THE main mileage of this walk will be along the kind of pleasant backroads with which those who live or walk in rural Ireland will be eminently familiar. However, as usual in Ireland, when we walk a few miles we come upon artefacts of our unique history that strangers would cross oceans to see.
In this case, it is the village of Camross, nestling beneath the highest peak of the Slieve Bloom Mountains in the centre of the bowl of Ireland, looking down on its great pastoral and boggy plains.
We also come upon the ancient Holy Well of St Kavan and Anatrim, an ecclesiastical site of great antiquity which chronicles the changing history of Christianity in Ireland from old Celtic church of St Mochaemhog, who first built a humble chapel here (the graves of monks can still be seen in the stumps of unmarked stones set in serried rows), to a 12th century Roman Catholic chapel, to a Reformation make-over of the building by apostate Irish families during Penal Times. The ruins of this Protestant church, abandoned in the mid 1800s, are still there, with tombs dated circa 1770.
The road walks and the hedgerows will be familiar but the history we encounter is as unique as the waters of the aforesaid holy well. No other well water will be quite the same, no other church ruin or sacred site quite similar. Such places were not built to system or design. Each such sacred site was chosen by its own saint, and each has its own spirit.
The people who respected these saints, supported them and revered them were not fools. They had some special qualities that distinguished them, and they chose their scared places with an ear to the earth and an eye to the sky. Time and again on these country walks I come upon places rich not only of history but still redolent the forces for which they were chosen, and with which they are still imbued.
Camross is a pleasant village. The Poet’s Cottage, enshrining the memory of a local nature poet, Patrick Ryan (1750-1825) replicates an 1800s dwelling. Facing it, we go right and cross the bridge over the Delour river. Ard Erin, 527m, rises behind us, the highest point in counties Laois and Offaly.
There were many mills and bridges on the small, forceful rivers descending from the Slieve Blooms. A few kilometres upstream, the Delour powered a mill at Lacca Bridge, as did the Tonet at Mill Bridge which we will cross. A BirdWatch Ireland study of Laois Bridges noted dipper nesting sites. Dippers are small, dark, white-breasted birds that walk underwater against the river’s flow.
After our second bridge over the Delour, we go left (signed The Slieve Bloom Village Drive). Crossing over the Tonet, we soon reach St Kavan’s Well, a small pool in a field, part covered with a bullaun stone.
Beyond is Anatrim ecclesiastical site, including the gables of a roofless church.
Swinging north afterwards, we pass over Mill Bridge and through a crossroads. The straight road to Camross, with the mountains ahead, is busy at morning and evening ‘rush hours’, but quiet otherwise. We go left at the next cross, retracing our steps into Camross.
Start Point: . To reach Camross, Co. Laois, take R445 from Portlaoise in direction Mountrath (14km) In Mountrath, take R423 Mountmellick. Pass the church and sharp left on R440 Mountrath-Kinnity-Birr road. After 2km, turn left taking road signposted Camross (not the Castletown road). At Camross, park opposite The Poet’s Cottage and St Fergal’s’ Church.
Time: 2.5hrs, 11km.
Undulating roads; no steep hills. Fine views of the Slieve Blooms, interesting ecclesiastical ruins.
Map: OS Discovery Series 54.
*For maps and information on Ordnance Survey products visit: www.osi.ie
SLIEVE BLOOM ECO WALKS FESTIVAL (www.slievebloom.ie)
Jul 12: Family Nature Walk Grade C 5km 2hrs meet Kinnity Community Centre, 17.00hrs.
Jul 13: Bird Watch Walk Grade C 8km 4hrs meet Cattle Mart, Mountrath 09.45
Jul 14: Glenatelty, Grade A, 12km 4.5hrs meet Kinnity Community Centre 11.00hrs
Jul 14: Afternoon Tea Walk, Kinnity Forest, Grade D, 4km, 3hrs. meet Kinnity Community Centre 14.30hrs
KENMARE WALKING CLUB (www.kenmarewalking.com)
Jul 14: Red Trout Lake, Grade B, OS Map 78, meet The Square, Kenmare, 10am.
MAUMTURKS WALKING CLUB (maumturkswalkingclub.com)
Jul 14: Munterrowan route, 8hrs., meet Laffeys House, 8am
BANDON WALKING CLUB (www.bandonwalkingclub.com)
Jul 14: Charity Walk, Viaduct to Bandon Town Hall, Grade B, 6-7hrs., meet Bus leaving Kelleher’s, Bandon at 09.00.