The Nire Valley

The Nire Valley
The Heart of the Comeragh Mountains.

Monday, 30 December 2013

Sloe gin. The 2013 harvest.

Nire Valley Sloe Gin 2013.

2013 vintage sloe-gin could be scarce as it was a very bad year for the Black thorn and its fruit the sloe. The blackthorn always flowers in late March early April and this year (2013) was cold and wet and this year the blackthorn produced very few flowers. In a good spring white blossom of the black thorn traces the field boundaries and you can pick out the individual fields. We in the South-east of Ireland take this for granted, as our field boundaries are more commonly made up of bushes and trees, but this type of ditch is not found everywhere. One of the great by-products of these banks and ditches is the the wild fruits they support. Sloes, crab apples, haws, hurts, bilberries, wild strawberries and wild raspberries as well as damsons. It is a pity not to pick some and make preserves or flavoured gin and vodka from the sloes and damsons.
Black thorn
The damsons ripen in August while you have to wait for the first frost before you gather sloes. You can pick the sloes and freeze them to "sweeten" them in September, you will need to this if you want sloe-gin for Christmas.

The sloes for this bottle were picked in Ballymacarbry and Hanora's Cottage turned it into Sloe gin.

I wrote about the Sloe in a blog in September, where you will find more information on this common hedge row plant. Here's to a good spring and a bountiful sloe harvest next September.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Mid-winter's tale.- Visit Bronze age site at sunset on Mid winter.

Sunset Dec 21st
 At Newgrange a select few will get to observe sunrise on midwinter's morning, even fewer are luck enough to see the experience on a cloud free morning.  Newgrange is not the only site where such an ancient alignments occurs, they happen in various locations all over Ireland and one such place is Tooreen in the Nire Valley. 
21st December is the shortest day of the year with only a few hours of sunlight, but even 4,000 years ago they knew that the days would soon lengthen and grow warm. They knew because they constructed a stone circle that alighted with sunset on mid-winter that indicated when they reached the shortest day of the year. 
Would you like to visit the Tooreen stone circles on Saturday 21st December 2013?
Nire & Comeragh Guided Walks are leading a walk that evening to the site, join us as we celebrate a four thousand year old tradition in our twenty-first century world. We will take in both the stone-circle and the nearby burial site which is even more spectacular, because of the trees in the forest sunset cannot been seen from the stone circle anymore, we will go to the burial site and observe sunset from this monument.

Note because of the topography sunset is a little earlier here than elsewhere, we have to be in place at about 15:20 hrs, but it may not get dark for another 30 ins. If you are interested email me at

Stone Circle - Tooreen

In history's footsteps - walk to Liam Lynch Memorial.

Route taken by Gen Liam Lynch 10th April 1923.
The Nire Valley Bogtrotters Sunday walk on 24th November will follow, roughly, the route taken by General Liam Lynch on the 10th April 1924, the day he was killed, bringing an effective end to the Irish Civil War. After reaching the Liam Lynch Memorial tower we will pick up the Munster Way and follow it back to our cars parked near Newcastle.  
The Nire Valley walking club is the Nire Valley Bogtrotters, we walk every other Sunday from September to June, we walk, mainly, in the Comeragh Mountains. We also organise the Comeragh Bogtrot in March and are involved in the Nire Valley Autumn Walking festival in October. If you are interested in joining us send me an email to -

Gen Liam Lynch Memorial Tower.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Follow your calf.

Could you be tempted to climb a hill to follow a calf? You might be, especially if that calf was on Knocksheegowna peak, part of Knockanaffrin ridge. Local lore tells us a "fairy calf" rises out of the waters of  Loch Mohra and sits on top of Knocksheegowna, the calf has a way to lure you up to the peak, it looks like a quite, well bred animal it would compliment your herd, all you have to do is climb to the top and take it. Only problem is it will take you before you take it, for the fairies will take you to their world. You were warned, after all Knocksheegowna means "fairy calf hill".

This is not the only magical bovine to be found in the Nire or the Comeragh Mountains. The Glas Gaiibhneach is said to have visited Glenanore. The story of the Glas Gaibhneach, as collected in the Ordnance Letters of John O'Donovan and Eugene Curry (1839) goes as follows. 

In the northern part of this Parish of Kilnaboy is a Townland called Teeskagh and near it a mountain called Slieve na Glaisé, the mountain of the celebrated cow called Glas Ghoibhneach, said to have belonged to the smith, Lon Mac Loimhtha, the first that ever made edged weapons in Ireland. He was a Tuatha De Danann by nation, and lived in a cave in this mountain unknown to all the Scoti except the few who lived in his immediate vicinity.

