06 November 2011

A walk through the trees and beside lake shores at Farnham

‘Lord Farnham’s Walk’ on the Estate Road ends at the lakeside on Farnham Lough and an attractive clearing known as the ‘American Garden’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Patrick Comerford

I woke up this morning to a view across frost-covered, crisp rolling open parkland beneath my bedroom window. Although we are moving into mid-November, the sky was clear blue, without a trace of cloud, and the landscape was decorated in autumnal greens, golden yellows and light browns.

Birds were singing in the trees, and – despite last week’s rains – there was a sense of autumn dallying for a little longer in Co Cavan.

After breakfast, two of us went into Cavan town for the 11 a.m. Holy Communion service in the parish church, where Canon Mark Lidwill is the Rector. But we returned to the Farnham estate afterwards to enjoy one of the many walks that start and finish at the hotel front door of the hotel.

The view I woke to this morning on the Farnham estate in Co Cavan (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

They promised in the hotel that once you set off, on these walks the world seems to slow down. And how right they were! We started on Walk 1, “Lord Farnham’s Walk,” on the estate road to Farnham Lough. We were soon surrounded by trees and ivy, branches and moss, solitude and tranquillity in a cathedral-like ambience under the tall pines, cedars and beech trees. A local guidebook describes the walks here as an “entire orchestra of sound out there and a son et lumière of light and shade.

The walk route was simple and easy, taking nor more than 45 minutes each way. Underfoot, the centuries-old pathway was on estate road was covered in leaves and twigs, turning at times into a mossy carpet.

The pathway is lined with a variety of trees, broadleaf and conifer, standalone specimen oaks, beech and cypress that have formed massive trunks and full broad crowns to show their full glory, often competing with each other for light, and so growing tall and thin to outreach their competitors.

The trees lining the walks also include birch, alder, hazel, sycamore, ash, lime, hawthorn, holly and hornbeam, as well as Scots pines, Norway spruce, Douglas fir, western red cedar, larch, Sitka spruce, noble fir and western hemlock. Here and there, rhododendrons were still boasting tiny late colourful displays.

Trees lining ‘Lord Farnham’s Walk’ on the Estate Road to Farnham Lough (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

The Estate Road to Farnham Lough, or “Lord Farnham’s Walk,” is a classic “starter” route – a simple out-and-back stroll – but it presents much of what is on offer throughout the estate.

I took sound advice to give up trying to recognise the different types of trees, and decided to just enjoy them all. Along the way, I noticed large beech trees with ferns growing on branches that hold bat boxes. They look like bird nest boxes, but have slits at the bottom to facilitate the nesting of bats.

The walk ends at an attractive clearing at the lakeside, known as the “American Garden,” beside an old boathouse clad in scaffolding and that must have seen better days.

Out in the lake is an island or crannog sprouting trees. A crannog (from the Irish crann, a tree) was a prehistoric lake fort, normally built upon logs embedded in the lake bottom, and provided secure refuge during times of attack.

We returned to the hotel for lunch, before and heading out on the road to Dublin. The sunset in the west seemed to last for most of the late afternoon. The sky was still blue, and as we crossed from Cavan into Meath, from Ulster into Leinster south of Virginia, the moon was bright and almost full to the east, while the setting sun was filing the sky with hues of pink and orange and purple.

Sunset viewed from the top of Tara Hill in Co Meath this evening (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

We stopped at Kells to look at Saint Columba’s Church of Ireland Parish Church, the Round Tower, the High Crosses and the old monastic site.

And still the daylight was holding. We decided there and then that we would climb the Hill of Tara. The view across the surrounding flat countryside stretched for miles upon miles, and darkness only truly set in as we made our way back down. The stories of Kells and Tara are worth telling on other days.

Cavan, or Urney, Parish Church, opened in 1815 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Meanwhile, Cavan, or Urney Parish Church, which I visited this morning, is planning to celebrate its bicentenary in four years time.

The church, which opened in 1815), is in the centre of Cavan town, across the street from the 20th century Roman Catholic Cathedral. The Church of Ireland cathedral for this diocese is in Kilmore, beyond Farnham, but church life in Cavan Town can be traced back to at least 1300, when the Dominicans founded a monastery here.

The Dominican friars were expelled around 1393, and Keadue monastery or abbey was handed over to the Franciscans. Owen Roe O’Neill, an Irish general, was buried in the abbey in 1649.

In 1610, King James I granted the town a royal charter with two MPs for the town and a new corporation for the Borough of Cavan, including a sovereign (mayor), two portreeves, twelve burgesses, freemen, a recorder and a town-clerk. The town also has a school, Cavan Royal, established under the charter from King Charles I.

The former friary was used as the Church of Ireland parish church until Christmas Day 1815, when the last service was held there. The new parish church, which opened in 1815, was built at the expense of John James Maxwell (1760-1823), who had succeeded his father as 2nd Earl of Farnham in 1800. Of course, Cavan town owes its present layout and streetscapes to the improvements made in the early 19th century by Lord Farnham. The church, which was designed by John Bowden, is built of sandstone and has an octagonal spire and three-faced clock.

The Farnham Monument in Cavan Parish Church: Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

The most impressive monument inside the church commemorates the 2nd Earl of Farnham, who died in 1823. This monument stands in the south chancel, behind the communion rails, and is signed “Chantry London 1826.” Parishioners say Lord Farnham is buried underneath the chancel tiles.

Later in the day, as I headed back towards Dublin, I felt refreshed, physically and spiritually.

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