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The Old Kenmare Road is truly one of the most scenic trails in Ireland. It crosses through the Esknamucky Glen, a narrow pass between Cromaglan Mountain and Stumpacommeen high in the mountains above Killarney in County Kerry.
The Old Kenmare Road was described by Charles Smith in the 1750s as a Grand Jury Road known as the Glanerought Road, built by subscription in order to link Killarney to the sea. As well as being beautifully scenic, the road has some fascinating historical tales to tell.
As you pass down the road, you can see graffiti etched into the rock by passing soldiers who were serving in the British Army in 1815. Though much of the graffiti has eroded away over time, one inscription still stands strong from the rock: ’James Neill Tippy Rgt [Tipperary Regiment] 1815’ . This immediately had us wondering whether James and his fellow soldiers had fought in the era defining Battle of Waterloo that was fought in June 1815 between the British Army and their allies under Wellington, against the French Army of Napoleon. Military preparations for the battle led to intense military activity throughout Ireland. It is estimated that over 90,000 Irishmen had joined the British army since 1800, and between April and June 1815, dozens of ships left from ports all around Ireland carrying troops to Belgium.
Was James Neill amongst them? The “Tippy Regt “ was most likely the 99th (Prince of Wales’s Tipperary) Regiment of Foot. It was raised in Clonmel in 1804 in response to the renewal of the war with France in 1803. It subsequently served in Bermuda and saw action on the Niagara Frontier in the North American War of 1812–1815.
It is not listed among the Irish regiments (those with formal links to Ireland at any rate) that took part in the Battle of Waterloo. In 1815 there were the ten Irish infantry regiments in the British army but only one participated in the Battle of Waterloo, the 1st Battalion, 27th (Inniskilling) Foot. This is largely due to the majority of experienced British Army regiments being sent to America and Canada following the cessation of hostilities between Britain and France in 1814. Little did Wellington know at the time that Napoleon would escape from exile in Elba to wage war again just months later, he must have deeply regretted the absence of his experienced veterans like James Neill and the Tipperary Regiment.
So what was James Neill doing in Esknamucky Glen in 1815? A possibility is that he had returned from America with his regiment and was on holidays in Killarney. The evidence for this comes in a letter written by another soldier. Major Edwin Griffith, a Hussar, was based in Clonmel when he wrote home to say that he was on the march to Cork for embarkation to Waterloo. The mobilisation had interrupted his plans to travel to Killarney. “Dalrymple & I’ he wrote ‘ had intended to make our first visit to Killarney in May; but this Belgium party will rather interfere.’ And it sadly did. Edwin Griffith was killed in action on 18 June 1815.
By the time that James Neill and his comrades etched their names in the rock, the road had become little more than a neglected bridle path. Despite its neglect, it was still the only road between Killarney and Kenmare. The road was bypassed in the 1820s when an engineer called Griffith built nearly 250 miles of road (including the N71) following the Whiteboy insurrection of 1821, when the security forces were baffled by the lack of roads in Kerry.
The townlands along the road were emptied of people over the next forty years, through a combination of famine, emigration and efforts by the landowner to clear the glens in order to create a deer forest. By the 1860s the Old Kenmare Road would have look pretty much like it is now, a rough track through an upland wilderness, a truly scenic and evocative route where you can walk in the footsteps of James Neill and his fellow soldiers, who passed along it some 200 years before.
The Old Kenmare Road is part of the Kerry Way and is well signposted. It covers a mix of terrain, mostly track but also some rough ground. Caution is advised. The easiest way to access the graffiti is to start at Torc Waterfall upper carpark. Take on The N71 Killarney to Molls Gap road, pass the main entrance Muckross House and take a minor road 300 metres on the left. This takes you to Cloghereen Upper, above Torc Waterfall. Leave the car in the carpark and proceed to the left on foot (no bikes allowed) to the entrance to Killarney National Park, pass Old Torc Bridge and follow the old cobbled road through the gap between Torc and Mangerton mountains, following the line of the Owengarriff River into open peatland at Ferta. Continue along the track for approximately 3.5 kilometres or, roughly, 40 minutes. The route takes you over a low hill, descends to the Crinnagh river and continues across a flat area roughly 400 metres wide. After this the track rises and enters a wooded gorge. The graffiti is on a distinctive slab of rock on the right.
Return the way you came or, continue on to Galway’s Bridge but you will need transport to return to your car from Galway’s Bridge.
Another option is to park at the main Torc Waterfall carpark on the N71 and climb 90 metres through deciduous forest to the upper carpark.
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Photography and text by Ciarán Walsh:
Ciarán is a post-graduate researcher in the Anthropology Department of Maynooth University, who worked with Abarta Audio Guides on an Irish Research Council funded Employment Based Postgraduate Research Programme.
Fancy exploring some of Ireland’s fantastic heritage sites this weekend? Please check out the rest of our blog http://timetravelireland.blogspot.ie
where we have more suggestions for great places to visit. You can also download audioguides from our website www.abartaaudioguides.com
, where we have 25 guides that tell the story of Irish heritage and the majority are absolutely free to download. Our latest free to download guide is to the lovely heritage town of Abbeyleix in County Laois. You can download it as a free audio-visual app (iOS or Android), please see here for a preview: www.guidigo.com
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Do you have any suggestions for great sites to visit? I’d love to hear them, please do leave a comment below or you can contact me at email@example.com