MACGeopark Poetry Map Work Continues

It is a bank holiday weekend here is the Republic of Ireland. There is still time to visit various sites around Marble Arch Caves UNESCO Global Geopark and see if your poem could make its mark on our digital Poetry Map. The project includes five commissioned poets who are working on poems on the Marble Arch Caves, Cuilcagh Mountain, Big Dog Forest, Devenish Island and Cloughoughter. Your poem could be one among those written by Dara McAnulty, Anthony J Quinn, Noel Monaghan, Maria McManus and Seamus McCanny. Poems can be in Irish, but need to be accompanied by an English translation.

There are well over fifty sites scattered across the many hectares of land that straddle the Fermanagh and Cavan boundary. The Marble Arch Caves was the original site, along with nearby Cuilcagh Mountain Park, that first earned European Geopark status . We became a Global Geopark in 2004. But there was a wider vision. With the Good Friday Belfast Treaty of 1998, there was the real opportunity to create the very first cross-border Global Geopark on the planet. South Fermanagh and West Cavan share the lakes, drumlins and moraines, the limestone and Neolithic history that were formed long before a line was drawn on a map in 1921.

Just as UNESCO recognises that the Giant’s Causeway and Brú na Boinne are part of world heritage, so too do they recognise that this landscape is also an important feature of world heritage. Geoheritage will be celebrated in the poems that will mark these sites on our digital Poetry Map, which will go live on the Geopark website this October.

The deadline for teen and adult submissions closes on 15th June 2021. We have already received submissions not just from Cavan and Fermanagh, but from the USA, France and Singapore! The project has been able to engage with the Irish diaspora, as well as let the wider world know about the importance of what lies beneath our feet.

Meanwhile, Covid-19 restrictions have meant that working with the Fermanagh primary schools and the Cavan National Schools has been fraught with obstacles. So far I have a school in each county for one session each. Basically, I will be facilitating a geoheritage poetry workshop outdoors. The Fermanagh school has a bell tent, which is blessing, given the capricious and often fluid nature of Irish weather. The Cavan school will check the weather on the morning and we shall go forth accordingly in faith with a prayer that the weather gods be kind.

When I was first proposing a project in pre-Covid 19 days, it was with a plan to engage with schools on Poetry Ireland Day 2020. We may not be in Lockdown these days, but we still live with restrictions that are often unpredictable. I do want to try and involve the kids – they are the future of the planet after all – in some way. I have to say that teachers really have my sympathy. They are working under some really stressful circumstances. One principal noted that while the Department had said that school trips were now allowed, another directive indicated that transport for said proposed outings was not available! I imagine that across the country many feel that what is given with one hand is then often taken by the other! Teachers have been working heroes and sheroes these past eighteen months and they are sometimes not given the credit for being pandemic front liners.

I am just grateful that I am vaccinated and that we can do these gigs outdoors (roll on Forest Schools!), which is actually more appropriate when you are talking about the earth. I can wear a face visor, so the kids will be able to see my face. Both principals mentioned that their kids are hungry for seeing new faces and hearing a differant slant on a subject. In which case, I feel a bit like Inspiration R Us! (Tony is allowed to bring his guitar into the bell tent. When I cautiously asked if he was allowed to not have to sit in the car to wait for me, I tentatively ventured that he bring his guitar. The response was not just positive, but positively enthusiastic! He may even have a short Geopark kind of story up his sleeve, too!)

There are lots of moveable parts to this project. We have commissioned work, poems from new and emerging poets, and school children. The final piece will be recording all the poems so that there will be both an ‘off the screen’ and an ‘in your ear’ poetry experience. The digital Geopark Poetry Map will go live in October 2021.

There is still time for you to make a contribution to this project! Ten days left to submit a poem!

