Counties Sligo, Mayo, Roscommon, Longford, Westmeath, Meath, Galway
Updated: Jan 2
The morning started rough in Enniskillen, as I'd not slept well - the duvet was too heavy and I soaked it midway through the night with sweat. Breakfast was included, so I had porridge with berries, a banana, OJ and coffee. When I went to check out, the sole receptionist was on the phone with a complex reservation, so I wound up getting a taxi to get me to the bus depot. As it had rained overnight, that was a good move.
The bus from Enniskillen to Sligo takes a scenic, gorgeous route, particularly as it approaches the coast. I jumped off the bus in Sligo before it got to the terminus, as I saw my hotel, The Glasshouse, across the river from the bus stop. While they weren't ready for me at midday, they held my luggage and I was off on my missions.
Across the street was the home of Yeats, whose name I'd encounter often in Sligo. My first objective was the Roman Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Dark in appearance from the outside, I entered and found a requiem Mass underway for a woman named June. Finding a corner to sit and wait, six men soon were walking down the central aisle with her coffin on their shoulders. I found it interesting that each pair would put an arm around his opposite's shoulder, assuring a stable carrying surface.
The cathedral entrance is under a single tall spire. Once inside, there are a baldachin above the old high altar, an ambulatory, as well as gallery balconies over the side aisles. A metal screen separated the new Vatican II altar from the older high altar. The windows' stained glass was mostly mundane, with a few that depicted significant saints. Off the ambulatory was a circular chapel with the baptismal font at the floor's center under a dome, and circular bench seating. Unusual, I was able to climb to the gallery, and continued to note all arches were rounded, the Romanesque style.
Departing, I moved around the outside for various angles to present a better view, such that I'd taken nearly 100 pictures, more than half for the day. I wandered around a bit, as I had an appointment with the dean of the Anglican cathedral at 2, leaving me 30 minutes to stroll the streets.
A bit ahead of schedule, I was outside the locked gates of St John's Cathedral, and soon Dean Williams drove up, unlocked the gate, and pulled his car into the churchyard.
We'd communicated by email for a few months, and he was pleased to be able to show off his church. St John's had been elevated to the diocesan seat in 1961 when the roof had blown off the cathedral in Elphin. He pointed out the graves of grandparents of both William Butler Yeats and Bram Stoker before unlocking the door into the nave.
Built in 1791, it has a blocky, fortress-like appearance from the outside, set in a filled yard full of gravestones.
Once inside, the sanctuary is set into a slightly raised less-wide space beyond the seating for the quire. Dark wooden pews fill the nave. The painting over the altar is by a noted artist who died while fighting during the Great War. I found the glass good, but nothing special - late 19th century. As the church had served as a garrison church, its ornamentation was kept to a simple level.
Collecting a few more outside shots, I assisted the dean in closing up the gate and headed back to the hotel. Put into room 102, I started charging the camera battery I'd exhausted, and then prepared to head out to EuropCar to collect my rental. I'd heard from Kenneth, who'd called to ask me to delay the pick-up, as he had a delivery to make. Taking a taxi, we discovered the rental location had changed since my booking. This required us to backtrack towards town to get me to the car. Wisely, when offered several options, I opted for the automatic, and added full insurance coverage.
Pulling out after putting my first destination into my phone, I found right hand drive (in the left lane) to not be difficult, probably because I'd acclimated over the previous week. My goal was the St Crumnathy's (Achronry) Cathedral, which I found to be less a ruin and more a derelict or abandoned church. The surrounding graveyard was filled with long grass and blackberry canes. I managed to walk around, peering through the windows, but saw no evidence of active use.
Returning into town, I had to adjust a bit from Google's directions due to street construction, but eventually got the car into the garage next to the hotel. With plenty of daylight, I decided to walk to the Sligo Abbey, a thirteenth century Dominican priory near the river. Set behind wrought iron fencing atop a stone wall, I could only appreciate it from a distance.
Dinner was at Anderson's Bar and Grill. I started with a Cute Hoor, an IPA, and a small warm goat cheese salad.
