Who were the 'Walkers'?
For generations the workforce of the Quarries in Golden Hill and Threecastles lived neaby, in Oldcourt, Blackrock, Rathanbo, Kilbride, and in the mountain townlands above. When the quarries closed in 1824 and quarrying moved to the new quarries at Ballyknockan, the quarry workers 'walked' across the mountains to the new quarries each Monday morning and returned home on Saturday afternoons.
These men were known as 'the walkers'.
Initially they lodged with local families in Ballyknockan during the week. As the number of workers in Ballyknockan increased, basic accommodation was erected at Ballyknockan for them in an area of the village called 'the Alley', which is close to Foster's quarry. The accommodation was very primitive, each 'house' consisting of two very small rooms, with a fireplace in the centre. it was barely enough for men to sleep in and to cook.
The 'walking' continued for many years. Eventually some of the men settled permanently in Ballyknockan. Some, who had been cottiers in the Oldcourt and Kilbride areas, were pressured to move out by their landlords who were trying to clear the cottiers from their lands in the 1830s and 1840s. Others, who lived in the mountain townlands, such as Ballylow, left these townlands as part of a natural depopulation of the mountain townlands which was also progresssing from the mid 1830s and which was driven at a faster pace by landlord pressures after the famine.
The route of 'the Walkers'
The route from Ballyknockan to their homes was through the Red Bog and through Ballinahowen to the church in Lacken. (This section of the route is now mostly under the reservoir).
From Lacken the route climbed steeply along a track leading from the village towards the lowest point of the ridge east of Lugnagun.
At about 350m altitude a trackway leads west towards Rathabo and the Walkers from that area took this towards their homes.
Continuing along the main track, the ridge is reached at about 400m, near the magalithic tomb. From here you can see Woodend Hill almost due north, with Oldcourt, Kilbride and Golden Hill quarries almost in a straight line beyond Woodend.
The route now follows the earthen mound which formed the boundary of the Downshire Estate.
Going to the west you soon come to a route down through Blackrock and on to the road which leads towards Oldcourt. Going east it leads towards Sorrel Hill and gives access to the footways which lead to the mountain townlands of Ballylow, Ballydonnell and Ballynatona.
In the footsteps of 'the Walkers'
In June 2011 a group of us repeated the section of the Walkers route from Lacken to Oldcourt.
Our guide was Seamus Balfe, who lives nearby in Kylebeg. Seamus is a sheep-farmer with a lifetime of experience and knowledge of this area and a deep interest in its oral history and traditions.
Created 21 August 2012. Updated 25 August 2013.