Wednesday 22 January 2020

Walk of the week - Loughs of Killeshandra Co Cavan

Christopher Somerville

If you chucked a stone into Monaghan it would bou-nce off a drumlin. Hurl a pebble into Cavan and it will plop into a lough. Half a dozen of that county's most beautiful lakes encircle Killeshandra, though to walkers most appear only as a hint of a twinkle between the pine and spruce trunks.

But on the day Jane and I walked its shore with Sean Sorohan, Town Lough lay broad and open under a blank winter sky, with crow's feet of ice crinkling its corners.

Quietly spoken, Sean is chairman of Killeshandra's Community Council. He worked for 15 years to establish a waymarked route that would give walkers access to more of the local landscape. But it was when Coillte opened a way through their forest between Tullyguide and Broompark Loughs that things really came together.

Now, people of all ages and abilities can follow the Killeshandra Loop walk from the neat little market town out into the lake-pocked countryside that lies on its doorstep.

Yesterday's thick fog had partially dispersed, leaving a pale and dreamy light to drift over water and under clouds.

"I'm a farmer these days," Sean mused as we climbed the track into the forest-smothered townland of Derrygid.

"That gives you plenty of exercise, all right! I was forking silage for the calves this morning, with a proper old pitchfork. It gives you something to get out of bed for."

One of Coillte's harvesting machines lurched roaring up a pitch-dark alley between the ranks of firs, twin lights burning like dragon eyes either side of a fearsome pair of articulated jaws.

As we watched, the monster swivelled 90 degrees, reached in among the trees and plucked out a whole fir as a dentist draws a tooth. It spun and crushed it with a great crackling of bark and twigs, shook it on to a pile of uprooted trees, and reached back into the forest to grip and snatch another.

The talking slid by, easily and naturally, as walking talking always does. "You'd the slean turf, higher up in the bank," Sean expounded on cutting turf as a boy on the family farm a dozen miles from Killeshandra, "and then the mud turf, lower down and more decayed. You'd mix that mud turf with water and spread it six inches thick on the bank.

"You made rows in it with the sides of your hands as you walked backwards, and then you cut across them to form the sods. When the sun dried it, you could lift the sods with a spade. It actually burned better than slean-cut turf -- it was denser. But that's a skill that's all gone now."

Sean has spotted red squirrels in the wood around Killeshandra. They owe their revival to an increase in numbers of pine marten, who prey on the introduced grey squirrels that are pushing out the native reds all over the country.

In 1911, six pairs of greys were released at Castle Forbes in Co Longford as an interesting addition to the local fauna.

In the ensuing century, their offspring have colonised most of the country north and east of the Shannon. How wonderful if the Killeshandra woods were to prove a springboard for a comeback by the reds.

From Coillte's conifer woods we took to quiet country lanes between acres of rolling parkland studded with fine specimen trees.

Down along the Pleasure Lake we went, and back through the outskirts of Killeshandra where a man stood hoovering his car ramp, his cloth cap stuck all over with fishing flies. "Killeshandra's a fishing town," Sean remarked with pride, "and a singing and dancing one too. Oh, great for the music, now!"

Walking down the road Sean gave us a lick of Ballyconnell Fair, and we returned the compliment with a stave of Kate From Ballinamore. That great border singer Cathal McConnell speaks of traditional music as "music that tastes of itself".

Well, Killeshandra is a town and a countryside that tastes of itself, and it's all the better for that.

Irish Independent

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