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The Bluestack Way Part Two

Local poet William Allingham may well have had Lough Eske in mind when he wrote his poem, ‘Four Ducks on a Pond’: –

Four ducks on a pond,
A grass-bank beyond,
A blue sky of spring,
White clouds on the wing;
What a little thing
To remember for years-
To remember with tears!

Reluctantly, we must leave the banks of Lough Eske for the second part of The Bluestack Way Guide. 

Image 23 11 2021 at 16.20

Starting by the T junction of the Friary, you will be rising to savour a panoramic view of the valley right across to county Tyrone where the east range largely lies. Once you get to the top of the hill, you’ll be entering the valley of Eglish, passing Owenboy and getting as far as Letterfad bog before settling for the night at The Bluestack Centre.

We’ll be telling you a bit more about the area along the way, but we’d advise you to be on the lookout for a myriad of sights and sounds that Mother Nature has on offer out here. Some of the treats you can expect to find on today’s walk are the (possible) sighting of golden eagles, Californian redwoods, red deer, blue hare and every sort of flora from marsh marigolds to cuckoo flowers, meadowsweet to umbellifers. You’re in a place of immense beauty and fresh air where lichen grows freely as it does where air is truly fresh and where everyone from Fionn McCumhail to friars, gentry to bandits have visited and savoured.

Bluestack 2

Part Two starting point

Speaker: Patsy McNulty
From the Bluestack Way Part 2 playlist.

GPS LOCATION: 54.710835, -8.064785

Directions
You’ll be turning left and climbing towards the Bluestacks. Get ready to start ascending as you make your way towards Eglish.
 
Our audio piece gives us an early indication of what to look out for from the Bluestacks’ most ubiquitous resident, the humble sheep.

Speaker: Patsy McNulty
From the Bluestack Way Part 2 playlist.

Towards Eglish
Known as Leana Mor, this little used road soon becomes an unsurfaced track and affords the most striking views back over Lough Eske as you climb to a height of 300m. To the north are the dramatic granite slopes of Na Cruaha Gorma and the cliffs providing the backdrop to Lough Belshade. Looking over the bay one can see the mountains of Sligo, Leitrim and Fermanagh. The keen observer may catch a glimpse of wild goats in this valley on the steep sided slope of the ridges. These are part of a small herd of feral goats that roam in the more remote areas of these mountains.

Patsy however, will tell you to be on the lookout for golden eagles that can be seen swooping around the mountains. He was even brave enough when recorded in 2012 to say the eagles are a timely and efficient bunch and forecasts they are best viewed at 11am. So there! 

Speaker: Moya Reid
From the Bluestack Way Part 2 playlist.

The Bluestack Mountains, North East Range

The mountains to the west of Barnesmore are in full view of your current location with a colourful variety of names for about 70% of the stacks: –

62 Croaghbarnes – Cruach a’ Bhearnais, The Stack of the Gap
64 nameless
65 Altagaranduff – Alt an Ghearráin Duibh, The Hillock of the Black Colt
66 nameless
67 Croaghloughaderry- Cruach Loch an Doire, The Stack of the Lake of the Oakland
68 Croaghagrannagh – Cruacha Gránna , Ugly Stacks
69 nameless
70 nameless
71 Cruach Bhéansáin – Benson’s Hill
72 Croaghmeen – Cruach Mín, Smooth Stack
73 Croaghmeenare – Cruach Mín-Fhéir (or Cruach Mhín an Áir), Stack of the Smooth Stack (or Stack of the Smooth Place of the Massacre)
74 nameless
75 nameless
76 Croaghconnellagh – Cruach Conallach, Stack of the Tribe of Conaill
77 nameless
78 Tawnawully Mountains – Cruacha Thamhnach an Mhullaigh, The Mountains Stacks of the Grassy Upland of the Highest Point
79 nameless

80 Croaghnageer – Cruach na gCaor, The Stack of the Sheep
81 nameless
82 nameless
83 Croaghanirwore – Cruach an Fhir Mhóir, The Stack of the Big Man
84 nameless
85 Cronamuc – Cró na Muc , The Sheltered Place of the Pigs
86 nameless
87 Brown’s Hill – Cruach de Brún,
88 nameless
89 nameless
90 Pollakeeran Hill – Cruach Pholl an Chaorain, The Hill of the Hole of the Bogland
91 Croaghbrack – Cruach Breac, Speckled Stack
92 Clogher Hill – Cruach an Chlochair, The Stack of the Stoney Place
93 Barrack Hill – Cnoc na Beairice
94 nameless
95 nameless
96 Croaghanierin – Cruachán Éireann (or Cruach an Fhuaráin), The Litle Hill of Ireland (or the Stack of the Cool Spring)

Speaker: Patsy McNulty
From the Bluestack Way Part 2 playlist.