For my main, creamy chicken and smoky bacon tagliatelle: fresh ribbons of tagliatelle, sauteed chicken , smoked bacon lardons, mushrooms, white wine, cream and grated parmesan. Afterwards, back to the hotel and room, crashing for the night with the watch saying only 9,640 steps.
Awakening in Sligo at 8, I was out of the hotel and into the car in forty-five minutes. The itinerary projected four locations for the day, before my Mullingar lodgings where I'd be for 2 nights. My first stop would be the cathedral in Killala, around through Ballina at the head of a small bay. With views of the Atlantic Ocean, I approached the small County Mayo village (Wikipedia says the population is less than 1000) and drove up to the Church of Ireland St Patrick Cathedral which I found locked.
After a few outside shots, I headed up the hill to see the round tower, which was behind a locked gate. Wednesday morning wasn't starting out well.
Next on the list was the Roman Catholic cathedral in Ballina, St Muredach's Cathedral. When I pulled into a parking spot across from the church, a hearse was out front, and people were gathering.
I had 15 minutes for photos inside before the Requiem Mass would start. (The deceased man's brother said he had died suddenly, surprising all.) Lovely church, the fluted columns fed into the ribbing in the vault, all in clean shades of white and beige.
Over the sanctuary, the ceiling was a Marian blue, and the bosses at the intersections of the ribs were stunning. Classic stained glass, organ in the rear loft, empty ends of the transepts, it was a very purposefully thought out place of worship.
An hour away and into County Roscommon, the Cathedral of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St Nathy in Ballaghaderreen was another single steeple Roman Catholic church. The building is long and tall, with thick white columns supporting the dark timber roof. The vault over the altar, however, is filled with painted panels featuring angels surrounded by filigree backed in gold, and the reredos is a brilliant carving of marble.
Above the west entry doors, the organ loft splits the display of pipes with a stained glass window, topped by a fresco of the Transfiguration.
Last on the day's list was the former St Mary the Virgin Cathedral in Elphin, three-quarters of an hour's drive. As I had discovered the day before, the roof had blown off in 1961, hence translating the see to Sligo.
This small town of less than 600 had allowed the building to go to ruin, and reconstruction and archeology has yielded the present site. Probably the most interesting item there is the "stone of the clear stream", with a tie to St Patrick and giving Elphin its name.
The time was half one (as time is told there) and that evening's lodgings were 80km (about an hour) away over country roads. Examining where I planned to visit the next day (and from Dublin a week later,) I first planned on Kilmore, but headed to Longford next.
The RC St Mel's Cathedral is Georgian in basic design, very different from the blocky CoI older buildings and Gothic Revival (A.G. Pugin’s influence) of many of the RC churches. A single domed spire on the outside had me anticipating a garish interior, only to find it very plain, lacking much ornamentation. Six massive columns support a carved frieze over the portico.
Rebuilt after a devastating fire, the light gray columns stand out against the flat white of the walls and lightly stenciled vault. The carved modern cathedra (albeit rather uncomfortable looking) sits on the same level as the altar, in front and to the side of a modern tabernacle. Floor level windows are uncolored glass, while the bowed clerestory lights are full of vibrant color.
Outside town, at a t-intersection, signs point to St Mel's Church, the Cathedral of Ardagh. These are ruins, however, experts are unsure of where the actual cathedral might have stood in the twelfth century. Basically, on a slight rise beyond a stone wall (along which, when I stopped, were parent's in cars awaiting students from the nearby schools) were blocks of stone in walls.
Across the street was the RC Church of St Brigid, and at the corner was the CoI Church of St Patrick.
Calling it a day, I headed to County Westmeath and Mullingar. Its cathedral beckoned, but as I tried to find a parking spot, the hordes of uniformed students and parents in their vehicles made it impossible. I went and parked at Annebrook House Hotel and got checked in.
Then out on foot onto the streets, which seemed to all be one way except the main drag, I climbed a slight rise to the Christ the King Cathedral.
