim horizon fringed with brooding mists and cloud. Landriven by mountain and valley, interspersed by lake and stream, varied by the distant purple of the hill and the verdure of the nearer downs here a rugged cliff, there a smiling meadow under the eye an undulating wilderness of broom and gorse, the home where live countless families of moor-fowl, beyond the precarious pasturages where mountain sheep find a meagre sustenance, and aloft towering cliffs a midst which only the royal eagle builds its eyry.
Watch awhile, and you will, perhaps, see those wide-winged birds soaring from the crevasses it is in the most inaccessible spots that they make their nests, for even in this forsaken country they have been driven to the very fastness’s of the hills, in the north country of England you may have seen them soaring proudly over Glaramara. Here they are more numerous for there are precipices and cliffs upon which no human foot ever has trodden. we walk over brown heath that later will blossom richly even in this arid soil, and wade through fields of tnountain flowers and grasses, passing betimes many a luxuriant hush of yellow gorse, whose blossoms are always in season.
Amongst these wildest tracts, and here and there, there are tufts of delicate pink and white blossoms peeping out amidst the stones, which we cannot pretend to name, ahead are the arey rocks glance fearfully over-for the place is dangerous -and you will find them prismatically stained by mineralsthe hues most strange and fantastic betow is the blue sea, cringed with a coronal of white foam as it breaks against those inhexihle rocks.
Before us flows the great ocean, inscrutable in its mystery we listen dreamily to the sounds, the roar reaches our cars as the wave’s dash upon those stupendous masses at such enormous heights it is dull and indistinet, hut still we feel and ponder over the might of the sea, how it sighs amidst those vast ravines! How it thunders in those cavernous recesses! The sun shines brightly, and the wind is nff shore, and softly the waves play amidst the broken promontories.
But when the wind howls, and the demon of the storm is unloosed, what a rage at.d a rattle is there! The finest rocks are shaken to their foundations betimes, even in summer weather, the winter seems sent back, and the great munnur of the sea is magnified into thunderous wrath then at lhe base of Slieve League tlie swell accumulates aud tlte billows roar, and the spray runs up the face of the cliff, <lepositing masses of foam in every cranny. who can measure the hills and valleys of the waves ? upon this exposed coast in the winter time, they terrify the bravest ask the people about, and you will be told how the hustle and dash against each other, gaining greater force in the collision how pitilessly,they rush onwards, infuriated by the tempest, and how wildly they burst upon the iron cliffs of the coast, the people all alono this shore; often in the darker months are awed spectators of the tragic drama of the sea. The boat in which we row down the now gently swelling green waves of Teelin bay speeds placidly onwards. In this summertime there is no tempest. The majesty of the sea is felt, but it is in a quieter mood, and we might as well be a-sailing on an inland lake.
The messrs. Musgrave, of Belfast, have conferred inestimable benefits upon Carrick and the surrounding district, and the Irish public have not given them credit for their enterprise and beneficence they have expended 5,000 upon the Glencolumbkille hotel, which is elegant in architecture and appointments in this remote place they have created an oasis, and the traveller can enjoy every conceivable comfort there is a bright and pleasant coffee-room, there are wide and airy corridors, there is an admirable smoking-room, there are excellent bedrooms, from the windows of which splendid views can be had. This is a perfect paradise for fishermen towards the end of the month of June the salmon fishing commences, and every visitor has free permission to angle in the rivers about, provided that he has supplied himself with a salmon licence at a short distance from the hotel are lakes and rivers, full of brown and white trout and salmon, and there are intelligent guides-all of them born sportsmen who will conduct him in an easy journey to the best spots, where the least amount of labour is crowned upon a good day by the most gratifying success.
We have spoken of the messrs Musgrave as benefactors of the district, and so, in the best sense they are they have purchased large tracts of the surrounding land, and in the "bad times" of 1879, and the subsequent winter, they treated their tenants most liberally all the tenants have a good word from them there is not a poor man in the whole district who is not their friend.
