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Lavender’s Blue + Goleen West Cork

Islands in the Dream  

Sounding like the title of a Dolly Parton song, Goleen is so beloved throughout Ireland that even a bungalow in Carryduff outside Belfast is named after it. The hamlet at the crossroads pulls on the heartstrings. Frank Keohane’s 2020 masterwork The Buildings of Ireland: Cork City and County mentions two of its buildings: St Patrick’s Catholic Church and Kilmoe Parish Church of Ireland. He also refers to two buildings in its neighbourhood: Ballyrisode House at Toormore and Church of the Poor Church of Ireland at Altar. Goleen’s architectural presence is mainly two storey vernacular except for one grand three storey Georgian house with shell pink painted walls and steel blue painted window frames and front door. Heading northeast from Goleen is Dunbeacon Castle or at least a wall of what was once Dunbeacon Castle. To the southwest is the golden expanse of Barley Cove Beach. West Cork never disappoints.

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Ballyshannon Donegal +

Sights and Thoughts

In England, thanks to Pall Mall the noun “mall” (rhymes with “Al”) conjures up images of grand boulevards lined with majestic buildings. In America, it’s an out of town covered shopping centre (rhymes with “all”). In Ireland, it’s something else altogether. While alumni of University of Ulster may remember The Mall as being the wide corridor linking the main lecture theatres of the Jordanstown campus, it is more recognisable as a street name in town centres.

The Mall in Ballyshannon is definitely at the lower key end of the Irish variety. It begins to the west of Upper Main Street with a variety of late 18th century and early 19th century townhouses and, passing Mall Quay, gradually peters out further to the west into a semirural lane looping round the Erne Estuary.  Parallel with The Mall to the north is the even more informal Back Mall. The arched laneway abutting Dorrians Imperial Hotel at the most easterly end of Back Mall is a nerve wrecking few millimetres wider than the average car.

Clinging to the edge of the island of Ireland, Ballyshannon is steeped in history. The name comes from Béal Átha Seanaidh meaning “The Mouth of Seannach’s Ford”. Seannach was a 5th century warrior. The town’s existence was formalised by Royal Charter in 1613 but archaeological digs have revealed it dates back thousands of years. In 1423, Niall Garbh O Domhnaill Chieftain of the O’Donnell Clan built a castle in the settlement, long demolished. Ballyshannon was the scene of a siege and defeat of the Crown forces by Red Hugh O’Donnell in 1597. It was created a Borough by Royal Charter in 1613. Ballyshannon was the birthplace in the 18th century of politician William Connolly; Elizabeth Dixon, Mary Shelley’s grandmother; and Mathilda Thornley Blake, Bram Stoker’s mother. So two links to gothic horrors: Frankenstein and Dracula.

The town is built on a hill rising up from the north bank of the River Erne. A smaller portion of the town lies to the south of the river including a series of distinguished villas backing onto the Erne Estuary. The oldest surviving building is the long low former Barracks dating from 1700. This is a well disguised (being converted into miscellaneous shops) relic of a colonial past. Main Street splits into Upper Main Street and Castle Street to form a loop round the town centre.

One of the most prominent buildings in Ballyshannon, highly visible in long distance views of the town, is the former bank with a clock and bell tower on Main Street. It reaches the equivalent of eight storeys in height: a skyscraper in relative terms for County Donegal. Scottish baronial crow step gables – a little bit of the Highlands on the Wild Atlantic Way – add more drama to its silhouette. Opened in 1878, the building is constructed of rubblestone with cut ashlar details. A single storey wing in a surprisingly neoclassical vein fronts Castle Street. Paired Corinthian columns in front of corresponding pilasters frame entrance doors and support a pediment flanked by an arch headed window on one side and an archway on the other.

The café Tête à Tête on The Diamond in the lower end of the town centre serves the best halloumi and sourdough in the northwest. Chef Guillaume Lamandais and his wife Iwona bring a little bit of Brittainy to the Wild Atlantic Way. At the upper end of the town centre, straddling the hilltop, is Abbey Arts Centre which houses a film club. Upcoming attractions are Arracht directed by Tomás Ó Súilleabháin (the 1845 Great Hunger of Ireland); Redemption of a Rogue by Philip Doherty (a modern Irish take on the prodigal son story); and English director Ben Sharrock’s Limbo (a fictional Syrian musician on a Scottish island awaiting an asylum claim).

When it comes to ecclesiastical buildings Ballyshannon doesn’t do wallflower architecture. This is the bold and proud northwest. It is a strategic location in south Donegal close to Counties Fermanagh and Leitrim and in more recent times the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The Church of Ireland is spectacularly positioned to the west of Main Street high above Erne Estuary with far reaching views of Tullan Strand to the west and Ben Bulben Mountain in County Sligo to the southwest. The former Presbyterian Church, now vacant, is lower lying on The Mall. To the east of Main Street, St Patrick’s Catholic Church looks down on the town. All of them grey in hue, St Patrick’s wins the award for architecture as topography. Surely it was hewed and chiselled not designed and built.

