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Balrath Castle
Tyrrellspass Castle
Syonan Castle
Athlone Castle
Seven Wonders of Fore



Travelogue, Day 19

Feeling refreshed and reasonably well-rested after our early evening, we packed up after breakfast and set off first thing this morning to find the Hill of Uisneach, the "Center of Ireland". Rough Guide says that there is a signpost and you can walk/hike up to the top of the hill for fabulous views and the somewhat doubtful pleasure of being in the middle of the whole country. No signpost. A sign, perhaps, tied with wire to a barbed-wire fence, but not even a clear path or way to get up the hill. I can only think we approached it from the wrong side or something, but we stood at the fence, stared at the ditch and hill, and were rather nonplussed about the whole thing.

Nearby Balrath Castle didn't quite make up for it, but it the tower and Syonan castle had us stopping for a few minutes to take some pictures and regroup.

We headed back to Athlone (passing Tyrellspas castle on the way), but it's still rather gray outside and we're kicking ourselves a little for spending the whole morning and went far out of our way to see a hill. Oh, well, we occasionally do weird things.

After a loop or two around the city of Athlone, we found parking by the huge castle. The towers are huge, but the whole "exposition" area is really a long commercial for Athlone tourism. Kind of a turnoff, actually, and -- to top it all off -- you can't actually see much of the castle because the usage of the outbuildings as the "audio-visual center" and tearoom really hide most of the true fabric of the building. IT's a huge old Norman fortress and the placement by the river is quite spectacular.

The audio-visual thing is actually ok, until the last part, which suddenly becomes"visit Athlone for leisure, for fun, for…" Ugh. The views from the walls over the city are beautiful, though, and we walked along the waterfront for awhile before heading back to the car and taking off to see the "Seven Wonders of Fore"

The Seven Wonders of Fore

The Abbey is also noted for what local populations call its seven wonders:
1. The monastery built upon the bog.
2. The mill without a race (Lough Lene water flows from the hill).
3. The water that flows uphill.
4. The tree that has three branches/the tree that won’t burn.
5. The water that doesn’t boil.
6. The anchorite in a stone.
7. The lintel-stone raised by St. Fechin’s prayers.

Ok, yeah, it's a bit cheesy, but it was fun to track them down in the little town of Fore and look at the presentation of these really very ordinary things: water that doesn't boil is really a cloth-covered tree in a small circle of stagnant water; the tree that doesn't burn (another cloth-covered tree, as people tie or clip pieces of stuff to the branches, and the bark is pieces by coins that people have pressed into it. The tree is in a small "viewing area" on the way to the Monastery 'built on a bog". Also on the way is the Mill with no race - a small mill where the water comes to the surface just enough to push the mill will, but then goes back underground.

Across the road are the other two "local" wonders -- the stone only prayer could list (the lintel stone of a small church) and up the hill, the anchorite in a stone -- a small stone church with a hermit's cell.

We missed the seventh wonder, the water that flows uphill (the only real "wonder" on the list, even if it's only an illusion) since it was a long hike over the hill and down the other side of the lough. We opted out of the short walk through the woods and decided we could possibly miss the last "wonder". It was rather fun, though.

I sat down to rest near the stone church and suddenly attracted most of a herd of cows, which followed me all the way back down to the road. It's kind of spooky.

Hobbit Holes in the Shire

Our B&B for the night is Tintain - really more of a restaurant with rooms. The room is huge, the bed is king-sized, and the food is absolutely fabulous. The new owners (a chef and his wife) have just taken over the place, and I believe they will have no problem retaining the excellent food awards of the previous owners. Mark had potato leek soup followed by duck, and I had prawn mille-faile and beef filets in peppercorn sauce. We had to struggle to get dessert, but were afraid to miss it, the dinner had been so fabulous -- fresh apple tart and vanilla ice cream. Lovely!

The restaurant itself is a little place, but the main door to the courtyard is a huge, round, green door that makes the place look like a Tolkein-esque hobbit hole.

day 18
day 20
lost in ireland 2005 travelogue and photos © rfingerson