Geopark Poetry Map Prompts 13

This is the penultimate prompt for the Geopark Poetry Map challenge. This weekend is a bank holiday in Northern Ireland and next weekend is the bank holiday in the Republic of Ireland. So there is still plenty of time for residents to visit sites around Marble Arch Caves UNESCO Global Geopark before the submission closing date of 15th June 2021. The Geopark has that UNESCO badge because the natural and built heritage (which is inextricably connected to the nature heritage) is considered to be of world heritage worthiness, just Giant’s Causeway or Brú na Boinne for instance. It’s just that we are spread out over two counties, cross international boundaries and tens of thousands of hectares. We want you to visit both the famous sites and the lesser known ones and we are looking for geoheritage themed poems to put many onto our digital Poetry Map, which will go live on the Geopark webiste in October 2021.

Today, I want to highlight a castle, because I also want to reach out to readers abroad and we know that everyone loves an Irish castle. And ruins can be so romantic… who does not love a stone ruin? So atmospheric! Tully Castle lies close to Derrygonnelly in County Fermanagh and has a dramatic history, as most castles do! But it is also the geology and wildlife of its setting that makes it a prime site to put onto our digital Geopark Poetry Map.

Around 340 million years ago, during the Carboniferous period, the island of Ireland would
have been located around the equator. Positioned on the edge of a much larger continent
meant that the area was covered by a tropical shallow sea. The lime-rich mud that gathered
on the sea floor, has over millions of years been compacted to form limestone, the rock that
makes up the majority of the Geopark. As the abundance of sea creatures died, their bones
and shells sunk to the sea floor and have been preserved as fossils in the limestone rock
which dominates the shoreline at this location.

Tully Castle is located on the western shores of Lough Erne and exposures of limestone are
particularly evident along the loughshore, indeed, the ‘scallop’ marks created as a result of
the water from Lough Erne lapping onto the loughshore are commonplace. The site
command impressive views onto the Lower Lough Erne which was created as huge ice
sheets slowly crept across the landscape, until it ended approximately 15,000 years ago,
acting like giant sheets of sandpaper, removing all underlying material from their path and
forming a valley that would eventually fill with water to become Lower Lough Erne. My of the surrounding hill and islands that are visible from Tully Casle are drumlins, which are formed from till or boulder clay that was sculpted into this characteristic egg-shape as massive ice sheets slowly crept across the landscape during the last glaciation.

It has a range of woodland, grassland and wetland habitats, including Northern Ireland
Priority Habitats of high biodiversity value. Broadleaf trees, mainly Alder, Ash, Birch, Hazel
and Grey willow, occur in woodland on the drumlin slopes and the lough shore. The
woodlands are rich in flowering plant species such as Bluebell, Early purple orchid, Golden
saxifrage, Wild garlic and Wood anemone, together with the Soft shield-fern, mosses and
fungi. The Castle grassland, has over 100 flowering plant species including the Cat’s ear,
Common spotted-orchid, Knapweed, Ragged robin and Yellow rattle. The main species are
Common bent, Jointed rush, Ribwort plantain and Sweet vernal-grass. Grassland and
woodland edge habitats support the butterfly species Green-veined white, Meadow brown,
Silver-washed fritillary and Small tortoiseshell. Red squirrel and Otter occur and bird species such as Kingfisher, Red- breasted merganser and Whooper swan can be sighted.

In 1610, following the Flight of the Earls (1607), King James 1 granted 2,000 acres of land in
the townland of Tully, known as Carrynroe, to Sir John Hume. Tully Castle (1611-15) built for
Hume, consisted of a strong house and bawn. It is a castle Scottish in design, built by Irish
stonemasons. Sir John Hume from Berkshire in Scotland was one of the first planters to
settle in Fermanagh. He died in 1639, leaving the castle to his son, Sir George. On
Christmas Eve 1641, Rory Maguire, accompanied by a large following of rebels, set out to
capture Tully Castle. Sir George and many of the troops were away. Lady Hume
surrendered the castle on the condition of the safe release of all there. However, on
Christmas Day, Maguire and the rebels massacred all sixteen men and approximately sixty
women and children who had taken refuge within the bawn, sparing only the Humes. They
then pillaged and burnt the castle, which has remained a ruin to this day. The castle’s
location on the Lough shore is one of great beauty.

