You can spend carefree hours enjoying the pleasures of Duhallow and this guide will give you an insight into life in the various towns and villages which you will encounter on your tour.
Thousands of years of social activity are evident from the historical and archaeological sites, ring forts, stone circles and prehistoric graves that dot the countryside. Local folklore and heritage sites allows plenty of opportunity for a refreshing stop.
Duhallow is approx. 1500 sq. kms comprising the ancient Barony of Duhallow, West Muskerry and parts of East Kerry. There are three main market towns, Kanturk, Millstreet and Newmarket, and a number of villages. Duhallow is a mixture of land from top farmland to the Golden Vale, to colourful terrain looking into the Kerry Hills, and characterised by bogland, forestry and pure country air. It is an area rich in culture and tradition to the present day under the 'Sliabh Luachra' identity. The River Blackwater, flowing through Duhallow, is famous for its excellent fishing.
We begin our travels in Millstreet, famous for hosting the Eurovision Song Contest.
In the shadows of Claragh Mountain, Millstreet and its surrounds are worth exploring. Millstreet is thought to be about 250 years old, and you will discover many fascinating buildings and archaeological sites. Each March and September horse fairs are held during which the town mirrors the old fairdays of wheeling and dealing. Millstreet, already famous for its Equestrian Centre and two International Horse Shows each year was shot to fame in May 1993 when hosting the 38th European Song Contest.
1. DRISHANE CASTLE [An Drishean - the place of the briars].
The castle was built by the McCarthys between 1436 and 1450, and commands a beautiful view of the chain of mountains, starting with Claragh, which run in an uninterrupted line to Killarney. The Wallis family took over the castle and lands in 1719 but when in 1900 the era of the landlords came to an end the Wallis family sold the estate. In 1990 the Sisters of Infant Jesus bought it from its owner for a girls boarding school until its closure in 1992.
2. TUBRID WELL
is about 1 mile west of Millstreet and is probably the best known well in the area and reputed to be the second largest in Britain and Ireland. It is about 40 ft. in diameter and dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
3. MILLSTREET MUSEUM
is situated in the Carnegie hall, near the Town Park. Established in 1978 it carried an extensive range of slides, photos, and audio and video tapes of recent events, and well worth a visit.
4. KNOCKNAKILLA STONE CIRCLE
Continuing the trail south of Millstreet in the direction of Cloghboola. along the quiet country road towards Musheramore you will see Claragh Mountain on your right. In Knocknakilla on the slope of Musheramore is the 3,500 year old Knocknakilla Stone circle; only a few stones are left standing on the isolated hilltop but still retains its mystery.
5. MILLSTREET COUNTRY PARK
A surprise is the ultimate treat for lovers of the outdoors as from the slopes of Knocknakilla you can see the higher slopes of Musheramore Mountain as they plummet to 183m below the valley. This is Millstreet Country Park, a microcosm of all that is precious to Heritage Lovers of all ages, this 500 acre park is yours to explore and enjoy and soak up the 'spirit' of this timeless landscape.
Moorlands, managed wetlands all complete in spectacle and beauty will vie for your attention with rich meadows, tumbling rivers, lakes, extensive young woods and peaceful ornamental grounds. The park is home to an extensive flora and fauna; you may travel miles of living trails and enjoy the mystical spectacle of 600 red deer silhouetted against ancient stone circles. With abundant fresh air, good appetites are satiated with superb meals in the restful and beautiful visitor centre.
6. ST. JOHN'S WELL
is at the base of the Mushera mountains - it is a pagan site now Christianised with Naomh Eoin [St.John] a local 6th century saint.The Station of the Cross here are most unique, having been crafted in stone by local craftsmen in 1982.
7. THE KERRYMANS TABLE
Leave the main route for a few minutes and turn right at the crossroads. On the road from Millstreet to Rylane is a large stone on the left hand side of the road which was used long ago by carters from Kerry travelling to Cork with cargoes of butter for export. They used to stop here to eat, thus getting its name 'The Kerryman's Table'. Roads like this one were made at the time of the famine.
