Although I’d heard of Loch Gur and known about it for some time, I had never visited it. However, prompted by Michael Quinlan, a local author and historian who happened to be the guide on our recent trip, I knew I couldn’t leave Ireland without experiencing this magical place.
Tucked into a valley between two ancient hillocks, Loch Gur is a 158 acre scenic gem. Travelling southeast, it is located a short 22 km (13.7 miles) from Limerick City near the village of Bruff.
The centerpiece of the region is the loch, reputed to be a highly magical site. Today is it crescent shaped, due to the fact that in the 1840’s the water was lowered by 2.4 metres (8’) for drainage purposes. The result enabled archaeologists to find many of the treasures for which the region is so noted today.
After exploring the new and modern interpretive center which resembles the structures that no doubt existed on the crannógs in Bolin Island on the lake, we followed a guided path up the hill for five stops. At each stop, our electronic audio “guide”, provided historical and architectural information about the excavations, the early inhabitants and the surrounding scenery. Upon reaching the top of the hill, we discovered benches where we could sit and digest the spectacular vistas of the mystical loch and its hills; Knockadoon on the left and Knockfennell on the right.
There is evidence of human habitation in the area of Loch Gur for more than 4000 years, making it one of the richest archaeological sites in all Ireland. While that might at first sound a bit dull, it is hardly the case as the history of the region is inextricably intertwined with the mythological folklore that plays an integral part of the Irish oral history. Ten of those stories are included in the audio tour of Loch Gur. So after absorbing the history and the views, we sat by the lake, soaked up and ambiance and listened to stories of fairies, a white horse with silver shoes, knights and a golden comb.
After returning our audio guides to the visitor center, we set out to explore the rest of the Loch Gur region. There are numerous other sites near the loch that should not be missed. If you climb up Carraig Aille to visit the Ring Forts on Knockadoon you will be rewarded with spectacular views of the other side of Loch Gur and a wonderful look at Bourchier’s Castle. As you stand within the enclosures you can imagine gathering your livestock and families within the hilltop fortresses for protection from marauding invaders. And the views of the lake and the surrounding rich Golden Vale from the top of the hill make the climb worth the effort. Go through the stile and follow the bollards up the hill directly to the Ring Forts.
A little farther up the road towards Bruff on the left is the “Giant’s Grave” Megalithic Wedge Tomb. And, shortly across the road from it, Teampall Nua (New Church) named because it replaced (1679)an earlier church which had been built by the Earls of Desmond. In 1698 when the famed poet Thomas O’Connellan died while visiting Bouchier Castle, he was buried in this churchyard in an unmarked grave. According to legend, the goddess Aine stood atop a rock on Knockadoon and keened her sadness at his death when the funeral cortege passed from the Castle to the Churchyard.
The last, but certainly not the least site we visited was the Grange Stone Circle, the largest stone circle in Western Europe. At 65 metres (215’) in diameter, it is larger than even Stonehenge. The massive stones stand in a perfect circle and on June 21, the longest day, the sun rises to shine its light right through the passage entrance in the eastern wall. We met the landowner Tim Casey, who eagerly provided lots of information about the history of the place, including pointing out a second stone circle and a monolithic standing stone in an adjoining farmer’s field. But for his showing them to us, we would surely never have noticed them.
Plan to spend most of a day walking and exploring the region of Loch Gur. There are numerous picnic tables to enjoy lunch or a snack. I suggest you bring your food as the snack bar at the Visitor Center is rather limited. Personal guided tours are available and can be booked through the website. http://www.loughgur.com/
Additional detailed information about the sites in and around Loch Gur and audios of stories and legends told by historian Michael Quinlan and former local seanchaí Tom McNamara can be heard at the website Voices from the Dawn. http://www.voicesfromthedawn.com/lough-gur/