ast week, while sheltering from a shower, I looked up at the skeletal trees above me and was reminded of William Shakespeare’s sonnet, “That time of year, thou may’st in me behold/ When yellow leaves, or none, or few do hang/ Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,/ Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.”
Shakespeare may well have been a young man when he wrote it. Poets are often liars; to lie felicitously, in the cause of truth, is a necessary attribute of their art. Leafless and silent trees are perfect metaphors for old age, but clearly, the birds singing in Will’s head were far from silent. His message was that love proves itself true by strengthening even as its object is fast fading. The closing line is “This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong, To love that well, which thou must leave ere long.”
Nature, as always, provided powerful and universal metaphors: unless one has spent one’s life in a desert or tundra one will know trees. Perhaps the bard wrote the poem when standing under a tree on a wet November afternoon. And then the sun came out and he set off again as my wife and I did.
At Ballynacarriga, we first visited the castle. It stands on a craggy outcrop above the lake. Here, in 1585, Randal Hurley married Catherine Cullinane, their marriage commemorated on a 4th storey embrasure. Elsewhere, a carving of a woman with five roses is said to represent Catherine and their children. Since returning to Ireland in 1989, I had brought visiting friends to the castle perhaps three times. Each time, we climbed the spiral staircase inside, rewarded with panoramic views and intrigued by the fine carvings of contemporary portraits and biblical scenes. However, last week I found the entrance door gated and locked. The OPW, amongst their works of careful restoration, have barred all windows, presumably for visitors’ safety. After such investment, it seems surprising the visitors can’t enter. High above and to the right of the entrance, a sheela-na-gig figure is carved in the exterior wall.
Under the ancient arched bridge below the castle, we watched a torrent rushing from the lough down a deep, fern-grown chasm and then walked down to the lakeside, passing picnic table with delicate white, fairy-ring champignon mushrooms in the grass around them. At the lough, the water was so high the final 50 yards of walkway had disappeared. But both sides of the lane presented lovely examples of wetland flora. Outstanding were the big royal ferns, green, yellow and russet, reflected on the water of the wayside stream. Returning from the lough, we walked left and continued past the school. The lanes were narrow, the ditches clothed in ferns and bracken, with trees, some still holding leaves, golden or red, often forming tunnels overhead. We saw flocks of migrant redwing thrushes from frozen Scandinavia and, paradoxically, some meadowsweet still in flower.
We would have continued and returned via the bohreen going left 100m before the R637 at Clubhouse Bridge but when the rain came again, we took the shortcut left at the 2nd cross (distant ‘lakes’ were floodwaters of the Bandon across fields) and left again at the T junction. This downhill road afforded fine views of the lake, its wooded shores and reeded banks, now winter-red, reflected in the mirror-calm water, and the castle beyond perched on its hill above trees.
Take the N71 west from Clonakilty, then right onto the R599 signposted Dunmanway. After 11km the road splits. Take the right leg, L4635, Ballynacarriga 5km. At the village, go left of the pump to the churchyard, our trailhead. To begin, walk down past the Marian Shrine and the brightly-painted Castle Bar to the castle.
Historic castle, pretty lake with wooded shores. Loop walk, along quiet byroads, 7km or (shortcut) 4km. Some steep stretches, ascent 120m.
Cnoc Na Bhraca, grade B, 5/6 hrs, meet Topaz Filling Station, Killarney, 9:30 am.
Nov 30: Argideen River and Barreragh-Abbeymahon, grade C, 4 hrs, meet Timoleague 10:30 am
Walk The Long Way Round, South East Mountain Rescue Association fundraising. Night Walk, road, track, open mountain, in and around Clonmel/ North West Comeraghs, 15 km, meet/register New Base, Heywood Road, Clonmel, (beside Fire Station), 5 pm. Fee €25.
Seefin, grade B, meet TSB car park, 10 am
An Rinn, grade C, meet as above 1pm.
Cush Horseshoe via Balconey, grade A, meet Cush car park, 10am.
Forest/Mountain, grade B, 4 hrs, meet Lady Gregory Pub, Kilmoyler 10am.
Mount Gabriel, grade B,10 km, 4 hrs, ascent 300m, meet SuperValu car park, Dunmanway 8:30am