Stone Cairns

The Lake Of Blood

By Willie Dwyer, Local Historian, Rooska, Bantry

“Those stone cairns up there on the hill are not the original cairns made by the Ordnance Survey (in the 1830s), but they are on that the original spot, I believe, of the cairns. Some people used to go out there and knock it down, and the next party that would go up would rebuild it up again. So down through the years it has been preserved. It might have been destroyed, but it was like the phoenix - it always arose from the ashes!

I heard this story from local schoolteacher, Joe Hourihane, who is dead many years. Tradition has it that in a dry summer many, many years ago, water was very scarce and there was cattle grazing in the mountain over the lake. The water was scarce in the hole due to the demand that was on it by the cattle, and eventually, the cattle fought over the water and gored each
other. There was no such thing as dehorning of cattle in those days, and the smell of blood drove the cattle mad. The result was anyway that there was nothing left in the end, only some few survivors and a pool of blood in what used to be, due to the dryness of the summer, the little lake. And that’s how it got its name of “Loch na Fuilla”, which when translated into English means “The Lake of the Blood”.

The gap going through in the mountain there, by Loch na Fuilla, the locals always called it, that’s the old people who are dead and gone now, used to call it “Barna Mhór”, which means “The Big Gap”, and on the right-hand side (the north-west corner) before you come to the extreme top of the track, there’s a round bald rock which was known as “the Eagle’s Rest”. I don’t know how long the eagles have been gone out of this part of the country, but it must have been a long time ago. This is a tradition now, it has been handed down as tradition, how true or false it is, I can’t prove to you.”
After going over the first two ladder stiles, you come to a “step over” stile. Instead of going over the stile, take a short diversion to the west and you will come to a hut site that was found during the research of this Walk. Numerous hut sites have been found below this northern ridge of the peninsula. These hut sites have been dated from the Neolithic to more recent times, and they have been used for a variety of functions, such as metal working and cooking sites. The walls over these remaining foundation stones would have been wattle and/or sod; these sites are also sometimes associated with ancient pre-bog field systems.

About a mile west of Loch na Fuilla if you look north you will see a small inlet on the coast near Reen Point. It is here that in 1602 the English General Carew’s army embarked from to lay siege to Dunboy Castle, just of west of Castletownbere on the other side of Bantry Bay. After the fall of Dunboy, Donal Cam O’Sullivan began his “Great Retreat” that eventually led him to exile and death in Spain. What began at the height of winter and with over 1000 followers and soldiers in Glengarriff ended, after much hardship, in Leitrim with just 35 people left. (The lands from Beach to Gerahies on this side of the Sheep’s Head peninsula belonged to Donal Cam’s uncle, Sir Owen O’Sullivan.)

The Walk then proceeds to a new concrete Ordnance Survey marker, and crosses a county council road near Fahane (“little lawn or field”), and comes off the hill in Glenlough (“glen of the lake”).

When you reach the council road at Glenlough, TURN RIGHT, take your first tarred road then LEFT, then RIGHT again. After a short spell on this road, locally known as “The New Line”, you TURN LEFT and begin a climb up Gouladane. (There is a B & B near here, and the next one after you come off the hill is nearly three hours away, so a decision at this point must be made.) Fog can be a problem at the top of this hill, so an alternative route would be to use the Goats Path road which meets the main walk some miles to the west when the walk comes off the hill.

There is a local story that two Tobin men were up on this hill collecting turf on Christmas Eve 1796, when they saw the British fleet south of Baltimore. Knowing that the French were in Bantry Bay, they came down and rowed out to the French and, apparently, spoke to Wolfe Tone and the crew of the
«L’Indomptable» to warn them of the approach of the British.

Later one of them received a summons to go to Bantry and on his way he met the local hedge schoolmaster near Gerahies who read the summons for the Tobin man. “If you go to Bantry, you’re dead”, he informed the Tobin man who then left for America and never returned.

One of the Tobin men was “Dick the Pilot” from Gortnakilly, Kilcrohane, so named because he piloted the sailing ships into Bantry Bay. The name of the other man who left for America is unknown.

At just over 1000 feet Gouladane is the highest point of the walk. This is the hardest climb of the walk, but you will be amply rewarded at the top with the view and the fine open and flat walking terrain.

