There is a castle in the village of Castlederg in County Tyrone. It belonged to the O’Donnell chieftains and guarded the ford over the River Derg. That part of Ulster was always in dispute between the O’Donnells and the O’Neills and many bloody battles took place. In 1479, Henry Og O’Neill overcame the forces of the O’Donnells and took posession of the castle. Castlederg remained in O’Neill hands until the defeat of the Irish earls by the English in 1603. The land around Castlederg became property of Sir John Davies in 1610. He rebuilt the castle and constructed the bridge over the River Derg. Davies also moved many Protestant settlers from England and Scotland into the area as part of the “Plantation of Ulster.” There was a response to the Plantation by Sir Phelim O’Neill in 1641. His rebellion brought about the bloody massacre of Protestant settlers all over Ulster especially in County Tyrone. Phelim O’Neill occupied Cstlederg and destroyed the castle. O’Neill was later hanged, drawn, and quartered in 1653 for his brutality. The castle was never rebuilt and remains in ruins today.
Croagh Patrick is a 2510 foot mountain in County Mayo. It is not one of the locales in my novel, but one of my characters does make a pilgrimage there in my book. For that reason, I’ll describe it here.
At the time of the Druids, Croagh Patrick was sacred to the god Crom. In 441 AD, St. Patrick spent the 40 days of Lent on the mountain and declared victory over the pagan gods when he descended. Since then, pilgrims come here to climb the mountain, usually bare-footed, on the Sunday before the Celtic feast Lughnasa (August 1). In doing so they offer penance for their sins. There is a chapel dedicated to St. Patrick at the peak of the mountain. Murrisk Abbey at the base of the mountain was founded by the O’Malley clan in 1456. It was destroyed by the English in the 16th century but later restored.
There were many climbers of the mountain when I was there. They don’t appear to be doing it for religious reasons, just for the physical exercise. I walked up the path past the statue of St. Patrick at the bottom of the mountain to take some photos. The view is beautiful with the blue waters of Clew Bay (the haunt of the pirate, Grace O’Malley) beyond, sprinkled with islands.
The main route from Donegal Town to northern County Donegal is highway N15. It passes through the Blue Stack Mountains between Croaghconnelagh and Croaghonagh mountains in what is known as the Barnesmore Gap. (Actually the name Barnesmore means “Big Gap” in Irish.)
The County Donegal Railway also once ran through the pass at Barnesmore. The rail line closed during the 1950s.
The Barnesmore Gap was a convenient location for highwaymen to prey on travellers during the 18th century. Soon the British Army established barracks at Barnesmore to end this practice. Gallows were erected at the pass around 1775 to execute some of the more violent highwaymen. In my novel, Donegal Generations, one of my characters led the life of a highwayman and met his fate at Barnesmore.
At one time, there was an inn at Barnesmore Gap where travellers and their horses rested before resuming their journey. It was called Biddy O’Barnes It is still there as Biddy O’Barnes Pub, and it has been there for centuries. Highway N15 used to pass right by it until recently, but one can exit the highway to visit it. Long ago, Rosie O’Callaghan was the proprietor of the pub. Near closing, Rosie would call “time” and then make everyone say the rosary. Following the prayers, she would start serving drinks again. Biddy’s is still a popular pub and restaurant, only 6 miles from Donegal Town and 9 miles from Ballybofey. See: http://homepage.eircom.net/~biddys/index.html to learn about Biddy O’Barnes.
Stone circles were monuments built by the ancient Irish probably for religious ceremonies. A couple of miles south of Raphoe in County Donegal, a stone circle stands on a hill far from traffic. It is the Beltany Stone Circle, named for the Celtic May festival of Beltane. It is made up of 64 boulders arranged in a circle about 145 feet in diameter. It is thought that the circle was constructed around 1800 BC. For more information, see: http://www.donegaldiaspora.ie/place/beltany-stone-circle