Irish Independent – WALK OF THE WEEK – Christopher Somerville
15 August 2009
No. 23. Kilmacoliver Hill, Co. Kilkenny
The spring water came gushing out of the roadside wall on the outskirts of Tullaghought, falling with a quiet splash and rustle across Jane’s fingers and into its basin. Over the road stood an information board bright with images of butterflies with seductive names – holly blue, small copper, painted lady, red admiral. The pond beyond was skinned with green, its scrub willows loud with wrens and chaffinches. ‘Like the lake,’ said the noticeboard’s quotation from Henry Thoreau’s Walden, ‘my serenity is rippled but not ruffled.’ A very apposite notion on a breezy, sunny day down in the south-west marches of Kilkenny.
Eoin Hogan, the county walks officer, had joined us for this morning’s ramble, and we made good time along the shaded lanes at the foot of Kilmacoliver Hill. The minuscule black pimples of the ancient stone circle at the summit of the hill pricked the skyline and called us on past buttercup meadows in which the cropping sheep were almost swallowed up in rippling shallows of gold. Two skittish colts were being unloaded from a horsebox in a farm gateway, their hooves clattering as they tittuped backwards down the ramp.
A long mile up the mountain at the ruined farm of Bregaun, all was still. Maidenhair ferns sprang from the naked gables, moss lay thick in the window frames, and sinews of ivy were slowly and silently easing the damp old walls into their component stones. ‘Imagine the trek you’d have down to so-called civilization,’ mused Eoin as we stood in the tree shadows, ‘and the hunger you’d have to know what was going on down there in the world.’
The path led up through open fields pungent with pineapple-scented mayweed. At the summit of Kilmacoliver Hill a great circle of rough and jagged rocks enclosed the recumbent, weather-eroded stones of a megalithic tomb – a monument simple, massive and solemn. The flatlands of Kilkenny stretched north for maybe forty miles, the humpy spine of the Comeragh mountains rose in Waterford far to the south-west, and nearer at hand the Hill of the Women, Sliabhnamon, curled gracefully in a recumbent female shape of slate blue and pearly grey. We lingered long over this breathtaking prospect, perching on the sun-warmed stones and basking in the warmth of midday.
Descending the northern slopes of Kilmacoliver Hill, the chat turned to country walking in Ireland and the current nationwide efforts to get it properly off the ground. As always when one’s talking of the tangled and painstaking business of setting up viable, legally sited walks in rural Ireland, lots of pies feel the presence of a good many fingers. The European Union’s LEADER programme funds rural development schemes across Europe, provided that they closely involve local people; and, as Eoin told us, Trail Kilkenny couldn’t have been established without the support of County Kilkenny LEADER partnership, which also financed the setting up of the Kilmacoliver walk. The same story can be told in many different counties across Ireland, the sort of behind-the-scenes activity that you never even think about when you’re walking the Sligo shore, say, or crossing the hills of Fermanagh.
Down on the road once more, we stopped to admire a young horse being galloped round a track, hooves pounding, sweat streamers curling off and flying out behind, the red-capped jockey intent in his crouch. Beyond lay a little GAA pitch where lush grasses outnumbered players by ten million to nothing. A young girl was carefully painting the wheezy old gate for her daddy. Horse, jockey and girl went about their business in the sunshine, presided over by the green head of Kilmacoliver Hill, at whose crown the old stones stood proud, black and tiny against the blue sky.
WAY TO GO
MAP: OS of Ireland 1:50,000 Discovery 75; downloadable map/instructions (highly recommended) at www.discoverireland.ie/walking.
TRAVEL: Rail (www.irishrail.ie) to Carrick-on-Suir (5 miles)
Bus (1890-42-41-41; www.ringalink.ie) to Tullaghought
Road: From Kilkenny, N76 to Callan; R698, 697 to Tullaghought (signed). Right at village crossroads; trailhead car park in 300 m on right (Loop Walk noticeboard).
WALK DIRECTIONS: Continue along road from car park, passing shrine to Our Lady, then side road on right. In 150 m, opposite house with white railings, left up lane (purple arrow waymark/PA). Follow lane round right bend by farm. Track surface turns from tarmac to dirt; continue for nearly 2 km, to go over step stile by gate and pass ruined farmhouse of Bregaun. In 50 m, muddy track swings right into field; but keep ahead here up walled lane (PA) for 70 m, then right up steps to follow PAs through open fields. Keep hedge on left and follow PAs up to triangulation pillar and stone circle on summit of Kilmacoliver Hill. Turn right off hill, following fence line to bottom. Right past gate (don’t go over!); in 100 m, left over step stile; follow path through woods to road. Left to house with white railings; right to car park.
LENGTH: 4 miles: allow 2 hours
DON’T MISS … !
• Spring and ponds at start of walk
• Stone circle and tomb on Kilmacoliver Hill
• View from the hill
REFRESHMENTS: Take a picnic
INFORMATION: Walking tour operators, local walks including Discover Ireland’s National Loop Walks, walking festivals throughout Ireland: www.discoverireland.ie/walking; www.coillteoutdoors.ie
NATIONAL TRAILS DAY 2009: Sunday 4 October (www.nationaltrailsday.ie)
Walks and activities: www.trailkilkenny.ie
Kilkenny Tourist Office: 056-775-1500; www.discoverireland.ie/southeast