Tag Archives: Parkes Castle

Where the wandering water gushes


Knocknarea, Strandhill, Co. Sligo  http://gostrandhill.com/local-information/ photo Irish Aer Corps

The morning frost heralded the low January Sun to bathe its light on the neat patchwork of fields around Coolera, County Sligo. As we climbed the ancient hill of Knocknarea, Yeats words came floating over the shrill air;

“The wind has bundled up the clouds high over Knocknarea,

And thrown the thunder on the stones for all that Maeve can say”[i]

(W.B Yeats ‘The Wanderings of Oisin’)

It must be ten years or more since I last climbed this beautiful summit – its distinctive outline bookends the southern end of Sligo Bay with the majestic Ben Bulben to the north. The pathway has been well maintained and access is comfortable even for those of us with moderate fitness.

A few steep rocky climbs near the top are the only challenging obstacles that lie before the famous Neolithic Cairn that crowns the summit finally comes into view. The Cairn is the reputed burial place of the legendary Queen Maedbh of Connaught. Indeed the landscape stretched out below is abundant in ancient portal tombs and passage graves, making this area as important to archaeology as the better known Bru na Boinne on the east coast[ii].


One cannot help but feel that you are literally tracing the footsteps of our ancestors as you approach the top. The views when you get there are spectacular. The infinite expanse of the Atlantic stretches out below, becalmed today, as it laps up gently against the shore at Strandhill. Across the entrance to Sligo Bay lies Rosses Point with its famous strand, beyond that Lisadell House, home of Countess Markievicz, and Drumcliffe graveyard where Yeats now lies in eternal peace, casting a cold eye on us all. In the distance can be seen the hills of Donegal and the mighty cliffs of Sliabh League.



Inland is the aforementioned Ben Bulben, majestically carved by glacier, wind and rain into its unique undulating face.  It was in the heather atop this iconic Mountain where the mythical Diarmuid and Grainne found themsleves confronted by a wild boar. As the young warrior shielded his lover (the most beautiful woman in Ireland) he fought off the boar and after a ferocious struggle killed it with his sword. Sadly the story did not have a happy ending. The brave Diarmuid in saving his lover was alas fatally gored by the Boar and died soon after in Grainne’s arms. In the further distance lie the Dartry Hills and the peaceful glens and mountains of North Leitrim, a hill walker’s paradise.

Later we drive along the northern shore of Lough Gill and view the Lake Isle of Innisfree where Yeats intended to arise and go to:-

And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;

Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honey bee,

And live alone in the bee loud glade. 

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,

Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;

There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,

And evening full of the linnet’s wings. 

I will arise and go now, for always night and day

I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;

While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,

I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

(W.B Yeats ‘The Lake Isle of Inisfree’)


Parkes Castle

We are now into  County Leitrim and our first stop is at Parkes Castle which although closed for the winter is still a worthwhile stop. The building is not really a Castle as such but a 17th Century Manor House built by the Planter Robert Parke. Its main purpose was  defensive as Parke had recently acquired lands confiscated from the local Gaelic Chieftains, the O’Rourke’s, traditional rulers of the Kingdom of Breifne.

A few miles on further along this picturesque lake side road lies the neat village of Dromahaire. The town sits on the banks of the River Bonet and was the seat of the O’Rourke’s and the Franciscan Abbey at Creevlea. We drive north towards Manorhamilton before turning left on the N16 and into the valley of Glencar. A few miles on we turn off and drive down to the lake of the same name and visit Glencar Waterfall. The Discover Ireland website states “while not the highest waterfall in the area, Glencar Waterfall is generally considered the most romantic and impressive”. The enchanting waters cascading into the leafy glen also inspired the National Poet:-

img_9926“Where the wandering water gushes

From the hills above Glencar,

In pools among the rushes

That scarce could bathe a star,

We seek for slumbering trout

And whispering in their ears

Give them unquiet dreams;

Leaning softly out

From ferns that drop their tears

Over the young streams.”

(W.B Yeats ‘The Stolen Child’)

The Waterfall is easily accessed from the lakeside car park along a well maintained pathway. Also at the entrance is a charming little coffee shop called “The Teashed”. The staff were very friendly and welcoming and as coffee shops go the food here was excellent and not too pricey.  The fare consists  of freshly baked scones and bread, various sweet goodies, a wide choice of freshly made sandwiches, wraps, paninis, salads and hearty homemade soup. There are lots of local crafts on sale. The site has a playground – useful to rid the young ones of any pent up cabin fever. This is also the perfect spot for weary limbs to recover from hiking in the hills above. The outside tables would be a lovely place to sit out in the warmer months. [iii]



“The Teashed”            photo www.ldco.ie

All along the lake are many places where one could have a nice picnic. We caught a lovely sunset on the lake as the weak winter sun surrendered itself for another day. We began our journey home with just a further quick pit-stop for ice cream for the younger travellers, notwithstanding it was now below freezing outside! Later on, safely home, unshod, night fallen and the fire taken hold we continued to relish in the glow of a day well spent, dipping into the ancient and majestic landscape of Sligo and North Leitrim. We have many similar day trips planned. You can check out what’s on offer in Leitrim at http://leitrimtourism.com/ and in neighbouring Sligo at http://www.sligotourism.ie/ . Go and find your “bee loud glade”, its out there somewhere waiting to be discovered.


