Glanageenty Walkways – River of tranquillity, valley of legends
by John Lenihan
Glanageenty is a deep chasm forming a narrow valley that runs a distance of 3 miles from Clogher to Barnageeha gap in the parish of Ballymacelligott between Castleisland and Tralee. The Gaelic version of Glanageenty is Gleann na gCaointe, which may translate either as the Valley of Mourning or the Valley of the Fairies. For many years its location its history and its beauty was known only to those who lived there because due to its secluded setting most travellers continued on their way to other venues completely unaware to what they were bypassing by a short distance.
However the seclusion of this rugged landscape has also been its greatest promoter, in the Desmond survey of 1584 this area was described as one of the wildest and most remote parts of Southern Ireland . Due to its dense woods and massive moorlands it gained comparison to the legendary Sherwood forests. Like Sherwood forest it too saw its fair share of heroes and bandits. The area was a well-known as a training ground for armies especially for those who preferred to keep their training secret down through the years. Today many still claim to feel a sense of mystery, myth and folklore about the entire area as they stroll along by the bank of the Glanageenty river which winds its way within the woodlands of the valley floor.
The Earl of Desmond story played a huge part in Irish history. It began in the year 910 when a group of the family left Florence and moved to Normandy in France. In 1066, they moved to England with William the Conqueror and then onto Ireland in 1169 with the Normans. That incredible journey was to end here in Glanageenty in 1583 with the capture and execution of Gerald Fitzgerald the last knighted Earl of Desmond. There are many legendary stories told of Gerald and his warrior wife Eleanor and how on many occasions she, as an excellent horsewoman, led soldiers and bounty hunters many a merry dance through the woods of Glanageenty as she led them away from her injured and battle weary husband. Another story tells of how they got surrounded around a camp site on the woods one night and how she dragged her wounded husband into the river where she kept him hidden until the soldiers had left. He eventually forced his wife to leave him and their life in the wood which she did at great reluctance and it was only then that he was captured. A stone plaque now marks the spot in the woods where he was beheaded in 1583. The plaque was erected on 11 November 1983 by the Kerry Archaeological and Historical Society to mark the 400th anniversary of FitzGerald’s death.
There are 2 other plaques of note in Glanageenty dealing with famous stories from a war torn period of Irish History, firstly there is a book available called “Casements Last adventure” and I was very fortunate to have been gifted it by Doctor Tim Horgan, the story tells of Rodger Casements arrival in Banna Strand with arms for the Irish struggle, it tells of his capture and his later execution but it deals hugely with the escape of his comrade Capt. Robert Monteith, Capt. Monteith tells in detail of his battle to survive in a hostile environment and one of the places he describes in great detail is of his stay in the valley of Glanageenty with an old hermit called Sean thaidh Oig Lenihan in an old tumble down cottage beside a gurgling stream beneath a purple heather clad hillside, in the book he tells of his stay here with a man who had a cat and a dog whom he describes as 2 sworn enemies but he says the hermit and his dog had an almost human like understanding, this very interesting book tells of how Capt. Monteith eventually made his escape out of Kerry using this secluded and mysterious landscape as his escape route, today walkers can still stand on the site of the remains of the old cottage and listen to the same stream and gaze across at the same purple heather clad hillside that Capt. Robert Monteith wrote about in the early 1900rds.
The other ruin of note in Glanageenty is the old Boyle homestead which can be seen from the walkway and it was here that in 1923 Stephen Fuller was brought after been the sole survivor of the Ballyseedy massacre, a monument stands on the roadside on the outskirts of Tralee in memory of all who died that night but up in Glanageenty can be found the story of the sole survivor, walkers can now stroll in peace along the same path that was taken that night in sheer terror and pain as comrades of Stephen Fuller tried to find a safe house somewhere along the valley where they could leave him to recover while they created a dugout or cave to hide him in, eventually they arrived at the door of the Boyle family where the youngest daughter Annie Boyle gave up her bed for the wounded man, Annie went on to live to 102 years of age and with some gentle coaxing relived the story of that night to me before she died, like Capt. Monteith the story of Stephen Fuller also had a happy ending as a dugout was created further up in the moorlands in the lands of the Herlihy family and it was here he stayed until his wounds were healed.
