May 082010

Irish Independent – WALK OF THE WEEK – Christopher Somerville

8 May 2010

58. Two Pubs Walk (Ballyorgan to Darragh Bridge), Co. Limerick

‘Well, see you at the other end, so!’ Jim Flynn gave me a reassuring pat on the shoulder, and pointed over the old Mass stile into the fields along the Keale River. ‘Two hours to dusk – you’ll be fine!’

Rural south Limerick slumbered in a late afternoon hush. A single hammer went tack-tack-tack in some backyard among the houses of Ballyorgan, and there was a sleepy baa-ing of lambs and a throaty cawing of rooks in the trees by the river. Probably it was just as well that the Village Pub was locked up tight. I could foresee only too clearly the kind of warm bath of chat and laughter one could slip down into in a snug bar in a seductive, chicken-clucking hamlet such as this, no problem at all. Then the wake-up call as someone’s headlights slide across the windows. Oh my Lord – is that the time? Oh good gracious – who lined all up these empty glasses here on the window sill?

Get thee behind me, Arthur Guinness. Let’s be out in those already dew-soaked fields, burning up the calories instead of piling them up. Let’s watch the last of this day’s light wash the gentle green fields around Ballyorgan and sparkle on the late frost that’s beginning to edge the leaves and grasses, for what seems like the 200th time in this never-ending cold season we’ve all been struggling out of.

Ahead against the dove-grey whaleback of Kilcruaig Hill with its sharp rocky crest, the tower of Kilflynn Church rode a flat-topped knoll among trees like a sturdy little ship. Locked and silent; unlike Ballyorgan’s pub, though, open only once a year, for a gathering of folk with local connections. I went on by the whitewashed houses of Ballydonohoe, watched with maximum suspicion by a sheepdog from the driveway where he lay with front paws folded like a gentleman at ease in a club chair. Then on along the river through flat grazing meadows under the loom of Kilcruaig, with the sharp shoulder of Seefin poking out high over the flanks of the Ballyhoura Mountains behind me in the west.

Here was deep rural Ireland, unadorned and unhurried: the cold black Keale River falling quietly over miniature rapids, a small fish holding itself above a trail of green waterweed for the pleasure of having its stomach tickled; ponds in sedgy fields; a cow shifting patiently from foot to foot as her cud did its silent rumble from the depths of her stomachs back into her mouth for another ruminative chewing. A big-shouldered bull took a couple of steps down the bank and stared hard, his tiny eyes pink and bulbous in his massive woolly head. He raised no objection as I crossed his hoof-pocked patch and followed the river under willow branches where wrens were chittering.

The Keale wound through a self-carved little gorge in an oakwood, bubbling in tight bends past mackerel-striped gravel beds – the redds where salmon used to spawn at this time of year, and will again when the rivers are as clean as they should be. A glimpse of the high heads of the Galtees ahead, and a sight of Jim Flynn bustling down the path to meet me.

We set the catkins dancing as we brushed against them on our way along to Darragh Bridge, and scared up a dipper for good measure. He jumped up from his stone in mid-river, gave us a flash of his white breast and flew a few yards on, before settling and giving out a rich burst of warbly song. It seemed an omen of proper spring, properly arrived, we agreed as we knocked on Mary Daly’s pub door beside the bridge at Darragh.

I couldn’t think then, and I can’t think now, of a better example of what you’d hope to find at the end of a two-pub walk. Dark, plain and old-fashioned in the very best sense of the word. Guinness as it should be. And Mary herself, a modest person at the hub of everything that’s great about life in these parts – walking, dancing, music, talk. Pubs like this are getting rarer than hen’s teeth. Cherish ‘em while ye may.


MAP: OS of Ireland 1:50,000 Discovery 73; downloadable map/instructions (highly recommended) at

Rail ( Charleville (15 miles)
Bus ( 329 Limerick-Kilfinane (5 miles), 245 Cork-Kildorrery (7 miles)
Road: From Kilmallock, R512 Kildorrery road; 5 miles beyond Ardpatrick, left to Ballyorgan.

WALK DIRECTIONS: Leaving Village Pub in Ballyorgan, left to foot of Street; left over mass stile; follow stiles through fields to Kilflynn church. Left along drive, right through Ballydonohoe to bridge. Left over stile; follow path on right bank of Keale River. In just over a mile, cross river by footbridge; on along left bank. Nearing Darragh, fence ends, but carry on beside river to Darragh bridge and JJ Daly’s pub.

LENGTH: 4½ miles: allow 2 hours


CONDITIONS: Some step stiles; boggy after rain; look for blue arrow waymarks

• old mass stiles
• views of Kilcruaig Hill ahead, Seefin Mountain behind
• a pint in the Village Pub … and another in Daly’s

REFRESHMENTS: picnic by the river

ACCOMMODATION: Deebert House Hotel, Kilmallock (063-31200;

WALKING in IRELAND: Walking tour operators, local walks including Discover Ireland’s National Loop Walks, walking festivals throughout Ireland:
Midlands Walking Festival, Westmeath: 7-9 May 2010 (
Dunmore East Walking Weekend, Waterford: 21-23 May 2010 (

Ballyhoura Fáilte Tourist Information Office: Kilfinane, Co Limerick (063-91300);

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