The Beara-Breifne Way
The Way runs 500 km north
from the tip of Beara Peninsula at Dursey in Co. Cork
to Blacklion area in the Breifne area of Co Leitrim And Cavan,
following generally the line of the 17th century march
of O’Sullivan Beare, the last great chieftain of West Cork and South Kerry area.
In the words of Dan O Sullivan. Community representative, Kealkil, the idea was to
transform “the theme of tribulation into a celebration of human spirit and endurance.”
In 1602 Munster was ravaged by war. The forces of Elizabeth 1st
had defeated the Irish and Spanish at the Battle of Kinsale and
advanced to capture the territory of donal Cam O ’Sullivan Beare,
Chieftain of Beara. Following a series of battles and the loss of
his stronghold, dunboy Castle, O ’Sullivan and his troops withdrew
to Coomerkane Valley west of Glengarriff on the Beara Peninsula . On New year’s eve 1602,
faced with almost certain starvation, they were finally forced
to flee. a thousand men and women, including four hundred
soldiers, embarked on an epic mid-winter march, hoping to join
forces with rebel leaders in Ulster.
Travelling through Ireland at a time of war and severe food
shortages they were seen by local chiefs as a threat and were
attacked. Women carried infants and many of the camp followers
could not keep up. By the time they reached the river Shannon
their numbers were severely reduced.
Hemmed in by enemies, they crossed the river at night in a boat
made of the hides of slaughtered horses, the meat eaten by the
starving in the camp. two days later, at Aughrim, their path was
blocked by cavalry and infantry.
O ’Sullivan Beare’s camp had no
choice but to fight. against all odds, his exhausted band defeated
greatly superior forces, then continued to march without a rest.
as the mercenaries among O ’Sullivan’s followers began to drain away,
returning to their Connaught homes, the remaining refugees were
continuously threatened. on the fourteenth day, O ’Sullivan Beare
reached Leitrim Castle, stronghold of the rebel O ’Rourke of Breifne. Of the original one thousand followers only thirty five remained.
The dramatic history contrasts with the beauty and diversity of the
landscapes along the Beara-Breifne way. the walk begins with a
rugged coastline, then threads a barrier of hills. there are bogs
and woodlands, riverbanks, rolling farmland and wayside villages.
the route links counties Cork, Kerry, Limerick, Tipperary, Offaly,
Galway, Roscommon, Sligo Leitrim and Cavan , and it also connects a
series of rural communities along the entire way.
The finer detail of the route is supported by strong folk memory
and there are unbroken clan connections with the story. The
400th anniversary re-enactment of the march galvanised the
route’s communities to develop the walk. The venture could
only have come from the ground up; almost all the land used
is in private hands and access has been granted, neighbour to
neighbour, for the greater good of the wider community. the route
may be nationwide but the sense of ownership and heritage
is emphatically local. For the seasoned walker it is this local
interaction which sets the Beara-Breifne way apart.