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HOME AT FIRST's

ADVENTURE

CENTRAL IRELAND

  WALKING CENTRAL IRELAND—

ALONG THE

 LOUGH DERG WAY 

"O Ireland, isn’t it grand you look —
                      Like a bride in her rich adornin’?
          And with all the pent-up love of my heart,
                        I bid you the top o’ the mornin’!"

                                                                      
— John Locke, The Exile’s Return

Lough Derg Way Signpost. Photo © Home At First.

This article first appeared in 2005. MOST RECENT UPDATE: MAY 2014.
 Photos © HOME AT FIRST

          With few exceptions we North Americans are exiles longing to return to homelands of the heart and the imagination. One of these dreamed-of homelands is IRELAND. Ireland challenges the notion that we cannot go home again. Walking in rural Ireland brings you to the Ireland of your heart and imagination.
          Take the Lough Derg Way. It’s gentle. The light over the lough has a Vaseline sheen to it. Along the way are dairies and pastures and thatched cottages and friendly pubs and a couple of hills posing as Irish mountains. You may see sun and rain and both at the same time, set between parenthetical rainbows.

Lough Derg Way Map copyright © Home At First.

 
 

BASIC ROUTE INFORMATION:
          The lower third of the route runs ten miles from Limerick city north along the Shannon River to its exit from Lough Derg at the twin villages of Killaloe/Ballina. The upper two-thirds of the path parallels the eastern shore of Loch Derg for roughly half its length twenty miles to the lakeside village of Dromineer. A third section — from Dromineer north to Portumna where the Shannon enters at the top of the lake — is under development but is not yet under construction.

THE LOUGH DERG WAY TO BALLINA:
          Because twenty miles is enough,

Thatched cottage along the Lough Derg Way. The route is consistently signposted. Photo © Home At First.
MUCH OF THE LOUGH DERG WAY FOLLOWS LITTLE-
USED ROADWAYS, MOST PAVED. PARTS OF THE
ROUTE FOLLOW UNPAVED FARM LANES AND RUGGED
FOOTPATHS, ESPECIALLY IN THE ARRA MOUNTAINS.

and the lakeside scenery is varied and

 

 

beautiful, this guide describes the Killaloe/Ballina

The high point of the Lough Derg Way is Tountinna mountain. The steep climb is rewarded with an expansive view over Lough Derg and west into County Clare. Photo © Home At First.
The high point of the Lough Derg Way
is Tountinna mountain. The steep
climb is rewarded with an expansive
view over Lough Derg and west into County Clare.

to Dromineer section of the Lough Derg Way only. The walk can be done in one long day (7-8 hours), two medium days (4 hours each), or three short days (3 hours each). This guide will divide the route into three sections, permitting walkers the opportunity to enjoy the route at a leisurely pace with a minimal chance for wet weather interruptions.
          Lough Derg is one of three major lakes on the waterway of the River Shannon, Ireland’s longest river. Starting at the south end — at the twin tourist towns of Killaloe/Ballina (
map point 1) — the lake leads north-northeast about 19 linear miles to its upper end at Portumna. Counties Clare

 

and Galway hug its western banks; County

Tipperary is on the eastern shore. For our purposes, the route of the Lough Derg Way begins in Killaloe village in County Clare, then immediately crosses the Shannon east to Ballina on the Tipperary side before taking a generally northerly — albeit meandering — route. And, although the route can be easily followed in either direction, we arbitrarily have elected to follow it northbound in this guide.


SECTION 1 — KILLALOE TO THE ROUTE R494 LOOKOUT

 

Ballina-Killaloe Bridge, edged with an eel weir. Photo © Home At First.
LOOKING FROM KILLALOE ACROSS THE
ANCIENT STONE
Ballina-Killaloe
Bridge, edged with an eel weir.

         Killaloe is a pretty and lively village, with a rich history and a Visitor Centre to promote it. Take the Killaloe heritage walk to learn more about the importance of the Shannon waterway and the town’s most famous son: Brian Boru, High King of Ireland, 1002-1014. His palace of Kincora was probably sited upstream from the town — but is no longer there. What still dates from Brian’s time is the thousand-year-old Oratory of St. Lua at the top of the town.