Again Georgian, with dual domed towers, once inside I felt very boxed in amidst the monochrome surfaces, although the side aisles open into multiple side chapels where there were splashes of color. Behind the altar, a half-domed space had a mosaic of the patron, Christ the King.
An explanation at the entry stated that this new cathedral had been the first with this dedication, specifically at the request of the Pontiff Pius XI. The sanctuary has great tile work, and the glass dome over the altar is beautiful.
Strolling back to the hotel, I decided to have dinner at JP Steakhouse. Starting with a Guinness and crispy potato skins, my main was a Glynn Valley Baked Chicken Fillet: baked with brie and sun-dried tomatoes on clamp potatoes with seasonal veggies and a smoked bacon, white wine and mushroom sauce. My notes say the food was passable, that there hadn't been ground pepper on the table, although the vegetables needed salt. The options for dessert were uninspiring.
In the room, my backing up indicated 290 pictures for the day! I completed the Derry blog and did emails and reading, feeling that sitting in the car all day resulted in 8940 steps. I mapped my route for the following day and sent it to my phone.
Yogurt with a scoop of mixed berries started my breakfast, I collected a glass of OJ, and toast and coffee appeared at my table. From the buffet, I chose a small portion of scrambled eggs and some hash browns. After cleaning my teeth, I was back out into the car and heading to Kilmore, my first stop. Perhaps 10-15 minutes out of town (with its miserable traffic), the phone lost the GPS signal.
Now fortunately, I knew that Kilmore was very near Cavan, and Cavan would appear on road signs. But I did get misdirected by the phone onto some really small one-lane farm roads, and over a number of narrow stone bridges (where, one time, the left side mirror lost a dispute over space.) In any case, I pulled over, shut down the phone for a few minutes, and once restarted, the GPS portion of Google Maps was back in business and I was underway.
Kilmore Cathedral, the CoI Cathedral of St Fethlimidh, sits on a tree-filled rise behind a stone wall. The building's stones were wet from the rain, casting a dark presence over the locked church.
After circling and looking for a good angle, I was leaving the leafy covering and heading north to Cavan.
The Cathedral of St Patrick and St Feldlim is the RC diocesan seat for County Cavan. Also on a rise off a busy village road, with a wide plaza and stone steps, it was seeing serious renovations to the Georgian-style building. Dodging scaffolding and workers, I wandered around both the nave floor and the rear loft. While up in the back of the balcony I came across the temporarily relocated cathedra, which was being used to hold some spotlights!
My list for that Thursday, the feast day of the birth of the Virgin Mary, had 5 cathedrals, but I had been to 3 of them the day before. So I decided to head to Monaghan, the one "placeholder" from the previous blog.
** Photo updated 2023-01-02
An hour away, I found St Macartan's Cathedral on a slight rise with a field of grass and some trees. There were modern fittings with century-old touches for this Gothic Revival building. One side was under heavy scaffolding, and overall it left me unimpressed. Hardly worth the effort to return, although I did take a good number of pictures.
Having ventured much further east than I planned, I continued and dipped into my list of cathedrals I planned on visiting on day trips from Dublin. Closest was St Mary's Abbey in Duleek, County Meath.
This is a fabulous ruin, with an active cemetery and a deconsecrated CoI church (now the restaurant Tribe). An 82yo stonemason was working in the cemetery, repairing monuments and touching up engravings. The walls of the former cathedral felt solid and spiritual.
Staying in County Meath, I headed to Navan. There, the ex- co-cathedral St Mary's Church was a big surprise.
A big building designed to look like an opera house, it had been built with parish funds. The long axis, typically the central aisle down the nave to the altar, was perpendicular, yielding a shallow but wide nave, with a wrap-around balcony on three sides.
I checked into the book shop, speaking with Michael, who confirmed the ex-cathedral status.
While the day was rolling on, I decided that the CoI St Patrick's Cathedral in Trim should be next. Set near the grounds of the abbey with its tower, and the castle (used in the film Braveheart), the gates in the wall were locked, preventing more than external shots.