Eglish valley
Turning northwest and descending from the end of Banagher hill, we reach the townland of Eglish (Eglais, a church). Tradition indicates that a wayside school was situtated beside a brook which passes under the Eglish road. In recent years there were eight families living here; the ruins of their houses are still to be seen along with the remaining houses in the lower valley.

At the end of this road, the Eglish valley opens out into the Eany valley. From the road junction, the Eglish river flows southwest through the lower valley where it later joins the Eanymore river. At this vantage point, the full extent of the work of the last Ice Age can be appreciated as below the Eany valley opens to the ocean. The small rounded hills which are dotted on the land between here and Donegal Bay are drumlins. Drumlins, a name derived from the Gaelic for small rounded hills formed as the earth was shaped beneath a glacier as it trundled downslope. The long axis of the drumlins point to the direction in which the glacier once moved. The south-westerly flow of the ice that covered the land during the last ice age over 10,000 years ago, is well illustrated by the long axis of the drumlins.

Speaker: Patsy McNulty
From the Bluestack Way Part 2 playlist.

Patrick Campbell had this to say about Eglish: -‘Here in Eglish we really have the tempting challenge for the hiker, and the fisherman has to but step from the road as the river flows alongside it. The majestic cliffs and high spinks seem to come so near to meet and greet us and to invite us to their tops in order that we might see the amphitheatre of lakes dotted along like mystic mirrors with their streamlets racing over those cliffs, creating spectacular waterfalls on their way, and finally coming together in the valley far below to form the Eany river. The fascination of the pure and bracing breezes among those cliffs and the Heavenly peace of those Cruacha Gorma lend to that landscape charm and beauty which change at the will of cloud and sun, sending mighty shadows, and at times showers, along those emerald braes’.

Speaker: Patsy McNulty
From the Bluestack Way Part 2 playlist.

Lime was used in agriculture to reduce the ph value of soil. In our audio piece, Patsy tells us a bit more about the lime kiln you’ll see on the left of the path as you descend through Eglish valley.

Speaker: Patsy McNulty
From the Bluestack Way Part 2 playlist.

The trace of the Belshade fault trends down the Eglish valley and lies at the foot of the hills and marks the contact between the Carboniferous rocks and the Barnesmore granite, the hills in the centre and west are Precambrian Lough Mourne Schists. The contact between the granite and the schists lies in the little valley between the two ridges. The rock types can be differentiated at a distance by the steep faces that form in the granite and the sloping faces that represent the Lough Mourne Schists. Along the ridges to the west are two knobs of rock. These are smaller granite outcrops related to Barnesmore granite and their distinctive knobbly shape indicates their difference from the Lough Mourne Schists.

 The slope profile of the western part of the ridge changes from steep at the top to shallower at the bottom and marks the trace of a second fault – the Boundary Fault. Coinciding with this change in slope is a change in vegetation that is reflecting the underlying rocks. The heather-dominated lower slopes of the western part of the hill are Carboniferous sandstones while the grassier parts are Upper Mourne Schists. Travelling down the valley, there are examples of houses abandoned during the famine, lazy beds and stone kilns used to burn limestone to provide fertiliser.

Speaker: Patsy McNulty
From the Bluestack Way Part 2 playlist.

After crossing the Eglish river, you’ll see an unusual structure on your right – Patsy is at hand to tell you what exactly it is.

Directions

Exiting the Eglish valley turn right and follow the road across the Meenataggart river. At the next junction the main road turns left but the Bluestack Way carries straight ahead. The old tumbled down shed on the right was once a thriving dance hall known locally as Meenataggart Hall.

Speaker: Patsy McNulty
From the Bluestack Way Part 2 playlist.

