May 15th to 16th - West Fermanagh, Presidential Field Trip


This area was chosen as the President, Claire Foley, knows it well and the effort of travelling so far was rewarding due to the style of farming here with the good preservation of both archaeological and natural heritage interests.

A select band of members assembled in Belcoo on Saturday morning where we were met by Gaby Burns whose survey work with Jim Nolan has greatly increased our knowledge of archaeology on the karst limestone areas to south of Lough MacNean. We proceeded to Killesher graveyard where we viewed the ruin of the old church on a foundation of St Lassair and discussed the former existence of an ecclesiastical enclosure. Members were much taken by the headstones and flora in the graveyard as well as the many orchids in the adjacent hedgerow. 

Onwards to Clyhannagh Dual Court tomb, a fine example of its type and a reminder that this limestone grassland was farmed in the Neolithic. We speculated about the intended connection to the ‘underworld’ in its siting in front of a natural sink hole at the west end.

Gaby then treated us to a variety of definite and indefinite cup-marks (see opposite) largely on glacial erratics which lie scattered about on the limestone pavement. He showed us the ‘pedestals’ under each one, which are the preserved original surface of the limestone pavement where rain over many millennia has not reached. He also pointed out the many ancient field walls and house footings which he has plotted and we discussed their possible relative dates.

After a picnic lunch at Crossmurrin nature reserve we arrived at the Marble Arch International Geopark where we were refreshed with tea and biscuits while Martina McGee gave us an excellent talk on the caves and the wider Geopark region. The final treat was a specially laid on tour in 4x4s halfway up Cuilcagh Mountain to view the results of ten years of peat regeneration after extensive cutting in the past. This is not only good as a habitat restoration but the restored peat prevents run-off from the mountain which can affect water levels in the caves.

On Sunday we headed north from Belcoo for the church site at Templenaffrin where we saw the ruined church in its crowded graveyard and the well-preserved ecclesiastical enclosure which surrounds it. A multiple bullaun in an earthfast boulder in the hollow below was much photographed and the landowner David Fawcett showed us a rare plant, Sambucus ebulus, growing nearby. We learned that the access lane to the church used to be the old coach road and a neat little stone bridge is still extant here. We progressed to the village of Holy Well where we viewed Rushin old church and paid homage to the restoration work done by Canon McKenna and Dorothy Lowry Corry in the 1930s. The actual holy well is an impressive pool of water fed by a spring with streams flowing away in two directions – it was traditionally known as St Patrick’s Tub and also as the coldest bath in Ireland. Further up country we found our way to Aghnaglack Dual Court Tomb built of large limestone slabs and we discussed the uses of the courts at each end for cremations and speculated about the type of people who were buried here while enjoying our picnic lunches. Next stop was the church site at Toneel North, also known as Boho, where an elegant, probably 10th century, cross shaft is the only remnant of St Febhar’s Early Christian foundation.


The final push was a pleasant uphill walk to the hillside above the church where at Reyfad a remarkable display of Bronze Age cup and ring decoration is incised across several exposed sheets of limestone (pictured).


As we regrouped to say farewell the first rain of the weekend hurried us on our way and back to the 21st century.

 
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