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OUTDOORS New Mulranny National Loop Walk

Outdoor Living
Wild mountain goat

Walk on the wild side


Outdoor Living

Ciara Moynihan


No aspect of our heritage – natural, cultural or built – will go uncelebrated in National Heritage Week 2010, which runs from August 21 to 29. Wild mountain goats and wide open spaces are as much a part of our heritage as Connemara ponies and round towers, they’re just a little less sung.  
Wide open spaces are one thing that walkers are guaranteed to encounter on the Mulranny Heritage Hike, which takes place on Sunday, August 29. Wild mountain goats are also a distinct possibility. Although the elevation of one such goat to the status of royalty at the annual Puck Fair in Kerry has meant that the species has been much in the news recently, wild mountain goats are in fact few and far between.
According to Séan Carolan, who has been the guide on the Mulranny Heritage Hike for the past four years, there are just 200 Old Irish Goats left in Ireland. Roughly half a dozen of that population is thought to roam the hills of Mulranny. DNA testing to confirm the goat’s rare identity is planned.
Seán explained that an expert from the British Goat Society was booked to give a talk on the wild mountain goat population in conjunction with the hike. Unfortunately, the talk has been unavoidably postponed. Disappointing certainly, but Mulranny Heritage Hike participants might well be treated to a glimpse of the real thing, a wild-eyed, nimble-footed, shaggy-haired goat rambling through its natural environment.
The hike – six kilometres in total, free and fully guided – takes between two and two-and-a-half hours. Starting and ending at Mulranny Park Hotel, it takes in some of West Mayo’s most diverse landscapes and seascapes, including salt marsh, Mediterranean heath (unique to Mayo), woodland, some spectacular viewing points of Clew Bay and Bellacragher Bay, and a portion of the Great Western Greenway.
The route is a new one, and the walk on August 29 is doubly significant, as it will also mark its official opening as a Fáilte Ireland National Loop Walk. Tom Carolan, Rural Recreation Officer with the South West Mayo Leader Company, worked with Séan on the design and development of the walk. Speaking to The Mayo News yesterday, Tom explained that four Rural Social Scheme workers were also employed in turning the project into a reality.   
Seán is a native of Mulranny and has an in-depth knowledge of the local environment, initiating conservation projects and providing the public with interpretation on the local Machair and wildlife. He commented that the new walk, which was over a year in the making, provides “yet another example of local landowners from Cushlecka and Mulranny providing amenities and supporting tourism enterprise and jobs.” He was keen to sincerely thank the 30 landowners involved for their generosity in signing up to the five-year permissive access agreements, adding that he is confident that their generosity would pay dividends.
He also commended the Mulranny Park Hotel for giving access over a significant portion of the route. 
Natural-heritage rich, the loop walk passes through two Special Areas of Conservation (Clew Bay and Curran) and one Special Protection Area for birds (Nephin Beg Mountains). During the Heritage Hike, Seán will discuss the unique ecologies of these sites – all three of which are protected by EU Natura 2000 legislation – as well as Mulranny’s history and railway heritage.
Two thirds of the walk will be south of the Great Western Greenway, while one third will be to its north.
This latter third is a little more arduous, but those who are fit enough for the climb will be rewarded with the spectacular views of Bellacragher Bay. The ascent – about 1k – is quite stiff – “it’s the hike part,” Seán explained – but those who feel that they may not be able for it can make their way back to Mulranny without having to complete the last, more difficult part.
The route crosses the N59 at three points, but is almost entirely off-road, on the causeway, woodland tracks, the greenway and mountain heath. Would-be walkers should note that walking boots are essential, while walking sticks and rain gear are also recommended.

For a full event listing see www.heritageweek.ie or pick up a National Event Guide at your local library or tourist office. For further information about the Mulranny Heritage Hike, contact Seán Carolan on 086 3825345.

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