Today the Valley is a peaceful place but many say that it’s still saving lives as in a world of anxiety and depression many people say they come to Glanageenty for a walk and to clear their heads, they find the peace and the beauty of this area is physically and mentally rewarding and they go away feeling emotionally better for their visit here, there are now 3 walking loops here going from the shorter green loop of approx. 1 hour to the blue at 2 hours and the longer red loop at 3 hours, times of course vary depending on fitness level but these are average times for the loops, the area has some lovely place names such as the Black birds rock, the Ravens Glen, the Bridge of tears, Bother an Iarla, The old Brooke, Glounspillane, Cnoc an Aifreann, and the Castle Field. It was around 2005 that all this began to take shape and with massive good will from locals and from landowners it was arranged to open up the area to the public, however as there were very few paths in the area you would need to be a fully-fledged mountaineer to access certain points of the landscape so the rural social scheme of North and East Kerry development were designated to carry out plans and work on creating an amenity that would be accessible to many while at the same time leaving as much of the natural landscape as possible untouched, some people feel it’s a shame that the area isn’t wheelchair and buggy friendly however to do this we would have had to create a false setting to much of the area because due to the elevation of the landscape huge machinery would have had to be brought on site which would have caused huge scarring on the landscape and would have dented the sense of mystery and isolation that people can now relate to when they walk deep into the isolation of the Glanageenty Valley. This walkway will on any average Sunday have 15 to 20 cars parked along the valley at any given time of the day, it is now a favourite place for young people learning the sport of Orienteering and for athletes using the trails for strength training for upcoming events, it has become one of the most popular places for night hiking during the winter months as it’s trails are well marked and a good hours walking can be got without leaving the shelter of the woodlands on wintry nights.
For those wishing to visit Glanageenty you can view an old lime Kiln (or 2) you can view the site of an old Desmond Castle and a holy well, the ravens Glen waterfall and of course the above mentioned historic plaques, there is also the remains of an old butterroad just above the carpark, in the distance you have vistas of Carrauntoohil Ireland highest mountain, of Mount Brandon and of the Gap of Dubloe, on clear days it is possible to see right across the Shannon into County Clare. On route you will get to see the Tom McCarthy Bridge which honours the exploits of the local marathon runner who in 1965 won the New York Marathon, after reading of his exploits you can continue on to the Dan Aherne Bridge where walkers can read of the achievements of the local cycling star who in 1964 was voted cyclist of the year in America, it tells of his achievements of winning 8 Ras Tailteann stages in his career of 3 Ras’s in Ireland, beside this bridge is a lovely stream and beside it is a picnic table in a little natural suntrap area, this table has a plaque telling of the achievements of another famous local athletic family, the Griffins and it’s here you can read of John Griffins achievements of winning Dublin city Marathon titles plus international Marathons, the international achievements of his brother Paul as a cyclist and the athletic achievements of brothers Stephen and Liam and of the cycling victories of their father Billy, this same landscape and indeed this very wood played a major part to one other local sports person as this was the very area of woodland, streams and mountainside used vigorously in the 1980s by local mountain racer John Lenihan on route to winning the world mountain running title at the Matterhorn in Switzerland in September of 1991.
The book “Hidden Kerry” by Breda Joy carries further detail about the Glanageenty walkway and of the Earl of Desmond history, huge thanks is due to local people who sponsored the erecting of the historic signs and for helping in research without their contribution this project could not have been brought to this level, we have plans to expand further this project as it’s a work in progress and hopefully now that people are aware of the project and of its benefits that we will have a wider pool of people willing to come on board to help out with some further sponsorship needed be it financially or be it skilled workers for precise work or advice.