STAY: Glenlosh Valley Cottages (Self Catering Houses)
Maam is a lovely wooded town land beside some great fishing lakes. The ancient woods give the place a magical feel, overshadowed by the Maamturk Mountains with their numerous pre-historic and early historic sites.
The Western Way, a long distance walking trail will take you from the southern end of the Maam Valley to the ancient site of Mámean. There is a good choice of Bed & Breakfast and Self-Catering accommodation in Maam.
Located in the heart of the scenic Maamturk mountains, Máméan (The Pass of the Birds) is an ancient site of pilgrimage that dates back to the fifth century. The track across the mountains is even older, and formed an early access route to Connemara.
Like Croagh Patrick to the north, Máméan has strong associations with Saint Patrick, who, according to legend, climbed Máméan to bless the wild lands of Connemara, thereby converting what was probably a place of pagan rituals into a Christian shrine.
A stony track leads up the mountainside – Cnoc Doire Bhéal an Mháma (The Mountain of the Wood at the Mouth of the Pass) – to a small, more recently built chapel (Cillin Phadraig), which stands near the cave-like hollow in the rock known as Saint Patrick’s Bed (Leaba Phádraig) and the holy well that form the ancient site. Watching over the windswept hillside is a brooding sculpture of Saint Patrick, created by Cliodna Cussen in 1986. Completing the shrine is a Mass Rock – used during the eighteenth century penal times when Roman Catholicism was outlawed – along with a circle of stones representing the Stations of the Cross.
The annual pilgrimages to Máméan fell into disrepute in the early 19th century when the festivites accompanying them became occasions of raucous dancing and singing, as well as mock fighting between rival families, fuelled by the local homebrew (poitín). The pilgrimages almost died out during the mid 20th century, but thanks to Father Michaél McGreal, whose grandparents had farmed sheep in the area when he was a child, the ancient tradition was revived and continues to thrive, with many people attending the annual Mass and pilgrimage every July.
The scenery in the area is magnificent, with stunning views of the Twelve Bens mountain range and the vast plain of blanket bog that stretches south to the sea.
For those who venture higher, new vistas open up to reveal Gleann Fhada (The Long Glen), the Maam valley and, in the distance, Lough Corrib.
For those interested in local flora, this walk offers some interesting botanical finds. Botanical relics of ancient woodland – wood sorrel (Oxalis acetosella) and the common dog violet (Viola riviniana) – occur, along with St Patrick’s cabbage (Saxifraga spathularis), in sheltered nooks in the rocks beyond the shrine. Further up the mountain, the evergreen perennial Fir clubmoss (Huperzia selago) may be found. This striking species is protected under Annex V of the EU Habitat Directives, along with alpine clubmoss (Diphasiastrum alpinum), which grows at higher elevations in the vicinity. Other alpine plants that may be seen include the attractive, but poisonous, perennial alpine meadow rue (Thalictrum alpinum) and low-growing examples of juniper (Juniperus communis). The latter is one of the three conifers native to Ireland, and one of the first to recolonise the landscape after the last glaciation.
History & Culture
There is an angling centre in this magnificent valley where the Failmorem, Bealanabrack and Joyce’s River come together on their way to Lough Corrib. The Kilmeelickin Church at Maam (Maum) houses the stained glass window of St. Brendan (1950) by Dublin born Evie Hone (1894 – 1955).
On the way to Leenane you will see a signpost for ‘Leaba Pháiric’ (Patrick’s bed), a rock recess and ‘Tobar Pháraic’ (Patrick’s well) which mark a place of pilgrimage, they were traditionally visited on the Sunday in July, but less so nowadays. The well was believed to cure cattle as well as some human ills.