Walk for the Weekend: Silvermines, Co Tipperary
Interrogate hidden history through this former mining stronghold in north Tipp
We moved off with the great northern ramparts of Keeper, the highest mountain in north Tipperary.
An old farmer once told me that mountains are just land that is a bit up in the air. Around the award-winning village of Silvermines a considerable amount of terrain is “a bit up in the air”, but not really that far up.
The Silvermine Mountains could more accurately be described as rolling hills and so make the perfect walking terrain for those who enjoy a challenge but don’t necessarily eat nails for breakfast. The bountiful hand that nature has bestowed upon the area is now being played by the local community in the form of a rambling festival that takes place each June.
Invited to the opening of last year’s event, I duly went and was suitably impressed. A delightful sense of community pervaded the village and the walk to Glenculloo took me to a secluded valley I hadn’t really been aware of. So, when Jaccinta Walsh invited me along to this year’s festival, I needed no second bidding.
Silvermines gets its name from the long-standing mining tradition in the area, but could just as easily carry the moniker Zincmines or Coppermines since these ores were also extracted here. The mines have now been worked out, but the paraphernalia of mining still exists in the surrounding countryside and has now morphed into a considerable heritage attraction.
After tea and wickedly delicious scones in Tommy Hickey’s pub, it was all aboard the bus to the walk start point. This time I had selected the Curryquin walk which offered the advantage of starting from a viewing point high above the village and then descending for most of the way. The walk leader was Helen Quinn and our deeply knowledgeable history guide was Denis Gleeson.
We moved off with the great northern ramparts of Keeper, the highest mountain in north Tipperary, towering to our right. Soon Denis pointed to Mauherslieve (Mother Mountain) lying away to the south. A sacred mountain in druidic times containing a large prehistoric summit cairn, it has now been Christianised as part of the Kilcommon Pilgrim Loop.
Onwards then, to a viewing point above Bollingbrook. Here, Denis indicated across a verdant valley to three beautifully symmetrical hills known as The Three Sisters: Cooneen, Ballincurra Hill and Knockadigeen. He then translated their appellations as Rabbit Hill, the Rocky Hill and the Hill of the Little Houses. Further on he drew attention to the isolated Curryquin Valley, where 30 families once lived. As a sad metaphor for the decline of rural Ireland, he then tells us there are now but three dwellings remaining.
Downhill next to the gates of Kilboy House, which was once the seat of the Prittie family. The Pritties arrived with the Cromwellian Plantation and eventually assumed the unlikely title of the Lords Dunalley. With an estate of some 21,000 acres, they were the, not always benevolent, landlords to the tenants of Curryquin. Kilboy was burned during the War of Independence and the Dunalley’s were forced to flee. The great house has since been rebuilt and is now owned by Shane Ryan, son of Ryanair founder Tony Ryan.
Beyond Kilboy, we piled aboard the waiting bus for our journey back to the Silvermines. Afterwards, over a generous repast in Hickey’s, I mused that the day interrogating the hidden history of the Silvermines was indeed a fascinating one.
Walk for the Weekend: Silvermines Festival Walk, Co Tipperary
Start/Finish: From Nenagh take the R500 to Silvermines. Continue south through the village for about 2.5km to the trailhead at the highest point of the road. From Kilboy, it is a 3km road walk back to Silvermines.
Suitability: Easy walk on firm terrain.
Time: 2 hours
Map: Discovery Series, sheet 59