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The Bluestack Way Part Three - Alternative Route Drimarone around Binbane to Glenties

An excellent alternative

If the weather is poor, or you are not feeling up to a hike over the 412m Cloghmeen Hill, then best to take this alternative route instead.

At the old ruined cottage, this route follows the track away from the main Bluestack Way mountain route and heads south-west down the Eanymore valley parallel to the Eany Beg river. Following this track for approximately 2 km gives the walker fine views across Donegal Bay on a clear day. Young plantations of conifers are fast becoming the prominent landscape feature of this area.

Besides the spectacular view towards the bay, there are some great tales that we’ll be telling you about along the way. We’ll be showing you where to start a canoe ride down the challenging Owentocker river and you’ll be passing close by a recorded episode of a pooka – a demonic sprite that has thankfully not been seen or heard from in nearly 200 years. We’ll also be walking by what was once the Bog Hotel, a shebeen that had authorities all wound up. We’ll even tell you about the wily legal eagle who came to Patsy’s aid and that lawyer’s even bigger case of giving two firm fingers to the powers that be!

Stories about the last chance for the Irish to get the secret to making heather beer from the Danes, what exactly is the dreaded hungry grass and trying to eke out an existence right up to the harvest are all part of this section. All in all, don’t feel you’ll be missing anything by taking this route. Like most parts of the Bluestacks, there’s a story around every corner.

Directions

 After the old ruined cottage, following this track for approx. 2km. A right turn through a gate at the bottom of this track leads you north again toward the mountains. On climbing this track you enter an area of traditional peat extraction on an area of lowland blanket bog, much of which lies derelict, but some turf banks are clearly visible and still worked today. 

After a further one kilometre, the walk goes across country and follows the waymarkers over the bogland. Care must be taken to follow the chosen route as this area can become very wet in some seasons and it is not advised to deviate from the marked pathways.

Part Three Alternative Route - starting point

Part Three Alternative Route - starting point

Speaker: John McGroary
From The Bluestack Way – Part 3 playlist.

 Our audio piece has John telling us how the valley we have come through is in fact the result of glacial deposit. Ensure you’ve started the day from the Bluestack Centre using Part Three of the guide both for guidance and to enjoy the stories of Tymeen and Disert.

This area is also a working upland sheep farm and is in private ownership. Care must be taken to leave all gates as they are found unless signs indicate their closure and only cross fences using the stiles provided for this purpose. 

 Towards Donegal 

 The halo of sun now hides the hills
 Of Donegal, while here I stand
 Watching the gathering cloud that falls
 Over those hills nightly, like a fan
 Unfolded in an orient tale.
 I have never known those lost hills
 Nor their people; nor the soft tongue
 Spoken there; nor the silence that falls
 With soldered sun; nor valleys along
 The crackling coast now bare of sail
 Or smoke of ship; Yet I can tell
 My children legends woven there
 In winter’s woe; and telling feel
 The spell in the wondering stare
 Of candid eyes captured by the living tale.

John Boyd

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Speaker: John Ward
From The Bluestack Way – Part 3 playlist.

Patrick Campbell writes that ‘scarcity would still be felt in and around the small mountain farms until midsummer or even the end of July. Indeed July was called ‘the hungry month’, ‘the lean month’ (the old Irish speakers named it Iul an ghorta’) ‘the shaking of the bags ‘ which when emptied were left ready and waiting for August and the golden harvest. Then the saying was ’we’ll soon be on the pig’s back’ for Lunasa Eve is at hand. In Donegal, St. Cron’s Day, 7th July was the day set to dig the first basket of new potatoes – it is said that ‘potatoes are early if dug for the feast of St. Cron…’

St. Paddy and King Billy: unlikely workmates!

‘…Another proverb around our mountains was ‘Let St. Patrick set the potatoes and King Billy can dig them’ meaning the early potatoes planted on 17th March, the feast of St. Patrick, could be ready for digging on the 12th of July, the date of the Battle of the Boyne.’
 
