Just as the covid restrictions relaxed from ‘stay at home’ to ‘stay local,’ I came across the Friends of Sliabh Fuait driving tour on Instagram. There’s nothing as glorious as a drive in the Irish countryside on a sunny April day. So we decided to celebrate our newfound freedom by taking the driving tour. I had lived much of the second decade of my life at the bottom of this sprawling mountain but hadn’t realized that it was a) indeed a mountain and b) that it had a name.
Sliabh Fuait is an area that begins to rise in elevation about two miles south of the city limits of Armagh. For locals, it’s the Ballymacnab, Carrickatuke, Keady area. On Google maps, it’s roughly the area between the Newtownhamilton Rd and the Keady Road as far south as the border between Armagh and Monaghan. Fortunately, we didn’t have to cross the border because… you know…covid…
You can listen to the tour on Soundcloud, but I strongly recommend that you either download it first as the mobile internet coverage is patchy in places. We discovered this the hard way and ended up totally lost and missed one stop – the Giant’s Grave. We drove around in circles for a while and gave up in the end – but it was the only stop we missed – not bad going! You’ll need the premium version of Soundcloud to download the audio tour to your device in advance. However, there is a free downloadable PDF of the directions on the website that you should download in advance and take with you. Unfortunately, it’s just the directions and not the actual details of the tour, but you can always catch up when you get data again.
I’m not going to reinvent the wheel here. The Friends of Sliabh Fuait do an excellent job with the tour that begins its navigation at the gates of St Malachy’s Church in Armagh City. I’m just going to sprinkle in a few of my thoughts and ideas, along with a few pictures.
This is a tour you could make into a full-day trip if you were to bring along a picnic and hiking boots. When the world opens up, there are a couple of excellent places to eat along the way – my favourite being Basil Sheil’s Bar at Tassagh. But I’m jumping ahead…
The first stop is Lisnadill Church, halfway up Lisnadill Hill. I’ll let the tour fill in the details, but it’s a lovely old church.
This hill was the curse of my lazy youth. My best friend lived at the top of the hill, and I lived at the bottom. Even from halfway up, there is the quare view! (The picture doesn’t do the gradient justice.)
I’ve had many a long slog up that hill, either walking or cycling – which actually was walking since I had to push my pre-gears-era bike up the steep slope. The very odd time you’d get lucky when a passing tractor would be sufficiently slowed by the gradient so you could grab hold of some jutting out part of it and score a drag up the hill. Something that would have given my parents conniptions had they known what I was up to…
Further up and further in, like a Narnia-esque experience, you delve into deepest Ballymacnab. There’s a stop at the old Bull’s foot. This story always gave me the heebee-geebees even on a sunny day.
Now you can sit by it. The church in the background used to be our parish church. My Sister got married here (that’s not why its on the tour though!)
You can picnic and barbeque at Seagahan Dam, which is strictly not on the tour, but it comes very close. We didn’t steer off course, for a visit, being regular visitors to ‘The Dam’ already. It’s great for photos or clandestine meetings if your grandmother suddenly starts to inexplicably get younger and disappears (sorry, that’s a Rejuvenation Trilogy reference!). It has a lovely wee walk too.
My personal favourite was the Old Ballymacnab Graveyard.
Truly a hidden treasure.
And blissfully peaceful, with the sun warming a bee-buzzed afternoon.
Onwards and upwards to Carriatuke, with its 360-degree views, it’s the peak of Sliabh Fuait, I believe. Talk about staring off into the blue yonder! I’d love to catch a sunrise or a sunset here.
Darkley Forest is another excellent place to walk.
This is where the internet got patchy, and we lost both internet connection and our way! But we did manage to pick up the trail again at Tullynawood Lough, another great picnic spot. The stand out thing for me here was learning that the Children of Lir played here and returned her after spending 900 years turned into swans. It’s one of my favourite fairy tales/Irish legends, and I never realized parts of it took place so close to home!
By this stage, we were getting tired – probably because after a year of going nowhere, the stamina is low! Crikey, what will we be like when we go further afield? We stopped at the Darkley Mill and caught up listening to the parts of the tour we’d missed, then headed for Keady.
I was very impressed with the new arts centre. I hadn’t even noticed it on the few occasions I’d been in keady visiting friends and relatives.
The final stop is the Tassagh viaducts. I’ve loved looking at these since I was a child.
Tassagh road is one of the prettiest roads in Ireland. I’ve blogged about it before with a load more photos like the one below.
From here, it was a quick jaunt home via the Chinese takeaway. After a day like that, in these times, we felt like we were world-weary travellers. All in all, a great day out on Sliabh Fuait. How lucky are we to have this on our doorstep? It is weird to think it was always there, and I’d never appreciated it.
Sometimes all we have to do to see the beauty in our world is open our eyes and ears and more importantly, our hearts and minds.