Martina O’Neill, MACGeopark Development Officer, Partnerships & Engagement

It has a tragic history of duplicity and death, and yet on such sad historical ground there is a rich range and refuge for wildlife. I noticed the early purple orchid on my lane is out this week. Maybe you could visit Tully Castle this weekend and spot one, too! If you want to learn more about the site MACGeopark post this helpful leaflet on their website.https://www.marblearchcavesgeopark.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/Tully-Castle-Leaflet.pdf

Geopark Poetry Map Prompts 7

Having a good weekend Earth lovers and Poetry writers? I hope so. To spur on geoheritage poems on #MACGeopark sites for our digital Poetry Map, I have been posting blog prompts for a week now with every intention of offering another week’s worth of poetry prompts. All the Geopark sites are open for visits and we are, at long last, able to travel outside our own county. You can get full guidelines and some great research resources by emailing GeoparkPoetryMap@gmail.com . The closing date for entries is 15th June 2021.

Today’s featured site is Lough Annagh, near Belturbet, Co. Cavan. The photos featured today are by my Zoom fitness instructor, Claire Shannon, who lives virtually beside the lough. She is also part of an intrepid group of year round swimmers known as Lake Annagh Dippers.

Remember back to Poetry Day Ireland and my poem about ribbed moraines? No? Here is a refresher.https://sojourningsmith.blog/2021/04/29/mapping-a-part-of-the-geopark-this-poetry-day-ireland/ Lough Annagh is part of the Lough Oughter system of ribbed moraines.

It is also part of a Special Protection Area and Special Conservation Area as a natural eutrophic lake. Whooper Swans over winter here from their Icelandic summer nesting home and year round residents include widgeon and crested grebes. So plenty of geoheritage happening here to find its way into a poem!

Geopark Poetry Map Prompts 6

Hello Earth Lovers and Poetry Writers! We are in Fermanagh today for the Poetry Prompts to spark geoheritage themed poems on sites ranging around Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark. The closing date for submitting your poem for this digital Geopark Poetry Map is 15th June 2021. Email GeoparkPoetryMap@gmail.com for full guidelines and some background research that Geopark staff have prepared to help ground your poem in the geoheritage of each site.

Yesterday’s prompts looked at some of the ecclesistical sites that are dotted around the Geopark. Today I want to look at Holywell in Belcoo, Co. Fermanagh. The limestone geology of the region creates many springs across the region. From Holywell itself you can probably track a local holy well about every mile and a half . Many have been forgotten or fallen into disrepair, but many are still the focus of personal spirituality.

Here is what Martina O’Neill of Marble Arch Caves UNESCO Global Geopark writes about this site.

Located just outside the village of Belcoo, St Patrick’s Holywell is one of many locate throughout the Geopark. The predominant limestone bedrock in the area dissolves in weakly acidic water allowing channels to be eroded both on top of and within the rocks. Much of the water in this regions flows through limestone rocks and where it reappears at the surface it is called a spring. It has not yet been confirmed where the water that flows into the well has it’s origins, although it is widely believed that it originates within the nearby Ballintempo uplands. Many of these springs have been termed ‘holywells’ and the example here is said to have been blessed by St Patrick himself. St Patrick’s Holywell is unusual as it flows in two directions and is also said to be the coldest in Ireland. Many such springs are said to have healing powers and as a result St Patrick’s Holywell is a place of pilgrimage for many local people who perform the Stations of the Cross during the Festival of Lughnasa at the end of July.

Martina O’Neil MACGeopark Development Officer, Partnerships & Engagement
Holywell, Belcoo, Co. Fermanagh

This water flowing in two directions is not unique to this locality. As you climb to the village of Boho, about five miles above Belcoo, you can look down at the Sillees River at a point behaving in just the same way! What’s that all about?!

Here is a short video clip of the thundering of the stream into the wellhead that I took a few years ago.

Video made by Irish Blessings Tours

This video made by Fermanagh TV tells much more of the folklore that is part and parcel of this holywell that has been sacred since the cult of Crom Cruich. St. Patrick came to bless the well with the coming of Christianity (also probably to discourage backsliders). Much is said of how cold the water is and I can confirm that it is extremely cold even in high summer. Many holy wells have ‘cures’ associated with them. Traditionally, Holy Well is associated with helping to relieve nervous conditions. The film is ten years old but ‘keeping the pattern’ has faithfully been performed until Covid disrupted everything.

