Ancient and modern marvels by the Shannon

The upsurge in tourism on the River Shannon has given towns such as Drumsna an economic boost
The upsurge in tourism on the River Shannon has given towns such as Drumsna an economic boost
Joe Barry

Joe Barry

The Irish Timber Growers Association held a field trip recently and for once we gathered in a place which was easy to find, had good car parking and actually contained excellent pubs and cafes.

This is not the norm for us hardy forestry folk. Frequently our venues are half way up mountains that require a course in orienteering to locate. Bringing wet gear and one's own food and sustenance is a further essential. Even cars can be in danger during ITGA outings.

I recall destroying the catalytic convertor on a large and expensive Mercedes on a rough forest road in Co Clare during a field day some years ago. Fortunately it wasn't mine but belonged to a friend who had foolishly asked me to drive. Enough said however on that sore subject.

Having learnt our lesson on previous outings, many of us bring 4WDs these days and manufacturers could well benefit from seeking an ITGA seal of approval as an added advertisement for their vehicles.

Drumsna in Co Leitrim was formerly on the main Dublin to Sligo road but like its neighbor, Jamestown, and many other towns and villages, it has since been bypassed.

Back in the 1800s it was the main resting place for horse-drawn carriages and its harbour on the Shannon was then thriving. The construction of a canal in 1874 changed navigation however and most trade moved on elsewhere. This pattern was repeated when the new motorway removed much of the passing commercial traffic.

Rather than dying a second economic death, however, Drumsna has been saved from economic decline by the River Shannon. The town is now a busy place and a popular spot for the growing numbers of holiday makers who enjoy messing around with boats.

Having first viewed and discussed a fine nearby conifer woodland, we retired back to the village to enjoy lunch, relaxing in the welcome October sunshine. Here I discovered that the famous Victorian novelist, Anthony Trollope, had begun his literary career while staying in Drumsna as an employee of the postal service.

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An almost forgotten nearby landmark is the Doon of Drumsna, which is one of the oldest artificial structures in the world.

Huge stretches of a wall, constructed sometime around 200BC during the Iron Age, contain massive ramparts cutting off a great loop of the River Shannon and enclosing about 100ha of land. This acted as a formidable frontier fortification protecting Connaught from northern invaders.


A few days earlier I had mentioned to a former native of Mohill that I was visiting Drumsna. He told me to be sure to call to the railway station which was formerly the main gathering point for emigrants from the surrounding area travelling to Dublin, and from there to England and further afield.

He recalled from his childhood how entire families, girls and boys, would be forced to emigrate, with many of the young men having already been enlisted by the McAlpines to work on the buildings in London.

Apparently the McAlpines had offices in our major towns at that time and would pay the passage of suitable employees and also buy them a suit and a cardboard suitcase for their meagre belongings.

Because of its constant use by emigrants, Drumsna became known as 'the Crying Station' as so many would stand weeping bitterly as they watched their families and friends depart.

Nowadays emigration is no longer an absolute necessity but, for most, a wonderful opportunity to see the world and experience different cultures. Unlike in the past, today's emigrants are skilled and well educated and have the option of returning in later years if they wish.

While away, they can keep in touch with home thanks to mobile phones, Skype and cheap air flights. What a difference from the experiences of those unfortunates who were forced to flee Ireland from the 1840s to the 1950s.

In the afternoon we moved on to that other amazing construction which almost rivals the Doon in its size, the nearby Masonite factory.

Converting the residue of the surrounding conifer woods into door mouldings, the factory currently employs approximately 200 people and provides a major boost to local economy.

Times have changed for Drumsna and the surrounding counties and 'the Crying Station' is now part of history. We must ensure that neither the phrase or the era never returns.

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