Our first audio clip  talks about how tough the Celtic Calendar year was in parts as remote as you’re in. Find out more about the seasons of the Celtic Calendar from our extensive archive of the seasons’ customs here.  In our second audio piece, Mary Murphy tells us of the Irish superstition that is the hungry grass.

Directions

The route joins a track of the townland of Cronagrass below Binbane mountain and curves round southwestward to join the main Frosses to Glenties road (R262). 

Heather moorland

The route joins a track of the townland of Cronagrass below Binbane mountain and curves round southwestward to join the main Frosses to Glenties road (R262). Along this section of the route can be found Ling heather moorland. Cronagrass was once populated; evidence of which can be found in the many ruins in this townland. In the past the heather was used to house honeybee stocks to produce Ling heather honey; a prized product and a very fine honey with a bittersweet flavour and a full bouquet. Ling honey is not runny but sets to a jelly and is much sought after by the connoisseur. 

Speaker: Michael Gallagher
From The Bluestack Way – Part 3 playlist.

In our audio piece, Croaghs postman Michael Gallagher opines why people had more energy in the old days.

Kinfaela gives a comprehensive description of the panorama that is on offer from standing atop Leagan’s Hill (Liagan Hill in his book) on the Ardara road just outside of Inver. It deserves to read in full from his classic 1867 book ‘The Cliff Scenery of South West Donegal’, but we will give you the section that concerns us on The Bluestack Way: –

 ‘North of Drimhome appear the mountains of Pettigo and Lough Derg rising still higher and higher til they reach Barnesmore. Next in succession rises Cruach-Gorm (Blues Stack 2213 feet) looking like the hugh dome of some monster cathedral. It is the second in height to Mount Errigal among the mountains in Donegal (third in fact we believe, after Muckish). Then sweeping in a semi-circle towards you there appear, in one continuous range, the peaks of Cruach-an-airgoid (Silver Hill, 1967 feet), Carn-na-Bhaodhan (pronounced ‘ween’ meaning Calf Hill) which has a comlech at the summit, and lastly Binbane (White Peak, 1490 feet) within two miles of us. Here there is a break in the communication, occupied by a plateau of moorland directly to the north of us. To the left of this, or northwest of where we stand, and at a distance from Binbane of about five miles rise the ridge of Mulmossog, three miles long, which at its westerly extremity allows a gap or nick to intervene between itself and the Cronarade range to admit of the passage of the road between Killybegs and Ardara. This passage is called the Nick of the Ballagh.
 
Then follows the rocky chain of Cronarade, which at its western end forms a bold promontory at Towney Head. In the opening already referred to, between Binbane and Mulmossog, you can distinctly discern the main ocean. On the left of this portion of the background may be observed the mountains of Lettermackaward, and the island of Arranmore. The whitish grey pyramidal-shaped peak towards the right of Errigal (2452 feet) the loftiest mountain in Donegal, and the dark rounded mass near it in Muckish (2190 feet)’.

Speaker: John McGroary
From The Bluestack Way – Part 3 playlist.

In our audio piece, John tells us how this area was once a tropical ocean.

The panorama looks north to the western part of the Bluestack mountains. The most westerly mountain is Binbane, the long ridge to the east is Cloghmeen Hill which passes into the more rugged peal of Carnaween. The wind farm at Meenaguse and the mountain to the east of this is Binnasruell. The rocks that form the mountains are 600 million years old and are made up of quartzites – sandstones that have been heated and compressed by the earth’s forces and become even harder and more resistant to erosion.

All the low hills in the foreground are underlain by 325 million year old Carboniferous age Drumkeelan Sandstone. The low ground south of the Bluestack mountains is also underlain by 325 million year old shales, limestones and sandstones. The elevation of the ground also controls land usage e.g the lower and drumlin-covered ground has subsistence farms and irregular settlements. The area has also more modern land uses such as wind farms and commercial forestry while mountains are used for the rough grazing of sheep.