 Lon was for many years supported by his invaluable cow called Glas Gaibhneach which used to graze not far from his forge on the mountain of Sliabh na Glaise which abounds in most beautiful rills and luxuriant pasturage. This cow he stole from Spain, but after having settled with her in various parts he came at length to the resolution of spending his life here, as being secure from enemies by the remoteness and natural fastness and then inaccessible situation of the place, and as he had found no other retired spot in Ireland sufficiently fertile to feed the Glas but this. This cow would fill with her milk any vessel, be it never so large, into which she was milked, and it became a saying in the neighbourhood that no vessel could be found which the Glas would not fill at one milking. At last two women laid a wager on this point, one insisting that no vessel, be it never so large, could be found in Ireland which the smith’s cow would not fill, and the other that there could. The bets being placed in secure hands, the latter lady went to her barn and took out a sieve which she took to Slieve na Glaise, and into which, by consent of Lon Mac Liomhtha, she milked the cow. And behold! the milk, passing through the bottom of the sieve and even overflowing it, fell to the ground and divided into seven rivulets called Seacht Srotha na t-Aéscaíghe, the Seven Streams of the overflowing. Taescach, i.e., the overflowing, is now the name of a Townland lying to the west of Slieve na Glaise. Clear streams of water now run through the channels then formed by the copious floods of the milk of the Glas, and one of them forms in winter a remarkable waterfall. On the east side of Slieve na Glaise is a small valley in which is shewn a spot called Leaba na Glaise in which this cow is said to have slept every night and near it another spot called the bed of her calf. The hoofs of this cow were reversed by which her pursuers (for many sought to take her away by force) were always deceived in the course she took, and the impressions of her feet are shewn to this day in the rocks in many parts of the country around Slieve na Glaise.

Next time you see a calf, don't rush after it.

Knocanafrinn Ridge.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Cinderella and the squirel.

Nire Valley
Ever wonder about Cinderella and the wisdom of wearing glass slippers? We'll more about that later. One of the great natural sights in the Nire Valley at the moment are its red squirrels. Around October every year the squirrel population in the valley become more visible, they seem to be in a mad hurry to gather stores for the approaching winter. We are luck in the valley that the grey* squirrel has not, yet, invaded the area, but they have been seen at the edge of the valley about two miles west of Ballymacarbry.
Self -service
The native red squirrel population was wiped out before but the species was reintroduced, one interesting feature of the Irish Red squirrel is the predominance of a white tip on their tail, watch out for it the next time you see one.  Mammals in a Sustainable Environment (MISE)
are involved in studying the red squirrels in the Nire Valley and they use special tubes that gather samples of hair from the squirrel that can be used to collect DNA and give us an insight to the squirrel population in the valley. 
Squirrel fur was once highly valued as a trim on clothing and this brings us back to Cinderella and her glass slippers. Cinderella is a  fairy tale of French origin and in French Squirrel fur was called "vair" another word pronounced the same but spelled different is "vere" meaning glass. So was the tale of Cinderella mistranslated, who knows and there are several sites on the internet where it is debated. But an English word that has a common root with squirrel fur is "variegated". In heraldry squirrel fur is represented by blue and white pattern and is called variegated. 

PS.* I started this blog ten days ago and in that time I have confirmed the sighting of grey squirrel in the Valley along the Nire Road. One hopes the local gun club can control the numbers.

 More information on squirrels and how to spot squirrel activity in your area can be found on the MISE Facebook site.
Squirrel feeder

The Grey Squirrel- Nire valley.

Red Squirrel photos by
Thomas Crotty.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

The Nire Valley Drop.

There are few places where you encounter nature in the raw. There are even fewer places where you and your bike can challenge nature knowing if you don’t tame nature it will tame you. In years to come when all is forgotten the whisper of the words “Nire Valley Drop” will get you adrenaline pumping as you smile and say “I was there too”.

The Nire Valley where we do it in the wild…….

Where? Ballmacarbry, Waterford, Ireland.

When? 11am, Sunday October 27th 2013.

What is it? The Nire Valley Drop is an off road cross country cycle challenge, up hill and down hill, crossing forestry and moorland.

How much? €25

Is it a fundraiser? Half of the funds raised at the Nire Valley Drop will go towards Community Development Programmes on the island of Île à Vache in Haiti, where volunteers will return with Haven next Easter from 18th¬-27th April 2014. The remainder of the funds will go towards the Nire Football Club.
Can I register online? Course,

What about on the day? You can also sign-in/register on the day from 9:30 in Ballymacarbry Hostel and Community Centre.

Where do I sign in? You must sign-in no later than 10:40am at Ballymacarbry Hostel and Community Centre.

Where does the cycle leave from? The cycle leaves from Ballymacarbry Hostel and Community Centre at 11am.

How to I get there for Dublin? Allow 3hrs from the Red Cow. Take the M8 (to Cork) and come off at Cahir junction 10. Take the Waterford, Clonmel road after that, when you arrive in Clonmel head for Dungarvan, Ballymacarbry is 10 miles from Clonmel.

