Map 1 Ballygar to Creggs
Ballygar is an obvious place to start the walk. It is on a good bus route, there is accommodation, a post office, a bank, provision shops, everything you need to get you started. Ballygar is one of the more modern villages built by the O’Kellys and is famous for its carnival at the beginning of August which has been celebrated for more than fifty years. It was the birthplace of Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore,
a well-known bandmaster and composer of the 19th century, who composed the music for such well-known songs as “John Brown’s Body” and “When Johnny Comes Marching Home”.
The walk starts along the Creggs road out of the village, past St. Mary’s College, but very soon leaves the road and enters the woods which were part of the demesne of Aughand Castle. Mature hardwood, these woods make pleasant walking. If you are lucky, you may see fallow deer and red squirrels. In Spring you will certainly see bluebells. Very soon there is a junction in the Way, keep straight on for Creggs, the other is the path you will follow from Athleague if you walk the whole Way.
A little further on are two “raths”, old ring forts, the first of many you will find along the Way. The demesne was the property of the O’Kellys of Hymany, a great family of the area, and the first castle
was built in the 14th century. The sparse ruins you can see now are mainly from the 19th century renovation by Denis Kelly. The last O’Kelly died in 1877, and the castle was burnt during the “Troubles” in 1921. In the open area near the ruins are some magnificent trees.
The Way emerges from the woods and follows lanes past Abbey Grey. This was a monastery of the Norbertines, the Grey monks, founded in the 12th century. It was finally destroyed by Oliver Cromwell’s army in the 1650s. Most of the stones were removed for the renovation of Aughane Castle, and it is subtly ironic that more recently they have been re-used again in Catholic churches in Athleague and Fuerty (Map 5). The monks built a huge defensive earth bank around the monastery, testimony to the dangers of the Middle Ages in Connacht.
There is a short stretch on a minor road and then the Way goes west on forest tracks to Mount Mary, the highest point of the Way at 164m. As a viewpoint, it is rather spoiled by forestry, but may well see fallow deer or grey squirrels, and the rare pine marten is also present. O’Sullivan Beara passed this way, and local tradition related that he spent the night of 10th January there. After a fierce battle at Aughrum, which he won, the annals say that he made a fifty mile (80 km) march to escape pursuit, Near Mount Mary the winter rain which had dogged his journey turned to snow, probably the first that his people from the warm south west had ever seen. Many died of exhaustion and cold, while others with names such as O’Connell, Cronin and Hurly remained behind. Their descendants still live in the Suck Valley.
The Way continues to the north and east, along the edge of the forest. Once clear of the woods, there are good views of the Valley, with Croagh Patrick and the other Mayo mountains visible on a clear day. Along the Way you may see wild strawberries and blackberries. Try to identify the wild orchids. You continue down a boggy field to a small stream whose bend you follow to the village of Creggs.