Search Results : Armagh

Sep 052009

Irish Independent – WALK OF THE WEEK – Christopher Somerville

5 September 2009

Oxford Island, Lough Neagh, Co Armagh

The coot chicks with the scarlet mohicans were proving hard to satisfy. No matter how many times their mother dived for titbits, the tiny scraps of sparse black fluff still agitated for more. It would be another week before they could leave the safety of the pond in front of the Oxford Island Discovery Centre and venture out into the wider world of Lough Neagh’s vast expanse of water.

A grey summer’s afternoon, close and soporific, had settled over northern Armagh; one of those afternoons when nothing seems more seductive than a nice lakeside snooze in the shade of a willow. Jane and I hung over the footbridge rails, idly watched the coots, the dragonflies and the gracefully curving carp, feeling almost too sleepy to set out on the walk we’d promised ourselves. When we did, eventually, it was to the accompaniment of face-splitting yawns.

Trust Mother Nature to provide a wake-up call. The sight of a kestrel swooping down into the scrub bushes, a vigorous scribble of reed bunting twitter and the slop and slap of wavelets in the rushes soon brought me round from my bout of lazyitis. Jane went stalking the buntings through the reeds, but they proved too elusive for her. Delicate yellow moths were clinging all over the stinging nettles like tatters of parchment as we followed newly mown paths through the meadows. The sun-warmed wooden walls and beams of Kinnego Hide gave off a faint smell of tar and pine sap. We leaned in its shelter, binoculars at the ready, watching a big mixed fleet of pochard and tufted duck bobbing in the shallows.

Lough Neagh is one hell of a big body of water. It is over ten miles broad and nearly twenty long. A walker circumambulating its shores would cover 65 miles. It’s so big that, as with the great lakes of Canada, one loses the sense of it as a body of fresh water bounded by land. Strolling its margins is like walking by the sea. Set as it is in flat country, its waters usually hidden behind a hedge or beyond the trees, one generally struggles to catch a good view of Lough Neagh. So it was a special pleasure to be down on the shores of Oxford Island with a clear prospect across the lough, watching the bobbing birds and red-sailed dinghies, with Thomas Moore’s ‘Let Erin Remember’ drifting through the memory halls.

‘On Lough Neagh’s banks as the fisherman strays,
In the clear cold eve declining,
He sees the round towers of other days
In the waters ‘neath him shining …’

Lough Neagh holds its fair share of magic. Do fabulous cities lie under its waters? Drowned forests of former days certainly do. Calcified fragments of timber, dredged up in the nets of Lough Neagh eel fishermen, were sold not so long ago in the streets of Belfast for whetstones, as the hawkers cried: ‘Lough Neagh hones! Lough Neagh hones! Put in sticks, took out stones!’

We went dreamily on through the orchid drifts of Kinnego Meadows, round the phragmites beds and gently undulating lily pads of Kinnego Pond, and back by peaty paths under the trees and along the low cliffs of the lough’s former shoreline. These days Lough Neagh lies ten feet lower than it did before Victorian engineers began to drain the surrounding wetlands for agriculture. If it continues to rain as it has done so far this soaking summer, however, the enchanted lough may yet regain its stolen kingdom.


MAP: Maps available from Discovery Centre.

Rail/bus (integrated website – rail to Lurgan (3 miles), bus 53 to Kinnego Embankment
Cycling Route NCN 9 and 94
Road: M1 to Jct 10; follow brown ‘Oxford Island’ signs to Discovery Centre and car park.

WALK DIRECTIONS: From Discovery Centre follow roadway past car park; where road curves right, follow mown footpath for 500 yards. Bear left along gravel path past Kinnego Hide to road. Left past Art Space building; follow ‘marina’ signs along path through Kinnego Meadows.

Just before Waterside House bear left, then right (butterfly waymarks) to reach Marina. Turn right; left to pass playground; right along top of car park to far corner. Follow path into wood (sailboat waymark), then clockwise round Kinnego Pond.