After the brief stay, I headed nearby to Newtown-Trim and the ruins of the Cathedral of St Peter and St Paul.
Lots of good old stones lay about, and I spoke with a woman watching her son Peter (14 months) play as tourists climbed the walls and strolled around archeological works. She gave me recommendations to visit Tara in County Meath.
While walking about the ruins, my phone's battery died. Back in the car, it got plugged in and after 15 minutes, I was able to request driving directions back to Mullingar, which I'd been winging my way by guessing nearby destinations. Maps was apparently confusing, but I eventually wended my way through my least favorite Irish city and got back to the hotel. The directions had me slip off the motorway onto a side road by a canal, and I took advantage of being near a petrol station to fill the tank.
When I walked into the pub for a pre-dinner draft, I learned that Queen Elizabeth II had died. That didn't stop the regulars from watching the various football games (none from Britain), although I did talk with a few patrons who agreed she was an admirable leader and queen. I left and walked into Danny Burns to get a Caesar salad with chicken and chicken stir fry, with a Smithwick Red ale.Salad was salad, but the stir fry was hot and piquant. Back in the room I tabulated my driving distances (the full days were 250-300km each) and my watch said I'd walked 8615 steps.
Once I'd gone to bed, the band for a wedding reception began playing downstairs, and did so until 2am. I'd waited until 11pm (I was in bed earlier than usual, as it had been a long tiring day) to call the front desk, when I was advised the the party wasn't going to quit (or even decrease the volume). Once the band stopped, the guests proceeded to converse (with outside voices) for another 15 minutes in the halls. At checkout, the reception was unsympathetic, and I left a rather negative review for the Annebrook hotel.
Only two places on my list before heading to Athlone to turn in the car. In my readings and at several of the sites I'd seen references to Clonfert. Now I'd also seen Clonfert referred to while in Belfast - a former abbey where the gardens are now had that name, although the actual location isn't known.
St Brendan's Cathedral in Clonfert was locked when I arrived about 11:30. Observing the lintel carvings, and peering through windows, I got a sense of the interior while appreciating the exterior. A section at the rear had lost its roof and fallen to ruin. Grave markers filled the field.
Next I was off to Clonmacnoise, a monastery site with a terrific national heritage museum. Inside the museum, the recovered and restored high crosses were displayed as the history of the site was explained.
Once outside, remains of the Clonmacnoise Abbey Cathedral and various buildings covered the slight rise with a stunning view of the river and countryside. This is apparently a tour group site, as I was constantly dodging (and trying not to photobomb) other visitors. In reflection, this was the best of the ruin sites that I visited while in Ireland.
Onward to Athlone, where there is no cathedral! Situated at the center of the island, on the River Shannon and the border between Counties Roscommon and Westmeath (and Connaught and Leinster,) it was a good place to take a break from the obsession. While the GPS dropped out as I wended my way through the countryside, I eventually found my B&B, pulling off the road to unload the two bags and haul them up a single flight of stairs. Back into the rental, I returned out of town to the agency and dropped it off. I anticipated getting a huge ding for the damaged side mirror, but having elected to full coverage, was told it was “cosmetic” and no charges! Back out to catch a bus into town, I returned to my room and did some minor unpacking.
While in Athlone I had arranged for 3 separate tours, the first that evening, the other two to follow on Saturday. Wanting to locate start points, I crossed the river to the meeting space in front of the castle (first tour the next day) and decided to visit the large church across the street.
The Church of St Peter and St Paul is large, impressive, and a building away from the river. Inside, the colors in the stained glass windows were striking and impressive. There was a nice baldachin over the tabernacle. I determine that it had been built to be named the RC cathedral, but being on the edge of Westmeath County, Mullingar was named. Personally, I think it would have been the better choice.
I walked around the castle, down by the river, with the expectation that I'd be seeing the insides the following day on my first tour.
Crossing the street and the river, I popped into Gertie Browne for a pint and an order of fried mozzarella, so that I had food in my belly for my tour. Dead Centre Brewing was right out the door, but the doors were locked pending a 5pm opening, when my tour was scheduled.
