Now I must begin by being perfectly honest, I have to admit that prior to last Friday my knowledge of the history and beauty spots of South Armagh was practically non-existent. I had heard of the famous Slieve Gullion, but not the Ring of Gullion tour which gives visitors the chance to delve back in-time to an Ireland ruled by Kings, Chieftains, and O’Neills…
In fact the Ring of Gullion tour goes back much further in-time and visitors can look forward to some of the finest, best preserved Neolithic Architecture, and hear tales of Cuchulainn and the Red Branch Knights and the beginnings of Christianity in Ireland.
The first stop on the Ring of Gullion tour is 16th century Bagenals Castle, a stunning building that was only rediscovered in 1996 when buildings from the McCann’s bakery which had enveloped the Castle were removed. Over the past 16 years the Castle has been renovated and redeveloped as a Museum, offering a window on life in 16th century Ireland, and as a tourist information centre.
Bagenals Castle in Newry City is the first stop on the Ring of Gullion tour
Moving on from Bagenal’s castle, and across Newry (ashamedly I have to admit my first time in the city) we ventured across into South Armagh. First step was a view of the stunning Craigmore Viaduct which at it’s highest point reaches 126 ft making it the highest in Ireland. The viaduct itself contains 18 arches and commuters on the Belfast to Dublin rail service will be very familiar with this crossing.
Derrymore House and Chancellors Road were next on the agenda. Derrymore house is famous as the building in which the Act of Union was drafted back in 1800. The house was built by Isaac Corry, an MP for Newry and according to our guide for the day, Una, because of Corry’s lack of popularity with the locals and over concerns for his safety, Corry had a road bypassing Newry constructed which subsequently became known as Chancellors Road.
Creggan Church of Ireland and burial ground
A whistle stop tour of Bessbrook was followed by a stop at Creggan Graveyard – burial place of three 18th century Irish poets, namely Art MacCooey, Padraig MacAliondain and Seamus Mor MacMurphy. The graveyard also acts as the burial place of the clan O’Neill with it’s tomb containing up to 70 skulls…
Next on the agenda was a trek to Annaghmore Court Cairn where we were given the opportunity to explore The Court Tomb of Annaghmore, perhaps the best preserved megalithic tomb in Ireland. Una explained that the Court Cairn has survived largely intact as a result of it’s hidden from the beaten track location.
Kilnasaggart Pillar Stone
After a stop-off at the fabulous, Crossmaglen Square Hotel, (I must say the lunch and service were exemplary), the tour made it’s way back towards Newry and our guide pointed out some further landmarks including Glassdrummond Church/Lake, Castle Roche, and Forkhill Church. The first stop on the afternoon’s itinerary was an adventure of sorts, climbing across gates and walls to discover Kilnasaggart Pillar Stone. Standing at an approx. height of 9 ft (perhaps I could be under or over stating it’s height, so apologies to anyone in the know) the stone itself contains a long Irish inscription recording the dedication of the place by Ternoc dated around 700AD.
17th century Moyry Castle provided a stunning viewpoint of the South Armagh, County Down and County Louth landscapes. Lord Mountjoy built the castle in 1601 to help secure Moyry Pass and the Gap of the North from being plundered. The Castle ruins are visually impressive and the Castle was used to house 17th century soldiers…
Killeavy Churches and Ballymacdermot Court Cairn were also included as points of interest on the tour, before our tour bus began it’s ascent to Bernish Viewpoint which offered panoramic views of Newry City with the beautiful Mourne Mountains acting as a backdrop. From such a height it was amazing to think how insignificant the hustle and bustle of the busy city really is as everything looked so tiny, but then that is what perspective is all about…
At the top of the world….or at least at Bernish Viewpoint
The Ring of Gullion tour is a perfect day out for any visitors with an interest in both ancient and modern Irish history. The scenery is spectacular, the mountains breath-taking and the contrasts offered by the tour in terms of the locations and points of interest introduced are well plotted. This is an area of Northern Ireland that is largely undiscovered by the masses, but with so much potential, that could all change in 2012.
For further information on the Ring of Gullion visit www.ringofgullion.org