Walk – Ros a’ Mhíl
Time: 2 – 2¼ hours
A. Arriving at the junction on the road to Ros a’ Mhíl harbour, begin your walk by taking the small road that runs at a angle left up the hill towards the base of the reservoir, passing through An Baile Láir (the Middle Village).
B. Passing the turning to the reservoir (800m or 10min) continue on following the ‘green road’ south, down the hill to the Martello Tower (600m or 8min). Stones used in the construction of this military road may still be seen bordering its sides. Across the bay from tower is Trá na Boilgeoige, one of the three areas in Ireland where sea kale, a protected species, grows.
C. Returning by the same road, bear right at the junction to pass the head of the bay (Cuan Fhortail) and, taking the first right (750m or 9min) on the far side, follow the unpaved road that runs by the shore for 1.6km (20min) until you reach the T junction.
D. If you would like to detour and view the small harbour and the ruins of the old coast guard station, turn right and follow the road for 500m (6min). Return by same route.
E. Travel east 500m (to the left if you have not taken the option of visiting the harbour) to the next T junction and here, turn left.
F. This road, which follows from a higher point the route just travelled, will bring you back to your starting point (2.4km or 50min). From here, looking across the stoney fields and the inlet, it is easy to imagine how difficult life must have been for the people who scraped a living from the soil and the sea.
Britain understood early in the 1795 – 1801 war with France that the west coast of Ireland was a particularly vulnerable spot, ripe for invasion. Their fears were realized in 1798 when General Humbert landed with 1,000 French troops in Killala, Co. Mayo. The General was defeated but the knowledge that the original objective of the landing force had been Galway Bay or the Shannon, and the resumption of the French wars in 1805, instigated an extensive scheme to build Martello Towers, batteries and signal towers along the coast of lreland and on the Shannon River.
To encircle and protect Galway Bay Martello Towers were built at Loop Head in Co. Clare, Inis Oírr, Golam Head in Leitir Meallain, Ballyvaughan, Aughinish and at Ros a’ Mhíl on Casla Bay.
The tower at Ros a’ Mhíl has an unusual proﬁle, tapering in and then ﬂaring at the top, unlike those in Aughinish and Ballyvaughan. It contained a basement watertank, a magazine, stores and, amazingly, accommodation for thirty soldiers and an officer. Built around 1815, it was occupied up until 1856. It is still in good condition, though some of the stones were removed from the battlements, but the cannon with part of the traversing platform is still extant on the roof.
A coast guard station was built in Baile an tSléibhe between 1860 and 1870. Coast guards resided there until 1922 when it was handed over to the nascent Irish government. It was burned in the euphemistically named ‘troubles’ or civil war, leaving only the walls and chimneys standing, home to a colony of choughs. Ros a’ Mhíl harbour has long been a port of call for húcéirí and gleoiteogaí bringing turf to Aran and Co. Clare and goods from Galway. The old pier was constructed in 1877 and the much enlarged and modernised new pier in the 1970s and is now a popular point to catch a ferry for the Aran lslands as well as being a large ﬁshing harbour.
The original meaning of the name Ros a’ Mhíl has been lost. ‘Ros’ means a piece of land jutting into the sea, but several alternate meanings have been given to ‘Mhíl’, which could mean a hill, a whale or simply be named after ‘Mhichil’ or Mícheál Ó Conaire who was said to have lived there. Casla Lodge, on the river near the crossroads which leads down to Ros a’ Mhíl harbour, was built by Joseph Ismay, of Titanic fame, or rather, infamy. It was said that he wished to keep out of the public eye in embarrassment at having escaped from the sinking ship dressed as a woman.
A school was established on the site of the new Community Hall, in 1885, the new school being built in 1969. Surprisingly there was no church built until 1937, a local house having been used till then for conducting services. Looking down from the hill (reservoir) towards the estuary it is worth noting the myriad old stone walls that comprised the houses and field boundries in past times and remembering how much change the area has seen since the arrival of the English soldiers, developing from a remote area of subsistence farming to become a busy sea and fishing port.