Alistair Rowan writes about all the churches in his 1979 Buildings of Ireland: Northwest Ulster, sponsored by Lord Dunleath’s Charitable Trust. “St Anne, Kilbarron Parish Church (Church of Ireland). 18th century, rebuilt in 1841 ‘in the Saxon style of architecture’ by the Reverend Tredennick to designs of William Farrell. A big five bay two storey hall with a high roof that dwarfs the west tower to which it is attached. This is probably a remnant of the old church of 1745… Farrell’s church is in ashlar sandstone with the windows recessed between flat strips of masonry, a sort of economical Norman originated by Smirke.” The church isn’t dissimilar from William Farrell’s Church of Ireland in Pettigo of three years earlier.

St Patrick. A long stone church set sideways to the ridge of the hill. Primitive Norman detailing. Seven bay two storey. In the middle of the north side is a big square tower and spire, inscribed ‘Dan Campbell, Builder, 1842’. J J McCarthy added the polygonal chancel in 1860.” And finally, “Presbyterian Church. Jumbled Nonconformist Gothic. A three bay hall in stone with Y traceried windows, built for Dr James Murphy about 1840, and extended in a T plan at its west end.”

Camlin Tower is a distractingly striking landmark on a bend on the Belleek road just outside Ballyshannon. It is a battlemented gate tower attached to a grand gated archway which opens onto a lane leading to… a derelict cottage, a barn and a field full of shire horses. Camlin was once the seat of the Trendennick family from Bodwin, Cornwall; they bought the estate from William Connolly in circa 1718. The big house was rebuilt in 1838 to the design of John Benjamin Keane. It was a two storey five bay Tudor Gothic building similar to the same architect’s Castle Irvine in County Fermanagh. The estate was sold to the Land Commission at the turn of last century. The house was erroneously demolished as part of the mid 20th century Ballyshannon Hydroelectric Scheme works. It was thought the house would be submerged by the new reservoir but the water level never did reach the ruins.

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The Auld Bank Coffeeshop + Crossroads Gortin Tyrone

Steeped in Resonance and Nuance

It’s the most architecturally satisfying aesthetically appetising crossroads in County Tyrone. To the northeast, a coffeeshop. To the southeast, a church. To the southwest, a school, To the northwest, a country house. All oozing rural charm. Welcome to Gortin. The ‘t’ is pronounced “ch”. The main approach to the crossroads could hardly be more dramatic. An inland corniche snakes through the purple heather topped Sperrin Mountains in a downward spiral (Gortin Lakes on one side, Gortin Forest on the other) before plummeting into the valley of the Owenkillew River to arrive at the crossroads. Time to go for a wee dander. If the crossroads is considered the western end and St Patrick’s Catholic Church accessed off Chapel Lane the eastern end, that means Gortin High Street is the princely length of 585 metres long.

The Auld Bank Coffeeshop is a single storey dropping to two storeys to the rear three bay building facing the high street. “Auld” meaning “old” is pronounced “owl”. Its rough cut stone and brick quoined exterior is more associated with east of the River Bann villages such as Hillsborough and Moira. Ulster Bank closed its branch in 2015 and the building owner, Blakiston Houston Estates Company, converted it into a coffeeshop. A very popular one at that, serving the best panini west of the Bann. The bank was built in 1845 with a gabled porch added in 1980. In true late 20th century style, the fanlight and sidelights surrounding the entrance door have a post modern feel to them. The interior has been opened up; simple ceiling mouldings provide an unpretentious backdrop to the café.

Alastair Rowan sums up St Patrick’s Church of Ireland, Parish of Lower Badoney, in his 1979 Buildings of North West Ulster (sponsored by Lord Dunleath’s Charitable Trust), “1856 by Joseph Welland, replaced the first Lower Badoney church of 1730. A standard stone built hall with short sanctuary, end porch, and bellcote. Short paired lancets, seven down each side, with quarry glass, and a nice braced truss roof inside, high and a little richer than usual.” A sprawling underdeveloped graveyard drapes a green apron around the entrance front.

Dr Rowan goes on to explain the church architect’s credentials, “The Church of Ireland had from 1843 one architect, Joseph Welland, who catered for all its needs. His qualifications were impeccable. Welland, a relative of the Bishop of Down, had trained in Dublin in the office of John Bowden, through whom in 1826 he obtained the appointment of architect to the Board of First Fruits in the Tuam Division. In 1839, when the Irish Ecclesiastical Commission replaced the old Board of First Fruits, Welland was appointed one of its four architects (although the older William Farrell seems to have retained responsibility for the North), and in 1843 on the reorganisation of the Commission he became the sole architect.”

Beltrim National School is a long single storey white rendered with slate roof building looking across the road to the cemetery. A juxtaposed case of early life meets everlasting life. To either extremity of the façade is an entrance (one for boys, one for girls) separated by six tall windows. Both entrance doors are painted farm shed red with a school name plus date plaque (1899). Completely symmetrical, the former school turned youth club portrays provincial architectural perfection. So contained, so uncontrived.

There’s nothing castellated about Beltrim Castle. Alright, remnants of an early 17th century bawn are integrated in the garden wall. Tyrone people call country houses “castles”. Locals refer to nearby Baronscourt (firmly in the country house category) as “the castle”. Alastair Rowan believes the current appearance of Beltrim Castle dates from the 1820s and notes its overhanging eaves. The house is incredibly attractive in an understated Ulster way. The five bay entrance front has a fanlight over its entrance door as big and grand as one on any Dublin townhouse. To the rear, Beltrim Castle’s return wing is nearly as long as Gortin High Street or at least a terrace lining it. The estate is privately owned by the Blakiston Houstons but the gardens are occasionally open to the public.