North Kerry’s hidden glen of Glanageenty, tucked into a side pocket of the Stack’s Mountains near Tralee, is known as the Sherwood Forest of Munster, and this short walk in the woods shows you exactly why. An Irish Robin Hood, a hunted man looking for a refuge from his enemies, could hardly do better than flee to this narrow canyon, squeezed down between two tall hillsides, well watered by a mountain stream, thickly wooded, and – well on into the last century – inhabited by folk who really didn’t care a rap for what went on in the world outside.
On the roadside near the start of the walk we found a simple plaque monument to Gerald Fitzgerald, 15th (or maybe 16th, depending on where you stand) Earl of Desmond, a man so confident of his place in the order of things in Tudor times that he defied English rule in various forms of rebellion. For his self-belief – or arrogance, some would say – Desmond was clapped into the Tower of London at least twice, harried, hunted and brought to bay finally in the glen as a fugitive with just four followers left on 11 November 1583. Maurice Moriarity, who killed him on this spot, was well rewarded by Queen Elizabeth I; Desmond’s severed head was spiked to London Bridge as a warning to others.
It was hard to imagine the desperation and the bloody end of the Earl of Desmond on such a bright, blowy spring day as this, with chiffchaffs and chaffinches carolling away in the budding sallies along the stream. In the shade of conifers along the narrow valley bottom we found clumps of wood sorrel with nodding white and purple heads, dots of yellow pimpernel, primroses not yet gone over, and violets of every hue from delicate porcelain white to lilac.
A great feature of this walk is the number of information plaques telling of various heroes of the region, including two Ballymacelligott men – marathon runner Tom McCarthy, and cyclist Dan Ahern who ‘swept through the Irish cycling ranks like a tornado.’ And how about cyclist Billy Griffin and his formidable sporting sons? – Paul, ‘King of the Mountains 2004’ in the cycling Tour of Crete; John, who won the Dingle Marathon of 2009 at the age of fifty; and Liam who, after numerous triumphs in track and field in the 1980s, ‘retired to take up fishing’ – and went right on winning championships at that!
From Dan Ahern Bridge we followed a detour path through bluebell glades and stands of gorse exuding buttery smells of coconut, to find the modest plaque that recounts the deeds of Captain Robert Monteith around the time of the 1916 Easter Rising. Another Glanageenty fugitive after the capture of his companion Sir Roger Casement at Banna Strand, Monteith holed up here in the remote cottage of Sean Thaigh Óg Lenihan, a hermit with a grizzled beard and keen, hawk-like eyes who hid the wanted man until he could be smuggled away to Limerick and, eventually, the USA.
The secret garden in the glen where Sean Thaigh and Robert Monteith hid out is a beautiful spot, peaceful, green and full of bird song. It was hard to tear ourselves away. But back across Dan Ahern Bridge and up on the crest of the hill we had our reward – an absolutely mind-blowing vista out west to the rolling Slieve Mish, the mountainous spine of the Dingle peninsula, and in the south the great slate-dark humps and hollows of Macgillycuddy’s Reek’s, the nape of Carrantuohil sprinkled white with freshly fallen snow.
I’m sure the Griffin Bros could have sprung across and up there before lunchtime. But we were content to gaze and gasp in sheer delight as we walked the homeward path with Glanageenty Glen running green and hidden at our feet.
WAY TO GO
MAP: OS of Ireland 1:50,000 Discovery Sheet 71; downloadable map/instructions at discoverireland.ie/walking.
TRAVEL: From Tralee, N69/N21 Castleisland road. In 9 km (6 miles), left at O’Riada’s bar on L2014. Follow brown ‘Trailhead’ fingerposts. Park at start of walk (signed).
WALK DIRECTIONS: Follow Glanageenty Loop green arrows (GA) along forest road. In 0.6 km descend to enter trees and cross Tom McCarthy Bridge. In 500 m cross a small green bridge; continue (GA) along streamside. At Dan Ahern’s Bridge, follow 1 km there-and-back detour to Captain Monteith’s Memorial. Back at Dan Ahern’s Bridge, cross river; up steps; follow GA to cross stile. Follow GAs along stepped path, then across felled forest ground to cross another stile. Woodland path to stony road; left (GA); in 300 m, left up steps (GA) on woodland path back to car.
LENGTH: 5.3 km/3½ miles – allow 2 hours
CONDITIONS: Forest tracks and paths, well surfaced but sometimes muddy. A good family walk.
• Wealth of woodland flowers: bluebells, primroses, wood sorrel, violets, wood anemones
• Monteith Memorial detour, a beautiful woodland walk to a historic spot with Easter Rising connections
• Sensational views of Slieve Mish and Macgillycuddy’s Reeks
REFRESHMENTS: O’Riada’s Bar and Restaurant, on N21 (066-713-7761)
PICNIC SPOT: By Dan Ahern’s Bridge
ACCOMMODATION: Peggy O’Shea, Bleach Farmhouse, Blennerville, Tralee, Co Kerry (066-712-1785; bleachfarmhouse.com) – €60-65 B&B. Very clean, friendly and helpful.
DINNER: Finnegan’s, Denny Street, Tralee (066-718-1400)
WALKING in IRELAND: Walking tour operators, local walks including Discover Ireland’s National Loop Walks, walking festivals throughout Ireland: www.discoverireland.ie/walking and www.coillte.ie
INFORMATION: Tralee Tourist Office (066-712-1288)