Cloonfad Scenic Walks
There are seven walking routes within the Cloonfad Walking Routes, and two Slí na Sláinte routes.
The Cloonfad area of west Roscommon epitomises much of rural Irish life. With a landscape that is at once rugged and tranquil and a network of time-honoured walking routes, this is about as far as you can get from the pressures of modern living.
Walking is not a new activity around here. Historical documents attest to a pre-Christian pathway that ran along the crest of Slieve Dart, a route that later became associated with St Patrick after he passed this way en route to Croagh Patrick in nearby County Mayo. What was good enough for saints also proved popular with giants, and mythology relates how the area became a favourite hunting ground for the Irish giant Finn MacCool.
Today reminders of the past are everywhere in the region – a wide range of monuments and artefacts bear witness to several millennia of human habitation. It’s a quietly fascinating area and the perfect place to get a feel for the uncelebrated, everyday events that make up Irish life, past and present.
The best place to begin an exploration of the area is the resource centre in Derrylahan. This stone cottage retains many authentic features typical of Irish homes in the 19th century, including a flagstone floor, a large open fireplace and ceiling beams made of bog oak. Nearby lies a restored sweat house – a small, beehive-shaped structure of stones that once served as a kind of sauna. A fire would have been lit inside, and locals suffering aches, pains or other ailments would have taken turns to sweat away their malady. Similar constructions can be found right across the north of the country.
The route avoids tarmac lanes as much as possible, with most of the trail following grassy pathways, bog tracks and old boreens or ‘green roads’. Along the way there’s the opportunity to explore a wide variety of habitats, including forests, farmland, expanses of bog and the wild mountainous flanks of Slieve Dart.
Some of the best historic sites can be found around the mid-point of the walk. Close to the bridge over the picturesque Cloonfad River you’ll find an old water mill, complete with a large mill wheel cut from the sandstone rock of Slieve Dart.
A short distance later the route passes the site of an ancient Patrician foundation, where a natural spring was used for baptisimal purposes. Scattered stones amongst the heather indicate that the site was also used as a children’s burial ground. The last burial took place here as recently as 1947. Also near the graveyard lies a fine Mass Rock, where Mass was celebrated during the Penal era of the early 18th century. An outdoor service is still celebrated at the site at least once a year.
Arigna Miners’ Way & Historical Trail
Way-Marked Walks which include treks and trails and lovely looped walks within North Roscommon region, include the Arigna Miners’ Way & Historical Trail, Sliabh an Iarainn Way, the Leitrim Way, Glenfarne and Lurganboy. Walks are also being developed at Cuilcagh Mountains, Kiltycashel and Glencar.
Slí na Slainte Walking Historical Trail
Slí na Sláinte stands for ”path to health”. Developed by the Irish Heart Foundation, Slí na Sláinte walking routes are marked by bright colourful signposts. The signposts are not numbered and are situated at 1 km intervals.
Walking is not a new activity in this neck of the woods – the Cloonfad area of west Roscommon is the epitome of Irish rural life and has documents attesting to a pre-Christian pathway running along the crest of Slieve Dart. Saint Patrick, patron saint of Ireland, also passed this way on route to the renowned Croagh Patrick in neighbouring County Mayo.
And mythological Ireland doesn’t miss out, either – legend has it that the giant Finn MacCool chose this as a favourite hunting ground. Reminders of the past are everywhere, with a fascinating range of monuments and artifacts bearing witness to several millennia of human habitation.
Exploration should begin around the resource centre at Derrylahan, which boasts a range of contemporary visitor facilities and offers no less than seven signed walks for the surrounding area, all of which interconnect to allow a variety of options. The Derrylahan walk begins by heading east from the centre, then loops back north and west right into the heart of this ancient region.
The Suck Valley Way
The River Suck drains Lough O’Flynn, 7km west of the town of Castlerea, County Roscommon, and flows through sweeping meanders and past many little islands to reach the Shannon, a kilometre below Shannonbridge.
The Suck Valley Way is a circular route that runs up the west side of the Suck from Mount Talbot to the outskirts of the town of Castlerea and returns, with one brief interruption, down the east side, taking in ‘The Nine Friendly Villages’, Ballygar, Creggs, Glinsk, Ballymoe, Ballintubber, Dunamon, Castlecoote, Athleague and Mount Talbot.
The landscape is a typical river valley – one of bogs, callows, woods and unspoilt traditional farmland of many tiny fields, and makes for wonderful and varied low-land walking. The terrain consists of a pleasant mix of cross-country paths through fields and woods, quiet side roads and there are a number of stretches along the banks of the river itself. As is common with countryside that has not been agriculturally over-developed, there is a rich heritage of the remains of monuments and buildings of the past to be enjoyed along the route, including ringforts, castles, ancient churches; you can’t miss the unique La Tène Stone, an ovoid boulder of granite richly carved and dating from the Iron Age, close to the route at Castlestrange. To add to the pleasure of this route, the frequent villages provide plenty of opportunities for relaxing along the way. The route can be subject to flooding, so please check locally.
