Range. The trek commemorates a battle during the Irish War of
Independence, in the early twentieth century, in which a small
column of Irish rebels are said to have used safe houses scattered throughout the Nephins to evade British troops. Chambers asked if I had seen the giant cairn atop Slieve Carr during
my hike the previous day. I nodded, noting that I’d seen it from
across the valley, from the top of Nephin Beg. He said that the
massive rock pile is ancient and believed by many to be the final
resting place of Daithi, the last high king of Ireland. “Every
place here has a story associated with it,” Chambers said.
A few years ago, Chambers proposed an idea to Bord Fáilte
(the Irish tourist board) based on the English system of walking
districts. In Chambers’s proposal, walking districts would con-
nect the wild seascapes of Achill Island with the remote moun-
tain landscapes of Nephin Beg. “It would marry the whole area
together, the cliff and sea walks in Achill and the hill walks here
in Nephin. We could call it the Wild Mayo Walking District.”
We reached a parking lot near a dense forest. Chambers
threw his hood over his head and plodded toward the trees. Deir-
dre’s eyes grew large as we approached the seemingly unbroken
wall of black trunks. She has been on many hiking trips with me
through the high country of the Sierra Nevada and the Rockies.
But this was something else entirely.
She tapped me on the shoulder. “We’re going in there?” she
asked in a whisper.
I shrugged. “Guess so.”
We would have been lost without Chambers. Even in the
shadow lands of the mirror-image pines he walked with confi-
dence, weaving across embankments, hopping man-made run-
nels between the narrowly spaced trunks. In his mind is a map
so finely detailed that he needed no horizon or discernible land-
marks to keep him on track.
At one small stream crossing, my daughter stepped onto
what looked like a patch of solid ground but proved to be a
boggy pool of indeterminate depth. She sunk in nearly to
her knee. I grabbed her hand and pulled. With considerable
e=ort, she managed to extract her leg but her shoe was gone.
I thought surely she’d have to make the half-mile walk back
to the car through the dark wood clad in only a single shoe
(or, a more likely scenario, clinging sloth-like to my back). But
Chambers took my trekking pole and with a few twists in the
muck extracted the pilfered shoe. “The bog is greedy,” he said,
explaining that days earlier his daughter had lost her cellphone
in almost the same spot.
We emerged in a circular clearing, probably fifty yards
across. Through the mist we saw a small mossy rise. As we
climbed to its crest, we could see that the formation was nearly
perfectly circular, with a depression in the middle, like a great
moss-ringed donut. Chambers explained that we were standing
atop the walls of a Neolithic ring fort. Chambers said that this
structure is but one part of an entire complex of ancient forts
and other stone buildings far older than Chaco Canyon or Mesa
Verde in the United States. “Can you imagine it?” Chambers
asked. “They planted this forest over dozens of ancient sites. It
all should be accessible to the public but no one can get to it.
It’s a shame.”