In the film Mairead O’Dolan mentions the ash trees around Holywell. Ash does very well in this region. While in other parts of Ireland hawthorn trees are associated with holywells, here in the Geopark it is the ash that stands straight and tall beside many of our holy wells. My own local well just up the lane has a miniature wet ash woodland beside it, like a pocket sized Claddagh Glen. ( See Day 2 of these Poetry Prompts for more about that site. https://sojourningsmith.blog/2021/05/17/geopark-poetry-map-prompt-2/

I hope you get some inspiration to spark a poem on this MACGeopark site. But if this doesn’t speak to you, fear not, there will be another poetry prompt on the morrow!

Geopark Poetry Map Prompts 5

Hello Earth lovers and Poetry Lovers! For the fifth day of highlighting sites which your poem could potentially put on our digital #MACGeopark #PoetryMap, I thought we would look at how the land relates to the region’s ecclesiastical heritage. With the coming of Christianity many monastic sites were founded on islands in the loughs and rivers in the Geopark region. Lough Erne and the Shannon River and its tributaries acted as a medieval motorway. There was a chain of monastic communities up and down Lough Erne.

In County Fermanagh, two of these former monastic communities are now Marble Arch Caves UNESCO Global Geopark sites. Cavan’s St. Mogue’s Island in Templeport Lough is also a Geopark site.

Here is what Martina O’Neill, the Geopark’s Development Officer for Partnership and Engagement writes about Inishmacsaint , Devenish and St. Mogue’s Island.

The small island of Inishmacsaint can be reached via a small pontoon accessed after a short
walk from the car park. Inishmacsaint is one of several important ecclesiastical sites located along the natural waterways of the Geopark. The founding saint, St Ninnid, lived in the 6th century, and was a contemporary of St Molaise of Devenish and St Mogue of Drumlane.This early monastic site contains a comprehensive record of different church styles is also home to a High Cross, thought to date from the 10th or 12th centuries.

Martina O’Neill, MACGeopark Development Officer, Partnership and Engagement

St. Ninnid’s name is immortalised in the hill overlooking Upper Lough Erne, Knockninny. as well. St. Molaise’s name crops up in parishes across the region, not just on Devenish Island. Back in the 1930s, Duchas, Ireland’s Heritage Council, collected folklore from school children. One of the stories that is in the online archive can be found here: https://www.duchas.ie/en/cbes/4602719/4598212/4630220.

Devenish Island can be visited by boat. Here are some images from a visit I made back in 2015. The roundtower, built during the Viking invasions as a defense, is as fine an example as the one that can be found in Glendalough.

St. Mogue’s Island in Templeport has a reputed ‘cure’ from the clay on the island. Miraculous and protective qualities are part of the folklore of many sites with a spiritual history. One of the stories involves the flouting stone that St. Mogue was sent off the island as a newborn to be baptised post haste. The floating rock was pumice, which is found locally. St. Mogue is also associated with Drumlane Abbey, which is a Geopark site.

I hope you find some inspiration from these visuals and research pointers will help you create and submit your geoheritage themed poem. We want to put less well-known Geopark sites ‘on the map’ in the public’s consciousness. If you would like to get submission guidelines email GeoparkPoetryMap@gmail.com. Closing date for submissions is 15th June 2021.

Geopark Poetry Map Prompts 3

Hello Earthlovers and Poetry Writers! This is Day 3 of a fortnight of poetry prompts to help you write a site specific, geoheritage poem that will put that site on the digital Poetry Map of Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark. You still have time to submit your poem. The closing date is 15th June 2021.You can email GeoparkPoetryMap@gmail.com and I can email a map of the Geopark and plenty of supporting material that will give you useful background to many of the sites.

Today I want to look at the interaction between the land and how it influences the development of industry in a region. Belleek Pottery is an international brand. So many of us have been given some Belleek ceramics as a wedding gift or a landmark birthday or anniversary present. When I led the Celtic Women International Brigit’s Day Tour in 2011, a visit to the factory in Belleek was a special request for the itinerary for a group of visitors from the USA.