Sunset at Glencar Lake, Co. Leitrim

[i] https://allpoetry.com/The-Wanderings-Of-Oisin:-Book-I

[ii] http://www.worldheritageireland.ie/bru-na-boinne/

[iii] http://www.discoverireland.ie/Activities-Adventure/glencar-teashed/95624

Parkes Castle

Parke's Castle

Parkes Castle is one of my favourite places in Leitrim.

As the scion of a dispossessed native family, this Planters home shouldn’t really hold much enjoyment for me. I think it is perhaps because it has a picturesque natural setting. The soft lapping waters of Lough Gill provide a fitting foreground and the beautiful Glens of North Leitrim give it formidable background. You couldn’t fault the planter for picking such a fantastic site to set up home.

Parkes Castle isn’t in fact a Castle at all. It is a restored plantation house dating to the early 17th century. It was once the home of Mr. Roger Parke and his family but the site also once boasted a Manor House owned by Sir Brian O’Rourke or Brian na Murtha (Brian of the Ramparts). The O’Rourke Manor at Newtown was where O’Rourke entertained the famous survivor of the shipwrecked Spanish Armada, Francisco de Cuellar.

In his memoirs De Cuellar said of his host “Although this chief is a savage, he is a good Christian and an enemy of the heretics and is always at war with them.” O’Rourke was the son of Brian Ballagh O’Rourke and he became the Chief of West Breifne in 1566 after disposing of his chief rivals, his elder brothers. He was well educated in the classical fashion and was regarded by the Tudor Administration in Dublin as being proud and insolent. The president of Connacht, Sir Nicholas Malby, described O’Rourke as ‘the proudest man living in Ireland today’.

O’Rourke was knighted by the English in 1575 but his relationship with them was fraught as they extended their control into his territory. He just about survived implication in the doomed Desmond rebellion (1579) but by the mid 1580’s he was complaining bitterly about harassment by the President of Connacht Sir Richard Bingham. O’Rourke took his complaints to Dublin Castle and seems to have enjoyed, for awhile, the friendship and protection of Sir John Perrot, the Lord Deputy. Brian entered negotiations to surrender his lands and receive a royal title but does not appear to have ever taken up the letters patent.

In 1588 he was condemned for providing assistance to over 80 survivors of the shipwrecked Armada and helping most of them return to Spain. Tensions rose throughout 1589 and all talks between Bingham, O’Rourke and the new Lord Deputy, Fitzwilliam failed. Bingham invaded Leitrim in 1590 and occupied several of O’Rourke’s Manor houses. O’Rourke fled to Scotland where he was the equivalent of a political refugee seeking asylum. Queen Elizabeth seeking to rely on the recent Treaty of Berwick sought to have O’Rourke extradited and the Leitrim noble became a cause celebre. The Scots eventually did have him extradited and he soon found himself in the Tower of London. O’Rourke’s Trial for treason attracted a lot of attention but the sentence of death was inevitable.

O’Rourke was brought to Tyburn on the 3rd of November, 1591where he was hung, drawn and quartered. His final request to the hangman was reputedly to be hung in the Irish Fashion with a willow rope but this was refused.

By now Ireland was in rebellion in what became known as the ‘Nine Years War’, it would end in defeat for the Irish at the Battle of Kinsale. Brian son, Brian Og played a prominent part in defeating the English at the Battle of the Curlews in 1599. Brian died in 1604 and was succeeded by his brother Tadhg, the last ‘Lord’ of Breifne who died the following year, probably poisoned. The heirs to these last two ‘Lords’ were declared illegitimate and the family lands confiscated. Robert Parke received a grant of the lands and Manor at ‘Baile Nua’ and within a couple of years he had demolished the O’Rourke tower and built his house within the original protective walls. The house was rebuilt in the late 1600’s and was occupied until the late 1700’s when it was abandoned permanently.

The Office of Public Works has carried out a sympathetic and impressive restoration. The ‘Castle’ is definitely worth a visit and is close to the village of Dromahaire and convenient to Sligo also.