Heading westward along the quiet country road at Glebe leads you deeper into the idyllic Glen of Aherlow, where echoes of history resonate with names like Geoffrey Keating, Eamonn a’Chnoic, Galloping Hogan, St Berrihert and St Pecaun.
To the north of the Glen, the River Aherlow twists and turns, just like the ridge of mountains that extends for some 25km on its fringes. These are the Galtee Mountains, whose peaks rise and fall like notes of an arpeggio, and befittingly known at one time as Sliabh Crotta Cliach or the ‘mountains of the harps of Cliach’. Legend speaks of a harpist called Cliach who serenaded alone with two harps in these parts to win the hand of a Sidh lord’s daughter.
From the Glen of Aherlow, the Galtees project steeply skyward, with one peak towering higher than the rest. Her name is Galtymore, the queen of the Galtees that bears the accolade of being Ireland’s highest inland peak, rising above the plains to 919m (3,015 feet), and thus making it also one of the select group of Irish peaks that qualify for Munro status. In this blog, we’ll look at two of the most popular routes to scale mighty Galtymore and will also visit two of the most picturesque lakes in the area.
Galtymore From The North
This is the connoisseur’s route to the top of Galtymore, which also takes in three other summits in the area – Cush (639m), Galtybeg (799m) and Slievecushnabinnia (766m). The mountain vista is dramatic throughout and you’ll also get to look down on the impressive corrie lakes of Lough Borheen, Lough Dineen and Lough Curra.
Doing the route clockwise (from the parking area near Clydagh Bridge) seems to be the most popular choice of tackling this circuit, plus you’ll get that thigh-burner of an ascent of Galtybeg out of the way early. Although this loop is navigationally straightforward, beware the sections of high cliffs on the northern end, and especially if the visibility is poor or if windy.
The summit of Galtymore is broad and flat, decorated with conglomerate rocks and a conspicuous white cross. The cross is Celtic in design and was erected in 1975 by a local man, Ted Kavanagh who climbed the mountain annually with his wife Joan to paint it until his passing in 1998. From the summit, you’ll be rewarded with superb views in all directions, and if it is very clear you’ll also pick out the outlines of the Kerry and Wicklow mountains.
Galtymore From The South
Unlike its formidable character from the north, the southern slopes of the Galtees are benign in nature. This approach begins from near Skeheenarinky village and meanders along a trail known as the Black Road, an old track used by the locals to draw turf from the hillside. The ascent is never too demanding and along the way you will pass a stone monument shaped as an aircraft’s tail and erected to commemorate the Abbeyshrule airmen who were tragically killed in a crash on the hillside in 1976.
On topping out on cairn-less Galtybeg, you’ll enjoy a spectacular vista northward to the lush Glen of Aherlow and also an airy perspective over Lough Dineen, tucked away in a corrie below Galtymore’s imposing northeast face. This oval-shaped lake is said to be terrorised by a serpent banished there by St Patrick, who put a daibhcín or pot over its head for eternity.
Galtymore is now obvious from Galtybeg. While descending to the adjoining saddle, it is advisable to keep to its southern fringes as the ground there is slightly firmer compared to the middle and northern sections. After summiting Galtymore, retrace your steps back down to the saddle, then veer right (there is no need to climb Galtybeg again!) to regain the Black Road.
Lough Curra is an impressive corrie lake situated in a deep hollow below Slievecushnabinnia and Galtymore. It is said to be inhabited by a monster that was cast to its depths in the eighth century by local St Berrihert. I’ve seen fish in its dark waters, and often wonder where it came from.
The approach to it is from the parking area near Clydagh Bridge, the same one that’s used if you were approaching Galtymore from the north. The out-and-back trail is straightforward, and ideal for a family hike. At a T-junction, pass a ruin known as Saunders Lodge. Later, when you’re out of the woods, follow a signpost for Lough Curra, emerge onto open moorland then follow a path known as the Ice Road – once used to extract blocks of ice from the lake that were used in the ice-houses of local estates.
On reaching a large boulder at the top of a knoll, most of the ascent is over. When you finally get to Lough Curra – the highest of the five glacial lakes in the Galtees – you will be immediately absorbed by the wild beauty of your surroundings and the sheer cliffs that tower above you. The silence can be deafening too unless broken by your own echo, the bleat of sheep or the call of ravens.
Lough Muskry is another corrie lake in the Galtees and its largest. Its inky-blue waters sit at the foot of towering vertical columns of brooding sandstone cliffs.
There was a time when the lake was known as Lough Bel Sead or the ‘lake with the jewel mouth’. According to legend, an assemblage of 150 female birds, bound as pairs in silver chains once lived at the lakeshore. One bird, Coerabar Boeth, stood out from the others and she wore a golden-red necklace of 150 chains with a golden jewel dangled at the end of each chain. Legend also suggests that these birds were actually beautiful young women who were transformed into their winged form every second year at Lough Muskry.
Reaching Lough Muskry from the trailhead at R 917 283 is relatively straightforward, with a signposted trail leading southward to the lakeshore. The trail will take you through a forest and then open moorland before crossing a stream to arrive at the lake itself.
About The Blogger
Adrian Hendroff is a qualified Mountain Leader and a Mountaineering Ireland approved course provider. He is a fully-insured mountain guide and runs regular navigation and Mountain Skills courses. Adrian has written several Irish walking guidebooks for the Collins Press and is a regular contributor to newspaper/magazine features. He also runs outdoor photography workshops. More on Adrian see www.adrianhendroff.com or www.fabulousviewpoints.com