But the reason Belleek has become the internationally renowned ceramic brand is down to the feldspar and kaolin deposits in the region of Castle Caldwell. Let me quote from the document created for the Geopark Poetry Map project by Martina O’Neill, Development Officer-Partnerships & Engagement.

During the 1840`s the Caldwell family fortune declined, leading to the entire estate,
including the village of Belleek, being passed to John Caldwell Bloomfield. It was Bloomfield
who commissioned a geological survey of the estate, revealing rich mineral deposits
of Feldspar and Kaolin (china clay). These minerals are important raw materials used in
the production of fine china and so Bloomfield capitalised on his good fortune by founding
the now world famous Belleek Pottery and to this end a large industrial lime kiln is present
along the loughshore.


The rock that surrounds Castle Caldwell Forest form part of what is known as the Lough
Derg inlier, inlier being the term given to an area of formation of older rock surrounded by
younger ones. The inlier allows a window through the ‘shallow’ sub-surface rocks to reveal
deeper and older formations. These are metamorphic rocks, pegmatites, have been formed
due to the transformation of existing rocks, by heat and pressure. These are coarsely
crystalline granitic rock produced in the final stages of cooling from the molten state. Veins
of unaltered pegmatite are found in this area, cutting though the earlier rocks and their
structure. They contain quartz, microcline feldspar and the micas biotite and muscovite. It
primarily this microcline feldspar, along with a clay similar to Kaolin also found on the estat that provided the original raw material for the porcelain produced at Belleek Pottery. Kaolin
is typically associated with the weathering of rocks rich in feldspar.

Martina O’Neill for Marble Arch Caves UNESCO Global Geopark

Do you have a poem about Castle Caldwell or Belleek china? Did you purchase some as a souvenir of a trip to Ireland? Or was it a wedding present? Consider how the land has sustained employment for generations in the area and its by-product travelled the world.

If you do have a poem about this MACGeopark site, please submit your poem to be considered for the MACGeopark Poetry Map. Email me for full submission guidelines at GeoparkPoetryMap@gmail.com.

Geopark Poetry Map Prompts 1

Over the next two weeks I will be posting images on social media and short blog posts that may spark a geoheritage themed poem based on one of the sites dotted across the Marble Arch Caves UNESCO Global Geopark. While many submissions are coming from Fermanagh and Cavan residents, I have noted interest from outside of the Geopark region and Ireland. So to help poets who live outside the region or who have been unable to visit a site, I shall be posting photos as poem prompts over the next two weeks. The digital poetry map will chart sites across the Fermanagh and Cavan Geopark region with geoheritage themed poems inspired by sites around the Geopark.

The lifting of the inter-county only travel restriction in Ireland spurred the Geopark to extend the deadline for submissions until 15th June 2021. That will allow nearly a month for Irish residents to come and mosey around a site of their choice. All poets have a different process, but some do like to visit the site before they compose their poem. Others are content with images and research and memory. All the Geopark sites are outdoors and open to the public.

For the first Geopark Poetry Map Prompt I have chosen the Rock Art and megaliths of the Cavan Burren. When I have guided visitors around Cavan Burren Park I always make a point of reminding them that the megalith building and the art chipped into the glacial eratics with stone tools happened before Neolithic humans got around to inventing agriculture. Making, or art or burial chambers for loved ones, was a primal impulse, one stronger even than food security.

Unsure what the hay is geoheritage? Read my blog from last week to clarify that definition. https://sojourningsmith.blog/2021/05/11/what-is-geoheritage/

Let your imagination rock n roll! Full information on submission details and supporting research material about sites around #MACGeopark can be requested from GeoparkPoetryMap@gmail.com. The deadline for submissions is 15th June 2021.

Look out for memes posted on my Twitter @irishblessingst, Facebook Word Alchemy and beesmithdowra Instagram accounts with the hashtag #MACGeopark #PoetryMap.

