Conor McKinneySean MullanAran Sheridan
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Blown over Slieve Beagh!

Posted on June 15, 2011 @ 4:32 PM in Walking

 On the windiest day of 2011 so far, I found myself battling head winds to cross Slieve Beagh, following part of the route that has been included in the revised Ulster Way. This was part of my sabbatical walk around Northern Ireland to raise money for marine conservation 

The sea wasn’t foremost in my mind as I started up minor lanes from the County Monaghan side of the hills.  An excellent map produced by several local community groups identifies this as an ‘ancient walk’ from the townland of Knockballyroney. The promise of summer was there in the budding meadowsweet and flowering ragged robin below the whin and hawthorn hedges.

The track wound higher, passing a couple of dog walkers, until I picked up the main Slieve Beagh way above Rock Bridge and was alone on the moor. The vast barren expanse resembled an extra-terrestrial film set, a moonscape after the fire damage that wreaked havoc on so many upland areas this spring.

Sliabh Beagh

Up here the wind was not just blowing a gale, it was a relentless force into which I had to walk, tilted like a drunken sailor fresh on shore leave. I nearly tripped over my own feet when a crosswind blew one leg across the other, but exhilarating nevertheless!

During a brief respite behind some willows I heard a cuckoo above the wind...actually quite close. And there he was! He perched beautifully for me, so I could see his handsome barred belly and striking resemblance to a bird of prey. It was a treat for this otherwise empty landscape, only the lone meadow pipit valiantly attempting to fly but rarely exceeding a couple of metres off the ground. And then, in the corner of my eye, was that flash of white gone to ground in one remaining patch of heather a male hen harrier? I could almost convince myself - from memory that was a regular nest area, and surely if it was a piece of peat plastic it would blow on where I could see it? But further scrutiny shed no light - maybe I was imagining things, the mind's eye unravelling in the wind. Still as I write that suspicion lurks, but I decide I can't count that as a verified sighting.

Health & safety risk assessments are just fine as long as you remember to list all likely hazards. I have to say falling trees didn't occur to me when I was planning the walk. Only when there was a gunshot crack and a tree toppled in my direction (thankfully 100m or so away) did the penny drop! So much for getting out for the wind into the peace of the forest, the wind just a rustle (well, perhaps that undersells it) in the treetops. Now I had to run the gauntlet of some decidedly dangerous looking conifers at leaning tower of Pisa angles. I stayed at the edge of the forest ride away from the trees likely to fall, hoping there was a good chance they'd hang in their opposite counterparts and there'd be room for me underneath. I pulled up my hood, as if that would make much difference if a tree landed on me! When I had to exit the forest I waited for a lull before risking departure and half-ran, feeling a bit embarrassed, out into the open. So much for listening out for siskins and crossbills - they may have been there but my brain was otherwise engaged.


Downhill I went to Mullaghfad church, past enticingly labelled 'waterfalls' on the map (not found) and ruined cottages collapsed to heaps of stone. These hills have seen wild times: wolves once, recalled in place names. Shane Bearnagh, nobleman turned rustler on dispossession of his lands, who was beheaded and whose wife and children drowned themselves (and maybe treasure) to avoid a similar fate. This and more was presented on information boards at key access points along the way.

Slieve Beagh can be beautiful as well as wild. As I finished at Jenkin Lough the sun emerged and shone glittering across the sapphire blue water. I was impressed with the well-maintained walking trail, a cross-border effort to promote tourism here. The RSPB has produced a management plan for the area, commissioned by community groups and in conjunction with statutory bodies in both countries. I hope it comes to fruition and that problems of upland degradation, uncontrolled burning and waste become a thing of the past. Then group water schemes will be sustainable for residents, private well-managed peat cutting will benefit local people, and there will be habitat for curlew, hen harrier and human to enjoy. I definitely recommend a visit!

Claire Ferry
Claire Ferry  RSPB Senior Conservation Officer

Claire Ferry is Senior Conservation Officer at the RSPB in Northern Ireland. Her work includes planning policy, designated site safeguard and lobbying for improvements in environment legislation.

For her sabbatical after seven years working at the RSPB, Claire has chosen to walk 500 miles around Northern Ireland, visiting all RSPB reserves, to raise money for marine conservation and education programmes in three countries: Northern Ireland, Bulgaria and Sri Lanka.

Part of the project is also to collect stories where the environment and wildlife have entered local myth and legend, or peoples’ personal stories of inspiration.

6 comments have been posted in reply to this article

Posted by Joe on June 19, 2011 @ 10:29 PM

Broken link, walk's spelt wrong.

Posted by Paddy Shery on June 22, 2011 @ 7:53 AM

As I live and sometimes work in the sliabh beagh area. It is nice to hear people from outside the area give us a lift. Best of luck with your fundraising

Posted by Paddy Shery on June 22, 2011 @ 7:53 AM

As I live and sometimes work in the sliabh beagh area. It is nice to hear people from outside the area give us a lift. Best of luck with your fundraising

Posted by Lyddy on July 17, 2011 @ 10:53 PM

This makes everything so completely pinaless.

Posted by Michael on August 6, 2011 @ 12:35 PM

As a regular walker in the Sliabh Beagh area I enjoyed your blog

Posted by John surginor on April 29, 2013 @ 9:01 AM

Well written article,walked the sliabh beagh way over the weekend & it's truly a wild area,seen wild grouse,a magical walk which was 47 miles in total as we took the bad weather loop.

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