Last Easter Saturday, a special Mass was held at dawn on the highest hill in Longford Town. This hill top is marked by a single Celtic High Cross and is known as the Famine Cemetery.
Nearby is the former site of the Poor Union Workhouse. It was built in 1841 but unfortunately demolished in the 1960s. That Easter Saturday marked the 176th Anniversary of the Workhouse that within a few short years, would become home to thousands of victims of the ‘Great Hunger’. Or what became known around the world as the great ‘Irish Potato Famine’.
Between the Famine years 1845 to 1849, the population of Workhouse grew to over 2000 people. Unfortunately most of the residents died from diseases caused by the Famine and were buried in unmarked graves in the cemetery.
Most visitors to Longford may find the idea of visiting the Famine Cemetery depressing but having been there myself, I can highly recommend it.
In the 1990’s, to celebrate the 150th Anniversary, the cemetery was beautifully landscaped with walking paths, flower gardens and a variety of shrubs. Along the path, you will also find many memorials to admire. Best of all are the panoramic views over Longford town and in particular St Mel’s Cathedral.
So, it was almost two years ago now that I found my way to the Famine cemetery. It was an early Sunday morning and I had just dropped my wife and daughter off at the Esquires Coffee House. They were meeting up with the cousins from Westmeath for brunch. As I was to be the only male…well apart from a 3 month old baby boy, I decided to use my ‘Discovering Longford’ as a useful but worthy excuse to escape the women’s talk about babies and the like.
“I’ll just have a quick look at the Famine Cemetery.” I told my wife. “It’s just on the other side of town. I won’t be long so.” 😉
I hadn’t seen any photographs of the cemetery so I had no expectations as I drove down Dublin Road and then turned into the empty carpark of St Joseph’s Care Centre.
Although given how many people had died during the Potato Famine, I couldn’t help but imagine a field filled with crosses.
Instead there was just one, a Celtic High Cross that stood on top of a green hill. A simple but powerful memorial.
As was the large sculpted stone at the entrance. Carved strikingly into the rock are the words ‘Famine Garden of Remembrance’.
A hole had also been cut in the head of the stone. Look through it to see the High Cross.
Just past this stone, turn left and walk up the hill for the High Cross. Once there enjoy the panoramic views of Longford Town and particularly St Mel’s Cathedral.
A wooden bench has been placed next to the Cross. A perfect place to sit and enjoy the peaceful surroundings or perhaps reflect on the inscription…
of all who are buried here
including those who died
in the great Famine of 1845
and succeeding years
may we forget not in these times
that agony (Padraic Colum)
One of the interesting historical facts about the former Workhouse is that the Poet Padraic Colum was born there in 1881, when his father was employed as the Master (Manager).
So I thought I would finish this blog post with an excerpt from one of his poems…
They carved the name about the gate 1839,
When they built the Workhouse on the hill
Of limestone tall and fine.
A plague wind blew across the land,
Fever was in the air.
Fields were black that once were green
And death was everywhere.
People came to drink the soup
Ladled from greasy bowls;
They died in whitewashed wards that
Held a thousand Irish souls.
In fact on my first visit, I missed it altogether.
I had hoped to meet another walker on the Coillte forestry road but I arrived back at my car without seeing anyone.
It was only on the drive back to the village of Mullinalaghta that I happened to meet one of the local farmers.
Rolling down my window, I flagged him down and asked him about the location of the house.
“Look for the avenue but it’s overgrown so it’s easily missed.” He told me.
Unfortunately though, the evening light was fading fast so I resolved to come back early the next morning.
The next morning I got up for the sunrise but a thick fog blanketed the lake and the Wood.
Never mind because it was late November and the trees were painted brightly with sunflower yellow and burnt orange. The white fog was like a artist’s canvas and like a brush, my camera danced up and down creating a gorgeous pallete of Autumn images.
Though it was a shame that most of the wood had recently been cut down by Coillte.
Following the local farmer’s advice, I quickly found the main avenue to the house. On one side of the avenue, trees still grew but the trees on the other side had fallen to the chainsaws. Stepping over large fallen branches, I finally came to a clearing where deep in the fog, I saw the ghostly shape of the house of Woodville Wood!
The history of the house
All that remains of the house is a small roofless ruin but it was still exciting to discover and explore. According to the information I found on the Longford tourism website, the house was built in 1850. It was luxurious estate which employed many locals from the surrounding area. See more here http://www.longford.ie/longford_towns.aspx?id=812
Take the road from Granard town to Mullinalaghta village.
Drive past John Keogh’s Pub and turn left at the lane way just before you get to the Angler’s Rest pub.
If you come to this tourist sign, then you gone too far. 🙂
Parking is limited but it’s probably one of those walks that only the locals know about so it should never be a problem.
Directions to the avenue and house
Shortly after you leave the starting point, you will come to a T junction. Turn to the left. Follow the road until you come to a slight rise in the road. Just at the top on the right hand side, you should be able to see the beginning of the avenue. Follow it as best as you can and eventually, around 5 minutes or so, you will see the ruins of the house.
