The O'Sullivan Beara Way is a long distance walking route that roughly follows the epic march undertaken by O'Sullivan Beara in January, 1603, from Dunboy Castle, Castletownbere to Leitrim. This walking route is part of the national network of long distance walking routes and the only one to have an historical theme as well as being the longest in the country. As far as possible the route keeps away from main roads. Many interesting and varied historical sites are along the way. Most have nothing to do with O'Sullivan Beare, although if that were the primary interest there would be sites and anecdotes aplenty to keep you busy.
The section of The O'Sullivan Beare Way which traverses the Ballingeary area passes a variety of historical sites. Some of these are ancient beyond time, whereas others are of a more recent vintage.
Start at Gougane Cross at the foot of the Pass of Keimaneigh, and before setting off towards Gougane we will walk a short distance east towards Ballingeary. After a couple of hundred yards on the left is an old building without a roof. Look in the door and looking down you will see a fine example of a cobbled floor. The history of this building is linked to the days of the stage coaches, and it was here that the horses were changed before setting off over the pass. The stagecoach service only operated for a short time, from when the Pass of Keimaneigh was widened enough to take a coach in the 1830's and until the railway took away the Cork/Bantry custom around the 1850's.
Back to Gougane Cross and walk a little way up the pass. On the left is the monument to Máire Bhuí Ní Laoire, the poetess born in Túirín na n-Ean in 1774, and famous for her emotive and vivid poem 'Cath Chéim an Fhia' 'The Battle of Keimaneigh'. The area you are in was the scene of that skirmish which took place in 1822 and which is well documented. For those with a particular interest the story has recently been published in the Béal Atha'n Ghaorthaidh Historical Journal 1993.
The next interesting place on our walk will be Gortafluddig. The walkers must walk towards Gougane for a few hundred yards and turn right along a track as far as a stile and a markerpost. Their walk will take them across country, and across the river Lee, and then up a track to meet the road. The walkers will be rewarded with a tremendous view across the great cirque of Gougane Barra which on a fine day cannot be bettered. The history of Gougane Barra and St. Finbarr is too much for this article and those interested will have no trouble finding the details. The walkers may like to take time and cast their gaze in the direction of the lake. Legend would have it that when St. Finbarr arrived in Gougane in the 6th century he found a serpent residing in the waters. Wishing to live a life of peace and contemplation, and this would be difficult with a serpent living alongside, Finbarr caught the beast and cast it away. It flew through the air and landed with such great force that a depression was made in the ground. This hollow filled with water and is known to this day as Lough Allua. Presumably the serpent slithered away as it hasn't been seen recently.
When you reach the road at Gortafluddig and walk up the hill towards the next marker post, take time to look into the field on your right. About 30 yards away there is a collection of rocks in the centre of the field. These rocks are a Dolmen or Wedgetomb and the shape and form of the structure is better viewed from the other side. This is one of a number of dolmens in the Iveleary parish, some in better condition and some worse. They all date from the late megalithic period, say 1700 bc, or in other words at the beginning of the middle bronze age. Other prehistoric sites in the Gortafluddig area include a Stone Alignment and a short Cist. The stone alignment comprises of three tall standing stones and a cist is a grave lined with stone slabs and covered with a capstone. Neither of these sites are visible from the walk but their locations can be found from a good map. However, the presence of a variety of prehistoric sites in a relatively small area indicates a long occupation by mankind.
Moving on, the walker must head east along the old Famine Road. Nowadays it is an old track bordered on each side by dilapidated stone walls. This track loses itself as we cross into Coillte territory but soon finds itself again in the trees. Unlike some forest plantations this track was never planted upon. And within the gloom of a Sitka plantation it is easy to cast ones' mind back to the terrible times of famine and be at one with the poor souls who passed this way to the poorhouse or worse. At the edge of the forest, at the border with Carraig, the track disappears, but the route down to Cappananima is easy to follow. It is difficult to imagine anyone ever bringing a cart down here. A fine view of Ballingeary, Lough Allua and points east can be seen from the edge of the forest.
After crossing the bog and the stream by the stepping stone, a brisk walk down the road helps to dry the feet. The first house we come to on the left has a plaque on the wall. This is all that commemorates the last Eviction in Ireland in 1906. It was not done easily, and photographs show the support there was from the local community for the family involved.