A major geological fault has brought older rocks of the mountains into contact with younger rocks of the foreground. The trace of this fault runs along the beak in slope of the mountains. The shape of the mountains is controlled by the rocks that form them. For example, Binbane has a gentler slope to the west, which becomes steeper towards the summit. This is due to different rocks one of which is more resistant to erosion than the other.

Photo is of the wonderful Dan Gallagher taken in November 2012

Dan Gallagher

Directions

You’ll be coming out onto the R263 main road from Frosses to Glenties here. Take a right and walk for a few kilometres against the traffic until you get to Sir Arthur’s Bridge. It is signposted and the turn off to your right can be seen in the photo for Audio Piece Number 10 below.

Speaker: Mary Murphy
From The Bluestack Way – Part 3 playlist.

Photo of Pooka by Unkraut.
 
The Pooka of Killian
In the village of Killian not far from Binbane, Kinnfaela tells the story of the Pooka, which infested the district around 1817. The Pooka was a ghost, which showed himself regularly every evening about dusk. His appearance was that of some shapeless monster, apparently without head or limbs. His mode of locomotion was neither walking, jumping, crawling, nor flying, but rolling himself along as one would impel a cask or barrel.   

For two years inhabitants within three miles of Killian would hear his horrid cry with all the regularity of the setting of the sun. No one could expect to go outdoors after dusk without being sure of meeting him. Anyone who did confront him could expect to be found dead of fright the following morning.
 
Kinfaela continues ‘A man called Bryan MacGuire who lived in Tiawar and needed to go to Meenagran for a creel of potatoes met the Pooka on his return. He sustained a deep shock to his nerves, but being a religious man, he committed himself to the protection of heaven. He could not go forward as the Pooka was in his path, and was keeping up such a horrid bellowing as would prostrate poor MacGuire, had not the aid of religion supported him.

So blessing himself, he manfully accosted the Pooka, who thereupon lost some of his terrors for his questioner. They entered familiarly into conversation with each other, the result being that the monster confessed himself a spirit from the ‘vasty deep’ and imparted much information to MacGuire respecting the other world, and his own mission upon earth. Whatever secrets the latter learnt that night were never divulged.

In the end, MacGuire exorcised the unclean spirit and duly consigned him to some place of confinement, to which he made his exit immediately, giving forth from his capacious lungs one shrill piercing shriek, as a parting farewell. But the shock was too much for poor human nature. MacGuire languished and died within the year, but the Pooka was never again heard in Killian’.

Speaker: Dan Gallagher
From The Bluestack Way – Part 3 playlist.

On a corner of the R262, you’ll see a number of buildings on the left. You’re looking at what once was The Bog Hotel belonging to Patsy Brogan. No, it is not an hotel and no, it is not a bar. Sort of. Patsy Brogan and his young Polish fiancée, Daria Weiske, fought the law and the law lost in trying to call this place a shebeen or illegal drinking den. Patsy had the good sense to go to the legendary solicitor, Paudge Dorrian to handle his case. Click here to hear at about 10.17 how Paudge famously got 28,000 people off in one day courtesy of a loophole that was exposed with great consequence to so many cases.

Bog off

If you were lucky enough to get into it, you could find out for yourself, but the hotel, like Patsy, is now just a memory. You could easily pass it without looking twice. No signage and a lack of ostentation as the RTÉ footage shows ensured it had that ‘speakeasy’ vibe, if not quite Roaring Twenties Chicago! Patsy maintained the fully-fitted pub in a shed at the back of his home – dubbed the Bog Hotel – is where friends and tourists could call in for a drink and claimed he did not charge for drink, preferring to refer to the place as a ceili house.
 
In our audio piece, we introduce you to another man who grew up at the foot of Binbane mountain, spritely nonagenarian Dan Gallagher, who tells it like it is. He had a farm in nearby Tullynaglaggan.

Speaker: Moya Reid
From The Bluestack Way – Part 3 playlist.

Technically the Bluestack Mountains range starts in this section. Though Binbane or White Peak is commonly regarded as the start, Cronaslieve has that honour. With only nine unnamed peaks here, it is fair to say there was an active population with a fine flourish for naming along this stretch.

