WALKING up the broad avenue to the abbey, we immediately enjoy the classical qualities of an old estate and nature in its glory, whatever the season. The skeletons of giant trees stripped bare in winter are as awesome as their leafy bodies in the spring. We pass lakes with swans, herons and water lilies, and oak trees of massive girth and impressive antiquity, examples of the primeval woodland that once blanketed Ireland.
The grounds hold five man-made lakes, each stocked with trout and providing habitat for water birds and water life. The Chapel Lake delivers geothermal heating to the buildings grouped around the castle and the church. The monastic community also maintains a farm.
As we approach the abbey, the avenue divides; we will take the path to the right later. Meanwhile, we continue toward the buildings and the tall arched gate, with the word “Pax” carved in stone above, and rotund towers on either side. A replica of a 12th. century Norman castle, it was built for the Barrington family in the 1830s and sited on a rise with views extending 30 miles to the Galtee mountains. The arch is entered by massive wooden doors, studded with medieval-style nails.
We enter a ‘courtyard’ almost surrounded by turreted stone buildings and towers. The school is on our left. Opened in 1932 with just seven pupils, the roll now numbers over one hundred. The castle became a monastery in 1927. After the Barringtons’ daughter was killed in an ambush during the War of Independence, the family removed to their English estates and the property was bought by a local priest who invited monks from Maredsous Abbey in Belgium to settle in Glenstal.
Their first act was to build a church, the interior of which, evolved over the years from a small chapel, is quite different from the church interiors. Dramatic, almost startling, the hard-edged, vibrant patterns of red and green on the ceiling overhead, and the blues and greens of the reardos behind the altar, are almost overwhelming when one first enters. One catches one’s breath at the beauty and simplicity of the space. Rectangular pillars clad in green marble divide the nave from the side aisles, and the side altars, framed within tall red arches, are plain cubes supporting simple brass crucifixes; in one case, there is a prayer in Irish script, written in brass letters, set in the wall behind. The stations are simple tablets cast in red clay. The church is one of the highlights of a Glenstal visit.
Well-placed interpretation boards map the complex. Following a verdant avenue leading from the central courtyard, we reach the Monastic graveyard. Continuing the theme of simplicity, the graves are laid in rows, marked by identical slabs tilted at 30 degrees and inscribed with the names of the dead.
Beyond is the Lady Garden, with a pond with water lilies and graves marked by simple wooden crosses. Returning to the main path, we pass over a viaduct with twin yews trees at either end and the Chapel Lake below us on the left. Ahead are steps, leading to the 17th Century Walled Garden. Before the steps, a narrow path to the left leads down to the lake where we may divert right under weeping willows or left underneath the bridge on a path alongside a stream.
Returning to the central courtyard, we pass, again, through the arched entrance gate and now walk left down the tree-lined Back Avenue, with playing fields to the side. Reaching the road, we go right and at a Yield sign, right again, walking the lenght of pretty Moroe village to the car park where we started.
Start point: Start at Glenstal Abbey entrance on the right. Moroe, in the NE corner of Co. Limerick, near the Tipperary border, is 18km from Limerick city. Approaching from Cashel, and M8 Cork-Dublin motorway, take R505 to Cappamore, then R506 to Moroe.
Time: 2hrs over 6 km.
Easy walk. Avenues of the estate, side roads and village street.
Map: OS Map No 65
* For maps and information on Ordnance Survey products visit: www.osi.ie
MIDELTON HILLWALKING CLUB
Jan 1: New Years Walk, Grade C , 3 hrs meet Distillery Lanes Car Park in Midleton 9.15 am
CLONAKILTY WALKING GROUP
Jan 5: Galtees, Grade A, meet O’Donovan’s Hotel, Clon. 8am or Firgrove Hotel, Mitchelstown 9.30am
Kenmare Walking Club
Jan 6: Lough Dubh (Memorial Walk) OS 78, Grade “All“, meet 9am The Square, Kenmare
BLACKROCK HILL WALKING
Jan 6: Grade A Carrantouhill, (or somewhere in the Reeks, dependant on weathet: contact Ger Ryan 087 6343838 for info.) Meet: Topaz Topaz Killarney (Roundabout with Lidl) 9 am
Jan 6: Grade B Coumfea (check their website for a description closer to the day). Meet: Campus, Dungarvan 9.15.