          Nearer the river is equally old Flannan’s Cathedral, although the original church was rebuilt to the current one in thirteenth century. It’s home to a noteworthy Irish Romanesque doorway in its south wall and a 5-day classical music festival every July. Killaloe is

 

sleepy in the daytime, but lively at night — come back

to enjoy any of its several pubs featuring traditional

 

Irish music.
          Crossing the Shannon east to Ballina village in Tipperary requires dodging cars on the ancient thirteen-arched bridge with its six pedestrian alcoves. The outrigger nets along the south side of the bridge strain for eels, a local favorite food.       
          One needn’t begin the walk in County Clare. You can readily park along the riverside just outside of Ballina and pick up the trail there. And, if you wish to fortify yourselves before walking, stop at Gooser’s, a top-notch thatched restaurant and pub on the south side of Ballina.

13th century St. Flannans Cathedral, Killaloe. Note its 1,000-year-old oratory in the shadows, left. Photo © Home At First.
13th century St. Flannans Cathedral,
Killaloe. Note its 1,000-year-old
oratory in the shadows, left.

 

 

Goosers Restaurant, Ballina, Tipperary. Photo © Home At First.
GOOSER'S THATCHED RESTAURANT,
BALLINA. STOP IN FOR A DRINK.
COME BACK FOR A MEAL.

          The Lough Derg Way starts climbing the Arra Mountains as it leaves Ballina, and, by the time the trail reaches Tountinna (map point 2 — elevation 462m/1520ft) it has gained a quarter mile of altitude. Slate was quarried up here one hundred years ago. One thousand years ago Brian Boru’s warrior queen oversaw the slaughter of a wedding party from the rival Irish Kingdom of Leinster (think Dublin and eastern Ireland) who were caught somewhere on these heights after having dared to cross into  Brian’s Kingdom of Munster on their way to a wedding. Exactly where The Graves of the

 

 Leinstermen (map point 3) are remains as elusive

as why Leinstermen were attending a wedding in

 

Munster. The "graves" you may see on the hilltop are either slabs left over from slate mining or the remains of a 3,000-year-old Bronze Age burial mound.
          With outstanding views across the lake and to the mountains of County Clare, the Lough Derg Way now turns northwest and descends all the way back down to the lakeside, crossing the R494 — the Ballina-Nenagh road — near an overlook and picnic place along the road. For those wanting to do the Lough Derg Way in thirds, this picnic Lookout on the R494 makes a perfect end point for the lower third.

Lough Derg viewed from the trail two-thirds of the way up Tountinna Mountain by the Graves of the Leinstermen. Photo © Home At First.
Lough Derg viewed from the
trail two-thirds of the way
up Tountinna Mountain by
the Graves of the Leinstermen.

 


SECTION 2 — R494 LOOKOUT TO GARRYKENNEDY

 

Castletown churchyard from the Lookout. Photo © Home At First.
CASTLETOWN CHURCHYARD SEEN FROM THE
R494 LOOKOUT, WITH A RUINED CASTLE
TOWER IN THE TREES BEYOND.

          Below the road, the path crosses lush dairy land and heads for the lake, passing by the Castletown Graveyard (map point 4) on its way. The churchyard exhibits numerous elaborate markers of a mixed congregation of decedents. This old churchyard served both a pre-Reformation Catholic church and the later stone Protestant Church of Ireland that lies in ruins on the site. Remnants of an old tower fortification — once home to an O’Brien of Arra, and later altered into a manor house — are seen on the right.
          Staying near the shore now, the Lough Derg Way enters the Castlelough Woods (
map point 5),

 

with a mix of trees and wild flowers, and 1-2 miles

of circular nature trails on the former deer park of the old

 

estate.
           Ultimately the route's middle section leads into the harbor village of
Garrykennedy (map point 6), home to a marina and two pubs that feature traditional Irish music on many evenings: Larkin’s and Ciss Ryan’s. Garrykennedy harbor originally handled slate exports and imported fuel and Guinness. Slate may be dead, but the fuel — now for yachts and cruisers — and Guinness, flows as plentifully as ever.

           Oh yes, the tiny village is complete with its own ruined O’Kennedy fortified stone tower (c. 1480) at the

Lough Derg Way between Castlelough and Garrykennedy. Photo © Home At First.
THE LOUGH DERG WAY FOLLOWS
THIS FARM LANE ALONG THE LOUGH
NORTH OF CASTLELOUGH AND
SOUTH OF GARRYKENNEDY.

harbor. Garrykennedy marina parking lot makes a

 

 

convenient end point for this second (middle)

Larkins Pub, home of good food, traditional Irish music and craic. Photo © Home At First.

section of the 3-day version of the Lough Derg Way. And the pubs offer good sustenance for hungry and thirsty hikers.

Larkins Pub, home of
good food, traditional
Irish music and craic.

