27 May 2022

An Dobharchú & The North Leitrim Easter Hillwalking Festival

Macrh 31 & April 1

An Dobharchú & The North Leitrim Easter  Hillwalking Festival

Folkloric tales of lake monsters i.e. the Glenade Lough’s An Dobharchú, recent archaeological finds and the opportunity of panoramic views of the Sligo and Donegal coastlines will enchant the walker at the annual North Leitrim Glens Hill Walking Festival this Easter in the stunning Glenade Valley on this Saturday, March 31st and on this Sunday, April 1st.

The Festival run by the dynamic Holey Soles Hillwalking Club will also see the inaugural Walk of the Arroo Trail Head on Easter Sunday, made possible by the inspirational co-operation between local landowners and agencies for the benefit of the general public.

A special Festival evening event in Manorhamilton’s Glens Centre will give the walkers and the public a chance to wind down with a film by documentary maker Michael Brown.

Now in its 25th year, the North Leitrim Glens Hill Walking Festival will be exploring Glenade, or the “Jealous Valley” as it’s known in local folklore, and somewhat like Scotland’s Lough Ness and its monster. Steeped in history the Glenade Valley can boast a series of firsts.

According to Manorhamilton solicitor, Jim McMorrow, one of the Festival organisers, “you’ll get to see one of the finest examples of a glaciated valley in Europe” in Glenade. Jim was bitten by the walking bug when he made a decision to hang up his Glencar/Manor football boots, feeling as he says “too old for football” a few years back.

Looking around he chose walking to fill that gap for much needed exercise and has been involved in the Festival from the beginning. Now 25 years later he’s never looked back and the Festival has been going from strength to strength with record numbers last year.

Jim is drawn this year by how “off the beaten track the walks are” with scenery, which he says, is “absolutely fantastic.” The dramas of the ‘sheer cliffs’ are a highlight for him on both days of the Festival and will be something to be enjoyed by the keen hiker.

In Glenade’s landscape, you discover that some of the best preserved bones of Ireland’s last brown bears (dated from 3,100 years ago) were uncovered at Poll na mBear or the Cave of the Bears in 1997.

Because of the consistently cool temperatures of the caves, archaeologists were able to collect well-preserved evidence from the bear and cub’s bones found, and DNA now links these bears with modern polar bears.  

It was the first time that there was evidence to suggest that humans and bears could have co existed in history here. Human hunting may even have been responsible for the demise of the Irish bears according to a related BBC documentary.  

Walkers will hike above the caves where the bears were found during some of the walks. The bones can now be viewed having made their final resting place in the nearby Marble Arch Caves Centre in Co. Fermanagh where they are displayed to the public.

It’s in this landscape that you also hear tales of a lake monster in the depths of Glenade Lough. Half otter and half dog, An Dobharchú might be considered as Ireland’s own Lough Ness monster.

The creature is said to have attacked and killed a local woman called Gráinne Connolly in 1720. Her husband, Terence, on killing the beast for its actions woke the An Dobharchú’s mate who gave chase to him across the Valley until he managed to kill it under Benbulben.

It’s a story that a song was written and sung about until recently at the regular Kinlough Markets. Also it’s a story made more chilling by the fact that a gravestone in the local graveyard of Conwall features a carving of An Dobharchú on a headstone.  

It’s without doubt that Glenade is a unique place. Recreation Officer for Sligo and Leitrim, Deirdre Kennedy reiterates how special Glenade is, for its folklore, its wildlife and its people.

She proudly shares how the local landowners, Leitrim Co. Council, Leitrim Development Company’s Brian Smyth, Leitrim Recreation Forum and the Recreation Officer have been working in partnership for a period of time to create the Arroo trail.

The inaugural Arroo Walk is on as the Easter Sunday ramble of the Hillwalking Festival. It’s a family friendly event, the trail “is very accessible for families” she says.

The Arroo Trail climbs early to 244 metres and treats people to panoramic views very quickly. In a Special Area of Conservation there’s evidence in the landscape of rare flora and fauna.

And if you keep an eye out above you might spot buzzards and hen harriers or catch a glimpse of the elusive red grouse in the heather. Deirdre is excited that the general public will now be able to witness what she describes as “stunning views” and is proud of the collaborative work that made that possible.  

Ms. Kennedy says she’s been “delighted to have the opportunity to collaborate with Leitrim County Council, Leitrim Development Company, the landowners and local community to develop the amenity at Arroo”.

Deirdre singles out local landowners and the community for particular praise “as being instrumental in making the trail happen and sharing such a special place with the public acknowledging ‘the good will of the landowners for allowing permissive access so the public can themselves experience this beautiful area.”

Ms. Kennedy sees the Arroo Trail as a real addition to the tourism infrastructure of the North West and as a “great asset for walking tourism in the region”. It is now listed as a national trail route.

On this Saturday evening, March 31st walkers can unwind at a special dinner and film organised by the Festival at the Glens Centre. The documentary chronicles the tough and interesting life of the working mule in Nepal.The documentary maker, Michael Brown will be on hand hosting a questions and answers session for the crowd after the film.

The Festival organisers would like to remind walkers wishing to take part that a “Leave No Trace” policy is in operation and that no dogs are allowed on the walks. Walkers are also advised to park at the car park provided at nearby Aghanlish Community Centre to avoid impeding landowner access.

For more information on the North Leitrim Hill Walking festival please see –
hshillwalkers – the Holey Soles Hillwalking Club website.

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