Mapping a (Part of the) Geopark this Poetry Day Ireland

Today is Poetry Day Ireland and the 2021 theme is New Directions: Maps and Journeys. I love those synchronicities where the Marble Arch Caves UNESCO Global Geopark Poetry Map project intersects so neatly with the 2021. theme. Obviously, there is something in the zeitgeist wants those themes highlighted. The pandemic has had all of us recalibrating our internal True North. There is about as much anxiety about ‘re-entry’ post-vaccine as there was in Lockdowns 1,2, and 3. While, as one reader of this blog has observed, the illness has divided so many in terms of approach to isolation, masking and vaccinating, we have also been challenged to connect, to stay together by remaining apart.

Poetry, at least in my mind, is all about the connections and innovating to make disparate dots meet. Poets have long been inspired not just by visual artists, but by science. Poets however, as Emily Dickinson would say, “Tell all the truth but tell it slant.” As curator of this project, I am eager to see how poets will look at so many of the sites in Fermanagh and Cavan and tell the truth of them – and their geoheritage – but slant.

The digital Geopark Poetry Map was born out of a need for a Plan B when the Artist Development Award from Cavan Arts Office project was completely impossible under lockdown. Plan A was to work in schools the week of 2020’s Poetry Day Ireland. The schools were closed. The light bulb went off in my brain one day. I had the vision, and the Geopark staff loved the idea. But we needed more money than my award. Enter Geological Survey Ireland’s Geoheritage Fund who were keen on the project, which includes commissioned work from established writers, as well as new and emerging poets and schoolchildren.

All the poems must include an element of geoheritage which is defined by Geological Survey Ireland as “encompassing features of geology that are intrinsically important sites or culturally important sites offering information or insights into the evolution of the Earth; or into the history of science, or that can be used for research, teaching, or reference.” The rocks and the earth sciences have been in synergy with this region’s inhabitants for millenia- humans, flora and fauna. It is all part of the spiorad áite, or spirit of the place.

The Marble Arch Caves UNESCO Global Geopark has this special designation because both natural and built heritage are of international importance. Ireland is an island that has a vein of literature, that runs to the very marrow of the culture. It’s the right time to celebrate the heritage literally under our feet with this digital map during a time when our movements are circumscribed but our imagination can remain wide open.

For this Poetry Day Ireland I set myself the task of writing a geoheritage poem that is set in the Geopark. While I have left particular sites open to the new and emerging poets who would wish to submit contributions to the Geopark Poetry Map, I chose to write a poem about one of the distinctive features of the geopark – ribbed moraines. Indeed, Ireland has the largest ribbed moraine field on the planet. It’s just you cannot see it, except aerially.

A map of Cavan’s drumlin country
The Hindmarsh Theory of Instability
In Ribbed Moraines

The world is made of caprice and chaos.
Or so it may seem.
Even as the land quakes and is sliding
avalanches, sacred geometry
spirals around ice,
its melt, clay and rock.
Though you might not see.
Though the evidence is there at your feet.

Boulder and clay fractured by ice slide.
Dragged like Jayne Torville
in the grand finale to Bolero,
Dean pulling them prone,
their skates scarring tracks across the surface.
Parallel ripples 
evidence of creation’s  mammoth feat.

Minibus bouncing down a Cavan lane,
a verdant hummock,
suggestion of the ribs in the moraine.
More like lazy beds
built for Giants’ appetites in times
before potatoes
would be a feed in a fulacht fia.

A lough pocked land where little rivers run
between, twisting,
gnarled like the antlers of the Giant Elk
dropped off at the end
of its last rutting season. Extinction.
Fossil memory.
The sacred geometry in chaos.

The buzzard flying high above can see
the lines that ripple,
running down ancient Grandmother Earth’s cheeks.
The buzzard can see
more than we who have all the evidence
there beneath our feet.
Caprice. Chaos. Sacred geometry.

Copyright © Bee Smith, 2021. All rights reserved.

Have a wonderful Poetry Day Ireland. And I hope to see many submissions to the MAC Geopark Poetry Map in the coming weeks. The deadline for submissions is 31st May 2021.

Geopark Poetry Map