A pleasant, conservative little town, ENNISKILLEN sits on an island like an ornamental buckle, the two narrow ribbons of water that pass each side connecting the Lower and Upper lough complexes. The strategic strength of this position has long been recognized – indeed, the town takes its name from Innis Ceithleann, “the island of Kathleen”, wife of Balor, who sought refuge here after a defeat in battle. Later the island became a Maguire stronghold before William Cole, a planter from Cornwall, was appointed governor in 1607. The town played a major role in the 1641 Rebellion and the later Williamite Wars, the latter leading to the formation of its two famous regiments, the Inniskilling Dragoons and the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, which played a significant role in the victory at the Battle of the Boyne. However, the name Enniskillen is still often associated with one of the most devastating atrocities of the Troubles: on Remembrance Day 1987, an IRA bomb killed eleven and injured 61 people as they gathered to commemorate the dead of the two world wars. The resulting widespread outrage was instrumental in directing parts of the Republican movement towards seeking a political solution to the Troubles.
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Today, Enniskillen is worthy of a day’s visit in its own right, with its castle and proximity to the elegant Castle Coole, plus a town centre relatively unspoilt by shopping developments. It’s also ideally situated as a base for exploring Lough Erne and touring the attractive local countryside.
The Kingfisher Cycling Trail
Enniskillen is a good starting point for the 300-mile plus Kingfisher Cycling Trail, whose circular route skirts Lower Lough Erne to Belleck and then south to Blacklion before running through the Leitrim lakelands to Carrick-on-Shannon, then east to Belturbet in County Cavan, and back, via Clones in County Monaghan, around the Upper Lough to Enniskillen. The route passes through a wonderful variety of countryside, and though some of the hills are pretty steep, they are rarely too arduous to deter cyclists. You can either bring your own bike and plan your own accommodation or take advantage of various tour packages available (visit wwww.cycletoursireland.com for details). Tours include two- or three-day short breaks and longer six- to eight-day casual, active or challenging rides. Accommodation is usually in B&Bs (though you can choose to stay in hotels or hostels), 18-speed bikes and essential equipment are provided, and your luggage is transported to and from each night’s stop.
Evidence of how the richest of the Enniskillen colonists lived is found about a mile southeast of the town centre at Castle Coole, designed by James Wyatt and completed in 1798 as the lakeside home of the Earls of Belmore. A perfect Palladian-fronted building of silver Portland stone, the mansion is part of a huge seven-hundred-acre estate, whose beautiful landscaped grounds feature an impressive avenue of stately oak trees and a wealth of woodland walks. Inside, the house features scagliola columns, exquisite plasterwork, a cantilevered staircase, a state bedroom decorated for George IV (who didn’t actually come – the room was never subsequently used), Hogarth prints and an elegant library boasting Regency furnishings and fireplaces. The informative guided tour is well worth taking.