– and 20 pairs of rats eyes
It had been raining all day, the cloud was halfway down the mountains, a strong wind was blowing, the water from the Owencashla River was flowing ominously over the road. Hardly the ideal day to make a walk programme for radio.
But conditions were ideal! We were in the 450 ha forest park of Gleanntan Easaigh (the valley of the waterfalls). Last Sunday afternoon water cascaded down steep slopes all around. An awesome torrent of white water in the Drishoge River raged precipitously down the gorge between Cummeen and Doon hills immediately south of the park entrance.
We drove up the forest dirt road because of the uncertain weather, the late hour and the much longer diversion because of extensive tree felling. As the road rose more and more waterfalls came into view.
A few hundred yards short of the upper carpark the Owencashla river, the outlet for Lough Caum, flows under the road but on Sunday it overflowed on the road. How deep was the water? How solid was the road? Another car ahead of us driving through reassured Siubhan somewhat.
My fellow-walkers impressively arrived – and on time. For the radio programme I had walked the 1.8 km board walk around the lake the previous Wednesday picking out eight stops.
At the south eastern corner, immediately underneath the carpark John James O’Connor remembered in the late 1960s planting 700 to 750 trees a day, for £9 10s 00p a week. Bernie Goggin said the hills here started life hundreds of millions of years ago attached to the North American continent and at one time were as high as the Himalayas.
This year there is a bumper blossoming of the instantly recognisable purple foxglove that produces a drug for heart conditions and a concoction to treat children suffering from spasms in their sleep. Tradition tells that the medical properties are strongest between St John’s Eve (June 23) and old St John’s Day (June 29 or July 4).
Micheal O Coilean told of stone alignments here that pointed to the rising sun on midsummer’s day. Frank Maunsell spoke about the huge advantages of a managed fishery. Eithne Griffin vividly remembered twenty pairs of rats eyes staring up at her from under the desk in Castlegreogy National School when she was presiding officer here for the 1976 general election.
At the south western corner the outlet from An Duloch (to Lough Caum) was within inches of covering the boardwalk bridge. About 6 kms west the archaeological landscape of Loch an Dun has some 90 remains, including 12 kms of stone walls dating from 1200BC. Here in a mild, calm humid day face and arms could be covered by midges – resulting in unrecognisable features.
These mountain lakes were gouged out by small local glaciers. On open areas rich, cotton-wool-like white bog cotton that in Scotland was a symbol of purity and beauty but was said to be cursed by St Patrick. It was used for filling mattresses and pillows. The fishing industry in Bradon and Tralee Bays underneath was wiped out by a move to much bigger boats in the 1960s and overfishing in the ’80s.
From a rise a little way along the south western shore there is a high view of both lakes. In the 1950s and ’60s wool from the local sheep was bought for between five and ten shillings a bag. By 2006 that had fallen to 25 cent a bag. Now sheep here are farmed for their meat. Following the Lispole ambush in March 1921 an injured volunteer was carried through Glantanassig to Tralee. Trigger happy Black ‘n Tans shot a Casey man in Castlegregory through his keyhole.
Half way along the south western shore two further waterfalls fell sheerly from the mountain ridge skyline. The north/south valleys along the Sliabh Mish moutain backbone of the Dingle Peninsula were the passageways used by local people. The mountain range is named for a Queen’s daughter, Mis, who went ‘native’ her but was brought back to civilisation.
Now half way across the northern shore. The vividly pinky/red sandstone dominates all of the surrounds of Lough Caum. Sheer cliffs, rock outcrops, great boulders, immediately above us at this point a steep bank of loose scree.
Looking down the length of the lake the water surface rippled in the breeze. It was never very far from rain. Once or twice it looked as if there might be sunshine. It was a day when fish would be feeding. All of the fisherman’s prayers answered.
At the north eastern corner of the lake there are Sitka Spruce at both lake and mountain sides of the boardwalk. In 1916 local man Murt Leahy was to pilot The Aud safely into Fenit. Leahy failed to get on board because of a combination of the ship arriving several days early, the place was crawling with British military and a difficulty with the signalling.
Along the way a Kerry slug whose dot marking ranges from silver to a dull cream.
The full effect of the highest and strongest waterfall – that we had passed along the south western shore – is to be had from midway down Lough Caum’s eastern shore. Cloud covered the top half of the mountains that surrounded the horse-shoe shaped valley south west.
Although less than 20% of fish survive to maturity the Castlegregory spur off the Dingle/Tralee train, that ran from the 1890s to 1939, was important in transporting fish to market.
The tangy tasting wood sorrell and mosses are profuse under the trees along the eastern shore. Along the lake shore here there are heavy rich clusters of the creamy flower of the mountain ash. Because of its reputed formidable magical and protective powers it was hung in houses to prevent fire, attached to hounds’ collars to increase their speed and used to protect milk and its products from supernatural harm.
Large tracks of conifer woods in the 450 ha Gleanntain Easaigh Forest Park have been clear-felled in the past decade. Since 2005 100 ha has been planted back, with over 40% of broadleaf and diverse species – including alder, birch, beech, rowan, red oak and larch. On all of the areas replanted 15 to 20% was left unplanted to provide extra open spaces along watercourses and roads. These areas along with other open spaces are being managed for biodiversity.
We spent over two and a half hours walking and talking, listening and scenting our way around the 1.8 km Lough Caum board walk. It is a whole new experience that excites young walkers and is a perfect route for everybody.
The Owencashla River outlet from Lough Caum was still in flood under the wooden bridge but the water was no longer flowing over the road.
– Frank Lewis
* The Saturday Supplement on Radio Kerry (which I produce and present Saturdays 9 to 11am; 97fm; listen live or on podcast at www.radiokerry.ie) this Saturday (June 25) features our walk around the Lough Caum boardwalk.
* Lough Caum is an hour’s drive from Gallan Eile.
Special thanks to Micheal Ó Coilean for the photographs
– for more information or to book a stay at our self-catering rental accommodation Gallan Eile …