The spirit of autumn
Ghosts, vistas and russets enchant a Clonmel walk
Autumn is my favourite time for the outdoors. It’s the atmospheric ochre-tinged light; the rich, mutating colours and those mellow, leaf-kicking days. So, with a light heart I roved into the hills above Clonmel on a dew-dappled morning with September russets flourishing.
Ascending from Glennagad, I joined an enclosed lane that dallied easily up Scrouthea Hill to gain open mountainside and an altar and large white cross. Constructed to commemorate the Holy Year of 1950, it’s in a well-chosen location offering a sweeping vista of Clonmel and the plains of Tipperary.
The doughty determination of the altar builders has not been in vain, for annually on an August Sunday, the faithful still come in droves to maintain the long-standing pilgrimage.
Tarrying awhile to absorb the inspirational vista, I next descended southeast through a cobweb of tracks from past generations. Immediately there was a feeling of having escaped the clutches of modernity as I passed the once flourishing upland holding of the Ireland family.
They have long abandoned the unequal struggle with the hillside and nature is now busy rewilding their once productive fields.
Reflecting on the melancholy, but inescapable truth, that mountains will ultimately defeat all human endeavour, I continued uphill to the cairned crest of Long Hill and then veered south as the route dropped to a col. Located above a wooded amphitheatre known as the Punchbowl, this made an ideal place for lunch.
Refreshed, I tackled the steepest pull of the day, which drew me up to Laghtnafrankee summit (520m). This is an exceptional viewing point offering a 360 degree vista of the Comeragh, Galtee and Knockmealdown Mountains.
Next it was southwest along a lovely wayfaring crest that traversed a couple of modern fences and the old and now almost indiscernible route known as the Staire. When travel was mostly on foot, this route linked Waterford’s Nire Valley with Clonmel.
Reaching a clear-felled forest, I tracked its edge north and then descended through a gate to join a woodland trail. Just above the Glenary stream my route coalesced with the reassuring arrows for the East Munster Way.
Crossing the Glenary at ford, I took the incredibly narrow lane that once served as the lifeline for the now forlornly deserted village of Glenary. It is today populated only by lingering ghosts from the past, but must have once rung with the infectious laughter of children, for in the mid-19th century, it had of 200 inhabitants. Remaining an Irish-speaking community into the 20th century, it eventually lost most of its population and was finally abandoned in the early 1960s.
Next it was resolutely uphill on an agricultural track that continued tagging the East Munster Way and then over rough ground to a stile traversing a wire fence.
Now it was just a question of following the walking arrows downhill to my parking place at Glennagad.
Directions: from Clonmel town, cross Old Bridge, go right and then left at the Emigrants Rest pub. Go right at the first junction and park at the end of the tarmac. Time: about four hours. Suitability: generally unchallenging. In mist, basic navigation skills required. Map: OSI, Discovery Series 74 and 75