The Gougane Barra hillwalk is one of the most popular in the Backpackers calendar. Join us hiking Gougane Barra, an area of outstanding natural beauty, which is historically famous for the site of St Finbarr’s Island hermitage in Gougane Barra Lake. The scenery in this area is breath-taking and it offers the walker a little time out in this peaceful valley.
The source of the River Lee rises in the hills above the park and flows into GouganeBarra’s Lake and then on through Ballingeary towards Cork City and the sea. The lake is surrounded by towering cliffs, which are capped by heather and boggy upland heaths and provide spectacular hillwalking territory.
The Gougane Barra Hillwalk is one of the most popular walks in the Backpackers calendar. We are planning four levels of hillwalks (trial, easy, short and moderate) with each walk taking different routes. New Walkers are always welcome to join us for a trial hillwalk before deciding to join the club.
Walkers can sign up in person in Counihans, Pembroke St, Cork from 9.00pm on the Wednesday before the Sunday walk or online at: https://www.corkbackpackers.ie/
The meeting point is on the South Mall opposite the Imperial Hotel at 8.45am. We car pool from there and leave at 9.00am sharp.
There are a number of walks in Gougane Barra forest park comprising some 350 acres. Nature lovers will revel in the extensive areas of natural and cultivated forestry which abounds in wildlife. Sli Laoi is a delightful walk along the floor of Cumrua follows the course of the infant Lee.
For the more energetic there are interesting walks ascending the slopes, from which the panoramic view of mountain and crag, lake and forest, present a picture of unforgettable beauty. For the skilled walker the high hills surrounding Gougane Barra invite you to sample the joys of hill walking.
The Circuit of Gougane Barra is a high level circuit around the mountains, which surround the Lake. The walk should only be undertaken on a clear day. Much of the high ground is relatively featureless and difficult to navigate in misty conditions. There is always the danger of straying too near the steep cliffs. There is no easy escape from the mountaintops and the safest option is to either retrace your steps or to complete the circuit. The start and finish of the walk have tracks but the upland route is mainly pathless. The circuit can be done in either direction, but a clockwise crcuits allows height to be gained rapidly with spectacular views. This area is covered in OS Discovery Series Map No 85.
The name Guagan Barra derives from St. Finbarr, who according to tradition, built his monastery on the island here in the 6th century. Guagan was at one time part of the territories of the O’Leary’s who lost possession of the land in the plantation that followed the Cromwellian wars. Subsequently, it passed to the Townsend family and ultimately the farming tenants under the Land Acts in the early part of this century.
The ruins on the island are not part of St. Finbar’s original settlement but were erected around 1700 by Rev. Denis O’Mahony who, following the footsteps of St. Finbar, retired to a life of asceticism here. Because of its isolation, in the days of the Penal Laws people travelled from areas far beyond the bounds of the valley to hear Mass in Guagan Barra. One of the most famous ‘Mass Path’ was that which led from the Borlin Valley to the west via Gowlane Stream and down into Com Rua by way of the savage cleft of Poll.
Jeremiah Joseph Callanan (1795–1829) an Irish poet born in County Cork, said of Gougane Barra:
There is a green island in lone Gougane Barra,
Where Allua of songs rushes forth as an arrow;
In deep-valley’d Desmond – a thousand wild fountains
Come down to that lake from their homes in the mountains.
There grows the wild ash, and a time stricken willow
Looks chidingly down on the mirth of the billow;
As, like some gay child, that sad monitor scorning,
It lightly laughs back to the laugh of the morning.
St. Finbarr is the patron saint of Cork. He was born in Achaid Duborcon near Crookstown, Co. Cork. He was the son of a Connacht metalworker, who moved to Munster to find work and married a slave girl.
Finbarr left home with three unidentified ascetics and spent time in Scotland, including time on the Isle of Barra. He then before established various hermitages in his native area, notably at Kilclooney and on an island here in Gougane Barra, which bears his name. As always the monks chose well.
St. Finbarr died at Cloyne in 633 A.D. and his remains were taken to Cork to be enclosed in a silver shrine in what is now St. Finbarr’s Cathedral, which is well worth a visit.
Finbarr’s feast/pattern day is the 25th of September and is celebrated on the following Sunday with the local pipe band and mass on the island in Gougane Barra.
‘Where Finbarr taught, let Munster learn’
This is the motto of University College Cork (UCC)
Among many wondrous tales associated with him, is one in which he is led by an angel from the source of the river Lee at Gougane Barra to its marshy mouth, where he founded his most important monastery, ‘out of which grew the see and the city of Cork’. Legend has it that Finbarr banished the great serpent Lú from the lake here, and in doing so, Lú created the channel which is now the river Lee.