The Cooley Peninsula is situated in the North East corner of Louth. It has an area over 60 square miles. The most elevated point is Slieve Foy at 589 metres above sea level. The peninsula is bounded to the north of Carlingford Lough and to the south by Dundalk Bay. It stretches as far as the eastern edge of the gap of the north. It separates the peninsula from the mountain mass of Slieve Gullion in South Armagh.
The backbone of the peninsula is formed by high mountains, from which beautiful views are seen afar. Northwards over Carlingford lough to the geologically related Mourne mountains, westwards to Slieve Gullion and southwards over the fertile limestone lowlands of Louth.
Within the mountainous area of the peninsula, there is a conspicuous and sometimes sharply defined contrast between the rounded and often peat covered summits developed on granites which dominate the heart of the mountain mass and the craggy dramatic relief developed on the encircling gabbro rocks. These heather covered mountains contrast the level green fertile plains and the surrounding blue waters of the Irish sea.
Let’s take a trip around the Peninsula and see where our roads lead us too!!!!!!!!
By Karte: NordNordWest, Lizenz:
First Stop Proleek:
You can leave your car in the grounds of the Ballymascanlon Hotel and follow the signs for the Proleek Dolmen which can be found set on a river terrace to the west of the Flurry river at the north edge of Ballymascanlon golf course. Ballymascanlon(the townland of Mac Scanlan) takes its name from Scanlan, son of Fingin. Chief of the Ui Meith sept. This sept had extensive holdings in Co. Louth, and gave its name to the district and village of Omeath. The first certain evidence of continued human occupation in the peninsula comes from the Neolithic period, about 5000 years ago, when farming communities initiated woodland clearance for grazing and cultivation. A substantial population would have been required to build up the twenty or so megalithic tombs found in north Louth. The standard megalithic burial tradition of the late Neolithic period in Ireland is presented by a single chambered burial monument known as a Portal Dolmen because of the importance of a door at its entrance. The Proleek Dolmen is a classic Irish tripod dolmen, with a mighty granite capstone. The sureness with which the capstone is poised on the back stone and portals in the tomb at Proleek and the weight of the capstone of up to 40 tons has understandably given rise to speculation about the means whereby they were so dramatically poised. The raising of the capstone could have been achieved by lifting it vertically on a rising bed, which was removed after the stone had been securely propped over the side of the proposed chamber. While it could have been levered into position on rollers over an inclined plane. Provided by the base of the half-finished covering cairn piled up at the back of the chamber, how the successful balancing on the three stones was accomplished is still a source of wonder. There is no trace of a mound of stones or side stones usually associated with such a burial chamber. A gallery grave is located less than 100 meters to the southeast of the dolmen. Only two cover stones survive but there are slight remains of the usual outer walling.
Photos: Jim Dempsey.
NEXT STOP IS ROCKMARSHALL:
You can turn left on leaving the hotel and follow the Greenore road until you arrive at Fitzpatrick’s restaurant. Leave your car here and take the first left turn. After passing the third house on the right walk up the narrow lane to the raised beach of Rockmarshall. Where the remains of a court tomb are located. The Mesolithic site which was occupied by some of Irelands first inhabitants has a panoramic view of Dundalk Bay. At this time the sea lapped against the seaward side of the beach. People gathered shellfish and utilised the other resources of what was a diverse coastal zone. This site which has been raised above sea level consists of ridges of sand and gravel contained refuse heaps or ‘Kitchen middens’ of these people. Near the top of one of these refuse heaps, a patch of shells and charcoal was exposed as well as implements of flint, stones and bone. These were examined in the 1940’s by professor Frank Mitchell who using radio carbon dating method confirmed then to be a kitchen midden of Mesolithic age. One of the few pieces of human bone on an Irish Mesolithic site was found here and has been dated to around 4570 BC. The deposits found at Rockmarshall have close affinities to the Larnian folk of the Antrim Coast. Their remnants have been labelled ‘Larnian’, from the extensive deposits found close to the modern harbour of Larne, County Antrim, where folk crossed over from Scotland at the end of the Ice Age about 9000 years go.
OUR THIRD STOP IS GYLES QUAY :
Return to the Greenore road and continue until you come to a right turn for Gyles Quay in 1766 Ross Gyles built the first jetty, probably of timber around 1780. The original Gyles Quay jetty was a fairly makeshift operation and used for trading coal, potatoes, grain and wine. Cattle and cobblestones were used for ballast on the return journey. The building of the first stone quay dates back to 1814, and took two years to build. The first ship docked with a hundred and thirty tonnes of coal in May 1816.
