On an Irish summer's day where the sun decided to hide and a continuous drizzle fell upon us, we decided to head south towards Lough Derg for the day.
Having checked the weather forecast, hopes were high that the further south we would go, the better the weather would become. And long behold, when we rolled into Portumna, we were greeted by the sun.
We entered this beautiful County Galway market town by crossing Portumna bridge, a five -span bridge across the Shannon. First stop of the day was Portumna Castle , a beautiful fortified house with fabulous walled gardens. Where the gardens were open to the public, the house itself was closed due to the current Covid-19 restrictions.
Upon entering the grounds, we were welcomed by an outdoor nature photographic exhibition showcasing beautiful photographs which were part of the RTE's "Eye on nature" competition.
Next stop was the 17th Century walled kitchen garden where we enjoyed the scented summer flowers and admired the vegetables. Bees and butterflies kept themselves busy flying between the different flowers while a gardener was keeping the weeds down in these magnificent gardens.
Walking through the gardens and past Portumna Castle tea room, we walked under a mature forest canopy towards Portumna Friary. Originally, Cistercian monks of Dunbrody, County Wexford had a chapel dedicated to Saints Peter and Paul in Portumna. When it fell out of use, they gave it to the Dominican order for conversion into a friary. The friary consisted of a church, a cloister where the friars worked and prayed, and a range of domestic buildings where they slept and ate.
It is a lovely ruin to wander around with some hidden gems. For example, there is an inverted head and a leaf at the base of the sacristy doorway.
We left Portumna behind us and followed the R493 towards Terryglass. The beautiful fertile fields of County Tipperary were basking in the July sunshine. Farmers were busy working in the fields harvesting hay and grain. Our next stop was Dromineer where we decided to have a picnic. But there was another reason for visiting Dromineer. Back as a youngster in the early 1980's, my parents had decided to travel from Belgium to Ireland to enjoy a summer holiday in Dromineer.
I have still great memories of this holiday, especially having fun on the lake with the rowing boat which came with the house they rented. We used to row from the house to Dromineer navigating the boat between the many vessels you can find on Lough Derg.
Our picnic was a blustery one. Seated at the lake front, the speed of the kitesurfer should have been a warning sign that there was a strong wind blowing across the lake. But after a tasty lunch, we carried on our travels towards Killaloe.
Killaloe bridge is a bridge across the Shannon between the villages of Killaloe and Ballina. The bridge has only one way traffic, hence the requirement for traffic lights on either side of the bridge.
Once we entered the village of Killaloe, we found ourselves in County Clare. The beauty about driving around Lough Derg is that you visit multiple counties. Taking the R463 back north towards Portumna, we were amazed with the beautiful surroundings.
Ballycuggaran forest is just fabulous. We enjoyed the Crag Wood walk which offered us with spectacular views across Lough Derg.
After an invigorating hike, we carried on along the R463 until we reached the town of Mountshannon where we parked the car at the Marina. After a well-deserved ice-cream and watching kids enjoying a lifeguard course on the small beach nearby the marina, we decided to play hide and seek in Mountshannon's maze.
Our kids loved running through this impressive maze which incorporates timber, stone and foliage.
Mountshannon is also the town where you can take a boat to Inis Cealtra (Holy Island), one of Ireland's most famous monastic sites in ireland. On the island, you can find a well-preserved round tower, the ruins of 6 churches, a Holy Well and a unique graveyard with slabs dating from the 8th Century.
After a long day, we decided to head back to County Sligo. One thing we know for sure, we will return to Lough Derg and spend a couple of days travelling around the area.