Cooley Peninsula September 2021
The call went out on Tuesday with a follow up on Friday that as the Indian Summer would be in full swing for the first week end in September, that the suggested location for our picnic run would be at Strandfield House, just a fraction from the main roundabout north of Dundalk in the town land of Ballymacscanlon.
Our joint organisers, Basil and Marion were somewhat mused over a trailer park that would be safe and secure and within a short distance of our start. Local Model T Ford enthusiast Michael Loughran surfaced out of nowhere and offered his field. Marion skilfully sketched a map to show that the google equivalent could be achieved in a small fraction of the distance.
And so it was, on Sunday 5th September, having unloaded and driven to our assembly point, nine splendidly turned out Austin Sevens lined up in the car park of this delightful premises with three guests participating. Strandfield is a Cafe, Florist and Grocer based within the farm yard grounds of Stranfield House in Ballymascanlon Dundalk, County Louth. The Cafe serves breakfast and lunch with freshly baked scones, cakes and wheaten breads served daily. Strandfield uses their farms fresh free range eggs for breakfast and the lunches include a hearty soup, fresh cut sandwiches and some of the best coffee around.
The Grocer sources local and organic fruits and vegetables along with selling local bread, the farms free range eggs, organic health foods, super-foods and great cheese plus much more. The Florist creates bespoke arrangements using local greenery to create beautiful combinations. Flowers arrangements are also styled for all occasions from weddings to seasonal events. The staff at Strandfield House looked after us very well in serving up welcomed fresh morning delights.
At 11:15 we held the customary drivers’ briefing. Basil and Marion welcomed the group, thanked them for their support and conveyed the apologies for half a dozen or more of members who for a variety of reasons could not, but wished they could, attend. Armed with a detailed map of the Cooley Peninsula, Declan stepped in and conveyed and shared with us his extensive knowledge of the area and surrounding countryside.
BROWN BULL OF COOLEY
Our route would take us on quite roads that were scenic, safe and fitting for cars fast approaching their centenary. Our first instruction was to head east for a few miles and at Fitzpatrick’s bar follow the signs for Ravenscale. This was somewhat hilly and twisty but not challenging. In hindsight it was ideal. The weather was glorious, the air was warm and the fleet performed magically.
At the top of the hill we reached, but did not visit, the Long Woman’s Grave. Legend has it there once was a man named Conn O’Hanlon. On his deathbed he told his sons, Conn and Lorcan, that they could have all his land. Conn promised his father that he would take Lorcan to a height and tell him that as far as the eye could see was his. Conn did this but he tricked Lorcan and brought him to a hollow part of the mountain.
Lorcan had a boat and used this to do trading with other countries. During a trip to Spain, Lorcan saved a Spanish lady and her daughter on their yacht. The Spanish woman held a banquet in honor of Lorcan. Cauthleen and Lorcan fell in love, but Cauthleens father wasn’t happy because she was engaged to a nobleman.
Cauthleen agreed with Lorcan to go to Ireland with him. The couple met in secret and went back to Ireland. When they got to Omeath, Lorcan took Cauthleen to the mountain and showed her the land he owned. Cauthleen was so shocked that she fell and suffered a heartattack. Lorcan loved her so much that he jumped into Aennagh bog. The local people looked for the couple and found Cauthleen, they made a grave and each person put a stone on it. They didn’t find Lorcan dead or alive. Here she sleeps today, in the hollow of her disappointment and unfilled promises, known as the Long Woman’s Grave, and this can still be seen in the mountains overlooking Omeath today.
A sharp turn right, heading South brought us down to a manicured grassy park at The Bush. Donn Cúailnge, the mythical Brown Bull of Cooley, was the largest, fiercest and most virile bull in Ireland. He roamed the vast forest and mountainside of the Cooley Peninsula and was at the centre of one of the most famous battles in Irish mythology, the Táin Bó Cúailnge, or Cattle Raid of Cooley.
The Táin took place after a jealous argument between Queen Méabh of Connacht and her husband, King Ailill mac Máta. Méabh decided to take the Brown Bull from Ulster to fight against Ailill’s prized White Horned Bull, Fionnbennach.
The legendary Cúchulainn fought his most famous fight trying to protect the Brown Bull. He single-handedly took on Méabh’s army, yet she managed to steal Donn Cúailgne and take him back to Connacht to challenge Fionnbennach.
