I followed the soft path uphill through the forestry in the direction of the cliff face of Sliabh Iarainn. I feel drawn to following these ancient pathways that have been worn into the countryside by our ancestors. The Apache Indians were in tune with their surroundings and a trail was often seen as a link with the past. A path trodden by their ancestors, but largely invisible to the living, is littered with traces of memories of those who went before. We too have a rich tapestry here in this country, of traces in place names and in ancient sites and monuments of our past.
I’ve been thinking about this little hike for quite a while, having read about it some years ago in Christopher Sommerville’s delightful book “Walking in Ireland’. Here is the beautiful colour illustration of the route from his website.
I wanted to see the mass rock and today’s NFL game in Carrick on Shannon afforded me the opportunity. A 7.30am start had me at the start point for 10am. It’s only a short walk and it was easy fit it in before heading back down to Páirc Seán Mac Diarmada.
The approach is a gentle climb of just 2kms, though wet underfoot where it crosses squelchy bogland. As it approaches the cliff face it becomes a bit of a scramble. I’ve been trying out hiking poles and today was a good test. They worked well, apart from when I tried to video and had a good tumble!
Mass Rocks were rocks used as altars during the Penal Laws in the 1700s and were usually located in out of the way locations. This one is perfectly hidden from view behind a tall pinnacle and is difficult to find. Once you turn at the pinnacle there is a short little section of roughly cut steps that take you to this unique mass rock. It’s perfectly secluded and with watch outs on duty the priest and his flock could safely celebrate mass without fear of the redcoats or peelers surprising them.
Sliabh an Iarainn derives its name from the iron deposits found in the rock here and they say the iron ore used to make the Ha’penny Bridge in Dublin was mined here on Sliabh Iarainn. It’s a place steeped in ancient history. and it features in The Book of Invasions as the landing place for the ancient race of the Tuatha De Danaan, the people of the gods of Danu. They came in a mist out of the heavens – our alien race?!
I’m smitten with Leitrim. It’s a lovely unspoiled county with some real gems to see. Would like to have had a bit more time to explore further but had to get to the match!
If Morat Rais and his band of Barbery Pirates had not sacked Baltimore in 1631 and forced the survivors to row up the Ilen River and establish the town of Skibereen, Éire Óg might well have been crowned All Ireland Club Champions in 1992!! Of course I jest but I found myself, accompanied by my good wife Mary in ‘Dear Old Skibereen’ at the weekend for a beautiful wedding of a lovely Carlow couple, Maeve and John. We had a few great days in the home town of the O Donovan Rossa Club, the team that beat us in that epic All Ireland Final, over two glorious games, in March 1993. Two games that really launched the Club Championship, drawing massive crowds to Croke Park and The Gaelic Grounds in Limerick.
Of course Skibereen, not being content to ‘keep its eye on the Czar of Russia’, has truly been placed on the World Map thanks to the exploits of its rowers especially the O Donovan brothers who really captured the heart of the nation.
It’s a great place to visit and, like a number of other west Cork towns, it has retained its charm. The town centre remains an historic busy market town. We’ve stayed in some lovely places up and down the country but I don’t think any come near to our three nights in the wonderful Bridge House B&B, run by hostess supreme, Mona Best! Her home is indescribable – a Victorian film set with every room uniquely furnished and decorated. You see something different every time you open a door. It is eccentric, exotic and quirky and it’s obviously a labour of love for Mona. Her beautiful organic breakfasts were the perfect start to the day. Words fail to do it justice, so here’s a few photos that may!
If you are ever in Skib, be sure to give Mona a call and she will look after you better than your own mother! With all those fine breakfasts and the beautiful food in the lovely West Cork Hotel, we needed to get out and about for a bit of exercise and exploring. The farmers markets of West Cork are famous – Skibereen has a great one every Saturday. West Cork is home to a lot of ‘blow ins’ who crave an alternative lifestyle and many of them are into organic food, art and crafts. It’s all there in the market!
I love the multi coloured shop fronts and houses in West Cork, local shops with local produce, local book stores; Skibereen has its fair share of them, these caught my eye:
No weekend away would be complete without a cycle or a walk and doing it in West Cork is as good as it gets. We had a couple of walks out by Lough Hyne, one of them accompanied by our good friends Declan and Áine. What an incredible body of water! I have to go back in season to do the night kayaking. Lough Hyne is just 1km long and 3/4km wide, it is one of the most important marine habitats in Europe and was made Ireland’s first Marine Nature Conservation Reserve.
In the centre of the lake is Castle Island on which stand the ancient ruins of Cloghan Castle, once a stronghold of the O’Driscolls. According to local folklore here lived King Labhra Loinseach, who had asses ears, a story we learned in primary school and it was great to visit the area!