 Meenataggart Hall was one of the three community halls in the area where dances and meetings were held on a regular basis until the 1950s. People came on foot and by bicycle from a 15-20km radius to attend the dances on a Sunday evening. Dances started at 8.30pm and ended at midnight. The admission charge was 6d (3 cents). However, Christmas night dances went on until 2.30am and cost 1 shilling to attend (6 cents).

Speakers: Moya Reid and Francis Harvey
From the Bluestack Way Part 2 playlist.

 The actual Blue Stack mountain range has only five named stacks!
41 Sruell – An tSruthail, The Flushing Stream
48 Croaghgorm – Cruach Gorm, Blue Stack
50 Mullaghnadreesruhan – Mullach na dTrí Sruthán, The Mountain Breast of the Three Streams
54 Binmore – Binn Mór, Big Peak
59 Glascarns Hill – Cruach na nGlas-Charn, The Stack of the Green Cairns

With such a dearth of Irish words to translate, Moya is joined by poet Francis Harvey for his second Bluestack-inspired poem called ‘The Song’.

Speaker: Helen Meehan
From the Bluestack Way Part 2 playlist.

Patrick Campbell was born in Meenawilderg in 1911 and from an early age developed a deep interest in his surroundings. A generous and thoughtful man, his writings reflect a natural turn of phrase that the locals used in everyday vernacular. A transgression was thus excused as ‘God bless the poor creature, sure he was sore tormented by a nagging wife’ and so on.
 
Patrick got a wake up call on being hired out to farmers from the Donegal Hiring Fairs that took place every May and November. He worked ten 6-month consecutive contracts with farmers in many parts of south-west Donegal, attaining a greater understanding of human nature and the need to improve his own station in life. We’re grateful to his Estate for the use of material from his two classic books, ‘Rambles around Donegal’ and ‘From Silent Glens to Noisy Streets’ – try and get your hands on either one as mandatory research prior to walking the Way!

Speaker: Patsy McNulty
From the Bluestack Way Part 2 playlist.

Patrick Campbell wrote that the menfolk of the Crugha Gorma ‘were experts in sheep stock and famous for their knowledge of those mountains and hills. Their sheep dogs only understood commands in the Irish language, and like many other mountain districts in Donegal, it has never been known of anyone to leave Sruhill without refreshment in plenty. In the summers of the 1920s on Sunday evenings, I often witnessed a house full of visitors and sheep farmers, all enjoying the big bowls of good strong tea and beautiful pot-oven cake, capped with the finest home-made butter. 

The big decorative bowl was filled so generously that if you were to slip your spoon in it, you would have to seek the assistance of your knife to fish it out. Those were the times we enjoyed such refreshments which were given by people whose hearts were as big as their hills, those great people the Kennedys and Kennys of Sruhill, the Gasur Mors (the big boys).

Speaker: Patsy McNulty
From the Bluestack Way Part 2 playlist.

Local writers such as Paul Peppergrass, Patrick MacGill and Seamus MacManus emigrated to America but one American bucked the trend and came to Donegal leaving behind the leafy arches of Harvard for Meenaguish deep in the Bluestacks between 1970 and 1984. Bob Bernen wrote two books out of his experience, Tales from the Bluestacks and The Hills, which recall his experience of the lifestyle and stories he heard from the area. In the Foreword to the first book, Bernen wrote: ‘Ten miles north of Donegal Town, in the extreme north west of Ireland, runs a range of low, rounded hills known as the Blue Stacks.

Directions

Follow the roadway to the white house: the path that follows the fencing on your right almost to the end of the field. It then swings left and leads the walker to a gate through the next fence and then downhill to another gate and the ruins of an old farmhouse, then to the bank of the Eanymore river. For a short distance the pathways follow the river bank before crossing the Eanymore water. Crossing the river one is treated to an impressive sight of the falls and rapids of the river cascading across the rocks. This sight is all the more impressive when the river is in spate. The river gets its source higher up in the Bluestacks; it boasts a good quantity of salmon, brown and sea trout.

