Walk – An Tulach
Time: 1¼ – 1½ Hours
Time: 2 – 2½ Hours
A. Begin your walk just west of the church (Séipéal na Tulaí), take the left turn and continue for 1¼km (15min) down towards the sea (leave the gate as you found it, whether open or closed). After 1km, on your left, you will see the remains of a castle and the ruins of the house of the local landlords, the Blakes. These are the ruins that gave this townland its name – An Caisleán.
B. After you have walked for a while you will see a path on your right which you should follow. However, you might like to walk straight on down to see the lovely strand – An Trá Mhór. If you went to the strand then return and follow the twisting path west for 600m (7min). On your way you will notice the high stone walls built by the tenants of the Blakes. This road will take you as far as a bridge over a stream which flows towards the pier of Baile na hAbhann (to the right of Bóthar an Mhuilinn – the site of the Blakes old mill).
C. Turn left after the bridge and head down as far as the pier. The road on your right heads north and will bring you back to the main road to finish the loop (the main road is 1.8km or 21min distant and then it is 1km to the start of the walk). If you still feel energetic, however, walk west along the storm beach to make a longer loop.
D. Continue past the two paths on the right for 1.8km (21min) until you are north of Cuan na Scailpe. You will see remnants of a brown stone wall here.
E. Take the rough grassy path on your right. Soon you will arrive at a thatched house and other modern houses. Continue past three houses on your left; at this stage turn west into ‘An Bóthar Cam’ (The Crooked Road). Follow this road and soon you will see a path on your left, ‘Bóthar na Seanbhallaí’ (The Road of the Old Walls). All that is left of the old settlements are ruins. This road comes to an end at the commons.
F. As you make your way west you will pass the two graveyards of Reilig Mhaorais (600m or 7min). There are memorial slabs in the old graveyard from the start of the nineteenth century. The large tomb belongs to the Wallaces, the Blakes’ bailliffs.
G. After you have passed Colmcille’s Well, only visible at low tide, and Mullán Cholmcille, you will notice a lake on your right – Loch na Bántraí. When you reach the main road, turn right to return to your start point. On your left this road continues through Caorán na gCearc to the old pier and the Coastguard Station. By this time you have earned a a long slow drink in the thatched pub just west along this road.
It is no accident that there is hardly any clay left on the rocky ground of An Tulach. Although it is a remote area, there is evidence that it was one of the first places people lived in Cois Fharraige. Archaelogists found the remains of a crannóg in the lake Loch na Tulaí and the traditional history of the area is closely connected with Saint Colmcille at the start of the Christian era.
Colmcille was born in 521 AD in Donegal. He was of royal blood and after his ordination he spent fifteen years travelling the country, founding monasteries, writing church documents, composing poetry (some of which still exists) and spreading the word of God. When he was banished from Aran he made land near the old graveyard at Maoras, where his boat turned into a stone. The granite stone boat can still be seen with the handprint of the saint. There are also two holy wells here which can only be seen at low tide, and which were said to have many healing powers. According to tradition anyone who walks round the well seven times while praying will have their prayers answered. Lá an Phatrúin, the saint’s day, is celebrated on the ninth of June and the local community come together here for mass and other religious services. A granite altar has been built beside the old graveyard for this purpose.
Local farmers, those who tried to make a living from this poor land, had close ties with the people of the Aran Islands and of County Clare. They brought supplies of turf in gleoiteogaí (small sailing boats) to those areas where limestone was plentiful and fuel scarce – and exchanged them for fish, sally rods and limestone. The limestone was fired in ovens and spread as fertiliser on the acidic soil.
The Blakes were horrendous landlords and tortured the tenants by forcing them to work without pay and burning down the houses of those who could not pay their rent. The ruins of houses they burned down can still be seen on the east side of Loch na Tulaí. From time to time, when the houses of the tenants were burned or knocked down, the neighbours came together to rebuild the houses. Houses were often built overnight, but it seems not to be the case here. There is evidence everywhere of depopulation in the region.
The customs of the community have remained more or less the same for hundreds of years. Families cut turf on the local bogs in the summer and although fishing is done on a much bigger scale now from Ros a’ Mhíl pier, the occasional curach can still be seen making its way out to the lobster pots placed in the bay by local fishermen.
A very pleasant night can be spent in either of the two thatched pubs in the area. Sean-nós (unaccompanied) singers can be heard with voices as sweet as any music Colmcille might have heard when he made land on these rocky shores long long ago.