Severed heads, spooky forests and spectacular silhouettes

Outdoor Living

LET THERE BE LIGHT Emerging from the undergrowth on Teevenish Hill.

Martin Dillane

Part 2
The Croagh Patrick Heritage Trail
Ballintubber to Aughagower
Trail Surface: Forest Tracks, farmland, country Roads and boreens.
Difficulty: Hard
Distance: 25.5 kilometres
Duration: 6-8 hours
Start: Car park in Ballintubber
O/S Maps: 31, 38

Our walk today features Day 2 of the Croagh Patrick Heritage Trail Festival walk, which was held over the St Patrick’s Holiday weekend in March, though the trail can of course be walked any time of the year. There is, however, another Croagh Patrick Heritage Trail Festival coming up on September 23-25, for those who would like to do the trail as part of an organised event.
This second brings us from Ballintubber Abbey to the picturesque village of Aughagower. The bi-annual festival is organised each year by the hard-working Clogher Environmental Group and attracts in the region of 70 to 100 walkers to the area. The environmental group partners with a worthy charity to help raise funds and increase the profile of the trail. Mayo Roscommon Hospice was the charity for the March walk, and there are plans in place to partner up with Western Care for the upcoming autumn walk.
As we departed from Ballintubber Abbey, the excitement among the walkers was clearly audible in the crisp morning air as they swapped stories and experiences from the previous day’s trek.
The abbey itself was founded in 1216 by Cathal Crovderg O’Connor and is an important sacred Irish historical site. It has, however, suffered a turbulent history through suppression and fire – but as poet Cecil Day Lewis wrote, ‘it refused to die’, and worship continued.
Today, Ballintubber is recognised as the country’s only royal abbey that has been in continuous use down the generations, and it is currently celebrating its 800 year anniversary.  Tiobóid na Loing, a son of Granuaile is actually buried in the sacristy.
Our first meal break is in the little village of Killawalla, located in the foothills of the Partry Mountains. Killawalla is an Anglicisation of the Gaelic ‘Coill a Bhaile’, meaning ‘Wood of the Road or Pass’.
During penal times, ‘Seán na Sagart’, a legendary priest hunter, frequented these areas. He received a large bounty for each priest’s head he collected – heads he then tossed into a lake nearby called, appropriately enough, Loch na gCeann. Seán na Sagart is buried in Ballintubber Abbey where an ash tree marks his grave. He is buried facing north where the sun never rises, in contrast to the other graves in the graveyard, which face the east and the rising sun.
From Killawalla, we journey through the town land of Bellaburke and then on to the Aille River and its famous caves. In 2008, A Polish cave explorer named Artur Kozlowski reached 103 metres (338ft) below ground here. This surpassed the previous British/Irish record of 90 metres attributed to Britain’s deepest cave, Wookey Hole, in the Mendip hill in Somerset.
Then, as we ascended the long, slow drag up Teevenish Hill through closed-in Coillte forestry, the conversations stopped, and all eyes searched for the inevitable clearing at the summit.
The hard walking paid off, as the view from the top is a joy to behold. The sun was setting in the west, silhouetting Croagh Patrick, whilst Aughagower nestled in the valley with its famous round tower soaking up the last rays of the evening sun. Classic!

The final part of the three-article series on the Croagh Patrick Heritage Trail will be published on August 16. For more information on the Autumn Croagh Patrick Heritage Trail Festival on September 23-25 visit email or call 094 9030687.

Martin Dillane works for South West Mayo Development Company as Rural Recreation Officer. His job includes the design, development and promotion of walking and cycling trails. He can be contacted at Every month, he will cover a new  section of the 200km Western Way, which starts in Oughterard, Co Galway, and ends in Bonniconlon in north Mayo.