The Bluestack Mountains, North Range – Name, Irish Name and Meaning
The most westerly section of the range is well named with only a few nameless stacks: –

1 Cronaslieve – Cró na Sliabh, The Sheltered Place of the Mountains
2 Binbane – Binn Bán, White Peak
3 Luaghnabrogue – Luach na mBróg, The Price of the Shoes
4 Meentacreeghan – Mínte Creachán, The Smooth Places of the Little Bushes
5 Cloghmeen Hill – Cruach na Cloiche Míne, The Stack of the Smooth Stone
6 Carnaween – Carn na n-Éan, The Cairn of the Birds
7 Croankeerin Cró an Chaorthainn, The Sheltered Place of the Rowan Tree
8 nameless
9 Meenacloghspar – Mín na Cloiche Sparra, The Smooth Place of the Sharp-pointed Stone
10 nameless
11 Meenaguse – Mín an Ghiúis, The Smooth Place of the Pine Trees
12 nameless
13 nameless
14 nameless
15 Binnasruell – Binn na Sruthail, The Peak of the Flushing Stream
16 nameless
17 nameless
18 Lavagh More – An Leamhach Mhór, The Big Marsh Mallow (or The Big Bright Calm Spot)
19 Lavagh Beag – An Leamhach Bheag, The Small Marsh Mallow (or The Small Bright Calm Spot
20 Doocrow – Dubh-Chruach (Dúchruach), Black Stack

21 Tullyhonwar – Tulaigh an Chon Mhóir, The Low Hill of the Big Hound
22 Crockbrack – An Cnoc Breac, The Speckled Hill
23 Meenakilwirra – Mín na Cille Muire, The Smooth Place of the Church of Mary
24 Meenawannia – Mín an Bhainne, The Smooth Place of the Milk
 
25 Tullynevil – Tulaigh Nimhiúil, The Low Hill of the Poison (or… of the Poets)
26 nameless
27 Tullynaglaggan – Tulaigh na gCloigeann, The Low Hill of the Skulls
28 Tullybane – Tulaigh Bhán, The Low White Hill
29 Tullynadoobin – Tulaigh na nDubh-Bhinn, The Low Hill of the Black Peaks
30 Doobin – Dubh-Bhinn, Black Peak
31 nameless
32 nameless
33 Meenagushoge Hill – Cnoc Mhín na gCuiseog, The Hill of the Smooth Place of the Reeds (or Stalks)
34 Cronacarkfree – Cró na gCearc Fraoigh, ) The Sheltered Place of the Red Grouse
35 Crockbrack – An Cnoc Breac, The Speckled Hill
36 Cullaghcro – Cúil Chruach The Nook of the Stacks
37 Croaghanarget – Cruach an Airgid gan ainm, The Stack of the Money
38 nameless
39 Silver Hill – [“Cruach an Airgid” féach Iml. 3] The Stack of Silver
40 Binnacally – Binn na Cailli, The Peak of the Old Hag

Speaker: Dan Gallagher
From The Bluestack Way – Part 3 playlist.

In our audio piece, we hear from Dan Gallagher telling us about a sheep farmer from these parts who may not have had much education, but knew everything there was to know about sheep. It’s a follow on from our piece on Francis Harvey’s Condy earlier or indeed Bob’s friend, Nothar.

These men knew these mountains and their ewes like the back of their hand. It’s a skill in a harsh unforgiving environment that was essential for survival.

The secret of the heather ale

To the south west of our current location lies the ancient castle of Castlemeara. According to Kinnfeala, residents of the area believed that the three last remaining Danes after the Battle of Clontarf, a father and two sons, were condemned to be hurled into the nearby lake by the victorious Irish.

They were kept confined at Castlemeara and were promised their freedom on condition of revealing the mode of manufacturing beer from heather – a secret in the possession of the Lochlanni or Danes. The old man promised to disclose the secret on condition that his two sons be despatched first.