Right at top past ‘Wildlife of Reedbed’ info board. In 100 yards, at next crossroads (bench and sailboat waymark ahead), go left, through fence, across 2 roads, down tarmac road opposite. In 50 yards (‘Private’ notice on left), right on path through trees for ⅓ mile to road. Right, then left past ranger’s hut. In 100 yards, right through gate (‘Waterside House’); follow round to left; in 50 yards, keep forward (butterfly waymark), retracing steps past Kinnego Meadows, Artspace and Kinnego Hide. 200 yards beyond hide, left (‘Reed Beds’), cross road, on along gravelled path through woodland. Down steps; right along old shoreline past Closet Bay, back to Discovery Centre.

LENGTH: 4 miles: allow 1½-2 hours


CONDITIONS: Well-surfaced paths, some wheelchair-friendly

• changing Discovery Centre displays
• birdwatching from the hides (bring binoculars!

REFRESHMENTS: Discovery Centre; or picnic by Lough Neagh

LEAFLET GUIDES from Discovery Centre

INFORMATION: Walking tour operators, local walks including Discover Ireland’s National Loop Walks and Northern Ireland’s Quality Walks, walking festivals throughout Ireland:;

NATIONAL TRAILS DAY 2009: Sunday 4 October (

INFORMATION: Lough Neagh Discovery Centre, Oxford Island National Nature Reserve, Craigavon (00-44-28-3832-2205;

 Posted by at 1:59 pm
Jun 132009

‘Ever smelt pine needles properly?’ enquired Ron Murray, reaching out to pluck a spiny sprig as we strolled the Forest Drive along the southern flank of Slieve Gullion. ‘Crush ‘em like this between your finger and thumb.’ I suited action to words, and sniffed deeply. A spicy blast of orange as pungent as a marmalade factory. Now why had I never noticed that before?

Until recently Ron served as officer for the Ring of Gullion Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. When you’re out and about with someone so observant and experienced, all five senses get a re-bore. Birds, rocks, landforms, farming practices, local history, ancient monuments – all came alive for me during this walk over the big dark hump of Slieve Gullion, centrepiece of a remarkable volcanic landscape set in the green farmlands of South Armagh. Surprisingly few people – walkers or others – venture into the countryside south-west of Newry to climb the mountain and savour for themselves one of the most spectacular high-level views in Ireland.

Rowan and silver birch were coming into leaf all along the sides of Slieve Gullion. We left the trees and turned aside to climb, short and sharp, to the southern peak of the mountain. Smoking rainstorms whirled djinn-like across the lower lands as we pulled to a halt by the stony cairn and turned for a proper appreciation of the whole grand panorama.

If you can see one mile, you can see well over a hundred from the summit of Slieve Gullion. In the east Carlingford Lough, running north-east to Slieve Donard and the hummocky backbone of the Mountains of Mourne. Northwards, the tumbled hills of Antrim, with the block-head of Slemish some 50 miles off. North-west the billowy heave and roll of the Sperrins, a gleam of Lough Neagh at their feet. South-west the green-and-brown mat of Monaghan and Cavan, unrolling into the Midland plain. And down in the south, diminutive, unmistakable and as pale as tin cut-outs, the hills of Wicklow more than sixty miles away.

Until I was surfeited with this gigantic panorama, the Ring of Gullion itself had to play second fiddle. It was a series of unimaginably powerful subterranean convulsions some 60 million years ago which caused the ancient and original Slieve Gullion volcano to collapse into the great chamber that lay beneath it, sending a ripple of molten rock outwards like a stone thrown in a pond. The circular ridge solidified, then weathered over ages into the guardian hills of the Ring, a ten-mile-wide circle of craggy mini-mountains encircling Slieve Gullion like courtiers round a king.

I turned away from the breathtaking prospect at last, to find Ron beckoning like a Beatrix Potter dormouse from a little low doorway of stone set deep into the side of the cairn. On hands and knees I followed him inside, to find a chamber walled with stones neatly shaped and fitted. A neolithic passage grave under a Bronze Age cairn, say the archaeologists. Not at all, retort the romantics. Here is the house of the Cailleach Beara, the unspeakably wicked witch who turned mighty Fionn MacCumhaill into the feeblest of old men in the time it took him to dive into the Lake of Sorrows to retrieve her golden ring. Of course, the fact she’d disguised herself as a beautiful, shapely young maiden in distress had nothing to do with Fionn’s recklessness.