The two great bulls had a fight to the death that lasted days. After a ferocious battle, Donn Cúailnge finally got the better of Fionnbennach and emerged victorious. Angry at Queen Méabh, he rampaged through her kingdom and then back across Ireland to Cooley. Still maddened with rage, his heart burst and he died.
Yet the spirit of the magnificent Brown Bull still lives on in Carlingford and the Cooley Peninsula today and we took the opportunity to record our presence with a group photograph. Everyone smiling and happy.
Off we went in the direction of our next stop, not by a direct route but of course, rather hugging the costal roads where the vista of Carlingford Lough was for viewing and enjoyment. Another stop to chatter, take photographs and an opportunity to top up a deplinished radiator.
The Carlingford Lough Ferry between picturesque Greenore in County Louth and Greencastle in County Down allows visitors to the Carlingford area to experience the delights of either side of the Lough after just a fifteen-minute journey.
Departing every hour from Greenore on the Cooley Peninsula, or Greencastle beneath the Mournes, ferry passengers are ideally positioned to witness the beauty of the area’s seascapes and landscapes.
Charming Greenore village is an Architectural Conservation Area and merits a day spent exploring. In Victorian times, luxury passenger liners sailed between here and Holyhead in Wales. Today, the town’s Co-op building houses a miniature railway depicting the old rail network that connected the port with neighbouring towns, as well as a Railway and Maritime Museum.
Greenore Golf Club, founded in 1896, is one of the oldest in Ireland. Its course runs along the shores of Carlingford Lough, offering stunning views of Slieve Foy and the Cooley Mountains on one side, and the Mournes on the other.
Walking tours of Greenore are available and it’s also popular for mackerel-fishing.
As well as being accessible via the Carlingford Lough ferry, Greenore is easily reached by road from Dundalk (25km) or Newry (24 km).
We sallied forth to the Port itself and turned into the well laid out parking spot where the sand doons would protect the picnic goers from the onshore warm winds. Once alighted, picnic baskets and delicious food was to the fore. Some sported deck chairs and folding tables whilst others resorted to the age old tartan blankets, thus adding colour to the occasion.
Towards the end of the meal our honorary secretary asked Michael, of Michael’s field fame, to present our organisers Basil and Marion each with a Viking bowl specially hand turned out of a splalted beech tree that fell down as a result of storm Ophelia three years ago. The Vikings came to Ireland 1,200 years ago and relics of their past were discovered during excavation at Wood Quay in Dublin. The Vikings left their bowls behind them. On this occasion a Cork beech tree was the material for the replica Viking bowl now residing and cherished by their new owners from Northern Ireland.
Photos by Nuala Grogan
Having tidied up, refreshed and ready for the off, we were soon on our way eastwards to Omeath where we had an opportunity to fuel up etc. and regroup. The next leg of our journey was a steady northwards climb to Flagstaff car park, situated in Northern Ireland.
From the Flagstaff Viewpoint on Fatham Hill we had a wonderful view over Carlingford Lough, the Mourne Mountains and Cooley Mountains framed by forested mountains, green fields and the sparkling Irish Sea beyond. Plenty of photo opportunities.
The name Flagstaff comes from the fact that flags used to be hoisted on the hill to announce the arrival of boats at Carlingford Louth. For some, the hill is also a place of longing. The Irish poet and outlaw Séamus Mór Mac Mhurchaidh is said to have said shortly before his execution: “If I could only be as a rowanberry on Fatham Hill”.
All in all we had covered almost 30 miles before lunch with the same again for our afternoon delight. By 4:00 pm it was time to bid farewell and head back eastwards to Michael’s field to be reunited with our carriages of convenience. It truly was a splendid occasion, meeting new friends and enjoying the company of each other. Drivers behaved immaculately, cars ran like sewing machines and the terrain was delightful. Not a single murmur from any quarter. And so it should be, we enjoy the company of colleagues in one marque vehicles and open our friendship to others who grace us with their company. The very pleasant Indian Summer duly contributed to the sence of occasion.
In conclusion, thanks to all attendees, grateful acknowledgement to absentees with special regard to Declan for assisting in routes, Michael for his field, Nuala our official photographer, and last but not least our conveners Basil and Marion. We surely look forward to an encore.