Unusual request

The Irish were rather surprised at the father’s requiring the previous death of his own sons as an indispensable condition; yet, so bent were they on getting possession of the secret, that they willingly complied. But no sooner had they done so than the crafty Dane asked to be thrown in the lake after his sons. ‘Not unless you refuse to tell us the secret’ answered the Irish. ‘Then I refuse!’ responded he haughtily. 

‘Why did you insist upon your sons being put to death before yourself?’ they asked. “Lest they reveal the secret after my death’ replied the defiant Dane. Upon this a weight was fastened to his neck and he was thrown into the deep pool, carrying the secret with him.

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Speaker: Sean McMahon on holy wells
From The Bluestack Way – Part 3 playlist.

According to weather postman Michael Gallagher, the mist clearing from the top of the hill in the morning is a good sign for the rest of the day. If there is mist over rain or valley, looking like grey smoke, a good spell of weather is expected. Smoke from a chimney rising in a straight column to the heavens, predicts good weather, but if it is seen coming down to the ground it bodes no good. In Summer, warm and humid conditions with inky black clouds in the sky presages a thunderstorm.

Speaker: Dan Gallagher
From The Bluestack Way – Part 3 playlist.

In our audio piece, we hear from Dan Gallagher who’d have been familiar with having to pass Sir Arthur’s Bridge for education and entertainment purposes.

Directions

You’ll be getting off the R262 and heading right at the incongruously named Sir Arthur’s Bridge, rejoining the Way from the back of Binbane. We suspect the Sir Arthur in question was Sir Arthur Chicester, a landowner whose son was to become the Earl of Donegall – note the two ‘l’s in the spelling!

Speaker: Dan Gallagher
From The Bluestack Way – Part 3 playlist.

Our audio piece from local man Dan Gallagher is a gem. As a good Catholic, he always fasted the night before taking Holy Communion in Glenties, but nevertheless had no problems doing some poaching in the river or ‘pooching’ as they called it. It’s not a sin if you don’t see it as one we guess!

The Owentocker is regarded as one of the best Grade IV rivers in the northwest. According to canoeist Neil Fox, ‘the starting point is at Lough Nillan bridge which is on the Alternative route and is marked on our guide. 

It’s a 35m/km gradient that travels for five kilometres. The Owentocker or commonly called ‘Ardara River’ is steep, narrow, rocky stream. The runoff is immediate so it must therefore be raining heavily in order to consider launching onto this river. Given the required flood conditions, this is probably one of the best mountain rivers in the area. There is no time to warm up, and the first two kilometres to a metal frame footbridge is continuous and difficult mountain paddling. Watch out for wire stretched across the river. 

Short flatter sections of Grade II and one Grade IV drop, lead down to a small bridge. This is a good place to take out if a second run on the more continuous section is preferred. In the remaining 2km to the finish, there are many technical rapids. One in particular, a narrow constriction should be inspected’.

All hail the Rambling House!

Speaker: Sean McMahon on Rambling Houses
From The Bluestack Way – Part 3 playlist.

Anyone who has enjoyed Paul Brady’s ‘The Homes of Donegal‘ was listening to a paean to a Rambling House, or what our friend Patsy Brogan and Donegal folk might call a Ceilí House. As we read earlier, Séumas MacManus was indebted to them for giving him an introduction to the power of a good story. 

Long before we prostrated ourselves to the box in the corner or the Internet, the Irish entertained and/or educated each other in these houses, depending on the art form in question. Bothántaíocht was visiting neighbours for stories whereas scoraíocht was visiting purely for gossip. We’ve no doubt the local grapevine then was still faster than the best broadband available today!

Remembering the local ones, Patrick Campbell wrote ‘Those rambling hours and the old men’s tales were my greatest enjoyment, as I listened with excited eagerness to Big Owen Ward tell of his years in Colorado and his weeks on the sea in sailing boats, going and coming home from America. How often they told of the lonesomeness of mountain homes when a boy or girl emigrated, how they associated the emigrating from those mountain homes of such and such a neighbour’s child with the day or the day before or after the birth or death of another neighbour. In this manner those old mountain folk compiled their mental calendar and they could relate happenings of distant years as if they had just happened the day before’.

