Crotty's Lake

Crotty’s Lake II

After a short break we continue our ascend to the lake. A beautiful view of the scenic valley between the cloud-clad Slievenamon and the Comeragh Mountains will follow you all the way up acquiring a map-like look as you climb higher.

In the picture below, you see the south end of the valley, a glimpse of Croughaun Hill on the right, and the Portlaw windmills in the skyline. What a view!

The bump on the top of this steep hill is The Ass’s Tail.  The Ass’s Ears (and the lake) are located right behind. Instead of struggling our way up, we will wisely follow the waymarks round the hill choosing the dry grass patches between the rocks and the sheep tracks to guide us through the the heather.

There are three kinds of heather in the Comeraghs, of which only one is a real heather – Ling or Calluna vulgaris. The other two are Erica – Cross-leaved heath, and the Bell heather in the picture below. Erica have plump magenta-colored flowers.

I have read that heather can live for 30 years.

The Irish weather is not always dry and sunny. Be careful around the tiny streams emerging after the rain. The incline gets steeper here – slow down, stop and take a picture 😉

Nearly there! The last stretch is my favorite.

First you see a pair of pinnacles. That’s right, they are The Ass’s Ears.

Then the lake itself appears, and it is like magic, especially when you see a redhead fairy taking a selfie.

We walk along the lake, taking in the majestic beauty of the rugged cliffs.

We will hike closer to the pinnacles to see the Crotty’s Rock.

First we take a short hike up the steep slope on the right side of the lake to get some views.

When taking this picture, I was the only human being as far as I could see in any direction.

We continue walking along the slope, sometimes with nothing more but narrow sheep tracks to help us through the thick heather.

Sometimes we need to switchback or walk around the rocks.

That’s high! 😊

Higher 😊

Now you can see The Crotty’s Rock on the top of the pinnacle.

Another hike, this time to the left side of the lake. From here we can see the Crotty’s cave. To get there, he had to swim and use a rope to lower himself under the ground level.

The slope is very steep here, and the sheep tracks are narrow and boggy. Do the sheep ever fall off the rocks? Yes, they do.

I found some parts of the sheep skeleton – mandible and a part of the cranium.

More views.

I hope this part of the Comeragh mountains won’t change. People don’t want to drive to this lake. They want to hike there. Those who come to Ireland are not looking for luxuries. They see value in unspoiled natural scenery, a special kind of adventure. My opponents always mention the Mahon Falls, Co Waterford, as an example of successful tourist destination, but it is different, it is a former turf cutting site. Comeragh mountain lakes are precious gems, and any attempt to make them ‘touristy’ takes their value away.

Thank you for being such great walking buddies. Next time we will visit another beautiful lake.

  Have a wonderful week!

Crotty’s Lake I

I am standing above the Crotty’s Lake, Crotty’s Cave somewhere under my feet. To get there, you can either hike from any other part of the Comeragh Mountains, or choose to walk a road, which leaves you with only 450 m of rough land to cross.

This is Bernard Cullinane, the owner of the land around the Crotty’s Lake and a trusted source of information 😊. You can stop at The Ass’s Ears and have a cup of tea before you walk further up the slope.

When the pandemic began, he and his family did a great job on their picnic area project.

My favorite is The Labyrinth.

Bernard’s sister Vera has an Instagram page where you can share your pictures of the lake and the area.

Another great source of information is Barry Dalby of EastWest Mapping, a company providing cartographic services. They have a Facebook page too. EastWest maps are very detailed and linked with historical data. You can also download an EastWest app on your phone.

When I say ‘we will walk a road’, I mean we will walk about a mile of a steep grassy path with the mountain slope on our left and a breathtaking bird-eye view on our right. We can expect to see some wildlife too. One day a fox stuck his head out of a gorse bush right in front of me. We had an eye contact and after a minute he slowly retired back into the bush. I kept walking for another while until I had to stop and take a breath. It is when I realised that the fox had been following me all the way up. I slowly moved towards him to take pictures.

