It’s great fun to create a looped walk from scratch. Spread the Ordnance Survey Map out on the kitchen table and, as the radio jingle used to say, “let your fingers do the walking” while you set about discovering somewhere new to explore.
And that’s how I discovered the circular route that takes you along the east shore of Lough Feeagh (Irish: Loch Fíoch) on the road to Srahmore, sometimes known as the Nephin Drive, and often referred to locally as ‘The Wires’ in reference to the electrical wires that criss-cross the slopes.
For my money, this is one of the most beautiful walks in Mayo along quiet country roads in a lake-filled valley where you are surrounded on three sides by the Nephin Beg mountain range.
You won’t find this lakeside looped walk, known as the Treenbeg Loop, listed among the designated walking trails in Mayo. Not surprisingly, it’s popular with local people and families out for a Sunday stroll from nearby Newport.
It’s an unforgettable walk in Mayo’s lakeland country and I’m surprised that I hadn’t come across it before as I have walked the nearby Burrishoole Loop Walks many times.
The walk does not circle Lough Feeagh as this is not possible, but it brings you along two roads – one skirting the lakeshore – and the High Road on the slopes of Buckagh Mountain with wonderful elevated views in all directions.
You’ll find the Lough Feeagh walk by taking the road to Mulranny and turning right off the N59 for Lough Furnace, about 1km outside of Newport.
I parked at the Salmon Research Station at Lough Furnace, but there is a small parking area at the crossroads just before that, at the signpost for Srahmore, where this walk starts and finishes.
Starting the circular route on the ‘low road’, I was immediately enchanted by the beautiful vista of Slíabhraon towering over Lough Feeagh, as I came over the brow of the hill, before turning the corner to see the full expanse of the lake almost surrounded by the Nephin Beg mountains.
In mid-March, the rocky, glacial landscape was even more tundra-like. The grasses, rushes and bracken were scorched to various shades of red, yellow and brown after an unusually long and harsh winter of frost and snow.
The yellow flowers of the whins added vibrancy to the earthy browns and grey of the rocks and the scene was perfectly complemented by the expansive backdrop of a blue sky.
History and Legend
Sheltered between the mountains from the bitingly cold east wind, I was reminded that this U-shaped valley was formed at the end of the last Ice Age, about 15,000 BC
The retreating glacier created Lough Feeagh and Lough Furnace before sliding into the nearby Atlantic Ocean where the melting ice dumped huge amounts of boulder clay known as drumlins forming Clew Bay’s hundreds of tiny islands.
History is all around you here – and not just in the reminders of our geological past.
One of the great love stories of prehistoric Ireland was played out on the shores of Lough Feeagh.
As you walk downhill, you will notice a promontory known as Diarmuid and Grainne’s Bed (Irish: Leaba Diarmuid agus Grainne) where the two fabled fugitives slept as they stayed one step ahead of Finn Mac Cumhaill and Na Fianna.
There are the remains of an Iron Age promontory fort here too – a sign that this remote area has been inhabited for thousands of years.
Spinners and weavers
In more recent times, local people eked a living from this barren mountainside by creating a craft industry that was admired throughout Ireland.
Up to the 1950s, wool spinning and weaving were thriving cottage industries in Buckagh, Srahmore and Shraloggy areas where blankets, tweed, flannels, and bainin jackets were produced in the homes of local people.
Rose Anne Murray, writing for Newport Historical Society, fondly recalls the Buckagh Mountain weavers:
“Back in the 1940s, a Margaret Murray of Shramore specialised in using plants to dye her home-spun wool indigo blue and she had a special fleck put in the weft of the wool which was woven for her by Edward Mulchrone in Buckagh. What is not generally known is that a piece of her exclusive tweed is on exhibition at the National Museum in Dublin.”
Another memento of the skill of the spinners and weavers of this area is part of the folklife collection at the Museum of Country Life, Turlough Park.
“The red woollen quilt which was created by Mrs Patrick Chambers of Shramore is impressive. The front of the quilt is of a plain weave and dyed with the aniline dye known as scarlet which was used for colouring the infamous red petticoat, so favoured by 19th-century artists. The back of the quilt was dyed with heather and is of a twill weave.” (Anne O’Dowd: Fifty Years of Collecting Folklife -The National Museum in Mayo 1947-1997, writing in Mayo History and Society).
Sheep are still the farming mainstay, but sadly the soothing sound of the weaving loom is just a memory.
By the lakeshore
Further along the winding road, you come to one of the fish monitoring stations run by the Marine Institute with a nice pier and access to the lakeshore.
The building is a reminder that Lough Feeagh, the largest of the lakes in the Burrishoole catchment, is a popular salmon fishing water. Connected to Lough Furnace by a 20-metre man-made river, the lake waters drain through the short Burrishoole Channel into Clew Bay.
The two lakes are among the best salmon fishing waters in Ireland. Lough Furnace is the lower Lough on the Burrishoole salmon fishery. It is tidal unlike Lough Feeagh, a freshwater lake that is of much interest to scientists studying climate change.
It’s interesting to discover that Lough Feeagh is making an important contribution to worldwide climate change studies, specifically the effects the warming climate will have on freshwater lakes.
Lough Feeagh is one of 235 lakes worldwide that have been monitored observed and studied by the Global Lake Ecological Observatory Network (GLEON).
The observations have concluded that the surface water of Lough Feeagh has warmed at a rate of 0.35° C per decade between 1985-2009, although the rate of warming was lower than some other northern hemisphere lakes.
A wonderful wilderness
With only birdsong, it’s easy to let the mind wander. It’s only a few kilometres outside Newport town and yet you are on the verge of Ireland’s greatest wilderness, Wild Nephin.