They continue to support the Glencolumbkille hotel in the hope of encouraging an influx of visitors, and they visit the neighbourhood every season with their families they have encouraged public works upon a magnificent scale under their supervision, roads have been made, houses built, and large sums contributed towards the construction of useful piers at important points this is practical patriotism, which deserves the highest national recognition. No traveller can visit Carrick without being made aware of it, and finding at every turn new evidences of their unrivalled public spirit at the hotel the courteous manager, Mr. Walker, is ready to afford all necessary information, and to render every assistance the angler, in particular, is in clover there are streams and lakes in plenty all around in the first weeks of July the salmon come up the river, and then there is a rush to the water.
The majority of those who come are English, and there are many who find their way hither regularly year after year, always wondering, no doubt, why Irish sportsmen are so stupid as to go farther afield to fare very much worse rivers flow down through the country, out of which splendid fish may be lifted, and through scenes of the utmost beauty up in the mountains are innumerable lakes-also rare quarries for the fisherman which lie amidst cliffs and pastures of exquisite scenic splendour. Streams flow down to the sea, passing in their courses through gorges and pastures, all bedewed with the richest luxuriance of grasses and flowers, which flourish grandly in these pure breezes. we do not exaggerate the beauties and attractions of Carrick we feel, upon the contrary, that we have not done them sufficient justice why, we ask again, will Irish tourists and sportsmen continue to travel abroad, whilst there is here such wealth of occupation and of interest for the leisure hours that they find in summer?
Slieve League, that vast mountain at the foot of which the Glencolumbkille hotel rests, is a region of enchantment for days we might wander amongst its ravines and passes and never find a moment of sight-weariness. In some farther excursions a guide is requisite, for the stranger might easily lose his way where would he be in a mountain mist? - And often such overtakes the pedestrian unawares. These are vast solitudes, where the song of bird or the ripple of the rivulet is the only sound that interrupts an everlasting stillness there are eminences here that test the strongest nerves, and yet they are worth scaling, so glorious in its beauty is the view to be obtained often the mountain path dips abruptly into an unfathomable abyss, we peer curiously over the surface, and in the depths see groves of underwood, only broken here and there by the pinnacle of some sharp rock nearer to the sea, which we approach by a detour, the precipices are higher and more dreadful the wall of rock is almost perpendicular.
We see the waves seething below, and some sea birds circling above them, but the height is too great to hear their calling we wonder where these birds can make their homes in so desolate a spot, but suddenly one perches upon what we had supposed to be the face of the living rock, and there we see that a little ledge projects, or a cave penetrates. The Bunglas precipices have long been famed in native story, and yet only those who have seen them can tell of their awful grandeur down they go from grass-covered summit to base at the ocean level whereon the sea wrack precariously clings for a while, to be torn off in the first storm that sweeps majestically by, the rock is all the way stained by the colours of various metals, gleaming strangely in the sunlight-here a patch of red, there of white, and there of purple, to end in a deep blackness that sinks into the sea.
We are pointed out the one man's path over which only the most adventurous dare to tread-so perilous is the footing, as the very name indicates some of these heights are 1,800 feet above the water level and the range of precipitous cliff' extends around all this extraordinary coast for miles and miles, at this point and at that, the sea has eaten its slow way a great distance inland, hewing promontories and caverns out of the solid mountain many of these weird places have their tales, and they are known only to the country folk, they will tell how nature or magic have produced this or that fantastic marvel of headland or excavation. They know them all familiarly the people are the only repository of legends to which no date can be assigned, on which no authority can be quoted, and yet about which the flavour of antiquity most strangely lingers. Slieve League is one of the most marvellous of our Irish mountains---marvellous in conformation and in history-marvellous as a mine of thought for the geologist, and for the traveller whose facilities of observation and interest are in any degree susceptible of new impressions what wonder that many tales of Slieve League are told amongst the country folk we have space for but one, and that we find in a volume upon the Donegal highlands, written many years ago, and now, perhaps, inaccessible to the majority of readers let us tell it again .