I have never seen a wild fox that close. Left a piece of banana for him – it must be the reason he walked in my steps all the way. I know they love bananas.

Another beautiful thing that makes your hike delightful is the mountain stream gurgling along the road.

Even sheep appreciate the view.

You will see many sheep around.

This is the last stretch of the road before climbing up the slope. I am not sure the road was actually there 300 years ago, but I can easily imagine William Crotty riding along.

Breathtaking view on the right.

The path to the lake is marked, but you will like some little deviations to take pictures of many interesting objects and wildlife. Be careful not to stray away though. Return to the marks and walk from one mark to another – you will save your energy and time.

You might see a rabbit or Irish hare.

The rocks of many fantastic shapes will fuel your imagination

 

I found a rare Crimson waxcap – Hygrocybe punicea – among some other waxcaps. You can see them from far away.

Gnarled Hawthorn trees – some of them long dead- are a striking part of the landscape.

I didn’t see a hoof-marked rock, but spotted this skull mark from a distance. It looks pretty menacing.

There are four arrows to give us the right direction, but it is up to us where to put our feet, so choose wisely. Another 450 m, or a third of a mile, and we will reach the lake, but don’t expect it to make it to the lake in 5 minutes, especially if it is your first time on the slope 😊 How about 35 minutes? That sounds reasonable 😊

We will complete the hike by the weekend.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

  Have a wonderful day!

Halloween Special: Crotty The Highway Robber

When you walk in an unfamiliar place in twilight hours and see a laminated sheet of paper pinned to the tree trunk, stop and read it – not just take a photo of it to read at home like I did on my first visit to Crough Wood. This might save you from trouble or perhaps unwanted ghost-sighting 😉 

After carelessly taking the picture, I walked out of the wood with intention to follow the loop trail and return to the same spot. The view was familiar – I have never been in the Crough Wood before but walking along the Mahon River I knew that I saw the towering rocky walls of Coummahon filling the skyline. I reckoned it would take me less than an hour to return. As it was getting darker, I had to adjust my camera settings. No one was around as far as I could see, but it was hard to tell was it a good or a bad thing. I couldn’t help feeling a little wary, for no reason. Probably it was the mist that began to form in the valley…

Everything went well, though. I hiked to the Magic Road, then to the Crough road and finally returned to the tree from which I started the hike. A little matter of walking to the car park through the dark woods along the loud river had to be addressed… 

The river distracted me, and I took a few photos of the ghostly looking waterfalls. When I returned to the car park, there was no other car but mine. 

At home, I downloaded my photographs and finally read the laminated message. No way… I should have stayed on the trail longer! I did some research, compared the information, checked out the maps. I got hooked on the legend and decided to visit the eastern slopes of the Comeraghs again to write my own version of the story. First I went on a hike to Kilclooney Wood and Coumshingaun Lake. 

Then I hiked to Lough Coumgaurha. It is what the map says. I was there many years ago, and I sure knew the name by which the lake goes in these parts of the world. The Crotty’s Lake. Here is the

                Story  of  Crotty  The  Robber

Waterford Quay was busy with the crowds heading to the gallows – near to where the present days Clock Tower is situated. This kind of entertainment stopped 30 years later when the executions were relocated to behind the prison walls, but in March 1742 the hanging and beheading of the notorious bandit William Crotty was a must to attend and discuss over a pint later.

His pregnant wife stood there and watched him die.

As if it wasn’t already enough to bear, she had to witness his head being displayed over the gateway of the county jail in Ballybricken as a warning to those wishing to follow in his footsteps.

“Crotty was decapitated, according to his sentence, and his head was placed on a spike over the gate of the county gaol, which was at a great thoroughfare, and often a resting-place for those who brought milk to the markets. In a few days the head became in a state of putrid solution, and began to distill drops of gore into the milk-cans, for some time before it was discovered, to the inexpressible disgust and horror of all who had been drinking the milk. The hair did not decay with the flesh – it grew on the bony cranium; and there for a long time the ghastly skull of this miscreant excited as much horror after his death as his cruel actions had during his life.”