 Technically they are classed as mountains but to the ordinary eye, they look like hills. Their name – taken from the Irish name of the highest peak – Croagh Gorm, is fitting, for from a distance they always appear a deep, purple blue, even on the clearest days. Around these hills lives a small group of farmers whose lives continue to be rooted in the eighteenth-century patterns, or earlier. Technologically and agriculturally their methods scarcely reveal modern influence. Today, we read about ancient and medieval technology which can still be seen in use on Blue Stack farms, some of them home-made in forms that have long since disappeared elsewhere. Machines are seldom used.

Into this bit of anachronous farming community a modern man and his wife moved, to farm sheep and to live in the manner of their neighbours. Some of what they heard, saw or experienced is recorded in the following tales. The tales are therefore unlike fiction, which falsifies in order to achieve a greater effect. The aim here has been to preserve a true picture of some aspects of Blue Stack life at the moment of its final disappearance, and as it fades into the modern world around it.’
Dealing with individual stand-alone chapters, the books present a picture of a community farming without machines, the interaction of men and animals and a deeper understanding of the life around them and of the earth and the living things that come from it.

Speaker: Patsy McNulty. From the Bluestack Way Part 2 playlist.
In our audio piece, Patsy tells us a funny story about the house with no road. Photo: (c) Louise Price 

Meenaguse Lough sits on a glacial deposit and together with the small lake to the east may represent ‘kettle hole’ lakes. These lakes formed as the ice sheets retreated, leaving behind large blocks of ice, isolated from the main ice mass, which were partially or completely buried by sand and gravel. When the ice melted, hollows were left which now often contain lakes. The derelict house on the north side of the road with abundant fuchsia surrounding it was the residence of the aforementioned Bob Bermen during the 1970s.
 

There were very few horses around our mountain in my school days, so the hay was all carried on men’s backs, but even at this heavy work there was competition and fun. Men worked in pairs and tied their hay burdens with tether ropes. Their arms were then put in behind the ropes and each man helped the other man up to his knees and onto his feet with the heavy load of hay on each man’s back. The pair of men who would move a tramp cock of hay in the shortest period of time and with the least number of burdens became the champions of the meitheal and were entitled to pride of place at the haystack party.
 
That would be a night to be remembered, a mixture of old and young, where young would have a chance to listen to songs of their parents and grandparents and the older folk would hear and listen to the latest songs from the young folk. In most mountain homes, there was some sample of Irish or Scotch whiskey – Paddy Flaherty, John Jameson or John Powers – or perhaps here and there a sup of the good auld mountain dew kept in the hole in the wall near the kitchen bed.

Speaker: John McGrory
From the Bluestack Way Part 2 playlist.

Patrick Campbell wrote: -‘On our way we pass by a famous bog in Clogher where in my young years was used extensively by large farmers who came several miles to cut and save turf, and paid them two shillings and sixpence per day. They claimed that a mountain man would cut more turf in one day than they themselves would cut in two days. They usually save the turf themselves and towards the harvest time it was not unusual to see up to ten horses load of good black turf homeland bound, as the sun was sinking behind the hills. What a charming scene or picture this made, with fine well-groomed horses and bright red painted carts fitted with high turf creels and well crivined* loads of 

good dry black turf. There was a contented look on each man’s suntanned face, as he sat and smoked his pipe on a sack of hay on top of his load of turf, and listened to the hollow sound of cartwheels as they rolled over the stone-surfaced road in the silence of an autumn evening’.
 
*The crivin is the ‘top’ on a creel of turf.
 
Our audio piece comes from local guide, John McGrory, who tells us a bit more about this famous bog. It has a few names as you’ll have seen!

Speaker: Patsy McNulty
From the Bluestack Way Part 2 playlist.

Ace turf cutter Patsy tells us some more about this stretch of bogland.

 

Directions

At the next road on the left, the pathway swings into the hills. Some distance up this road, the walker meets a gate and a little further on, you turn right towards the hilltop. Follow the tarmac path to the gate and long the straight rugged path to the next left turn. Walking along this bog road, one can see where active turf cutting takes place. Here the peat is extracted from the bog, then dried and stored for winter fuel. To the right hand side of this road no turf cutting takes place as it is a special area of conservation. Follow the pathway left through this turf cutting area, stay on the path which swings left and onwards downhill past a little cottage on your left and further on through a gate to the main road where you again turn right towards the mountains.

Speaker: Patsy McNulty
From the Bluestack Way Part 2 playlist.