At the time there was a number of well-known along the peninsula coast , where wooden schooners could run aground on the sandy beach. Here their cargo would be unloaded onto carts and brought inland often under the cover of darkness. It should be noted that the southern shore of the Cooley Peninsula was famous for smuggling wine and tobacco. The authorities reacted to this by building a coast guard watch station at the Gyles Quay in 1823. This was followed in 1863 by the construction of the coastguard houses close to the quay.
ON WE GO TO OUR FOURTH STOP GRANGE CHURCH:
Turn right back on to the Greenore road, cross over the Piedmont river and continue until you arrive at Bush Park. Turn left past the old railway station on your right hand side and take an immediate right turn. Carry on and take the first right turn downhill to the parish church at Grange which is the earliest pre- Emancipation church still in daily use throughout the Archdiocese of Armagh. Even though the date 1763 is inscribed on its walls, there is considerable evidence that this church was in use for many years before that. Indeed, the church is dedicated to St. James, the patron saint of the parish. This most like follows from the presence in Cooley of the Knights Templars who had a church at Templetown. Their patron saint was St James of Compostella. Sited on an old grange or monastic farm of the Cistercian Abbey at Newry. Grange church is one of the few churches in Co. Louth to occupy a pre-reformation site. In its present form, it is a barn church so called because it resembled the simplicity of a barn. The original roof was thatched, but at the beginning of the nineteenth century was covered in slates. Later on a castellated bell tower was added which was connected to the church by a vestry. Before this time, bell towers had been forbidden in Catholic churches under the infamous Penal laws, Grange church is a particularly attractive building with whitewashed walls, round headed windows and a charming interior not apparent from the outside.
Brian T McElHerron
STOP FIVE IS BELLUG CASTLE:
Return to the Greenore road, turn right and then an immediate left. Carry on through two crossroads until you come to Bellug castle, one of the ten castles that are left. The barons of Cooley , who because of their isolation on the edge of the English pale, were usually beyond the reach of prompt military assistance, petitioned Henry IV for help in 1410. They sought in particular remission both of taxes and the obligation to provide military provisions for the king because of the frequent damage inflicted on their property by Irish attackers. Partly in response to this request it was decided in 1430, that all landowners in Louth who chose to build a castle or tower sufficiently crenelated (and fortified) within the next 10 years- to wit, 20 feet in length, 16 feet in breadth and 40 feet in height or building. This offer was subsequently extended to the other counties of the Pale. Bellug Castle, built by the Norman Knight de white-the Anglo Norman’s spoke French was one of the first of the 10 castles built. Enjoying a panoramic view of both the surrounding countryside and the strategic entrance to Carlingford Lough, this castle, was defended on all sides by square turrets.
TEMPLETOWN STOP SIX:
So you will continue carefully along this narrow road and you will pass the beaches of Shellig Hill and Templetown on your right. Shellig Hill with its gently shelving beach offering safe bathing has the finest stretch of sand in the Peninsula. Carry on until you see the remains of the medieval Templetown church which has associations with the Knights Templars. The Knights began in Templetown in 1270 with the charter Matilda de Lacy. She was descended from the Norman de Verdum family who arrived in Cooley in 1185. One of these De Verdun was married to a local Knight called de Lacy. Their daughter Matilda gave the Knights this grant of land. The deed was signed by ten local knights and is still extant. The Knights Templars were a military order. They helped out on the pilgrimages, assisting and protecting people as travelled on pilgrimage to and from the Holy Land. When they were not involved in the Crusades the Knights lived as monks, praying and working and looking after people.
The church and adjoining cemetery which was the official burial place for people of Cooley until the fifties have a special place in the hearts of the local community. The cemetery and ruined remains are called Cill Mhuire (the church of the lady) as the Knights promoted devotion to our lady. There is a local tradition that the church was roofed with heather and there was no glass in the windows. Alongside Cill Mhuire there is another holy well called Lady Well. On the 15th of August, the feast of the assumption of the blessed virgin, local people gather here for the rosary and then go over to Cill Mhuire where Mass is said.