Ireland Sixty Years Ago, by John Edward Walsh. Dublin, 1851

Crotty’s loyal wife Mary was refused a funeral, and his body was taken away to the City Infirmary and given for dissection. Thus ended the earthly life of a “most desperate and indefatigable” robber, whose name was a “word of terror” to such extent that he was even suspected of cannibalism by some. The name survived though – in legends and landmarks.

                                                                   

William Crotty was born in Russelstown, on the Western side of the Comeraghs, to a poor family evicted from their holding.  Becoming an outlaw was not a surprising career choice for a young man in his situation. As it came out, he was well suited for the job – his operations extended to Kilkenny and Tipperary over the years. He skillfully avoided capture by shoeing his horses backward, and his knowledge of the mountains helped him disappear in thin air right in front of his pursuers. 

 Crotty had a safe retreat – a deep underground cave near the foot of the rocky pinnacle at the Coumgaurha lake that could be accessed only by the means of a rope dropped down.  He used another cave at Coumshingaun lake for the stolen livestock. His observation point – the Crotty’s Rock –  commands the most expansive views of high roads from Dungarvan to Carrick and Tramore – no one would come close unnoticed. By 1739, Crotty had formed a small gang of accomplices. His operations flourished.

The legend says “he was the leader of a gang of highwaymen who stole from the rich to give to the poor, much in the same manner as Robin Hood”. It breaks my heart to tell you that it wasn’t the case.

I can picture that sad country and immensely poor people suffering consequences of British colonialism and religious defeat. My heart goes out to them. I can see how a daring young lad like William Crotty could have easily become a hero and brighten their day by sharing a shilling or a pint; mingling with them on a dance floor or a hurling field; hurting those who wronged them.

The gang was active for at least four years breaking in, murdering, stealing property.  After they murdered  George Williams, things went south very fast. Crotty’s most trusted companion and the mastermind behind most of their crimes Davey Norris realised that he would be better off giving evidence against his boss to authorities (who had already known about Crotty’s operations long ago). Then he would visit the cave and steal whatever was stashed there. Norris was illiterate and signed with a cross, but he sang like a canary selling Crotty and his other companions, and perhaps obtained pardon for his crimes as he was never arrested and eventually died in his bed. Some of his companions were hanged, like Crotty. Poor Thomas Mara was hanged after nine attempts. The rope got stuck. 

Norris and his wife continued to inform authorities about Crotty’s activities and whereabouts. There are different versions of his capture, but the only fact matters: Crotty The Robber was betrayed by the man he trusted most. 

They say Crotty’s wife, Mary, wrote this caoine after he was executed:

William Crotty I have often tould you,

That David Norris would come round you,

In your bed, when you lay sleeping,

And leave me here in sorrow weeping.

Och-hone, oh! 

Oh, the judge but he was cruel,

Refused a long day to my jewel;

Sure I thought that you would, may be, 

See the face of your poor baby, 

Och-hone, oh! 

Norris was afraid for his life. He filed sworn affidavit against Mary Crotty, and a large reward was offered for her apprehension. Determined not to be taken alive, the unfortunate woman threw herself down the Crotty’s Rock.

Mary has found peace, but William’s ghost now haunts the Comeragh Mountains. His ghost is known as Dark Stranger who “comes out of the mist, tall, dark clothed, moving purposefully, his footsteps making no sound.” The ghost can also be seen on a white horse. He would cross the Crough road and ride towards the Crotty’s Rock, Rathgormack and Carrignagower where his treasures lie hidden somewhere beneath a rock with a hoof mark. 

Happy Halloween, my dear friends! Stay safe and enjoy this mysterious season. Because of the lockdown we won’t have a chance to visit the Crotty’s land at night, as I hoped we would. 

Each location featured in this post will be presented as a separate hike in the nearest future. Have your boots and backpacks ready, my dear walking companions.

Meanwhile, you might also reread some of my previous Halloween stories:

Petticoat Loose,  Beresford Ghost,  Ghosts from the 1970’s and a grim Loftus Hall story.

  Have a fun weekend!