Walk for the weekend: Tranquility above the clouds in Sligo
Experience the spirituality of the Hill of the Fairies in Tubbercurry
The mist below the slopes of Cnoc na Sidhe.
South Sligo is a special place. It’s a land of pretty and peaceful villages, mysterious caves and tombs, wild rivers and lakes, and limestone and granite hills. A plethora of “hidden gems” of myth and music, story and place are there to be explored, to “feel” and to be enthralled by.
And there is nowhere better to begin a visit, and to experience all of these sensations and emotions, than on the Hill of the Fairies, or Knocknashee, about 10km north of Tubercurry. Along with the stone chambers of the Carrowkeel Tomb Complex and the mysterious depths of the Caves of Kesh, this airy limestone plateau was always a “holy”, or spiritual place among south Sligo’s rich constellation of such places. Michael Gibbons, one of Ireland’s leading field archaeologists, was much impressed with this hill, calling it a “place apart” and “one of the great European hill-forts”.
And, on a lovely late-March day, six of us from Cawley’s warm and welcoming guesthouse in Tubbercurry came to experience Cnoc na Sidhe. We were in the company of John Barrett, of Wild Wet Adventures (tel 086-7222750), who runs a range of outdoor activities, including guided walks, in the area.
Barrett took us the 1km from the ample parking at Court Abbey (well worth a visit), and we respectfully entered a working farm at a sign indicating an agreed route up the hill. He then brought us up the steep grassy slopes, over the hill-fort’s now undefended “ramparts” to the Stone Age summit tomb-cairns, and showed us the subtle indentations of the dwellings of our more recent Iron Age ancestors.
He pointed out for us Croagh Patrick in the distant haze, Ireland’s holiest mountain, and Benbulben, one of our most iconic, and everything in-between. Then he encouraged us to ramble awhile, and just “feel” and enjoy the place, in the gentle sunshine of that day.
A quiet and tranquil place, the summit is indeed perfect for a ramble; it is bare and grassy with no fences or ditches, and easy going underfoot. Liam Scollan, who lives just below the hill, joined us and contributed his more spiritual “take”, telling us of wandering the hill above lowland morning mist and even camping beside the Iron Age “fairy rings” there.
For him, and for all of us, an aura is in the air there, a legacy of occupation over long millennia by the living and the dead; busy Iron Age families lived, loved and laboured there, secure in their high fortress, while long-dead Stone Age chieftains lay silent in their ancient burial tombs nearby.
For us that day, our visit and slow walk inside and around the “ramparts” of this fortress, taking in the 360-degree vista, was a most memorable experience. And it is just one among many walks and other opportunities for outdoor activities in storied south Sligo, an area that will well reward a lengthy visit.
Hill of the Fairies, Co Sligo
Map: OS Sheet 25 or maps and advice available in Cawley’s Guesthouse, Tubbercurry (cawleysguesthouse.ie)
Effort: 150mts of climbing, about 5km and 2hrs
Start/finish: Court Abbey carpark, about 10km from Tubbercurry
Suitability: some steep ground requiring care in wet conditions, otherwise easy