Enniskillen Things to Do

  • Portora Castle
    Portora Castle
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  • Enniskillen Castle - Watergate
    Enniskillen Castle - Watergate
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  • Devenish Island - Monastic Ruins
    Devenish Island - Monastic Ruins
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Most Recent Things to Do in Enniskillen

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    Castle Balfour, Lisnaskea

    by wabat Written Jun 6, 2013

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    Sir James Balfour, a Plantation undertaker from Fifeshire, Scotland, built Castle Balfour about 1618 on the edge of a low limestone cliff on the edge of the present town of Lisnaskea to assist in the securing of the plantation of Ulster, occurring at this time. Like many of the Plantation castles in County Fermanagh, the architecture is Scottish strong house in style with several turrets and corbelled projections. The building is thought to be the work of Lowland Scots masons as opposed to most of the other plantation castles which were built by local Irish tradesmen.

    During the 1641 Irish Rebellion both the castle and town of Lisnaskea were burned but later reoccupied. The castle was again destroyed by Jacobite armies in the Williamite campaign of 1689. The reinstated castle was passed to the Creightons of Crom (The Earl of Erne) when the Balfours left Fermanagh in about 1780. Castle Balfour was then occupied until 1803 when it was destroyed in a fire thought to have been started by a member of the Maguire Clan. Lisnaskea was the seat of the Maguire clan until evicted by the Planters in the early 17th century.

    The badly damaged castle was stabilised and partially reconstructed in 1962-66. The Bawn (Irish defensive walls and flanker towers typical of the plantation castles now form part of the graveyard of the Church of Ireland, the grounds of which now includes the castle.

    I have prepared reviews on several other plantation castles. While there are many similarities between them each one is unique and has its own story to tell. Do have a look at some of these reviews - Portora, Monea, Tully , and Crevenish.

    Opening Hours: 24/7

    Entry Fee: Free

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    Enniskillen Town Hall

    by wabat Updated Jun 4, 2013

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    Town Hall
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    The Town Hall is located in the centre of Enniskillen (at the Diamond) and on one of two hills on the Island. Atop the other hill a couple of hundred metres away is St Macartin’s Cathedral.

    The renaissance style building of dark Carrickreagh limestone finished with Dungannon sandstone columns, cornices and statues was built in 1901. Its copper dome can be seen from almost anywhere in the town. The Town Hall is built of the site of William Cole’s (the town’s founder) original 1618 market house.

    The two sandstone figures, which I particularly like and which are rather rare additions to buildings like this, represent the two army regiments raised in the town in 1688/89– the Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards (photo two) and the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers (photo three).

    The doors are of oak and hand carved by William Scott, a local craftsman. In the lobby you will find a (bomb proof ! – it having survived a 1972 bomb blast unlike the remainder of the floor) floor mosaic created by Italian artists and depicting the Enniskillen coat of arms

    The Town Hall is, as you might expect, the centre of local government and home to the Fermanagh District Council. Unless you have the urge for a quick on the spot marriage (not recommended) in the Registry Office or have need to register a birth or a death you will not have much reason to venture inside.

    Stop for a look as you pass by.

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    St Mary’s and the Hanging Tree

    by wabat Updated Jun 3, 2013

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    St Mary's Church, Ardess
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    St Mary’s Church in Ardess, where the Ardess Famine Pit (see my separate tip) is located, was originally built in 1387. Part of today’s present stone built structure can be dated as far back as fifty years before the Reformation.

    The earliest recorded headstones here (the earliest known example of sculpted headstones in Ireland – many in the form of the Irish Celtic Cross) date from the 1600s. Prior to this burials were marked by wooden rather than stone headstones. The graves in this graveyard face east with the exception of priests’ who, according to local folklore, face west reportedly overlooking their flock. Directly beneath the Church lies the family vault of the Archdales once one of Fermanagh’s premier families since the plantation.

    While wandering around the graveyard you will come upon an old tree stump with a plaque stating “ Site of the Hanging Tree circa 1641”. It is highly improbable that anyone was hung from the tree now reduced to the visible stump, not least because the stump/ tree would have long ago rotted away had it existed in 1641. An Ash tree like this has a maximum lifespan of around 200 years.