After your rest join the train again and you will travel in the direction of Kilcorney which was always renowned for its Feis. The old creamery in Kilcorney was built in 1915.
is the next village you will meet. The Catholic Church was opened on Christmas Day 1857. The original Lyre National school was built in 1844 before the great famine, and close to the centre the church and cemetery are situated. Many famous people are buried in the cemetery, one being Denis Horgan, world Champion weight thrower. About 2 miles south of Lyre is Nad.
The village of Nad [Nead an Fhiolair - the Eagle's Nest] is in a valley in the foothills of the Boggeragh mountains, and the hills surrounding the village are famous as a habitat of the Irish red grouse. In recent years the grouse population has decreased From the hills there is a panoramic view of the Barony of Duhallow; and there is a beautiful Celtic cross erected in Nad to commemorate four local volunteers who were shot in March 1921. The Glen river which flows through Nad rises in the townland of Inchimay about three miles south of the village is famous for its trout. There are many beautiful walks in the area - quiet country roads and lanes, hills, boglands and forestry.
A diversion of approx. 16 kms at this point will bring you to Donoughmore Village, which is bordered on one side by Boggeragh Mountains and by the Lee Valley on the other. Places of interest include St. Laghteen's Holy Well and a mass famine grave.
Banteer is noted for its famous sports meetings and has produced some of the most famous sportsmen in history. Banteer is O'Callaghan country whose chief residence was in Clonmeen Castle. Taking a right turn at Banteer church the route brings you to Clonmeen, along the banks of the River Blackwater.
Here you cross the main Mallow-Killarney Road, proceeding right and taking the first turn on your left, finding yourself on a pleasant country road. Follow the signposts, turning left at Ardine Bridge to Castlemagner village. Nearby stands what remains of Castlemagner castle. Although inhabited until 1971 the castle now stands in ruins. It is 56 ft. high, flanked with one round tower, with a battery and a dwelling house, built on a rock hanging over a stream of water known as "Ketragh".
8. KNOCKNANUSS. [Knocknanuss means "Hill of the sighs"]
Situated 1.5 miles to the north of Castlemagner is the townland of Knocknanuss where one of the most decisive battles of the Confederate War [1642-1652] was fought on Saturday 13th November 1647. On this day in 1647 the Cromwellian forces under Lord Inchiquin marched out from Mallow while the confederates marched from Kanturk. They met in battle at Knocknanuss and the Confederates suffered a crushing defeat.
You can wander from the trail to nearby Cecilstown. Six miles south of the village you will find Lohort castle, incorporating the 15th century tower of a MacDonagh MacCarthy stronghold. It is very solidly constructed with walls 3 m wide at the base, tapering to 2 m at the top. This fortress was originally 7 storeys high, 5 of which were destroyed by fire in 1922. Nevertheless it is something of a rarity in that it is still inhabited. According to tradition it was built in the reign of King John.
10. ASSOLAS HOUSE
Return to the trail and you see the magnificent 17th century Assolas House on your right. It is the oldest known residence and perhaps one of the most historic in Duhallow. It is generally accepted that prior to the suppression of the catholic religion in Ireland by Queen Elizabeth I, Assolas was occupied by a community of monks. The first recorded date is 1741 as the property of the Rev. Francis Gore under whose care the residence and surrounds prospered. Today it is run as a country house and Restaurant.
11. BALLYHEEN PIERS
Turn right at the junction past Assolas and travel along this road for about 2 km to Kilbrin parish; you will notice two piers, 6 m high and 80 m apart on the right hand side of the road. These are the much talked about Ballyheen Piers. On the top of each pier was a stone globe. They were built as the outer piers of an entrance to Rockfield House about 1750. Edward Badham Thornhill, landlord of Ballyheen had arranged to build a residence for his daughter there, but she had other ideas. She fell in love with the coachman and after a run away marriage lost all rights to the Ballyheen Estate. The mansion was never built.
