Sunday 25 March 2018

Walk of the Week: Rock an Thorabh, Co Tipperary

Christopher Somerville

'So, what do you actually go walking for? What's the point of it?" Tricky question this, and one I'm often asked. Usually, I give a throwaway reply.

"Oh well, fresh air and exercise, keeps the old mind ticking over, better than sitting in a chair," that sort of thing.

But as my 100th 'Irish Independent' 'Walk of the Week' began to appear round the bend, I gave it some proper thought.

What is the point of going walking for pleasure?

What does that pleasure really consist of, if you break it down? To put it in a nutshell: what should a good walk have in order for it to ring my bell?

Here's the list I came up with, in no special order:

Gorgeous scenery

A bit of a challenge

Time to stand (or sit) and stare

The company of good friends

Stories, nonsense, craic and laughter

A route that gets you back where you started or...

... to a welcoming bar

... to where the craic continues

Where's the place to put all that together?

Why, the Glen of Aherlow, Tipperary's own slice of heaven, with my sister and cousins all gathered for a few days of walking and talking, quaffing and laughing in full view of the Galty Mountains, an east-west spread as inspiring to look at as any in Ireland.

What better spot for the centenary walk, and who better to lead us to glory than Michael Moroney, man of a thousand walks and a 1,001 tall tales?

"Believe only half of what you hear on this walk," said Michael, leading us off from Aherlow House Hotel, "because I haven't my pills taken." Good advice.

We heard a great deal as we tramped up through the woods, moonshine spun from nonsense on the one hand and fascinating snippets of history on the other: red squirrels and their eating habits; Folklore Commission; the Hanging Tree where men were executed for stealing potatoes; the ruined house; the poitín still.

"Oh God," spluttered cousin Dermot, pointing at cousin Vicky, "she once poured a whole bottle of vintage poitín into a plum crumble, thinking it was flavouring. Great crumble, though, I must admit."

On this walk through the woods I got to know my antipodean cousin Richard's daughter Jessie.

What was cousin Jessie studying at Canberra? "Chaucer." What on earth job would that fit her for?

We decided on plumbing. "At least," hazarded Jessie, "I'll be able to write you a poem about what's wrong with your pipes."

The scurrilous little rhyme that she then came up with can't be committed to print, but it was bloody funny.

At the statue of Christ the King we stood silent in admiration of the Galtees rising as pale and beautiful as pre-Raphaelite hills across the misty Glen of Aherlow.

Michael sang us a morsel of 'Sweet Aherlow', with the mountains as a backdrop to validate every word of the song.

Michael's better half, Joan, told a tale of how he'd climbed Galtymore, the peak of the range, by moonlight and phoned his brother down in the vale, two-and-a-half thousand feet below, to tell him he'd forgotten to switch off the lights.

Mighty craic, and mighty was the view from Rock an Thorabh, Bull Rock, up on the ridge above Christ the King, a giant prospect north over Tipperary town and the dairy-rich Golden Vale.

We heard of Diarmuid and Gráinne the passionate runaways, of the jealousy of Fionn Ma Cumhaill and the hatchet hurled to split Bull Rock in two.

There indeed was the split in the mighty boulder who would doubt the tale?

Back down at Aherlow House once more, sitting on the terrace in the sun with cups of tea in front of us and a pint of Guinness in prospect, I looked round the laughing, wind-freshened faces.

If ever a justification for walking was needed, here it was in all its breadth and depth. A walk fit to cap the first 100 -- and to kick-start the second.

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