    While the Hanging Tree may be a figment of someone's imagination it is possible that people were hung in this area in 1641. In depositions collected after the 1641 Irish Rebellion evidence of Ann Blennerhassett, wife of Francis who was shot by rebels in Ballyshannon on Christmas Eve of that year states:-

    "And further saith that she heard some of the rebel soldiers at the said Rory Maguire's house (Crevenish Castle, near Kesh) brag, boast and say that they had hanged several Protestants on the churchyard gate of that parish (St. Mary's, Ardess) where Mr. Flack was minister."

    The truth will probably never be known.

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    Ardess Famine Pit

    by wabat Written Jun 3, 2013

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    Famine Pit (foreground) and Memorial
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    “Within this famine pit lieth the unknown dead 1845-1850” – inscription on the Famine Pit Memorial.

    As global leaders meet for the G8 Summit, outside Enniskillen in June 2013, to discuss global hunger among other things, I wonder how many will recall the death of over a million from starvation in the 1845-50 Irish famine? I am sure that few will know that within a few kilometres of the Summit venue 200 hundred or more of the dead lie in a mass grave known simply as the Famine Pit.

    In 1836 a Poor Law Inquiry found that over one third of the people of Ireland depended on the potato as their main (almost only) source of food. The Potato Famine of 1845-49 brought inevitable results. The Poor Law Workhouse system introduced in 1838 failed. This famine grave – located in the graveyard of St Mary’s Church at Ardess (see seperate tip) outside Kesh - is a grim reminder of the effect of the famine on the Kesh and Ederney area and on Femanagh generally where it is thought that over 25% of the population died or emigrated as a direct result of the famine. Across Ireland, in addition to the million or so deaths, a couple of million more fled the country mainly for America and Canada.

    There is no record of the identities of any of the people buried in this pit – in reality a sunken mound - (which runs for 120ft (40metres) up the Memorial tomb) which lay derelict, overgrown and forgotten for decades. The pit was restored in 1997 (marking the 150th anniversary of 1847 – Black 47) by the Ardess Community Association and the Ardess Historical Society when a four part memorial, designed by local artist Gordon Johnston, was erected at one end of the pit.

    The Memorial

    The vaulted tomb of local limestone symbolises an abandoned homestead, the grass covering symbolises a thatched cottage, the footbridge (set back along the pit just out of the attached picture one) provides an overview of the size of the pit emphasising the enormity of the tragic event it represents, and the funeral bier (makeshift field stretcher) recalls the tradition of leaving behind the two roughly hewn poles used to transport the dead.

    Opening time: Church Graveyard open 24/7

    Entrance Fee: Free

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    Crevenish Castle

    by wabat Written Jun 2, 2013

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    The remains of Crevenish Castle are south-east of the village of Kesh on the Crevenish Road, or 'the back road' as the locals call it – a beautiful drive in itself.

    The Castle (originally called Castle Hassett) was built by Thomas Blennerhassett a native of Norwich, England. Blennerhassett secured his land here - confiscated Maguire property - in 1610 as part of the Ulster Plantation. A church, built around the same time has long since disappeared.

    Thomas Blennerhassett died on 11 March 1624 and he, and his wife,,is buried in the castle grounds – his tombstone (hard to read) can still be seen at the castle.

    Like the other Plantation castles (eg Portora , Tully and Monea) Crevenish Castle also featured in the 1641 Irish Rebellion which was aimed at ridding Ireland of the plantation settlers. The Maguires had a different approach to Crevenish - by 1641 they actually owned the castle! Rory Maguire had married a Dehorah Mervyn in 1640. Deborah Mervyn (also buried at the castle) had been previously married to Sir Leonard Blennerhassett, son of Thomas Blennerhassett.

    While the Castle survived 1641 intact it did not last long there-after. Rory Maguire was killed, aged 28, in a skirmish at Carruckdrumbush, County Leitrim in 1648. Trimble’s “History of Enniskillen” book refers to a letter dated 22 May 1697 which states that “the house is ruinous and the orchards spoiled”. How it got to this state is not stated.