STOP 7 WHITESTOWN:
We will carry on and take the first right hand turn for the medieval village of Whitestown. As elsewhere in medieval Ireland, land that for various reasons was not colonised by farmers was often allocated in substantial lots to monastic establishments of continental origin. In Cooley the grant of the Anglo-Norman Hugh de lacy led to the division of the peninsula along the main mountain watershed, between the Cistercian abbots of Mellifont (on the south side of the main mountain watershed) and Newry (on the north side of this watershed) Only that section of the Cooley plain which lies between Greenore point and the Piedmont river remained in secular hands. It is perhaps no accident that in this section the limestone bedrock and the cover of glacial till combine to form what is agriculturally the most fertile part of the Peninsula. The Anglo –Norman Knight de Whyte gave his name to the settlement of whitestown. The name of White has remained on in the area and now forms one of the largest extended families in the district. The land was managed by related families or kin group who operated the Rundale system with an infield and an outfield. The size of the dwelling and infield was allocated to a family group according to its need for growing vegetables while the outfield provided communal grazing for the animals. The land was held in common for the benefit of the entire community. Whitestown still remains a lot of its old world charm and is well worth a visit.
NEXT STOP, STOP EIGHT HAULBOWLINE:
Carry on through Whitestown until you reach the Whitestown shore. Turn left here and enjoy the wonderful sea views from Ballagan Point and Haulbowline light-house. Haulbowline which is the main lighthouse guides ships through the narrow entrance channel into Carlingford Lough itself. Carlingford Lough as its derivation, the Danish Cairlinn’s Fiord would suggest, is a typical fiord formed by ice action, a steep-sided divide between the Mourne Mountains to the north and the County Louth mountains to the south. Gerard Boate, writing in the mid-seventeenth century, crystallised crucial disadvantages of Carlingford Lough, would be one of the best havens of the world if it were not for the difficulty and the danger of the entrance, the mouth being full of rocks, both blind ones and other, which the passages are very narrow: whereby it cometh that this harbour is very little frequented by any great ships, Haulboline was built after a request from the merchants of Newry in 1817 to the Ballast Office of Dublin to replace the old 1803 light an Cranfield Point. The Board agreed that Cranfield was in a poor position for marking the dangerous rocks at the entrance to the Lough.
The mouth of the Lough is studded with low islands the sea-bed between them, the troublesome bar being composed mostly of clay and boulders scoured from the mountains and deposited by the melting ice. The fixed white light was first exhibited in 1824 with a half-tide light exhibited half-way up the seaward side of the tower. A bell was struck every 30 seconds in foggy weather. The bell gave way to an explosive signal which in turn replaced by an electric horn. The light changed over the years from fixed to occulating and subsequently to flashing. Haulbowline was converted to electric and went off on St Patrick’s day 1965. Carry on along the coast until you are forced to drive inland.
STOP NINE GREENORE:
Turn right and drive into Greenore. This non-tidal port sited strategically on a raised beach at the southern entrance to Carlingford Lough was developed by the London North Western Railway Company (LWRC) into its leading passenger terminal to Holyhead. The connecting railways to Dundalk and Newry were opened in 1873 and formed with a fine line of streamers, a very speedy and comfortable travelling link between England and Ireland. Greenore village was built completely by the LWRC and evolved into a very self –contained little community. It had its own steam-powered station which provided lighting not only for the harbour cranes but also the entire village. At the beginning of its existence the village had a church, gas works, bakery, barracks, school, all the necessary locomotive repairs. Practically all the men in the village were employed by the railway company. The village has two only streets, Euston street and Anglesea Terrace, both named after famous LWRC place names. There was a fine hotel and golf course attached to the railway station for the benefit of those travelling by boat to Hollyhead and further afield.
OUR TENTH STOP IS CARLINGFORD:
We will leave Greenore and return to st James Well, take a right and drive into Carlingford. Carlingford Lough’s strategic importance was clearly recognised by the normans. The Normans were the descendants of Vikings who settled in Normandy. They crossed over from Franve and defeated the English at the battle of hastings in 1066. On moving over to Ireland in 1169, the Anglo Normans with their use of cavalry, chain mail, long lances, longbows they were technically far ahead of the native Irish. They quickly brushed aside local opposition and proceeded to establish themselves in the countryside. An impressive stone castle was constructed on the orders of King John at Carlingford as part of a bridgehead in the colonisation of East Ulster. However, Edward Bruce’s three-year campaign saw his conquest of the North of Ireland and cleared those territories of almost all trace of English settlement. On Bruce’s death at the Battle of Faughart near Dundalk in 1318, the Pale where English law prevailed had up to them included in Carrickfergus and Armagh, now only attached as far North as Dundalk.
