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Aran Inspired

Tollymore Forest Park

The first state forest to be granted Forest Park status in Northern Ireland, Tollymore Forest Park celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2005. This attractive park features the whimsical designs of Thomas Wright (1711-1786). It contains caves, bridges, and grottoes, some natural and some man made. The Gothic gate near the entrance was part of the original estate owned by Lord Clanbrassil. The forest is full of traditional growth as well as exotic surprises such as the monkey-puzzle tree, huge redwoods and unusual pines. White Star Lines, builder of the Titanic, regularly used oak wood from Tollymore to erect their ocean liners. The arboretum at Tollymore features the oldest tree in any Irish arboretum, the Clanabrassilian, dating back to around 1750.

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Silent Valley Reservoir

This huge basin holds and delivers the water supply to Belfast. It was created in the 1920's in response to the rapidly growing demand for water in the city. Several sites were considered for the project, and the Mourne Mountains were chosen because of the purity of the local water supply and the generous rainfall that is common to the area. The Mourne Wall catchment portion of the reservoir took about 18 years to build. It was constructed by hand and took thousands of men to complete - nine of them died in the process. The Binnian Tunnel was completed in 1951. It is 2 ½ miles long and travels deep below Slieve Binnian.

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Castle Archdale Islands

In the northeastern part of Lower Lough Erne, just off the coast of Archdale Country Park sit a group of tiny islands. They are actually the tops of small hills, or drumlins, created during the formation of Lough Erne. The islands are a beautiful sight, especially in autumn when the rare spindle trees appear with dark red leaves and bright pink fruits, accented by the golden aspens. Garden warblers make their homes here, rare birds nesting within the dense foliage. The most common trees in the park are the oak and ash, and they stand out from the surrounding forests, which contain an abundance of conifers. These islands once had a rich agricultural potential, but are now long deserted, as evidenced by old irrigation ditches and the ruins of what were once farmhouses.

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Florence Court

This Early Georgian mansion was built in 1730 by the Cole family, who became the Earls of Enniskillen, and named after the wife of John Cole. Set amid the Cuilcagh Mountains, its white stone facade stands in striking contrast to the verdant green of the forests. It is considered one of the best-kept 18th century houses in Ulster. There is a central core, with two wings that were added circa 1760. The mansion is highly ornamented in Palladian style, with keystones, balustrades and traditional windows.

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Granard Motte

This primitive structure at Granard consists of a huge mound of earth with a flat top and a hollow interior. It is believed to have been used as a storage facility, possibly for grain or perhaps even gold treasure. The top of the mote once included a wooden guard tower, encircled by a palisade. A U-shaped bailey at its base served as a containment area for animals and soldiers in times of battle. The remainder of the facility was defended by the occupants of the huge trench at the top. Granard Motte was probably built in pre-Danish years, and was used by Richard de Tuite in 1199 in efforts to complete the Norman Conquest. From the 534-foot high summit, visitors can enjoy a beautiful view that includes parts of nine different counties, the Sliabh Bloom Mountains and five lakes.

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Charleville Forest Castle

The castle is open to the public and is currently funded by a charitable trust under the direction of Dudley Stuart. It occupies 30 acres of land that includes gardens as well as densely wooded areas. The castle building was designed by Francis Johnston, and Charles Bury was the original owner. Johnston was responsible for several classic Georgian buildings in Dublin, including the General Post Office. The exterior of the building is dominated by stately turrets and a flag tower, and features many mullioned windows. A large window located above the main entrance is the focal point of the façade. Inside, the rooms are gigantic, including the dining room designed by William Morris that still bears its original stenciled wallpaper.

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Heywood Gardens

The beautifully landscaped Heywood Gardens are the most outstanding attraction of Ballinakill, a small Georgian village just south of Abbeyleix in County Laois. The park is actually the estate of mansion that no longer stands, called Heywood House, which was engulfed in flames in 1950 and demolished to make way for a school. Its gardens, nevertheless, remain a delight. There are actually two sets of gardens at Heywood -- the outer sprawling rustic park and woodland was constructed in the 18th century; the smaller formal Italianate gardens, which would have stood directly in front of the house, were constructed in the early 1900s.

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Drumbanagher Hill

This hill outside Glaslough in County Monaghan was the site of a Viking Fort in the 10th century. Here the invaders staged attacks on Old Donagh Church. A significant strategic area for battle, Drumbanagher Hill is most widely remembered as the site of the first battle of the war between James II and William III of England in 1688, the outcome of which would change life in Ireland forever. The Battle at Drumbanagher Hill in 1688 was waged by John Mc Kenna, a member of the powerful McKenna clan. In fact, when McKenna and his Catholic army were defeated here by Anketell and the Protestants, it signaled the end of the McKenna power in the Glaslough and Emyvale region. McKenna was beheaded during the battle, and his severed head was taken to his wife at their home in Minmurray.

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The Silver River Geological Reserve

 The landscape formations of Silver River Gorge at Cadamstown were formed by the sea and rivers millions of years ago. The name of the river in Gaelic was Abha Airgid, which translates as “the Money River”. It was named from the silver particles that appear downstream from the limestone rock near its source. The area is relatively untouched, and visited mostly by students of geology and botany who come to study the rock formations and rich variety of rare plant life. The Silver River Nature Trail begins at Cadamstown. Parking and picnic facilities are provided for hikers and those who merely want to enjoy the secluded beauty of the reserve.

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The Rock of Dunamase

A short distance from the town of Portlaoise, in dramatic contrast to the surrounding flat countryside of most of County Laois, rises the Rock of Dunamase, with its ancient castle on top. The “rock’s” natural attributes – in fact it is a 150-foot high limestone cliff – made it the perfect spot to erect a fortress. In ruins since the 17th century, a climb to the summit nevertheless reveals broken, but still recognizable portions of walls, towers and gates, from what was once a very large and complex palace-like structure.

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