    The Castle and gardens surrounding it are immaculately kept and actually now form part of Crevenish Castle Holiday Park (and as such is in private hands and subject to opening hours of the Park) which looks like a delightful place to stay on the banks of the Erne. I didn’t stay here or inspect its lodgings so can’t comment except to say that each lodging comes with its own private jetty – useful if you arrive by boat!

    I actually visited out of season but the park owners (who were tending to the lawns) were more than happy to admit me to the castle. the weblink below relates to the Holiday Park.

    Entrance Fee: Free

    Opening times: See tip for details

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    Janus and the Lusty Man

    by wabat Written Jun 2, 2013

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    Boa Island Figure - Janus
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    I have to say I was rather surprised when I visited Caldragh Cemetery on Boa Island, Lower lough Erne. For many years I have seen just close-up pictures of “Janus” and the “Lusty Man” (properly referred to as the Boa Island and Lustymore figures respectively) and accordingly, or for whatever reason, assumed them to be at least a couple of metres high. On entering the cemetery I could not see the said figures. Wandering around I happened upon them – Janus being about 73cms tall and the Lusty man about 60cm – sitting in the centre of the graveyard among random stones that mark long-forgotten dead. A nearby base – which some think belongs to Janus - would, if that were the case, increase its size to nearly 2 metres.

    Let not size detract from the sculptures. Having come to terms with that, I was actually taken by them both in their current location – certainly something mystical here. I set to imagining what the graveyard would look like in a low lying fog or mist - it's that sort of place, without being creepy.

    Both figures are generally thought to date from 400 – 800AD (Lusty Man being the oldest) – the early Christian period in Ireland though it is by no means certain that either figure is Christian in origin nor is the reason for their creation known. In the event that they are early Christian, their creators certainly included older pagan features in the figures. Some suggest they are of pre-Christian bronze age origin.

    The Janus figure is so referred to because of what appears to be a figure with two (pear shaped) heads with the interlacing between the heads being hair – again it may in fact be two back to back figures. Whichever it is, it certainly has no relationship to the more famous Janus – the two faced Roman God of Beginnings.

    The Lusty Man – contrary to what its common name might suggest is not a stone age man with high levels of testosterone. Rather, its name derives from the fact that it was originally found sitting on its own on the nearby Lustymore Island. It was brought to Caldragh graveyard and erected beside Janus in 1939. Lusty Man may even be a female – only in Ireland!

    While I am explaining the names accorded these sculptures I should mention that Boa in Boa Island has nothing the do with snakes – my reader will recall that St Patrick banished these from Ireland in the 5th century. Boa derives from Badhbha, Celtic goddess of Battles. Some suggest that the Janus figure is in fact a representation of Badhbha given its location on the island.

    The cemetery’s name Caldragh derives from the word caldragh which was often assigned to Irish cemeteries that were not consecrated ground (by the Christians). These cemeteries, including this one, thus might be pagan or places where unbaptized people or outsiders were buried.

    The turnoff (from the A47 on Boa Island) to the graveyard, located down narrow track, is marked with a small sign “Caldragh” and is easy to miss. Keep your eyes open – if you leave the island you’ve gone too far! Turn round and try again. Park by the farm buildings at the end of the track and enter the cemetery by a small marked gate.

    Opening Time: 24/7

    Entrance Fee: Free

    Disables access - Limited accessibility, uneven surfaces. This is a disused and overgrown cemetery.

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    Drumskinny Stone Circle - Fermanagh's Stonehenge!

    by wabat Updated May 31, 2013

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    Drumskinny Stone Circle
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    There are many examples of stone circles in high bogland in North Fermanagh and neighbouring counties. Based on the recovery of artifacts, which I refer to later, in the 1962 excavation of the site it is thought to date from around 2000 BC or earlier – the early bronze age – and apparently the peak of the “stone circle era”. This is one of the best preserved stone circle sites in the region and one of the most easily accessible. A very pleasant stop as you tour the area generally though it is substantially smaller that a stone circle complex of Beaghmore close to Cookstown, Co Tyrone (approximately 60kms distance) – which I have not visited yet. It too has circles, cairns and lines of stones similar to Drumskinny.