 


SECTION 3 — GARRYKENNEDY TO DROMINEER

 

          The Way turns south for a short distance inland to the territory of Youghal ("eochaill" — Gaelic for "yew wood"; map point 7). Another medieval churchyard — inland a short detour from Youghal — offers another look at carved crosses, angels, and grave slabs. If the weather is warm Youghal harbor offers safe swimming in the lake.
          From Youghal the Lough Derg Way sticks close to shore and mostly away from civilization, as it circum-navigates the Youghalarra Bay (
map point 8) towards Ryan’s Point.

          The last couple of miles follows back roads to Dromineer (map point 9), another former working port turned into pleasure craft haven. Like Garrykennedy, Dromineer has more history than it does residents. There’s a medieval castle ruin built for the powerful O’Kennedy clan in the 1500’s. There are church ruins in Irish-Romanesque style of the 12th century — but perhaps dating from the 10th. Dromineer’s Lough Derg Yacht Club is far from in ruins, but is even so historic. Dating from 1837, it is third oldest in the world!

The Lough Derg Way signpost by the O'Kennedy castle ruins at Garrykennedy. Note indications for the Lough Derg Bike Path are also on the sign tree. Photo © Home At First.
The Lough Derg Way sign-
post by the O'Kennedy
castle ruins at
Garrykennedy. Note
 indications for the Lough
 Derg CYCLE Path are also
on the sign tree.

 

 

Irish Letterbox built into a wall along the Lough Derg Way. Photo © Home At First.

          Dromineer offers parking, a good pub/restaurant, The Whiskey Still, featuring casual dining, as well as public facilities — toilets, playground, and beach. At the northern end of the Lough Derg Way, Dromineer is less a terminus, and more another chance to experience the simple pleasures of rural Ireland — a quiet village with venerable-if-not-vaunted history and simple beauty. 

IRISH LETTERBOX BUILT
INTO A WALL ALONG THE
LOUGH DERG WAY. THE
INITIALS "E R" DATE THE
 BOX FROM THE REIGN OF
EDWARD VII (1901-10)
KING OF ENGLAND BEFORE
THE CREATION OF AN INDE-
PENDENT IRELAND (1922).

 

WHAT TO BRING ALONG

 

 SHOES While the route is not athletically challenging, and the path is frequently on paved rural roads, there are some potentially muddy conditions along the lakeshore and following streams, as well as when the path goes cross-country or across pastureland. Therefore, wear stout (broken-in) shoes that you can get muddy and wet.

 RAINGEAR It can rain at any time. Be prepared.

 SUNSCREEN & A HAT It can sunshine at any  time. Be prepared.

 FOOD & DRINK enough to get you between  the restaurants, at least.

 A CAMERA will help you remember the beauty and history you will discover.

 A COMPASS is helpful but not vital. The route is well marked and the trail is usually obvious.

 A MAP Choose from the low-tech "Lough Derg Way Map Guide" published by Shannon Develop-ment or the high-tech Ordnance Survey Discovery Series Maps No. 58, 59, 65 1:50,000 (1.25 inch/mile).

 FRIENDS You will enjoy this route more if you have someone to share the experience with you. Don’t bring too many. This route will also provide you with some lovely opportunities to enjoy stillness and peace.

Dromineer Harbor at the northern end of the Lough Derg Way. Photo © Home At First.
DROMINEER HARBOR WITH O'KENNEDY
CASTLE RUIN. Dromineer Harbor
IS the northern end POINT
of the Lough Derg Way.

— DROMINEER —

THE NORTHERN END POINT
OF THE LOUGH DERG WAY.

The Whiskey Still pub, Dromineer. Photo © Home At First.
THE WHISKEY STILL PUB, DROMINEER,
A GOOD PLACE TO RE-FORTIFY AFTER
WALKING THE LOUGH DERG WAY.

 

 

— WALK THE LOUGH DERG WAY —
as part of your next visit to Central Ireland

This article comes from Home At First's exclusive
"Ireland Activities Guide" that comes to you as part of your trip.

Learn all about Home At First's travel programs to: IRELAND

Home At First offers travel to four great regions of Ireland. Have your own cottage in
CENTRAL IRELAND, SOUTHERN IRELAND, NORTHWESTERN IRELAND, OR NORTHERN IRELAND.
Minimum rental is one week, and you can mix and match with other
Home At First destinations
throughout
ENGLAND, SCOTLAND, and WALES. Or, for complete information about travel with
Home At First to Britain & Ireland, see: BRITISH ISLES.

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