Aughty Walk: Rural Futures Diary. Monday---> Woodford to Knockbeha

We pulled into Woodford around half ten in the morning, stopping first at the Heritage Centre before dropping the car in town. It was a blustery day and forecasts for the week were spotty. The itinerary was clear if changeable: a five-day, roughly-50 mile trek through the Aughty region. We took out our rucksacks and the Rural Future flag from the car. We quickly met Eamon Harte, an elderly man with a hurling pin over his heart.

“Is there any future for the rural?” he said, as he watched the flag flutter.

We spoke and discussed the project. Emma gave him her Aughty map. Eamon hurried home and retrieved a photo of him hanging horizontally from a goalpost. “Ireland’s oldest swinger”, the page read.

“Exchange is no robbery” he said.

Our exit was unceremonial. We reached the town limits and realised we’d both left our phones in the car.

Eamon advised having a cup of tea at the picnic benches down by the “bay” and heading for Lough Atorick. Our plan was to head to deeper towards the Aughty Mountains, but we took his advice. There’s a funny exuberance in being out on the road on the beginning of a long walk. As I went to the bathroom for the first time in a field, I ripped my skinny leg jeans crossing over some barbed wire and fell on my back on a rock. My rucksack took most of the impact. We passed no one on the road that day and gradually worked our way into Aughty country. We’d hoped ambitiously for a swim and realistically for a glass of water from Lough Atorick, but the water was reddish-black. Water lapped into the few boats and the lake still seemed haunted by the memory of the two sisters who drowned there. As the road cut deeper into the Coilte wood, we found uprooted trees lying on their sides, pushing against the forest. Streams ran down from the mountain, but all their water was polluted. It was a long, lonely road.

It wasn’t until we met the East Clare way that we found a clean water source. It was on that small road, actually, that we discovered a small bit of unlikely agricultural industry, first a large polytunnel with plants blooming from all sides, and then a few fields away, two muddied sows. We ascended KnockBeha and happy with out day’s distance encamped near a cliff-face. We had a clear view of The Burren, plus the Derrybrien windfarm in the north and to the west, after nightfall, the lights of Galway. All the major coordinates were laid out before us. The moon rose and the night was wild.

Aughty Walk: Rural Futures Photo Diary. Monday---> Woodford to Knockbeha


Flying the Flag on the Lough Atorick to Flagmount boreen


Are they edible? Mushrooms seen on our first day while sheltering from the rain.


Food production on KnockBeha


Temporary Permanent: Container house, KnockBeha



Coilte property near Lough Atorick



Upturned trees near Lough Atorick



KnockBeha tent view

Aughty Walk: Rural Futures - The Route


View AUGHTY WALK: RURAL FUTURE in a larger map

Aughty Walk: Rural Futures Diary. Tuesday---> Knockbeha To Flagmount to Caher and Around Lough Graney

The day started slowly, with porridge and water for me, cheese and crackers for Emma. The route for the day was wide-open, other than a scheduled meeting with Aine Phillips in Flagmount to pick up supplies and Jane Talbot, the photographer who would be documenting the next leg of the trip. The temptation of the day was to climb Maghera, one of the highest peaks in Aughty. It’s tall TV post was once responsible for maintaining the television service for the entire region and had served as a beacon during the first day’s walk.

We followed the East Clare Way around and down Knockbeha, and then followed a beautifully-preserved grassy road that descended right into the village of Flagmount. We met a farmer along the road, heading upwards, who told us we were on the old Mass road. He was a bit reluctant to chat, but eventually revealed he was the owner of Green Island, the small island in the middle of Lough Graney, which under direct sunlight seems to glow. The island had been in his family’s name for over a hundred years. He said he would head to the island every other day to tend to his sheep

“How can we get out there?” Emma asked.

“You can swim,” he said. The farmer provided some of the history of the former landlords around Lough Graney, including the trained ducks who’d settled around the lake.

Sometimes it’s easier to meet people by standing still than by moving. We set up shop in the picnic benches in front of the shop to wait for Aine. We met a blow-in from Dundalk who’d slipped a disc in his back and was selling off his uncomfortable Land Rover, as well as a man who operated weeklong horseriding tours between Flagmount and Doolin.

“Are you wild camping?” he asked when he saw us.