The blanket bog has the typical abundance of ling heather and sphagnum moss as well as a variety of other mosses and lichens expecially Cladonia impexa growing on the stems of the heather. Even at higher elevations looking down over Meenaguse, people have planted trees along boundaries close to houses to provide wind breaks. Fuschia, a plant introduced to Irish gardens in the late 1700s from South America is the favourite plant here. Bog myrtle is common.
 
In our audio piece, Patsy tells us why fuschia is so popular in these parts.

Speaker: Helen Meehan
From the Bluestack Way Part 2 playlist.

Patrick Campbell had happy memories of a hard day’s work out in this valley: ‘After the saving of the turf and hay, we children looked forward to the day of the gathering in and the building of the haystack. For weeks we talked of this day of days in glee on our way to and from school, the day when a meitheal of neighbouring men would gather to a mountain home and help make the haystack and secure it against winter storms. The meitheal took place from one mountain to another until all the hay cocks were safely gathered in and built in stacks in gardens or haggards.

Speaker: Patsy McNulty
From the Bluestack Way Part 2 playlist.

As we wind our way down to the main road, we pass through one of the many forests you’ll encounter along the Way – Patsy tells us more about them. 

Directions

Note: at this point one might wish to turn left and walk to the Hostel accommodation at the Bluestack Centre. Approx 3km away is the village of Letterbarra where the Bluestack Centre is located adjacent to the legendary O’Neill’s pub. Just a taxi ride away is the beautiful village of Mountcharles which has both a vibrant local community.  
 

Speaker: John McGroary
From the Bluestack Way Part 2 playlist.

In our audio piece, John McGroary tells us more about the art of planning permission in these parts.

Bluestack Centre
A stay in the Bluestack Centre hostel is a great opportunity to see how a community can pull together and get things done. The building of the centre itself was from the vision and perseverance of a few locals and today, the place is at the heart of this rural community nestled deep in the Bluestacks. 

During the week, they have everything from dance classes to sewing classes, bingo to amateur dramatics. The staff is ably lead by Rosemary Ward and they are most accommodating – just ask. Need a sprain seen to? There’s a man down the road who can help. Need to get a lift into town? No problem. The place is well maintained with all mod cons and free WiFi. You’ll be well set for the toughest, but arguably most enjoyable part of the Way over the hills and down into Glenties.
 
Tel/Fax: +353 (0)74 97 35564
On Call Phone +353 (0)87 7822441
Email: info@donegalbluestacks.com
http://www.donegalbluestacks.com/

Speaker: John McGroary
From the Bluestack Way Part 2 playlist.

It’s a place like this that has made Ireland what it is; where issues are discussed, good pints are devoured and maybe a bit of music will come along. A landmark local hostelry, even if the original boss is no longer behind the bar.
 
On our audio piece, John McGroary tells us a little bit more about the institution that is O’Neill’s pub.

The first 1.5km of the trip is fast flowing Grade II, although some good playholes can be found if the flood is high enough. The real fun starts upon reaching a concrete footbridge – from here to Drumagraa Bridge and beyond for a kilometre the rapids come at a constant Grade III, and in high water some grade IV. There are some excellent surf waves and playholes, but the breakouts are small and it is all too easy to let these opportunities slip by as the water races down the valley. Things ease off a little as the Eany meanders the remaining 2 km to the take out.
 
Many people have passed through these parts over the years – in our audio piece, we hear of one such traveller who came at a perilous moment in the nation’s history back in the 1920s.

Speakers: Patsy McNulty and a local farmer
From the Bluestack Way Part 2 playlist.

This bridge is the starting point for a challenging piece of canoeing as far as Inver.
 
According to Neil Fox, if the rain is dancing on your windscreen, the Eanymore is one of the best river trips in Donegal. However, it is only worth considering during a heavy consistent downpour. If you can see a small rock in the centre of the river 20 metre downstream of Letterbarra Bridge, the level is too low.

We do hope you’ve enjoyed this section of the Bluestack Way. Enjoy your rest and with any luck, you’ll be staying in the Centre when there is a bit of social activity taking place, be it a dance or cards! Alternatively, if you can get as far as Inver, Frosses or Mountcharles, you will also find a proper Donegal welcome. 

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