Escape Velocity had been laboring up this twisty, switchbacked, one-lane mountain road for some time now, but just when I began to think we’ve reached the summit it only revealed an even steeper rise.
Rounding a tight switchback — I really don’t know how high up the mountain we were — a viewpoint sign flashed in front of me and I reflexively turned in. Clinging to the mountainside was a tiny parkup with about as magnificent a view as I’ve ever seen. It truly took my breath away. I switched off EV and we just sat there, mesmerized.
We leveled the van with ramps, turned off the engine, turned on the LPG and called it home.
We had miles to go to get to our intended destination but we thought maybe we could linger awhile. As the light played across the hills in an ever changing palette I said, “I’m just not ready to leave this place.”
I took a stroll and stumbled onto an old story that took place right where I was standing. It seems the folks in Urris, which is the little village towards the sea, had a still in just about every back yard where they distilled an incredibly potent, potato-based spirit called Poitin.
Everyone was happy with this state of affairs until it was outlawed in 1760. The distillers simply took to the hills where a lookout could spot police or revenuer from miles away on the only road up.
You can just imagine tiny fires dancing all night, far off up on the mountain, thumbing their noses at the authorities. In protest of the fines levied for having stills, the community blocked the pass with huge rocks. This held for three years until the British swooped in and that was that. Today poitin is still made in Urris and many people swear it’s the strongest spirit made. Note to self: further research required.
We stayed two nights at the overlook but to get to the Grianán of Aileach, a mountain-top fort built in the 9th century, first you’ve got to summit this crazy Gap of Mamore and we could see the steepest section is right in front of us.
We still had to climb all the way up Greenan Mountain.
The nearly perfectly round stone fort is built on the bones of a prehistoric fort and has a commanding and beautiful view of Lough Foyle and Inch Island to the north.
Awesome fun fact that Yours Truly dug up just for you Escapees: This fort, or at least its ancient location is one of only five in Ireland mentioned by Ptolemy on his map of the known world.
With the return of the Irish rain we headed down the mountain toward a beach and managed to stumble into another strange story. We had a very beachy parkup with lots of extra family fun, but the thing that intrigued us was an interesting bronze sculpture of multiple figures with upraised jazz hands. Well, let it never be said that we Escapees ignored something like that, dare I say art?
Walking up to the large sculpture we found that it was in fact two sculptures in some strange relationship to each other.
It’s titled “Flight of the Earls” but it didn’t mean much to us at the time. Well it turns out its significance can not be overstated, so bearing in mind that I am not an accredited historian and half the time I’m just making this stuff up, I’m going to give it a go.
It seems that after defeat at the battle of Kinsale in 1601, Hugh Roe O’Donnell and 90 or so of his closest buddy Earls and their families, finding themselves quite diminished in power and authority, decamped and traveled to Spain with the expectation that King Phillip lll might help them reinvade Ireland. Of course they had no idea that in 1598 Spain had gone bankrupt, you know, belly up, come-a-cropper, insolvent, chapter 11, pooched the dog, so it was never in the cards. Suffice to say it didn’t go well. Of course this signaled the end of the old Gaelic order due to the vacuum left by the ancient aristocracy of Ulster going into permanent exile, clearing the way for the Plantation of Ulster and troubles for centuries thereafter.