By Andrea Cullen
27th June 2014
I have a summer rule that I abide to; if the sun shines I get outdoors. Work can always wait and I will work hard into the evening instead to make up the time. Sun is a precious commodity here in Ireland and if the golden rays shine then count me in.
I live close by Keeper Hill in County Tipperary and I have spent almost 40 years playing in her playground. I have run, walked, biked, horse ridden, and driven every corner around her and journeyed often to her summit.
Did you know that you can see 9 counties from her summit? On a sunny day the views are a sight to captivate the soul.
Keeper Hill called Sliabh Coimeálta in Irish meaning “mountain of guarding” is a 694 m (2,277 ft) mountain; the highest in the Silvermine Mountains of Co. Tipperary.
Growing up as a child I would be the only soul on the tracks and trails here however in the past 10 years Keeper Hill has become a busy playground for other bikers, runners, and dog walkers. Keeper Hill also plays host to the Keeper Hill Challenge every year. This is a super fun event catering to all standards; and no matter what your standard expect to feel puffed on the steeper parts of the ascent.
There is a looped 10km walk running from the Doonane side carpark over the first part of the mountain and down the Ballyhourigan side of the mountain. There is a more detailed description of the route here however it should take you under 2 hours and not 3 as described in the linked article!
If you have 3 hours to spare you will make the climb to the mountain summit and down via either the Doonane side or the Ballyhourigan side. The Doonane side is brighter; there is a quieter eeriness to the Ballyhourigan side but I kind of like this :-). There are more details of the route leaving from Doonane woods here on the Irish Trails website.
I often cycle the shorter 10km loop from home in Newport (sometimes wriggling on towards Killoscully on the back roads) or when time permits I make the entire trip to the top. The terrain is rough you will need a hybrid bike or a mountain bike; in particular the last few kilometres are stony and the stones are loose; stick to the saddle!
I have written about this cycle up Keeper here: this is a stunning cycle come rain or sunshine. I always recommend trying to get a bit of the mountain to yourself by visiting on a week day and not a weekend day. A pet peeve of mine is people driving up the mountain; for goodness sake get some exercise!
When you climb Keeper Hill your feet are touching soils that speak of history
Keeper Hill itself holds many historic secrets of times past; notably of Cromwellian times (Newport and Cromwell), and Patrick Sarsfields crossing during the Williamite Siege of limerick (Sarsfield’s Ride; 1690).
The following is taken from http://www.doonbleisce.com/Sarsfield’s%20Ride.htm
“A tramp of horse: Whose there? The Word?” “Sarsfield!”, the answer ran, And then the sword smote downwards, “Aye, and Sarsfield is the man!”
In the early hours of Tuesday August 12th, 1690, the night stillness was shattered in a wide area around Ballyneety in the parish of Pallasgreen, a few miles from the Limerick/Tipperary border. One of the most daring feats in all of Irish History had been accomplished. General Patrick Sarsfield with the pick of the Irish cavalry had succeeded in invading the English camps and in destroying the siege train bound for Limerick.
Sarsfield was a general in the army of King James II, dethroned monarch of England. James had fled to France where he had gathered an army and then set out for Ireland where he hoped to enlist the services of the Irish in his attempt to regain the throne. James landed in Kinsale on March 12th, 1689. His replacement on the Throne, William of Orange, arrived in Ireland at Carrickfergus on June 1690. The two armies faced each other for the first time at the Battle of the Boyne, July 12th, 1690. William overran the Jacobite army and it is reputed that James himself was the first to run from the battlefield. William quickly followed up on his victory as he took control of the garrison towns of Kilkenny, Waterford, Youghal and Cork. The Irish army retreated into Connacht and determined to hold the land to the West of the Shannon. Limerick was the gate way to Connacht and now William set his sights on this city.
On Thursday night, August 7th, William reached Caherconlish and encamped there for the night. On the following day he was joined by General Douglas who arrived from Athlone. On Saturday they moved to high ground at Singland, overlooking and about one mile from the city and began bombarding the city with field guns. On Sunday morning, however, a French deserter from the Williamite army arrived in Limerick with the news that a siege train was on the way and was expected to be around Cashel that night. A hurried meeting of the Irish generals was held in King John’s Castle and it was agreed that Sarsfield with 600 chosen horsemen should attempt to intercept the siege train.
At 9.00 p.m. on Sunday evening Sarsfield and his men with the raparee Galloping O’Hogan set out. They first of all headed westward into Clare, as this was friendly country where they wouldn’t be observed by the Williamites. At Oatfield they swung back towards the East and headed for Killaloe. They couldn’t cross the Shannon at the bridging point of Killaloe or O’Brien’s Bridge, as these were in the hands of the Williamites. O’Hogan, who knew the countryside well led them one mile north of Killaloe to a place called Ballyvalley. Here, because of a bend in the river, they could cross without being observed. “The sentinel on Killaloe, looked out but failed to see 600 silent horsemen ride behind the Rapparee.
Having crossed the Shannon they now rode with great caution being now in enemy territory. They stopped for their first break at Ballyhourigan Wood near Keeper Hill. At this point they had travelled approximately 35 miles. Sarsfield reckoned that the siege train would be in the vicinity of Doon, so before daylight he moved on, covering 17 miles to Glengar. Scouts were sent out to locate the train while the rest of the army lay in hiding. It was learned that the train would halt near the castle at Ballyneety that night. The password was also found out -traditions tells us that some of Sarsfield’s scouts came across a woman washing her feet in a stream near Cullen. She was the wife of an English sergeant left behind by the train. The scout brought her to a local inn, plied her with whiskey and she readily volunteered the information – “Sarsfield is the word”. The password shows the esteem in which Sarsfield was held by his enemies.
