A hidden treasure on the outskirts of Clonmel is to be further developed for the benefit of locals and visitors alike.
The Glenbawn Loop, known locally as The Rock, or Malcolm’s Rock, is a wooded area about a mile past Marlfield that borders the Suir and offers three walks of varying distance.
A special area of conservation, The Rock has been developed by the Two Bridges Partnership, a voluntary collective whose members are drawn from the Marlfield Village Association, Clonmel Rowing Club and the Workmen’s Boat Club. The Partnership’s work has been supported by valuable assistance from local industries, Coillte, the Heritage Council and visiting German students.
The three walks are known as the Dun Ui Faolain Loop, which is 9 kilometres long and takes about two hours; the Fox Covert Loop, which covers 3 kms and can be completed in an hour and a half; and the Glenbawn Loop, which is 2 kms long, a distance that can be comfortably covered in an hour.
The area is a haven from the nearby bustling and busy town and is a treasure trove of flora and fauna, where the river flows gently by and where otters and the occasional owl, pygmy shrew or hawk may be observed amid the wild garlic, arum (or cuckoo spit) that grows in abundance there.
The wood attracts visitors of all ages, including families, and athletes who avail of its inclines to train for cross-country running.
The Rock has been carefully nurtured by the Partnership for the past seven years. When the voluntary group was formed the area was totally overgrown, “just like a jungle”, in the words of one member of the Partnership, environmentalist Shay Hurley.
The volunteers devoted a few hours every week to clearing the Rock so that the tracks could be opened. Their biggest obstacle initially was the dense thicket of laurel trees, planted as cover for game birds including pheasant and woodcock when the area was owned by the Bagwell family.
The committee received grant aid from the Heritage Council for the removal of those trees. Coillte have also assisted in the control of the laurel, as well as helping to improve the amenity of the wood by providing picnic tables, seats and benches.
Local companies have also helped out – Sepam covered the cost of almost all of the picnic furniture, while Abbott have contributed a picnic unit as well as donating work days, where staff have helped maintain the area.
German students, who have been coming here regularly for the past number of years on exchange visits from their schools in Berlin, have also enhanced the wood with work that includes designing the wooden frames that hang from trees and sculptures.
Their efforts will be rewarded with the naming of the fourth walk, which will be known as Berliner Weg (or walk), which will cover two and-a-half kilometres along the boundary wall, which is being cleared of ivy and other growth.
Wood chippings have been laid on some stretches of the path to make them easier to walk on and there are plans to harvest young beech and ash trees and transport them to areas where the laurel has been removed, so that the wood may be regenerated with natural trees.
The Two Bridges Partnership (which manages the wood under permit from Coillte) is also working with the Tipperary Institute, in conjunction with Heritage Officer Labhaoise McKenna and the Heritage Council, to develop an interactive map of the Suir, and also explore the possibility of developing an i-phone app identifying the river’s hot spots such as The Rock and Suir Island.
Shay Hurley has strong views on how funding could be raised to maintain and develop the area. He says that if the sum of €150,000, allocated to the County Council members for junkets this year, was made available then five unemployed young people could be recruited for a project that would pay them each the average industrial wage of €30,000.
He says that the expenses of just one Councillor would cover the cost of the materials required for work on a one and a half kilometres stretch of wall. “When will they get real and put this money towards getting unemployed local people back to work”, he asks.