Lavender’s Blue are familiar with royalty. This summer, (the royal) we have met The King of Tory Island, The King of Nigeria, The Princess of The Congo (dancing queen), The Queen, Princess Alexandra, Prince Charles (again), the Duchess of Cornwall, Prince William, Princess Anne, Prince Andrew and Prince Edward. Queen Áine is new to us. Greetings. She died a couple of thousand years ago. Goodbye. It’s been a dizzying journey from the Wild Atlantic to glitzy Africa Fashion Week London via snazzy Windsor Chapel to rural Clogher Valley in furthest flung County Tyrone. It’s an even more dizzying journey up Knockmany Hill to Her Late Majesty’s tomb.
“Augher Clogher Fivemiletown!” rhymed the County Tyrone schoolchildren of yore. A lot more yore ago there was Queen Áine. Reputed to be over two millennia old, this passage grave (cairn) is lined with 12 massive upright stones (orthostats). Three of the stones are engraved with designs of Boyne Culture (Neolithic period of Boyne Valley). She was celebrated as an ancient Irish deity, a goddess of the Tuatha Dé Danann race. Queen Áine shares her tomb with Queen Báine, the wife of the 1st century King Tuathal Techtmar.
Knockmany Hill once formed part of the Cecil Manor Estate. The Department of Agriculture bought the land in 1911, demolished the William Farrell designed big house, and planted a forest. Cecil Manor was a great box of a house, with that spare wall-to-window ratio typical of the architect’s august output. The wooded climb up Knockmany Hill makes the views from the top all the more exhilaratingly revelatory. Far below, from a distance Clogher Valley looks like a giant two-tone green quilt.
“The loss of Ireland’s great houses, most of them Georgian, is a baffling instance of state carelessness,” remarked Christopher Hart lately, critiquing the storyline of Brian Friel’s play Aristocrats. Chartered Building Surveyor and Irish Georgian Frank Keohane laments, “In southeast England there are not enough country houses to go around. It’s different in Ireland. We have one of the lowest population densities in Europe. I go up and down country lanes and get extremely dispirited by the ruins of country houses.”