Cruach an tSláin
escaped the glaciation all around it and thus protrudes dramatically. The venerable Meath
geologist, Robbie Meehan, tells me that the scientific community is still
unable to explain why outcrops like
Cruach escaped the glacial erosion of their hinterland.
The natural attribute of the Cruach was maximised in the past for political purposes by an élite. Apart from the fort remnants, there is also evidence of a path on the slopes which was probably part of the fort complex. The great antiquarian , T.J. Westropp (1860-1922), states that the monument was built in prehistory. Very little has been written of the Cruach since Westropp's account in his record of Burren monuments compiled between 1896 and 1916.
The views from the top are sumptuous taking in Galway Bay, the Aran Islands and Connemara.
Even though some of the blackthorn on the mound appears to have been cut recently by conservationists, its advance is pretty relentless and it will may eventually occlude the monument from future generations.
Start/finish: Gortlecka Cross Roads, Burren National Park, Kilnaboy.
Description: Way marked trail with orange arrows suitable for most levels of fitness. Highlights include a turlough, mature ash/hazel woodland, flower-rich grasslands and some fine views of the National Park's iconic hill, Mullaghmore.
Distance 1.3 km (0.8 mile) .
Map: The Burren - a two inch map of the uplands of north-west Clare. Folding Landscapes. Scale 1:31680 or Discovery Series Map No 51. Ordnance Survey of Ireland. 1:50 000
The first two fields you walk through are very rich and diverse in wildflower species and are defined as flower-rich grasslands. Horses and ponies graze in the fields in winter thus preventing the encroachment of the surrounding hazel woodland. The horses and ponies are an uncommon sight in the hills in winter as it is primarily cattle which are transferred to altitude from November to April each year. Hay may be saved on occasion in these meadows but only after the flowers have gone to seed. The fly orchid ( Ophrys insectifera ) and the bee orchid ( Ophrys apifera ) are two of the most spectacular flowers here in summer with their remarkable exercises in insect mimicry.
social place of all was the crossroads here outside the Killinaboy (1) post
office. There was a huge tree and it was under that big tree people used to
meet on a summer evening and we’d play pitch-and-toss (2) and the older people
would be talking about farming and local topics or who was getting married, who
was born or who was dying. I was only in my teenage years then”. These are
the words of the late Vincent Lahiffe. Vincent was a native Killinaboy with a
great fondness for remembrance of things past.
The tree at the crossroads has long since been cut down and most of the pitchers and tossers have passed away. Moreover, the other great social hub at the cross, the post office (P.O.), is no more either. It was closed down in 2002.
The Kilnaboy P.O. closure is part of a bigger picture of the long, slow
death of the rural post office. 310 post offices were closed in the period 2005
-2014. According to an Irish Postmasters’ Union statement this autumn, the
government plans to soon close another 400 of the 1,100 post offices still
The decimation of the network is taking place despite the fact that even our political masters accept that the post office is a key national resource – a very valuable social space as well as a centre of commerce.
With the demise in 2002 of the post office as a commercial and civic space, Killinaboy cross was largely reduced to a junction for passing cars. That was until local artist Deirdre O’Mahony reopened the post office as a community and arts space in 2007. She cleverly christened the “new” space X-PO.
Deirdre also set about archiving as much information as possible about
the former postmaster John Martin “Mattie” Rynne. The post office was Rynne’s
working and living space but the world was his oyster. At night he would listen
to short wave radio and teach himself languages. By all accounts he was a
private, sensitive man with a great thirst for knowledge about the big world.
Deirdre made a large wall-drawing of Mattie above the stove in the living room. It was in fact soot from the stove which was used in the drawing of the portrait. Locals say the drawing bears a remarkable likeness to the man himself. Mattie is now a giant at the shoulder of all who walk into his former home.
LIMERICK, DUBLIN and BOLOGNA
I was born in Limerick city a few decades ago. I am quite proud of my birth place. My full name is Anthony Gerard Martin John Kirby. My father was extravagant when it came to naming me. His own name was Alf and I remember him being described as a “charismatic insurance salesman” in a book on the life of actor Richard Harris. My father passed away in 1977. My mother did likewise two and a half years ago at the age of 99 .