What do I need to bring? The cyclists will need to bring a helmet, 2 tubes, change of clothes, cycling gloves, a small first aid kit and a bike suitable for tough terrain. Please note: Cyclists with no helmet will not be permitted to partake in the Nire Valley Drop. 

Do I need cycling experience? Anyone can take part but it will be an added advantage to have road cycling experience. The track is challenging in parts but thoroughly enjoyable.

How long is the trail? There are two options; 20km and 40 km.

What if I choose the 40km and change my mind? There will be "Cut-outs" on the 40km course, this means you could go on the 40k course and then short circuit a leg and thus ride 30k instead. We have about 4 cut-outs. We will have maps on the day, and advise from locals.

What happens after the cycle? There will be soup and brown bread available at the Community Centre after the cycle. Tea and coffee will also be available.

Are there showers? Hot showers are available (although we cannot promise for how long the hot water will last!).
Lastly, the Drops?
1. Condons Drop 4.3km Forest Track Fast Descent
2 .The Horseshoe Drop 9.22km Single Track mud
ClimbMarkley KOM Start climb 12.2km Forest Track / Boreen
3. Halpin's Drop 13.67km Single Track Steep descent
4. Coffin Drop 15.52km Single Track Rocks / Fast Descent
5. Tear Drop 15.8km Single Track Rough Terrain
6. Rocky Drop 18.62km Single Track Rocky Steep Decline
7. Hunters Drop 18.88km Single Track Steep Decline
8. Woodcock Drop 19.55km Single Track Fast decline
9. HAVEN Drop 20.4km Single Track / Firetrack Rough Terrain
10. Cannonball Drop 21.85km Single Track Steep decline / Rough Terrain
11. Bambi's Drop 22km Forest Track Grassy surface
12. Yahoo Drop 25km Single Track / Firetrack / Road Rough Surface / Tarmac
13. Lynch's Drop 27.27km Single Track Steep Descent
14. Nire Valley Drop 28.48km Single Track Steep Descent
15. TEAL Drop 29.68km Single Track Rough Terrain
16. Badgers Drop 31.3km Firetrack Rough Terrain
17. The Chicken George Run 33.23km Single Track Steep Decline / Rough Terrain
18. Abhann Drop 36.5km Single Track Rough Terrain and stream.

Youtube video of the drop.

Monday, 7 October 2013

The magic of a mushroom.

Autumn’s warm colours are about to appear, the bronze, gold and yellows of the leafs are about to show in Autumn's nature collection. I will be looking out for one small piece of perfect fire-brigade red that will appear about now. The Fly Agaric mushroom (Amanita muscaria) is the iconic red with white spotted mushroom that you first saw as a child, depicted in books of Fairy Tales. Well what ever about the tales in the book the red and white mushroom does exist and is relatively easy to find especially at this time of year, October.
The toadstool or the Fly Agaric is commonly found near pine plantations, the mushroom is hallucinogenic and poisonous. It got its name because it was believed that mixing it with milk was used to kill flies.  In some quarters you may read that this was the mushroom taken by Viking warriors to throw them in to a mad rage and they were called Berserkers, but that story has been dismissed.
I know our Sunday walk (Oct 13th) should come across a mushroom or two as the weather is ideal for their growth.

We came across them on the Archaeology walk on Sunday.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Nire valley Autumn walking festival October 2013.

There is a walk for you at the 2013 Nire Valley Autumn Walking Festival. This may be a chance for you to try walking and hiking as a possible healthy activity. It is never too late to start a New Year's resolution.
All the walks are graded and so we have taken the guessing out of which walk you should part take in.
The A and B+ walks are for people who hike regular, weekly or 2 or 3 times a month year round.
The B walks are for those who go hiking 1 to 2 times a month, while the C walks are for those who have a level of fitness that would allow them walk for 4 hours with plenty of stops. The C walks are a great place to get started on the hiking trail. Even within the C walks on offer there is some gradation. The walks on Sunday are a little easier than the Saturday walk, but don't let that put you off the Saturday walk.

 The B walks also have some gradation, on Saturday the Coumfea walk will be a little harder than the other two with the "Way They Went" being the easier of the three B walks on Saturday.

While on Sunday the B walk to Coumshingaun will provide the biggest challenge of the three B walks, again, with "The Way They Went" walk to Rathgormack being a very pleasant walk for all concerned.

If you are staying for the Week-end we have an Apres Walk Dinner on Saturday night. Which is always good fun.

For a full brochure visit our website Nire Valley.

You will need boots no matter what level you part-take, rain gear ( it is Ireland) some sandwiches and water and tea or coffee. A bar of chocolate or raisins are also encouraged, after all you will be walking it off.

