Hey there all!  Boy of Hope Lough Erne Challenge 2009 has been successfully completed and I’m back on the side of the mountain.  The plan had been to do a diary while in route – however as they say the best laid plans of mice and men oft gang agley! (Scots for often  go astray)

If you if you click on the following link it will bring up a TV slot which Fermanagh TV did of Omar’s River Bird and Yours truely on Aug 13:


Below is a photo “diary” of the trip with some inserted comments.   Almost lost the boat several times – but that’s to be expected on this kind of journey.  One day it took 11 hours to make three quarters of one mile!!! Enjoy the pictures and  the “diary” entries. God bless!

The beginings.  Cork County Mayor Derry Canty kicked off the project at the Cork County Chambers.  


Photograph above taken by Mary O Connor outside County Cork Council Chambers on July 15, AD 2009. From the left side of the photograph: Donnacha, Cllr. Derry Canty Cork County Mayor, Connor O’Leary representing Donoughmore Co. Cork, Jack Donovan Logistics planner for the Challenges, Kieran Riordan Director of IN HIS FOOTSTEPS, Kellie Donovan donation card coordinator

Her Excellency Priscilla Jana, the South African Ambassador to Ireland officiated at the launch of this year’s effort at 6:30 P.M. August 6th. The launching site was at the Dunking Stool dock, Belturbet, Co Cavan.


Above   Tina Jana, daughter of the Ambassador, Her Excellency Priscilla Jana, Donnacha, and Cllr. Anthoney Vesey who did a magnificent job of organizing Belturbet’s reception of the Ambassador and other dignitaries.

Dunking stool sign

Above  Sign at the jetty complex recalling the site’s history.

Rowan just prior to official launch

Above  Rowan Hand, Journalist, Television presenter, and Radio commentator attended and presented a certificate of recognition from Dr. Gerald O’Hare, who is the Ambassador to Industry in Northern Ireland for HRH Prince Charles.

Tommy Mac Mahon pointing at begining of nav

Above  Tommy Mac Mahon of the Belturbet rowing club pointing at the sign which indicates that Omar’s River Bird is at the limit of Erne Navigation. It all starts here!  The rowing club very kindly provided me with a tow to the starting point. Tommy may well be a relation of mine. Under Brehon Law (Irish law prior to occupation) my surname would be Mac Mahon and my people were from nearby Castleblaney. The family was part of a large group which migrated to Ireland from Sythia, starting in the days of Moses and taking about 300 years to make the hygiera.

River North of Belturbet

Above   River widens North of Belturbet.

Horses below Belturbet

Above and below  –  horses on the east bank below BelturbetHorses below Belturbet 2

Crom Castle Jetty

Above   Crom Castle Jetty – first port of call for the 2009 Challenge.

Feeding the ducks at Crom Castle

Above    Duck MacDonald’s ! A lovely German Girl having a ball, during the family’s first ever day on a power cruiser, while her mother looks on and shares in her joy. It was a pleasure to help this family dock at the Crom Castle Jetty and spend a bit of time giving them hints on safety and how to better handle and enjoy their rental cruiser.

Museum at Crom Castle Jetty

Above  Crom Castle Museum.

Crom Castle ruins (orig castle)

Above    Ruins of original Crom Castle

Castle on Gad Island 1

Above   Crichton Tower Castle on Gad Island.

Dawn though the port hole

Above     Dawn is breaking – rich dark coffee fills the air with its plesant aroma – almost time to hit the oars again !


Above   Sheep grazing on the East bank of  Upper Lough Erne

Lady Craogavon Bridge

Above      Lady Craigavon Bridge.   Just downstream of the bridge I got into a bit of a bother.  On my first attempt to raise the mast the lazy jacks became entangled around the sail’s spars like a boa constricter, preventing the mast from being raised beyond 45 degrees.  I began easing the mast back down. Just as it got to the point where it was resting on my shoulder a high powered launch roared past.  It’s wake threw Omar’s River Bird all over the place. While the boat was reeling around, like a drunken sailor I almost went overboard. Before the mess could be straightened out Omar’s River Bird almost drifted up onto the rocky bank. It took several rounds of rowing out and struggling while drifting back toward the bank to get the problem solved. I came close to anchoring; but without a winch it can take a couple of hours to break out the big anchor if it gets really stuck in. It’s a damned if you do damned if you don’t situation. In the end alls well that ends well.

cows young beefburgers

Above       Young cows frolicking within a stones throw as I row Omar’s River Bird close to the lee shore.