Speaker: Mary Murphy
From The Bluestack Way – Part 3 playlist.

In our audio piece, we tell you about a key date in the calendar for all locals here remembering their dead, All Souls Day on the 2nd of November. This was of course the Christian feast day that was superimposed on Ireland’s great gift to the world, Halloween. 

Death was indeed a deadly serious business to the Irish and for those interested, we’ve explored all angles of it in our Samhain collection. For those more interested in the diabolical and spooky, we’ve catered for those features too. Both can be found in our extensive Halloween Archive

Directions

At this point, you’ll rejoining the main Bluestack Way, meeting up at the Owenea river. You’ll be carrying on over the bridge into deepest Doobin and along the Casan down into Glenties. The austerity of the Casan gives way to a breathtaking view of the sea to the left and the coming together of the glens to bring you to that most iconic of Irish places, the real Ballybeg of Friel’s world, Glenties.

A worthwhile diversion

We hope you’ll agree that this walk on the wild side was worth it. Yes, we went heavy on the unorthodox Ps here – be it the pooka or Patsy and Paudge, but we hope you’ll agree that each was a revelation of sorts. We finish on a slightly more conventional P, that of paying homage to the writer we felt best imbued the wonder of the Bluestack Mountains, Patrick Campbell. In his writing, you are brought right back to his childhood in these parts and of the spirit we referenced in that Bluestacks Reveal video. The search goes on for more direct material on him which we will add if found to this section in time. 

Patrick Campbell on the record

Trawling through the RTÉ archives, we have managed to find a recording of Patrick Campbell in conversation with Pat Ward. Starting at around 19.46 of the Doc on One audio, you’ll hear the two boys talking about some wily sheep.

All praise to Pronsias O Conluain for having the foresight to record these voices from the hills way back in 1980. The full documentary is of course worth a listen, but we thought we should pinpoint where we managed to locate Patrick in full flow. Proud as punch here to have finally heard the man’s voice!

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Patrick Campbell: a man for all seasons

Of all the writers who feature on this guide, Patrick Campbell’s love of the hills and valleys comes through clearest of all. We are very grateful to his Estate for allowing us to use his material which adds a first-hand flourish to the story of the Bluestacks. Helen Meehan paints a fine picture of the man in her interview – click here to hear it. A true gentleman from another age who had a deep appreciation for the human condition and all its suffering.
 
Joe McGarrigle’s book goes further in his praise for Campbell’s “rare charitable qualities that allowed him forgiven many transgressions witnessed with the shrug of his shoulders, a smile, or a non-committal remark like ‘God bless the poor creature sure he was sore tormented by a nagging wife’ or ‘a broken spade doesn’t ease a broken back’. His delightful turn of phrase was born of a natural usage of the colourful vernacular of the mountain people”.
 
We’ll have read earlier how he was effectively shamed into becoming a hired hand by a stranger telling him he should be helping to support his family. Having endured some ten straight contracts with farmers as a hiring hand, he decided that his lost education did not mean he could not better himself and off to Dublin he went in 1932 to do just that. There was of course another great lure in the Big Smoke as he had fallen for Kathleen Martin. In his second book From Silent Glen to Noisy Streets, he recalls ‘how romance often plays a major role in the decisions of many young people like ourselves. There was one friend who had a very special influence over my decision and whose wishes I cherished and respected.’
 
Patrick ended up working in the National Museum and publishing several books. He married Kathleen, settled down to family life in Harold’s Cross, but you cannot take the man out of the bog. He was known to disappear off to the Dublin Hills where he would win his turf for the winter fire! RTÉ became aware of his talents and he was a regular contributor to their shows, both on radio and later on TV talking about his native Donegal of course. Together with his old friend Barney McGinley, a traditional fiddler and singer from Barnesmore, the two became a duo on the entertainment scene.
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