Return to the main route again and you will reach Kanturk, the largest town in Duhallow. Kanturk derives its name from the Irish "Ceann Tuirc" meaning "The Head of the Boar". Ireland has many place names and folk traditions concerning the wild boar and black pig. The cult of the pig probably originated in India and over the generations made its way to this end of the earth.
This attractive town lies at the confluence of the Rivers Allow and Dalua, which are both bridged here.
It developed its present form in the 18th century under the ownership of the Earls of Egmont, whose family was given the town after the rebellion of 1641. The town is noteworthy for its substantial houses and air of prosperity. If you have time to spare you can enjoy some welcome refreshments and there are a number of places of interest for the visitor.
12. ST. PETERS CHURCH MUSEUM
This museum, just a short walk from town, was a place of worship for the Church of Ireland prior to de-consecration in 1974. It is now a museum and is open on Sunday afternoons.
Within living memory there existed 3 flour mills in Kanturk and being sited so close to the rivers and in close proximity to a third, it was a natural location for a water mill. In the final decade of the last century, the sweet manufacturers, Messrs. Cleeves, set up a condensed milk factory here, which was taken over in 1928 by a dairy company and is now trading as Kanturk Dairies.
13. KANTURK CASTLE
You cannot leave without visiting Kanturk Castle. This is one of the largest and finest castles ever undertaken by a Gaelic Chieftain. The castle was undertaken by either Desmond MacOwen MacCarthy, or by Donaugh MacCormac MacCarthy during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. Much local legend surrounds the castle and the reasons why it wasn't finished. The castle is owned by the English National Trust but is set on a 1,000 years lease to An Taisce.
14. If you have time take a walk to the townland of Garraveasoge, near Kanturk Golf Club, where scores of victims of the famine were buried in a common grave in 1847 and is marked with a small Celtic cross.
We next visit the town of Newmarket or Arth Trasna meaning "The Crossing at the Ford". Newmarket was founded in the 17th century and is a busy market town.
15. THE ISLAND WOOD
This wood is worth a visit before leaving Newmarket. located within the wood is the "Twelve Apostles" tree, so called because of the twelve trunks growing from the main trunk. The River Dalua flows through the wood which is a haven of beauty and peace.
16. JAMES O'KEEFFE INSTITUTE
This Memorial Institute is evidence of the Aldworths who arrived in Newmarket in 1615. Of early Georgian design, the house was built in 1725 for the Aldworth family. It was sold in 1927 to an order of nuns, who ran a school there until 1973. The Institute is now dedicated to rural development and training through IRD Duhallow and Teagasc and is a buzz of activity day and night.
Approx. 10 kms north of Newmarket is Freemount village well known for having a strong tradition in music and culture. The old school built over 140 years ago has been reconstructed as a heritage centre where traditions of the area will be preserved.
The next stop is Tullylease village, situated at one of the most northerly points of County Cork. There are many large 'fulachta fiadh' in the area and these cooking sites were in use at least 2,000 years ago. Tullylease or Tulach Leis means "The Hill of the Huts", the name coming from an old Gaelic monastery founded here by Saint Berehert. A students of the monastery had to build himself a hut or "cillin" to live in, and most of the hill was covered by these little huts, hence the name.
On the site of Berehert's Church the remains of a much later church stands, known locally as "The Abbey". Here there are a number of early Christian grave slabs - one slab with inscriptions in Latin and Greek and a reproduction of a cross from the book of Lindisfarne, is possibly the finest early Christian grave slab in existence today. It is believed to have been erected to St. Berehert about the year 700 and there is great devotion to St.Berehert in the area.
There are two holy wells near the abbey and these have been known for centuries as a great place for cures especially for eye complaints.
Follow the trail from Tullylease and you will reach Mullaghareirk Mountains which stretch from Abbeyfeale to Liscarroll, and from Castleisland to Dromcollogher. The visitor will find some of the wildest and most remote sections of County Cork, and various walks have been developed and signposted for your enjoyment. Largely planted with forestry the air is pure and clean and the presence of large lichens on the posts along the side of the roads are proof of this. It is said that at one time a squirrel could cross this whole area without ever setting foot on the ground.
