Sunday, May 23, 2010


Sunday 23rd May 2010


Today we took a trip to the Dunlewy and the Visitors Centre there ~ Ionad Cois Locha with the intention of taking their boat trip out onto Dunlewy Lake in order to get some photographs of Errigal and the surrounding countryside from the water.  I also wanted to take their 'cottage tour' to see what was inside the cottage.  I love going into these old places, seeing how life was lived many years ago.

Other than those two things I hadn't really expected to see much else but boy, was I in for a surprise.  The place was buzzing with lots of people enjoying an afternoon there.  As well as the historical interest for adults, there is lots for the children too including a mini farm with donkeys, pigs, a lamb, various birds including geese, hens, rabbits, peacock and peahen.  There's a small pond with pedallos, a climbing wall, a rodeo bull, a play area, and an indoor bouncy castle.  The farm is free to enter and there is a charge for the other attractions.  Our tour of the cottage and the boat trip came to €10 each.

The cottage and our guide, Francie Diver

The cottage tour, taken by guide Francie Diver, is of an old cottage owned in the middle of the last century by a weaver called Manus Ferry.  He lived there with his brother who took care of the sheep who provided the wool for the tweed and their sister who ran the little shop beside the cottage.  Manus' tweed weaving skills were excellent and he sold tweed to many famous people of the time including the late Tabasco Sauce millionaire,  Henry McIllhiney who at the time owned the nearby Glenveigh Castle and the Glenveigh Estate.  (Mr. McIllhiney later gifted ownership of the castle and the estate to the Irish state).  The coat woven by Manus Ferry and owned by Henry McIllhiney is on display in the cottage together with a photograph showing Mr. McIllhiney wearing the coat.

The tour starts off with a short slide show lasting about five minutes which gives a history of the area and later of the cottage and the Ferry family.  Next Francie gave a display of how raw wool was worked with and then spun on one of the two old looms there to eventually end up as bales of wool for knitting such items of clothing such as socks and jumpers.

After this display we moved on the the hand loom and the display of how the tweed was made was given, again by the multi-talented Francie.  I have to say you would need real concentration and co-ordination to work this beast of a loom but Francie made it look deceptively easy.  As he was displaying to us how the loom worked, he managed to produce about an 8" length of tweed, speaking all the way through!

Cottage interior ~ note the bed to the left of the hearth

Moving on from there we entered the cottage itself and what we would call today the living room.  Walking in the old cottage door the first thing that hits you is the heavenly smell of a turf fire.  I love that smell, evocative as it is of years gone by.  The room was typical of these old cottages in that it had an open fire with lots of crocks and pans sitting by the hearth, a bed recess, an old dresser packed with all manner of dishes including bowls from which people would drink their tea at one time.  There was the Sacred Heart picture with the little red light in front of it and even the china dogs on the mantelpiece.  An old table beside the window where the family would have eaten completed the room. 

Something very special there is an original pair of  a childs hobnailed boots in almost perfect condition.  These little boots, also called tackety boots, were handmade from leather and then had a sole of a metal plate and hobnails (flat headed nails) added in order that the boots would last longer.  If you look closely at the photograph (click to enlarge it) you can see a series of little cuts around the top of the boot.  These were done to make them more comfortable around the ankle as the leather is very stiff on them and would otherwise have cut in to the wearers flesh.  Apparently these were found by someone in an attic in nearby Gortahork and donated to the Center.

After this room we went to what would have been called 'the upper room' in days gone by, a good name as it is a room up from the main room and through a latched door to the side of the fireplace.  This room contained a bed, a small handmade wooded crib on rockers and various other bedroom paraphernalia.  The coat woven by Manus hangs on the edge of the wardrobe in this room.  If you look at the photograph to the left here, you can see the photo of Henry McIllhiney wearing the coat.

Moving back down through the living room and through a door on the opposite wall, we entered the 'lower room' or scullery/pantry and this is full of all sorts of kitchen items such as an old hand worked washing machine, pandys which were cans for holding milk and hand made by travelling tinkers of the time.  Indeed this is where the word 'tinker' came from, these travelling men fashioned all sorts of domestic items from tin and then sold them to the people whose villages they travelled through.  There is also a selection of old dishes and jugs and even an old wooden butter churn.

The old shop ~ note the plough in front of the shop

That completed our tour of the cottage and we exited out through the half door into a yard where we could see the old tin shop that the family ran.  Inside the wood lined shop there are many items still there from the days when the shop was open and the shop is more or less as it was.  On the counter there are a few old books which list what various customers bought.  I know from being in my grandparents shop here in Donegal as a child that such books were kept so the customers could collect groceries throughout the week and then pay for them at the end of the week.  The value of such books today is that they show us clearly what people bought at the time and what they paid for these items. 

Shop shelves

In the shop too there are various old 'bone-shakers', the name put on the black bikes of old.  On the counter there is a set of scales which would have been used to measure meal and flour and the like and all along the shelves behind the counter there are boxes which would have contained such things as sweets, snuff, biscuits, which were sold loose in those days.

After leaving the shop we wandered around the little farmyard for a while and then made our way down to the wooden jetty to take the boat trip.  Once on the jetty we waited with the other passengers for our 'captain' who turned out to be none other than ... yes, yet again, Francie!  Once on the boat, which is very easy to get onto as it sits right up at the jetty so you literally just step on to it, you have the choice of a couple of covered areas with lots of benches to sit in and enjoy the views from inside or alternatively, as we did, you can stand in the uncovered area.  Francie gives a running comentary on the surroundings and history of the area which is very informative.  The trip in total takes about 30 minutes and travels from the jetty at the Centre right up to just in front of the old church.

Errigal from the boat

Back on dry land, we walked back to the main building.  In here there are loos, a large gift shopping selling all manner of local crafts and gifts.  There is a cafe/diner which serves snacks and meals.  As it was nearly closing time (6pm) we didn't have time to sample the food so maybe next time. 

I think the centre is well worth a day out for both families to take their children to and also adults without children in tow.  It is rich in the history of the area but it is also a fun place for the children and we will certainly be back soon with our two older grandchildren who I know will have a ball there.

1 comment:

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