PRE-CELTIC Neolithic people arrived on the shores of Lough Gur 6,000 years ago and began to farm the land. Humans have been settled there ever since. The Bronze Age brought in the use of metal, and the Celts arrival in Ireland circa 500BC introduced iron artefacts.
Leaving our trailhead, we walk along the lake shore. Information boards just beyond the car park exit provide text and illustrations, including maps, giving us an overview of the site. Passing picnic tables set on lawns sloping down to the lake shore, we arrive at a notice for the Heritage Centre and climb the steps to the recreated, thatched ‘crannog’ in which it is sited. There is an entry fee of €5 to the gallery where reproductions of Neolithic, Bronze Age and Iron Age artefacts found locally, are displayed, including a magnificent 7th century Bronze Age shield.
Leaving the Heritage Centre, we go right, following an earthen trail parallel to, and above the lakeshore path. We pass between a pair of upright iron plaques relating the legend of Garret (Gerald) Fitzgerald, 3rd Earl of Desmond, Lord Chief Justice of Ireland, accomplished poet in Irish and Norman French and a Gaelicised Norman, respected and loved. He disappeared in 1398 and is said to live beneath Lough Gur and appear over seven years to ride across the waters on a milk white horse.
We shortly reach The Spectacles, a natural terrace on the wooded hillside where a circular stone outcrop and a circular stone hut site and early Christian field systems — occupied from 400AD to 1200AD — overlook the lake. Beyond it, we climb steep fieldstone steps to a plateau with panoramic views of the lake and the southward to the Ballyhoura and Galtee Mountains.
In the near distance, to the right, is Knockfennel hill, location of important Neolithic sites. To the left, is Knockadoon hill, location of the earliest farms, with medieval Bourchier’s Castle at the base. Garret Island is straight ahead. We descend fieldstone steps and go left between a second pair of upright iron plaques onto the lakeshore path. One plaque tells us about the lake’s eel fishery. Passing the remains of Lime Kiln we continue to our trailhead.
Now, leading off the car park to on our right, a path leads through tall sycamores and ash, down to the lake and 15th century Bourchier’s Castle, originally a Desmond castle, guarding the only natural entrance to Knockadoon. A man-made causeway farther south is protected by the 13th century Black Castle. The path splits as we reach Knockadoon island; a marsh colonised by flag iris and willow connects it to the mainland. We take the upper route across a green sward, edged by alders, reaching. We reach the lower, gravelled path again, and pass Bolin Island, one of three Lough Gur crannogs, artificial islands created for defensive purpose in the 6th century.
The lake shore path takes us past the medieval Pigeon House, where the birds, valued for eggs and meat were reared. We follow the pretty, lakeshore path to its end at a small lake ‘beach’. As we return, we can clearly see the Bolin crannog; the centre was filled with stones, debris and soil upon which trees were grown and palisades and dwellings erected. Impressively large ash tree skirt our path as we return to the car.
Start point: Turn off N20 at Charleville onto R515 to Kilmallock or onto R516 at Croom; then onto R512 Bruff-Holycross road. 3km beyond Bruff, a black Lough Gur Heritage Centre sign directs us right alongside Reardon’s pub. Passing Teampall Nua church ruins, we see the lake and a sign directs us left. The first Heritage Centre car park is our trailhead.
Easy (some steep steps)
July 29: Glenbower Wood grade D, 7km, 2 hrs, meet Old Thatch Pub, Killeagh, 19:00.
July 30: Maulin, grade B, 14km, 5.5 hrs, meet Eccles Hotel, Glengarrif 10;00 am.
July 29: Mucksna, evening walk, meet The Square, Kenmare, 7 pm.
Aug 2: Climb seven peaks (over 700m) in Mourne Mountains, 29km, 10 to 12 hrs, meet Donard Car Park, 7 am to 9 am, fee £10.
Jul 30: Forest & Mountain, 3 hrs, meet Kilcoran Lodge Hotel, Cahir, 7 pm.