Further on we meet the main road at Inchinossig Bridge. This fine bridge of four arches spans the river Lee. If we take a small detour and head along the south lake road a few hundred yards, we come to an example of a Clapper bridge. A clapper bridge is made of large, long slabs of stone resting on pillars, and there are a number of examples in the area. A fine example can be seen at Gougane, others have gone with time. The one at Inchinossig has recently been rebuilt but retains the original essence. A footpath on the other side of the bridge will take the walker to another example of a clapper bridge closer to Ballingeary, and it is nice to remind oneself that it isn't so long ago that stone slabs could be seen all across the field between the two clapper bridges. The field has since been reclaimed. But in the time when the clapper bridges were built, which could be as recent as five hundred years ago or perhaps two or three times as old again, the whole area here was marshy and boggy.
The village of Ballingeary or Béal Atha'n Ghaorthaidh, has a history that would fill a book if it was all written down. In this sense it is no different than a thousand other places in Ireland. The history of a place is not only found by looking at a particular building, but it is in the stories of the people and how they lived, how they worked and played. Some buildings worthy of note in a historical context include the Forge opposite the post office. Before the advent of motorcar and tractor there used to be four forges in the village. A little further on there is the building that housed the original Coláiste na Mumhan, established in 1904 to instruct Primary Teachers in the teaching of Irish. Further on opposite Shorten's Pub is the old Barracks, at one time a symbol of oppression and worthy of a few stories. Walking on, we cross another fine bridge, over the Bunsheelin river and then we turn left and walk the road north towards the Mouth of the Glen.
At Gorteenakilla bridge we turn left and if the wooden signs are followed another half mile around a field will bring the walker to Ireland's second tallest Standing Stone. When this stone fell a few years ago it was measured at nearly 23ft. total length, of which 4 ft. were in the ground. Although it has been re-erected it does bear the scars from when it fell. In an adjacent field, a few hundred yards away to the south west there were other standing stones, but these have fallen and now form part of the ditch.
They were standing in living memory.
Back to the walk, and if we follow a track northwards. it curls around and comes to a stream which is a very young Bunsheelin river. If we go east, that is to the right, and follow the stream a few hundred yards the walker will come to An Teampaillín Aharas. As it happens it cannot be seen from the stream and to get there it is necessary to climb a steep but very short slope. The building is a ruin, but not so much that there is nothing to see. On the contrary, the shape of the old church is very clear and there is enough of the gable ends to get a good impression of what the building must have been before it fell into disuse and disrepair. When that happened is anybody's guess, for when O'Sullivan Beare chose this sacred spot as a resting place for his weary band in mid-winter 1603 on his long march to Leitrim, the building was already a ruin, according to the chroniclers. There is a legend that the original builders intended to build much further to the east. Every day when they came to continue their work they found the previous days' work had been knocked down. Eventually heed was taken of a herd of swine who were giving instructions, for those with the ears to hear, on the correct location to build. The area around the building has long been used as a burial ground for unbaptised children, and the small headstones marking these sad graves can be seen. All historical sites should be treated with great respect and none more so than this one. One last little interesting titbit, there is a Ballaun Stone in the ditch alongside the main road about a quarter of a mile to the east. These stones, of which there are two fine examples outside Reananiree church, are boulders with a large cup carved into them. Local legend may associate these stones with old places of worship although invariably they are to be found some distance from the associated site.
To continue on the walk it is necessary to retrace our steps to the river crossing. The route is poor enough and any walker should have good footwear. The track will follow a stream and a climb through a field to the road. On the right there is a poor example of a Ringfort, a circular earthwork from the late bronze age or later. Shaped like a doughnut, often with a souterrain in the centre, these sites are relatively common. They were probably used as a defensive place to retreat to when under attack. Some examples have the remains of post holes, indicating that a roof structure may once have been in place.
The last place to mention requires a stiff walk up an old track, with permission of the landowner, to an old Lime Kiln. These are not rare in the general area, being found near any old limestone outcrop, but there is not another one in the Ballingeary area and that makes it special. Perhaps the older generation can remember going off with the horse and cart before dawn to join the queue at the kiln after the firing, waiting to collect their load of slaked limestones. Those were the days.
The route continues on over the hill towards St. Gobnait's Shrine, Ballyvourney.
Going with this article is:
(a) A map showing the walking route.
(b) A photo of 'The Clapper Bridge near Ballingeary'.