The last Kilmaneen Farmhouse breakfast I’d had must have been seven years ago; but I’d never forgotten it.
Not that I’d classify myself as a greedy gannet, exactly – but some things in life stay with you, and that array of home-baked scones, fresh fruit and a kind of magic treacly bread/cake/ambrosia type of thing was one of them. This time, with a good walk in the Knockmealdowns in prospect, Jane and I did the most important meal of the day even more justice. What with that and with chatting of walking, farming and a thousand other things with our hosts, Kevin and Ber O’Donnell, we didn’t really get under way till noon.
It was a cold and sunny afternoon, with a milky blue sky over the Knockmealdowns. These glorious mountains lie spread out for admiration right at Kevin and Ber’s back door. The higher we went from the trailhead through the forest, the better the prospect out north over the Galtees – Galtymore like a heavenly tent, Galtybeg a throne for the clouds – and the Comeraghs bulking pale blue in drifting cloud to the east, with the big calm curve of Sliabh na mBan lying at the edge of sight beyond.
Between these mountain ranges stretches the flat Tipperary plain of grazing land zigzagged with hedges and tufted with woods. As we stood and stared, a crunch of boots behind us heralded Kevin O’Donnell, come to walk a step of the path with us. Sal and Dora, his diminutive dogs of uncertain lineage (‘Jack Russells? Corgis? God knows!’), scampered alongside, play-fighting all the way.
Coniferous forests have crept up to cover the flanks of Crohan West since the April day in 1923 when Liam Lynch, Chief of Staff of the old IRA, met his end in a gun fight on the mountain. We found the tall Lynch monument in a clearing, flanked by four sculpted Irish wolfhounds. Sal and Dora did not approve. Up went their hackles, and they yapped and growled until Kevin lifted them up for a reassuring sniff of the inexplicably silent and motionless hounds on the stone plinths, who stared with magnificent indifference over their cross little heads.
Back on the main track of the walk we went gently up the incline, looking ahead to another in the succession of superb mountain views – a high brown ridge rising to the peaked summit of Knockmealdown itself, hanging over an unseen and unnamed lake cradled in a deep corrie under the shoulder of the mountain. Bags full of young conifers lay beside the track, and soon we came past a group of Coillte workers digging in the saplings. Here Jane and I said goodbye to Kevin and his two lady friends, and went on into the cleft of one of those secret valleys which are a speciality of the Knockmealdowns. This hollow in the hills was empty of people, silent except for the murmuring of the wind in the forest, beautifully lonely and cradled by high peaks – the rugged dinosaur back of Crohan West and the breast-shaped dome over Kildanoge; big clotted balls of frogspawn floating in the ditches and puddles, like a mass of staring, alien eyes; crimson heather, creamy moor grass, sombre green spruce and a wink of silver from a river too small for the map to put a name on.
At the head of the valley the track turned sharply back, climbing to a breathtaking prospect of the western Galtees framed in the vee of the valley. A fox-red sparrowhawk skimmed among the trees on quick stiff wings. Down we went through a slab of cold air trapped among mature conifers where star mosses and liverworts crowded round every trickling stream. The mountain torrent joined the Glengallen River far down in the valley, and we followed its steep banks all the way back to the trailhead.
WAY TO GO
MAP: OS of Ireland 1:50,000 Discovery Sheet 74; downloadable map/instructions at discoverireland.ie/walking
TRAVEL: From Clonmel (N24), R665 to Ardfinnan; left on minor roads to Goatenbridge. Follow brown ‘Trailhead’ fingerpost towards Knockmealdown Mts. Tarmac road gives way to rough road; follow it to T-junction. Right to car park beside trailhead map.
WALK DIRECTIONS: Returning to T-junction, keep ahead (‘Liam Lynch Loop’, purple arrow/PA) past brown Munster Way sign. Then simply follow PAs round this well-marked Loop Walk.
NB: Liam Lynch monument is poorly signposted. To reach it, follow walk for 3 km/2 miles to 2nd right-hand hairpin bend, just past ‘Liam Lynch monument’ sign. Leave Loop Walk here, keeping straight on from bend; monument is on your right in 250 m. Return to bend and resume walk.
LENGTH: 7½ miles/12 km – allow 3 hours
CONDITIONS: Good forest roads all the way
Liam Lynch monument, built in 1935 in shape of a round tower
Spectacular views of Knockmealdown ridge from track above monument
Long views from track below monument to the Galty and Comeragh Mts.
REFRESHMENTS: Picnic – at picnic table in valley under Kildanoge
ACCOMMODATION: Kilmaneen Farmhouse (052-613-6231; kilmaneen.com; 80 euros dble B&B), one of Ireland’s friendliest and classiest B&B – Ber and Kevin O’Donnell are very knowledgeable local walkers.
WALKING in IRELAND: Walking tour operators, local walks including Discover Ireland’s National Loop Walks, walking festivals throughout Ireland: www.discoverireland.ie/walking.
Knockmealdown Crossing: 14 April – walks for all abilities (clonmelhillwalking.org)
An Caminó 3-day pilgrim route – details on Kilmaneen Farmhouse blog.
Tinahely Walking Festival, South Wicklow: 14-15 April (tinahely.ie)
BOOK: Christopher’s book Walking in Ireland (Ebury Press) contains 50 of his favourite Irish Independent walks.
TOURIST OFFICE: Sarsfield Street, Clonmel (052-612-2960); discoverireland.ie/tipperary10