Registration is at the Nire School, beside the Nire Church, and check brochure for details.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

A sloe day in the country.

At the bottom of my garden are two trees six feet apart and but seperated by 4,000 years!

One is a plum tree the other a blackthorn. The plums, purple/red, are juicy and very sweet, the sloe is small hard with a magnificent black and electric blue skin. Anyone who has bitten into to a sloe knows they are bitter, astringent to be exact as they dry out your mouth in an instant leaving you unable to taste anything for several moments. Yet these two trees are related as plums were breed from the sloe.

The sloe producing blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) comes into bloom in March and is the first full blown hint of spring that nature gives us.  We frequently get cold, stormy weather in early April blowing all the blackthorn petals off the branches leaving the roadside covered with white petal blossom and in parts of England this is called blackthorn winter. The blackthorn is used for fencing as its long thorns make it impenetrable to cattle while the timber of the blackthorn is used to make the Shillelagh walking stick.

Even though the sloe taste is astringent it still has its uses. It is commonly used to make sloe-gin or, my favourite, sloe-apple jelly. It takes a minimum of 3 months to make sloe-gin and thus needs to be carefully planned to have in time for Christmas, but it is better if you can leave it longer.  Sloe-apple jelly is made by adding two parts crab apple one part sloe. The taste is divine, very tart but goes well on scones.

Next time you are in the country, try a sloe.

PS. Wondering, would you be interested in a one day sloe-gin making class in early November. - Just asking.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Comeragh Wild.

We did not think of the great open plains, the beautiful rolling hills, and winding streams with tangled growth, as 'wild.' Only to the white man was nature a "wilderness" and only to him was the land 'infested' with 'wild' animals and 'savage' people." Chief [Luther] Standing Bear, Lakota (1933).

Our concept of wilderness is interesting, to some it is a place that must be bent to mans bidding, reclaimed, reformed and refined. To others it is a place to escape to, to find yourself, to recharge. Either way the "wilderness" leaves no one without an opinion. To me the wilderness is the 180 degree opposite to everything man does. The temples of the great Mayan cultures or Great Zimbabwe have all been reclaimed by nature, even our stone circles and standing stones, in the Nire Valley are hidden by nature. I love the way nature will cover all our traces in time and the Earth will forget us. 

On Sunday 22nd of September, as part of the Comeragh Wild festival, we will take "The Last Journey" across the Comeraghs, we follow the route of Bóthairín na Sochraide, the funeral path, from the Nire to Rathgormack . While we walk it we must contemplate the relationship our fore-bearers  had with this wilderness of the Comeraghs. They crossed the mountain following a coffin, a loved one, a friend, a neighbour; they paid their respects. They crossed without any technical clothing (waterproof gear), they crossed in all weather conditions and they crossed without any navigational aids. But, they possessed an innate understanding of the mountain, the weather, the seasons and their ability. We have lost these, I see many walkers today who are unable to read the topography, who are unable to read the weather and who have no idea how to hold a course without a compass or, worse, a GPS. Obsessed with getting to the highest point, keeping Naismith's rule and covering one-hundred meters in a minuet, "pushing themselves" and never seeing what actually surrounds them.

I wonder have we, humans, become the wildness and the mountains remained sane. Are we the ones who have gone feral and can no longer read the Earth or the Wind.

Come and join our walk along the funeral path and contemplate life, nature and our place in it. The event is free but you need to confirm your place, phone 058- 54975. Our the Web site 

Nire Valley.

Friday, 6 September 2013

The out-law plant.

What is the most hated plant in Ireland? You might think of nettles and even some might volunteer broccoli, but technically, at least, you would be wrong. The title of most hated plant must go to Senecio Jacobea or Ragwort ( Buachalán).  What are my bases for this claim, well there is a law banning ragwort. Ask a horse owner about ragwort and be prepared for the “rant” that will follow.
Ragwort is highly poisonous especially to cattle, goats, horses and deer. Sheep seem to have some resistance to the weed but it retards there ability to thrive.  To make matters worse it is at its deadliest when it gets in among hay or silage. Normally animals will not eat ragwort as it is bitter and unpalatable, they will only eat it in areas where the land is overgrazed and the cattle are hungry. However when ragwort gets into hay, the drying process removes the bitterness but the plant looses none of its toxins, thus making it more palatable and just as deadly.

Cinnabar Moth
So are there any saving graces to this plant. Well I might volunteer one, provided I am out of ear-shot of any horse owners. Ragwort is the host plant to a colourful moth and its larvae (caterpillar) the Cinnabar Moth. Unlike many other species of moth the Cinnabar moth and its larva are both colourful and beautiful. The larva has yellow and black bands, it lives on the the ragwort and absorbs the toxins of the plant in such a way as to make it distasteful to birds that might otherwise eat it. The moth is as beautiful, with its black and red colour combinations. The moth has proven to be particularly successful as a bio-control agent for ragwort when used in conjunction with the ragwort flea beetle in the western United States. So next time you see ragwort keep an eye out for the Cinnabar moth.