We did a beautiful looped walk, we thought it would circle the lake but it actually turns west in the direction of Baltimore and it’s a lovely scenic 5kms of road walking. There’s a few nice hills on it and we ‘had to pull like dogs’ to get up them! I mentioned the sacking of Baltimore earlier; that was areal event that occurred when Barbery pirates attacked the village and captured over 100 locals which they brought back to North Africa and sold into slavery. It’s an astonishing little known piece of our unique history which I read about about a few years ago in a terrific book, ‘The Stolen Village’ by Des Ekin;
All in all a great weekend in ‘Dear Old Skibereen’.
Saturday night National League games are great! A big crowd in Netwatch Cullen Park to witness the opening game between Carlow and Wicklow which ended with honours even. That left Sunday free and a chance for a walk in the woods and plenty of fresh air! Christopher Somerville wrote a lovely book titled ‘Walking in Ireland’ with 50 walks scatttered across the country. Many of them featured in the Irish Independent and I was always taken with his beautiful sketch maps incorporating some lovely detail of things to watch out for.
The last time I was in Aghaviller was when I cycled through on an 80km loop out of Inistioge; I had a rest stop here and I was taken with the beautiful church ruins and Round Tower of this ancient site. Today I was out walking and I took the purple route through Castlemorris Woods which was a gentle 8kms with 170 metres of ascending.
It was a bit of an experiment today- I recently purchased a set of trekking poles to get my arms working more and assist with rehab. Although I’m still getting used to them they were great! I could really feel the benefit of the pushing action to activate my triceps and it’s a great way to get more from a walk than just leg exercise. The poles take pressure off the hips and knees. I’ll keep them in the car for future walks and handy for fending off any hungry dogs!
Every walk is different and while most of this route is encased in the forest, it’s a nice change of scenery, the surfaces are good and there’s a nice uphill pull in the middle section. This part of Kilkenny has some interesting heritage sites and makes for a good day out of you like to delve into our ancient past. Aghaviller has a terrific church ruin with a tricky staircase that you can climb to the roof which affords a fabulous view of the round tower.
Áth an Bhiolar (Field of the Watercress) was mentioned in the Annals of the Four Masters
I took Christopher’s suggestion on the way home and had a short stop off at Gáirdín an Ghorta, The Famine Garden. It’s so easy fly pass these little places and I was glad I did. The Great Famine was such a tragedy that decimated this country, sending millions to early graves or onto coffin ships looking for new beginnings in far off lands. Its a worthy memorial to our dark history.
This time last year I had completed over 7,000kms on my bike around the country. As I faced into 2022 I had ambitions of covering even more ground on my trusty steed. I won’t forget the date of the 29th January. Kilcoo were due to meet St. Finbars in the All Ireland Senior Club Football Semi Final in Portlaoise and Carlow were playing London in the NFL. Tickets bought online at 9am and I planned an early cycle in beforehand to make a great day of it! Unfortunately I never made it to either game as I had a bad fall from the bike only 800 meters from home- it was completely my own fault. It always helps to watch where you are going… instead of O Moore Park it was Waterford Regional Hospital for me with a mangled arm requiring 3 plates and 10 pins inserted.
The consultant told me I’d be lucky to be back on the bike in 10 months. He did an incredible job on reconstruction and my rehab started almost immediately. Slowly but surely movement and strength returned and while I couldn’t cycle I could walk and I got an opportunity to do some nice rambles near and far from home.
Near Askamore, County Wexford, being watched over by the Boss herself..
Trips to National League games always included a walking route to keep some semblance of fitness and mobility.
Heading for Temple Stadium with Tommy Wogan, we had a lovely 6kms loop walk at Grange, just over the Tipperary border
Viewing point on Grange Loop Walk
I think my favourite walk is Shannons Lane. It’s a terrific access route for Mount Leinster and Knockroe. So many incredible views, so much history from ancient rock art to the Second World War…
This way to the cross on Knockroe
Hiking to Knockroe Cross with an intercontinental cast of my cousin Sineád (Germany), my uncle in law Peter Kearney (County New South Wales) and Sinead’s boyfriend Gaym (Eritrea).
Going to games always provides an opportunity as a spectator to add in a ramble and there is a really beautiful walk on Forth Mountain Wexford which I did on the day of Wexford v Dublin in the Leinster SFC.
Love the pink hew on these rocks at Carrigfoyle trail on Forth Mountain.
Often on my travels on match days I’m accompanied by my great friend Tommy Wogan. We go back a long long way; we have covered the country by bike and on foot, from the top of Carrauntohill to Rathlin Island. Great memories and more to come.