The sun broke through as we set off around Lough Graney on the Caher side, passing the bizarre golf-ball of a bell tower outside the church, and then those ducks, crossing the street single-file. We stopped at the stones honouring Brian Merriman, who’d taught in hedgeschools around the area and Jane helped translate a few lines of the Midnight Court about Lough Graney.

We still had designs on Maghera. We met two men doing some fencing who recommended talking to Raymond, a walking enthusiast in his 30’s who ran Tony Mac’s pub, for some local walking routes. We had to veer onto the main road, instead of exploring the train behind the lake, to reach Tony Mac’s. Raymond wasn’t the exuberant character we were expecting, but we had half pints and crisps in his pub and watched a bit of the Rose of Tralee on rerun. When we finished, it was somehow nearly 5pm and Maghera was a formidable challenge. We decided to keep along our route. Luckily, an English guy came into the pub and advised heading a bit further up the main road to reach the road that cut back down to the lake.

The road cut down closer and closer to the lake, surrounding it at first and then lowering down to a trail that reached the oaky banks around Graney. We faced a sort of conundrum. The oak wood was gorgeous and inviting but closeness to the lakefront would inevitably attract midges and there were only a few dry, flat places to sleep. In the end, we stayed put beside the lake. I had a short swim, the closest thing to bathing I would have over the week. The midges did attack, but we were ready for them. Emma had read on the internet that Elizabeth Arden cream and cotton wool pads can be a great fire starter, and her small fire of foraged dry wood kept them away.

We had a big meal and watched the full moon’s arc over the Aughties, which was doubled on the placid lake. It might have been ideal to be camped on highground to watch the sky explode on that perfectly still night, but there was great peace among those old, old oaks. Falling asleep was like lying in the arms of some great-great grandmother.

We’d noticed white psychedelic mushrooms with small bites in them when we arrived. Roving around with her flashlight in the middle of the night, Emma noticed some slugs enjoying a fungal midnight snack. One can only imagine their visions.

Sheep Jokes



The farmer we met on the Flagmount Mass Path shared this Father Ted-like joke with me in relation to the view of his sheep on Green Island. Check out the youtube video at about 0:32

Lough Graney and Flagmount Notes


Photo by Seamus Noonan

This is Lough Graney (5 x 0.5 km / 100 acres) which I never knew was the biggest lake in County Clare. I discovered later that it is particularly popular with pike anglers.

We met the farmer who owns Green Island, which is in the middle of the lake, at around
10 AM on the old Mass Path above Flagmount. I think he was heading up to KnockBeha
to check on his cattle. He was with his sheepdog. We asked him about Green Island and
he told us that it has been in his family since the early 1800's. It was before his time when last people lived there but he told us the ruin of the old homestead remained.

He asked us if we could guess how many acres it was. I guessed ten and he said it was six, but not a bad guess. Most people guess two acres. I learned later that parts of the lake are shallow enough to cross on horseback. Below: hiking down the Flagmount mass path.




Above: Donny, Jane Talbot and I outside the shop, post office and petrol station in
Flagmount. Flagmount is a small village named for its once abundant flagstones and one
of the main lakeside recreation centres for Lough Graney

Perched overlooking Lough Graney is the village of Flagmount. The late 18th century
poet Brian Merriman’s poem Cúirt an Mheán Oiche was inspired here. Merriman a
local hedge-school master, scandalised the establishment at the time with his social and political satire on rural Ireland. A commemorative stone to him has been erected nearby at Bunshoon Bridge between Flagmount and Caher.

Lough Graney and the River Graney are named after Gráinne, a mountain chieftain’s daughter said to have drowned herself in the lake, thus gaining the unenviable fame of being the first recorded suicide in Ireland. Some associate her with Grían, a Celtic sun goddess.





Cahermurphy ( Cathair mhurchu) is the lakeside Coillte forest park. We camped here. Andrew St. Leger from The WoodLand League told me that it a remnant of the great oak woods that once covered East Clare. These he said are recorded in the great epics. Andrew is a wood sculptor and a woodland activist living in Tuamgraney, Co Clare at the of the Slaughty's. Check out his work with The Woodland League

Flagmount Millenium Sculpture



I believe this extraordinary sculpture/bell tower that D and I came across in Flagmount is designed by Joe Noonan. Here is a short extract from his book, 'Songs Recitations & Short Stories'


As a postman - for over twenty years - I have travelled the byways and boreens around Lough Graney. In fact it was only when I became a postman that I realised how little I knew about the parish in which I lived and more importantly about the people and interesting characters that lived around me. I've had twenty years observing, twenty years conversing, and twenty years of learning.