More about the Woodville Wood Walk
The walk is a circuit walk and takes approximately 3o minutes if you don’t venture off to discover the house. There are glimpse’s of Lough Gowna through the tall trees on the right side of the road. I visited there in November 2014 so hopefully new trees have been replanted in the middle of the Wood. Finding the house was definitely the highlight for me.
I’ve just updated my Facebook page with this post but there are a couple more photos of the Crannog in this blog update.
Living on the Sunshine Coast of Australia, I don’t see many foggy days. Not even in winter.
So I tend to get a little excited when I’m back in Longford and I wake up to a foggy morning.
Most locals are more then a little surprised when they see me appear suddenly out of the mist with my camera and tripod. In fact I almost scared the life out of a female jogger in Derrycassin Wood early one morning.
My apologies again to her if she is reading this post.
Fog can add a whole new dimension to a landscape or an old ruin that has already been photographed a hundred times. It can add mystery and atmosphere to a normally mundane picture.
It can also help to highlight a ruin or a feature of the landscape by hiding the background.
Take this image of the Crannog on Derragh Lough for example.
Over the years, I have photographed it at sunrise, sunset and in the middle of the day. I have used a wide angle, a zoom and even an iPhone trying to find the best angle.
In all those instances, I could still see the forested shore behind it which I found distracting. I wanted a picture just of the Crannog.
Nothing else around it or behind it.
Shooting from a plane would probably achieve it. Expensive though.
Maybe all I needed was a heavy fog.
And at long last, in October last year, I woke up to a fog thick enough to hide the distracting shore around the Crannog.
A couple of weeks back – at my wife’s suggestion – I shared an image of two horses nuzzling for Valentine’s Day.
See I do listen dear 🙂
Just as well because it turned out to be a very popular photo with those of you that saw it.
Though before she picked out the horses, I had intended to share this image. One that has quite a dramatic love story behind it 😉
The ruins of a tower house built by a local land owner called Charlton. A ruin that has become known as Charlton’s Folly.
The morning that I was driving around the town land of Moat Farrell trying to find this ruin, I was lucky enough to find a local farmer who told me the story behind Charlton’s Folly.
According to this farmer, (sorry I can’t remember his name now) Charlton was very rich, very old and having never married, he had no heirs. Apart from his two younger sisters that is. Who stood to inherit all the land owned by Charlton.
Well didn’t a young girl come by and wooed the old man and before long they were married. He started building a fine tower house for his new bride to live in but before he could finish it….his sisters had other plans.
They apparently were not happy about the marriage and set about making sure that it didn’t produce a child.
Now I can’t remember exactly what they did…something in the middle of the night and something that would make a grown man’s eyes water.
Anyway there was no child borne to the old man and his young wife but he made sure that his sisters didn’t benefit. On his death bed, he changed his will and gave his sisters only a penny each. The remainder of his fortune became the Charlton Trust. A trust that young couples intending to marry were able to ask for a small amount of money from to help them start their married life.
Or so the story goes. I may have missed a few bits and pieces but this was almost the exact account told to me by the farmer who pointed me in the right direction of the ruin.
Now I have done a google search regarding Charlton and there is mention of his trust but little else.
So I would love to hear from anyone else who may know more and perhaps the real story :))
It was a stunning winter’s morning. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and the sun was shining brightly.
“What a wonderful day to get out in the fresh air and discover that new walk in Lanesborough.” I said to my wife.
“Are you mad in the head?” She said while looking out the window. “It’s fecken’ freezing out there!”
Luckily my daughter was on my side especially when I mentioned the nearby playground. ” Oh and there is cafe in the main street.” I added as a sweetener for both of them.
It’s always going to be colder next to a lake and the Common’s Woodland Trail is situated on the shore of Lough Ree.
The largest and deepest lake in County Longford.
Our car thermostat was reading 5 degrees for the outside temperature but once we stepped out of the car, it felt more like minus five.
I put on a brave face for my wife and daughter and they seemed genuinely excited.
Though that may have been because it had taken us at least 30 minutes to drive to Lanesborough from Gowna.
Another reason for their enthusiasm could be that as the car was heated to 25 degrees – the same temperature as an Australian summer morning – it took them awhile to feel the icy air.
Well…my daughter lasted about 10 minutes before she started complaining about the cold.
Having grown up on an Australian beach in sub tropical Queensland where the winter is warmer then most Irish summers, it was going to take her awhile to acclimatise to an Irish winter.
So ushering them in the direction of the cafe, I quickly set off to do the Commons north trail on my own. Little did I know then but being a Sunday morning, the cafe was closed.
Oh dear. Luckily I had left the car keys with my wife.
Parking: We parked in the public car park. It’s just off the main street before you reach the bridge over the Shannon river. The children’s play ground and duck pond are situated next to the car park. As with most other parks in County Longford, there are no public toilets.
