In the shadow of Famine workhouse


In the shadow of Famine workhouse

WE walk left off the main road, towards the hills. The high stone wall runs for a hundred yards before an opening, barred with an elaborate iron gate. Inside can be seen the ruins of the workhouse and hospital, built to lodge, feed and minister to victims of the Great Famine, 1845 to 1848.

Their fields black with rotting potatoes, their cabins razed because they could not pay rent, the landless Irish, devastated by famine and disease, dragged themselves to these workhouses.

But admission was often another kind of death sentence. Cholera raged amongst the overcrowded under-fed. Behind the ruined buildings, was the burial ground. The local historical society has identified 160 uninscribed stones, some possibly marking not single but mass graves.

The wall continues past the gate, for a distance, and the road begins to climb. The sea is behind us and we are walking towards Mount Gabriel, slightly to our left. We come over a slight rise and the scenery ahead is mountainous and dramatic.

At a corner, a bohreen crosses the road, and on the left, in a field, are two large upright boulders, these being part of a Stone Row, dating from the Bronze Age. We are soon walking along a bog road, typically undulating, dead straight for long stretches.

Bog roads are marvellous for walking. On fine summer days, the bogland hums in the heat, and the tarmac melts in the sun. On wet and misty days, the old bog road has another magic. The peatland type around us is known as Atlantic blanket bog, and occurs where some rain falls on at least 235 days a year. The water glitters in the sunlight, and pond skaters flit across the surface of the small bog pools. Ahead, we see the hairpin road climbing the side of Mount Gabriel, and above it a fresh scar in the hillside.

This is the site of the most recent excavations of the Bronze Age copper mines. These were worked from 1700BC to 1500BC, making them the oldest copper diggings in Western Europe.

Next, we take a sharp left turn, signposted “Scoil Mhuire 3km“, almost doubling back as we go south. Now there are low rock escarpments on the right side, blotched with white lichens. God knows how old they are — as old as the stones themselves? — some tundra lichens live 10,000 years.

A road titled “Cul de Sac” leads off to the right. We pass it and now come out on big views over Coosheen Point, the headland at the eastern mouth of Schull Harbour, the Calf Islands and Cape Clear and Sherkin.

On this road, on Sundays, we regularly encounter skeins of men out for a walk, not for their health or for the scenery but to follow the road bowlers. Two places in Ireland — Armagh and West Cork — are ‘cradles’ of the sport; the only other road bowling tradition in Europe is in South Germany. Perhaps the Celts, passing through Germany before reaching Ireland, left the tradition behind.

Crossing a stone bridge, we swing sharp left, following a babbling stream. The road is very pleasant, going downhill. The stream turns off and soon we see a tin barn ahead, with an old cottage behind it.

We follow the road to the left. Presently, we reach the main road, with our starting point a hundred yards along to our left.

Start point: Going east from Schull centre, on the R592, Ballydehob road, we count the left turnings. The first is the turning opposite the car park. We continue to the fourth left, about a kilometre distant, where we see a sign “No Dumping”. The walk begins here, at the high stone wall which is Workhouse corner.

Distance/time: 5km, 2hrs.


All on quiet back roads, with few, if any cars. No steep climbs.

Map: OS Discovery 88

* For maps and information on Ordnance Survey products visit:



Dec 25: Christmas Day forest walk, 2.5hrs, meet Christ the King statue, Aherlow, 10am.

Dec 26: St Stephen’s Day walk, 4hrs, meet Bansha woods car park, Kilshane, 11.30am.


Dec 26: Durrow Leafy Loops, grade B, 12km, 4hrs, meet Castle Arms Hotel, Durrow, 11am.

Dec 29: Bockagh Lodge and Monicknew, grade C, 7km, 3hrs, meet Castle Mart, Mountrath, 11am.


Dec 27: Courtmacsherry, Fuchsia Walk and Broadstrand, grade C, 2hrs, meeting place A — Ash Tree Bar, Bandon, 10am. Meeting place B — Car park at the end of Courtmacsherry village, 10.30am.


Dec 27: Comeraghs, grade B, meet TSB car park, Dungarvan, 9.45am; Dec 27: Glenshelane, grade C, meet TSB car park, Dungarvan, 12.45am.

Dec 29: Comeraghs, grade B, TSB car park, Dungarvan, 9.45am; Dec 29: Standing Stone, grade C, meet TSB car park, Dungarvan, 12.45am.

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