Carlingford thus remained an isolated English outpost in a kind of no man’s land, with access to the sea, but surrounded by the hostile Irish. The town was sacked many times during that period but the English always regained possession because of its strategic importance at the edge of the Pale. The English even paid a “Black Rent “of 40 a year to Great O’Neill in an effort to be safe from attack. However, when Mountjoy defeated O’Neill in 1600 and subsequently opened up a Land Bridge through the gap of the North by establishing a Castle on the Moyry Pass, the strategic importance of Carlingford as a sea port was no more. The town was bypassed and became a medieval fossil that we know today.
STOP ELEVEN CALVARY:
We will continue on towards Omeath, before you enter the village of Omeath stop for a moment for a quiet reflection at Calvary shrine and grotto. The Rosminians who had established an orphanage and Calvary at Lille in Northern France before 1860. In 1903 an anti-non clerical government expelled all religious orders from the country. As a result, the community had to abandon everything except the Calvary figures which they saved and shipped to Omeath. The Rosminians had been encouraged to come to Omeath in 1901 through the generosity of the local Mac Creanor family. The figures which consisted of our Lord Crucified, our lady of Doloures and St John are of cast iron and are marvels of craftsmanship. The Calvary was opened on St Patrick’s Day 1908 and in 1909 the stations of the cross, in both Irish and English were erected by kind permission of Cardinal Logue.
Calvary also contains the remains of father Aloysius Gentili who was then sent by Antonia Rosmini to England as a missionary. Gentili was the first priest to preach public missions in England since the Reformation. Worn out by long missionary labours in England and ministering to the poor of Ireland he died of cholera in Dublin in 1848. His remains were transferred from Glasnevin in 1938 and now rest in a special vault. The Calvary flanked by emerald pines facing the blue waters of Carlingford Lough has stood as a symbol of the faith and devotion of the people for nearly a century.
STOP TWELVE OMEATH:
Let us continue on now to Omeath. The name of the locality derives from Ui Meith- sons of Meath. North Louth acted as frontier country even in Celtic times between the three Kingdoms of Meath to the South. Oriel to the West and Ulidia to the North. During the medieval period Omeath District was merely rough woodland vonnected via the Carlingford Mountains to a wild, wooded and boggybelt of country, stretching around Slieve Gullion into Monaghan and Armagh. This wild region which was sometimes given the general name ‘fews’ (the Irish for wilderness, a name retained today by south Armagh baronies west of Omeath) had long remained an exclusively Irish domain from which repeated predatory incursions were made in Carlingford, the fertile land of Cooley and the Pale lands of Louth. In 1552 Nicholas Bangal was granted the old lands of the Cistercian monastery at Newry. (the Lordships of Newry and Carlingford included Omeath) by Edward VI in order that he might restore order in those, rude and savage quarters…. far from civil order. The inhabitants probably lived mainlynin raths, in woodland clearings, which contained only temporary residences because the economy appears to have mainly pastoral and even semi-nomadic. Their isolation from the towns of Dundalk, Newry and Carlingford ensured the survival of the Irish language here long after it had declined in neighbouring districts. The Cooley area provided the inspiration for the poetry and prose of many of the old Gaelic Poets notably Peadar P Dornin and Seamus Dail Mac Cuarta.
In the 1870s the Dundalk- Newry- Greenore railway started to operate along the southern shore of Carlingford Lough through Omeath. As a result, this isolated farming community was transformed overnight into something of a fashionable seaside resort. Indeed, it became a special favourite of tourists from Belfast as the Railway company introduced special summer excursions from the city. Partly due to this sudden exposure to the outside world Omeath started to lose its Gaelic speaking tradition. In addition, many of the citizens of Omeath were forced by adverse economic circumstances to migrate to English speaking areas. The fish cadgers also played their part in sowing the seeds of Anglicisation.
Fr. Larry Murray who was born in nearby Carlingford established an Irish college in Omeath in 1912 in an effort to halt the decline in the language. One of the best known figures of his day, Eoin MacNeill, who first suggested the formation of the Gaelic League to take the language to the people, was president of the college and attended many of the summer courses. Patrick Pearse along with his mother and brother Willie also attended the College.
You can continue your journey through Omeath and on into Newry.