Carybridge Jetty

Above   Carrybridge Jetty.

Below     A stone circle which is on the NW bank between markers 40A and 41A, South of Enniskillen. Most of these stone circles in Ireland date to betweem 3,000 & 4.200 B.C.

Stone Circle

Using one oar in a narrow placeAbove    Using one oar to manoeuvre in a tight place. Very unhandy but necessary.Bridge footings Archowen in distanceAbove and Below     Old bridge footings approaching Enniskillen.  Note Archowen Theater and Arts Center at right of upper photograph.Bridge footings 2Archowen Theater and Arts CenterAbove    Archowen Theater and Arts Center on the apporach to Enniskillen. Note the classic motor cruiser tied up at the Center’s jetty.

Broadmeadows Jetty BridgeAbove     Rental cruiser passing under pedestrian bridge at Broadmeadows Jetty, my first Enniskillen berth.  Sadly not enough safety instruction is given to those who rent these boats. This is demonstrated by the two young lads mopping the wet and slippery foredeck.  They are one slip away from being chopped up in the propellers of the yacht!  

The foot bridge leads to the local sports fields.  One farther  up leads to the Erneside shopping center, which also has a public jetty. The town center is close by to the left of the photo.

Waterways Ireland headquarters building EnniskillenAbove      Waterways Ireland Headquarters complex in Enniskillen.  Martin Denany, who is in charge of promoting the use of Ireland’s waterways, kindly offered the use of the complex’s jetty and other facillities when he spoke at the official launch of the Boy of Hope Lough Erne Challenge 2009. The staff of Waterways Ireland, both North and South, have been a great deal of help on all three challenges and have always given the project a great deal of support.  A really great bunch of people who are dedicated to their work!Waterways ireland Hdq. dock & ORBAbove      Omar’s River Bird berthed at Waterways Ireland’s Headquarter complex jetty. It was from here that the TV filming was organized for the program which can be accessed by clicking on the link below:

 http://link.brightcove.com/services/player/bcpid16574959001?bclid=0&bctid=34884893001          Waterways Ire HQ leaving

Above    Rowing away from Waterways Ireland Headquarters. At this point the TV segment, with the link above, was being filmed.

Enniskillen Castle 2

Above     Approaching historic Enniskillen Castle. (lots of info on this structure and the “Eniskillens”, who were headquartered there through the centuries and many wars, if you put the name into a search engine)

Enniskillen Castle

Above   Passing the castle. (it was not so easy when the battery was banging away at you) When you pass the castle and go under the adjacent bridge you have put Upper Lough Erne behind you and are at the gateway to Lower Lough Erne. 

The Northern Ireland Tourist Board’s information on Lower Lough Erne warns that waves on it reach the size of those on the open ocean. This was not a comforting thought!! 

The Tourist Board’s description of the Erne Loughs and warnings, which are found at http://www.geographia.com/northern-ireland/ukifer01.htm  , are also found on this site’s tab which is labled “LOUGH ERNE CHALLENGE 2009”.

Enniskillen bridge below castle

Above    Bridge below Eniskillen Castle

Sign Round O Eniskillen

Above    Sign for the Round O Jetty and park at Enniskillen

Round O feeding ducks

Above      Feeding time for the ducks and swans at Round O is anytime of the day or night!

Round O night lights

Above      Pleasant night at the Round O dock.

Sail set O jetty Enniskillen

Above     Sail set at Round O dock for purposes of checking lashings.

Long day 1

Above and below    The distance between the Round O Jetty (where the boats are at far end of the upper  photograph) and the bridge and lock system seen at the far end of the lower photograph is about three quarters of a mile.

On August 15 I struggled for 11 hours to make that distance!

Both photographs are taken from the same spot, during one of the many times I anchored (waiting a few minutes for a slight drop in wind force so I could  have another go) after being driven back to that point by the wind while attempting to make the lock. More than once I was within less than 50 yards of the lock during the eleven hour effort.Long day 2long day 3

Above       Waterways Ireland dock, where I took refuge and a much needed rest after the marathon effort to make the lock and bridge system.

