The (1) option allows a visit to the stone-built oratory and ancient monastic cells picturesquely set on the lake, a broad extent of brown, placid water, enhanced by the white swans, and the steep cliffs of the Shehy Mountains on the nearby opposite shore. We walk a path between lawns and neat trees to the cells, mounting a few steps to enter an enclosure surrounded by mossy stone walls.
A plaque explains that Finbarr established this foundation in the 6th century, that “Here, he communed with God, the surrounding mountains were his cloister and the lake was for him the mirror of God’s grandeur”. It is, indeed, an inspiring place, with a palpable spirituality. A second plaque explains the orders in which to do The Rounds, this entailing a prayerful circuit of the site, a holy well, stream and tomb. Finbarr followed the way of the River Lee, beside the headwaters of which we will shortly stroll, to become “the first bishop and founder of the church and city of Cork.” At centre is a tall, wooden cross, the site of Finbarr’s cell, no longer extant. Around the periphery are eight identical arched cells, accommodation for his monastic community.
Leaving the oratory, the route to the trailhead passes along the roadway and through “barber pole” toll gates where cars pay €5 entrance fee. On the left are cuttings overhung with gorse and heather; on the right, stands of soaring lodgepole pines. A Coillte notice tells us that a disease affecting the larch trees necessitated their harvesting within the park. Other trees are Sitka Spruce, Scots Pine, Douglas Fir, Red Cedar, Oak, Birch, Rowan and Alder. Derereenacusha and Dereenglass mountains come into view as we reach the Trailhead, where Interpretation Boards map six different trails.
Immediately beyond, on the left, is the Nature Trail, a short but interesting round. Perspex information plaques, swinging on pivots from their housing inside stout, square wooden posts, tell us the history of the land, that the moss-blanketed stone walls indicate boundaries of farms, pre-dating the present forests. Sphagnum moss cushions the stones, along with three-leaved wood sorrel, bearing solitary flowers with purple-veined petals in May and June. Ferns or many varieties abound.
Leaving the Nature Trail, we cross the motor road to set off on the trail named Slí Doire na Coise opposite. After a short distance this connects with Slí Laoi, following a small stream which will flow into the lake and then down to Cork as the River Lee. Royal ferns overhang the banks and green watercrowfoot, with white flowers in June, sways with the flow.
At a T-junction, a post marked with two footprints and an arrow directs us left. With the bare cliffs of the Shehy Mountains towering above us, we wander circuitous paths through tall forests back to the Trailhead.
Take the N22 from Cork going west for Macroom. Near Macroom, go left on the R584. Approx. 5km beyond Ballingeary, Gougane Barra is signposted right.
Description: 1-3 hours, 4-7km, depending on start point. Level forest trails; one gentle climb. On sunny Sundays, the motor road into the park is busy with strollers; off the main route one is very much alone. On weekdays, paths are deserted, with only a few visitors doing The Rounds at St Finbarr’s Oratory.
BALLYHOURA BEARS www.ballyhourabears.com
Oct 26: Galties, Fear Breaga Loop, A, 7hrs., meet Cush car park, 9:30am.
Oct 26: Galties, A, 6hrs., meet Galtie Castle car park, 10am.
Oct 26: Ballyhouras, Canon Sheehan Way, B, 4hrs., meet Glenanaar car park11am.
DINGLE WALKING www.dinglehillwalkingclub.com
Oct 26: Three Sisters, easy cliff walk, 3.5hrs., 5.5km., asc. 360m, meet Garvey’s supermarket, Dingle, 10am.
FOOTFALLS FESTIVAL, WICKLOW www.walkingireland.com
Oct 24: Night Hike, Glendalough, moderate, 12km., Glendalough Hotel, 7:30pm.
Oct 25: (1) Three Peaks Challenge, A, 22km, Brockagh Rescue Centre 8.15am. (2) Glendalough, meet/reg 8.45am. (3) Mall Hill, meet/reg 9.30am. (4) Trooperstown Hill, meet/reg 10am.
Oct 26. (1) Three Peaks Challenge, meet/reg 8.30am. (2) Glenmacnass Circuit, meet/reg 8.45am.(3). Derrybawn, meet/reg 9.30am.(4) Glendalough, meet/reg 10.30am.