Armed with this information Sarsfield laid his plans. After dark he moved on again being joined at Carnahalla Bridge by a group of rapparees, among whom was reputed to be Eamonn a Chnoic. His route took him through Oola, into Monard and then on to Cullen, from where he approached Ballyneety. At 2.00 a.m. on the morning of Tuesday, 12th August, 1690, Sarsfield rode boldly towards the sentry.
“Sarsfield is the word! Sarsfield is the man!”
The English camp was stormed by surprise – the large siege guns collected, arranged in a circle and destroyed. Sarsfield had successfully completed his mission without a single casualty and now he headed for home.
After the attack the loose horses were collected from the siege train and the Irish headed back for Limerick. The journey back, however, was longer than the first journey. Sarsfield rode north to Borrisoleigh and on to Banagher in Co. Offaly where a bridge across the Shannon was held by Irish troops. A party of chasing Williamites caught up with him and in a brief skirmish Sarsfield lost 16 men. Having crossed the Shannon Sarsfield was now in friendly territory and got a rousing reception when he rode back to Limerick.
Come rain or shine
Keeper Hill is stunning in all weather conditions; summer, spring, autumn and winter. However it is when the green starts to appear on the hillside and the spring deepens into Summer that Keeper Hill is in its fullest beauty.
Game for a new cycle route?
Today I cycled around Keeper Hill starting in Newport, passing Killoscully on the Nenagh road and then going off into the hills via Lackagh and over Foilduff Hill and home via Toor. The route in total was approximately 40 km and is listed here on mapmyrun
The terrain is pretty rough going in places and more suited to a hybrid bike; there are some nice climbs on the route to tickle the lungs. The scenery is stunning. I caught a few shots on my way without interrupting my cycle too much. There is also an abundance of wildlife and today I saw a momma deer and a bird of prey amongst the more usual birds, bees, and forestry wildlife.
I do hope that you give this spin a bash and post your comments and share your experiences below.
Update from July 9th 2014
Today I did this spin from the other direction. I started in Newport and did an extra loop up by Castlewaller and then on to the Toor road, I passed through Toor and before Rearcross turned up the Foilduff road which took me up into the forestry and over the Foilduff hill to the Rock, then down hill past Glenculloo cottage, through Lackagh and back to the Newport to Nenagh back road.
I actually diverted through Killoscully on my way home as this is a prettier road. When passing Glenculloo cottage I took the challenge or a right turn to the top of the hill on the Silvermines road. This is STEEP. A young man in passing car as I reached the summit wound down the window and shouted “Fair play” just to give me a laugh! I might try this spin another day by completing the road through to the Silvermines and come back via Ballinahinch…
My current route was 42 km so for today I wasn’t adding any more distance! Here is the link to my route http://www.mapmyrun.com/routes/view/467414492
I play a neat mix of audio books, lectures and music on my MP3 player so this time out is actually scenic and educational…. who said that life has to be all work and no play!!
Here are some photos from my route up taken on the Foilduff road; enjoy x
Here is a poem written about “Galloping O’Hogan, Patrick Sarsfield, and the Siege of Limerick; I am unsure who it is written by:
“They have sent for fresh artillery,
The guns are on the way,
God help our hapless Limerick
When dawns another day.”
Thus speaks the gallant Sarsfield,
As sadly he recalls
The famine and despair that lurk
Behind those crumbling walls.
And yet one blow for freedom —
One daring midnight ride:
And William may be humbled yet,
For all his power and pride!
“Go! Bring to me ‘The Galloper.’
To Highway Hogan say,
‘Tis Ireland hath need of him,
And him alone to-day!”
The Soldier and the Highwayman
Are standing face to face,
The fearless front, the eagle eye,
In both of them we trace.
“Hogan! the night is dark and dread,
Say can’st thou lead the way
To Keeper Mountain’s black ravines
Ere dawns another day?”
“Can the eagle find his eyrie?
Can the fox forget his den?
I can lead ye as none other
Of the Sliabh Cimalta men.
The black mare knows it blindfold,
It’s not by the stars she’ll steer,
Ye’ll be tonight on Keeper’s height–
And dawn will find ye here.”
“Lead on!” and well he led them,
Though the Shannon ford ran deep,
And through the white-lipped flood ran fierce
Around O’Brien’s Keep.
The sentinel on Killaloe
Looked out, but failed to see–
Six hundred silent horsemen ride
Behind the Rapparee.
That night by Ballyneety’s towers
The English gunners lay.
King William’s camp in safety lies
But twelve short miles away.
What need of further caution?
What Irish wolf would dare
To prowl around our camp tonight
So near the lion’s lair?
An Irish wolf is near them now,
And Irish ears have heard
The chosen watchword for the night–
And “Sarsfield” was the word.
A tramp of horse: “Who’s there? The Word?”
“Sarsfield!” the answer ran,
And then the sword smote downwards,
“Aye, and Sarsfield is the man!”
“To arms! The foe!” Too late, too late
Though Villier’s vengeful blade
Is wet with Hogan’s life-blood,
As he leads the ambuscade.
The foot to foot, and hand to hand,
They battle round the guns,
Till victory declares itself
For Erin’s daring sons.
“Oh! for those guns in Limerick now,
Placed on the city walls,
We’d bid King William breakfast
On his own black cannon balls!
It may not be –but trebly charged.
And filled with shot and shell,
They’ll toll the robber’s requiem,
And sound the soldier’s knell.”
Oh! sudden flash of blinding light!
Oh, hollow sounding roar!
Down history’s page in Irish ears
It echoes evermore.
And Ballyneety’s blackened tower
Still marks the famous place
Where Sarsfield staked his all to win
And won that midnight race!