Walk: All together now in Tipp
Try an uplifting walk from the village of Upperchurch
C ommunities, it is said, are dense networks of social interaction bonded together by a robust sense of place and certainly there is something about a tiny upland parish in Tipperary that breeds communal endeavour. On a recent visit to Upperchurch (see panel) I was lucky to enjoy yet another innovation – a “siúlóid dhá theanga” organised for Thurles comhrá Gaeilge group.
Our guide, Billy Clancy, a local man and fluent Irish speaker, clearly has a deep passion for community. Leading our 32 siúlóirí past the new community-owned crèche, which employs 12 locals, Clancy soon enters a bog. But this isn’t just any old bog but one of the area’s latest attractions with a new 1km walkway ensuring squelch-free access to the wetland environment.
As Gaeilge, with occasional lapses into English to facilitate less proficient Gaeilgeoirí, our guide explains the under-appreciated skill of turf cutting by sleán and how bogs once provided an essential fuel source locally.
Pointing to a recently worked turf bank he speaks about coach loads of German tourists visiting Upperchurch throughout the summer for an Irish culture day. “They love having a go at turf cutting, Irish dancing and hurling” says Clancy. “They learn about community life, visit Kinnane’s pub for food and try out some words as Gaeilge.”
Following the arrows for the Eamonn a Chnoic Loop along a road and into a field, we then weave upwards through wild flower-rich meadows with linking stiles. This timeless landscape of small fields, luxuriant hedgerows and diverse habitats has somehow survived the onslaught of globalised food production and now provides welcome visitor revenues.
While allowing a few latecomers to catch up, Eileen Ryan, who also has elongated local roots, speaks as Gaeilge about Upper Limits, the new climbing wall in the village. This is the first such community-based endeavour in Ireland and has been a huge success with people of all ages partaking, while climbing-based party days for young people have proven an unexpectedly big hit.
Reaching a crest, we go left along a road to join a green lane into a field. Here Thurles man Michael Walsh gives a fascinating bilingual account of his 96-day Camino walk from Holy Cross Abbey in Tipperary to Santiago in Spain. He suggests pilgrim walking makes us think happier thoughts and recommends Upperchurch as pre-Camino practice for aspiring pilgrims since the landscape is uncannily similar to northern Spain.
With the evening sun lengthening our shadows, we continue to join a bucolic laneway leading to a quite byroad. At a high point nearby, where the encircling hills flow gracefully together, Clancy points to a time-warp landscape abounding with antiquities and recounts tales of Ireland’s first taoiseach WT Cosgrave, who spent many boyhood holidays in the area.
Now we split. The majority return to Upperchurch directly while some continue tagging the walking arrows to complete the full circuit through the ancient fields of Moakland. Everyone eventually fetches up in Kinnane’s pub for belt-busting portions of hearty food and general agreement that today’s outing must be repeated soon.
WALK: Eamonn a Chnoic loop, Co Tipperary
Start from Thurles follow the R498 for 2km. At a junction for Limerick take the R503 for 13km to Pendy’s crossroads where a finger sign points 500m to Upperchurch.
Suitability Unstrenuous outing, traversing minor roads, green lanes and small fields. Ascent 150m
Distance 8km. Time 2.5 hours
More info: upperchurch.ie