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.