BALLYHOURA Walking Festival holds the honour of being Ireland’s first ever walking festival in 1996. And, the roaring success of its 25th iteration this month, launched by Limerick’s Deputy Mayor Cllr Tom Ruddle, proves that Ireland loves the great outdoors more than ever, and Ballyhoura more than holds its own at the heart of it all.
Despite the cautious reopening of the country, the festival safely welcomed over 350 people of all ages from across Ireland and the UK. The festival’s hub, the picturesque Kilfinane – the highest town in Co Limerick, surrounded on three sides by the Ballyhoura Mountains – was bustling with excitement and positive energy from the enthusiastic walkers.
“It was fantastic to see so many people travelling from all over the country to enjoy and experience the wonderful outdoors and beautiful scenery of the Ballyhoura countryside. This was the first event of this scale organised in the area after a lengthy two years of lockdown and restrictions, and seeing our local accommodation and hospitality providers being busy with weekend bookings was such a joy. This year’s festival has given us a lot to look forward to in the coming year,” said Jana Mannion, Tourism and Marketing Officer for Ballyhoura Development CLG.
The festival’s wide appeal saw people travelling long distances to attend, generating much-needed footfall for local accommodation and hospitality providers, providing a significant boost to the local economy.
“It was such a great weekend with a lot of excitement and buzz in the air. We had many rooms booked for the entire weekend, as well as a lot of restaurant reservations from day trippers. The Ballyhoura Walking Festival has brought a lot of positive energy to the area which, was much needed,” revealed Margaret Atalla, owner of Deebert House Hotel, Kilmallock.
Participants took part in a variety of walks suitable for all ages and abilities, all of which were led by experienced members of the Ballyhoura Bears Walking Club, who provided fantastic stories about legends, history, and the flora and fauna of the area. Friday’s Moonlight Walk was so popular that a second one had to be scheduled on the Saturday night. They both had walkers as young as 12 embracing the darkness and soaking up the lovely atmosphere of being outside in the evenings.
Even though the Sunrise Walk to Seefin, led by Mark Britton from Britton Outdoors, didn’t give as much of the sunrise glow as hoped for due to weather conditions, everyone thoroughly enjoyed the experience, with many vowing to return to catch that elusive golden sunrise.
Some 40 successful Certificates of Achievement were issued to the intrepid walkers who challenged themselves in the epic Ballyhoura Walking Half Marathon, led by the experienced Declan Clancy from Ballyhoura Bears Walking Club.
The festival this year embraced the principles of the Leave No Trace Ireland campaign; it encourages anyone visiting the outdoors to be mindful of the local environment–from wildlife to rubbish to fire to farm animals.
Heritage Walks in the Ballyhoura region were also popular, with guided tours of Lough Gur, Kilmallock’s medieval town, and Mitchelstown’s market town. A guided tour of the OPW’s Doneraile Park and Gardens led by the experienced and enthusiastic Myra Ryall, also a proprietor of the stylish Townhouse Café & Interiors in Doneraile, was undoubtedly the highlight of the festival’s heritage tours. Talented members of the Doneraile Drama Society added to Myra’s insights, narrating some of the estate’s history along the way in their period costumes, dressed as characters at the core of the estate’s history, including Edmund Spenser, Queen Elizabeth I and Elizabeth St Leger, The Lady Freemason.
“I have been giving guided tours of Doneraile Park and gardens for over 10 years and have met the most amazing people. Promoting tourism in Doneraile and the surrounding areas is key to its ongoing success, so pairing up with the ever fab Ballyhoura Walking Festival was just perfect”, said Myra Ryall
“It was so great to see the numbers that attended our recent Walking Festival. We are in challenging and very different times, and these type of events give serious walkers, beginners and families the opportunity to reconnect with the spectacular Ballyhoura countryside”, commented John Fitzgerald, Chairman of Ballyhoura Fáilte.
The Ballyhoura Walking Festival took place in association with Limerick City and County Council and Fáilte Ireland.