Ray McGrath’s weekly ramble in conjunction with the Barony of Gaultier Historical Society, as published in the Waterford News & Star’s Well! magazine
A BRACING easy cliff-top out-and-back walk of 4km and about 90 minutes with an optional loop via road giving a total of 7kms and about 2½ hours.
From the classically shaped Dunmore Lighthouse, which dates from 1820, take the pier top walk to where it meets the cliff. Facing you from February to July the kittiwakes have made a new nesting place on the cliff, Black Knob. A detour to the Lost at Sea monument down below you to the right gives a sense of maritime tragedy. From the monument return to the cliff path and steps leading to the top of the cliff, Shanoon, the name referring to a cliff face cave or to the old fort, an t-sean dún or dún mór, which gave Dunmore its name. The route is well marked from the western end of the car park crossing over a bridge to the Flat Rocks and further examples of the old red sandstone geology of the area.
From the far end of a row of cottages the route leads up a set of steps to the well-marked route offering splendid views of Waterford Estuary and the Hook Peninsula. The route brings you via Red Head, a really fine example of the layered red sandstone of the Devonian Period of 360 million years ago.
Nearing Portally the bright tints and fragrance of the furze when in bloom blend well with the purple of the heather which abounds here as you descend into Portally Cove (photo). Care is required descending to the cove where a swim and a picnic is an inviting option. Return via the cliff path.
However, if you wish to extend the walk cross the cove if the tide permits and take the track leading to the hamlet of Portally and from there a right turn on the main road, which can be busy at times, brings you back to Dunmore.
Start/Finish: Dunmore East Lighthouse or finish as you enter Dunmore on your return; Distance: 4 km or 6.5 km (road return option); Time: 1 hour plus (or 2 hours for extended walk); Suitability: Moderate because of eroding steps at either end.
The Dunmore Pilots. Pilots have existed from the earliest times. No doubt, some local knowledge guided Strongbow and Henry 11 through Waterford Harbour to Passage. A Dungarvan fisherman William Hackett was captured by pirates to lead them into Baltimore Harbour in 1631 resulting in the infamous Sack of Baltimore and the capture into slavery of many of its people. Captain William Doyle of the survey ship Nymph did a comprehensive and detailed survey of Waterford Harbour in the 1730s which paved the way for a professional approach to piloting. In the 1830’s Waterford Harbour Commissioners organized piloting as part of its services and the Pilot House on Shanoon is one result of that decision. Waterford Harbour Pilots have come from a small number of Dunmore and Passage families, including the Glodys, the Fitzgeralds, the Walshs, the Bastons, Whittys, and Dohertys. Mariners owe much to their knowledge, skill and dedication.
Our walk starts in the townland of Dunmore, which takes its name as mentioned earlier from the big promontory fort on Shanoon, almost all traces of it gone now but clear to early 20th century archaeologists. The area around Red Head is in Coxtown townland, whose meaning of ‘woody place’, Coileach, is put in doubt by Canon Power who mentions the curious tale of an explosion of lightening coming with the crowing of a local cock, hence cockstown and now Coxtown. Portally refers to the ‘little harbour of the wall’, Port Fhalla. All these names are found in the record dating to the 14th century but under a variety of spellings.
The Geology of the Coast. Many aspects of nature can be experienced on this walk, from the rare choughs (Phyrrocorax phyrrocorax, in Irish Chathóg dheargcosach) and fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis and in Irish Fulmaire) to the occasional seal, shag and more numerous cormorant and the plants which bloom at different seasons. But here a note on the striking geology of the cliffs is appropriate. The diversity of nature – its soils, vegetation, lakes and streams are determined by the underlying rock, its composition and structure. This is revealed here to an outstanding degree. The two types of rock most obvious are the old red sandstone and its companion the gravel stone, known locally as ‘pudding stone’ of the same period. The sandstone is layered from dark to light reds, while the almost black gravel stone is identified by the blobs of white quartz throughout the dense congealed gravel. All date from around 360 million years ago and is referred to as Devonian because it was first described in Devon.
The ledges, formed from the layering of the purer, more finely-grained red sandstone provide a safe nesting site for fulmar, while the rougher ledges of the gravel stone appeals to the noisy kittiwakes, their evocative call bringing so many back to our early recollections of Dunmore.
Supported by the Barony of Gaultier Historical Society