This song that I've just written
On this fine long Summer's day
Is worth far more at least to me
Than a shed of the finest hay

In a hundred years, the hay is ate
And the cattle long since gone,
The money squandered, lost or spent,
And still they sing my song

Joe Noonan, July, 1992
"It is the best of all trades to make songs, and the second best to sing them."

Aughty Walk: Rural Futures Diary. Wednesday--->Lough Graney To Derrybrien



There was a real feeling of warmth from up in the woods. Our mission today was to cross the border back into Galway and be in Egan’s pub in Derrybrien for roughly 7pm. We rejoined the East Clare Way which left Lough Graney and headed north.

It was a spectacularly sunny day and unlike, say, our first day’s walking, where we met no one, we had problems getting places all day because we kept encountering people. The first person we met was John Connors, a farmer who was cutting overgrown hedges in the area. He said he had a niece in the area who sometimes visited him and he didn’t want her driving blind down these narrow roads. It was, of course, the county council’s job to maintain the hedges, but John had taken it upon himself. We told him we were heading up to Derrybrien and he told us about the old traditions of walking in the area, that there were once mass roads that reached all the way up to Derrybrien, but were all gone now since the advent of forestry. He said he had been walking up in the area one night years ago when some fog rolled in and he lost his way entirely. He had to take refuge in Egan’s for the night. John was an older man, but his arms were strong and the hedges were no match for him.


Above: John Conners, Donny and Emma

Just after meeting John, a van stopped as it passed us. It was driven by a farmer in black sunglasses. He was heading to Canny’s in Kilanena. He was curious about our journey and said he had copies of a book full of Aughty history (this turned out to be Ger Madden’s Aughty Ramble). He told us he lived in the first house in Connaught, or the last, depending on which way we were coming from. He said he’d retrieve the book for us, though we were slightly unsure if we’d meet him again. We were wrong.


Above: Ned 'Border Fox' Fathy discussing the Aughty route with Emma

We hit a crossroads further on. Conscious of time and the heat, I suggested taking the short way. Emma pulled for the longer route. She told me towards the end of the trek that her horoscope for the week told her always to take the difficult route. I think this was in her mind here. It was the right choice. We collected water at a just-built house owned by a guy wearin a nightgown (he said he was just in from work) and then followed The East Clare Way cut back towards Lough Graney. The road took us to the locked back gates of the massive white house that emerged eerily out of the woods and was visible from our camping spot the previous night, as well as a Coillte tree depository. We hopped a fence to view the hundreds of trees, shorn of their branches and twenty-five feet high stacked on their side. They looked like giant sculptures. There were lots of signs warning against climbing the tree stacks, as well as a massive shed that was used for god knows what.



Above: Coilte Depot

We decided we’d have our lunch on Bleach Bridge, and on our way there, two farmers in the distance spotted the green flag and started shouting what sounded like nationalist slogans at us. I shouted something about Bleach Bridge and they shouted back that the bridge had been blown up around the time the Black and Tans were around. Explosion or not, the bridge seemed ageless. During lunch, the wind blew one of our empty plastic bags into the river. One of Emma’s camping phrases for the week was “Leave No Trace”. I felt guilty at the thought of the plastic lapping up in Lough Graney, and when I saw it lap up on the river banks, I headed down, climbing over dense briars, thorns, broken-down trees and rocks to fish it out. I cut up my legs, but retrieved the bag. It was a small victory.

Back on the road, we met one of the farmers who had been shouting to us about Briar Bridge. He too was cutting the hedges. He told his name was Ned Elvis Fahy. He had the longest eyebrows I had ever seen. He said that Bleach Bridge had been blown up, and then rebuilt stone for stone after the British left. We told him we’d met the man with first (or last) house in Connaught. He said that was the Border Fox, also known as Ned Fahy. He seemed to be the living history book of the area. The Border Fox would later tell us that Elvis Fahy was a bachelor with fourteen cats, one dogs and four badgers.


Above: Ned 'Elvis' Fathy


The route turned north. We picked up more water and news on the large white house from two older men near Scalp (it was built by a German man and mostly unoccupied now) and headed for the border. We had about 7 miles to cover in three hours. Our urgency was delayed when the Border Fox drove past us.

“I went and got that book for you. You weren’t back on that road at all.”

We told him we’d taken the other route.

