Farmers have worked hard over the generations to earn a living from the country’s range of mountains.
They have coped with the vagaries of the weather as they herded sheep, milked cows and grew as much vegetables as possible on the rugged slopes.
But many upland farmers have now merged their traditional agricultural enterprises with the potential of the landscapes for eco-tourism, biodiversity and sustainable food production.
As well as being tourist and recreation attractions, the hills are also home to flocks of sheep who roam the rugged land eating a nutrient-rich diet.
Community groups in many of these regions have planned and worked over recent decades to develop socio-economic enterprises based on the farming and cultural heritage of the hills.
Visitor attractions have been developed to entice people away from the hustle and bustle of towns and cities with congested street traffic and crowded pathways to spend time in the countryside.
Facilities for outdoor adventure sports and indoor entertainment have been provided, walking and cycling routes laid out, and outlets created for visitors to enjoy meals, light snacks, cups of coffee and cycling.
The Comeragh Mountains, which skirt the award-winning Waterford Greenway, include several of those visionary groups, who will showcase their food products and tourist attractions at a four-day community festival which continues until Sunday, after a two-year break due to Covid-19.
Visitors and locals will have the opportunity to feast on Comeragh Mountain Lamb at Cooney’s Yard, enjoy a cafe visit on the approach to Mahon Falls and Crough Wood and embrace the region’s culture and heritage.
The Comeraghs Wild Festival will also feature an open-air concert at Crotty’s Lake with singer Mary Coughlan, surfing at Bunmahon, outdoor theatre at Curraghmore. Storytelling with Eddie Lenihan at Nell’s Farmhouse and Heritage Centre, Rathgormack, is already sold out.
Since the event was last held, Teagasc Comeragh Hill Sheep Discussion Group was awarded funding by the Department of Agriculture for a year-long biodiversity project.
The group comprises 14 farmer members whose sheep graze over 4,000 hectares across six commonages and four upland farms.
Promoting biodiversity through collaboration among farming, community and local action groups who engage with the broader population is the focus of the award, using the European Innovation Partnership model.
Broadcaster, author and biologist, Éanna Ní Lamhna, who will join Stephen McCarthy, StepsBackThruTime, for an eco-walk in Kilmacthomas on Saturday, explained the importance of having an environmental focus on the programme.
“Years ago — when I was young — people were not so aware of the importance of the environment. The value of trees for biodiversity and the importance of insects as pollinators was not widely appreciated.
"Today, however, people really want to be part of nature. In the height of Covid, we had to keep within 5km. People got more interested in what they saw and did and became more in tune with nature.
"That continues. People are using pesticides less. They are letting parts of their gardens go wild for the butterflies, birds and the bees. They’re growing wildflower meadows and planting trees.
"Our walk and talk will help foster this interest and give the whole family a greater appreciation of the world around us,” she said.
Festival spokesperson Mary Flynn said it was only fitting that this year’s festival has a very strong green theme and a focus on appreciating and protecting wildlife and the countryside.
An enterprising couple are also putting the ‘Glam’ back into glamping in the Comeraghs with a new development of luxury pods featuring private showers, locally sourced gourmet breakfasts and barbecue baskets.
Padraig and Tracy Quinlan, along with their sons Danny and Jack, are preparing to welcome their first guests this summer and help lovers of the great outdoors from all over the world to relax, recharge and rediscover.
A fencing manager with Farm Relief Services, Padraig also runs a 20-cow suckler farm nearby. Tracy is a recruitment manager in the IT industry. Both intend to keep their day jobs for now.
“We’ve four pods available at present, with two more coming on stream in July. Our hot tubs are coming in October to complete the unique glamping experience here.
“We’ve visited lots of sites in Ireland, Northern Ireland and Wales and have put almost three years of careful research and planning into this.
“And with the help of Waterford LEADER Partnership, we’ve developed a quality, top-class offering in a unique setting,” he said.
Comeragh Pods, 2km from Mahon Bridge, is one of the many enterprises that are ensuring many of the hills of Ireland are alive with sounds of music and the movement and cyclical life of nature.