Boyle Historic Town Walk
Standing at the foot of the Curlew Pass, Boyle grew up in its current form around the stately Georgian mansion, King House. Its origins go back much further, however. Boyle was considered the road centre of the ancient kingdom of Moylurg; the town cradles the ruins of a 12th-century Cistercian monastery, and legend even suggests St. Patrick fell into the river nearby!
Today’s heritage trail begins at the 18th-century King House, built for the wealthy landowner Sir Henry King and later used as a military barracks by the Connaught Rangers. Recently restored, King House is today home to a brilliant series of interactive history displays – giving visitors the chance to bang drums, write with quills and even try on an old chieftain’s cloak.
Boyle Abbey was the first successful foundation of the Cistercian order in Connaught, and boasts an interesting mix of Gothic and Romanesque features. After the dissolution of the monasteries, it served as a fort and came to be known for a time as Boyle Castle.
Other stops on the trail include Frybrook House, dating from 1750, and the Shambles – an old market yard with a triple-arched entrance gate. Boyle’s 12th-century bridge is one of the oldest of its kind in Ireland, and its 19th-century railway station evokes a golden era of railway travel.
Boyle has a sprinkle of stardust too. Maureen O’Sullivan (the Hollywood actress who played Jane to Johnny Wiesmuller’s Tarzan) was born in a house on Main Street in 1911. She returned for a visit in 1988 to unveil a plaque at her birthplace.
Boyle has a super reputation as a trout and course fishing centre, and visitors may also enjoy a stop-off at the nearby Lough Key Forest Park. The grounds of the old Rockingham estate are home to a tree canopy, spooky old servants’ tunnels and an adventure play kingdom.
Rinn Duin Castle Loop
The name Rindoon (in Irish ‘rinn duin’) means a fortified headland. The Rindoon Peninsula in County Roscommon extends into Lough Ree approximately in the centre of Ireland. The strategic importance of the peninsula was recognised by the Anglo-Normans. A-B. Starting from the car park, follow the green (and blue) arrow through the gate to St John’s House B&B. The blue arrows are for the longer Warren Point Loop. Continue along the sand roadway for 200m to reach a Y-junction at St John’s House. You will be returning to this point from the left on the return section. For now – veer right and follow the sand roadway for 500m to reach the old Town Wall.
B-C. Pass through the gateway and follow the grassy roadway to reach another gateway at a stone wall. Turn right at the gate and follow the wall for 40m to reach a stile on your left – cross it and follow the green and blue arrows along a boundary stone wall on the shoreline of Carrownure Bay. After 300m you reach the ruins of Rinn Duin Church on your left. Turn left here (leaving the blue loop as it heads out to Warren Point).
C-D. Follow the stone wall on your left past the church and the castle (both on your right) and across the peninsula to Safe Harbour. Midway across the blue loop rejoins from the right. At Safe Harbour the loop turns left and follows the outside of stone boundary walls along the shoreline of St John’s Bay. The loop crosses a number of stiles over the next 1km before turning left off the shoreline.
D-A. Follow a boundary fence (on your left) to reach a metal gate – pass through it and cross the field to another metal gate. Pass through this and follow the stone wall of the Walled Garden to reach the sand roadway at St Johns House. Turn right and enjoy the last 100m back to the trailhead.
Warren Point Loop
The name Rindoon (in Irish ‘rinn duin’) means a fortified headland. The Rindoon Peninsula in County Roscommon extends into Lough Ree approximately in the centre of Ireland. The strategic importance of the peninsula was recognised by the Anglo-Normans. A-B. Starting from the car park, follow the blue (and green) arrow through the gate to St John’s House B&B. The green arrow is for the shorter Rinn Duin Castle Loop. Continue along the sand roadway for 200m to reach a Y-junction at St John’s House. You will be returning to this point from the left on the return section. For now – veer right and follow the sand roadway for 500m to reach the old Town Wall.
B-C. Pass through the gateway and follow the grassy roadway to reach another gateway at a stone wall. Turn right at the gate and follow the wall for 40m to reach a stile on your left – cross it and follow the blue (and green) arrows along a boundary stone wall on the shoreline of Carrownure Bay. After 300m you reach the ruins of Rinn Duin Church on your left. The green loop turns left here – but you continue straight ahead following the blue arrows.
C-D. Follow the blue arrows as the loop heads into Rinn Duin Wood. Over the next 1km you follow woodland tracks around Warren Point – towards the end of the section watch for the ruins of an old windmill on your left.
D-E. From the windmill the loop goes through a gateway, passes to the left of Rinn Duin Castle, and rejoins the green loop at a stone wall where you turn right. After 200m you reach Safe Harbour where the loop turns left and follows the outside of stone boundary walls along the shoreline of St John’s Bay. The loop crosses a number of stiles over the next 1km before turning left off the shoreline.
E-A. Follow a boundary fence (on your left) to reach a metal gate – pass through it and cross the field to another metal gate. Pass through this and follow the stone wall of the Walled Garden to reach the sand roadway at St Johns House. Turn right and enjoy the last 100m back to the trailhead.