Walks from Carriganass Castle

These walks were put in place with the active encouragement and support of the committee of the Sheeps Head Way with the aim of establishing a walking link between the Sheeps Head Way and the  eara Way.

Two of the walks are loopwalks to the north of the castle. The third walk goes from the castle to the Stone Circle south of the village. The word Carriganass in Gaelic means the Rock of the Waterfall and this accurately
describes the splendid setting of the most enduring castle of the O’Sullivan Beare Chieftains. Perched elegantly on an outcrop of rock on the north bank of the Ouvane River, this noble monument to Gaelic Ireland stands tall against a picturesque backdrop of the Caha Mountains with Cnoc Baoi (the highest peak in Co. Cork), the Sugar Loaf, and Hungry Hill in the distant skyline. The cascading waterfall underneath with naturally sculptured rock adds to the grandeur of the location. The history of the castle records the fortunes of the O’Sullivan Beare Chieftains, traces the decline of the old Gaelic Aristocracy and was directly influenced by the struggle for supremacy between England and Spain in the 16th century. Carriganass Castle has strong links with the Desmond Rebellion, the Battle of Kinsale, and the Flight of the Earls. The castle was built in 1540 by the O’Sullivan Beare Chieftain, Dermot of the Powder so called because he blew himself up with gunpowder in 1549.

The most famous occupant of Carriganass was Donal Cam O’Sullivan Beare who commanded the Munster forces on the Spanish side at the Battle of Kinsale in 1601. According to local folklore, his wife Aoife was murdered at Gougane Barra by St. Leger, an English settler and military commander. The story of the vengeance of Donal Cam is the subject on an epic poem, “The Revenge of Donal Cam”. St. Leger met his death in the rocky torrents of the Ouvane River having been thrown from the tower of Carriganass by Donal Cam who got access to the captured castle disguised as a monk.

For both loopwalks follow the castle road along the river bank for about 100 metres and then TURN NORTH after passing a well-maintained traditional farmhouse on the right. After a few minutes you will cross a bridge and at the junction beyond the bridge you will have a choice between the two interlinked walks-both leading to the Beara Way.

The Póc An Tairbh Loop

Time Required - 3 hours

This walk gets its name from the area known as Póc An Tairbh (The Bull’s Pocket). At the junction follow the left roadway as it climbs steeply into the foothills of Ahil (ath-choill: the rewooded place).

The road is narrow with sharp ends so be very careful. There is much bird life activity featuring sparrows, finches, tits, thrushes, blackbirds, robins, magpies, crows, pigeons, ravens and the occasional pheasant. After about a mile of a climb you will pass a cottage on the left side and then watch for the marker and the stile directing you onto a dirt track into the hill. This track served two houses in the past. The first ruined house (cabhlach) you will reach shortly after leaving the road. Note the interesting stonework and construction method typical of 19th century rural Ireland. The track contouring around the hill opens up a delightful view of Bantry Bay to the west, Kealkill village to the south, with Sheha Hill and Nowen Hill to the east. If you are lucky enough to meet the landowner, pause for a chat and enjoy his gentle humour and wisdom. Arriving at the top of the ridge you will see to the north the magnificent Borlin Valley which gives its name to a famous traditional set dance. In the V of the hill is another cabhlach, once the home of Micheál A. Cápa who died about the year 1916. This is on the north side of the hill following the markers along the firebreak around the small forest plantation to emerge on the Beara Way along a road called Barr An Admaid (the top of
the timber).

After crossing the stile onto the road TURN RIGHT and proceed east taking in the rugged mountain scenery with Cnoc Baoi to the north and Cnoc An Áir (the hill of the slaughter) looming to the east. This part of the Beara Way is the route followed by Donal Cam O’Sullivan Beare in the
famous but tragic Retreat to Leitrim in the winter of 1602-1603 with only 35of 1000 followers surviving. This mountain road leads to the Maughanasilly Crossroad, Lough Atoureen and the Maughanasilly Stone Row. It is said that the original gates of Carriganass Castle were thrown in to the lake after the castle was sacked by Cromwellian forces about 1650. The Stone Row dates from the middle-late Bronze Age (1800 to 1200 B.C.). Though there is no hard evidence of any astronomical significance or of a burial site, it is certain that this monument would have been part of the ceremonial rituals of the time. At the crossroads, go north for a distance of about 200 metres to the Basketry and Organic Farm. Here you will get a demonstration in the fineart of basket-making using locally grown reeds. To complete the loop follow the road back around the south side of Lough Atoureen where on a calm day you will see the reflection of the peak of Cnoc Baoi which is four miles away as the crow flies.

