Knockma Forest Trail
Hi, and welcome back to another weekly post here on A Wandering Hippy. This time I am revisiting one of our most recent trips to the Knockma Forest Trail, which we did in February. Knockma is approximately a thirty-five-minute drive from Galway, depending on the traffic. It is pretty close to the town of Tuam.
The trail is one of those places we would infrequently visit as it is short (for us), and the drive sometimes doesn’t justify the time and length of the walk. That being said, I do enjoy the walk.
Since our last visit, the trail has undergone a lot of changes. For example, until recently, to get to the Cairn at the top (one of three), you would have to come off the track, hop a stone wall and make your way through brambles to get to it.
But before I go any further, a little bit of history, the Cairn* I just mentioned is, according to legend, one of the burial places of the legendary Irish Queen Maeve.
But, who is Queen Maeve, and why might she be buried here? Legend has it she was the daughter of the King of Connaught, and she became ruler after his death. She is most notably featured in the epic tale of the Táin Bó Cuilnge (Cattle Raid of Cooley), also known as the Ulster Cycle, which features Cú Chulainn.
Queen Maeve is reputedly thought to be buried in one of three places. Knockma, Co Galway, because it is in Connaught and she was the Queen of Connaught, Knocknarea, Co Sligo or Rathcroghan, Co Roscommon.
It is suggested since Roscommon was her home, she is most likely buried there. If you would like to read further on Queen Maeve, I have attached a few interesting links here for you to look at.
I have also attached a link to a translation of The Tain by Thomas Kinsella with illustrations by Louis Le Brocquy. I love the images in this book. They perfectly capture the feel and essence of the story.
But back to the walk, the newly mapped out trail now includes two loops that connect to the main trail. These bring you out around the Cairns and give you views of County Galway.
On a good day, you can see as far as the Burren in Co Clare and the mountains in Connemara. Even though Knockma only stands at approximately 170mts (at its highest point), it offers an excellent vantage point in an otherwise seemingly flat landscape.
There is a free car park at the start of the trail with a clear sign showing the three looped trails and the linear one.
The 3.8km Forest Loop is the one we usually do, it has quite a steep gradient at times. We tend to walk anti-clockwise from the forest entrance sign.
The two extra loops that have been added are the Finvarra and Queen Maeve’s trails.
The entire loop, including the Finvarra & Forest trails, come in at 4.2km excluding the short 300m Queen Maeve Trail.
The fourth trail is linear, 2km, whereby you walk back on yourself to finish it.
It took us an hour and a half from leaving the van to get back to it, but the trail could be walked much quicker. We stopped a lot to take pictures, sit and watch the view.
Starting from the car park, an avenue runs past Castlehacket Tower Castle.
On a side note, Castlehacket house is across the road, initially owned by John Kirwan, one of the Tribes of Galway. A brief history can be found on the house’s website here https://castlehacket-house.com/.
At the top of the avenue, follow the trail around to the left until you reach the forest entrance. This section weaves its way through the trees and is a brilliant place for spotting mushrooms when they are in season.
The trail splits into two, green and blue, as you near the top. We followed the blue Finvarra’s trail. Here we come across the second famous legend of Knockma.
Finvarra is or rather was the Connaught King of the Fairies. He was renowned for having a Grá (Irish for love) for beautiful mortal women, and there is a legend of how he bewitched Lord Kirwan’s wife, Eithne. I will leave the link to the story here if you want to read it.
But who was the Fairy King? He was a member of the Tuatha De Danann, one of Ireland’s earliest tribes. Later the Milesians invaded Ireland and forced the Tuatha De Danann to flee. Finvarra negotiated a truce allowing them to stay but they were forced to live underground. The Tuatha De Danann were known as Daoine Sidhe, which translates to Fairy people or People of the Mound. Read more here https://ourplanetlife.com/who-is-the-king-of-the-fairies/
Following Finvarra’s trail leads you through more forest and moss filled stone walls before opening up into a landscape similar to the Burren, exposed limestone with barren trees gnarled and twisted from the elements. Here, Finvarra’s Castle stands, well, a rebuild by the Kirwan landlords who are also responsible for the remodelling of the Cairns in the 18th Century.
The track further breaks off into the red trail, Queen Maeve’s, leading to a bench at the top point. The Cairn is off to the side. You have to leave the trail to get to it.
Following the red trail down, we re-joined the blue path, eventually meeting back with the green Forest Trail.
There are quite a few benches dotted on the blue and the red trails. So loads of opportunities to rest, eat lunch, enjoy the outdoors and panoramic views.
The whole loop is moderate so I would recommend taking your time and enjoying it. The blue and red trails are exposed, so you would feel the full blast of the elements on a wet, windy day.
Most of all, the trails at Knockma are steeped in history, stories and legends to chat about and discover. Queen Maeve and the King of the Fairies are only two of the legends attached. I would also recommend looking up Ceasair’s Cairn. Ceasair was the granddaughter of Noah and the first woman to have stepped foot in Ireland.
* a mound of rough stones built as a memorial or landmark, typically on a hilltop or skyline.