Friday, 21 February 2014

A Journey into Ancient History : The Paps of Dana

 For my first post, I'm going to stray over the border into Kerry, but this walk is very accessible from Cork city and county (about 1.25 hours drive from the city to start point at 'The City', an old shrine south of Rathmore). I'm aiming to give an overview of the possible routes up to the summit, and an idea of what the walk is like and the history and folklore surrounding it.

 The Paps of Dana are twin conical mountains, which come suddenly and spectacularly into view as you drive over the County Bounds on the road between Cork, Ballyvourney and Killarney (the N22), heading into Kerry. For mountains which are quite close to the tourist mecca of Killarney, they don't seem to get many walkers : on the number of occasions I've climbed them, I've never seen another walker on the mountain (only a farmer tending to his sheep).

 When crossing into Kerry on the N22, one route up the Paps involves you taking a right turn signposted 'Clydagh Valley', and several miles up this road you come to a pull-in place (with room for parking) before a farmhouse, with the rough gravel track on your left being the one you must walk up. It is signposted 'Shrone Lake'. A very detailed written guide to the climb from this point can be found in Kevin Corcoran's book 'Kerry Walks'. To summarise, you follow the rough track (basically a forestry road, though the forestry has recently been felled), climbing steadily towards a gap in the hills, with the Paps rising to the left.

 One route up recommends looking out for a large tree-break, and ascending there, but I've found this to be very wet and very slippery on several occasions. Other suggested routes include passing the tree -break, and ascending to the left at the summit of the pass, but to be honest this is very steep for the first section, which isn't really suitable for the more casual walker as opposed to the very fit hillwalker. This route, however, brings you onto an initial small plateau with interesting remains of stone huts and enclosures which archaeologists believe may be linked with the ceremonial and sacred history of the Paps, notably their ancient megalithic tombs at the two summits. Excavations here in 2001 turned up 'a perforated circular stone disc, possibly a disc bead, and a stone axe head', as Diarmuid Moynihan notes in his book 'Sliabh Luachra Milestones'. He says that these discoveries indicate an early prehistoric date for the hut sites and the mountain-top cairns, possibly the Later Neolithic, which means earlier than 2500BC (4500BP). This will intrigue anyone with an interest in archaeology and ancient history. The route up from here is a steady climb up heathery slopes to the summit of the Eastern Pap at 694m.

 As stated above, my preferred route would involve driving west from Millstreet on the R582 (if coming from Cork city or NW Cork), joining the N72 west at Rathmore, and approx. 3 miles west of Rathmore, turning left at Gortanahaneboy East for 'The City' and Shrone. It's a drive of about 2 miles down here to the car park at Shrone and 'The City', the latter being a very interesting archaeological enclosure which Dan Cronin (who wrote 'In the Shadow of the Paps') has said contains evidence of 7000 years of continuous habitation and worship, both pagan and Christian.

 The Duhallow Way is signed to the south here, and the path brings you after about one mile to the spur of the Eastern Pap on your right, where you must carefully ascend before gaining the plateau above, and then steadily climbing to your right towards the col between the two Paps. Once you've reached it, you climb to your left up the slope to the summit of the Eastern Pap at 694m and hopefully a wonderful panorama. It is worth choosing a day with a good forecast, as the views from here are so spectacular. The 600-metre plus mountains of Co. Cork that span across the Derrynasagart and Boggeragh ranges, Caherbarnagh, Mullaghanish and Musheramore, are all visible to the east. To the south can be seen the Shehy mountains around Gugan Barra, and to the west is a wonderful view of Loch Lein and all the mountains around Killarney.

 A very large cairn tops the Eastern Pap, which is now being seriously considered as a Neolithic passage-tomb (previously it was thought of later date). Diarmuid Moynihan sees them as part of a 'deliberately placed series which overlook the plains of the south-west', and writes that 'it would have taken a highly motivated workforce to carry out the construction of such large-scale monuments'. With much more archaeological work to be done, especially carbon dating, Moynihan says we 'are still scratching at the surface of an intruiging archaeological puzzle'. Certainly, walking around the very large cairn, and looking north over the low hills of Sliabh Luachra ('the rushy mountain'), you have a strong sense of a very ancient history. Indeed, Sliabh Luachra to the north was the home of the Gaelic poets Aogan O Rathaille and Eoghan Rua O Suilleabhain, and centre of a very fine traditional music tradition that included players such as Julia Clifford and Padraig O'Keefe. This music can still be heard today in villages such as Knocknagree and Rockchapel (Bruach na Carraige).

 It is a walk of thirty minutes or so down to the col and back up the Western Pap, summit at 690m, where the views are possibly more extensive across the Killarney area. A smaller, more damaged, cairn tops this peak. Return can be made to the starting point by the same route, which is not too steep and so quite safe for descent.


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