Ron and I strode the windy summit ridge past the Lake of Sorrows. What on earth was a millstone doing up here, half in and half out of the water? ‘Oh, a miller pinched it from the Cailleach Beara’s house,’ said Ron, ‘but it brought him such bad luck that he decided to put it back. When his donkey had got it this far, the poor thing fell down dead. So that’s where it stayed from then on. No-one quite fancies moving it …’


MAP: OS of Northern Ireland 1:50,000 Discoverer Series Sheet 29.

Bus: Service 43 (Newry-Forkhill) to Forest Park entrance
Road: N1/A1 Dublin-Newry; B113 (‘Forkhill’); in 3½ miles, right (‘Slieve Gullion Forest Park’) to car park.

WALK DIRECTIONS (Ring of Gullion Way/RGW blue arrows): From top left corner of car park (OS ref J 040196), left up path through trees. In ¼ mile join Forest Drive (038191), up slope, then level, for ¼ mile to RGW post on left (035190). Right up drive, past metal barrier; left uphill for 1½ miles to car park (018200). Beyond picnic table, right at white post, steeply uphill to South Cairn on Slieve Gullion summit (025203).
Walk past Lake of Sorrows to North Cairn (021211); then aim north for Sturgan Mountain (left of Cam Lough), then white house between you and lake. Path divides by grassy ‘lawn’ with boulder beyond; right here, aiming for house. Through gate, down to road (025230). Right along road for 3 miles, passing Killevy Old Church (040221) and Clonlum Cairn (047206), to northern entrance to Slieve Gullion Forest Park (046199). Right to car park.

LENGTH: 8 miles

GRADE: Moderate

CONDITIONS: Can be muddy

• Cailleach Beara’s house
• Lake of Sorrows and enchanted millstone
• sensational views from Slieve Gullion

REFRESHMENTS: Slieve Gullion Courtyard Centre café/restaurant

ACCOMMODATION: Murtagh’s Guest House, 13-15 North Street, Crossmaglen (00-44-2830-861378; – comfortable, friendly place. €28 pp B&B.

INFORMATION: (Walk Northern Ireland’s ‘Quality Walks’); (Discover Ireland’s ‘Loop Walks’)
Slieve Gullion Courtyard Centre: 00-44-2830-849220;
Tourist Office: Newry Town Hall (00-44-2830-268877)

 Posted by at 12:36 pm
Aug 062011

Irish Independent Walk of the Week Christopher Somerville

6 August 2011

107: Inishkeen to Cullaville, Monaghan Way, Co. Monaghan

‘ … “Who owns them hungry hills
That the water-hen and snipe must have forsaken?
A poet? Then by heavens he must be poor.”
I hear and is my heart not badly shaken?’

One of the most striking verses in all Patrick Kavanagh’s poetry drew me to Kavanagh’s birthplace of Inishkeen in the steep Monaghan countryside. Here the poet sowed and ploughed, suffered the mental anguish of the rural misfit, and nurtured his extraordinary gift. The poem ‘Shancoduff’ encapsulates perfectly the spiky genius of this small-time farmer who ripened into Ireland’s greatest rural poet of the mid-20th century. Black hills looking north towards Armagh, sleety winds, grumbling drovers and perishing calves – they are all there, present and correct, along with a bitter optimism and a subtle pinch of humour.

‘He’s the genius of this place,’ said Rosaleen Kearney, administrator of the Patrick Kavanagh Centre in Inishkeen, as she showed us around the beautifully laid-out displays. ‘He caught what’s here, and also what’s underneath.’ Casual visitors, dedicated Kavanagh fans, would-be poets and parties of schoolchildren all fetch up at the old church that houses the centre. Outside lies the poet’s modest stone-slabbed grave with its simple wooden cross.

Lucky or well-informed visitors find their way from here to the start of the Monaghan Way, a 40-mile walking route to Monaghan town. ‘It follows the trackbed of the old Dundalk to Enniskillen railway,’ said Thomas McSkane, one of the path’s original begetters, outlining the route for us. ‘You’ll find it a really beautiful way to walk through the heart of Patrick Kavanagh Country.’

