Twenty-two hearty souls – locals as well as Australians, Canadians and Poles – happily climbed aboard our Ulsterbus Daytours coach for a visit to the ancient monastic settlement of Devenish on Lower Lough Erne and some serious retail therapy in bustling Enniskillen … with a terrific carvery lunch at the quite excellent Killyhevlin Hotel to sustain us.
What, as always, makes these Ulsterbus tours such a pleasure is the driver, and we all awarded gold stars to Gerry Nugent for his work. Gerry, from Antrim, has been with Translink for 13 years, dividing his time between service and Tour runs around Ireland and across to Scotland.
Gerry runs a smooth operation, let me tell you, delivering us to the Killymaddy Tourist Centre near Ballygawley on time for our 30-minute ‘comfort stop’ of scones and tea. It’s an excellent stop-off since there is a pleasant restaurant, friendly staff, a great craft shop and countless booklets and leaflets about the surrounding area to keep the passing tourist fully informed on the local scenery, history and events.
Then it was on to Enniskillen, via three of the most well-known villages in Ulster: Augher, Clogher and Fivemiletown. The trio lie in a lovely, and historic, valley and would be well worth a dedicated trip of their own. What makes them so famous is that they lay along the route of the now defunct Clogher Valley Railway, and that Clogher has one of the oldest cathedrals in Ireland, the Church of Ireland St Macartan’s that stands atop a hill.
Augher lies on the Blackwater River, and on the right look for a lake with the ruins of Spur Royal Castle from the Plantation era. Built in 1615 on the site of an old fortress it was burnt down by Jacobites in 1689 and restored in 1832. You can see a fine mansion at the lakeshore. The former Augher station is in the main street (on the right) and is now a café and craft shop.
Clogher has an importance well beyond its size, with two Bishops (Church of Ireland, the oldest Bidshopric in Ireland dating to the 5th century, and Roman Catholic) and the imposing 18th century building, on what was an early hill-fort, that contains one of Ireland’s oldest religious relics, a sundial (circa 700-900AD), and several high crosses (9th-10th centuries). Fivemiletown is named because it lies five Irish – they’re one-and-a-quarter – miles from Clogher, Tempo and Brookeborough. Along the main street on the left is the Buttermarket, once the site of the railway station.
And it’s on into Enniskillen to catch the MV Kestrel for the short cruise to Devenish Island. The helpful young crew serve drinks, tea and coffee and are very courteous to the less fleet-of-foot traveller. Saintly, one might even say. Devenish, one-and-a-quarter miles long and half-a-mile wide, contains one of Ireland’s most historic monastic sites, with a fine round tower from the 12th century and the ruins of the 6th century monastery. There is a small museum on the site.
The cruise returns to a welcome mooring beside the Killyhevlin Hotel and a splendid lunch in our very own corner of the restaurant overlooking the lough.
Enniskillen, the only town ever to have raised two regiments for the British Army – the Royal Enniskilling Fusiliers and the Inniskilling Dragoons - is a great place for a shopping spree. The long main street can be crowded but it’s well worth exploring, as is the craft and art Buttermarket. I discovered a beautiful photographic print of water lilies in the Frances Morris Studio-Gallery… do look in on this wonderful establishment, Frances’s photographs are artforms of the highest order, especially her Venetian collection.
And at around 7pm we happy travellers were delivered back at Belfast's Glengall Street … a day to remember.