Lough Key Forest Park

 

Sir, - I read Theresa Judge's excellent recent article, "A new lease of life for Lough Key Forest Park", with great interest. Lough Key surely is one of the most beautiful of the many beautiful lakes in Ireland. I have loved it since the days of my youth and have visited it and boated on it over the years.

My first visit was in 1949, when my brother Hugh (aged 15) and I canoed across it on our way to the Shannon, by which we spent three weeks camping and sleeping on the ground, finishing up at Killaloe.

When I think of Lough Key I think of Douglas Hyde and W.B. Yeats boating and fishing on it. Yeats, at one of his last meetings with Maud Gonne (I met her when she was an old lady in Roebuck House), said: "Maud, we should have gone on with our Castle of the Heroes". This shrine of Irish tradition was to have been situated on Castle Island, a small island on Lough Key a short distance from the shore. When Yeats knew it had been lived in recently and would have required only a little money to make it habitable. (It has its own small quay - we landed in our canoe and picnicked in the partially ruined castle.)

Rockingham House, an elegant mansion owned by the King Hamons, stood on the shore of the Lough. It was originally the home of Lord French. The house was twice burnt down - the last, and final time, in 1957. The head groom showed us over the extensive stables but not, alas, the house. Though the family were not in residence, quite understandably visitors were not allowed.

From the front of Rivesdale House there is a fine view of Lough Key in the near distance. Rivesdale is now a charming guest house run by my friends the Burkes. Set in beautiful surroundings, it has a most interesting history. Sheila Mooney's A Strange Kind of Loving is a compelling story. The early chapters are about Rivesdale. As the blurb says it "contains both comic and tragic reminiscences of the ascendancy families in Ireland."

Sheila Mooney's grandfather lived there. He left China, where he had been a consultant in a hospital in Tienstin, at the time of the Boxer rebellion of 1900, and brought with him his Chinese servants.

On Sundays the doctor went to church in his tall hat and bible in his hand, in a rick-shaw pulled by Chang Len. What a wonderful sight it must have been in the wilds of Roscommon!

Sheila's eldest sister, Maureen O'Sullivan, star of many Hollywood productions, also lived there. She is perhaps best remembered as Jane in numerous Tarzan films. A few years ago she and her husband stayed in Rivesdale where she planted a tree in front of the house.

In 1776 Arthur Young, in his famous Tour of Ireland, wrote that "Lough Key was one of the most delicious scenes I ever beheld".

Let us hope that plans to regenerate Lough Key Forest Park will enhance and not diminish its beauty. - Yours, etc.,

Brian N. Barrington Baker, Castlehill Road, Belfast 4.