As you might recall from my earlier posts, my husband and I arrived first in Dublin, Ireland. We had reservations to stay in several castles spread out within the country, but other than that we were free to do as we pleased. So we rented a car and took off on our exciting journey, a journey which would lead us eventually in a circle around the whole island–that is, within the Republic of Ireland. We didn’t venture into Northern Ireland this time around, but perhaps we will in the future. 😉 That being said, there is plenty to do and see within the Republic itself to keep a visitor busy for a while; and as we were only there for a week, you can bet we didn’t see everything. But what we did see was truly awe-inspiring and worth the trip. Today’s stop is no exception.
We are now entering into my favorite part of Ireland, the west side. Not that I particularly disliked the north. In fact, the north was my second favorite area–how could it not be, with both Newgrange and the Hill of Tara, I ask? But there was just something about the rocky, windy, wild west coast that made my heart soar and filled me with longing and a sense of adventure. I’m the type of person who loves to explore new places–no tour guide needed. Just set me in a place and let me discover to my heart’s content. And the west coast of Ireland is perhaps the best place to satisfy that urge.
The best way I can think to describe the west coast is that it feels and looks like Irish music sounds. One step on those rocky shores and wind-swept hills, and it becomes clear how the longing, the energy, the melancholy and the joy, the wit, the wonder, and the storytelling elements of the country’s traditional music are all shaped in part by the land itself.
But I’m getting ahead of myself! Silly me. We’re not quite to the coast yet.
Today we are near the border of Counties Leitrim and Sligo in northwest Ireland. As my husband and I made our drive westward, we chanced upon some information about a particular waterfall on our way, one which has gained some notoriety thanks to the Irish poet W. B Yeats. That would explain why, if you are a fan of Yeats–or of the singer Loreena McKennitt for that matter–that the name of our next stop might have rung a bell.
While Yeats was born in Sandymount, just south of Dublin on the east coast of Ireland, he spent a lot of time in his childhood in Co. Sligo, on the west side. In fact, that’s where he’s buried, if you want to see his grave. And it is near there that you will find Glencar Lough (yes, a “lough” is a lake, from the Irish word loch) and the famed Glencar Waterfall.
We had had quite a day of adventure already. Earlier, we stopped at Lough Gill, south of Glencar Lough, and drove a ways around the lake, stopping to explore and take pictures.
At the lake is also Dooney Rock (although I’m not certain where Dooney Rock actually is, so I won’t try to point it out), as well as Slishwood forest (remember that, because it’ll come up again). 😉
That was on the southern shore of Lough Gill. If you go around to the north shore (which we did), you can see Parke’s Castle as well as the Isle of Innisfree, famed both because of the song The Isle of Innisfree and the John Wayne movie The Quiet Man, which is set in…guess where?
Not sure which one is Innisfree, but it’s there, somewhere, and that’s all that matters. 😉
(FYI, that’s IN-yish-free, in case you’re wondering).
Despite our already productive morning, we decided to take a short detour north to see the Glencar waterfall. Boy, am I glad we did!
At the lake, there’s a little car park, from where you can set out on foot and hike up a very short path for about 5-10 minutes to the waterfall. Trust me, you can’t miss it. The path comes to a dead end at the cliff face, almost at arm’s reach from the waterfall itself. And the sight is spectacular:
Hahahaha…just kidding. That’s not the waterfall. It’s just the river you cross on the way. But I couldn’t resist.
For real, this time. From the lake:
You hike up the path:
Wait for it…
Here it comes…
Ta-da!!! That’s more like it, isn’t it?
Behold Glencar, in all its splendor:
It’s easy to see why such a place would have inspired Yeats to write about it. That is why for the rest of the post I thought I would let Yeats do most of the talking, since his poem sums up the atmosphere and beauty of the whole area quite well on its own.
In short, The Stolen Child is about faeries trying to lure a human child to come away with them, another example of Irish folklore making its way into the arts:
Sleuth Wood, a.k.a. Slishwood (uh-huh, told ya it would come back), is the aforementioned area of Lough Gill–the lake, I assume, mentioned in this verse. The leafy island, then, would probably be Church Island.
Go northwest from Lough Gill, past Sligo, and you’ll come to a place called Rosses Point. (I’m pretty sure we didn’t go there, but you can look it up on a map):
And now, for the moment we’ve been waiting for:
East from Rosses Point (and north of Lough Gill), you will find the third point of the triangle: Glencar Lough, on the northern shore of which lies the waterfall.
The lake and the waterfall both were truly mesmerizing. It felt every bit as magical and full of hidden secrets as Yeat’s poem suggests. If you are ever in the Sligo area, and you don’t stop at Glencar, I pity you. It is peaceful, enchanting and inspiring; and its beauty will stay with me forever.
For the icing on the cake, here is Loreena McKennitt’s version of the poem put to music, which also happens to be one of my favorite songs by her. Prepare to be spellbound.
Until next time, slán go fóill!