Turn left at the crossroads, as signposted, the trail brings you to Meelin village. However, if time allows, it will be well worth your while taking a quick diversion to the right. After a steep climb the road brings you to a T junction and you will find yourself at what is known as "the top of Killileigh". From this point a most beautiful expanse of 'Golden Vale' countryside stretches out before you. On a clear day you can see from the Galtee mountains to the Shannon and northwards to the Silvermines and to Limerick City in the north west.
Backtrack to the route which takes you to Meelin Village. The name "Maoileann" means "A Round Bare Hill". It is called after a Celtic goddess called 'Moylin' or 'Meelin'. She was being forced into marriage against her will and fled to Meelin and helped by the local people. When her father sent soldiers to capture her she flew from Moylans rock to the Blessed Well in Ballintona and disappeared. The well is composed of two sandstone slabs. There is a print of a comb on a rock there, and if you visit this rock you are expected to leave a small coin between the sandstone slabs or else risk breaking a leg descending the hill!!! Turning right at the village you travel to Rockchapel. You will notice vast stretches of open bogland and if you are lucky you will see the bustle of activity associated with 'processing' turf. Turf is cut in the local bogs from March onwards.
Rockchapel Village is built on the upper waters of the river Feale. It got its name from a mass rock that was located there in penal times. Traditional music is very much alive in this rural village, and each year a Fleadh Cheoil is held here.
19. Leaving Rockchapel you follow the trail and turn left at "Thado's Cross". As you walk along this road notice the limekiln on the left hand side of the road. This is one of perhaps hundreds which are scattered throughout Duhallow. In rural Ireland some years back the lime kiln was the main source of producing fertilisers and one existed on almost every farm.
Soon you reach Taur mountain or the "Bacaura" which is one of the highest points of the area. If you wish to climb to the top you will be rewarded with a splendid view encompassing four Counties of Munster. The remains of monoliths, gallains, souterrains, pillar stones, a stone circle, a fort and other relics indicate that Taur mountain was of very great prehistoric importance. It is crowned by a cairn [a heap of stones covering a grave] - this, combined with the unique position of the cairn itself indicates that the person buried there must have been of standing and importance - a king or chieftain perhaps.
Taur was also associated with the festival of Lunasa, an old pagan feast which was celebrated on August 1st every year to ensure a fruitful harvest. Until recently, at the end of July, young and old went to Glaundine on the Bacaura to pick black whorts or fraochans which grow on the mountain side. This explains the name Taur as it stands for "A Hill Where People Assembled".
The descent from Taur shows splendid views of Duhallow. At the end of the road turn right in the direction of Ballydesmond Village, which is situated on the banks of the Blackwater, in the foothills of the Mullaghareik Mountains, forming the boundary between counties Cork and Kerry. It is a thriving rural community, and until 1933 the village was known as King Williamstown. Unlike many villages throughout Duhallow which betray the haphazard nature of their growth, Ballydesmond presents itself as a regular controlled development and such it is. The village was built in 1832 in the hope it would become a resting place for passing traders travelling to and from Cork city.
is 6 kms north of the village, where the River Blackwater rises and is celebrated for providing a hiding place for Gearoid larla, the fugitive Earl of Desmond in 1558. There are no signs of his hideout today but a local townland "Reidhlan an larla" or "The Plain of the Earl's House" is called after him. It is also in this area that you will find the source of the River Blackwater; Ballydesmond has vast richness in traditional music, song and dance.
The origin of Kiskeam village and its name are now lost to history - "Coisceam na Cailli" can be translated as the footstep of the old hag or the footstep of the nun. There are folk traditions to support both views.
sprang into existence in the mid 19th century when the new road from Cork to Kerry was built. Today Boherbue is a clean colourful village which continues to thrive and grow.
The castle of the O'Keeffes at Dromagh is the oldest castle in Duhallow which has withstood the ravages of time and war. After 1651 the castle was owned by the Leader family and was burned by local volunteers during the war if Independence 1920-21. It is now the possession of the O'Leary family.