A stony lane led us away from Inishkeen to drop down a bank onto the old railway. The gently rising track ran between shaggy hedges, a straight man-made line through a twisty, lumpy countryside full of steep little drumlin hills and hollows, a landscape moulded in gravel heaps as the glaciers of the last Ice Age ground rocks to rubble and spewed them forth during their final retreat. A land watered by the peacefully winding Fane River, squared into grazing meadows by hedges and divided between dozens of small, hard-worked farms of the kind that ground and moulded Patrick Kavanagh.

Rich smells of newly mown hay, cow dung and agricultural diesel followed us along the old railway, out across the fields and down country lanes where ancient, square-rigged tractors went chuntering along at snail’s pace. A gracefully arched stone bridge marked the course of the railway, and once back on the track we entered a sublime piece of river country, walking through hayfields under huge old willows where the River Fane chuckled and rushed under rippling mats of white-flowered waterweed. The railway trackbed, intersected here and there by broken bridges, was a riot of marsh orchids and yellow rattle, dog roses and marguerites. It was a wrench when at least we left the Monaghan Way at Art Hamill Bridge and sauntered dreamily up the lane into Cullaville.

Patrick Kavanagh died of cancer in 1967 in Dublin, far from these Monaghan farmlands that cursed and blessed him. The epitaph on his grave could not have been better chosen: ‘… And pray for him who walked apart on the hills, loving life’s miracles.’


Map: OS of Ireland 1:50,000 Discovery Sheets 28 and 36A; downloadable map/instructions at; leaflet guide map (see below) is not entirely accurate!

TRAVEL: N58 (Castleblayney-Dundalk); 3 miles/4.5 km beyond Cullaville, right (‘Inishkeen, Patrick Kavanagh Centre’). In ⅓ mile/0.6 km, left (‘Inishkeen’). In 1½ miles (2.5 km) right at T-junction; in 1 mile/1.6 km, at crossroads, right into Inishkeen. Park opposite Patrick Kavanagh Centre.

WALK DIRECTIONS: From Patrick Kavanagh Centre, right along road. In 150 m, cross road and go left along River Fane path (‘Monaghan Way’/MW) to river bridge. Cross bridge; on along road under railway bridge; round bend. Left (MW); up field slope by hedge, over stile, right up boreen (MW). In 200 m, left over stile (MW); ahead over crest, down slope to old railway (MW); right along railway track. In a few hundred metres, right (MW) beside game pen; up field to lane, left to road. Left (MW). In 200 m, right (MW) over river, up farm drive. In 20m, right (MW) through wicket gate. Aim for stile in far hedge, then for bridge ahead. Left here through fields by river (MW, stiles) for 1⅓ miles/2 km to Mogoney Bridge. Left along road (MW). In 400 m, right at crossroads (MW). In ½ mile (0.8 km) at left bend, keep ahead up minor road (MW). In ⅓ mile (0.5 km), right up boreen (MW). At end, over stile (MW), up field slope to stile onto old railway (MW). Left and follow railway for 1½ miles (2.3 km) to bridge over R179. On for 100 m; right down slip road; left along R179 to Cullaville.

LENGTH: 7 miles/12 km; allow 3-4 hours.

GRADE: Moderate

CONDITIONS: Often boggy and uneven underfoot.


• Patrick Kavanagh Centre
• Scenery along River Fane
• Wildflowers of the old railway.

REFRESHMENTS: Delicatessen/café opposite Cullaville House PH, Cullaville, or picnic by River Fane.

ACCOMMODATION: Gleneven House, Inishkeen (042-937-8294;

PATRICK KAVANAGH CENTRE, Inishkeen, Co. Monaghan (042-937-8560; – writers’ weekends, performance tours, schools programme etc.
Patrick Kavanagh: Collected Poems (Penguin)

MONAGHAN WAY: leaflet guide from Monaghan TIC (Mullacroghery, Clones Road; 047-81122;

WALKING in IRELAND: Walking tour operators, local walks including Discover Ireland’s National Loop Walks, walking festivals throughout Ireland:

BOOK: Christopher’s book Walking in Ireland (Ebury Press) contains 50 of his favourite Irish Independent walks.

 Posted by at 3:25 pm