Walk for the weekend: Strolling by the Suir
Enjoy the historical sites and natural beauty from Carrick-on-Suir to Kilsheelan
Walk: The River Suir from Carrick-on-Suir to Kilsheelan
Suitability: Suitable for all
Terrain: Mainly grassy river bank
How to Get There: The walk begins at the historic old bridge in the town of Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary
Map: Discovery series Number 75
Follow the riverside path along the north bank heading westwards from the old bridge, of which local poet Michael Coady wrote the lines,
“Boys are fishing from a bridge
Built before Columbus raised a sail.”
This venerable structure dates back to the mid-15th century, and, although 30 miles from the sea, it was – until 1793 – the lowest bridge crossing the river Suir.
As you leave the town behind, look out for some of the last remaining traditional fishing cots moored along the river, shallow, wooden fishing punts of a type that date back to the time the bridge was built. If you are lucky you will see one of these primitive craft being guided along the river by its owner, who stands in the stern like a Venetian gondolier and poles the craft along.
Across the river the horizon is lined by the steep wooded hills that characterise the southern side of the Suir Valley. The riverside path is lined with a rich variety of wildflowers including a plant with a long-stamened yellow flower called Stinking Tutsan, that grows out of the stone-walled bank. It was much used by herbalists in the old days as a treatment for sciatica and gout, and a salve for burns or wounds.
Soon a round tower with gothic-arched windows comes into view on the far side of the river. It was erected in the 19th century by the Davin family to guard the salmon weir that once was strung across the river here. Maurice Davin was a founder member of the GAA and a nationalist, but that didn’t prevent the weir being wrecked, and the roof blown off the tower, during the War of Independence.
At the time of the Norman conquest, the Suir was used as a major highway into the rich agricultural lands of Tipperary from the port city of Waterford, and towerhouses were built along it at regular intervals to regulate trade. Soon, the ruins of Coolnamuck Castle, one of these, can be seen on the south bank. Further on another, similar castle can be seen up to the right.
A little later, the rounded shape of Slieve na mBan, of song and story, comes into sight off to the north. Looking a lot higher than its 220 metres, it is rich in myths and legends involving fairies, Fionn Mac Cumhail, and a high king of Ireland, Ugaine Mór, who is said to be buried under the great cairn on its summit.
Soon yet another castle is passed, called Poulakerry Castle, and this one, after nearly 600 years, is still inhabited. It was built by the Butlers in the 15th century, and the little stone-constructed harbour below the castle was probably used during a lawless period in our history when armed skiffs were launched from here to demand tolls from passing merchant galleys, a practice which led to these particular Butlers and others Suirside landowners being dubbed ‘robber barons’.
Fill the manger
When I passed here there were thick bunches of yellow lady’s bedstraw growing along the path. It is said that this flower was used to fill the manger in which the infant Jesus was laid, and during Norman times it was commonly used to fill mattresses, providing a fragrant bed and the origin of the phrase “in the straw”.
The river now turns through an S-bend, and around the corner Landscape House, an elegant bow-fronted dwelling of the 1740s, can be seen between the trees on the far side of the river. It is reputed to have associations with the infamous Captain Boycott. Soon the grand old arched bridge at Kilsheelan, and the end of your walk, comes into sight ahead. You can turn up right to reach the award-winning village, or walk on to the bridge where there is a grand grassy area to sit and enjoy the sight of the river sweeping under the dark arches.
The main attractions of the village are the old church with an interesting Romanesque doorway, probably dating from the 11th century, and the remains of a 12th century Norman motte overlooking the river, which has been recycled, and is in use today as a shrine to Our Lady of Lourdes.