    What the site was used for is unknown but it was most likely used for some for of religious practice, astronomical observations and/ or calendar functions. The site excavation did not uncover a lot -a hollow-scraper and a few flints were found under and around the cairn and a sherd of Western Neolithic pottery was found near a circle stone at the east. There was no evidence that the site was used for burials – as was often the use of sites like this.

    The main stone is approximately 13 metres in diameter, it originally had 39 upright stones up to 1.8 metres in height, with a possible (assuming stones are in their original place, the alignment is not great) gap to the northwest where there is a small cairn of stones contained within a kerb almost 4 metres in diameter. Stretching south from the cairn is a 15-metre-long alignment of 23 small stones. The gravel throughout the site is there merely to keep weeds at bay and improve access to this otherwise boggy site – the original surrounds would have been grass/peat.

    While the majority of the stones are original, a number are replacements. These are easily identified as the are stamped “MOF” – which rather curiously stands for the Ministry of Finance which has taken care of the site since 1934. Who would have thought that the MOF had a branch called the Ancients Monuments Branch?

    Opening hours: 24/7

    Entrance fee: Free

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    Tully Castle

    by wabat Written May 29, 2013

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    Tully Castle
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    I have already noted on my Portora Castle and Monea Castle reviews that a series of castles were built in County Fermanagh (and elsewhere in Ulster) in the 1610s and 1620s by settlers who arrived in the Plantation of Ulster around this time. The castles served a dual purpose – a display of wealth and power over the supplanted Irish and a line of defence to support and bolster the Plantation.

    The 1641 Irish Rebellion (an attempt by Irish Catholics to wrest control of Ireland from the recently arrived plantation settlers) tested these defences. Portora, on the outskirts of Enniskillen and thus probably the best defended of the castles I have visited, withstood attack. Monea was lost temporarily with the loss of eight protestant lives.

    Tully castle fared the worst – Around 84 people were killed (including 69 women and children) by the invading Maguires with its force of 800 men on Christmas Day of 1641. Interestingly and for reasons unknown, the Hume family (Scottish settlers who owned the castle) were separated from visitors to the castle and set free. The attackers pillaged and burnt the castle which was then abandoned by the Hume family. Notwithstanding the fire, the castle remains in remarkably good shape and is very much worth a visit. One can appreciate, given the activities of 25 December 1641, why they would have been reluctant to move back in.

    Tully Castle had been built, in a traditional Scottish style in 1619 by Sir John Hume and like Portora is really more a fortified house with bawn (Irish defensive wall) than a castle in the normal sense of the word. The bawn was a rather impressive one of stone and lime 99 feet long, 9 feet broad, 10 feet high, with 4 flankers.

    Excavations as part of a major restoration in the 1970s revealed that the bawn was divided up by cobbled paths suggesting the use of this area as a garden. In 1988 formal beds were created within these paths using plants known in Ireland during the seventeenth century.

    A visitor’s centre, located in a restored farmhouse on the way in to the castle, houses an exhibition relating to the castle. As the visitor’s centre was not open when I visited I cannot comment on the quality of the exhibition. When the visitor’s centre is open you can also access the castle – not really necessary as you can see sufficient from the outside.

    The castle can also be accessed via a path from Lough Erne should you wish to arrive by boat. Original access to the castle would have been from the water.

    Opening times: Castle Exterior 24/7 (Exhibition and castle interior – check with tourist office in Enniskillen but don’t not go because this is not open as the beauty of this castle is seen from the outside. Certainly closed in winter – I was there mid week in early May)

    Admission fee: Castle Exterior - Free (there may be charge for exhibition and internal access – I don’t know)

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    The Church of St. Molaise - Monea

    by wabat Written May 29, 2013

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    The Church of St. Molaise - Monea
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    A century after St. Patrick's death and paralleling the growth of monasticism in Ireland in the sixth century, St. Molaise, founded a monastery on nearby Devenish Island. The Reformation and defeat of Ulster's Irish Chieftains by the English and Scottish Plantation settlers finally brought the monastic communities on Devenish to an end in 1603.

    Parish worship moved off the island in 1630 to this site in Monea. The original parish church here (actually the second church on this site) was burned down in the 1641 Rebellion. The 1641 Rebellion was an attempt by Irish Catholics to wrest control of Ireland from the recently arrived plantation settlers.

