CLARE: Walking a trail though reserve


WE park outside the gates near the grassy triangle with picnic tables created from large stone slabs. The itinerary on the Shannon Region Trails website begins at a car park 2 km inside the reserve. On sunny Sundays, this may be best, but otherwise parking outside should be no problem. Then, we can enter the world of the reserve on foot, not having already seen half our itinerary from the car. The almost 1,000 acres of woodlands and lakes is managed by the Forest and Wildlife Service.

As we set off down the driveway, the River Fergus, rarely more that 10m wide, runs alongside us, sometimes behind a screen of willows. The Fergus rises in the Burren and flows through seven lakes before reaching its tidal stretch at Ennis. The limestone riverbed provides ideal spawning grounds and habitat for brown trout.

Signboards, on the right, map the many trails through the reserve. We will walk the entire circuit, marked in purple. The drive passes through mixed forest, almost wildwood, the trees spindly and crowded. After 1km, a woodland path on the left takes us off the driveway for about 400m. As a break in the woodland and a white bridge comes into view, we can enter the car park on the left. A bench looking out over the lake is a tranquil spot where, if there is a stir of wind, one hears the legendary “lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore”. The feathery heads of the reeds, on their long stems, are beautiful against the water, even in winter where they are brown and tattered. The tallest grasses in these islands, the tough, stiff stems make excellent thatching material.

Returning to the driveway, we enter a car park opposite and cross it to a wooden boardwalk, much like a bridge. On the lake, Great Crested Grebes may attract our attention, especially in springtime when both sexes develop beautiful, dark head plumes which they erect during the elaborate courting display. In the 19th century, a fashion for these feathers, to decorate lady’s hats (sometime, the entire plumage was worn) almost led to their extinction in these islands. The courtship rituals involve diving, acrobatic neck-convoluting, and rising breast-to-breast out of the water offering one another gifts of water plants. In summer, the chicks may be seen riding on the parents’ backs. In winter plumage, the white face and necks of the birds are conspicuous.

Beyond the boardwalk, we reach the robust ruin of a 16th century O’Brien castle. Above its only doorway, arched in limestone and closed off with a stout gate, a fine piece of medieval stone carving reads, “This castle was built by Teige, second son to Connor, third Earle of Thomond and by Slaney O’Brien, wife to the said Teige Anno D”. Part of the lovely name, Slaney, is gone altogether.

Once a spacious tower house with fine lake views, its location owed as much to defence as to aesthetics; water on three sides would have been an advantage in the turbulent years of the Confederate Wars. The O’Briens occupied the castle until 1689; it fell to ruin in the following century.

We continue past, on the Castle Walk, and pass Dromore Lough and then oval-shaped Lough Garr. Dromore holds bream, roach, tench and perch, and fishing is permitted.

Our pathway continues through woodland to the entrance gate.


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