Larva of the Cinnabar moth.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Shearing sheep.

Hand shears

Woolly black-faced sheep munch heather and grasses on the slopes of the Nire Valley. They are herded in during summer for shearing; contractors with electric shears make short work of it. This wasn't always the case however, as up until the 1980’s they were all shorn by hand! It was a unique system of shared labour, and a reflection of the spirit of the Nire people.

It was a community endeavour; farmers consulted Old Moore’s Almanac for long range forecasts, and listened anxiously to the Wireless for the weatherman to ‘give a few fine days’. By some mysterious decree it was decided that, for example, the shearing would  begin in Lyre or Knocknaree, and all of the sheep-men would turn up there, before moving to the next farmer and so on and so forth.

Neighbours with Collie dogs rounded up the sheep and brought them in from the hill.  Each farmer had a distinct mark on his sheep, e.g. blue on the ‘poll’ or head and red across the back. They would be penned in ‘terrots’ or fields surrounded by stone walls lower on Croughdubh and separated out into rams, ewes, weathers and hoggots and shorn accordingly. The Shearing usually took place in the ‘haggard’ beside the house. 

Every shearer brought their own shears, two very sharp blades arranged similarly to scissors, the hinge being at the end farthest from the point and bound securely by leather twine.  It was a specialist skill honed to perfection over time. The shearer worked on one knee and had his own way of holding the sheep, using his ‘good’ hand to clip away the wool.

The fleece was wrapped into a special fold, the cleaner woollier side turned inside and packed for collection by O’Donnell’s Wool Merchants. They worked heads bowed, to a rhythm of clipping sounds and bleating sheep. The smell of greasy wool carried on the breeze. Children usually ‘raddled’ the sheep. A stick was dipped into a can of paint and the sheep then marked on the head or the rump or across the back in the right colours and woe betide you if you got this process wrong.  The women were relegated to the kitchen and worked as hard inside the house as the men did outside.

The shearers retired to the farmhouse for ‘the feed’, usually bacon and cabbage with a ‘hape of spuds’ washed down by the "tae" before the ‘Session’ started. Porter was served as was the ‘Uisce Beatha.’ Everyone had a party piece, a favourite being a resonation of the match from the previous Sunday … ‘Hello and welcome to Fraher Field, it’s a great day here, the first-half was even, the second-half was even worse ...’  ‘Courting’ was a feature of the Shearings and matches were made. Waltzes and quick steps were common, and the night was never complete without the ‘Sliabh Gua Set'. Though this tradition has past, the sense of community remains steadfast and strong in the beautiful Nire valley.

by Maura Barrett.

Sheep Pen in the Nire

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Praying in a tea-pot.

The ruin of the Church

In 1847 Clonmel Architect William Tinsley designed a house in Ballymacarbry, for mill manager and landlord's agent, Abraham Coates.  Tinsley is also credited with designing the Protestant church that 
was built near Deerpark Bridge about a mile from Ballymacarbry village.  I have not been able to find any documentary evidence of this, nor can I see his trademark “palmette” on the building, but that may have been over the main door, which was demolished, but there is strong indications that Tinsley designed the Church as his daughter Ellen was married to Charles Fry rector of Kilronan (Fourmilewater).    
"Palmette" on the White Memorial Theater Clonmel

The church, the teapot, as it was locally called, was for the landlord and his staff, it is a small chapel that seated only about 30 people. Local lore tells of a young boy, who was crippled, was abandoned in the locality, he was taken in by locals and became a gifted stone-mason, and he supposedly was the mason who built the Church. Another piece of lore is that a Downey family lived on the land and they were evicted, a number of years ago a Ballymacarbry woman met a Downey who told her that their family had a story of them being evicted so the landlord could build a Church.

William Tinsley was an important architect and he built and designed many "Great Houses" including what is now the Minella Hotel, White Memorial Theater, extensions to Curraghmore (stable etc) and several great houses in and around Fethard like Grove. He later emigrated to Indiana USA.

Monday, 5 August 2013

Whorts and fraocháns.

If you are out on the mountain this time of year you will come across whorts also called fraocháns or bilberries. These delightful black berries with a shimmer of electric blue are in full season. They are a real treat on the mountain.
Whorts were once picked on a commercial basis and in 1941 Ireland exported almost 400 tons (CSO) of the berry to Britian.
Michael J. Conry's book "Picking Bilberries, Fraocháns and Whorts in Ireland" goes into great detail on the commercial and socio-economic importance of the crop. Michael interviews many people who picked whorts in the Comeraghs, Knockmealdowns, Galtys and Slievenamon.
For me I love to pick them with wild raspberries, then blend both berries separately and pour the resulting syrup over a slice of vanilla ice-cream. Magic.
Whorts growing in the Nire Valley.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Nire Church.