Promptly, I was escorted in and seated, while the owner was fetched. A one-on-one tour, he was a pleasant fellow, had a good patter, and we both enjoyed interacting as he discussed both the history of beer making, and his brewery’s timeline. Tasting involved a pilsner, an IPA and a “real IPA” and then a splash from an aging tank.
So comfortable, I decided to stay and have dinner. A caesar salad and a “Meat and Heat” pizza: pepperoni, smoked sausage, chorizo and jalapenos. With their real IPA, it was comfort food and nicely tasty. I followed it with a Caramel Pecan Brownie with double chocolate ice cream - so my short stroll back to the room was on a sugar high. And a nightcap of Irish whiskey to finish.
Across the street from the lodgings was a popular pub, as the crowd was rowdy until about midnight, probably following a football match. (There were crowd chants that reminded me of footie matches I’d seen in pubs.) And while my feet were sore, the watch reported I’d only walked 6610 steps.
Saturday in Athlone with an 1130 walking tour of the town first on my agenda. Wanting to be prepared for my departure the next day, I first climbed a slight hill and 10 minutes later was at the railroad station where I’d leave for Dublin the following morning. I couldn’t use their machine to get my ticket, so I continued the walled loop around the downtown area and surprisingly found a lot of undeveloped scrub-filled areas adjacent, full of blackberry brambles, etc. Along the river, I came to the “falls” and crossed, and walked into a park and then visited the Fransciscan Friary. Up the street was Beans & Leaves, so I had a latte and a scone.
Back in front of the castle, Vincent, the guide, met me and then a woman from Seattle (who was half a couple - he had gone to tend to a flat tire on their rental.) While I had anticipated we’d do a quick jaunt through the castle, Vincent only spoke of its history as it fit into the history of Athlone. There are ties to the great Battle of the Boyne, between James and WIlliam which had such great effects on both Irish and British history.
We walked past several churches, noted where the original bridge/crossing had been. A walk through the purported oldest Irish [ar, and we ended outside the repurposed building which is now the City Art Gallery. All in all, I wasn’t impressed with the tour.
The second half of the couple joined us about 2/3rds of the way along the tour, and we discovered that we’d also be together for the next tour. Since I had walked up to its meeting place, we walked together, stopping in a shop for a wrap (chicken and couscous for me) and a beverage which we ate sitting on low walls outside yet another church. We arrived at the pub, met a couple from Michigan who would also join Deirdre as she set us up for a tasting and highly informative and interesting walking talk on the history of whiskey making in Athlone and in Ireland.
Three tastes while we were at the pub: Kilbeggan Single Cask, Tullamore D.E.W. 12yo, and Kinnitty Castle “Dapper”. We set out, walking along an old, now filled-in canal, sites of three former distilleries (on the Connaught side) and crossed the Shannon to enter Dead Centre where she poured us a taste of her stashed bottle of whiskey with a sample from a local chocolatier. Most impressive was Deirdre’s business plan - she wants to open a distillery in Athlone at the second former distillery site, as a way to resurrect the history of the 40 distilleries that had been there in the late nineteenth century.
Heading back to the Arch House B&B, I found that the WiFi wasn’t working, so after freshening up, headed out to find dinner. After a search, I decided to return to Gertie Browne’s . Starting with sticky barbecue chicken wings Louisiana style, I had a Smithwick Red to accompany. Great wings. Gertie’s burger, an 8oz chuck and brisket burger, with cheddar, tomato, roasted red pepper relish, slaw, lettuce, beer-battered onion rings and hand cut chips in a toasted brioche bun.
Sounded much better than it tasted: the burger was well done and had a “strange flavor”, albeit none of the additions really stood out. The slaw had too much dressing, but the potatoes were nicely extra crisp. Craving a sweet, the ice cream dish had a cone, vanilla, strawberry, chocolate mint with pralines and berry coulis. As anticipated, it was just ice cream.
Back to the room to backup photos, do email, prepare for a location change by packing. The watch showed 14,805 steps.