'Feach amach!' for Fionn MacCumhaill on Sligo tour
A newly-launched heritage project is set to bring the landscape and traditions of West Sligo to life this coming Halloween weekend.
The brainchild of civil servant, avid musician and Irish language promoter Teresa McGuinness, 'Gaeilge Galore ar an Turas Mór' brings Irish language and heritage on tour for locals and visitors alike.
Earlier this year Teresa won an award for a project on Bliain na mBan, commemorating 100 years since Irish women won the right to vote. Now she's turning her attention to Bliain na Gaeilge, a scheme which celebrates and engages people in the Irish language. As a lifelong Irish language enthusiast, Bliain na Gaeilge is close to Teresa's heart.
"I've been promoting Irish language, music and culture since I was a child," she says. "Now my 17-year-old daughter Lorna is equally involved, and together we came up with the idea for 'Gaeilge Galore ar an Turas Mór.'"
Setting out at 2pm on Bank Holiday Monday October 29th, An Turas Mór is a free bus tour of six iconic historical sites of West Sligo, with narration by two local historians.
"The tour will blend together the history, culture, beauty, myth and music that abound in Sligo," says Teresa.
"We'll be speaking Irish and encouraging passengers to 'Féach amach!' at various sites on the way. Everyone will get a booklet with Irish translations of place names and a little about their history."
The tour will be followed by a session of traditional Irish music, song and dance, with more than a cúpla focail thrown in for good measure.
The initiative has grabbed the attention of Sligo's Creative Ireland Programme organisers, and receives support through the programme at local level.
"This project showcases the wealth of archaeology and mythology that's abundant in Sligo," says the county's Creative Ireland co-ordinator Donal Tinney. "Having put out an open call for Bliain na Gaeilge to the community, we got a great response from people who hadn't previously engaged with arts grants.
"This idea, which is rooted in Dromore West, brings the landscape, language and heritage to life for a new audience."
Through the initiative, local historian Carmel Gordon will share her knowledge of the origins of place names as well as the history, legend and folklore attached to them.
Attractions on the tour include Split Rock, Easkey Castle, Rathlee Tower, Enniscrone Castle, Black Pig and the Mermaid Stones in Enniscrone.
Known locally as 'Fionn's Stone,' Split Rock is a massive granite boulder split in two, which lies in a field a mile and a half east of Easkey in West Sligo.
"The village of Easkey is named after the river originally known as 'Iascaigh' as it was once teeming with fish," Carmel says.
"In the mid-1800s, two tonnes of salmon were said to have been exported from the river to England every week. Now you would be hard-pressed to find a fish in it.
The townlands around the village also have their roots in the Irish language.
"Curraghnagap is from the Irish meaning 'The wet place of the tree stump,' so-called after a forest was cut down. Aderavoher comes from 'Áit dhá bhóthar,' or 'the place of two roads', and Bunowna derives its name from 'Bun an abhainn' or 'bottom of the river', Carmel says.
Easkey is in the Barony of Tireragh or 'Tír Fhiachrach' - Fiachrach's land. Fiachrach was one of the O'Dowd clan that ruled the area from Ballina to Ballisodare.
"They also ran a Bardic school for the noblemen's children, where one of the last of the great Irish scholars, Dubhaltach Mac Fhirbhisigh, documented the genealogy of the Gaelic lords. One evening in 1671, on his way to Dublin, Dubhaltach was murdered by a young buck called Crofton at an inn in Skreen," she recounts.
These are just some of the stories in store for passengers on board Gaeilge Galore ar an Turas Mór. After the event, participants are invited to submit their own drawings or paintings of their favourite sites to be displayed at an art exhibition at Dromore West Community Centre a few weeks later.
In a further exercise to promote the Irish language, names of everyone who submitted an artwork will then be put into a draw, for two places at a local Gaeltacht summer school for children.
"An Turas Mór is going to be a fantastic event, and it's all free, thanks to the support of Creative Ireland and local volunteers," says Teresa McGuinness.
"We've booked a 153-seater bus, and if that fills up, we'll have mini buses lined up to follow. It's going to be a fantastic day, and we look forward to welcoming everyone on board, but you need to book in advance so that we know how many buses we need."
To book a place on the An Turas Mór call 086 876 5545 after 6pm.