26 May 2021
A walk along the Abha Bhán
River Walk in Ballyhahill
Patrick Comerford, 2021)
After my recent visit to the Church of the Visitation in Ballyhahill in west Limerick, I went for a walk along the Abha Bhán River Walk, a new walk along the Owvaun River. This riverside walk in Ballyhahill is only 0.7 km, but it provides amazing vistas.
The Owvaun River is one of the five major rivers in Co Limerick, excluding the Shannon; the other four are: the Maigue, the Deel, the Feale and the Mulkear or Mulcair. The name Owvaun (Irish: Abha Bhan) means ‘fair river’ or ‘beautiful river,’ although it is known too as the White River (An Abhainn Bhan).
The Owvaun has two main arteries or tributaries that meet just south of the bridge at Ballyhahill to form a single river that heads north towards the Shannon Estuary at Loughill.
The western tributary is known as An Abhainn Dorcha (the Dark River) and rises in Glenbaun at Carrigkerry.
The eastern tributary, the Owvaun,which is the main flow of the river, rises in Knockfinisk (Carrigkerry), Glensharrold (Carrigkerry) and Kerrikyle (Ardagh). However, Glensharrold is the main source of the river, with minor streams rising in Knockfinisk and Kerrikyle.
A new stone bridge was built over the Owvaun River at Ballyhahill in 1781. This was one of the first stone bridges in rural Co Limerick; until then, most bridges were wooden beam structures.
This triple-arch road bridge has rubble stone walls, cut limestone voussoirs, tall semi-circular arches, and roughly dressed limestone copings on the parapet walls. The symmetrical form of this road bridge is enhanced by the textural variation created by the rubble stone walls and cut voussoirs.
The section of the river from Ballyhahill to Loughill is notably picturesque, with numerous cascades and pools in a setting of mature, deciduous woodland composed largely of native species.
The riverside trail of 0.7 km was laid out in recent years along the east bank of the river , heading north from below the bridge.
Along this walk, Glenadda is a long river pool, with a rocky bottom and deep waters. This is a favourite spot for local anglers. At Glenadda Falls, the rock is cut out by the river’s waterflow in a southeast-to-northwest direction. When the river is in flood, its brown waters pour down over its rockface, crashing up suds at the base, like stout being filled in a glass.
The Leaps is an imposing cascade. This waterfall was once a wall of rock from bank to bank, with the river flowing over its face. The Leaps was dynamited in the 1960s by the local fishing club to give fish easier access to the river to the south.
The Limekiln Waterfall is, in reality, a double waterfall, with the river falling six metres in height in a great mass of water. Near the bank, the flow is somewhat quieter, with the water pimpling over the rock, like silver coins on edge. The silver pool that forms just south of the Limekiln waterfall is known as poll a cro, the enclosed pool.
The Pots is so called because the water flow has worn out pot-like structures in the rock. This waterfall is spectacular when the river is in full flood, with ‘the pots’ filling with water and then the water being forced back out in a tornado of spray at an extraordinary pace.
After returning along the 0.7 km trail, we walked back over the bridge and up the hill into Ballyhahill. The road from Ballyhahill to Loughill was laid down in the 1870s, and is known locally as the line.
Ballyhahill primary school was built in 1874. Ballyhahill Co-Operative creamery was registered on 16 October 1890. The Carnegie Public Library built in Ballyhahill in 1907 was one of 660 Carnegie Libraries funded by Andrew Carnegie and built in the Britain and Ireland in 1881-1971, and one of eight built by Rathkeale Rural District Council. The creamery was bought by Golden Vale Co-Op in Charleville in 1973.
Many of the shopfronts and houses in Ballyhahill retain architectural features and decorative stuccowork that are evidence of how this was once a prosperous town in west Limerick.