Forests, Beaches, and Holy Wells Along the Wild Atlantic Way


Forest of the Cavan Burren

So many beautiful places, so little time to write about them! While in Sligo/Leitrim, I had the opportunity to tour one afternoon with Bee, who operates Irish Blessing Tours (send inquiries here) and she took me to some of her favorite thin places.

20150916-CavanBurren-2015016Our first stop was the Shannon Pot, the beginning of the River Shannon, located near the Cavan/Fermanagh border. There are several myths about how Ireland’s longest river was formed (click here for more information).  While water actually flows from a tiny river near Marble Arches Caves in County Fermanagh to the north, it collects here, at the Shannon Pot.

My favorite place Bee took me was the Cavan Burren, a UNESCO Global Geopark. The Cavan Burren is very different from the Clare Burren and its lunar landscape.

20150916-CavanBurren-2015044 20150916-CavanBurren-2015038

Here the forest is thick and lush, with mossy underbrush but uneven, rocky terrain. There are large boulders left by glaciers thousands of years ago, but at some, there are what appear to be forms of rock art, usually in the form of carvings or rubbings, rather than paint.


Rock Art, Cavan Burren


Fallen Dolmen near Giant’s Leap, Cavan Burren

Cairn dolmens are present, both standing and some that have fallen. Had time allowed, I could have spent all day here in this magical place.


Cairn Dolmen, Cavan Burren


St. Patrick’s Holy Well

Bee also took me to Saint Patrick’s Holy Well, located in the town of … Holywell, just over the border in County Fermanagh. This little well is believed to provide healing for people with mental and nervous conditions, including depression. As part of making the rounds here, pilgrims remove their shoes and walk barefoot in the cold water, then over a wall, through a pasture, across the road to the ruins of a small church, and back to the icy water.

I also visited Tobernalt Well twice, only a short distance south of Sligo Town. Tobernalt is much more developed than Saint Patrick’s Holy Well, with several statues, an altar, and stations of the cross, and mass is observed annually here on Garland Sunday (the last Sunday in July). This beautiful site dates to Celtic times and is said to have been blessed by Saint Patrick himself. Check this site for more information about the well, and how it crosses both Celtic and Christian traditions. This is an active holy site and while I was there, several came and lit candles, prayed, and made their rounds. It is a beautiful place of serenity.


Tobernalt Holy Well, Sligo


The mouth of Tobernalt Well


Another day, I was in search of Fowley Falls located in Lovely Leitrim. While I didn’t locate the falls, I found myself on a very tiny lane that led up a mountain. 20150914-GlencarDay1-2015090At one point, I thought, “I know I’m not lost; I just don’t know where I am.” I could have turned around, but I’ve learned that most always the local roads in Ireland eventually lead to larger regional roads. It was midday, I had a full tank of fuel, so I just went where the roads took me. And look what I found! I later learned that I had stumbled into the Aghavoghil Natural Bog. It was glorious! I parked my car in the road and nary a soul anywhere.


On this trip, I only drove as far north as Bundoran in County Donegal, on the Wild Atlantic Way. The WAW is a relatively new (2014) tourism campaign promoting the west coast of Ireland and takes in 2500 km of scenic coastline. Bundoran is a major surfing town, and even in September, there were people in wetsuits with their boards out in the cold Atlantic water. Bundoran’s beach is spectacular and on a clear day like I had, you could see the Donegal coast in the distance.


Bundoran Beach, Donegal


Bundoran with the mountains of Donegal in the distance

Between Bundoran and Sligo, is Mullaghmore, another charming coastal town. After passing through the town, I stopped on a road near the cliffs, where I could see Classiebawn Castle perched high on a hill; Benbulben in the background and the Atlantic to the west. I did not realize until later that Classiebawn had been the summer home of Lord Louis Mountbatten, until his death in August 1979 when he was killed by the IRA.


Classiebawn, Mullaghmore

Enniscrone, southwest of Sligo Town, is a popular tourist destination because of its wide beach and more importantly, its famous seaweed baths. I’ve no personal recommendation, but I know where you can go if you want to try one!


Seaweed Baths at Enniscrone

I won’t soon forget the majesty of the Wild Atlantic Way. Sláinte!


The mighty Atlantic, at Mullaghmore Head, County Sligo

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