Turas Columbanus Stage 7
Virginia to Cleenish Island
The town of Virginia was founded during the Plantation of Ulster and was named after Queen Elizabeth I of England, the ‘Virgin Queen’. It’s a busy spot with a lot of through traffic towards Cavan and the road to Ballyjamesduff is very narrow with heavy traffic.
I found a lovely way to avoid that by cycling through Deerpark Forest Park – 160 hectares full of fantastic trails along the shores of Lough Ramor. After 6kms I exited out onto the Oldcastle road where I took a left and continued for 2kms taking a right then just before a sharp bend. This brought me on another isolated bóithrín, perfect for the bike which took me almost all the way into Ballyjamesduff, made famous by the poet and song writer Percy French, whose statue adorns the main street.
The network of minor roads is just brilliant for cycle touring in this country and I was able to head on to Cavan town again on stunningly beautiful quiet bóithríns by taking the road towards Crosserlough and taking a right after 3kms onto another even smaller road!
A few small hills added to the variety of the route which I welcomed after so long on the level ground of the central plains of the Leinster.
Mention Cavan and the O Reilly clan name is closely associated with the county – so many great footballers down the decades! Kingspan Breffni Park is one of the great GAA venues. It’s a natural amphitheatre that draws thousands in support of their teams during the Ulster SFC.
The town itself was founded by the O Reilly’s and is unique as it is thought to be the only medieval Gaelic town. It’s a good stopping off point with plenty of accommodation and hostelries before travelling onwards.
I again took liberties to devise my own route that kept off the main roads and weaved a magical path through the Cavan lake lands and drumlins. Its an area planted with lots of native beech and oak and is terrific cycling country.
It’s approximately 30kms to Ballyconnell along these quiet roads with only the village of Milltown for resupplies. I loved this section of the route, so quiet, peaceful, and scenic. I picked up the (sometimes well signposted) Kingfisher cycling route into Ballyconnell.
Ballyconnell and Derrylin are at the epicentre of the former mighty Quinn industrial empire and the road between the two is busy with heavy goods vehicles entering and leaving quarries and factories. Thankfully, the road is wide and straight for the 9kms to Derrylin in County Fermanagh.
I took the main Enniskillen road all the way to Bellanaleck, 13kms away. It is possible to exit off it and go via Kinawley, but I reckoned on that road also being busy. Accommodation is thin on the ground in the village, so I headed out to Cleenish Island on Upper Lough Erne and found the perfect place to stay in Corrigan’s Loughshore B&B, on the shores of the lake. It was a Godsend!
Cleenish Island is one of the important sites associated with Saint Columbanus for he spent some time here at the monastery of Saint Sinell. Sinell was a significant monk famous for his holiness and learning and it appears to have been here that Columbanus opted to receive some further studies before he entered the monastic life. Sinell was a student of our old friend St Finnian of Clonard, who we met previously in Myshall and in Clonard County Meath. Perhaps the Myshall connection was significant.
There are some ruins in a small wooded graveyard on the lakeshore but nothing else to identify the monastery. Upper and Lower Lough Erne are some of the most beautiful places to visit and it is easy imagine the attractiveness of Cleenish as a monastic site.
The island has some other interesting history too and recently there have been some stories of ghostly sightings among the abandoned houses that dot the island!
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