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2006-03-07 The Raughley beauty

Several volumes from the early twentieth century, written by such eminent local writers as Woodmartin and Kilgannon, deal with the in-depth history of Sligo, and make for fascinating reading.

 

In Tadhg Kilgannon’s “Sligo and its surroundings” (1926), the author describes Ballyconnell as being “exposed to all the fury of the Atlantic” (surely an attractive characteristic?), a place where “women and children are engaged in making hand-turf, mixing the mud with their hands and feet, then moulding it into turves”. It is quite hard to imagine such practices in operation in Sligo within my father’s lifetime, but clearly that was the case.

 

One thing I take serious issue with however in Kilgannon’s book is the way in which he pretty much dismisses the entire Raughley peninsula. “Passing from Lissadell” Kilgannon says, “the aspect is not very inviting”. He briefly discusses the 19th century problem of drifting sands covering around 2000 acres from Maugherow to the sea, and explains how, but for the work of Lord Palmerston, Maugherow might now be “a mini-Sahara”. How Kilgannon can all but dismiss one of the most enchanting areas of our county is beyond me. The boathouse, slipway, mini-beach and piled lobster-pots at the quaint harbour of Raughley rests in Sligo Bay’s most breath-taking setting.

 

It is possible I am a tad biased, as Raughley is brimming with magical memories of my youth. This is the spot where my elderly aunts force-fed me ‘stingy’ sandwiches – ‘stingy’ to my 3 year-old taste-buds as the superior ham from Blackwoods was layered, then murdered with mustard. I reacted so badly that I ended up giving up mustard for Lent. Lent was not too difficult a trial for me that year.

 

Recently, as I followed the circular route past the harbour, around the loop, I was pleased to see the roads had been upgraded, the cliff-edges strengthened, and the harbour itself seriously improved. Nearby Ardtermon Castle was the original home of the O’Harts, and later the Gore Family (pre-Lissadell). This remodelled semi-fortified Tudor-style mansion is now privately owned and offers self-catering accomodation, and still adds to Raughley’s unique fabric. My father and I parked the car on the grass verge beside Ardtermon strand, just yards away from Johnny McGuinn’s wee one-roomed house. Oyster-catchers and seapies waded in the shallows of Ardtermon strand, while protected Brent geese floated carefree on the strangely still waters of Drumcliffe Bay. Tom Phelan (in his “Nice ‘n Easy Walking” series) describes Raughley as “a lonely and soulful place”, and I think perhaps that is what is unique about Raughley – its soul, full of colourful characters from its recent and distant past.

 

Johnny McGuinn had only one leg, a very basic crutch, a suitably apt nickname which I am not sure was public knowledge, a large personality for such a little man, and his fitness as he scaled the harbour walls was inspiring. For me, as a young boy diving off the harbour walls in between the colourful fishing boats, Johnny had all the ingredients of a story-book pirate. For all I knew, he had a parrot at home on a perch, and a bag of pieces of eight.

 

When I think of Raughley, I think of Johnny, and other names such as Marty Carty, Robert Ferguson, Mrs Meldrum, Mick Walsh and Miss “Baby” Heraghty and her petite shop, all adding to the soul of the peninsula.

 

When you see on the map where Raughley lies, it is no wonder the views from here are unrivalled in the county. All of Sligo, from Benbulben to Aughris, is visible from this perfect vantage-point. As you walk around the loop from the harbour, “Sinbad’s yellow shore” (Yeats) stretches in the form of Trá Bhuí (Yellow Strand) across to picturesque Knocklane. As I looked out to sea I remembered being told about the “Delta” schooner crashing on the Seal Rocks in 1856, a large steamer sinking off Ardboline in 1912, and the “Breezland” disappearing into the depths off Raughley as recent as 1952. I also remember my young active mind being captivated when I first saw the ‘Punch Bowl’ on Raughley Head.

 

Johnny McGuinn now lies in Maugherow cemetery – “the dead centre of Maugherow” as he labelled it himself. The wee home with one window and one door, for the man with one leg, remains. So too does his memory, in this ‘soulful place’ that is Raughley.