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Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Last Sunday (May 20th) I set out for the first of my walks/explorations for this site, spurred on by the untimely death of a friend, who was only a little older than me, and of a similar level of unfitness.

Having recently been rereading the excellent “Neighbourhood of Dublin” written by Weston St. John Joyce in 1910, and made available by the good folk at chaptersofdublin.com, I decided to try to retrace a journey in chapter 14 of Weston’s book, covering the area of the Wicklow Mountains above Kilbride, and including the relics of a long closed (even in 1910) iron mine, both for the exercise I would get, and out of curiosity to see how many or how few of the landscape and historical features extant in his time can still be distinguished.

The route starts at Oldbawn Cross between Tallaght and Ballycullen, which in his day was still of very rural aspect.

Taking the road towards Bohernabreena we soon enter into a valley, with the River Dodder on our right, and higher ground to the left. I remember cycling this way when younger, when the old 49A busused to come along this road, about half way to the waterworks. These days the 49A is much reduced, just a couple of trips a day as footnotes on the main 49 service, and these take a different route, going up the hill to the church on the old Bohernabreen Road, rather than the lower route. The pull-in where the 49A used to turn round has been blocked in, and is now barely discernable.

The road has a tight S-bend where it crosses the river, and then climbs steadily, with the waterworks to the left. The gap in the hills it is ascending to is called the Ballinascorney Gap, not one of the better known areas of County Dublin.

Finding the point where the route taken by Weston branches off was more difficult than I expected, as both Weston and the latest Ordinance Survey map (No.50) describe a roadside cross – a Famine Cross – at the junction, whereas due to a road realignment at some stage in the past, this cross is now located off the main road, on a little loop from where the road to Kilbride Camp can be taken.

The Neighbourhood of Dublin describes it thus:

——

At the top of Ballinascorney Gap is a large plain granite cross, erected some sixty years ago, and at this point we turn to the left along a well-kept road, bounded by low hedges, interspersed with fern, foxglove and other wild flowers, and passing through a partly cultivated country, with occasional meadows and stunted trees. Some distance further, a pretty ford leading to a farmyard, crosses the little stream beside the road which here begins to rise sharply, having already attained an elevation of over 1,000 feet. As we continue the ascent, the character of the country becomes wilder, the whitethorn and hazel hedges give place almost entirely to those of furze, and rising majestically to the left of the road in front is Seechon Or Slievebawn – the great mountain dominating all this region, its rounded summit seared and scarred by the winter torrents, and its brown, heather-clad slopes variegated by patches of soft green sward. It will be noted that those portions of the top denuded of vegetation assume a whitish tint in dry weather, which circumstance may have originated the name of Slieve Bawn (the White Mountain). It should, however, be mentioned that the name Slievebawn, which has now disappeared from the maps, is quite unknown to the country people in the neighbourhood, by whom it is invariably called Seechon (the seat), corrupted by the Ordnance Survey in the more recent maps, into Seahan.

——

Famine Cross at Ballinascorney Gap

Some things are there 90 years later, others have changed.

The cross is still there, and the road towards Sehan is still pretty much as described, starting off between hedges and cultivated fields, and quickly climbing to a level where furze predominates. There is little or no view of the mountain though, as forestry cplantations block the view to the left until you are past the highest point of the road. Of the ford to the farmhouse, there is no trace, and it could be any one of a number of buildings which now adjoin the road or stand close to it.

To the right, there is a great view westwards towards the flatter countryside of southwest Dublin and Kildare.

Presently the road starts to descend towards Kilbride Camp, the forest ends, and a lovely open vists of bog and mountain opens up. That such places still exist within a very short drive of Dublin is something very much to be appreciated.

Towards Kilbride Camp

The road runs down rapidly into a valley, with Sehan behind to the left, and the slopes of Seefin and Seefingan to the left. At the bottom of the hill we cross the Shankill River, little more than a stream really, at the enterence to Kilbride Camp, which in Weston’s day was “a collection of huts” but now comprises a number of buildings and some antenna masts, well fenced off and with a variety of signs forbidding access and warning of the dangers of the military firing range.

Kilbride Camp

Beyond the camp the road continues on for about half a mile, before coming to a junction where we turn to the right.

Now heading west, we follow this road for less than half a mile to a bridge where the Shankill River is crossed again, apparently on the site of an old ford. On the right the land is being used for motorbike trekking.

At the bridge, there is space to park a car, and it was here that I ventured on my first walk, in what was a futile attempt to find any remnents of some old buildings and a closed off former iron mine as described in The Neighbourhood of Dublin.

In 1910, signs of the old mine workings were still very evident, according to Weston, and I felt sure that something, particularly the broken stone wheel, might remain to this day.

Weston wrote:

——

. . . we turn to the right by the road leading to Ballinascorney, again crossing the river by a bridge on the site of the old Shankill ford. If, however, the excursionist is on foot, or if he is not afraid of taking his bicycle along a rather rough track through the heather, it will be well worth while to diverge from the road on the left, by the pathway which crosses the river, and leads to the Cloghleagh iron mine. The high mountains, Gravale, Mullaghcleevaun, and Moanbane present an imposing appearance from this point, traces of snow often remaining on their summits as late as mid-summer. Keeping to the pathway, we presently reach a curious-looking stone house, which was erected as a residence for the manager of the iron mine some fifty years ago. It would seem that no earnest attempt was ever made to work this undertaking to a successful issue, as the great stone segments of the crushing wheel, now lying beside the river, and other machinery obtained from England, were never put together, so that the whole concern was a failure from the start Just beside the house is the entrance to the mine, the shaft of which, now closed up, extended a considerable way under the hill.A short distance beyond the house we reach a wooden gateway leading by a pretty bridge to a picturesque little defile, planted with firs and larches, through which the Shankill river tumbles and splashes along its rocky bed to join the Liffey a few hundred yards below Cloghleagh Bridge.

——

All traces of the pathway referred to are now long since gone, and apart from the first couple of hundred yeards, which are fairly clear, it is hard enough to walk along the path of the river, and would certainly be impossible to bring a bicycle.

Shankill River

The old book does not clearly state which side of the river the buildings were on, other than that the path crossed the river at some point, nor exactly how far down the river from the bridge the building and the mineshaft were located. So I decided to stick as close to the river as possible, and look for any remnants of buildings, or possibly chunks of the great stone wheel referred to, which surely would not have been moved or taken away.

The further down the river gorge I went, the tougher it got – dense forest with lots of fallen trees on one side, marshy ground with high thorny bushes on the other. I tried cross over a few times, but whatever side I was on always seemed to hbe the hardest!

There was a time 20 years ago when I would have waltzed through such a landscape, however years of inactivity saw me on this, my first outing, tired, heart racing and pespiring from exertion almost from the start.

I have a long, long way to go from Fat Steve to Fit Steve – hence why these excursions are neccessary!

I struggled on for nearly an hour, for what I would estimated to be slightly more than 1km down river, but found no sign of anyh of the buildings, sealed off shafts, or stone segments. Either they have been removed, which seems unlikely in this remote location, or it is all so overgrown as to be invisible, or else I did not go far enough on this occasion.

Hard Going

Progress was very slow over fallen trees at waist level, and I somehow managed to cut myself quite badly without realising it, so bad the time I got back to the car I was quite tired and grumpy. I had intended starting out with a successful trip, and getting interesting photos for my first blog trip, but failure instead.

The exercise did me good though, and I’ve not struck this off my list yet – I shall return at some stage with a curious American friend, and the lost mine may be found yet.

Fat Steve

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