AUTHOR Niall Cunniffe was born in County Roscommon, Ireland, but now lives in London.
He used to make cartoons, winning a Young Filmmaker of the Year award.
Now Niall has just published his first picture book for children, Scott and the Runaway Sock (£8.99).
WE never really holidayed very far, so the beautiful, remote and adventure-filled Lough Key Forest Park was the perfect summer retreat for my parents.
Offering a jam-packed day of stimulating activities, from walking and cycling trails, ziplining through the trees and tour boats to the many islands, it was more than enough to keep me and my two siblings entertained, as well as guaranteeing a peaceful drive home for my parents.
Little did I know then that the park is steeped in historical and literary interests.
The park is home to Castle Island, or the Rock, where a huge, gloomy castle stands, with records dating back as far the 12th Century.
A large mansion named Rockingham House was also built on the shores of the lake by the famous Welsh architect John Nash in 1809-10, but was suspiciously burned down in 1957.
With so much history and intrigue, I wasn’t surprised to learn of the poet WB Yeats’ fascination with the lake and surrounding land while studying at University College Dublin. It is said he visited Castle Island in 1890, before composing his famous poem, The Lake Isle of Innisfree, possibly inspired by Lough Key.
The discovery I made between Yeats and Lough Key, however, was far darker than a mere poem.
I remember pulling out a dusty old book in the university library and coming across the Celtic Order of Mysteries, part of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. It was a secret cult devoted to mysticism and the occult, whose members included Bram Stoker among many other famous names.
It was rumoured, I read, members met in the ruined castle on the island at Lough Key and performed many spiritual experiments. Yeats believed Lough Key was a portal into another world, “where invisible gates would open, as they opened for Blake”.
I remember a strange sensation overcoming me that day in the library, remembering how I played so many games on bright sunny days in this dark and mysterious place, a place I am still drawn to even today.
I’m sure I could unearth many more mysteries about Lough Key, however I urge you to discover this beautiful realm in the heart of Ireland yourself.
It is incredibly accessible, located only 40 minutes from Knock Airport in County Mayo and on the N4 Dublin to Sligo Road. Don’t delay – enchanting mysteries await!