Mar 132010

Irish Independent – WALK OF THE WEEK – Christopher Somerville

13 March 2010

50. Kyle Loop, Tinahely, Co. Wicklow

It was shaping up to be a lazy afternoon round Tinahely in the hills of South Wicklow. ‘Up and on, then,’ cried Hugh Coogan, farmer and walker, brandishing his hiking staff. ‘Time to work it all off, eh!’

In the jovial company of Hugh and his friend and neighbour Mary O’Connor, Jane and I swung with a will along the Wicklow Way. The first item we passed was a melancholy one, the memorial cross that marks the spot where poor Dr James McNamara shot himself by accident back in 1916 – he was crossing a ditch when his gun snagged against the wire fence and went off. Down the track apiece we came to the seven-gated Ballybeg Rath. Peering inside an ancient hollow ash, I saw a great lump of red and white quartzite gripped deep, as if being swallowed by the leathery old throat of the tree. There was sky-blue brooklime in the stream at Ballycumber Ford, and rain-pearled grass half-hiding the marble memorial just up the lane that told the birds and cattle and occasional passing human of the fame of Luke O’Toole, 1873-1929, ‘first full-time secretary of the GAA’.

At The Green, Hugh stood contemplating the old schoolhouse on the crossroads. ‘All Kyle, all Carrigroe, all Ballybeg got educated here. My daddy went here.’ Now the old school is a holiday home, and Carrigroe and Ballybeg get more sophisticated schooling much further afield. In the lane where the kids once pelted home downhill we swung our sticks, looking forward to tea at Hugh’s home farm of Kyle just round the curve of the hill.

What visitor to Kyle Farmhouse would be so foolish as to leave Margaret Coogan’s teapot unpunished and her home baking unscathed? When we stepped out again into the strong afternoon sunlight, we felt like well-fed monarchs.

I climbed Ballycumber Hill with my back to the view, just for the pleasure of embracing it at the top. A sublime prospect, one that those who stick to the famous beauty spots and summits of Wicklow never see – Eagle Hill with its warty lump of rock, the wide farming plains of Carlow out west where great flats of milky rain went sliding across fields, woods and boglands, and Lugnaquilla’s purple back rising like a fish on the long wave of the northern skyline. ‘In Wicklow we can pick out Lug all the time,’ Hugh observed, ‘and we scarcely bother learning the names of the rest.’

South Wicklow holds a more subtle appeal for a walker than the glamour and drama of the mountainous northern half of the county. Now dedicated local folk like Hugh, Margaret and Mary O’Connor, walkers and organisers, doers and persuaders who really know their own patch, have turned their neighbourhood village of Tinahely into a hub from which walkers can explore hidden country of enormous, if understated charm – starting with the upcoming Tinahely Trail Walking Festival (see below).

The wind rushed with a sea-like susurration in the young spruce and fir along the crest of Ballycumber Hill as we walked its squelchy path south to another tremendous viewpoint, down over Carlow and Wexford. On the south-west horizon the two counties rose together into the peak of Mount Leinster, capping the Blackstairs range twenty miles off. It was a view to add relish to any al fresco snack. Sitting in the heather we whaled into the last of the baking, then bowled down an old green cart track to find the Wicklow Way curling at the foot of the hill once more.


MAP: OS of Ireland 1:50,000 Discovery 62

TRAVEL: M11/N11 to Exit 20; R747 Arklow-Aughrim-Tinahely. Entering village, where road turns sharp left to cross bridge, turn right up minor road. Take first left (Mangan’s Lane); follow it uphill for a mile to Trailhead at Mangan’s (OSI ref T 0342748).

WALK DIRECTIONS (Purple arrows/PA; yellow Wicklow Way/WW waymarks): From Trailhead, follow PA to path junction; right along Wicklow Way (WW) past McNamara Memorial (043751) and Ballybeg Rath (050763) to Ballycumber Ford. Left up surfaced road for ½ mile to pass old school house (044773). Following PA, continue for ½ mile; at right bend (045780), left over stile, up forest track for 300 m, then right on forest road for ⅓ mile to road at Sandyford Bridge.
Ahead for ¼ mile (‘Kyle Farmhouse’). At Ros Aoibinn house gate, left up laneway. Cross Kyle Farmhouse drive; ahead up walled lane. In 50 m, right through gate; follow track uphill, then beside forestry fence along hilltop for 1½ miles. Where fence turns left (029762), follow it left downhill for 350 m; right over stile; follow path opposite downhill through heather to meet cart track. Left to meet Wicklow Way, and return to Trailhead.

LENGTH: 8 miles/14 km: allow 3-4 hours

GRADE: Moderate

CONDITIONS: Field and forest paths, green lanes, minor roads

• sensational views from Ballycumber Hill
• Ballybeg Rath
• Luke O’Toole’s memorial


ACCOMMODATION: Kyle Farmhouse, Tinahely, Co. Wicklow (059-647-1341; Exceptionally friendly and welcoming; lots of info about local walks.

INFORMATION: Walking tour operators, local walks including Discover Ireland’s National Loop Walks, walking festivals throughout Ireland:;
Tinahely Trail Walking Festival, Co Wicklow, 17-18 April 2010: (email; tel 087-148-2468
Ballyhoura International Walking Festival, Co Limerick, 1 – 3 May:

TOURIST INFORMATION: Bray Tourist Office, The Old Courthouse, Main Street (01-286-7128;

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