by Padraic Gilligan, Managing Partner, SoolNua
First published in 2013 I’m re-publishing this post to mark the launch of Fáilte Ireland’s new tourism brand – Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands
Cornafurrish is the townland in Co Offaly where my late father was born 100 years ago this year. It’s also the best place to holiday in Ireland. My Dad was always convinced of this but I was a very late vocation, only finally answering the call to Cornfurrish when, regrettably, it was too late to share it with him.
It’s the best place to holiday in Ireland because it’s real. Its scenic beauty may not be picture postcard pretty but it’s restorative in that Wordsworth sort of way. When the M50 is a chaotic carpark or the airport is a riotous zoo my mind finds solace in thoughts of Cornafurrish, the peaceful easiness of its absolute anonymity, the easeful peace of its splendid isolation.
Cornafurrish has an appeal about it that reveals itself slowly over time. At first you don’t see much beyond the ragged randomness of an infinity of fields mostly empty, sometimes packed with Dutch Friesians. But then you notice how in early spring it vigorously renews itself with rampant, bountiful, abundant growth on the hedgerows, in the ditches, across the soft brown bog land. You realise how easily it shows its hand, with the passing of the seasons, just like a bad poker player, exuberant in bright summer sunshine, gloomy and brooding in dark winter rain.
Remote but not isolated
Cornafurrish is remote but you can pick up a copy of The Irish Times in Gussie’s of Ballycumber, and, in the process, enjoy a 60 minute round trip ramble along the back road, past pot holes, barking dogs and ramshackle farmyards. You can be the only punter in Flynn’s of Grogan on a Saturday afternoon sucking on a perfect pint as you complete your crossword. When you want chat you’ll find the friendliest folk imaginable who’d never pass you without a word, who love to linger and connect, whose hearths are always burning.
On the Pilgrim Pathway
Cornafurrish is also a powerful portal to an extraordinary past located, as it is, beside the pilgrim path to Clonmacnoise, the ancient monastic seat of learning and commerce located about 20 minutes away by car. Signs of this rich legacy and heritage are everywhere, sometimes located behind entrance gates, packaged and presented for easy interpretation, often scattered randomly in a remote field with free admission like the Holy Well at Castlearmstrong. More recent built heritage include the charming churches at Boher complete with Harry Clarke windows and at Pollough with sacred furniture in bog oak from Celtic Roots Studio.
Best Tea Rooms in Ireland
Nearby, Ballinahown has Ireland’s best tearoom (when it chooses to be open!), Lough Boora Wetlands offers contemporary sculpture in a natural bog setting, Glasson has Wineport Lodge , and Athlone is awakening with its trendy left bank district and a rejuvenated castle.
If holidays are ultimately about escaping, getting away, finding refuge in order to refuel, regenerate, recreate then Cornafurrish is the best place to holiday in Ireland.
I’m just sad that it took me a lifetime to discover this.
Padraic Gilligan is Managing Partner at SoolNua, a specialist marketing agency working with destinations, venues and hotels on their strategy for meetings and events