    The replacement church was reportedly “a plain ugly one” and remained in use until the present church was opened in 1890. Notwithstanding its plainness or ugliness it contained the 1449 Devenish window from the now unused St. Mary’s Abbey Church on Devenish Island, inserted in the east wall in around 1804. The Abbey Church font, of dark grey igneous rock, was also transferred at this time.

    Both the window and the font are now in the current Church of St. Molaise. Note that it is only the stone window that dates for 1449 and not the stained glass. The glass you see today is from 1968.

    The architect of this gothic design church was Thomas Drew who also designed St Anne’s Cathedral in Belfast and was consulting architect for both St. Patrick's Cathedral and Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin. I do like the Dumfries red sandstone used to dress this church making it stand out from other plainer churches in the area.

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    Monea Castle

    by wabat Written May 28, 2013

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    Monea Castle and Bawn
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    This is most complete and the best preserved of Ulster’s plantation castles and well worth a visit. I have also written tips on two others, Portora and Tully both nearby in Co. Fermanagh.

    The so-called plantation castles were built in the 1610s and 1620s to consolidate the Ulster plantation of that period – when Ulster was colonised (following the Flight of the Earls in 1607) and planted with loyal wealthy landowners (from Scotland and England) to prevent further rebellion. Ulster had been the region most resistant to English control during the preceding century.

    Monea Castle was built in 1618 by the Rector of Devenish, the Reverend Malcolm Hamilton in a very characteristically Scottish style with corbels and crow-stepped gables on top of the towers (the steeped feature you see in picture five attached). The bawn (Irish defensive wall) was added in 1622.

    In the Irish Rebellion of 1641 (an attempt by Irish Catholics to wrest control of Ireland from the English and Scottish settlers or planters) the castle was attacked and briefly fell into the hands of Rory Maguire who slew eight Protestants here.

    Gustav Hamiliton, the Governer of Enniskillen and loyal supporter of King William III occupied the castle in 1688. He died bankrupt (due to major financial support of the Williamite Wars) in 1691 and by 1704 his wife and family were forced to sell the castle in 1704 for financial reasons. Following a major fire in around 1750 the castle was abandoned and has so remained, apart from a short period in the 1900s when "a weird woman named Bell McCabe took her residence in a vault beneath one of the towers" before being evicted.

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    Portora Castle

    by wabat Written May 28, 2013

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    Portora Castle
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    Portora Castle is located on the south bank of the River Erne overlooking the narrowest part of the river before it widens into. Lower Lough Erne. Archaeological digs have recovered Stone Age axes, Bronze Age swords and Iron Age ornaments proving that this has been an important and busy crossing point between the provinces of Connacht and Ulster back to prehistoric times.

    The current castle – perhaps more a fortified manor – was built in 1613 by Sir William Cole, Constable of Enniskillen. It is one of a number of castles built around this time to consolidate the Ulster plantation in Country Fermanagh. Other castles from this era include Monea Castle and Tully Castle upon which I have written separate tips.

    In 1619 it was described as a square bawn of lime and stone, with walls approximately 4 meters high, with 4 circular flankers and a stone house 3 storeys high. A bawn is a defensive wall surrounding an Irish tower house.

    In the 1620s the castle was occupied by Dr James Spottiswood, Bishop of Clougher, the local diocese. Outside this, it was mainly occupied by members of the Cole family. During the 1641 Rising and again in 1688 when Enniskillen rallied in support of William of Orange (William III) the castle was an important and effective military outpost for Enniskillen. The castle survived both events without damage but fared less well in 1859 when truant students from the nearbyPortora Royal School put into practice what they had learned in chemistry class and with some homemade gunpowder blew up part of the, by then derelict, castle. They also dug tunnels under it. The castle was further damaged by the “big wind” of 1894 and the missing circular east flanker was lost in river dredging works some year later.

    The castle is certainly worth a look if you are in town or passing by, as you would be, if driving around the Lower Lough.

    Below the Castle on the River you will see a loch and sluice gates. These were installed to control the level of water in the lower lake to suit the requirements of a hydro-electric power station downstream at Ballyshannon.