Legends of Slieve League
One fine day early in September a woman who dwelt at the teelin end of Slieve League, taking her child, a little girl of some ten months old, with her in her arms, came out into a field, close to her cottage, where her husband, with some others, were making hay she remained chatting to the labourers, and fondling her little darling, till the child went to sleep, then the mother, making a soft bed for it of the newly saved hay warmed in the sun, laid it there, and watched by it, fondly raising the margin of the bed here and smoothing it there, by-and-bye, dinner hour came, and the mother was needed for a moment within, looking at her child, and fidgeting once more with its bed, she soliloquised, " i'll not disturb the little lanu, she is sleeping so quietly she is sheltered from the air, and shaded from the sun. I’ll just run into the house and give the men milk for their dinner, and then I’ll run back here, God keep thee, my lanu. i'll be back in a minute.''
The woman went round to the house, and made haste to set the simple dinner before her humble household, which done, she hastily left to return to the field but just as she stepped outside the threshold she came to a dead stand, and was speechless for a moment, then uttering a wild cry, that made those within bound from their seats, darted from the door, that shriek, in the quiet mountain air, when all the peasants were indoors at their mid-day meal, and not a murmur in the fields, penetrated far up and down the valley, and over the mountain side in an instant every elevation, whether of rock, or fence, or hillock around the cottages, held a female in tragic attitude, or a man, with head bare, and hands shading his eyes, or a promiscuous group gaining every instant fresh accessions of the very old, or the very young, all looking and pointing with a wild energy, but without clamour, towards one object the cynosure of all this intense regard was a large dark eagle, holding an infant in his talons, circling slowly above the head of the mother, who stood in the field below with hands clasped convulsively, and her head and neck stretched upwards, as she followed with fixed gaze the gyrations of the bird of prey.
Slowly still, and proudly, did the eagle wind upwards his spiral way, till suddenly stopping, and balancing himself for a moment in mid-air he shot towards the sea, and disappeared behind the cliff above the well-known eyry the mother staggered and fell to the earth, but after a long swoon returned to consciousness a helpless maniac the highly-wrought feelings of the spectators-the astonishment, awe, and horror hitherto hushed by the dread suspense and all-absorbing interest in the issue of the spectacle, now found utterance in a cry that seemed to make the mountain tremble to its foundations weeping up a wild and confused shout, the whole population rush to the cliff.
when the crowd had fairly congregated on the edge of the precipice, and the place had become a perfect babel for the confusion of voices, ejaculating prayers, frantic exclamations, anathemas, blessings, discouragements, warning, all urged with a vehemence and a volubility peculiar to the Irish character, and language, the uproar was suddenly hushed by a fresh surprise. the eagle, gliding out from beneath, made a rapid sweep over Bunglas, showing, as he gained a higher elevation, at each successive flap of his enormous wings, the child still coiled in his talons, as if by black rapes, and set out majestically in a horizontal line over the ocean.
The murmur was beginning to rise again from the crowd, where a certain man, venerable for his years and his virtues, and of' high repute in the neighbourhood, invited all to fall on their knees, and pray to god, "for," said he, "we ought to know that god, and god only can command the eagle." the crowd obeyed in an instant, and the old man continued, " pray god, if it be his holy will, he may rescue this hapless infant. pray also to her who is herself a mother-the great mother, most loving and most pure-pray that she may intercede with her divine son in behalf of the wretched mother who has been robbed before our eyes of her darling babe." they prayed fervently. Presently the old man again said "cease to look after the bird of evil that you may pray without distraction; leave me to watch him in his course, for god has gifted me with a power of sight beyond most men in teelin." and they bent low in prayer, while above the murmur of their fervent orisons.
The old man traced the outward course of the eagle "pray, pray, old and young, for the bird does not return, but flies still farther over the ocean pray with all your soul, pious mothers, for the bird goes farther and farther away, as I know by its size growing smaller and smaller pray with all your strength, for the dark speck gets smaller and smaller pray with your whole hearts; it is getting smaller and smaller, pray, pray one and all, old and young, the speck fades into bright air, o, my god, does the hope fade from my eyes! Pray; i can see it still, though it is but a pin's point in the far off sky, pray and give thanks to god, I see it still, it does not get smaller give thanks, give thanks; the bird returns, for the speck grows larger, yes larger and darker the eagle comes back in the same course in which it went out it comes nearer still and nearer god has heard your prayers the infant shall not be food for the eagles."