Next time you are going walking in the Nire, even if your late and in a rush you can not fail to notice the pretty Nire Church (St. Helena's Church). Even if you fly past you can't but notice the Church. There was not always have a church here, in fact the Nire was not even a parish until the late 19th century.  Before 1850 the Nire was a place where six parishes came together; Rathgormack , Clonmel's (St. Peter & Paul's, St. Mary's), Seskinane, Fourmilewater and Kilsheelan. There was a small church in Knockaunbrendan which was not a parish church and did not have a cemetery, this meant that when an inhabitant of the Nire died they were buried in a cemetery at one of the six parishes. In 1859 the foundations for the Nire Church were laid and it took three years to complete. The Church was designed by famous Church architect J.J McCarthy. McCarthy designed churches all over Ireland including Tramore, Clonea-Power, Thurles, Monaghan and many more. 
McCarthy's design is subtle, look closer. The church has more roof than wall, in fact if this church was anywhere else it would look ugly as the amount of roof would make the building look oppressive, but here in the Nire location it works because the outside wall, retaining the cemetery, gives the building a sense of proportion, the Church has also a square bell tower, which is not common on a Roman Catholic Church.
An architect I had walking with me pointed out that the slates in the roof were typical of a Welsh layout which he found unusual in a rural Irish location, but there may be an explanation, the slate quarries outside Carrick-on-Suir were worked by Welsh miners and they may have been involved in the roofing of the church. My walking colleague asked had they run out of money building the Church. I asked how he came to that conclusion. He, answered, pointing to the bell tower, that a collar around the tower was too near the cap (roof) on the tower. Local lore does not mention lack of funds instead there is a story of how the weather influenced the capping of the tower. The local story tells us that the builder had fallen behind in his schedule and needed to move to another project, it was decided that, if the following day was good they would cap the tower, otherwise they would go to the other project and return to the Nire at a later date. Well the weather must have been good as it seems the tower should have been a little higher. 
Another beautiful feature of the Church are the bands of various coloured sandstone and the work of the stonemason has to be admired as does the good work of the present day Church committee who keep the building pristine. All the beauty of St. Helena's is not kept to the outside its interior is also beautiful, high barn like with warm wooden beams supporting the high pitched roof.
Listen to local Denis McGrath tell the story of how the bells were sounded twice every Sunday to summon people to mass.
If you would like to follow some of the routes taken by locals in their everyday life why not join us between October 12th and 13th, in the Nire Valley, on our Nire Valley, Comeragh Mountain walking festival.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Boyle's law and the Nire River.

Every journey you take is affected by the location of river crossings, bridges. No matter what your destination you have to find a point that gets you across a stream, river, estuary etc. The town, city, village you work and shop in is probably there because of a bridge. How many Irish place names have "ath" ( river ford) in there name, Athenry, Athy even Dublin in Irish is Baile Áth Cliath "The town of the hurdled ford". 

   The Bridge Bar.
It is because of a bridge that Ballymacarbry does not have a church. The first bridge across the Nire was built near Fourmilewater and thus a small community grew up around the Fourmilewater and in turn a Church was built, only when a mill was put on the Nire River did Ballymacarbry come into existence but by that time the Church was already in place. Before the Bridge1 at Fourmilewater there was a ford in the same location, that is about 200 meters up stream of the present "Bridge". This was an important river crossing as it lay on the main road linking Clonmel with Dungarvan, Lismore and Cork. Its importance was highlighted by the fact that a castle guarded the ford from nearby high ground, Caisleán Cuanach. Caisleán Cuanach was a McGrath castle and they controlled the ford. 
The Nire river is a river with a bad temper, most days it runs swift but shallow then when the rains swell its channel it becomes violent and angry, since 1942 it has claimed three lives. Thus you could arrive at the crossing and be delayed for days as you waited for the river to lower its guard. 
It was following one such flood that the river must have looked  safe, to Lord Cork's driver, to cross.  The carriage entered the river only to succumb to a swift current and a rocky bottom. The carriage flipped and decanted its passengers into the fast Nire. Lord Cork's son, Robert, was swept into the turbulent Nire, but the Nire did not claim a victim as he was pulled alive from the river. Lord Cork paid for a wooden bridge to be built at the ford, but the Nire and its flood took the bridge apart.  Upon Lord Cork's death, in 1642, he appointed Roger McGrath as the person that the Earl wanted to repair the bridge on the Nire River at Fourmilewater, a stone or mason bridge was constructed which still stands to-day. Today the road is no longer a major link on the route between Clonmel and Dungarvan and now only the locals or the guests from Glasha Farmhouse stroll over the bridge to the Bridge bar for a quite evening drink with the sound of the Nire River in the background and the sight of the "Bridge" spanning the river and all the heritage it stands for. 

