The Cloonfad area of west Roscommon epitomises much of rural Irish life. With a landscape that is at once rugged and tranquil, and a network of time-honoured walking routes, this is about as far as you can get from the pressures of modern living.
Walking is not a new activity near Cloonfad. Historical documents attest to a pre-Christian pathway that ran along the crest of Slieve Dart, a route that later became associated with St. Patrick after he passed this way en route to Croagh Patrick in nearby County Mayo. What was good enough for saints also proved popular with giants, and mythology relates how the area became a favourite hunting ground for the Irish giant Finn MacCool.
Today, reminders of the past are everywhere in the region - a wide range of monuments and artifacts bear witness to several millennia of human habitation. It’s a quietly fascinating area and the perfect place to get a feel for the uncelebrated, everyday events that make up Irish life – past and present.
The best place to begin an exploration of the area is the resource centre in Derrylahan. This stone cottage retains many authentic features typical of Irish homes in the 19th century, including a flagstone floor, a large open fireplace, and ceiling beams made of bog oak. Nearby lies a restored sweat house – a small, beehive-shaped structure of stones that once served as a kind of sauna. A fire would have been lit inside, and locals suffering aches, pains, or other ailments would have taken turns to sweat away their maladies. Similar constructions can be found right across the north of the country.
The routes avoid tarmac lanes as much as possible, with most of the trails following grassy pathways, bog tracks, and old boreens or ‘green roads’. Along the way, there’s the opportunity to explore a wide variety of habitats, including forests, farmland, expanses of bog, and the wild mountainous flanks of Slieve Dart.