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Visiting, Dundalk, County Louth, Ireland, on the Castletown River: overlooked by the Cooley Mountains
Clandestinity a local leitmotif for thousands of years
Dundalk (Irish: Dún Dealgan ) is in County Louth (Irish: Contae Lú ) in the Republic of Ireland.
The looming, nearby Cooley (Irish: Cuaille ) Mountains, on the Cooley Peninsula, have a possibly mysterious and certainly historic aura to them (1). One of the most ancient texts in the Irish language is The Cooley Cattle Raid, a legend dating from about 2000 years ago. Tradition also holds that the sport of hurling originated in these mountains.
In more recent years, this region close to the border with Northern Ireland and particularly to South Armagh — sometimes referred to as 'Bandit Country' — was a hotpoint of conflict and clandestine activity. Or, more prosaically, the disparity between the prices of various commodities north and south of the border, long ago made smuggling a profitable local pursuit.
Duldalk is said to have been the birthplace of Cú Chulainn, legendary warrior in Irish, Scottish and Manx mythology. While this figure has often been taken to be a symbol of Irish nationality, Cú Chulainn has also been adopted by some Ulster Unionists as symbolic of local identity.
During the Irish Civil War of 1922-1923, the facility now known as the Aiken Military Barracks, in Dundalk saw significant action when in a series of events anti-Treaty Republicans led by Frank Aiken (Irish: Proinsias Mac Aodhagáin ; 1898-1983) successively were imprisoned, escaped and subsequently aided the escape of other Republican prisoners.
The bridge over the Castletown River (3) depicted in the main picture, above, is often referred to by local people as the 'Big Bridge'; part of its significance is that prior to 1996 it carried the bulk of road traffic between Dublin and Belfast.
September 17, 2012
(1) Novelist Jack Higgins has set various scenes of a number of his novels in the Cooley Peninsula.
(2) Frank Aiken was Chief of Staff of the Irish Republican Army (Irish: Óglaigh na hÉireann) 1923-1925, and was elected to Dáil Éireann continuously from 1923 to 1973, serving variously as Tánaiste, Minister for External Affairs and other portfolios.
(3) Interestingly, another border nuance lies in the fact that the Castletown River at Dundalk originates in Co. Armagh, Northern Ireland, and north of the border it is mainly known as the Creggan River.
Also worth seeing
In Dundalk itself, visitor attractions include: ruined Cu Chulainn Castle in Dundalk, Norman in origin, named for the legendary figure associated with the town; Seatown Windmill, reckoned to date from Medieval times; Proleek Dolmen, outside the town, weighs 40 tonnes; the Agnes Burns Cottage and Visitor Centre, 7 kilometres from the town, recalls the sister of Scotland's poet Robert Burns, accomplished writer in her own right.
Drogheda (distance: 36 kilometres); sights include the spired St Peter's church and the 13th century St. Lawrence Gate.
How to get there: Aer Lingus flies from New York and Boston to Dublin Airport, from where car rental is available. Bus Éireann operates bus services to Dundalk from Dublin's Busárus (bus station). Irish Rail operates rail services to Dundalk from Dublin Connolly Station. By road, take M1 north from Dublin. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.
MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.
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