The Nire Valley

The Nire Valley
The Heart of the Comeragh Mountains.

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