“Come up to my place for a cup of tea and I’ll show it to you,” he said.

We agreed. Near an ugly-looking bridge, there’s was a vague change in the material of the road that seemed to indicate that we’d passed to Galway from Clare. We knew Ned’s house, of course, because it was the first one. Technically, his home place, which still stood but was no longer lived in, was the first (or last) house in Connaught. Ned’s house was just after it.

Meeting Ned was one of the more memorable encounters of the trip, though I’m not exactly sure why. Part of it was the stories he told- a story about Elvis Fahy’s badgers, a story about Clare farmers who would occasionally stay at his house if the adjacent river was overflowing on their way back from the Gort fair, and a story about a Clare farmer who literally lost his hat in that river are three that I vividly remember. Part of it was his hospitality. He made tea for us and had a cup of organic pomegranate juice for himself. Thrown by my accent, he began speaking Irish to me. I had no response but "bearla". After awhile, he asked if he could play a song. He produced a tin whistle and played the “Carraroe Jig”. He said he had met a musician in Gort, who had a completely different version of the tune that had come from Johnny O’Halloran. I was sitting nearest to him, and while I can remember the tune, I can also remember big breaths he took every so often. There were photos of all of his four children above the cupboard, some of whom had built houses just across the road, and he said he would try to make it to Egan’s later to meet us.


Above: A version of the Carraroe Jig from youtube.com

Time was against us and we had to cover a lot of ground to be at Egan’s on time. We reached the Gort to Derrybrien road at 6pm and the road sign said we had 6km to go. We were tired and sweaty, but we were determined to be there for 7. We passed the sign for Derrybrien in no time, but the pub was at least another two miles on. My feet were killing me. There was a real sense of victory when we finally reached Egan’s around 7:15. We must have covered 12 or 13 miles that day. Jane, Aine and Tom Varley were there and we shared the stories we had acquired and talked about all of the things we had seen. Tom is hugely involved in Aughty.org and had a lot to say about building an Aughty identity.



Above: The road to Derrybrien

Along with the sense of accomplishment from covering big distances, we were starting to feel a connection to the landscape itself. We got permission from a guy named David to sleep in a field 100 metres from the pub. The moon was up again and we across the valley at where we had slept that first night. This place was no longer alien.


Above: Discussions with Tom Varley on Rural Futures in Egans Pub, Derrybrien, Co. Galway

Aughty Walk: Rural Futures Diary. Thursday--->Derrybrien To Kilnadeema



I, at least, began the day tiredly after a long day’s walking. After two thwarted journeys back to Egan’s for milk, we packed up and headed on our way again. We’d hit the most northern parts of Aughty during the day’s walk, and intended to camp in Killenadeema after a sojourn through the Derrybrien windfarm.

I had noted at the pub the previous night that the majority of the people who we’d meet were elderly local men. We hadn’t reached the end of Derrybrien before that presumption was debunked. We met a German woman named Katy. She came out to meet us as I was redoing my rucksack. She had an old dog with a wheezy cough. The story of her time in Ireland was fascinating and ultimately quite sad. Her and her husband had moved to Derrybrien 20 years ago and bought an old farm house with no running water. They had used a nearby spring for water, which had been ruined by the mudslide caused by the windfarm. Her husband was a carpenter and had gutted most of the house and installed brand new wood furnishings. She invited us into the house. It was like going into some Bavarian country house from the turn of the century, and it might have been the cleanest house I’ve ever been in There were barrels outside that collected rainwater and a well-kept garden in the back. Katy spoke a funny English-German hybrid and described her profession as “housewife”. She told us that her husband now suffered from Alzheimer’s and gone from nursing home to nursing home. Katy took us from room to room, showing us the work her husband had done to the place. Her one luxury was a beautiful couch where she liked to read. Katy said the people in the village had been very helpful to her once her husband had got sick. They even insisted that she get a television. She gave us water, which felt a genuine gift, and we kept going.

It was an 8km walk to the wind farm, up to a mountainy peak surrounded on all sides by Coilte forest. We had spent the week looking at the windfarms, so it was strange to actually be passing through them. As we got closer, a driver stopped and asked us if we wanted a lift. We said no, but asked him the best way to get into the windfarm. He said to the next left, which would save us a two-mile trek backwards that came with going through the official entrance to the windfarm. He was almost right. The first left we passed took us right into an infernal bog, full of sinking earth. Tiny pine trees had been planted in rows onto the messy bog itself. They were like weird alien clones. This was no way to raise a forest.




