Recommended Tour: Glencar Waterfall

Most people don't realise that Leitrim is the most sparsely populated County in Ireland. But with this fact in mind, it's no surprise that the County has some of the most beautiful and unspoilt landscapes on offer.

We recently visited County Leitrim and were blown away by the scenery. As the weather was against us we travelled by car, but Electric Bike Trails in Leitrim village offer a great way to see the sights. They provide electric bikes for day rental if you want to visit Arigna Cave. They also provide bicycles for a variety of longer routes and you can even cycle to Glencar Waterfall and Parke's Castle if you have enough time. Here are some of the highlights of our trip around Leitrim.

From the shores of Lough Gill.

On our way to Parke's Castle, we passed Lough Gill. The location was amazing so we stopped to take a few pictures. Interestingly  W.B Yeats wrote the well known poem titled "The Lake Isle of Innisfree"  about an island on this lough where he spent his summers as a child. Its easy to see why it inspired him too.

Lough Gill

Lough Gill

Parke's Castle entrance.

Parke's Castle

Next we arrived at Parke's Castle. You can do a full tour of the castle with a guide for a small fee and ours was very friendly and knowledgeable. This beautifully restored 17th century castle is located on the banks of Lough Gill. It is built on the site of the 15th century O'Rourke Castle. The castle changed hands after Brian O'Rourke was executed for treason for providing refuge to a shipwrecked captain from the Spanish Armada. Roger Parke kept the  original walls of the bawn and built the three-storey manor (pictured above) using stones from the demolished O'Rourke's tower. 

Castle Courtyard and walls.

Looking out.. it almost appears like Winterfell!

Looking out.. it almost appears like Winterfell!

Courtyard and Well at Parke's Castle

Blacksmith's Forge, Parke's Castle

As you pass the well in the courtyard, there is a small thatched stone building. Go inside and you will be amazed at this beautifully restored blacksmith's forge. It felt like taking a step back in time and it was great to see that the OPW used traditional techniques and craftsmanship to restore the thatched forge to its former glory. The roof of the manor and spiral stairwell were also reconstructed using period authentic Irish oak.

Roof restoration using Irish Oak 

A View from a window in the 3 storey manor house.

The Sweat House at Parke's Castle

Down by the lake at the back of the castle, there is a 12th century Sweathouse. Stones would be heated in a fire and placed in the small man made cave before the entrance was temporarily sealed. It was thought to be used by O'Rourke as a sauna for himself and guests. What's more, its close proximity to Lough Gill meant visitors could dive in the water afterwards.

Arigna Mining Experience

Following on from Parke's Castle, we visited the Arigna Coal Mine in nearby County Roscommon.  This mine was opened in the 1600's. Coal from here was first used for the processing of iron-ore which was deposited nearby and needed to be melted down. Interestingly, Arigna iron smelted with coal from this mine was used to build the Ha'Penny bridge in 1816. Pictured below is one of the ventilation shafts used to supply air to their workers. We were taken down into the cave by a tour guide who actually worked in this mine during the sixties. He provided a fascinating first hand account of what it was like mining in such hazardous conditions.

Arigna Coal Mine Air Vent Shaft.

Arigna Coal Mine Air Vent Shaft.

Below is a typical coal seam at the Arigna cave. The miners would have to lie on their side inside the seam to shovel the coal out. This was incredibly physical and dangerous work. Explosions, dust, darkness and heavy machinery were just some of the hazards faced by the miners. In fact our tour guide now suffers from Silicosis as a result of his work as a miner. The tour was highly educational and I left the cave with a greater appreciation of the hardships Irish workers have suffered in the past. 

Coal Vein at Arigna Cave.

Coal Rail cart sysyem at Arigna.

Pictured above is one of the rail cart systems they used to transport loads of coal from the mine. As we were leaving the Arigna Mine, it was compulsory to take a quick snap of the countryside below. We really are lucky to have access to such scenery!

View over the landscape from outside Arigna Cave.

Amazing Glencar Lake. Complete with tiny island.

Glencar Waterfall

The final destination on our itinerary was Glencar waterfall. Located beside Glencar Lough, this is without a doubt one of the most uniquely beautiful locations I've ever seen. Luckily we arrived during perfect weather conditions so we began our short walk to the nearby waterfall.

Vast and varied landscape. 

Opposite the lake and adjacent to the waterfall, there is a stunning wooded area with foreboding rock cliff-faces. Standing there, it felt a little like a location from Jurassic Park! In fact I'm almost certain a velociraptor is inside that blue box, but lets not speculate. We wandered from here to the waterfall which is less than a five minute walk away. Our first view of it was spectacular and it was certainly larger than we'd anticipated. I am always amazed by how water, such a powerful and destructive force can carve out such beauty in the countryside. It is difficult to fathom how man could even conceive such an awe-inspiring location.

Glencar Waterfall comes into view..

Glencar Waterfall

A walkway has been constructed that leads around the waterfall and makes for great views. A rain jacket comes in handy as the waterfall produces a fine mist but don't worry its refreshing!

One last view of Glencar Waterfall.

Glencar Waterfall - Return walkway

Ben Bulben, Co. Sligo visible in the distance,

Following on from Glencar waterfall we had a delicious lunch at the adjacent cafe. While we were there the weather took a dramatic turn but it made for some interesting scenes such as the one above. You can see the distinct cliff-face of Ben Bulben in Co. Sligo beyond Glencar Lough. If you're in Leitrim, Glencar waterfall is a must and I highly recommend it for a day out.What's more, its free so there is no excuse to overlook what this landscape has to offer.

Leitrim is full of history, culture and beauty. Just go and experience it.

- Mark Sheils,

Founder, Picture Ireland