Driving the Silvermine mountains

Wed, Jun 27, 2012, 01:00

The road gets quite narrow in places, and climbs steeply, but the views of this mountain range near Limerick are breathtaking

SOUTH OF the M7 between Nenagh and Limerick, several tall mountains are visible. The Silvermine Mountains, Cooneen Hill, Mother Mountain and Keeper Hill are just some of the highlights of this pleasant and varied landscape, and it is to the first of these, the Silvermine Mountains, that we headed for today’s exploration.

At the northern foot of the Silvermine Mountains lies the village of Silvermines whose Irish name is Béal Átha Gamhann – the Ford-mouth of the Smith. Our road is at the eastern end of the village at a crossroads and is signposted “Silvermines Drive”. The road, which is quite narrow, climbs quite steeply straight away, and soon comes to a viewing point from where we are surprised at how high we’ve climbed so quickly. The view is splendid, looking north across lush fertile farmlands towards the broad stretch of water that is Lough Derg. Breathtaking!

The road continues to rise steeply until we reach its highest point, between the hills of Coumanine (408m) and Coollyhorney (479m) to the west. Now the views change to aspects of the southern side of the Silvermine Mountains dominated by Keeper Hill (Slievekimalta) rising to 694m and easily the highest point of any of these mountains. Around every bend in the road, the view is different, reminding us of how extraordinarily beautiful the landscape of this country is.

Now the road winds downwards through mature trees and around several hairpin bends before reaching the valley of the Mulkear River that flows west, with the road tracking its northern edge. Sadly, because of hedges and high trees, there are few places to view the river from the road. A few words about the road itself. Always narrow, in places the surface is very good, in places even newly dressed (it’s the “chippings” season!) and in places it wears a grass centre line. But this more because the road is less often used, and it presents no problem, even to cars quite low to the ground. There are a few sections that are poorly surfaced but these seldom last more than a few metres. And although the road is narrow throughout most of its length, you are never far from somewhere to pull over to let oncoming vehicles pass by in safety.

The road continues west beside the largely unseen Mulkear River. As we drive along this stretch, the sunlight streams down through the overhanging trees. All too soon this section of the road comes to an end, and we reach a T-junction at Knockmeale. Turning right, the road continues on for several kilometres until it joins the R499. Turning right, we arrive back into the village of Silvermines to complete our circumnavigation of the western end of the Silvermine Mountains.

This is a reasonably short drive – about 15 kilometres – but one on which you will want to linger to take in the magnificent views across the surrounding countryside.

For me this was just a first foray into these various mountains and their roads, and I hope to return to explore them thoroughly and bring you some lesser-known roads and suggested explorations.

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