Walk of the Week: Barreragh/Abbeymahon, Courtmacsherry, West Cork

We set off from the pier.

The Courtmacsherry lifeboat will likely be moored in the channel nearby. From a population of less than 1,000, the hamlet still provides enough brave volunteers to man the boat. The first lifeboat in Ireland was at Courtmacsherry and village men have risked their lives for others since 1825.

From the pier, the old Coast Guard Station can be seen behind the village. The largest fortified Coast Guard Station in Ireland, it was built about 1869 and torched by IRA volunteers in 1922 when, it was said, “the Irish burnt everything British except their coal”. Leaving the pier, turning right, we pass the old Railway Station. Here, in former years, city folk arrived every summer Sunday on excursion trains from Cork. The train on August bank holiday, 1953, brought 600 day-trippers. In autumn and winter, the trains drew sugar beet from the rich farmlands of Timoleague and Barryroe. The railway was closed in 1961, and is still lamented.

We pass the community hall, once the village school, on our right and a Marian Year grotto on our left. We turn sharp left, just before the grotto, and follow a green path, ascending between ivied walls, through a patch of the woodland above. As the trees thin out, we turn right off the main track and follow a narrow forest path. This ends at steps set into a stone wall, and we walk briefly along a raised ditch to join a narrow, tarred road. Looking back, we can enjoy the first of many fine views of the bay.

We turn left, ascending gradually and, after rounding a sharp corner, we are heading west again. Arriving at a ‘staggered’ crossroads, we take the second right, still climbing gently. We are soon at Barreragh, or Barr Aerach, (“Airy Top”), high above the ‘world’, a bracing spot with the best views for miles.

At the next crossroads, we turn right and go downhill, towards the bay. Coming to a four-crossroads, we turn right, staying on this road until we reach the shore. Once there, we detour two hundred yards to our left to visit Abbeymahon, which is older than the magnificent Timoleague Abbey at the bay head. Sometime before 1272, Cistercian monks moved from their first house, at Aghmanister, near Timoleague, to Abbeymahon, where they remained until the monastery was suppressed in 1537. After viewing the ruins and ancient graves, we turn right to walk a kilometre back to Courtmacsherry.

The small, rock outcrop on the bay at Ballymona Crossroads is of immense importance as a high-tide roost for flocks of tiny dunlin, godwits, redshank, lapwing, whimbrel, and curlew. The birds ignore cars, but are easily disturbed by walkers.

The five kilometre-long bay-side pathway makes wonderful use of the verge between road and sea upon which the Timoleague and Courtmacsherry Extension Light Railway once ran. Rarely is it without walkers, in clement and inclement weather, and even at night, when the walking-women-of-Ireland swing along in bright, reflective jackets, their arms flaying as if they might detach and fly into the bay. Soon we reach the first houses of Courtmacsherry, all colourful. There are three pubs and a hotel. I know that each assures a warm welcome.

Start point: To reach Courtmacsherry take the N71 west from Cork. Leaving Bandon, take the R602 left (Note: roadside millwheel) to Timoleague (14km). Passing in front of the abbey, cross the bridge, left, and follow the coast road to Courtmacsherry (5km). Park on or near the pier, our trailhead.

Distance/time: 7.5 kms/2 hrs

Difficulty:

Easy. Back roads on pavements and woodland paths.

Map: OS 87

*For maps and information on Ordnance Survey products visit: www.osi.ie

What's on? CLOGHANE BRANDON WALKING FESTIVAL: April 18-21

The festival caters for all levels of walkers with an easy and hard option available on each day, exploring the majestic beauty of the Mount Brandon Range. The festival also coincides with the Cloghane Brandon Music festival. Phone 066-7138137.

WESTPORT EASTER WALKING FESTIVAL, April 18-21

Organised, guided walking tours with three options available. For more details, prices, and booking form see www.walkingguideireland.com.

MITCHELSTOWN WALKING FESTIVAL, April 19-20

This festival marks the 20th anniversary of the Bishopstown Hillwalking Club with walks in the Galty, Knockmealdown and Ballyhoura Mountains. For more info and entry form, see www.mitchelstownwalkingfestival.com or http://homepage.eircom.net/~bishopstownohc/bhc.html

NORTH LEITRIM GLENS FESTIVAL, April 19-20

Two days of walking in the dramatic North Leitrim countryside: https://sites.google.com/site/hshillwalkers/



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