From our trailhead, we return to the junction and walk north on L1502, signposted Holycross 5km. Our route takes us clockwise around Knockainey Hill – in Irish Cnoc Áine, hill of Áine, the legendary goddess who endorsed the rulers of Munster. When the Norman Geraldines became Munster’s overlords, their Gaelic poets praised Maurice Fitzgerald, 1st Earl of Desmond, as ‘Áine’s king’. His son, Garret, 1338-1398 was called Gearoid Iarla Mac Gearailt, testimony to the Gaelicisation of Norman nobility.
The Annals of Clonmacnoise describe him as “ . . . a nobleman of wonderfull bounty . . . a witty and ingenious composer of Irish poetry, a learned and profound chronicler. . .” The Four Masters make reference to him as a magician.
Ahead of us, the L1502 is dead straight, with spectacular ash trees, a feature of this region. We ignore a road going left, and continue to a T-junction. Here, we go right, toward rising land, with some fine trees on the hillside. To the south are impressive mountains, the Ballyhoura range.
At the crossroads, with a Community Alert sign just beyond, we turn right, a small road going uphill, with grass at the centre, a ‘central reservation’ 50cm wide with grass over 20cm high. It is obviously ‘untrafficed’ and ideal for walking. When it swings left, the grass is even taller.
As we ascend, we enjoy a breathtaking 180° panorama to the left, with hills near and far, Knockdere, Grange Hill, Knockroe and Knockadoon, around Lough Gur, and northwest the Slieve Felim and Silvermines mountains.
The countryside is very wooded, beautiful in summer and autumn and the road is overhung with tall umbifels — alexanders, hogweed, wild carrot — and foxgloves, meadowsweet, briar rose and nettles, all in their season.
Up to the right is a hill fort, but the walker may decide a visit is not worthwhile; a gate, which may give access from the road, bears a very large notice, “Keep Out”.
Why? What damage could walkers — provided they do not have dogs — do to these hill fields?
Below us is a vast plain of pastures, with distant hills. The central reservation becomes a little less exuberant, perhaps, trimmed by the sumps of vehicles using it at this end.
At the crossroads, we turn right, passing a Community Alert sign. The road is slightly wider now, but still a country road. We reach Knockainey hamlet (population 1841: 3,260; 2002: 625) and its historic St John’s church, with elegant spire, jacket of Virginia Creeper and old graveyard. Deconsecrated by the Church of Ireland in 1999, the list of graves is posted inside the gate.
We find unusual and historic names amongst them — Quish, Rawleigh, DeCourcey O’Grady, and Standish O’Grady 1st Viscount Guillamore 1766-1840, a wit who was, however, a prosecuting counsel at the trial of Robert Emmet. Twenty miles east are the formidable Galtee Mountains.
We turn right alongside Maloney’s pub, a small uphill road. On the left is a ruined 16th/17th century tower house, draped in ivy. The door arches and windows are attractive but are not ‘maintained’; the preservation of all the ruined tower houses in Ireland would cost millions.
As we walk back to the trailhead, we have vast meadows, grazed by cattle, below us, lovely in the evening light. The stone walls are so colonised with lichen that one might think them whitewashed.
Where farmhouses have been renovated, the field-stone outhouses bear testament to their age.
At Croom, on the N20, we turn east through the village, and folow the R516 going right, in the direction Bruff.
At Bruff, we briefly join the R512, but soon go left, back on the R516, direction Hospital and Emly. At 3.7km beyond Bruff, the R516 swings right but we go straight ahead onto the small road L8651. We park alongside the sports ground, our trailhead.
: 7km, 2 hrs., very quiet back roads. Historic church and graveyard. Some short hills.
Walkers register Ballymacarby Community Centre at times given: €20 per person per day, incl. bus transfers. Children free on family walk.
Knockanafrinn Ridge-Ballymacarby, Grade A, 22km, ascent 764m, register 8-8.30am.
Ballymacarby-Mount Mellary, B+, 18.5km, ascent 270m, reg. 8-8.30am.
Nire Lakes, easy, 10km, ascent 260m., reg. 9-9.30.
Squilloges, C, 6km., ascent 185m., reg.10-10.30.
Old Bridge-Ballymacarby, B+, 16km., ascent 420m, reg. 8.30-9am.
Knockanafrinn Ridge, B, 10km., ascent 465m, reg. 9-9.30.
Tooreen Archaelogical Site, C, 6km., ascent 125m, reg. 9.30-10am.
: Knockanafrinn Ridge, B, 10km., ascent 465m, reg. 9-9.30.
: Turraphuca Wood Family Walk, 6km., ascent 100m, reg. 11-11.30.
Oct 12: Carrauntoohill, A, meet Square, Kenmare 9am.