25th Ballyhoura Walking Festival was officially the best one yet!
It took place from 8th-10th October in Kilfinane, Co. Limerick, attracting record numbers of walkers, who also enjoyed return of live music through the festival’s collaboration with the Joyce Brothers Music Festival.
Ballyhoura Walking Festival was Ireland’s first-ever walking festival back in the day, and the roaring success of its 25th iteration this month 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 re-opening of the country, the festival safely welcomed over 350 people of all ages from all over Ireland–Limerick to Dublin, Cork to Belfast–as well as from 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!” – Jana Mannion, Tourism & Marketing Officer for Ballyhoura Country.
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” – 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 twelve 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–thank you, Irish weather!–everyone thoroughly enjoyed the experience with many vowing to return to catch that elusive golden sunrise!
Forty 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 sun shone brightly for Sunday’s Festival Yoga Walk led by Caroline from Yoga Walks Ireland, which provided an opportunity to take a deep breath and experience the calmness and spirituality of the surrounding countryside.
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, and safe to say the walkers heartily took this message on board and showed great respect for the Ballyhoura surroundings.
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. It was a wonderful day full of pageantry, history and stories, in the glorious sunshine!
"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
The collaboration with the Ballyhoura Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann's Joyce Brothers Music Festival was an inspired decision! With restrictions on live music finally lifted, participants of both festivals enjoyed two glorious nights of entertainment, with 150 attending both live concerts in Kilfinane's Old Chapel Rooms, as well as live traditional music sessions in local pubs, and music workshops.
"The Joyce Brothers Music Festival's goal to broaden the audience to the Joyce Brothers collection through music, song, historical talks and walk succeeded thanks to the collaboration with the Ballyhoura Walking Festival. It was a positive partnership of walking, mindfulness, history, music and song." Ciara Flanagan, Ballyhoura CCE.
The community spirit was front and centre of the Sunday afternoon in Kilfinane, with the walk from the Joyce Brothers’ homestead in Glenosheen followed by Music and Storytelling at Kilflynn Church, while a picturesque walk along the Keale River for the unveiling of a land-art sculpture of local legend Oisín of na Fianna brought everyone–young and old, locals and visitors–together for a truly enjoyable afternoon in the heart of nature, to enjoy the best of local music and storytelling. Indeed, the winning photo of the Festival’s Photography Competition was taken at this point: “Finn The Warrior”.
"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." John Fitzgerald, Chairman of Ballyhoura Fáilte
The Ballyhoura Walking Festival took place in association with Limerick City and County Council and Fáilte Ireland.