I studied French and English literature in University College Dublin in the late 1970s. I graduated without distinction but the education did give me an enduring love for words and languages. Whilst in college I happened to sit a civil service exam. I remember meeting the comic genius, the late Dermot Morgan, in the exam hall that day. He was a good friend of my cousin. I got the call to work for the state after I left college. I became a public servant. Morgan didn’t. Sometime later he became Father Ted in the eponymous and wildly successful TV comedy series.
Thankfully my public service did not stretch to licking envelopes or asking people their mothers’ maiden name . However, the job did not enthral me either. I finally invoked an escape clause and made good for Italy. A five year long sabbatical. I taught English as a foreign language in the medieval city of Bologna. I also spent one sublime summer in the city of Matera – a world UNESCO heritage site. Five years is the career break limit so I opted for the Irish public service again when the sabbatical expired. I returned to Dublin in 1997. I still miss Italia .
This 9km loop begins in Carran — the only village in
the Burren hills. The cultural highlight of the walk is Temple Cronan, a
remarkable Early Christian monastic site set in a green valley, in stark
contrast to the bare limestone massif of Termon you ascend afterwards.
Even though the peak is a mere 243 metres, it is never inundated with walkers. You may even have Termon’s generous plateau to yourself. Termon, coming from the Gaelic tearmann (sanctuary), is true to its name!
The views are lavish — to the south is Slieve Callan in mid-Clare; east is the wild, boggy terrain of Slieve Aughty; west is the dissident shale uplands of Slieve Elva in the heart of the Burren limestones. Most exhilarating of all are the views north — beyond Clare, into Galway Bay and chunks of Connemara.
Trek during the blooming season in May and June, and you’ll find patches of soil occupied by wild flowers with origins in different corners of the world. The most northerly point of the Termon plateau affords a stunning vista, too: a football stadium-sized depression known as the Glen of Clab. It’s a “darkly picturesque glen”, as described by the Irish antiquarian Westropp.
On the home stretch, there’s another sacred site — an eye-well dedicated to St Fachtna with a very impressive suite of dry stone penitential stations. It’s a vivid testimony to Ireland’s rich pilgrim past.
The Termon hill accounts for 5km of the 9km walk. So just over half of the walk features the region’s renowned craggy terrain. However, the biggest challenge in this rocky landscape may be the trees! Hazel is steadily advancing across some Burren hills due to the decline of the out-wintering of cattle. The hazel tends to obscure the way markers… so detective work may be required!
Length/time: 9km; 3–4 hours.
Start/finish point: Park at Cassidy’s Pub in Carran — the trailhead is here.
Nourishment : Cassidy’s pub is open 7 days a week from April 15th 2017 and is home to good food. The café in the nearby Burren Perfumery is another excellent eatery.
*This blog first appeared in the Irish Independent on 1st April 2017 as 1 of 7 walks in the article entitled “7 Amazing Walks in Ireland: Fresh air for every fitness level.”
The Early Medieval monastic site of Iníon Baoith consisted of 811 plantation acres. (The Irish acre or plantation acre is a measurement in disuse now. It approximates to 1.62 statute acres or 0.66 hectares). The monastery tenants also had access to another 900 acres of 'rocky pasture' for their common use. This approximates to what we know today as the townlands of Commons North & Commons South, though some small portions of other townlands were also included. Of the Commons, only about 40 acres were considered profitable. (Mc Mahon ; 2017).
Thus Tobar Iníon Baoith, which is located on the rocky pasture of Commons South, is situated within the monastic termon of Iníon Baoith. Moreover, there are two other holy wells in Commons South within the termon. They are the second well named after the saint, Tobar Iníon Baoith, and also Tobar Bhaighdeán.
Holy wells are often located near the ruins of medieval churches (or on the sides of hills or mountains or by the seashore) (O’Sullivan and Downey ; 2006).
