Go Walk: Carlingford, Co Louth

Step back in time in Carlingford: a route close to the town and lough reveals a medieval gem


This is a good marked circuit that provides unique and great views in clear weather of the Mourne Mountains and the east coast of Ireland as far south as County Wicklow. Rarities to be seen along the way include wildflowers, butterflies and a fine souterrain.

Leaving the tourist office, the route passes through Carlingford town and then uphill with a brook running down the side of the road. Great views open up behind as height is gained and at a crossroads our goal, the hill called Barnavave, is revealed to the left ahead, while straight ahead is Slieve Foy. The name Barnavave is from the Gaelic Bearna-Mbeidhbhe or Maeve’s Gap, relating to the great Tain legend of the Queen of Connaught.

Turn right and gently climb towards Slieve Foye Wood, with views of Carlingford below, the port of Greenore to the east, and directly below, across the fields, you can see King John’s Castle, attributed to the Magna Carta king, who visited here in 1210. Across the lough the Mourne Mountains line the horizon, and in clear weather the conical top of Slieve Donard, the highest summit in Ulster, can be seen in the background.

The route continues into the trees after which there are extensive views westwards to the town of Warrenpoint. The extent of Carlingford Lough, a fiord-like inlet formed during the last glaciation 70,000 years ago, becomes clear. Across the waters is Rostrevor and to its west, a tall obelisk erected in 1826 to commemorate major general Robert Ross, born in Rostrevor. He commanded the British forces at the battle of Bladensburg in August 1814, during the Anglo-American war.

A stile takes the route up onto the flanks of rugged Slieve Foye where it turns eastwards again along a rough path through bracken, harebells and thyme. Among the butterflies to look out for here is the relatively scarce, silver-washed fritillary. Watch out also for peregrine falcons.

It’s rough and boggy in places, but soon you’re out on open moorland again, with Barnevave appearing over the eastern flanks of Slieve Foye. Carlingford town is in view again below.

Reaching the wide grassy path of the Tain Way our route follows it up to the saddle between Slieve Foye and Barnavave, from where extensive views to the south open up across the peninsula. We now head for the summit of Barnavave at 350m above sea level. Dundalk Bay leads the eye down the coast past Dunany Point, Clogher Head, and the Wicklow mountains on the far horizon.

Descend now by the side of the forest: on the way are the remains of a megalithic tomb of the court tomb type, probably dating from neolithic times. At the bottom of the forest a luxurious grassy boreen is met which wends its way downhill. In the midst of the ruins of a stone cottage that the route passes is the entrance to a souterrain, an underground passage that served in early medieval times as refuges in times of invasion or unrest. Although usually difficult to find, over 3500 known souterrains survive in Ireland.

Soon a tarmac road is reached, and the route winds its way north then eventually east to return to Carlingford.

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