Knockmealdown Mountains, Co. Tipperary
Salmon and rhubarb for breakfast? Listen – when you’re setting out for a walk in the Knockmealdowns, you need a little smackerel of something under your belt. At Kilmaneen, Kevin and Bernadette O’Donnell’s farmhouse down in south-west Tipperary, there’s salmon in the scrambled eggs and rhubarb in the compote; home-made jam with the pancakes, too.
Kevin’s family have farmed the hundred-odd acres at Kilmaneen for six or seven generations. The land lies spread at the northern feet of the Knockmealdown Mountains, a beautiful lumpy line of fells whose peaks form the border between Tipperary and neighbouring County Waterford. This is all wonderful walking country, a range of mini-mountains where you can wander secret valleys all day and seldom set eyes on another walker. No wonder Kevin and Bernadette (‘Ber’ to one and all), dynamic members of their local rambling club, have become walking gurus, providers of maps and general dispensers of local lore and wisdom to the guests who stay on their farm.
Catherine the bus driver picked us up from Ryan’s pub at Graigue and rattled us up to the crossroads at Clashganny West in short order. It was an ominous day as we set out, with slaty black clouds shifting uneasily from peak to peak of the Knockmealdowns. But they did no more than spatter us on our day-long tramp of the high moorlands and forestry tracks.
‘Oh, there was a parish Mass here last Saturday,’ enthused the two ladies we met down beside the Mass Rock under Knockardbounce. ‘The farmers brought their tractors full of people and tubs of flowers. Lovely!’
The tall rock face leaned out of the hillside at a place where two streams met. ‘In Penal times the people would walk here up the watercourse so as to leave no footprints,’ Kevin said. ‘How astonished they’d be to see us celebrating so openly on these stream banks nowadays, don’t you think?’
From the Mass Rock it was on up a long slope of knee-high heather and thick tuffets of sphagnum moss. At the summit of Knockardbounce we stopped to pick blueberries and take a look around. A huge hilly view: the Galtee Mountains twenty miles to the north-west, the Comeragh range out east with the sea glinting beyond, and nearer at hand the ridge of Knockmeal rising to the high prow of Crohan West, a dark drift of cloud smoking around its summit.
With the sharp tang of blueberries on our tongues we headed north along the flanks of Knockmeal. Under the peak of Crohan West we found the cairn of some forgotten chief or clan king, his burial place marked by a vast pile of stones. Not far away lay the eerie remains of an abandoned shooting lodge. Deer were feeding when potatoes once grew, frogs squatted in the boggy ruts of the old stalking tracks, and spiders spun their fly-traps across the blank doors and windows of the old house. Nature seemed efficiently about her eternal business of erasing the marks of man.
We stopped among the trees by the Liam Lynch monument while Ber translated the Irish language tribute to the old IRA’s chief of staff, shot here on 10 April 1923. Then we went on along the Munster Way path, winding down out of the hills to Ryan’s pub and a pint of the best Guinness in Tipperary. ‘Good fellowship, a bit of crack, and the pint at the end of the day,’ murmured Kevin as he lowered his glass. ‘That’s what the best sort of walking’s all about, wouldn’t you say?’
WAY TO GO
MAP: OS of Ireland 1:50,000 Discovery 74.
Clashganny West (OS ref 145100 – start of walk) is 3 miles north-west of Ballynamult (R671), and 12 miles south of Clonmel via Newcastle.
Ryan’s pub at Graigue (OS ref 042134 – end of walk) is 2½ miles east of Clogheen (R665 / R668).
A 2-car walk (leave one at either end); Kilmaneen Farmhouse can arrange transport for guests.
From Clashganny West road junction (145100), south for 200 m, then right along rough road. After 400 m (138096 approx), left across open land for 2 miles by way of Mass Rock (at confluence of 2 streams ½ mile south, ref 135090) and summit of Knockardbounce (125088) to road at S-bend sign, 300 m north of Waterford/Tipperary county boundary (112083). Cross road; up track, through gateway; take right fork and follow forestry track (sometimes obscure) NNW along flank of Knockmeal and Crohan West for 2 miles to join Munster Way (110107). Left along Munster Way (‘walking man’ symbol, arrow waymarks) for 3 miles (passing Liam Lynch monument, 097110) to join Tipperary Heritage Way (080121). Follow this for 2 miles to fingerpost (047124), where it turns uphill. Ahead on field paths and tracks, NW for ¾ mile to road; right for 100 yd to Ryan’s pub, Graigue (042134).
LENGTH: 11 miles – allow 6-7 hours.
GRADE: Moderate / Hard
CONDITIONS: Knee-high heather on Knockardbounce; slippery stones along forestry tracks. Strenuous walk for energetic ramblers good at map-reading.
DON’T MISS … !
• breakfast at Kilmaneen
• Mass Rock under Knockardbounce
• Liam Lynch monument under Crohan West
REFRESHMENTS: None en route (take picnic); Ryan’s bar at Graigue.
ACCOMMODATION and WALKING ADVICE/GUIDE: Kevin and Ber O’Donnell, Kilmaneen Farmhouse, Newcastle, Co. Tipperary (00-353-52-36231; www.kilmaneen.com) – €80 dble B&B; deals for walkers’ groups; self-catering available.
INFORMATION: Walking tour operators, plus local walks including Discover Ireland’s ‘Loop Walks’: www.discoverireland.ie/walking.
Tourist Office: Castle car park, Cahir (052-41453)
first appeared in the Irish Independent on 4th April 2009