Irish Independent – WALK OF THE WEEK – Christopher Somerville
29 August 2009
No. 24: Castle Lake, Bailieborough, Co. Cavan
‘Listen,’ said John Ed Sheanon, indicating the shopfront of TM Smith Mortgages, ‘there was a lady of that house who eloped with a Black and Tan – she never could come home again after that.’ If you’re after yarns about Bailieborough, take a walk with local butcher, tale teller and man of charm John Ed. Everyone knows John Ed around this neat, proud little plantation town in the heartland of County Cavan. ‘Don’t believe a word he tells you!’ winked former schoolteacher Frank, passing by at the gates of St Anne’s Church.
Jane and I were off with Jo Ed to walk around Bailieborough’s Town and Castle Lakes. Peadar Reynolds, Bailieborough’s keen local historian, had come along on this damp and blowy afternoon to add his fourpenn’orth, too. With its dress shops and fruiterers, steamy cafés and old-fashioned hardware emporia, Bailieborough seems like a town that the Nasty Stick forgot to smack. On the outskirts of town we threaded the shore of the Town Lake, steely cold and wind-ruffled, where a great crested grebe lay stock still on her nest among the rushes and allowed us a leisurely peep into her private world.
Cavan is a county well blessed with lakes. In fact they say that if you picked up Cavan and slapped it upside down on top of neighbouring Monaghan, the drumlin hills of the latter would fit exactly into the lakes of the former. Bailieborough boasts two lakes, the kidney-shaped Town Lake, and the straggling, thin-waisted Castle Lake a mile to the north. There was never a castle as such; the semi-fortified house built in the 1620s by Scottish planter William Bailie was known to locals as ‘the Castle’, and it lasted 300 years in various states of alteration on its eminence outside the town that William built.
We followed a boreen lined with tall foxgloves, under fine beech trees and on into the former castle demesne, immaculately maintained these days by forester Bernard McManus. Fed by snaking rivers and streams, Castle Lake gleamed between the trees. ‘I was walking here last year,’ said Peadar, ‘and heard a great splashing, and it was two otters playing in the stream. What fun they were having!’
Round at the head of the lake a pair of swans was busy shepherding their brood of seven cygnets. We went on along the shore to where a side track led away among the trees. Up there the Hanging Tree stood stark under a weight of ivy. ‘Lord Lisgar’s men hanged a boy from that tree for cutting timber,’ John Ed told us, ‘and the mother cursed Lisgar so that he would have no heirs to follow him in Castle House. And he never did.’
Beyond the Hanging Tree lay the ruins of Castle House, a fragment of stone walls tumbled under mats of honeysuckle. The house played host to a group of Marist Brothers during the early 20th century, but once they had gone from the place it quickly deteriorated. In a tangle of laurels not far away we found their stone-walled cemetery. Seven graves in a row among the bushes; seven ornate crosses; seven modest inscriptions recording the passing of Brothers Owen, Benedict, Justin, Swithen, Dermott and William, alongside Brother Andrew, known as ‘Stability’, 58 years a member of the community. As we left the graves a big wind got up and sighed in the treetops – a very apt and poignant moment in the quiet woodland.
WAY TO GO
MAP: OS of Ireland 1:50,000 Discovery 35; downloadable map/instructions (highly recommended) at www.discoverireland.ie/walking.
Bus (www.buseireann.ie): Bus Eirann services108, 166 to Bailieborough
Road: Bailieborough is signed off N3 Navan-Cavan road at Virginia. Park in Main Street.
WALK DIRECTIONS: Follow R178 Virginia road past library. In 500m, right through gates, past St Anne’s Church. Cross Chapel Road; follow path by Town Lake). Left along Cavan Road for 500m. At 50 kmh sign before left bend, follow pavement to right. In 30m, left by bungalow, past metal barrier. Follow track into castle demesne. In ⅔ mile, reach path crossroads. Turn right (direction arrow). From here, Official Looped Walk circles Castle Lake.
Castle House ruin and Maris Brothers’ Graves detour: follow Looped Walk round Castle Lake for 1¾ miles (passing car park). At ‘Castle’ signpost on left, right up gravel track for 500m to crossing of tracks at Hanging Tree. Right for 200m to metal barrier on right; left for 200m to Castle House ruins. Retrace steps; left by barrier, downhill for 200m to T-junction of tracks. Left for 400m to return to Looped Walk track, detouring left up bank to see Maris Brothers’ cemetery.
Rejoin Looped Walk (blue arrow); right to cross river and reach path crossroads at direction arrow; forward to retrace steps to Bailieborough.
LENGTH: 5 miles: allow 2-3 hours
DON’T MISS … !
• Swans and cygnets at Castle Lake car park
• Maris Brothers’ cemetery
REFRESHMENTS: Town Café, Main Street, Bailieborough (042-967-5589) – home made cake and tarts
ACCOMMODATION: Bailie Hotel, Main Street (042-966-5334; www.bailiehotel.com)
GUIDE BOOKS/LEAFLETS: ‘Bailieborough, A Plantation Market Town’ – town trail booklet, widely available locally (Bailieborough Development Association, 042-969-4716; www.bailieborough.com)
LOCAL WALKS around Bailieborough: Wednesday evenings – contact John Ed Sheanon on 042-966-5342
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)
INFORMATION: Cavan Tourist Office, Fernham Street, Cavan (049-433-1942; www.cavantourism.com)