My first experience of Northern Ireland was when in mid September 1969 I alighted from a bus at 10:20 pm in the border village of Belcoo, County Fermanagh, en route to a Catholic theology College two miles away in the Irish Republic. It was a clear, warm night, and I was blessed by the vision of a dark sky, unsullied by city lights, and so the Milky Way spangled the firmament above. It was my first vision of the starry heavens, and I have never forgotten it. That I am starting at the south-western corner of the province rather than in the more populous east is down to the fact that the south west is an area of which I have strong memories.It is a personal preference.
The college was on the border, just in the Republic, but it overlooked a landscape of lough and hill. The view to the north overlooked Upper Lough Macnean, an island-studded lake which is separated from Lower Lough Macnean by an isthmus. The islands seem to be drumlins, mounds of glacial material dumped by retreating glaciers. The southern border with the Irish Republic has many drumlins, though they are a phenomenon found in all glaciated areas.
The view from over the lough was of the hills of County Fermanagh. I can recall 1300 foot Belmore Mountain, a long, flat-topped limestone ridge which resembles an escarpment and is the second highest peak in Fermanagh. The low hilly country stretched north of Lough Macnean until it reaches Lough Erne, an expanse of water quite narrow in its southern stretch, but which swells into a large and beautiful lough in the northern section. It is a great lough for boating and there are islands with ancient remains there.
South West Fermanagh is overlooked by Cuilcagh, a mountain oft shrouded in mist through which the border runs. One clear, cold February day I was walking by Lower Macnean when I saw Cuilcagh, snow-capped, and perfectly reflected in the tranquil lough. But I had no camera with me, so the experience remains a treasured memory to be expressed in word pictures. Cuilcagh is good walking country, and I have fond memories of hiking across its peaty summit, in a mist. It is wild land up there. In good weather the view stretches over the lowlands of County Cavan to the south, but westward you can see the Iron Mountains, old clan O' Rourke territory. I did not know then that I would marry an O'Rourke, though she is not from that area.