As for the nine year old son of Lord Cork, Robert went on to become one of the great scientists of all time and is considered the Father of Modern Chemistry. Robert Boyle gave his name to Boyle's Law and thus the connection between Boyle's law and the Nire river. 

Do you know the story about the Bridge bar and the greyhound Master McGrath, well that's for another blog.

1. The oldest bridge on the Nire does not have a name locally it is called the "Bridge".

                                                                         Down stream from the Bridge.


Monday, 24 June 2013

Nire Valley Dipper - singing and swimming.

So often it is the little thing when pointed out, that is the most fascinating. Often waiting for walkers outside Hanora’s Cottage, guesthouse, I watch the most amazing of our native songbirds. You know what a song bird is? One of those little songsters that chatters away from sun -up to sun-down with its happy tune, you probably have your favourite, thrush, blackbird, lark the list goes on. But this one I am observing is fascinating, not for its song but for what it does.
It stands on the stones in the River Nire, now, the Nire is no gentle flowing river it tumbles playfully over the rocks and a weir at Labarts Bridge, and this little bird is standing on the rock, then without a moment of thought the little bird walks into the fast flowing river. I don't mean up to its ankles or knees I mean fully submerged. No need to fret as the Dipper reappears a little further down stream, fed, belly full of Caddis flies and other delights. The dipper is delightful to watch, the size and colour of a blackbird but with a white breast, and the apparent courage of a lion. 
The Dipper (Cinclus cinclus), gets its name from the way it bobs up and down while waiting on a rock just out of the water it has to be a strong bird in order to hold its self under water in fast moving rivers and streams, it comes equipped with a second set of eye-lids that act like swimming goggles so it can find its way around underwater. The Dipper is the national bird of Norway.
The walkers come out from the guesthouse, call to me and I leave with them for a days walk. When I get back that evening I show my walking colleagues the little diving song bird as we enjoy tea and scones over looking the Nire River. The Dipper can be seen in the Nire, near the Nire church all year round, so the next time you are passing stop and take a look at the submersible song bird.

The Dipper (Gabha dubh)

Friday, 21 June 2013

Walking the Dead – following an old funeral road in the Comeragh Mountains.

Walking the Dead – following an old funeral road in the Comeragh Mountains.

Funerals are no fun, it's a serious business. A few generations ago going to a funeral in the Nire or anywhere in the Comeragh Mountains was a commitment of at least one day or more. The Nire did not have a church until 1862 and the graveyard did not come into common use until 1926, thus up to the late 1920s the natives from the Nire were buried in Rathgormack, six miles away across the Comeragh Mountain and across the mountain is the way they went. The funeral path went from the Nire to Rathgormack passing through the Gap along the route called Bóithrín na Sochraide (The funeral road).  It is by no means unique but it is still traveled by walkers today. In a mid 18th century the road was engineered as part of famine relief works (this was a famine that occurred before the great famine of 1845) and parts of the engineering are still visible today especially as you approach the Gap on the Nire side.
The coffin was “shouldered” carried on long poles and along the way there were places where the coffin was placed on a large boulder and everyone took a rest, one such boulder exists on the Nire side called Cloch an Choirp (The body rock). After a rest the funeral proceeded to the Gap, here some mourners would have headed back to the Nire while others from Rathgormack would have waited to join the cortege. The burial took place in Rathgormack and the poles for carrying the coffin were left in the cemetery. The last funeral went through the gap sometime around 1930, a localised outbreak of influenza in 1926 saw three members of one family die in the space of one week and all three were buried in the grounds of the Nire Church and from then on more and more locals were buried in the Nire.
The Funeral path today makes an interesting walking route you can choose to walk from the Nire just to the Gap or continue all the way to Rathgormack. Why not head for the Nire this week end and follow the Green Arrows that will bring you along the way from the Nire Car-park to the Gap.

If you walk the route, please check the weather before you go, bring rain-gear  water and a mobile phone and walking boots. Enjoy the Nire.

Map board at start of Looped walk to The Gap.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Michelle Obama boosts visitor numbers to the Nire Valley?