The views in every direction are majestic. Slíabhraon, at 345m, towers over the lake as you continue your walk and the cone-shaped Lettertrask (279m) stands out even if it is dwarfed by the bigger peaks rising in all directions over this mountainous wilderness.
Overlooking the lake along this stretch of wooded road where a crystal clear stream cascades down the steep and rocky mountainside towards the lake is the former An Oige Hostel, known as Treanlaur Lodge.
Now empty, the word locally is that stately old building is to reopen as a hostel which will be welcomed by the many walkers who visit this part of Mayo for a hiking holiday.
Just beyond the hostel, you turn right uphill to start the return leg of your walk along the High Road.
This is part of the Western Way – Bangor Trail, soon to be upgraded by the Parks and Wildlife Service making it more accessible to walkers planning to hike all the way to Bangor Erris on the western side of the Nephin Beg mountains.
Walking the tarred road that is cut into the side of Buckagh the view over the lake below and the surrounding mountains is magnificent.
Near the road’s highest point the ruins of Treanlaur school come into view. Its remaining gable is now a lonely reminder of times past when many more people lived here.
Set amongst a few wind-ravaged hawthorn bushes that cling to the rock-strewn hilltop, the ruins make you think of the individual spirit of self-reliance, and the wider community support system, that once existed in this beautiful but harsh environment.
There is a grand finale to the finish of this walk as the vista to the southwest of Clew Bay and Croagh Patrick come into view beyond Lough Furnace shimmering under a sinking sun.
I can think of no better way to spend a couple of hours – it’s an easy walk that will suit people of varying fitness levels.
As I finished the walk, I couldn’t help but think of the words of “The Bonnie Banks o’ Loch Lomond”, the well-known traditional Scottish song.
You’ll take the high road and I’ll take the low road,
And I’ll be in …..
In this case, Newport for fish and chips!
5 replies on “Memorable Lough Feeagh walk”
In researching my McDonnell of Callowbrack family history I came across your very interesting Lough Feeagh walk.
My father, John McDonnell, was born in the now demolished cottage at Callowbrack, not far from the shores of lough Feeagh and I am trying to find out as much as I can about the area and the history of the district.
I know that my father would have gone to the school at Treenbeg in the 1890’s and he left Mayo in 1901 to, live and work in Leeds in England. He enlisted in the Connaught Rangers and served in the First World War. I have researched his service and written a book about his service for my grandchildren as well as a couple of others about his brothers and sisters who all went to America in the 1900’s.
I have visited Callowbrach a few times over the years and still have very many warm memories of this part of Mayo. It is very pleasing to see the photos shown as I am now no longer able to travel the long distance from Australia where I have lived since 1960.
I am still researching as much as I can find about the land and County of my fathers birth.
I hope my information is of interest to you.
Since doing further research I wanted to ask you if you have any knowledge about the Treenbeg School (s) which you would have passed on your walk alongside Lough Feeagh.
A few months ago I bought the map of Wild Nephin which gives such great details about where my father, John McDonnell, was born in Callowbrack alongside Furnace Lough. In 2004 my wife and I drove around Lough Feeagh with my late friend, Belinda Smith (Keane) and we stopped at one of the school sites. (I was not aware of a second site until I studied the map). I assumed that the one we stopped at, which had some of the low walls still showing was the one where the soldiers fought it out in 1923 and in which my late cousin, Tom Dyra, was there as a schoolboy. The map definitely shows ‘Treenbeg Sch’ site and a little further north ‘Sch site’
I had been in Mayo a few times before but had never driven along this route and it was so very scenic and spectacular. My friend Belinda, who lived at Roskeen was also astounded as she had never been along this road.
I have been researching my McDonnell family history for many years and writing a book for my grandchildren and still find interesting things even though there are no members of my family left in Ireland.
Thanks for any information you may be able to give about the Treenbeg school which is where my father would have gone in 1890’s.
I really did enjoy looking through you Mayo.ME site
Michael McDonnell, Adelaide South Australia
Michael thanks for you very interesting information about your father and your connection with Treenbeg school. Unfortunately, I don’t have any further information at this time, but I have emailed you with information about those who may be able to help you.
Hi Michael McDonnell.
I live next door to the Treanbeg school. If you need me to take some pictures or video of the school just let me know.
The second school site that you mention is the Srahmore national school, slightly further north. But it’s the Treanbeg school that your father would have attended. The green road links Callowbrack with the school and is still passable on foot.
There is a small memorial at the roadside at Treanbeg school to young Charles McQuaid who was killed in the ambush in 1923. He was the medic who went to attend to a wounded comrade and was shot and killed. His brother went on to become the archbishop of Dublin and he was an influential voice with the Irish government of De Valera.
Your cousins, the Dyras, lived on the western shore of Feeagh in Glennamu. Their house is still standing but is roofless. My neighbour who lives directly opposite my house is a grandson of the Dyras so would actually be a cousin of yours.
Feel free to contact me at Jnwade@eircom.net if you would like me to get you more information or if you would like some pics or videos of the school or the green road, etc.
Good article. I was drawn to it because my grandmother, who died giving birth to my father, was from Buckagh, Mary (Moran) Holian.
Thanks for your positive feedback, Mark.
Very interesting to read of Buckagh, my father’s folk’s home. My grandmother was Dyra, too.
My grandparents, the Conroys, lived there with their four children including my dad, John, the eldest who died, aged 32 years, here in Bedford, where I live now.
My grandmother was of the Dyra/ Chambers connection. I remember my uncles, Patrick and Tommy who came to the UK, too, telling me that they walked into Newport from Buckagh to Mass early every Sunday morning, across the fields (an 8-mile return journey, I think). Mary, their sister, married but died young, too.