The townland of Gouladoo (“black forks, in streams or hill”) is aptly named, as there are a series of small valleys cutting through the hill. Sometimes you must go slightly south, sometimes north, to get around the small cliffs, so keep a sharp eye out for the “walking man” signposts. Across Bantry Bay to the north and west you should be able to see an Adrigole Harbour and Bere Island. You are viewing the back of Ahakista to the south, and on a good day, further south, you might be able to see the Fastnet Rock.

Alternative Route: Seefin Ridge

This new walk is a realignment of the main Way, that now allows one to walk the ridge of the peninsula from Glenlough to Seefin. From the Four Corner Stone to Seefin it is a moderate climb to the top of Seefin (345 m) – fantastic views and magnificent sweeping scenery. Extreme care is needed. Not in bad
weather or for the inexperienced walker. From the Junction at Four Corner Stone to the top of Seefin about one hour. (In bad weather, we recommend taking the main walk north to the road at Gortnakilly.)
To come off the hill the Walk uses and old Board of Works road made around the turn of the century for access to these turf bogs, and comes out onto the Goats path road at Gortnakilly (“field of the Church”). You then TURN LEFT and walk for about 1.5 miles on the Goats path road, where just before the top of the road by the Marian year statue, TURN RIGHT onto an other old bog road, locally known as the “Horseshoe Road”, so named because of a horseshoe shaped bend in the road further west.

Alternative route: Peakeen Ridge

You may create here a circular walk in conjunction with the main Way: From the Seat of Finn at the top of the Pass, where the Sheepshead Way crosses the Goat’s Path Road, this Ridge Walk goes in an east-westerly direction – this is a Ridge Walk not suitable for inexperienced walkers or in bad weather.
From the Seat Of Finn to the west, it is a 30 minutes fairly easy walk on open hill and rock, to a recently discovered Wedge Tomb (approx. 4000 yrs. old). Beyond the Tomb, the terrain becomes very rugged and it is stiff climbingto the peak – beware of many bog holes, extreme caution necessary at all times. From the peak, descent is easier with more steep inclines further down. This walk offers the most spectacular scenery and views, and also is an excellent Loop Walk. Peakeen joins up with the Black Gate Path at Peakeen Junction where one can choose to go north to Cahergal or south to
Black Gate (Letter East).

Alternative Route: The Black Gate Path

From the Peakeen Junction to Cahergal is very difficult terrain to walk. This walk takes about one hour of hard walking. From the junction, with Peakeen to the road south at The Black Gate (Letter East) is about one half-hour steep walking downhill.

Just above Horseshoe Road you might notice a long low stone seat which President Mary Robinson unveiled when she officially opened the Sheep’s Head Way in July 1996. This monument was made by Ken Thompson, who also did the Air India Memorial in Ahakista. Seefinn, which is the nearby and highest mountain on the peninsula, is the “the Seat of Finn”, that is, the seat of the legendary Irish hero Finn Mac Cool.

He (Finn) made his way to the stronghold of the king of Bantry and joined his band of fighters and trackers, but he told noone his name or lineage. Before long it was clear to all that the newcomer had no equal as a hunter. (Over Nine Waves, translated by Marie Heaney. )

Finn Mac Cool obviously sat down here after his days hunting, so we thought it appropriate to have the seat ready for him and one that would suit his royal status, when he returns to us to hunt again. In the meantime you are more than welcome to use it.

When the walk meets the county council road at the end of the Horseshoe Road, TURN LEFT and go on for about a half-hour until you see a style on your RIGHT.

Here decision must be made, alluded to earlier in this guide. There is a section of the following part of the walk which goes along and old path right on a cliff edge; although a hand rope has been provided, it is not for peoplewho suffer from fear of heights. As one local sage put it: “It is not for the weak, the fainthearted, or the seriously pregnant.” Nor is it suitable for anyone during bad weather or when a gale is blowing. So an alternative route is clearly indicated on the map. However, for the adventurous this part of the walk contains some the more memorable scenery and some of the most interesting buildings and stories associated with the area. So make up your mind.

A short way from the road you pass a small standing stone, which archaeologists say is not an ancient Neolithic one. One local story has it that a drowned sailor, washed up on the shore, is buried beneath it.

Next the walk passes through a series of ruined houses, known as the Crimea (pronounced CRA-MAY). At one time it was home for seven families, and the “Crimea” was the address given by the children who went to the school from here. It is also named on the Ordnance Survey Six Inch Maps. Presumably the name comes from the Crimean War - Florence Nightingale, the Charge of the Light Brigade, etc. How did this come about?