Prehistoric Ghosts and Poisoned Hills – A Writing Holiday in Ireland

I’ve just realised that I haven’t posted anything here for over TWO WEEKS. I’m sorry, this is bad of me. I feel like I led you all on; a horrid little London hobgoblin leading travellers astray… you probably didn’t notice though, so I’ll say no more, other than to excuse my reticence as due to phlegm and illness-induced exhaustion. In my absence I have been awarded not one but two wordpress awards, of which I am very pleased, and will respond to as soon as possible.

The last few days, however, I’ve been in Ireland. Tom and I were invited to visit by Ken McCormack, a writer Tom is working with. Ken has just had a play he wrote performed (which he did previously invite us to watch, but we were frustratingly kept from due to work), and he and Tom are currently researching/ writing a book about an eccentric 1930s writer. I purchased a new Chanel lipstick and nail-varnish (both in ‘Pirate’), and tagged along as a sort of literary groupie.

Ken booked us into the Beech Hill Hotel near Derry/ Londonderry (same place, name dependant upon religious orientation). it hosted American troops in WW2, and Bill Clinton and Will Ferrell more recently, as the photos attest (though not at the same time, sadly). It is a lovely, relaxing hotel. Friendly staff, lovely food, quiet rooms and a relaxing lounge-bar with gas-fires and a pattern of horned cows frescoed in plaster. Damp has cracked and warped the wallpaper in one corner of our room, and toiletries and tea-making facilities are a little basic… but to be honest these are just observations rather than complaints. I quite like the fact that nobody has bothered fixing the wallpaper yet, because it makes it feel more homely, and the room is spacious, and elegantly decorated. We forgot toothpaste, but they found us a tube, and we fancied hot chocolate before bed, so they brought it up from the bar. The service has been impeccable, and I’d recommend a visit wholeheartedly.

Beech Hill Country House Exterior

The hotel

Derry/ Londonderry, and the river Foyle

Ken has also been a wonderful host, and has driven us all across Northern Ireland to show us the sights and give us a feel for the place. He has written a number of books and radio broadcasts on the people and history of the places we passed through, so helped bring the landscape to life. It combines elements of my favourite English locations such as the wildness of Cornwall, the hilliness and agriculture of Yorkshire; even the prettiness of the Sussex landscape in places. I don’t know if I’ve really grasped a sense of Ireland’s identity yet, but I’ll be using that as an excuse to visit again.

The highlight of the day for me yesterday was visiting the celtic ringfort, Grianan of Aileach. It’s believed to be a multi-period site, built in the eighth century AD and partially destroyed in 1101 (then restored in the nineteenth century), though a tumulus (barrow) and well nearby may date back to the neolithic age. I’m using prehistoric archeology in the novel I’m writing currently, so have read a LOT about neolithic structures and society. Visiting a site like this was therefore very exciting. Existing scholarship demarcates it as a fort given its strategic position and reinforced structure, though (without the internal structures that would once have existed being visible, or the marauding Irish savages) it felt like an amphitheatre designed for oration and spectacle to me.

grianan of aileach 1

Slightly dull view from outside, like a flattened stone mound.

grianan aileach 2

A more interesting shot from above. The walls are about 15ft thick and 16ft high – the tiny person in the foreground here gives a sense of scale.

You can see the terraces and steps between them in the above photo,  which we had great fun darting up and down. It was also incredibly windy at the top, and on reaching the upper level I felt like the past was screaming in my face, ghosts tearing at my hair and clothes in protest at our invasion.

(My fringe seems to think it would look better on Tom, and is trying to escape)

© Jade Everingham

Not the most flattering photo, but a good shot of my Toggi boots.

The view from the wall.

The view of the interior – deceptively large, like Narnia (not really, this is the landscape behind it, with the exterior wall to the right. Just checking if you’re paying attention).

We then drove through Glenveagh National Park, a majestic but foreboding expanse of hills and moorland. The seasons seem to be a month behind schedule this year, so the flush of purple heather that usually blazes across the hills has not yet appeared. It felt a little like a peaceful Mordor, with mountains like sleeping giants looming above placid loghs (pronounced like the Scottish ‘loch’).

The Poisoned Glen above (apparently a corruption of the name in Irish which mean ‘heavenly glen’. I prefer to imagine it’s the site of mythical poisonous flora though). More photos/ info here.

Logh Dunlewy, just beneath the Poisoned Glen.

We finished off the day by visiting a monastery (I saw a real live monk and everything), and driving down a gently winding track through Ards Forest Park, in search of the sea. The forest on either side was completely wild and unmanaged, full of bogs and fallen trees covered in moss and lichen.

We didn’t find the sea because the tide was out, but the track ended at a beautiful beach scattered with tiny cockles.

We’re off to a temple perched on the edge of a cliff today, so updates to follow! Has anyone else visited Ireland recently? What did you find?

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4 thoughts on “Prehistoric Ghosts and Poisoned Hills – A Writing Holiday in Ireland

  1. Pingback: Cliff-top Ruins, and Icecream by the Sea in Ireland | Cocktails and Country Tales

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