We turned back rather than trek over the bog, and the following left turn took us right into the wind farm. There was a high road that led us right up to and beneath those mammoth, surprisingly quiet white windmills. I thought of Cervantes and Quixote and Sancho Panza. We thought of having lunch beneath a windmill, but I found the sight of the rotating blade too jarring and we moved away a bit. Entering the windfarm was a bit like entering a vortex. A bottle of water we’d been relying on disappeared. The tuna we’d planned on eating for lunch required a can opener, which we didn’t have. It was windy and hot up there and without water, I feared getting trapped in that maze of windmills.

We stopped the first person we saw, a Dutch guy employed by the Danish company who ran the windfarm to service the windmills and “check their warranty”. He had bungee cords on him, but said he was going up the windmill’s stairs to do the work. He pointed out a guy hanging from a blade from a nearby windmill. He didn’t know the windfarm very well, but let us have a long look at the map of the windfarm so that we could devise an escape route. We marched about a quarter of mile before we passed signs saying “No Unauthorised Access” and “Danger Voltage”. The views were spectacular from up there. Across to the 12 Bens and Erris to the Northwest and down across Lough Derg and Tipperary to the south east. At the entrance of the wind farm itself, we found a quarry and more signs telling us we were trespassing.

Then a pick-up truck pulled up beside us. The driver, who was giggling at the sight of us, was inquiring about our business in the windfarm. He said that somebody doing maintenance on one of the windmill blades had seen two people walk by, one with a flag, and rang him up telling him to investigate. He was the site manager, a local guy. He could tell immediately we were no protestors. He did explain, though, that the farm was built by the ESB and the electricity it generated serviced their network. He added that there were 70 windmills in all. Laughing even more at the encounter, he left us.

video

The walk to the entrance of the windfarm was long. There are few lonelier walking experiences than trekking through Coilte wood. We were both pretty dehydrated at this stage and reliant on finding a house to ask for running water. Coming down the mountain, the first place we saw was an empty two-story house, owned by Larry Byrnes. Nearly everybody we’d asked about trekking through the windfarm in Derrybrien had noted Larry Byrnes’s place. There were signs for an upcoming rally and a fork in the road. I could see a green two-story house in the distance and got a good feeling from it. The dog of the house came to the road to bark at us. It’s always a great way to meet a house owner. We approached him and asked for water. He was tremendously obliging. His name was Aidy. He was English and had settled in the region six or seven years ago with his wife. He worked all of the festivals and was prepping for Electric Picnic. He and a few others ran a marquee where they sold fairy paraphernalia. He made us tea and gave us water. It turned out we vaguely knew some New Age travelers from Bowie in Leitrim that he also knew. He talked about the terrible winter, how he had to abandon his van in a ditch on St. Stephen’s Day and eventually move his whole family up into a neighbour’s house for a week or so. Aidy lives in massive Coilte planting blocking the view from his front garden, but he said that there was new attitude within Coilte and that the new manager had visited his house and pledged to remove the conifers from beside the river so as to alleviate the water quality. Aidy also talked about the Coilte's plan to plant more sustainable and native trees in the area. He offered us vegetables from his glasshouse. We took one green chili and kept walking towards Kileenadeema.

We descended down the mountain, first through bog, and then through new housing developments. Somewhere we crossed an invisible line, leaving behind the wilderness of Aughty and entering a suburb of Loughrea, which was New Ireland with all of the obvious trappings and oversized abodes. We were aiming roughly for a particular crossroads near St. Dymphna’s well, but overshot it a bit. All we were looking for was a field to camp in, but the farther along we went, fields became gardens. We knocked on a few doors but no one answered. Maybe there was a hurling match on somewhere.

Finally we passed a large two-story farm house on a hill with a lock on its front gate. Even in the dusk, we knew it was clearly uninhabited. We wanted permission to slept outside it, though. We knocked on the door of the house next-door and asked the woman who answered if she knew who owned the house.

