Walkabout, trekking, hiking, journeying – whatever you call it or however it’s done there seems to be an innate affection among the Gael for the less-beaten track, including pilgrimages, our rebels on the run, and of course hiking trails.
Starting off with the religious side of hiking: pilgrimages. Ireland is home to many holy pilgrimage sites such as Croagh Patrick, Knock and Glendalough. Croagh Patrick is where St. Patrick spent 40 days and 40 nights praying and fasting during his missionary work in Ireland. On the last Sunday of July, thousands of hikers climb the 2,500ft mountain, many a chad doing so bare footed, to the church at its peak for mass in what’s become known as Reek Sunday. Also in Mayo, we have Knock, known as a place of prayer and pilgrimage. On 21 August 1879, fifteen Irish people saw the image of Our Lady, St. Joseph, St. John the Evangelist, an altar, a cross, and a lamb appear to them in the small village. Glendalough is the home of St. Kevin who founded an Early Medieval monastery here in the 6th century. One can follow in the footsteps of St. Kevin by hiking the trail named after him. On days where you are being a lazy chud, I would recommend watching a movie called Pilgrimage (2017). It’s about Irish monks in Medieval times attempting to make a pilgrimage to Rome on the orders of Pope Innocent III with St. Matthias’ holy relics. Great watch.
Rebels on the Run
Dan Breen – Soloheadbeg to Dublin
In Soloheadbeg, Co. Tipperary on 21 January 1919 the famous shots were fired to mark the beginning of the War of Independence. We all know the story here (or at least we should) but what is rarely talked about is the absolute trek-and-a-half that Dan Breen and the lads went on trying to escape capture from the British Army and RIC.
They first escaped by horse and carriage to Donaskeigh, only descending from horse when the animals couldn’t go any further. They then traveled on foot for four miles through snow to Mrs. Fitzgerald’s house. She provided them with their first meal since breakfast, a hearty bacon and eggs (T levels through the roof) but they couldn’t afford to stick around so they headed for the Galtee mountains. As they got closer to the summit they lost their bearings due to the weather conditions and after hiking for 3 hours, they abandoned all hope of crossing the mountain. Seán Hogan said “‘tis all very well for poets sitting at the fireside to write about the charm of mountains, but if they had to climb them in hunger and cold they would be in no mood to appreciate the beauties of nature.”
They changed their original plan which turned out to be a blessing in disguise as they could see an army lorry going down the road they had planned to go down. They headed for railroad tracks nearby and as they walked along the tracks, Breen thought he saw someone approaching, he aimed his gun and shouted “hands up!” He had mistakenly drawn on a sign which read “Trespassers will be prosecuted”. The rest of the lads burst out laughing with Breen feeling he had no other choice but to join in (cope).
For thirty miles they walked in a straight line up the tracks until they got to Cahir. The soles of Seán Hogan’s boots had completely worn away by the time they got here. They had to risk walking through Cahir town to get to Ms. Hogan’s house. It was the first time in a week they had a bed to sleep on although they could barely sleep from the excitement, cold and exhaustion. They couldn’t stay for long and within two nights, they were on the move again trekking between four different houses over the course of a few days before they got to Maloney’s of Lackelly, staying here for a week. They were only ten miles away from Soloheadbeg at this point.
It was becoming harder for them to find shelter as friends began to shun them for what they did. They thought of the men of ‘98, the Fenians of ‘67 and the heroes of 1916 and how they were also shunned by the majority, something us Nationalists must remind ourselves of today. They stayed in barns and were even kicked out of them. The IRA and GHQ would not back the lads with their proclamation which called for TBD (Total British Death) in South Tipperary meaning they were left wandering from town to town. The weather was extremely challenging at times as it was still only February so they decided to head for Dublin as they could no longer endure the misery of their existence. The trek to Dublin isn’t exactly smooth sailing and if you’d like to hear about it, I’d suggest reading Dan Breen’s “My Fight for Irish Freedom” as I am only writing a mere article here. Cut me some slack!
Tom Barry – Old Kerry Road to Gougane Barra
It was June 1921, Tom Barry was running amok in Cork and the Brits were closing in on him. They sent thousands of troops after him. These soldiers were so desperate to kill him that they lit up the slopes of Shehy Mountain with shrapnel, hoping Barry and his Flying Column were hiding there. When Barry got news that British marines were landing in Bantry Bay, he knew he had to act.
He rounded up his battalion and within 15 minutes of receiving the news, they were on their way up the steep road to the Kerry border. They walked for two miles then stopped until it was dark. Earlier that day, Barry had consulted local officers as to the likelihood of crossing the bogland that lay between the old Kerry road and Gougane Barra during the middle of the night. One of the officers found a local man who knew the area well and was willing to lead the way. When they reached him, they could see he had tied several ropes into one. This is what he would be using to lead the lads out of trouble. Before they started the treacherous trek through the bog, the local man warned them not to step a yard to either side or else the bog would swallow them up. Barry described it as “a nightmare march of many hours in the thick darkness and at times, we sank over knee deep into the boggy ground, although we never left our guide’s path”.
