Maumean Mission on Maum
GO WALK:Dramatic Connemara scenery unfolds in captivating colours, writes JOHN G O’DWYER
IT’S AMAZING how much we miss when we’re in a hurry. I’d been down Inagh Valley before, but always when going journeying somewhere. This time, however, I travelled more slowly for my goal was immediate. This leisurely pace allowed the majestic three-dimensional complexities and mutating colours of Connemara to unfold as never before.
Autumn is, of course, a wonderful time in the west when the landscape appears to relax and breathe again as the weight of summer throngs is lifted from its shoulders.
So, in the gentle brush strokes of soft September light, lavish autumn hues embellished one of Ireland’s most captivating glens – a wonder of wild mountainsides plunging to a lake-strewn valley. Swinging left towards Derryvoreada, the dramatic scenery refused to relent.
Eventually, at a small parking place, I bid goodbye to my driver and followed the signs uphill for Maumean.
This has been a pilgrim route since St Patrick reputedly chanced this way in the fifth century to bless Connemara, but as I ascended the stony path there were few reminders of penitents past.
At the head of the pass, however, everything changed. Here were all the trappings of pilgrimage: an oratory, an outdoor altar, a rocky cleft where St Patrick reputedly slept, a statue of the saint and the inevitable offering-laden holy well.
Apparently Maumean’s penitential tradition almost died away in the 19th century when drunkenness and faction fighting led to a withdrawal of clerical support. These days, however, it has proudly risen again as an important Patrician destination with major organised pilgrimages on St Patrick’s Day, Good Friday and an August Sunday.
Pausing awhile in the pleasant autumn sunshine, I can’t help wondering how Patrick so easily overwhelmed paganism in Ireland when later attempts to introduce Protestantism met with fierce resistance and proved a dissolute failure.
Was the simple “one God” message of Christianity an innately superior belief system compared with the many gods and complicated rituals of paganism? Or could it be that Patrick succeeded by cleverly overlaying the new faith upon existing rites and rituals while English monarchs made the mistake of dissolving monasteries and imposing an entirely new religious order? I have no way of knowing but whatever the reason for his successful Irish mission, Patrick has risen to become the world’s most celebrated national apostle. Modern-day management experts might describe him as a charismatic change-agent, who succeeded by using our reverence for high places to position a user-friendly belief system in a pagan society.
I could, of course, now retrace my steps but, as a hopeless addict of new experiences, I descended instead the northeast side of the pass. This proved a captivating excursion with the time warp beauty of the majestic Maum Valley beckoning below. Passing through a couple of gates, I eventually fetched up on a quiet road.
Continuing for about 5km, while enjoying friendly waves from cheery locals, I reached the Galway to Leenane road and soon after Keene’s hostelry in Maum.
My day ended with hot toddies by the fireside, while waiting, not too impatiently I must admit, for the arrival of my driver.
SuitabilityUnchallenging outing on well-defined tracks and quiet back roads. For the full traverse it is best to leave a second car at Keane’s Pub, Maum Bridge. Otherwise you will need a taxi back to your startpoint.
Getting thereFrom Galway take the N59 for Clifden. Beyond Maam go right following the Slí Chonamara for about 3km to Maumean carpark.
MapOSi Discovery Sheets 37, 38, and 44 cover the route. Stay on the track, however, and you shouldn’t need a map.
TimeAbout 3.5 hours.