If you want to meet a man with a twinkle in his eye, go walking with Michael Moroney of Lisvernane in Co Tipperary. I’ve rarely seen so much enthusiasm for a well-loved landscape, so much energy and good humour packed into one human frame.
Which of the many Glen of Aherlow walking routes to follow? – that was the question. ‘The Dolmen Loop up Slievenamuck,’ proposed Michael. ‘We’ll get a view of the Galtees from up there that’ll make you glad you went.’
Slievenamuck is a beautiful hill, a smooth climb to an outstanding view. We set off four strong from Moroney’s pub in Lisvernane – Michael, Jane and myself, along with County Tipperary poet and mountain rescue man Jimmy Barry. Up the muddy boreens behind Lisvernane we trudged, getting well mud-bespattered for our trouble, following the reassuring red arrows of the Dolmen Loop as they led us through the trees and up the open spine of Slievenamuck.
At the top of the mountain we found the lichen-blotched grey structure of Shrough dolmen, a massive portal tomb built to hold the mortal remains of Stone Age grandees some five thousand years ago. No-one with an ounce of soul could fail to appreciate just why this spot was chosen at the crest of a hill commanding such a view as this, the whole uplift of the Galtees spread superbly under a muted sky, their high tops and flanks still streaked with late snowfall, seen in full glory across the glen that opened a thousand feet below. And how could such a resting place fail to be one of the beds of that amorous fugitive pair, Diarmuid and Gráinne?
‘Cush there on the left,’ said Michael, pointing out the peaks, ‘with Greenane behind; then Galtybeg rising to Galtymore, where you were last summer with Jimmy.’ White strings of snow ran down the gullies in the face of Galtymore. The strings of a blind harper, declared Jimmy, a bit of a chancer who had tried to entice the ladies of Slievenamon over to the Galtees with his music. We gazed west to where Slievenamon lay twenty-five miles away, a curvaceous grey-blue mountain curled on a bed of mist like a Henry Moore sculpture of a reclining woman.
There was definitely something in the air of Slievenamuck today. Michael put his head back and sent ‘Sweet Aherlow’ floating over his native glen. I groaned out ‘The Flower Of Magherally’. Jane wisely kept her counsel. And Jimmy gave us chapter and verse of ‘The Exile’s Return’:
‘Old scenes, old songs, old friends again,
The vale and the cot I was born in—
O, Ireland, up from my heart of hearts
I bid you the top o’ the mornin!’
Moving on was a wrench. But we had the graceful curl of Slievenamon as a lodestone in front of us, as we headed west along rocky, peaty rides left open by Coillte in the young plantations that now cover the upper flanks of Slievenamuck. Lower down we passed two giant exotic conifers, ‘the tallest trees in the world,’ Michael averred, ‘ … well, they would be if they were let grow tall enough. But they’re the tallest trees in Aherlow, anyhow.’
Down in the glen once more we passed Ballinacourty House, once the seat of the Massey-Dawson family and now a top-notch hotel. I followed the others, taking my time, savouring the view of the Galtees and looking forward to a nice pint in Moroney’s, the taste of another of Jimmy Barry’s poems on my tongue:
This mountain of the women
is our high stool, with every
gulp of frosty air we
get drunk on her beauty.
This night that will never
come again …
WAY TO GO
MAP: OS of Ireland 1:50,000 Discovery 66, 74; downloadable map/instructions (highly recommended) at www.discoverireland.ie/walking.
Rail (www.irishrail.ie): Tipperary (15 miles)
Road: N8 to Cashel, N74 to Tipperary, R664 to Newtown, R663 to Lisvernane.
WALK DIRECTIONS (follow red arrows): From Moroney’s pub, left; in 200m, left (arrows on wall) up lane. In ⅓ mile, right (arrows) up muddy boreen. In 200m, right (arrows) up forest track. Left at top (arrows). In ¼ mile, Pádraigh’s Loop (blue arrows) curves right; but go left here (red arrow, ‘Ballyhoura Way’ sign), then left again (arrow) down through trees. Right (arrow) up boreen; follow this for ¾ mile to bench. Sharp right (arrow) up ridge of Slievenamuck for 1 mile to dolmen at summit. On for 250m; right (arrow) through young trees for 150m; left on lower track. Then follow arrows east for 1 mile, to turn right (arrow) on grassy path going west. In 300m Pádraigh’s Loop rejoins; in another ⅓ mile hairpin back to left (arrows) down through trees for ½ mile to The Avenue. Right (arrows) for ¾ mile to road junction; right into Lisvernane.
LENGTH: 7 miles: allow 3-4 hours
CONDITIONS: Muddy on the forest tracks
DON’T MISS … !
• views of the Galtees and Slievenamon from Slievenamuck
• Shrough Dolmen a.k.a. Diarmuid and Gráinne’s Bed
• a pint in Moroney’s after the walk
REFRESHMENTS: Moroney’s pub, Lisvernane (tel 062-56156)
ACCOMMODATION: Aherlow House Hotel, Glen of Aherlow, Co Tipperary (tel 062-56153; www.aherlowhouse.ie)
GLEN OF AHERLOW WALKING FESTIVAL (www.aherlow.com): 29 May-1 June 2009
INFORMATION: Walking tour operators, local walks including Discover Ireland’s National Loop Walks, walking festivals throughout Ireland: www.discoverireland.ie/walking
Tourist Office: Cashel Heritage Centre (tel 062-62511; www.discoverireland.ie)
Irish Independent – WALK OF THE WEEK – Christopher Somerville
25 April 2009