With the mud only barely scraped off the walking boots from this year's festival, Ballyhoura Country has already issued a "Save the Date" for their 2023 event, such was the success of last month's event; the 6th - 8th October 2023 is the all-important date that you need to remember.
Ballyhoura Walking Festival was Ireland’s first-ever established walking festival back in the day, and its success year after year is down to not just Ireland’s love affair with the great outdoors, but the special pull that the Ballyhoura region has, with walkers coming back year after year, making this year’s festival – the 26th – the biggest one yet.
The community of Kilfinane – the festival’s hub – was a hive of activity on the weekend of 7th-9th October; for the second year in a row the Walking Festival teamed up with the Joyce Brothers Music Festival, while the 500 or so people in attendance enjoyed delicious food cooked by 14 nationalities living in the community, including Ukrainian, for The International Food Fair. It was fantastic to see so many different groups within the community working together to organise such a successful event.
The Walking Festival welcomed people from all over Ireland and beyond to Kilfinane, the highest town in Co Limerick surrounded on three sides by the Ballyhoura Mountains. 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 extra special, with the clear skies and full moon providing a stunning vista for the walkers, while the Ballyorgan Forest Night Walk on Saturday was crammed with the history of the local area including Castle Oliver’s Old Gates and Oliver’s Folly which were in the view under the moonlight. The walkers fully embraced the darkness while soaking up the lovely atmosphere of being outside in the evenings.
Also on Saturday, the Sunrise Walk to Seefin, led by Paddy from Britton Outdoors, was simply spectacular, with the participants witnessing an amazing sunrise. Its breath-taking beauty even encouraged some of them to lace up their boots and join in that evening’s night walk!
The weather continued to play ball on Saturday for those who wanted to “Walk in the Footsteps of Fionn MacCumhail”. Climbing the summit of Seefin, they enjoyed spectacular scenery of Ballyhoura Mountains, where legendary hero Fionn MacCumhail hunted and rode throughout the land. Saturday’s two other walks - Darragh Hills and Canon Sheehan Walk also went down a treat: everyone was in agreement that the vibe on Saturday featured great people, great company and great weather, which is about as good as it gets!
Even though the weather on Sunday turned to rain, Festival Yoga Walk participants weren’t put off by the weather and embraced it most amazingly. It was beautifully summed up by Natasha Page-Wood, aka The Boho Traveller, who attended several events over the weekend: “Touched by madness we gathered in the wild weather for a wonderful yoga walk with kind folk in a magical place”. Heritage Walks of Lough Gur also went ahead despite the weather and brought participants on the 12,5km walk of some of the lesser-known areas of Lough Gur and past many sites and monuments from early prehistory to modern time.
The collaboration with the Ballyhoura Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann's Joyce Brothers Music Festival and the Kilfinane Community Council who organised the International Food Fair was an inspired decision! Participants of both festivals enjoyed two glorious nights of entertainment, in Kilfinane's Old Chapel Rooms, as well as live traditional music sessions in local pubs, and music workshops.
“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 year’s festival also brought the local community together, and the collaboration between the Walking Festival, Joyce Brothers Music Festival and the International Food Fair worked extremely well, and we look forward to expanding this collaboration in the coming years!”
– Jana Mannion, Tourism & Marketing Officer for Ballyhoura Development CLG
“It was such a great weekend with a lot of excitement and buzz in the air. We had 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!”
– Margaret Atalla, Chairperson of Ballyhoura Failte and owner of Deebert House Hotel , Kilmallock
"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".
– Ciara Flanagan, Ballyhoura CCE
Once again, this year’s festival 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, The walkers heartily took this message on board and showed great respect for the Ballyhoura surroundings.