Yesterday marked the end of the (very short) Multeen Way, meaning that today I would begin the next section I had marked as ‘sketchy’ in my sheet: the Ormond Way.
But it turns out things are different now than they were for me on the Duhallow/North Cork/Awful Pavement Way. See, yesterday when I said Matt Ryan was something of an expert on the next section? That was actually a dramatic understatement.
Matt Ryan is the man behind this section. As in, I got in his car yesterday and saw the actual waymarker plaques for the Ormond Way – little yellow men and all – sitting on his dashboard. (I had a complete fangirl moment about that, which felt really weird.) According to his friend Jim Kennedy – who would be my walking guide today – he has been working actively on making the Ormond Way a reality for at least 15 years, and by Matt’s own account he has been working towards this since he was in grade school and became fascinated with local history – including the story of O’Sullivan’s March passing through the region – thanks to a beloved school teacher.
Matt picked me up from the B&B in Silvermines this morning. Our first stop was Castle Ottway, the local castle that had been converted into a farm due to its historical ties to Cromwell (if you aren’t sure why that might be important or who that is, google “Cromwell Ireland” or something similar, but only if you want to encounter some horribly depressing history). I would share photos, but there were signs warning us away, farm equipment parked next to crumbling walls, and all manner of strange juxtapositions of history and property rights going on all at once. Matt sighed as we pulled away – while loathing Cromwell and everything that bore his touch made a degree of sense (particularly at the time this property was re-privatized, right after Irish independence), Matt clearly did not feel that consigning an entire historical site to the status of a glorified farm shed had been a particularly sensible move.
He then brought me to his house to meet up with Jim. I am sure Matt would have walked with me himself, but after months of wrestling with illness, his stamina isn’t exactly at its peak. Despite this, he spent at least an hour sitting over tea with us, talking about the history of the walk, the area, the local families, and more. Not since Raymond O’Sullivan in Newmarket (also encountered during a sketchy section, I am now reminded) had I come across someone with so much knowledge packed into their head. He spun it out across the table as we sat, sipping mugs of tea, sunlight slanting in through the curtains. I listened and fervently tried to capture some of the torrent of information being directed my way.
He described the local landscape and various landmarks in great detail, naming hills, mountains, valleys, and rivers – Gort na Booley, Cnoc a Nora, Sliabh Mauher, the Giha River, the Three Sisters, and more – with a story to go with each one. They ranged from the domains of fairy queens to the hiding places of famous rogues. He talked about the route O’Sullivan would have had to take given the landscape at the time, describing how he would have had to stick to the hills not just for the advantage of higher ground but to avoid the remnants of a giant lake that has long since drained away, leaving only a river behind. And he described how the formerly open Irish landscape had been fragmented in around 1880, with the great push for tenant farming and the planting of the beautiful but literally divisive hedgerows.
“An Irishman will fence anything,” Matt said. “Give an Irishman a two foot square and he’ll put a fence arond it.”
He also defined a term I had been seeing on signs around the area – raparee – which was an individual who knew his way across a large area, and could serve as a guide. Ned of the Hill is one of the most famous of these (he’s got a song named after him); Matt claimed relation to another well known raparee of the region, one Galloping Hogan.
He talked more about his family and Jim’s, describing how both had at some point been (as he put it) “fucked up into the hills” by invading English families. Jim’s family had previously held seven castles, whereas the Ryans had held none; this apparently led to a perverse satisfaction among the Ryans when the Kennedys had their castles seized by the English Butlers – now they were even! In this and other stories, he did not shy away from the fact that while the Irish had suffered tremendous oppression throughout history, they had visited a great deal of violence upon one another as well. “If the English or the Vikings weren’t around to start a fight,” he shrugged at one point, “We’d start it among ourselves.” He described local crews of young men as recently as a hundred years ago, with names like the Magpies. These were ostensibly formed for defense, but often acted as little more than rowdy gangs squabbling drunkenly among themselves.
And finally he discussed one of the local heroes of Templederry – the town where we sat at that very moment – a priest named John Kenyon who worked closely with the Young Ireland movement, and would have led them but for being silenced by the bishop above him. I heard about Kenyon’s secret meetings, his friends and his enemies, and his fiery speeches, including one to around 10,000 people in Templederry, armed with only pitchforks and ready to go up against soldiers with guns. “Lads, let not the lack of weaponry deflect us from our task”, he told them.
It was odd, I admit, to hear of a priest advocating violence so directly – and that being spoken of as a good thing. But given the earlier stories, it didn’t seem out of place as it might have. Ireland is a complicated place, with a complicated history.
We finally gathered ourselves and headed onward, but en route to our starting point in Milestone, we took one more diversion, stopping by the remains and monument to a local hedge school nearby. These schools – outdoors, sometimes literally in fact under hedges, though in other cases built in small underground rooms or sheds – were used for teaching Catholic children and holding Catholic mass during times when such acts were heavily persecuted.
Hilltop hedge school
Here I am, next to the monument
Jim Kennedy and Matt Ryan
Looking out at Mauher Sliabh or Mother Mountain, where festivals to the goddess Ebhlinne were held and where Fodla (remember her? one of Eriu’s sisters?) supposedly met and challenged Amergin
We descended from the hedge school to the Milestone, where Matt left Jim and I behind to begin our long walk to Templederry.
I had thought this would be a reasonably short walk, actually – it’s only about 15km on the roads. But with Jim alongside, we did not take the roads. We took the route that will hopefully soon be opened as the Ormond Way. Basically, I got a preview of the Ormond Way as it hopefully will be when it formally opens to the public.
The path it follows, while much longer, is vastly superior to roads in pretty much every way.
A waymark post!… without its little yellow man yet
This field, I learned from Jim (who is a farmer), is poorly maintained silage grass – he pointed out a variety of wildflowers with mild distaste, indicating that “these lads” and “those little feckers” would not be present in a well-kept field
This field, on the other hand, had likely been recently re-seeded; Jim indicated it would be very nutritious and delicious for the cows if cut at the proper time and packed away
This field is probably not nutritious at all but it looks like a field of fallen stars with all those little white puffs so I loved it anyway
We had climbed up a good ways crossing all those fields, and enjoyed the views from our height. BTW: the farthest right of those faraway mountains? with the trees on the top that kind of go down a bit? Yeah that’s where we are heading – that mountain has the road that goes over to Templederry. If it looks like it is far away that is because it is
And then this handsome fellow appeared…
And we went into his field! (Jim told me in advance that he was very friendly – which he was especially to Jim’s very exciting orange shirt)
Oh yeah and he had two gorgeous friends!
They stalked us the whole way across, acting as the least subtle ninjas ever. At one point this guy put his silky nose right up on my neck and sniffed gently about – it was warm and soft and I kind of wanted to hug him forever and ride away into the sunset
I was very sad when it was time to leave the field of the three friendly horses.
Especially when it was followed not too long after by this fun adventure – squeeze down this stile without getting electrocuted on the wire right there! Go yay fun!
LAMBS OF THE DAY RETURNS I have missed them so much but then you knew that
Look look look! An actual Ormond Way waymark! Some of them ARE up!
Eventually our journey brought us to our first stop – the village of Upperchurch.
Matt would totally know who this guy was and what this said, but we did not
Upperchurch Church I feel like I am making a typo when I write that
We paused here for lunch at the local pub, enjoying some beef on fresh brown bread and a bit of conversation with the locals. However, we had only a third (at best) of our journey complete, so we got ourselves back up and continued on… (continued in next post)