“I wouldn’t know that,” she said quite dismissively. We said we just need a field for the night to camp in and she said she doubted it would have the proper toilet facilities. We said we’d ask someone else, and in the end, we snuck up behind the house and set up camp. We used some of Aidy’s chili in our pasta. We were both paranoid for an hour or two and the night was full of noise and teenagers on quad bikes. We whispered and felt like proper highwayman. Intrigued by the some guests, a frog passed by and tried to join in our conversation, as did some aggressive cattle in an adjacent field. The house itself was eerie – an electric Mass candle still burned in the front room. But it’s back garden, despite the layer of cement beneath the soil, was a calm and peaceful place – enclosed on all four sides – to camp. We put on An Taobh Tuathail on the pocket radio and slept soundly. Officially there was only one day’s hiking to go.



Above: The Newry Highwaymen by The Johnstons via Youtube.com

Aughty Walk: Rural Futures Diary. Friday--->Kilnadeema To Moyglass



Our last real day of walking was probably the hottest one. We started in the Kileenadeema suburbs and were heading southwest towards Kylebrack and into the foothills of Woodford. Our ultimate destination would be Woodford, which was just about reachable with daylight if we took the mainroads, but the plan was to circumnavigate it and arrive in town early on Saturday morning. We’d also planned to meet Tom Flanagan, who’d be filming the walk in its final stages, somewhere in the evening.

We hadn’t travelled very far before we met a Mr. Hawkins. He was an 83-year-old farmer with a cane checking on some of his cattle. He said there were many Hawkins’s in the area, but none were related to him. He said he was once very mobile, but relied on the cane to get around after breaking his kneecap while tending to a sheep one night. Compared to the cul-de-sac of new homes across the road, his homestead was stately, with stone walls that slanted down a hill. There was row of tall trees that provided shade over his house. Mr Hawkins told us they were sycamores and had been planted when he was only a child. He said they were lovely, but its fallen leaves were always a handful to clean-up. We said goodbye and wished him well.

We headed west, through more suburbs. As we left Loughrea, houses became less common, but horses were everywhere. I had never known that horse-rearing was so popular in south Galway. We passed one house with twelve or thirteen gray horses, who seemed to run in one rhythm. They were curious about us at first, and then turned back, and the sound of their footsteps made the ground shake.

We had to choose between a bigger road and a smaller road to get to Kylebrack and again went with the smaller one. Emma had noted a castle near the crossroads on the OS map, but we couldn’t see it from the road. Further down, she spotted a fading sign attached to a tree saying the castle was open up until dark. We walked into a wooded field and found a path that lead directly behind the castle. It was an amazing sight – the castle was in near-perfect condition with a roof still on it. An easily-untied wire kept the door shut and inside there was a biscuit tin at the doorway. The castle’s main room was spacious and inviting and a narrow stairway lead us onto the roof. Grass was growing up there and it was obvious that at one level of the castle had been knocked and that was now the roof was probably once a bedroom. Some of the windows formed small crosses. I’m sure the history of the castle was not too obscure, but for the random passerby, it was exciting to briefly imagine the lives the building had housed hundreds of years ago.

Further down the road, we met a man building the pillars of a new three-story house. He had west Clare roots, with a family with connections to the old IRA many of whom who had worked on the railroads. They had been moved to south Galway during the War of Independence. We told him our route and he told us to avoid a place called The Wilderness, which lay just north of Derrybrien. We found a small road to Kylebrack, which was possibly the quietest road of the whole journey. It lead right around the majestic walls of Dalystown, the old estate in the area. The walls themselves fortified nothing but gardens. The Dalystown estate itself was now just one standing wall. We were sweating by the time we reached Skelly’s shop in Kylebrack. We bought sunscreen and matching John Deere baseball caps to protect us from the sun.

While we were definitely in the Aughty region, not many of the people we met on this stage of the walk considered themselves from Aughty. I think Loughrea alliances would have run deeper. It was only one we cut further into the landscape, where there was less money and house building, that people saw themselves as ‘of Aughty’. We continued on our towards Moyglass, calling into the Kylebrack post office for better directions, passing a group of children on horseback and meeting a farmer named O’Rourke. He told us of the area’s most famous family- the Clare hurlers Jamesie and Christy O’Connor, whose father had grown up on the Galway side of the border, though the two defected to the Banner. He also provided a translation of the name he owned – Red Arse.