Descend back to Carriganass from Leacht (a grave or memorial) reputed to be the burial place of the first casualties in the Retreat to Leitrim. Take note of the quarry on your right. The stone that built Carriganass Castle came from this quarry and was transported hand to hand by the labourers over a distance of about two miles. The mortar included the blood of bull who were slaughtered in the vicinity of the quarry from which comes the name of the place, The Bulls Pocket.

Reflecting on these sacred hills on the mystery of life and death a local poet and much loved character, Pat the Hat, wrote his epitaph:

Here lie the remains of Pat the Hat
He wasn’t very rich I’ll grant you that.
On many a bar room stool he sat
And now he’s gone and that is that.

The Srón na Gaoithe Loopwalk

Time Required - 3.5 hours

The name Srón na Gaoithe in Gaelic means the nose of the wind which accurately describes the terrain of rock outcrop in blanket bog opening to the prevailing south west wind. To start this walk take the RIGHT TURN at the junction and ascend the narrow road through Ahildotia (the burnt rewooded area). As you gain elevation you can see on your right the Kealkill Valley leading to the village, flanked on the eastern side by the Sheha and Cousane Hills. Across the valley to the south you may be able to pick out the standing stones of the famous Kealkill Stone Circle against the sweeping backdrop of Mullaghmesha. Pace yourself as the climb gets steeper and turn back to have a look at Bantry Bay featuring Whiddy Island in the foreground and the Sheeps Head to the south. After about 1.5 km leave the road by the stile as directed by the marker on your left. Follow the track through a new forest plantation to ascend onto the ridge. A little effort is required but the reward is a spectacular panoramic view of the Three Valleys area. The terrain is somewhat rough and uneven so care is needed. The track follows a firebreak
side, Cnoc Baoi and the Sugar Loaf Hill to the west. When you come to a stile cross over to walk on the north side of the fence. After descending into a small dip, turn sharply north and down a steep slope following the markers to eventually reach the Beara Way. TURN LEFT and follow the road to Maughanasilly crossroads, the Stone Row and Lough Atoureen. For a description of the Stone Row read the end section of the Póc An Tairbh Loop. At the crossroads follow signs to the junction where you began.

Walk to Kealkill Stone Circle

Time Required - 1 hour

The walk from the castle to the Kealkill Stone Circle goes to the village of Kealkill via the main road. Watch out for traffic. In the village you can pause for a refreshment in one of the pubs. The walk then takes you uphill past the church. Follow the markers making a RIGHT TURN beyond the church and
a left turn after 0.5 km. This brings you up a steep hill on a winding road to the Stone Circle entrance through a green pedestrian gate. Follow the rough track through two fields until you get to the Stone Circle.

This is a significant archaeological site not only with a stone circle but also a radial stone cairn and a pair of standing stones. The site offers spectacular views with Bantry Bay to the west, Cnoc Baoi to the north and the Sheha Hills to the east. Stone Circles are generally regarded as ritual sites where
ceremonies took place and are likely to date from the Bronze Age. Radial Stone Cairns are thought to be burial monuments also from the Bronze Age. The orientation factor has given rise to a lot of speculation into the astronomical alignment of the structures. However there are no scientific conclusions on this point and it may be that prominent landscape features rather than celestial bodies are the reason for a particular orientation. After visiting the site, you can return to the castle or extend your walk into the Mealagh Valley. A recent survey has been done on the archaeological
sites in the Mealagh Valley. Included in the inventory are stone circles, stone rows, standing stones, cairns, fulachta faidh, mass rocks, ring forts, and wedge tombs. The sites are mostly on private property but a polite request will generally ensure a warm welcome and access.