Hidden Gem Competition – Third Prize

Ruthanne Baxter introduces Tullyhommon's oldest inhabitant, the 'Big Bush'

The Big Bush is an unusual landmark in an unusual village. If you have ever headed across the border from Fermanagh to Donegal via Pettigo, you will unknowingly have passed my nominated ‘hidden gem’.

In medieval times Pettigo was the gateway to the Purgatory of St Patrick on Lough Derg. The village has been described as a ‘smuggler’s paradise’ and modern history has made it one village, two jurisdictions.

The River Termon, signifying the border, flows right through the middle of the village making High Street in the north the essence of the Fermanagh hamlet, Tullyhommon.

It is Tullyhommon that accommodates the Big Bush, where it proudly stands at the head of a steep hill protected by a wrought iron railing mounted on a cut-stone wall.

A term of endearment that local people have placed upon what is in fact a broad leaf chestnut tree,  the purpose of the Big Bush is to commemorate those from the area who lost their lives in the Crimean War.

The tree was planted in 1856. The following inscription is on a tablet incorporated into the wall surrounding it:

THIS TREE PLANTED
BY
F.W.BARTON, ESQ.,J.P., D.L.
IN COMMEMORATION OF
THE TAKING OF SEBASTOPOL A.D. 1856
PARAPET BY HIS SON
H.BARTON, ESQ. J.P.
1893

In its unofficial capacity the tree serves as a well-used turning point for car drivers. It also shelters from the elements those who find themselves in the High Street waiting; waiting on the Sabbath for the church service to begin, waiting any day of the week for the arrival of the wedding party or the funeral hearse, waiting every morning for the Enniskillen bus.

My primary reason for nominating the Big Bush is simple. It is of great sentimental value to both local people and those who have any connection with the Pettigo area. The loss of the Big Bush would change the entire visual dimension of High Street and take with it a great deal of the spirit of the village.

If only the Big Bush could speak,  we could retrieve 150 years of oral history that would be both fascinating and invaluable. There would be stories of smuggling, fair day trading and pilgrims progress, and I have every confidence it witnessed many acts relevant to ‘the troubles’.

There is a quartet of churches in the village, each representing one of the four main denominations. With the Big Bush in close proximity to them all one feels it has attended every baptism, marriage and funeral held in Pettigo over the past one and a half centuries.

Given a voice, this ‘hidden gem’ would be welcome in any ceili house telling tales that would in turn be educational, enlightening, and more often than not, entertaining.

So if, in the future, you are heading from Fermanagh to Donegal via Pettigo, please allow a few moments to take the right turn up the hill, before crossing the border and enjoy what in my opinion is unquestionably one of Ulster’s ‘hidden gems’.

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