No I haven’t lost my mind or sense of direction, but the Obama family visit to Glendalough and Wicklow could drive up visitor numbers to the Nire Valley in County Waterford.
During walking festival, last October, we were all returning to Doocey’s Pub in Ballymacarbry when a car pulled up beside us and the driver, in a heavy German accent, asked if we could direct them to the interpretative center. Thinking we had misheard him asked “where are you looking for” to which he joyfully replied the interpretative center. We told him we had a community center and a hostel but no interpretative center. “The interpretative center near the lake” he announced worried that his perfect English was getting lost in the clear Comeragh air.  We looked at him totally perplexed as we knew there was no building within five miles of the Comeragh lakes let alone an interpretative center. “The interpretative centre at St. Kevin’s Tower” he volunteered.  Ah we said, all together. “Your lost---” you are looking for Glendalough in Wicklow and your GPS has taken you to Glendaloughin in Co Waterford, you are not the first.
If you go to Google Earth and look at photos in and around Glendaloughin in the Nire Valley Co. Waterford you will see various people have placed a picture, of Glendalough Wicklow, into the Nire Valley and have received over 5,000 views.

So a combination of Michelle Obama and car GPS should see an increase in numbers in the Nire Valley.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

The Nire Walking Experience

“You climb the mountain in an equilibrium between restlessness and exhaustion. Then, when you're no longer thinking ahead, each footstep isn't just a means to an end but a unique event in itself.”
Robert Pirsig.  Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance.

When tired legs and a heavy load on your back bring a smile to your face, you know you are somewhere special. After a long days walk the sight of your guesthouse bathed in a warm welcoming glow with the promise of good food a warm shower and dry clothes is a pleasure that both calms the soul and fills the body with pride at what you have achieved.  This is not the only simple pleasure you will have experienced today.  The wonderful and simple pleasure of a packed lunch at 2,000ft after walking all morning borders on the exotic, it is amazing how fresh oxygen drenched air can make simple sandwiches taste supreme and imagine how the smoked salmon and brown bread tastes it’s a five star experience. It doesn't stop there, the local knowledge of the guides bring the Nire Valley to life with stories, insights and local lore of the valley. After dinner you are amazed that you still have energy to go to Hanrahan’s, The Bridge Bar, Melodys or Dooceys for a pint only to find yourself dancing a half-set and there are more mountains to be conquered tomorrow. Life is good. We have two guesthouses in the area; Hanora’s Cottage and Glasha Farmhouse  both are award wining and you will be pampered on your stay. 

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Pignuts wild food in a wild landscape. The Nire Valley

I had a free day last Saturday, when you get a free day don't waste it, so I got up at eight a.m., rucksack packed including a lunch box, with two tomatoes, a tin of sardines, three slices of bread. 

Wood Sorrel
            I headed for a nearby woodland, on the way picking handfuls of Hairy Bittercress, a thin plant with a small white flower that is common and found as a weed in every garden. Hairy Bittercress has a wonderful peppery taste and is one of my favourite wild foods. Soon I am in the forest, a forest of mixed trees; this place is not a dark densely packed forest but a light-airy woodland with sunlight filtering through to the woodland floor. The woodland floor is covered in moss and what I am looking for, Wood Sorrel. 


Wood Sorrel, a three leaved plant that looks like a shamrock and has a bitter lemon taste. The mossy floored forest gives way to open moorland and the mountain, the mountain, to me, is freedom. I can walk for hours here and not meet another living soul; it is you and your ghosts alone. Today's walk is a short one and I soon find my self turning down hill and walking through long abandoned country roads. All the time getting lower the day is getting warmer and I am getting hungrier. By midday I am on the banks of the fast flowing Nire River, keeping a sharp eye open for the plant Ransoms, better known as wild garlic. It is getting late in the year for the plant but eventually I find some, its glossy green oval leaves and white flowers hiding among a small clump of Hazel trees. A few leaves picked and then the hunt for the king of forage foods, Pignuts, which are a tuber and not a nut..  They are scarce now days and hard to find, but I know a spot on the river where they grow After several miles tumbling down the mountain the Nire comes to a rest in a large pool under a wonderful old bridge. On the banks of this pool grows Pignuts. Pignuts do not surrender easily and nature has taught these delicacies a trick or two on survival. You have to trace the stem down underground to the pignut but as you go underground the stem becomes thinner and more frail and then it takes a right angle bend to the nut, if you rush you will either break the stem by pulling too hard on the stem or more than likely cut through the stem at the right angle, patience is always rewarded with a pignut.

Now! My reward for hiking and foraging, I open the tin of sardines decant the contents into the plastic container, add the sorrel, slice the pig nut as thin as possible, then I mix the lot, I spread the mix on bread, then I eat some of the Hairy Bittercress before tucking into to my sardines and forage mix. The Cress is a lovely peppery foretaste for the sandwich, the sorrel adds a sharpness which contrasts with the oily sardines and the pignuts provide crunch. All this is washed down with sweet tea. I dip my feet in the very cold river and relax. With my wild food lunch ate I pack up and head for home.
It is great to spend a day off the beaten track and escape to peace and quite with nature’s bounty all-around you. This Saturday looks good, might escape again.

Nire River. Co Waterford