Know Your Monuments Holy Wells by Muiris O'Sullivan and Liam Downey. Archaeology Ireland. (Spring 2006).
Buiochas le.../Thanks to...
Michael Mc Mahon for the information on the area of the Early Medieval monastic site of Iníon Baoith.
THE WELL HOUSE
The house is an elliptically-shaped dry stone construction enclosing the well. It is 2.8 m long and measures 2.5 m at its widest point. Access to the well is by an aperture in the house which is 0.45 m wide.
The house is single stone-width (0.45 m approx) except for the rear wall which has a depth of up to 1.3m of stone. The altar is flat piece of stone (0.4m by 0.2m) which is known locally as "the flag". The flag is inserted in to the interior of the rear wall. It overhangs the well at a height of 0.29 m above the ground.
The flag serves to denote the sanctity of the space but also acts a repository for devotees' offerings.
There is a small depression in the pavement under the flag and just behind the well water.
This naturally occurring feature has been re-invented by devotees as another point of deposition of the offerings or "devotionalia".
Site visited 7th February 2017.
There were a medallion and 4 religious figurines on the altar.The following offerings were recorded in the small depression in the pavement behind the well - approximately 90 coins in the new currency.
Two small pieces of limestone. 2 other small stones – one red in colour, the
These latter stones are from geological areas other than the Burren and were deposited as offerings probably because of their exotic look.
Two secular tokens - a plastic bottle top and an ear ring.
The following religious tokens - the Madonna in a grotto ; a wooden crucifix ; 2 metal crucifixes ; 6 religious medals ; a headless figure of Mary ; a photo of the holy family Jesus, Mary and Joseph.
There were 20 coins clustered on the ground a few centimetres from the well.
Finally, one small piece of granite was recorded in the interior wall of the well house.THE HYDROLOGY OF THE WELL
The well is a natural solutional hollow in the limestone. There are many similar features in the surrounding pavement.
The hollow is fed by rainwater draining from the surrounding pavement at shallow depth (920-30cm). This is known as epikarst drainage and it is quite common in the Burren karst.
The water drains horizontally and fills the hollow up to a depth of 15cm before overflowing. Thus there is a mini-pool just below the surface with no outlet. Even with no inflow in dry weather, the water would take a month or two to evaporate altogether. As it never goes that long without rain in the region, the mini-pool never dries up.
Killinaboy parish is mostly agricultural and that is why floods and even droughts are keenly noticed as they both have a negative impact upon the pasture. The stability of the water supply in the well was a source of local fascination in the past and is still the subject of some comment today.
"And no matter how dry the weather is or how wet, the well would not get bigger or smaller" (Teller John Costelloe, Coad ; collector Joseph Costello 1937/38).
"It never increases or decreases after the biggest flow or the greatest drought" (Teller George Pilkington, Leamaneh ; collector Seán Pilkington ; 1937/38).
THE PERSONALITY OF THE WELL
There are a number of similar solutions in the surrounding area which begs the question as to why the water from this particular hollow was ordained to be "blessed".
LIST OF the 9 HOLY WELLS IN the PARISH OF KILLINABOY and THEIR CURES
Tobar Iníon Baoith, Commons South. Eyes and warts.
Tobar Bhaighdeáin (The Maiden’s Well), Commons South. Eyes and warts.
Bullán Phádraig (St Patrick’s Well), Poulnalour. Eyes and warts.
St Anthony’s, Caherblonick (no longer extant). Eyes and warts.
Tobar Inion Baoith, Anneville. Eyes.
Tobar Iníon Baoith, Ballard. Eyes.
Tobar Iníon Baoith, Commons South. Eyes.
Tobar Mháirtín (St Martin’s Well), Leamaneh. Eyes.
Tobar Duibh (The Black Well), Caherfadda. Eyes and swollen limbs.