Devinish in the distance

Above     Devinish Island in the distance.  Soon the day’s labors will end with the Jetty on the other side of this Island perhaps less than hours row distant!

Devinish appoaching

Above       Approaching Devinish Island.

Devinish Plaque

Above     Descriptive sign on Devinish Island.

Devinish Island 1a

Above          View from the Jetty at Devinish Island.

Devinish arches

Above        Arches at Devenish Island Monastery ruins. Close up of carved head on closest arch pictured below.

Face over door Devinish

Above    Face over a door at the Devinish Island Monastery thought to be a representation of the Virgin Mary.

Devinish Island 2

Above     Ornate cross which has stood on Devinish for almost one half of the time that has passed since Christ’s birth. It predates the Monastery by 300 years, as does the Round tower, which is pictured along with the cross in the next photograph. 

Devinish cross 2

Above  Same cross from other side.

Devinish carved stone

Above  Carved stone Devenish Island Monastery

Devonish carved stone number 2

Above  Carved Stone Devinish Island Monestary

Devinish theme center

Above     Devinish Island theme center.

Devinish center stone head

Above      Carved head which has been moved inside the theme center to preserve it from weathering.

Classic cruiser from Arts center at Devinish

Above     The classic motor cruiser, which had been tied up at the Archowen Theater and Arts Center Jetty showed up at the Devinish Jetty.  It was a real pleasure to look over all the details of this lovingly restored and maintained classic motor vessel.  A living memory when power cruisers looked like little ships and were works of art, beautifully sculpted in wood.

Farmers and truck

Above     While talk to, waving at, an blowing my (real) ships horn at these cattle farmers I managed to get into a spot of trouble by rowing too close to the windward shore!  People always notice and react to Omar’s River Bird as they have never seen anything like it – or such a large live aboard boat being  propelled by oars alone!

Lough Erne YC berth

Above     Berthed at the Lough Erne Yacht Club. Between the Jetty where Omar’s River Bird is tied up and the one at the top of the picture medium sized boulders line the bank to prevent erosion by wave action. Just as I rowed away from this berth a howler piped up dead onshore. For ten minutes or so I struggled at maximum effort after being blown within six feet of those boulders. During that time, which seemed like hours, the boat did not gain or loose a foot. Had those 6 feet been lost at the very least the rear platform and transom would have been trashed and the challenge ended in failure. What an irony it would have been to be cast ashore by the wind inside the club jetties!!  LEYC dingy fleet

Above and below       Young people being trained in the art of sailing by members of the Lough Erne Yacht club, who donate much of their spare time to Youth Developement work.

LEYC dingy fleet 2

House and classic boat at Inis DoneyAbove      House and classic boat on Inis Doney Island, which can only be reached by boat.Inismacsaint 1

Above     Ruins on Inismacsaint Island. A really nice and very frienly group of  teenagers from belfast were camping on the Island. It was their special end to the holidays. We had some very plesant conversations and they all stood on the little hill shouting and waving as long as they could see me rowing from the island.

Inismacsaint grave marker

Above    A “recent” grave marker, erected in 1741 on Inismacsaint.

Inismacsaint 2

Above         I was told that this cross is the oldest one in Ireland.

Inismacsaint cross joint

Above        This cross is unique in that it was made from two pieces of stone joined with a tenon. A portion of the upper arm segment has broken away revealing the joining method, as can be seen in the photo above.

Inismacsaint Jetty

Above    Safely docked at the Inismacsaint Jetty.

Mountain in background

Above     I caught a glimpse of this mountain in the distance. I took it to be be backside of part of the Cliffs of Mago, which are notorious for generating dangerous wind shears across the lower part of the lake.  I must say it did look sinister through the mists.


Above   Cattle Grazing on  the West Bank of the Erne.

 Tulley castle dock for real!

Above        Tully Castle Jetty. Last stop before the most dangerous portion of any lake in Ireland.

Tulley swans feeding

Above        Vacationers from Belfast feeding the swans at Tully Castle Jetty. These two families take a seven week summer break each year on the Erne.

Tully Castle distance

Above        Tully Castle in the distance.