For those just wanting to do the trail, there is also ample space to park your car at the starting gate.
A few metres past the main starting gate, there are two information boards erected in an open area. One is a detailed map of the walking trails and the other contains historical information about the former Lime Quarry.
The Woodland Trail:
The longest trail is around 4.5km and apparently takes about an hour to complete. It goes through the disused Lime Quarry, meanders past lake callows and into wooded areas around the Lake Shore.
Unfortunately due to a lot of rain, the trail was flooded in parts. As I hadn’t brought my gum boots, I decided to take the quickest option which is the shortest trail. It took me to the top of the Quarry wall where I enjoyed superb views across Lough Ree.
I was disappointed that I was unable to do the longer walk but when I arrived back at the car park, I found my wife and daughter having a picnic in the car.
“The Cafe was closed.” She informed me.
Oh so luckily I wasn’t able to do the longer walk then. Otherwise on my return, I may have been chased into the freezing water of Lough Ree!
Hands up whose New Year’s Resolution was to exercise more?
Now put your hands back down if you haven’t started yet. 🙂
One of my favourite ways to exercise is just by walking. It’s simple to do and doesn’t cost anything. It’s also very enjoyable. Especially in areas of natural beauty. Something that I found to be in abundance in County Longford.
Derrycassin Wood, Newcastle Wood and The Royal Canal are just three of the more well known ones but I’m sure there are plenty more that I haven’t discovered yet.
Oh but wait! There is one more worth knowing about…The Edenmore Bog Nature Walk.
Now for those of you who spent your Irish childhood summers cutting, stacking and loading turf, please don’t hit the delete button just yet 🙂 because there really is beauty in a Bog. Trust me. 😉
Oops! Wrong picture. 🙂 This is actually a working Bog owned by ‘Bord Na Mona’. Those tractors are harvesting peat for the Lanesborough Power Station. It’s probably not the most scenic Bog or the safest option for walking.
Ok now back to the Edenmore Bog. It’s located just 2km from the historical village of Ballinamuck. In 1798, a French Battalion supported by Irish rebels made their last brave stand here against the overwhelming numbers of the British army. There are three walks of historical significance that start and finish in the village. Unfortunately I didn’t have the time to do those walks but at least I will have something to look forward on my next visit home. Although the Edenmore Bog Trail was created by the Ballinamuck Community Enterprise Group so technically I did do one of the local walks. 🙂
The Edenmore Bog walk is a 4.5km circuit and begins at a small car parking area next to the information sign and detailed map of the trail. It is marked by short wooden posts with a purple arrow. Just follow these markers and you can’t go wrong. Unless you step off the trail to get a close up photograph of a bog pond. Then you might find yourself up to your knees in the wet and marshy ground. Not saying that I did this or anything. 😉
If you are doing the walk in winter, then I suggest starting the walk at sunrise especially on a good day. Watching the sun rise and light up the horizon is a marvellous way to start your walk and then as the sun rises higher, the different grasses of the bog will turn a lovely colour.
If you are walking the trail in the hot summer months, then you should definitely start as early as possible before the day warms up too much!
In the summer months, you can expect to see a lot of locals working in the bog, either cutting out the turf bricks, stacking them for drying or loading them into their trailers to be taken home for their fireplaces.
Winter is much quieter. You may be lucky just to see another walker!
Allow yourself around 2 hours to complete the 4.5km circuit at a leisurely pace. Longer if you are a bird watcher or an avid photographer like me 🙂
For those of you wanting to improve your fitness by tearing up the trail at a fat burning and heart pumping speed, it should take you 40 minutes or so.
But Edenmore is a special Bog. It has been recognised by ‘bog habitat’ experts as being one of the finest raised bogs in not only Ireland but also all of Europe! There are rare plant species as well as animals and the bird life is prolific.
So my recommendation is to take your time, take in the sights and enjoy. You may not walk up a sweat but your mind and heart will still benefit.
Last time I was in Derrycassan Wood, I met a local bird watcher who told me about this trail on the shore of Lough Gowna.
It’s hidden down a farmer’s lane and has two gates to open and shut, so it’s not really that accessible.
Only for local dog walkers and avid bird watcher’s I suppose… oh and enthusiastic Discovering Longford photographer’s like me 🙂
It is a beautiful wood with some very large and old moss covered trees but I suspect I missed the best of the Autumn colours as most of the trees were now bare.
It’s not a long walk but you could make it longer by leaving your car down the bottom of the lane and walking up the hill and then down to the beginning of the trail.
There are some fabulous views of Lough Gowna and Inchmore Island once you reach the top of the lane. Oh and the ruins of the Inchmore Priory and church! More about these ruins in my next photo post to my Facebook page 🙂
The trail is located near the Purth cross roads. If you are coming from Dring, drive past the Purth church, down the hill and take a right for Aughnacliffe at the cross roads. The lane way is on the right just after the new big house.
An Australian photographer out and about in County Longford Ireland.