An image from a grocer’s store on the Sheep’s Head peninsula
in the south west of Ireland on the morning of the 3rd of January
2017. The store is in the village of Kilcrohane, the most westerly village on the
peninsula (there are two other villages – Ahakista and Durrus, the latter the most
O Mahony’s is a store, coffee shop, post office and wine bar (wine bar open in high season). The owner is the ultra-genial Frank O’Mahony and his stamp (excuse the pun) is all over the premises. The place is crammed with knick-knacks and memorabilia and even the ceiling is maximised to reflect some of Frank’s passions. Stand-outs for me were the L.P. covers (including a Richard Clayderman!) and the Donald Trump shrine called The World According to Donald. The coffee is excellent. O’Mahony’s is arguably one of the most idiosyncratic shops/P.O.s in Ireland.
We spent a post-Christmas week on Sheep’s Head - one of 5 Old Red Sandstone peninsulas in south-west Ireland defiantly jutting out into the Atlantic. Mizen is the most southerly peninsula and above Sheep’s Head there is Beara, Iveragh (a.k.a. Ring of Kerry) and the Dingle. The latter two are the most trafficked whereas the first three mentioned remain largely unspoiled.
Sheep’s Head is a very narrow peninsula at only 4 kilometres
wide…whilst it is 21 kilometres long.
The highest point of the region is Seefin (348m). The peninsula is characterised by a rugged, mountainous spine with the better land of glacial tills (and inhabitants) more concentrated towards sea level.
The region is a magnet for walkers who are attracted by the excellently way marked Sheep’s Head Way. The Way is 175 kilometres long and boasts 20 looped walks.
We hiked about 40 kilometres with the kids during the week. It was a very rich experience as the Way features the most lavish scenery……mountains, bog, lakes and ocean. We were often entranced as we walked by the vista of two bays – Bantry to the north and Dunmanus to the south. On occasion we could view sections of four of the five peninsulas i.e. all except Dingle. One of the many highlights for us was dolphin watching from the light house at the most westerly point of the peninsula.
Cork city and airport are a 1 hour 20 minute drive to Kilcrohane and the remoteness explains in part why Sheep’s Head remains a secret of Ireland’s Atlantic landscape. Moreover, there is not one sandy beach on the peninsula and hence the relatively small number of family groups which holiday here in high season. (I am told however that the Kilcrohane pier is a popular swimming spot in summer).
Apart from Frank’s emporium, Kilcrohane is home to a very cosy pub, Eileen’s. The only tin-roofed pub in Ireland is in the nearby village of Ahakista. Its beer garden sweeps down to the sea. Friendly and family-run by the Whooleys, the Tin Pub is hard to beat. Arundel’s is the other pub in Ahakista and it is located on the pier. A beer, coffee or chowder here al fresco as the sun declines is a peak experience as they say in the U.S.
We did miss out on some coffee shops with strong reputations as they were closed during our winter stay – Bernie’s Cupán Tae is in Tooreen in the far west of the peninsula ; The White House Gallery and Coffee Shop is a kilometre west of Kilcrohane and The Heron Gallery Café is just outside Ahakista.
A final, honourable mention of the people of this part of peninsular Cork – uber-friendly and most willing to stop time to strike up a conversation. If you are looking for a bit of Nirvana far from the venal roar – Sheep’s Head is the place for you.
Ath bhliain faoi mhaise duit – Happy 2017.
WALKING BOOK and MAP
Ordnance Survey Ireland Discovery Series. Map Number 88.
Walking the Sheep’s Head Way
2nd edition Main Trail and 17 Loop Walks by Amanda Clarke. Wildways Press.
2nd edition published 2015.
SHEEP’S HEAD BOOKS
The Story of Kilcrohane by Frank O’Mahony.
First published by Frank O’Mahony 2000.
A history of the parish of Kilcrohane by the uncle of current Kilcrohane grocer Frank O’Mahony.
Jack’s World by Seán Sheehan.
Cork University Press 2007.
The story of the life of a Sheep’s Head farmer, Jack Sheehan, as recorded by his nephew Seán.
A record also of the place names of the fields on Jack’s farm and the 20th century changes to the landscape of the peninsula.