Fruits of the forest
The grounds of Curragh Chase House are perfect for a woodland ramble, writes TONY DOHERTY
I’M RATHER FUSSY when it comes to forest walks. There must be a high percentage of deciduous trees and the sky must be cloudless so that I can best appreciate the intricate tracery of their branches. A body of water which can be viewed through the foliage does not go amiss either.
The pleasure is complete if I manage to escape what the poet Aubrey de Vere (1788-1846), who lived in Curragh Chase House in Co Limerick, refers to in his sonnet Castleconnell as the “sounds of far people”. Instead, I can concentrate on “. . . the fall / Of waters, and the busy hum of bees / And larks in air, and throstles in the trees”.
In pursuit of this ideal, I arrived at opening time on a sparkling spring morning. Curragh Chase House sits proudly on a grassy hillock. Home to the De Vere family for more than 300 years it was destroyed by fire in 1941 with only the outer walls surviving. Undoubtedly an impressive mansion in its day, it does not make a romantic ruin as the walls are pristine and the windows have been bricked up so that the house stares blindly out over the woodlands and lakes which were developed in the 19th century.
There are many exotic species in the arboretum beside the house which I decided to leave until last so that I could have the wilder woodlands to myself. The car park is the hub of a series of way marked trails of varying length as well as numerous forest tracks that you are free to wander on.
After exploring the shorter paths around the artificial lake below the house, I headed for the Glenisca Trail which runs northwards around Glenisca Lake and through a wonderful yew woodland which Coillte is preserving and extending, while removing non-native species which are detrimental to the conservation project.
The grove of yew also contains other native species such as oak, birch, hazel, holly and hawthorn. The area has a central spine of limestone so you have the pleasure of walking under moss-covered cliffs with trees apparently growing out of the rock in places. The route skirts around Glenisca Lake where the forest canopy was perfectly mirrored in the clear, still water.
Here, as in the other lakes and marshes nearby, the rushes and sedges make a great foraging locale for the Lesser Horseshoe Bat, a protected species, which have taken up residence in the cellars of Curragh Chase House, which was to be my next destination.
On my way, I came across a poignant memorial; a Himalayan Silver Birch which had been planted by Gerard McDonnell to celebrate his team’s conquest of Everest in 2003. He was the first Irishman to summit K2 in 2008 but was killed on the descent while attempting to rescue some fellow climbers.
Sitting on the balustrade of the imposing terrace of the house, content after my misanthropic meandering, I was happy to listen to the shouts of children revelling in the freedom which this great park affords them.
Map: Ordnance Survey. Discovery Series. Sheet 65. Grid Reference. 410 510. Download detailed map of the park and its trails on coillteoutdoors.ie
Start and finish: The car park
How to get there: The park entrance is 18km west of Limerick city and is situated between the N21 and N69. On the N21 turn right in Adare village and follow a third class road northwest for 7km. Turn left at the crossroads. On the N69 take a left 5km west of Kildimo. The car park is in the centre of the forest. €5 entry fee per car
Time: As long as you fancy. Park opens 8am-5pm (winter), 7am-10pm (summer)
Distance: Up to 10km
Total Ascent: 100m
Food and accommodation: Adare, Rathkeale and Limerick. Caravan and campsite in park