They eventually made it to safety on the top of Deepvalley Desmond. In their march to safety they crossed the route taken by O’Sullivan Beare’s Column when they too evaded the Brits of their time. To their left was the “Priest’s Leap” named after a Priest who fled the Brits during the Penal Days by goading his horse to jump this rather impossible gap. The Flying Column had one dangerous task left to do to get to safety, they had to descend Deepvalley Desmond to their final destination Gougane Barra, the home of St. Finbarr. It took them over an hour to descend with none seriously injured.
Lanklet Dev’s Favourite Hiking Spots
Tibradden is my go-to hiking spot. The name itself derives from Tigh Bródáin, meaning Brodáin’s House. The trail is approximately 2.5km long and should take around 2 hours to complete, depending on pace and fitness levels. It has a perfect mix of forest and mountain with spectacular views of both Dublin and Wicklow. There is some history too on the Tibradden mountain with a cairn and burial site here. The cairn was excavated in 1849 and when it was uncovered, antiquarians found a small stone-lined grave that contained a pottery food vessel of Bronze Age type and cremated human remains within a circular chamber. There is a theory that it may have been originally constructed in the Neolithic period before later being reused during the Bronze Age.
Locally, the cairn is known as Niall Glúndub mac Áeda’s grave who was High King of Ireland in the 10th century. He was killed in the Battle of Islandbridge on 14 September 919 where his army was defeated by the Norsemen. In the past, locals followed a tradition of leaving flowers on his grave and praying for his soul. Going past the cairn and burial site, the trail leads up to the Fairy Castle on top of Two Rock Mountain with there being 3 other trails from other hiking spots meeting there. Here you can get a clear view of Dublin with the Poolbeg Towers (Dublin’s Eiffel Tower) in particular standing out. On the opposite side is a magnificent view of Bray Head and the Wicklow Mountains.
Instead of following the trail to the Fairyhouse, you can take a detour through the Glendoo Valley. Along the road through here is O’Connell’s Rock named after Daniel O’Connell. It is said he addressed a crowd of locals in 1823 at this rock. He was on his way to visit his daughter who lived in the area when he saw a festival taking place and gave an impromptu address.
Bray Head and Little Sugar Loaf Loop
Bray is a place familiar to many, especially the Dub. It’s a place where many a family go religiously every summer, often hiking to the top of Bray Head. Once you reach the top of the mountain, you will see a concrete Cross which was placed there in 1950 during holy year and on the Bray side of Bray Head there is a well that was blessed by St. Partick. It’s only a short hike to the top so what I like to do is make a loop of it by adding the Little Sugar Loaf.
The first time I trekked this loop a couple of years ago it was during the height of the Covid nonsense. I had finished the hike and was cutting through a lane of houses. I spotted a sticker on the gate at the start of the road. At first glance, I thought it was pro-tr*nny but on further inspection it was to my surprise an “anti child transitioning” sticker. As I got closer and started to read the smaller writing, I heard a voice ask “what do you think of the sticker?”. I replied, “I fully agree”. It turned out to be the woman who placed it there. We had a good auld chat, mostly about current events. She was indeed /ourcailín/.
You’re probably wondering where Devil’s Glen got its name from, well there was a young fella named Glen and he was a bit of a devil in his youth, he used to go into the forest here and kill animals hence the name Devil’s Glen (this never happened, I made it up).
The real story behind the name is far more interesting. There once was a powerful Chieftain who had a daughter named Flora. She was famous for her beauty and high standards, in other words, she was stuck-up. Many a young prince had proposed to Flora but to their dismay she refused them. One day, a handsome stranger arrived in Wicklow. He showed up wearing fine clothing with his servants driving horses laden with gold and jewels. He proposed to Flora who again refused. The stranger reacted angrily and dismounted his horse. When he got down from the horse, people noticed his hoofs. It was indeed the devil himself! He tore up the nearby land, scattering rocks and soil giving it the rugged look it is known for today. Although I’m starting to think this story was made up by Coillte as an excuse for how poorly kept the forest is.
Back to the hike itself. There are two routes one can take at Devil’s Glen; the 5km Waterfall Walk or the 4km Seamus Heaney Walk (cringe). You know what route to take, anon!
I have an almost autistic love for waterfalls and streams, I find them rather tranquil. The last time I hiked here, I got chatting to a junior member of the DeanoWaffen while we gazed at the waterfall. He offered me a snack bar and warned me of a speeding van he saw on his way here, he called the police “rats”. I agreed.
He also shared details on how to get away with paying the e-flow toll. Basically, you pull into the hard shoulder before you go through the toll and stick a pair of fake velcro reg plates on and away you go. (This is not financial advice).
Hop in chud, we’re going hiking.