The Geopark is a refuge for amazing species, a paradise for incredible flora and fauna and a protector of age old history. But did you know the Geopark is also home to some of Ireland’s most fascinating folklore and mythology? From quarrelling giants to mythical white horses, Cuilcagh Lakelands Geopark has all the magic and enchantment you could wish for.
Cuilcagh Lakelands Geopark, is one of four transnational Geoparks in the world. (We think that’s pretty amazing!). That’s because it straddles the border between Northern Ireland (UK) and the Republic of Ireland. The Geopark covers an impressive 2,333km2 in the north-west of the island of Ireland.
Let’s take a step back in time, to 1985, where it all began. Fermanagh District Council opened the Marble Arch Caves as an exciting tourist attraction, which quickly gained success, encouraging people from Ireland and beyond to bask in it’s beauty and learn about it’s fascinating geological history. It’s huge success led to a need for wider facilities to accommodate the interest of tourists and locals alike and the inevitable success of the future Geopark began.
It was after this, Cuilcagh Mountain Park was founded, in 1998. With assistance from the European Union’s LIFE Peatlands Project and the Heritage Lottery Fund, work began to ensure that the endangered blanket bog was being preserved and protected. This was achieved by restoring damaged peatland, conserving pristine blanket bog and increasing awareness of bogland habitats and wildlife. At the heart of this work was conservation, community and education, making it a perfect candidate for Geopark status!
While all this wonderful conservation was happening, the European Geoparks Network began to bloom, with a small number of parks in Europe connecting to promote their shared geological heritage. In 2000, the concept of the “Geopark” was born, with a mission to promote geological landscapes of international significance and use this as an instrument to support local economies through sustainable geo-tourism (something that our Geopark had been doing since 1985!).
In 2001, the first European Geoparks were established, and the Marble Arch Caves and Cuilcagh Mountain Park were jointly recognised as the first European Geopark in the UK. The Global Geoparks Network was founded thereafter in 2004. At this time, every European Geopark automatically became part of a world-wide network; and the Marble Arch Caves and Cuilcagh Mountain Park became formally known as the Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark.
Having undergone major changes in the past 20 years, the growth and expansion of the Geopark is nothing short of magnificent. Due to a significant expansion into west Fermanagh and a subsequent expansion across the border with the Republic of Ireland into West Cavan, what began as one of the smaller Geoparks within the Global Geopark Network, is now one of four transnational Geoparks, worldwide, and is home to over 40 sites of interest, covering 18,000 hectares.
Now formally named Cuilcagh Lakelands Geopark, we are proud to say that we are a leading UNESCO Global Geopark within the Global Geoparks Network. Having held community, sustainability, education and conservation of our beautiful landscape at the core of our ethos, we have grown to be a Geopark giant that inspires, supports and educates not only our local communities, but Geopark communities worldwide. Representatives of Cuilcagh Lakelands Geopark play leading roles in the ongoing development of Geoparks around the globe, and we are not only proud of the impact our Geopark has had on our local environment, but the positive impact that has echoed throughout our world.
Now a proud member of “UNESCO Global Geoparks”, Cuilcagh Lakelands Geopark has become Northern Ireland’s second only UNESCO supported location alongside the Giant’s Causeway World Heritage Site. This equates the site to other UNESCO sites in Ireland such as the prehistoric monuments at Newgrange, giving it the respect, admiration and esteem it deserves.
Watch this space, as there’s so much more to come!
Giant’s Grave is a breathtaking feature of the Geopark, located in Cavan Burren Park. It is a wedge tomb, on an elevated site. The tomb is thought to have been constructed during the late neolithic, to early bronze age, around 4000 years ago. Although, some locals may tell you differently. Giant’s Grave got its name from an old folklore that tells the tale of two young giants, Lugh and Lag. Lugh and Lag fell in love with the same young female giant, and were forced to go head to head for her affections. They challenged one another to jump over a wide chasm, but Lag took the challenge a step too far. He decided to jump backwards, and tragically fell to his death in the chasm below. It is said he was buried in the wedge tomb, beside the chasm. The tale was left incomplete, as we never did find out if Lugh won the female giant’s heart.
Ireland’s longest river, The Shannon, surfaces within the Geopark. Legend has it that the Shannon can be traced back to the days of the mythical warrior, Fionn MacCool. Síonnan, granddaughter of the Celtic God of the Sea, Lír, visited the Shannon Pot, in search of the magnificent Salmon of Knowledge. However, the salmon was not pleased to meet Síonnan’s acquaintance and in a fit of rage caused the pool to overflow, thrusting her deep down to the bottom of the river, where she was never seen again. The Shannon was then created, and still bears poor Síonnan’s name today.
Glangevlin or Gleann Ghaibhle is often interpreted as the valley with the fork. However, tradition has it that this name derives from a mythical cow that roamed the lands of the Geopark at the time of the mythological tribe, Tuatha Dé Danann. The cow was said to be enchanted, having endless fertility that allowed for a bountiful supply of milk.
Benaughlin Mountain is a beautiful site within the foothills of Cuilcagh Mountain. Benaughlin or Binn Eachlabhra as it is known in Irish, translates as “the peak of the speaking horse”. This comes from an old folk tale, that tells of a mythical white horse that would appear every Bilberry Sunday to foretell the future. Bilberry Sunday is a traditional Irish festival, celebrated during the Summer months, where people would flock to hillsides, mountain tops and peatlands to pick bilberries, and if they were lucky, find a spouse.
Big Dog Forest is said to be named after the larger of two hills that decorate the forest’s skyline named, “Big Dog” and “Little Dog”. The hills are named after Irish legend Fionn MacCool’s Irish Wolfhounds, Bran and Skeola. Legend has it that this wild pair were once chasing after an ancient witch. However, the witch got the better of the wild dogs and cast a spell, turning them both into stone.
There are numerous wells and springs within the Geopark that are said to have healing powers. Drumod Sulphur Spa, is known to have healing properties, with people flocking from all over Europe for a taste. People are also drawn to the magic of St Patrick’s Holy Well, just outside the village of Belcoo, which is said to have been blessed by St Patrick himself.
Many of the names of spectacular sites in the Geopark are named after folklore that depicts great tragedy. An example of this is the Hanging Rock, a fifty foot limestone cliff. The name was birthed from a local legend, that says a rock dislodged from the cliff and fell on to a travelling salt seller, who happened to be taking shelter from a storm. The supposed offending rock is called “Salter’s Rock’ and can be seen from the roadside.