Walk for the Weekend: Rhododendron Walk, Co Tipperary

September 11 23:44 2019 Print This Article

When an invitation arrives to join the denizens of Clogheen for their second annual Rhododendron Walking Festival, I need no second bidding.

Only too glad of an excuse to visit the picturesque south Tipperary village that sits snugly in the northern shadow of the Knockmealdown Mountains, I arrive on a glorious morning when summer is bursting out all over.

A warm welcome awaits in the local community centre where I am greeted as Gaeilge by festival secretary and committed Gaeilgeoir, Catherine McGraith. Having dusted down the required few words of our native language, I am soon after enjoying a convivial coffee with members of the local organising committee. They express themselves delighted with the success of this new event, which appears to have captured the public imagination.

At last year’s inaugural event, I had taken the A walk. This meandered upwards through a great tumult of blooming rhododendrons to gain the high Knockmealdowns above unforgettable Bay Lough. On this occasion I elect to sign for the more relaxed option of the Clogheen Loop. Soon after, in the company of about 40 ramblers, I am heading off with McGraith at the helm.

Its effect has been less intrusive in the Knockmealdowns, since much of the Rhododendron growth has been on open mountainsides or in coniferous plantation

We amble down the main street of the picturesque village, once an important hub at the intersection of the Cork/Dublin road and Vee Gap route to Co Waterford. Clogheen is generally a quiet place, but this morning it is busy as visitors arrive to witness the great rhododendron flowering.

I quickly make the acquaintance of a lady from Donegal, who came for the first festival and has returned again “because of the great hospitality I enjoyed last year”.

Beyond the village, we swing left up a quiet country lane. At first there is nothing; but as we ascend slight hints of pink begin whispering from the hedgerows. Then we come upon a lovely woodland track where the rhododendrons are all around us. With their clusters of bell-like flowers, these shrubs create an outrageously memorable vista that is at once both magnificent and breathtaking.

Gazing at the spectacle, it is difficult to believe that such a delicate flower is now a threat to Ireland’s natural woodlands, such as the ancient oak forests of Killarney. Here, the rhododendron cuts off the light to the woodland floor which inhibits forest regeneration, and forces out the plants and animals this habitat supports.

Its effect has been less intrusive in the Knockmealdowns, since much of the Rhododendron growth has been on open mountainsides or in coniferous plantation where there was already little in the way of biodiversity. The local community has woken to the value of this annual pink extravaganza and cannily turned a forest pest into a beguiling fest.

Onwards now to a high point offering expansive views to the Galtee Mountains, where I chance upon a couple of ladies who have come all the way from Mullingar. Afterwards it is downhill on pleasantly wandering paths to reach what is known locally as Eamon Keating’s Carpark, from where we follow the footpath back to Clogheen.

The hall is magnificently laid out as if in preparation for a society wedding, but the delicious spread is entirely for us. As the tables pack up with satisfied looking walkers, I conclude there is little doubt the Rhododendron Walking Festival is here to stay.

Walk for the Weekend: Rhododendron Walk, Co Tipperary

Start/Finish: Clogheen, Co Tipperary, lying between Mitchelstown and Clonmel
Suitability: Unchallenging outing on sound tracks that is fully waymarked
Time: 2 hours
Distance: 8km
Map: OSi Discovery Sheet 74

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