    Opening hours: 24/7

    Entrance fee: Free

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    Portora – The Royal School

    by wabat Written May 27, 2013

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    Portora Royal School
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    Apart from their excellent writing skills what does Wabat (that’s me!), Oscar Wilde, Samuel Beckett and Henry Francis Lyte have in common?

    Answer: We all went to the same school – Portora Royal School in Enniskillen.

    In fact, not only did we attend, each of us signed an enrollment register retained by the school. Wilde’s signature was hidden and his name removed from a prize-winners board after his conviction for homosexual offences in 1895. His name was restored in the 1930s and consequentially shines with greater lustre than those of his contemporaries – something that would bring a wry smile to Oscar’s face, I imagine.

    While blue Ulster History Circle plaques have been affixed to the walls in recognition of Wilde and Beckett (pictures three and four), Wabat’s and the Reverend Lyte’s plaques have yet to be affixed. Most readers will recognise Wilde and Beckett. Lyte was a poet and hymn writer – his most famous composition being the hymn – “Abide with me.”

    Portora Royal School, which started out life as Enniskillen Royal School, is Enniskillen’s oldest school and indeed one of Ireland’s oldest and was establish pursuant to a 1608 decree by King James I. The original school was built in 1618 at Ballybalfour (Lisneskea), some 15 miles from Enniskillen. While the school actually moved into Enniskillen in around 1661, it wasn’t until around 100 years later in 1778 that the school moved to its present location atop Portora Hill. The original square block building, which gave accommodation for 60 to 70 pupils, can be seen as the central portion of the current façade of Portora.

    Until the late 1900s the school catered for boarders (night-rats) and day pupils (day-dogs) and apart for a short period from 1979 to the early 90’s (when it unsuccessfully dabbled with having girls) it has been a boys school though it again started accepting girls into the 6th Form (final two years) in September 2011. Portora no longer accepts boarders and its enrollment is around 500 – the highest it has been in its 400 years plus history.

    Old Portorans can be found in all walks of life scattered across the world. In the words of of the schools current headmaster:

    “Portorans have been Olympians and Nobel Laureates, they have governed over British Colonies and led European Radicalism, they have been Soldiers and Statesmen, Lawyers and Litigants, Scholars and Poets, Businessmen and Bishops. One is under consideration by the Roman Catholic Church for beatification; another is regarded as a central icon of alternative life styles in the 20th Century.”

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    Visit the Buttermarket

    by leics Written Aug 6, 2010

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    Buttermarket courtyard

    Set just off the main street (and signed from there) the 1835 Buttermarket is now a craft centre, with its small artisan shops set around a flagged courtyard.

    Lots of lovely things on sale here, if you want souvenirs with a bit more interest than the norm.

    The central cafe is good as well, offering a range of hot meals as well as sandwiches, cakes etc.

    Worth a wander. There are also music and theatre displays in the courtyard in the summer months, although none when I visited.

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    The Town Hall

    by leics Updated Aug 6, 2010

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    Town Hall statues
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    The Town Hall stands on the Diamond, which was originally Enniskillen's central marketplace.

    Once the site of a 17th century townhouse, the present building was designed in Renaissance style by one William Scott and built in 1857.

    It's got some interesting statues on its clocktower, and the oak doors are hand carved.

    Worth a look as you pass by.

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    Lough Erne: White Island and Boa Island

    by GeoV Written Mar 18, 2010

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    White Island: Romanesque doorway of monastery
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    White Island in Lower Lough Erne is reached by a short ferry trip from Castle Archdale Bay, on the east side of the lake. Within the ruins of a 12th century monastery, through a Romanesque doorway, are a series of eight stone figures set into the wall. These unique figures are generally thought to date from some time between the 9th and 11th centuries and, naturally, there is also some debate about what most of them represent, (Christ, an abbot, a bishop, a king and so on).
    On Boa Island on the north side of the same lake, this time connected to the shore by a main road, are two other enigmatic figures, (one a rather smaller version of the other). The main one is presumably a Celtic deity although it is often known as the 'Janus-figure' because more or less the same face is carved on both sides. It is thought to date from some time between the 5th and 9th centuries. (The cemetery in which these figures stand is signposted from the main road.)

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