The afternoon was running away from us, but we kept meeting people. At a place called Allygoola, we came across bachelor farmer named Stephen Garner who was just putting his bicycle away when we were passing his house. Emma said he almost ran over to speak to her. He was a lovely man also in his 80s. We spoke at his wall for about fifteen minutes. He’d lived in the house with his brother, who had died a year or two ago at the age of ninety-something. While he said he found the solitude in the house very hard to get used to, he also seemed to have no qualms about jumping on his bicycle and cycling wherever his heart desired. He had leased his fields now and was considering going to Lisdoonvarna, if he could arrange a lift. I told him that if he could get to Galway, there were two buses daily to Doolin. An idea seemed to be hatched in his mind. His small lawn was kept immaculately, and Emma took a photo of the two of us. He seemed genuinely grateful for the conversation, and I suppose, we were as well.

Our hope for the day was to make it as close to Woodford as we could. After taking some advice from Dermot Moran, an Aughty mountain runner, we’d decided to cross the Gort to Woodford road and head south past Marble Hill, an old estate, before camping somewhere near Moyglass. A mile before crossing the main road, another car pulled up and asked us if we wanted a lift. It was driven by a guy who was in the post office when we were there and who had driven by us outside Stephen Garner’s house. He was intrigued by our journey. We were happy for the offer, but we wouldn’t accept any lifts at this stage of the walk.

Around 6pm, we passed by Marble Hill, which had a pine tree growing from one of its standing walls, and met Tom Flanagan for a cup of tea. The sun was starting to dip and we aimed for a townland called Slatefield. There was a pub there called Conn’s. We reached it and met a kid called Dennis on bicycle who became our guide to the area. Dennis told us the names of the family of every house we passed by and even arranged for us to stay in one of the places. By then, we’d already asked Anne and Michael Coughlan for a field to stay in. They offered us the front garden of Michael’s home place, which was next door to their house. Tom was driving a massive VW van and offered his kitchen facilities, but we made one last stirfry on our amazing Trangia cooker. We decided to head to Conn’s for a pint or two to meet some of the Moyglass locals. A two-piece called Just The Two were playing country-and-western hits and most of the drinkers in the pub were employed by Coilte. One Coilte guy, Donie Gunning, had driven by us on our way to Derrybrien on Wednesday and did a hilarious re-enactment of Emma holding the flag. He said to her, “You probably hate the likes of me,” and I think they had a fruitful conversation about the future of Coilte. I asked a guy in the smoking section why the local estate was named Marble Hill.

“Was there marble around?” I said.

“No, there was magnesium and a lot of the locals thought it was marble,” he said. He added: “I’m not a history man. My father knew it all though.”

The people of Moyglass even offered us showers. We headed home around 2am with only about 5km to walk in the morning. We’d have to be up early to be in Woodford for 11am. Most of the journey that Friday was a battle with total fatigue, but it was remarkable to think that the Aughty walk was nearly over.

Aughty Walk: Rural Futures Diary. Saturday--->Moyglass To Woodford To Sli Aoibhinn

We woke early with not far to walk. Our last meal was scrambled eggs and tea.
Woodford was tangible in our minds, only about 5km along the smaller road. There would be a convoy of local hill walkers heading up Sli Aoibhinn. It was the lightest my pack had been all week, and I felt energized for the final stretch. We hit the main road and took a side road that veered around the town. It turned out to be a high road, a very high road. It seemed appropriate that our last walk would be a serious climb. From the top, there was a dramatic panoramic view of Lough Derg, the Aughty’s and the Derrybrien windfarm. What had once been foreign know felt very familiar. We trudged down the hill and arrived in Woodford at exactly 11am. I kissed the ground. It was a strange feeling to stop. I had been fuelled by the thought of arriving in Woodford for most of the walk, but it didn’t seem right to stop walking. The journey still seemed to be in front of us.

It was appropriate then that we immediately joined Dermot Morgan, a walking Aughty encyclopedia, and the local hill walking club for a hike of Sli Aoibhinn. There were about 30 of us in all, and many people helped carry the flag up and down the mountain. We did it without our rucksacks and the walk felt like a dawdle. Dermot named the mountains to the east and said we could see six counties. At the top of the mountain, I
pointed most of our entire walking route.

Emma said afterwards that we know had a responsibility to the area to return and to engage with it. I agree. I definitely feel a great sense of gratitude to the people of the area for their openness and hospitality along the way. It felt good to finally stop walking, though I do miss that strange feeling of connectedness that comes from walking long distances.

On the last night in Walsh's Pub in Woodford I was lucky enough to hear Gerry Conway play an olud tune. Here is a youtube link I found of the good man himself. Gerry he won the flute championships in 1974 and he told me that he didn't know this video was being recorded and that would love to make a proper recording one day.