Trek from Blackwater source captures its spirit

A retired schoolteacher who spent a week walking the River Blackwater from its source as a stream in Kerry to its exit at Youghal in Co Cork has written a book on his adventure.

Walking the Munster Blackwater by Jim O’Malley also deals with the history, geology and wildlife of the river and hears from those who make a living on the waterway, particularly anglers, farmers, and publicans along with B&B providers.

Youghal-born, he taught English and Irish in Dublin and Killorgin, retiring in 2007. He lives in his wife Kathleen’s hometown of Beaufort in Kerry.

The writer began his 104-mile trek at the remote scrubland of Muniganine near Ballydesmond on August 30, 2010. The keen walker and environmentalist was looking for a benchmark experience while “conscious that we are losing our sense of place in this digital age and wanting to share the experience”.

Spanning 240 pages, with a chapter per day, the book combines acute observation with three years of meticulous research in an illustrated work that is academic, entertaining and informative.

Penned with a swagger and frequently referring to himself as “walking man”, the writer finds his pathway largely traversing private land. He falls foul of barbed wire and negotiates numerous lines of electric fencing but inevitably, on ambling up to a surprised landowner, he is wished well on his way.

Landmarks roll by, taking him across the duke of Devonshire’s estate at Careyville, past Michael Flately’s Castlehyde mansion, beyond majestic Ballinatray House and Ardsallagh woods, and on to the eerie ruins of Templemichael near Youghal.

Predominantly, “walking man” captures the very spirit of the Blackwater, engaging strangers in one place before watching a hungry fox eats blackberries in another.

Throughout he marries happenstance with history, offering intriguing snippets as he referencing battles in Affane and Glendine and invokes Nora Herlihy, “founder of the Credit Union movement and one of only two women to have a GAA ground [Ballydesmond] named after her”.

The book launches at Youghal GAA’s Club Áras (Friday), Waterstones, Cork (November 12) and Beaufort Bar (Friday Nov 20). Cost €20, paperback.


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