Irish Independent – WALK OF THE WEEK – Christopher Somerville
10 July 2010
66. Sliabh an Iarainn, Aghacashel, Co. Leitrim
It isn’t every walk that we start with a drive in a Rolls Royce Silver Shadow. Actually, for ‘we’, read ‘Jane’. She was the lucky divil lounging back on the blue leather seats. When you order a taxi, you don’t expect a Roller to pitch up. But that’s the sort of magic that can happen up in County Leitrim – especially if you’re in the company of local guru, historian, piper and man of knowledge Jackie Lee.
As luck would have it, Jackie’s chum John Burke found he had an hour to fill before wafting a lucky Sligo bride to her wedding in his beautiful car. So it was in the Silver Shadow that John drove Jane and Jackie from Drumshanbo up towards Sliabh an Iarainn, the Iron Mountain, our target for today. And I was the baggage donkey, eating their dust in my shuddering old jalopy. Ah, well …
In his post office shop at Aghacashel in the shadow of Sliabh an Iarainn, Jackie dispenses walks leaflets, sound advice and picnic goodies to all comers. We collected some of each, and he waved us off up the mountain road.
It’s a long time since they mined the iron on Sliabh an Iarainn that went to make Ha’penny Bridge in Dublin. A few of the old scars remain in the long line of cliffs that stand bared like green-grey teeth towards the east. The miners and herding families of the mountain eked a tough living, and the Famine struck hard hereabouts. On a bleak hillside at Mullaghgarve the local victims lie buried, a polished marble slab their memorial; and higher up the mountain a commemorative seat stands by the track.
From here the Iron Mountain looked formidable, a fortress-like escarpment topped with an olive-coloured dome of bog still streaked and patched with spring snow. But once we had gained more height and turned off through squelching bog to follow the feet of the cliffs, we saw how the wall of rock was in fact broken into pinnacles and gullies. The Mass Rock of Sliabh an Iarainn is so cleverly concealed behind its tall pinnacle that we’d have missed it altogether if Jackie Lee hadn’t told us where to look for the rough-cut steps. The shadow of furtive Masses lies thick in the cleft, the celebrant trying to keep his mind on the mysteries, his flock glancing fearfully through the crack in the rock for spies or soldiers.
A ghost-white hen harrier came gliding along the cliffs on stiff black-tipped wings. We scrambled up through the outcrop and turned along the edge of the cliffs. Picnic time, sitting on rocks flaky with orange and black ironstone. An immense view opened south and east over lakes, smoky blue lowlands and hummocks of peaks.
An mountain spring, black and ice-cold, came sliding beneath a white snow bridge to tumble down its cleft. We traced its course up over the snow banks, and then struck out across a great dome of bare brown moorland. Somewhere in this sodden and half-eroded wilderness was the Ordnance Survey point that marked the summit of Sliabh an Iarainn. We stumbled across it by chance, a concrete slab with an iron plate set in it, distinguishing one turf tussock from all the rest. A vast sunlit view – every lake, field, wood and mountain for a hundred miles from Donegal to Sligo, Leitrim to the midlands. It was a celestial prospect, and we stood at the crown of the Iron Mountain and stared as if we’d never leave the place.
WAY TO GO
MAP: OS of Ireland 1:50,000 Discovery 26; downloadable map/instructions (highly recommended) at www.discoverireland.ie/walking.
Bus (www.buseireann.ie): 469 Sligo-Longford or 462 Carrigallen-Sligo to Drumshanbo; then taxi (071-964-1040 or 1585 – 4½ miles)
Road: R207, R208 to Drumshanbo; minor road from village centre to Aghacashel PO (OS of I ref 045135). Please ask permission to park!
WALK DIRECTIONS: From PO, back up road for 100 yards; right up mountain road for 1¼ miles; through gate by Famine memorial seat (032147). Uphill (‘G’ waymarkers) for ½ mile through 2 more gates; then left across footbridge (025153). Follow ‘G’s (boggy ground!) to base of cliffs. Pass pinnacle; look back to see steps up to Mass Rock. ‘G’s run out here; continue along base of escarpment to end; turn right up through rocks (a bit of scrambling) to top. Right along cliff edge (take care!) for ½ mile to cross fence and stream in gully. Left uphill along fence, then bear right to summit (019159 – concrete square with iron plaque on ‘island’ in ‘sea’ of peat!) Return to fence; left downhill; recross fence; very steeply down with fence on left (take care!) to track; return to Aghacashel. Detour to Mullaghgarve Famine graveyard: ½ mile below Famine memorial seat, left (037140) for ⅓ mile; cross stream; left to graveyard and memorial (040145).
LENGTH: 5½ miles: allow 3-4 hours
CONDITIONS: Boggy in parts; a little scrambling; cliff edges; one short, steep descent. Hill-walking gear, boots. Avoid in mist, heavy rain.
RATINGS: 3 wellies, 3 binoculars, 3 mountain slopes
DON’T MISS … !
• Mass Rock behind pinnacle
• views from the summit
• Mullaghgarve Famine graveyard
ACCOMMODATION: Ramada Lough Allen Hotel, Drumshanbo (071-964100; www.ramadahotelleitrim.com)
GUIDE BOOKS/LEAFLETS: Pack of local walks, available from Aghacashel PO; www.leitrimwalks.com
WALKING in IRELAND: Walking tour operators, local walks including Discover Ireland’s National Loop Walks, walking festivals throughout Ireland: www.discoverireland.ie/walking.
Sliabh an Iarainn Walking Festival: 4-5 September (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Carrick-on-Shannon Tourist Office: 071-962-0170; www.enjoyleitrim.ie
Jackie Lee: Aghacashel PO (071-964-1569)