A walk for the weekend: Eagle’s Rock, Co Leitrim

This glacial formation is an awe-inspiring centrepiece for a tough but rewarding walk

 

You just may have glimpsed something both odd and dramatic, about 10km away to the south, as you travelled the main N15 road between Sligo and Donegal. At that distance it is only “odd”, and may elicit nothing more than a passing comment. But up close, it is one of the most dramatic, even awe-inspiring, rock formations in Ireland.

It is commonly called Eagle’s Rock, though on OSI sheet 16 it is marked as Croontypruglish, while 1km away, under Tievebaun (at 611m Leitrim’s second-highest mountain), is a cliff face that is officially named Eagle’s Rock.

It was the former that my son and I came to visit and explore – the one commonly known as Eagle’s Rock. Accompanying us was a visitation of Arctic air that took all the heat out of a bright April sun.

We followed the roadside signs for the rock and arrived at a convenient car park provided by Leitrim County Council. This provides the best view of the rock, and has a highly informative panel which tells of glaciers, ancient seas and bears.

However, for those who want to get up close (like us), it had no advice on access. Only the encouragement and help of a friendly sheep farmer allowed us experience the place rather than just admire it.

On his advice, we took the right of way that begins virtually at the car park, crossed a stile and followed a clear track up onto the mountainside – or commonage, as he called it.

We then contoured southeast at about 210m and, after about a kilometre of rough going, we entered the overwhelming space of the Eagle’s Rock.

It is not just one rock but numerous high pillars, towers and arêtes, all shattered and broken and cracking, with at least one seeming to tilt alarmingly off the vertical. It’s a complex, eerie place, which on that day was full of cold, wind-cry and flying cloud.

It apparently formed when two small back-to-back mountain glaciers gouged deeply into the mountain’s horizontally-bedded limestone.

Incessant late-Ice Age snowfall, blowing off the high Dartry plateau to the west, gradually forced the firn fields of the separate glaciers to coalesce, destabilising their common headwall in the process.

The ice melted – probably quite quickly in a surge of global warming about 12,000 years ago – and huge sections of the mountainside collapsed as the support of the glaciers was withdrawn.

The result is a semi-enclosed, chaotic and elemental wonderland of sheer cliffs, echoes and freshly-fallen boulder fields – with fabled Glenade below, where it is easy to imagine eagles and wild, roaming deer, bears and wolves, in quiet Autumn-tinted forests, at a time when Eagle’s Rock was young.

It’s a tough visit but well worth it. There do not appear to be any access issues with the route we took, but it might be prudent to ask locally before setting out from the car park.

Map: OSI DS No 16
Start/finish: Car park 2km east of R280 in Glenade, about 7km south of Kinlough (follow signs)
Time/effort: about 2hrs, 3km and 150m of climbing
Suitability: some rough and steep ground

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