Tully Castle turret

Above   Tully castle up close. Note the defensive turrets built into the corners of the structure. The Castle, was taken by the McGuiresanddestroyed along with the workers village. All the “peasants” were killed, including the children. Lord John Hume’s family, who owned the home and lands from Enniskillen to Beleek, were spared. Lord Hume was a Scottish Planter.

Tulley Castle L garden

Above  and below      Tully Castle formal gardens – left upper picture – right lowerTulley castle r garden

Tulley Castle turf fire smokeAbove     Turf fire warming the boat at Tully Castle Jetty. The cast iron turf burning stove was pressed into service every day of Boy of Hope Erne Challenge 2009, with one exception. Night at Tully Castle Jetty

Above       A restful night at the Tully Castle Jetty.

Cliffs of Mago

Above     The towering Cliffs of Mago. Violent wind shears gusted down from their heights on a regular cycle during Omar’s River Bird’s passage past them.

 Stuck under bridge

Above  Three miles from the Beleek public jetty and the end of Erne Navigation.  So close to success – even closer to failure!  After dropping the sail Omar’s River Bird was caught in a counter current that carried it very close to the rocky shore and destruction. There was no room or time to deploy the anchor. The only way to hold it off was to put my back against the cabin and row with 100% effort. After what seemed to be an eternity I managed to claw out of danger and into the middle of the Erne. Looking up I saw that we would not clear the bridge. (I’d been assured that the mast would clear this bridge by a frequent user of the water way but had planed to drop it anyway) but that I no longer had time to drop the mast. In fact there was barely time to get the boat turned into the arch so it would not be impaled by the bridge footing!

Note the angle of Omar’s River Bird’s deck. IT IS AT 60 DEGREES FROM PLUMB!  The port deck was slightly under water and if it went down 3 more inches the rushing Erne would fill the boat through the windows and sink it in minutes! I tried throwing the 40 pound anchor upstream in the hope I could get it caught on something but the strength of the current, compressed in the bridge’s arch, swept it back past the boat. It was as though it were made of wood instead of drop forged steel.

Stuck under bridge 3Above   The top of the stout larch mast is really caught. It has bowed but will not break. Any more rain and the force of the current will put paid to the project and Omar’s River Bird.Stuck under bridge 2

Above   The only answers I could see were to saw through the mast or break the mast tabernacle loose from the boat. I chose the latter.

In this photo I have it part way loose (which has slightly relieved the boat’s angle of heel) and was going back into the cabin for more tools of “destruction”.  With great effort the tabernacle was pried loose and driven off the boat. The mast went overboard taking the sail and its 3 spars with it.  Anchoring below the bridge I managed to struggle to get the mast, spars,  sail, and tangled mess of stays and halyard back on to the boat.

The whole incident consumed just under 3 hours. One of the biggest threats to success came from well meaning onlookers who wanted to call the nearby rescue service. That would have been a real bummer 3 miles from success!!Rowing into Beleek

Above    Rowing into Beleek, Co. Fremanagh. At this point Omar’s River Bird had completed the entire Erne Navagation WITHOUT and engine and established new world class records.

Rowing into Beleek 2

Above    Almost at the “berth” at the end of the Endurance and Adventure Challenge.

Nula's boat Beleek

Above      The Steel motor Yacht Sequana.

Nula, the Yacht’s owner/skipper hails from Dublin and wanders about Ireland’s inland waterways on her 34 foot vessel. She could not believe that I’d rowed across the current into Beleek’s public harbor. When she and her professional skipper partner first attempted to enter the current swept them away and they had to take a second shot at it!

Mission completed thumbs up


Jack and Zafor at Beleek

Above     Jack and Zafor traveled up to Beleek in Zafor’s 4 wheel drive Club Cab and loaded up Omar’s River Bird for its voyage over land to Donoughmore.

Time to plan next years challenge!!



  1. Well done, Donnacha !!!

  2. Great Job Dad!!!! another great trip

  3. Hi Don, I think your Dad Omar is my Uncle by Marriage. Married to my Aunt Dorothy. If it is you, my wife Suzanne and I always enjoyed talking to Uncle Omar.

    • You’re “spot on” as they say over here in Ireland.
      Good to hear from you. Sorry I did not reply sooner. Was off on one of my tangents!
      Dad often spoke of you and Suzanne with fondness.
      God bless!

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