Edenmore Bog Walk, Ballinamuck, Co Longford
Seamus Tierney, Francis Connell and JP Sheridan were out with their shovels on Edenmore Bog this very fine morning, putting the finishing touches to the newly established bog walk. As members of RSS, the Rural Social Scheme, they’re part of a team that fixes all kinds of things in the landscape of County Longford. It was Longford Community Resources Ltd, a bit of a mouthful but a long-sighted organisation, that got the Failte Ireland-sponsored looped walks off the drawing board and onto the ground locally, with the very enthusiastic help of Ballinamuck Enterprise Co-operative, based in Ballinamuck village just across the main road from the bog. It’s been an exercise in co-operation, delicate at times, ultimately triumphant, bringing funding, organisation and expert local knowledge together so that walkers and birders, lovers of solitude and appreciators of the lovely and much-overlooked back country of Co Longford can taste the benefit.
How many times have I sped through Longford on the great roads west to Sligo and Mayo, never even turning my head as the gentle green country slipped unemphatically by? Yet just off the highway lie landscapes of seductive subtlety: folds of farmland, drumlin ridges, unexpected lakes, and thousands of acres of bog land. Remarkable bogs! Most folk ignore them, many are repelled by their apparent lifelessness and emptiness. Exploited, battered, bruised and cut open, they are the best self-healers in nature. Birds thrive in their scrub trees, bees forage in their heathers, frogs fill their ditches with spawn. They steam richly in sunshine after rain, exuding smells as rich and sweet as new bread. And they absorb the carbon dioxide and lock in the methane that we are all learning to fear. Useful, beautiful and under-appreciated, the Irish bog is one of my favourite places on earth.
Con Halton and Dominic Halse had elected to accompany me today on the walk they’d helped create. ‘The bog is such a therapeutic place,’ remarked local man Maurice Murphy as he came the first step of the way with us. ‘If it’s been a bad day at work, you come out here for an hour’s walk, and that sorts out your head for you.’
The sun streamed down out of a completely cloudless sky as we followed the grassy bog road into the wilderness. Purple moor grass bleached to pale silver tufted the bog, along with dark patches of heather. Silver birch trunks glowed in the strong sunlight, and long-tailed tits gave out their needly little songs from the scrub. I could feel the tension and pressure unpeeling, and imagined myself shedding my gnarly urban carapace and stepping out naked and open to nature.
Far out in the bog an elderly man was throwing dry sods of turf from his last year’s cut into an ancient wheelbarrow, the hollow clang of the sods coming clearly in the still air. He bent and straightened with a slow, practised rhythm, the focus of a timeless tableau of manual labour under the sun.
‘My father, now,’ said Con Halton, as he watched the turf saver, ‘he and a neighbour cut a whole winter’s supply in a single day, from seven in the morning till late at night. They never broke their fast all day – and they didn’t that night either, because each wife had thought the other was preparing the dinner!’
Reeks of cut turf five feet high and fifty long stood on the edge of the black cliffs of peat from which they’d been harvested. But the cut bog after all, was only a fraction of the whole. The grass path led us on and on, through groves of black sally powdered with catkins, past birch stands hazed with green and osier clumps of pure sunlit scarlet. Larks sang their tiny heads off overhead. In the very middle of Edenmore Bog, with iridescent pools glinting far and near, we stopped to listen. Bird song; wind in the grasses; buzz of a bee; rustle of willow fronds. That was it; a place of absolute peace and quiet, with its life in proper balance.
WAY TO GO
Map: OS of Ireland 1:50,000 Discovery 34; downloadable map/instructions at www.discoverireland.ie/walking.
TRAVEL: R198 Longford towards Arvagh; pass left turn to Ballinamuck; in ¾ mile, right on L 50581 (‘National Looped Walk Trailhead’); in ½ mile, car park on left (OS ref N207895)
WALK DIRECTIONS (purple arrows/p.a.): Continue down road from car park. In 20m, left (‘Edenmore Bog Walk’) to T-junction of tracks; turn right and follow p.a. across bog for 1 mile to road (221895). Left (p.a.) for 150m, left (p.a.) on bog road, following p.a., to complete anticlockwise circuit and return to car park.
LENGTH: 3 ½ miles: allow 2 hours
CONDITIONS: Good bog tracks.
• Ballinamuck Interpretive Centre
• the chance to stand and savour the silence
• turf cutting activities
REFRESHMENTS: The Pikeman Inn (a.k.a. Dillon’s), Ballinamuck (043-332-4137) – a shrine to 1798 and good company
ACCOMMODATION: Viewmount House, Longford (043-334-1919, www.viewmounthouse.com) – superb country house and restaurant, stylish and comfortable
GUIDE BOOKS/LEAFLETS: ‘Woodland & Bog Walks in County Longford’, available from Ballinamuck Interpretive Centre
INFORMATIION: walking tour operators, local walks including Discover Ireland’s ‘National Loop Walks’, walking festivals throughout Ireland: www.discoverireland.ie/walking and www.coillteoutdoors.ie.
BALLINAMUCK INTERPRETIVE CENTRE: open by arrangement (tel 087-383-4706 or 043-24168); key at Pikeman Inn opposite.
Irish Independent – WALK OF THE WEEK – Christopher Somerville
30 May 2009