The bird approached, glided in, dropped its unconscious burden in the eyry, and immediately flew away again directly the bird had flown out into space, a, female, with eyes starting from their places, and hair flowing wildly back, disappeared over the precipice the awe-struck crowd who had seen this movement held their breath it was the mother. she had come to the cliff under the care of her relatives, and, while the people were absorbed in prayer, had been lying prostrate on the earth, apparently unconscious of what was going on, but, with the instinct peculiar in such cases, she recognized the advancing eagle, and its immediate departure and, quick as thought, ran to the edge of the precipice the absence of reflection was her security the rough face of the cliff became for her a ladder, every little crevice or wart serving for a step. she descended, unconscious of the awful surroundings, gained the eyry, which was spacious enough to admit her, took her child, and after kissing it with frantic passion, secured it in the train of her gown, drawn up over her shoulders after a fashion peculiar to the humble matrons of the district, so as to form a bag on the back, and climb the steep with the same unfaltering firmness and unconcern as if it were a wall only a few feet from the ground great, of course, was the joy of the neighbours, and deep their gratitude to god, as they returned home.
The mother recovered her reason, together with her child, who grew up to be a comely girl, we are loth to cast a doubt upon so beautiful a legend, but truth compels the observation that it is only an improved version of the Scottish tale of "hannah lamond's child" modern investigation oftentimes deals harshly with tradition and then invariably poetry suffers the story that has been told is only one of many that belong to Slieve League, nor is it the most affecting or dramatic let the tourist protract his stay a little and make a short pilgrimage in the Glencolumbkille district this, in the simple peasant faith, is a holy land for here are cells in which saints have dwelt, wells from which they have drunk, and ruins of sacred edifices where, in the olden time, they prayed and taught the glen is a quaint; solemn place there is a strange stillness in the air, the little bay,
"a surface dappled o'er with shadows flung from brooding clouds."
ies at rest under the sunshine, and the waters break upon the strand with a subdued murmur that seems obedient to the genius of the spot there is much industry amongst these people, and, better still, a cheerful disposition to make the best of their lot, and to take advantage of what slender opportunities offer of' improving it but they are very limited chances indeed, it is the old story, there is no market, and therefore no stimulus late one night at Carrick, we saw two huge cartloads of eggs packed ready for conveyance next day to Druminin, the nearest railway station, the cartage costs half a crown per cwt., and to that must, of course, be added the railway freightage and risks, before the producers can think of profit.
This is a great and depressing tax and yet, three miles below Carrick at Teelin bay, there is a fine landing pier, and a small steamer might make the journey to Killybegs, to Bundoran, to Sligo, and other places along the coast in a few hours smacks do occasionally sail, and their dues amount to only 3d. per cwt. but there is no regular service in a fair wind they should make Sligo in about an hour from teelin were there here a constant and reliable steam service as there would be in any other country of the world, the whole of Donegal, instead of being hopelessly shut off from development and with the market, would at a stroke be opened up this lonely spot, Carrick, situate in the heart of the grand Irish highlands, could be reached in nine hours from Dublin a steam service in connection with Sligo, Bundoran, Killybegs, and Teelin would open up by two great lines of railway, the northern and the midland new channels for commerce, and confer the most inestimable benefits upon the rich and unutilized resources of this part of Ireland.
There is no reason why the fish of these rivers and bays should not be brought into the markets of the larger towns and cities to the profit equally of the fisherman and the public the amazing thing is that this has not long since been accomplished do those people who talk so magnificently about schemes for the revival of Irish industry, never reflect how terribly handicapped it is in such comparatively small instances as this? has it never struck them that much of the evil under which the country groans is to be sought for by patient examination at home, and that a remedy should there be applied not some vague theory, but a project or plan that will meet the difficulties of particular cases? Some will say that this is a mean way of looking at the matter it is the only practical way, and observation will surely enforce that fact. if we, going the rounds as ordinary tourists, see these things, how is it that those who have undertaken the consideration of our social problems in a weightier spirit, have not long since discovered and declared where the defects lie, and what are the means by which they should be overcome?