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by John Byrne

in the late Summer of 2005
50 years after the opening of St Augustine's

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When I discovered the Pelican's website last July, I could never have imagined how it would affect my life ?very much for the better, by the way. Apart from finding my long lost friend Joe McIntyre, thanks in large part to Robbie Dempsey, I also made contact with Olivia O'Dolan. I did not know Olivia from my time in Blacklion, but as a member of 'The Blacklions' folk group, I certainly knew Mairéad, her sister.

Over the course of the last 25 years I had been in or passed through Blacklion and Belcoo on numerous occasions. Apart from calling into Killinagh cemetery to visit Peter McKenzie's final resting place, I never stopped for any length of time, though I could not help but reflect.

Through contact by email with Olivia since reading her reminiscences of Blacklion on the website, I made a promise that when next I went to Sligo and the Yeats Country, as I am wont to each Autumn, I would call to see her. I was as good as my word on the weekend of 5th / 6th November, when with Margaret, I travelled the 108 miles from Dublin, 'over the top' and via Glangevlin, arriving in mild and sunny weather shortly after 10am.

En route —not the Irish name for Blacklion (Learga)

• CLICK •The Parish Church at Killinagh • CLICK •
Our first call was to Peter McKenzie's grave for a moment of reflection and prayer, then on to the newly renovated St Patrick's Church, Killinagh. We joined the N16 passing Loughan House as our alma mater is now known, and on to the junction with the road to Dowra, scene of an earlier photo now on the Pelican? website Gallery, to take a photo on a 'then and now' basis.

September 1966

November 2005—note the Irish name An Blaic

From there, we turned back towards Blacklion passing the former St Augustine’s for a ‘photo shoot.’ Despite additions in recent years the building is still recognisable.

• CLICK •

• CLICK •

Loughan House 5th November 2005

• CLICK •

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We saw some of the current 'inhabitants’ strolling around on the pathways laid by Fr. Chris O’Doherty in the Autumn of 1966. I could not help but reflect on times past when our feet had trodden the same paths – but how times had changed in so many ways. The contrast could hardly have been more stark!

Then continuing towards Blacklion we passed the former Rectory, once home to the Reverend and Mrs Richie. Now restored, it adjoins a small housing development known as Lough Macnean Court, of recent construction. On the left hand side of the road, there is a small lay-by followed a little further on by a car park, with toilet facilities, a slipway and a small ‘beach.’

At the lay-by is a monument to Cathal Buí Mac Giolla Ghunna, a bard of former times renowned for his song “Bunán Buí.” This tells of a yellow bittern, which he saw lying dead, legs pointing upward, in the sand on the shore of Lough Macnean. He formed the opinion that the bird had died of thirst, while he was inebriated. He concluded that his ‘plight’ was better than the bird’s. The area is now marketed as ‘Cathal Buí Country’ – something I was oblivious to while sojourning there (was I the only one?).

In the car park is an impressive sculpture in local yellow sandstone. It needs no explanation, as you will readily appreciate from the pictures to follow. On reflection we were a disparate group coming from all parts of these islands to the small rural community of Blacklion / Belcoo – one town, split by man and divided into two very different communities. We were a part of both. Maybe that fact was lost on many of us at the time. The involvement by the artist of local schoolchildren from both sides of what is tragically referred to as ‘the sectarian divide’ in the concept, perhaps gives a tangible message of hope for the future.

The virtually cloudless sky lent a deep blue hue to the waters of the lough, contrasting with the autumnal colours of the reeds and familiar countryside around.

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