Hidden beauty unmasked

GREAT DRIVE LOUGH MASK: The magnificent views over Lough Mask provide a suitably scenic finish to this year’s journeys, writes…

GREAT DRIVE LOUGH MASK:The magnificent views over Lough Mask provide a suitably scenic finish to this year's journeys, writes BOB MONTGOMERY

STRETCHING over 16 kilometres from its most northerly point to its most southerly, Lough Mask is best known to fishermen and to those with a love of history. For here lived the infamous Captain Boycott at Lough Mask House on its eastern shore, who gave his name to a word in the English language as a result of an incident in the 19th-century Land League War.

Our exploration today concerns the other side of the lake – its western side, overshadowed by the Partry Mountains and the northern hills of Joyce’s Country. Our starting place was the village of Partry, taking its name from the nearby mountains and lying on the narrow strip of land separating Lough Mask from Lough Carra. Heading north on the N84 through Partry, take the turn left signposted for Straith. This road, the R300, heads due east for a couple of kilometres – apart from a short detour to cross the River Cloon – before heading south from Straith to hug the western shoreline of Lough Mask. At this northern end of the lake are a number of small islands, many of which are named after various animals and birds: Seagull, Otter, Pig, Goat and Curlew islands.

There are various views across the lake as we headed along its western shore, but at the village of Toormakeady there is the opportunity for a short diversion from our route that provides magnificent vistas across the water, and indeed of the hills of the Partry Mountains. Take the right turn in the village just before the bridge and follow this road up, up into the gap between Toomakeady (300m) and Ballbanbaun (381m) mountains. From these heights, on a clear day, virtually all of Lough Mask is visible and the view is well worth the trouble taken to make this diversion.

This is a narrow road with a good surface and while on it I met no traffic; however, it does offer few places to turn around in order to rejoin our original route along the R300. The simple solution is to descend on the western side of the mountains where there are several places that will allow you to turn safely. While travelling the extra few kilometres you will be treated to views over a delightful “hidden” valley.

Continuing on from Toormakeady, after about five kilometres there is a fork in the road. Take the road to the left, nearest the shoreline, even though this looks the least promising. It soon leads to fine scenery between the heights to the south and the towering magnificence of Buckaun (625m), Binnaw (518m), Maumtrasna (673m) and Leynabricka (682m). As we drove by these giants the mist and cloud spilled over their tops and spoke of their desolate beauty, apparent even on this rain-swept day.

All too soon their beauty was replaced by the view over Lough Nafooey, itself surrounded by mountains on its northern and southern sides as well as those further away on its western shore, and one of our favourite places. Be careful as you descend the twisty R300 not to miss where the road turns sharply for Clonbur and the ever-popular Cong, a little further along the way.

This journey through such a magnificent landscape brings us to the end of this year’s journeys, and even if the weather has been generally unkind we’ve been rewarded with some wonderful explorations and some of the best roads we’ve yet travelled. We look forward to returning in the spring to bring you more great drives.

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