Sunday 2 November 2008

Of sherry magnets, half hung McNaughton, time travelling cars,faery thorns and a November Walk

Gentle reader,

It is the weekend again and as I have had rants both last week and the week before I have deliberately had a quiet weekend so that this post will be less acerbic, I probably wont need to use the word F**K at all!

It being halloween (Samhain as it is know in the Celtic tradition) and even though I am a big skeptic when it comes to the supernatural, it is best not to press your luck were the faery are concerned. Take John Delorean, he of the "Back to the Future" car fame. Now his aluminium sports car was manufactured in Belfast.
Any of you that just said A-LOU-MIN-UM please repeat 10 times AL-YOU-MIN-E-UM! Everywhere else except USia and Canada can manage to put the "i" in ium so there will be NO exceptions on an Irish web site!.
During the building of the plant he was advised not to uproot a fairy thorn. A faery thorn is usually an ancient Hawthorn bush found in place that normally you wouldnt find it, like the middle of a field rather than in the hedge line. Being a smart,savy, secular McMerican Mr Delorean scoffed at the warnings of ill luck that would follow any interference with this ancient thorn tree. {link} So mess with it he did and look what happened to him and his company!

I may be a skeptic atheist ... but ... I make a point of not messing with the faery or sibh as they are known in Gaelic. (Sibh is pronouced Shee , as in Banshee which means "faery woman" in Irish).

Where was I ?... oh yes ... I had a quiet Friday and apart from a dander down the town on Saturday for coffee and a bowl of very fine Aubergine and Roast Pepper soup. The Fireworks came and went and the gray man was kept at bay for another year. The gray man is the ghostly personification of the "great hunger"that followed the Irish potatoe famine in the 1800's. At or around harvest, when the summer is dying, is generally a time to remember our own personal histories and the echoes that sing to us from the flames of an open fire on a November evening. I hope than each of you in your own way have kept the grey man and his dark hunger from your door this coming year :-)

So, Sunday rolled around and while not up early or anything remotely like it, I did manage to put the Sunday dinner in the slow cooker (my own version of Irish Stew) and pull my dodgey battery from the bike and set it up for a good long deep charge. Having done all that I prepared to go for my daily brisk walk. It being a pleasant autumn afternoon I decided to combine, forest, lake, river and sea all in one walk, so I jumped in the car and headed for the Mussenden Demesne, which is about 4 miles up the road past the turn to Castlerock.

This is place with a rather uniquely "irish" history. The whole demesne was built in 1785 by the 4th Earl of Bristol, Bishop of Derry and sherry magnet, Frederick Augustus Harvey who was ... well at least a couple of sandwiches short of a picnic. There are the ruins of his house (Donwhill castle as it is known) and on the edge of a 120 foot cliff above the north Atlantic there is a small round building that bears a striking resemblance to the Temple Of Vesta in Rome. This is the library the bold bishop built for his cousin Frideswide Mussenden for whom he had the hots but alas she was already married isn't that always the way! Anyway there it stands some 223 years later a testament to one man's horniness for a lassie he couldn't have!

Regardless of the reason for building it has a view from Inishowen in the west to Fair head in the east, which is most of the north coast of Ireland in one panoramic gob smack of a view and well worth the walk if you happen to be in the area.

The estate straddles the main road and on the other side from the temple is a park now set aside for horse, cyclist and walker. This park has at it's centre a hill call Dungannon Hill. As hills go it is not a particularly big hill but it has, so the local archaeologists say, a 6000 year history. Like Mountsandel in Coleraine and the sand hills in Portstewart this was a place in which our ancestors set up their homes and lived of the land and sea shore. Today it is a place of ancient trees, leaf blown trails, small rivers, a ruined mill and a small shallow lake.

My parents used to bring us here here on family picnics when I was small as there were trees to climb, streams to splash in or create damn pools to keep the sticklebacks and small trout we caught Later I camped there on Dungannon hill with my teenage chums living off small trout from the streams and any unfortunate bunny that would cross our path. Later still it was a place where we would "walk out" with our current sweethearts, hand in hand kicking trough the leaves. This is one of those places where the lives of the visitors have left echoes of laughter in every nook and cranny.

It is a managed park, but whilst the paths are kept clear and easy to walk on, the forest itself is left pretty much alone. If a tree dies or is blown over it is not tidied up, it lies where it falls. Some would say this makes the place look untidy, for me I prefer it more "natural" :-)

Right at the end of the park is a road , where oh so I am told, an infamous criminal was caught in the eighteenth century. This sad we tale concerns Miss Ann Knox the daughter of Andrew Knox of Prehen House (near Derry) an influential and well to do gentleman. The man was John McNaughton a member of the same social class as Knox. Now John fell in love with Ann and tried to be near her at all times as one smitten often does. Andrew Knox opposed any marriage and both Andrew and it has to be said Ann wasn't that fussed about the attentions of John either.

McNaughton claimed that they had been secretly married. So Andrew Knox increased his efforts to protect his daughter and eventually, in 1760, set out to transport Ann to Dublin in a coach, protected by armed outriders.

John McNaughton and several associates concealed themselves on a little road. They stopped the coach and a short discussion ensued, followed by gunfire. McNaughton fired at the coach occupied by Andrew Knox and his daughter, and Ann died from the bullet. McNaughton fled. Armed searchers initially were unable to find him as the locals remained silent unwilling to talk or give aid to their landlords. Finally one man pointed to the hiding place and local tradition maintained that he promptly lost that arm in a accident in the small mill in the Mussenden park.

McNaughton caught, tried, convicted and sentenced to be publicly hanged in an open field near Strabane. He spoke to the crowd, saying he loved his wife and had been kept from her. The trapdoor opened and down he went ... but.. the rope broke and the crowd shouted for him to fly, but McNaughton declared that he was not going to be known as "half-hanged McNaughton" and advised the hangman to get on with his work. The rope did not break again but his name did live on in legend as "half-hanged McNaughton."

So there you go , my Halloween weekend walk with a smidgen of the weird ;-)
If you are interested in looking at some more photos of the walk you can find them here

So for the now , adieu and remember never eat rhubarb in bed!

Disqus for Domi-No-Yes-Maybe