Tommy at the Lia Fáil stone on the Hill of Tara.The vibes were good & we were confident of an upset v Louth. It wasn’t to be.
Traipsing across the Wicklow Hills with Mary!
The Plains of the Curragh on the way to Conleth Park for Kildare SFCdouble header
All the walking and rehab work began to pay off and instead of being off the bike for 10 months I was back on the bike after less than four months. I was very cagey but delighted; I really thought the year was a write off and I could see that a big tour would be possible if I could continue to recover at the same rate.
The Barrow Track is my default route when getting back on the bike after time off.Loved the colours of this barge.
Probably the best Stones Concert of all time…
A great little hike to the Devils Chimney Waterfall, County Sligo
My plan from last year was that having completed Malin to Mizen in 2021 I wanted to cycle Coast to Coast (west to east) in 2022 but I didn’t want to take the flat and straight Galway to Dublin route incorporating the Grand Canal.
I wanted a route with lots of scenic views and historical sites to visit. I poured over ordnance survey maps and plotted a magical route – to start at Blacksod Bay, taking the north Mayo coast around to Ballina, crossing Leitrim, Fermanagh, Cavan, Monaghan and Louth to finish in Carlingford. The drumlins nearly killed me on those local roads! It was shorter than Malin to Mizen but I found it harder. The constant up and downs with some serious gradients and a possible lack of fitness made it a true test of character. I loved it.
The added bonus was meeting Unison MacCraith agus a bhean chéile Treasa Ní Ghearraigh in Glenamoy County Mayo. We had a marvellous few hours walking and talking along the cliffs above Portacloy. I got a lovely surprise when I got home as Vincent had posted me copies of his local history books and guides for the area. In 1983 Vincent lined out in goal for Rathvilly (and captained them) against Éire Óg, winning their first ever SFC Final.
At the Céide Fields
Despite Robbie Molloy’s request, Vincent didn’t push me over the edge and into the North Atlantic…
The Caves of Keash, County Sligo
Before heading into the clouds on the Ox Mountains … what a network of local roads we have for cycling…
Walking and cycling are a tonic and the combination of exercise, fresh air, fantastic sights, sounds and smells give a natural high. I love getting out, especially to new places – and there are loads of them still to be explored..
I didn’t go anywhere near the distance travelled in 2021, managing just over 3,000kms but 2022 turned out to be a great year between the hiking and the cycling and it has filled me with a burning desire to get moving again from today and explore more of the hidden corners of this grand little country. Any suggestions for routes in Ireland – on local roads or off road? I’m thinking about following the River Blackwater from source to sea as one..
So much to see in Sligo, so little time to do it! I had but a fleeting visit and I took in a couple of beautiful enchanting sights – I have to get back and do a cycling tour of this underrated county. So much beauty, history and folklore.
The first destination was the Passage Tombs at Carrowkeel in the Bricklieve Hills. Its’ a grand easy 3kms walk in along a well defined path with breathtaking views. The approach is along a narrow gap with towering cliff edges on both sides. This is along the popular Miners Trail Walking route. The hill tops around here are adorned with cairns and mounds, all impressive sights and they mark megalithic burial chambers. No wonder WB Yeats was so influenced by mythology, legend and fairies – it was everywhere around him here in Sligo.
There are 14 passage tombs dotted around Carrowkeel and nearby are the Caves of Kesh which I visited on my Coast to Coast cycle during the summer. The passage tombs are linked to the legendary Moytura, battleground of the Tuatha Dé Danann, the ancient Gods and the Fomorians and their leader Balor of the Evil Eye! I still have Lady Gregory’s ‘Gods and Fighting Men’ on my book shelf so it was great to do this little hike and feel the ancient lore of this inspiring landscape..
The next destination on this all too brief visit was Glencar. As you leave Sligo with Benbulben in front of you, take the Manorhamilton Road down through glacial Valley that cuts into Dartry Mountain Range with Benbulben on one end and Glencar at the other end. What a beautiful valley – it’s outstanding! Glencar Lake comes into view and it isn’t long until you reach Glencar Waterfall.
Glencar Waterfall is part of the inspiration for the Yeats poem ‘The Stolen Child’.
I think we all yearn for a return to innocence, especially in today’s world! T
he landscape here is still much as it was in Yeat’s time and its easy drift back to when he wrote these words..
Where the wandering water gushes
From the hills above Glen-Car,
In pools among the rushes
That scare could bathe a star,
We seek for slumbering trout
And whispering in their ears
Give them unquiet dreams;
Leaning softly out
From ferns that drop their tears
Over the young streams.
Come away, o human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.