22. DUHALLOW FOLK PARK
is located near Cullen and provides the visitor with a unique insight into the culture of Duhallow. A unique feature of the museum are the life-size casted figures. You can stop here for refreshments. After a short drive from the Folk Park turn right to the small village of Cullen.
can be described as a corner of Sliabh Luachra. There are a number of historic sites in the parish including Duarigle Castle and St.Laitiaran's Well. It is said that many people have been cured at the well by making the rounds and washing the affected parts with the water from the well.
This western end of Duhallow is known as Sliabh Luachra - the "Rushy Mountain". It is not a clearly defined geographical area but rather a place known for its treasures of poetry, music, song and dance. It has its own distinct brand of traditional Irish music. Many of the great musicians who had lived here have gone to rest but they have left a rich and beautiful tradition in the Sliabh Luachra district.
village is the recognised capital of Sliabh Luachra and traditional Irish music and set dancing, not only in these parts but indeed in Ireland. Knocknagree village and the greater Sliabh Luachra has always been known for its way of life - its poets, pipers and fiddlers, its customs, gatherings, humour and sadness. Knocknagree in its own right was a town with a very old tradition of fairs and markets and all the associated activities. The village is highly recommended for liquid refreshments and at one time boasted 14 public houses, many of which still serve the village.
This village is the next stop on your trail and is in County Kerry. Rathmore's growth was boosted by the opening of a Creamery in the early years of the century and the coming of Cadbury's [Ireland], a chocolate crumb factory in the late 1940's. The last public hanging in Ireland is reputed to have taken place in August 1822 at Shinnagh Cross at the eastern end of the village.
The landscape of Sliabh Luachra is dominated by twin breast shaped mountains - dignified, noble and beautiful, these are known as the Paps [Dha chic Danann].
Turn left off the road at the signpost marked "Shrone" and proceed for approx. 3 km until you reach a crossroads. The road opposite leads to an ancient settlement called the "City". The access road is rather narrow so it may be advisable to walk.
24. THE CITY
Here at the foothills of the beautiful Paps is the site of perhaps the oldest uninterrupted religious ceremony in Europe. This place is known locally as The City or to give its correct title "Cromleach Cathair Craobh Dearg" meaning the Fort of the Red Claw. It was a place of pagan worship with religious connections to this very day. Up to 100 years ago it was customary to bring generally ailing cattle here on May Eve and leave them overnight to be cured or benefited. The city shrine was sacred to Dana the mother of the Gods to whom the mountain back of the city is dedicated. Old historians have satisfied themselves that Cathair Craobh Dearg was among the first places in Ireland to be settled. People still go there during May to do the 'rounds' [reciting prayers while walking] - pleading for good crops and herds. At one time here, there was a large stone circle which bore traces of Ogham writing and a number of beehive cells. Outside the western wall is a holy well. The city is quaint and interesting and well worth a visit.
If you have time you should also make your way to Shrone Lake nearby, being set in the midst of rock and is magnificent on a clear day.
The trail takes you along by Caherbarnagh, a beautiful hillside townland famed in song and story. Its beautiful purple mountain is a delight to view on a sunny afternoon in late summer when the purple heather is in bloom and the last rays of the sinking sun rest on the slopes of this majestic mountain. The road winds its way eastwards to Croohigs Cross where you turn south through the townlands of Kippagh and Ballydaly to a beautiful scenic view on top of the hill, and from here the road winds along the slope of Caragh mountain towards the Millstreet-Macroom road at Kilmeedy. St. Ita established her church at Cill M'ida [Kilmeedy] early in the 6th century. As you approach the junction of the Millstreet-Macroom road you will see Kilmeedy Castle on your right. This castle was built in 1436 as a military stronghold to command the wild mountain pass between Cork and Kerry. The trail turns left towards Millstreet town where our journey began. A visit to Millstreet Museum and tourist Information Centre will provide you with any further information you may require.
The River Blackwater
The above text and pictures were kindly supplied by Sean Radley and the Millstreet Tourist Office.
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