Hidden gem of a holiday off beaten tourist trackAugust 16, 2012 - 8:40am
If you were in Canada and came across this place, you’d think you were in heaven,” says Gurteeny man Garry Gorman, as he gives a brief tour of the mountainous area lying behind the small village in South East Galway.
It’s high and wild, and for the most part it’s uninhabited, with fantastic views over Lough Derg and the fertile lands of Tipperary. On the Galway side, however, the terrain is mostly bogland, with wild flowers and heather in abundance along the narrow mountainy roads of Sliabh Aughty.
Garry is part of a community group in Gurteeny that is campaigning to increase people’s awareness of how much this part of South East Galway has to offer visitors. When it comes to tourism, this area has long been overshadowed by the more spectacular landscape of Connemara, but as Garry points out, people who go to the effort to move off the beaten tourist track find that this is a place packed with culture, history, wildlife, sporting activities – and breathtaking views.
“It’s when you go up the hills off the main road that you realise how beautiful it is,” says Garry, pointing out the impressive views across Lough Derg from the hills, where the distinct smell of boggy soil pervades the air.
The locality is home to two plantations, Derrycrag Wood which is a nature reserve and Millennium Wood, but the parish of Looscaun, of which Gurteeny is part, is such a well kept secret that most people don’t even know these woodlands exist, according to Garry.
Local people feel Gurteeny has been largely ignored by the political powers that be – and that’s one reason why it’s not being promoted as a tourist destination.
“I think people will have to help themselves,” Garry observes. “We live in a sliver of land, between Sliabh Aughty and the lake where there are very few votes.”
He’s spot on with that observation. The village of Gurteeny consists of two pubs, a post office and a health centre at the heart of the tiny village – the school is a mile away at one end and the church is a mile in the other direction.
Garry owns one of the pubs, which has a small shop in front where his mother Breda helps out during the day. There is an excellent relationship between the two premises he says, and supporting each other is proving to be the best way to survive in tough times. These are tough times in Gurteeny.
“The young people are going,” says Breda. “The place has been ruined with young people going. Every single family has had someone leaving. That’s why locals are getting together and trying to get things going, and getting funding where they can.”
Under a Galway Rural Development Scheme, people have cut grass along the roadside, planted trees, and laid a pathway to a newly developed picnic area beside a stream, where information boards allow visitors to check out details of local attractions.
Surrounded on one side by Lough Derg and on the other by the hills of Sliabh Aughty, this is undoubtedly a beautiful area, plentiful in wildlife. Animals spotted here include the rarely seen pinemarten as well as fallow deer, pygmy shrews, foxes, badgers, red squirrels and otters, to name just a few.
The bogs and mountains behind the village are home to kestrels, merlins, pheasants, hen harriers, grouse and black grouse may be seen. The rare cream-coloured thrush has also been sighted locally.
No wonder it’s Garry’s dream that the sort of tourism that will be developed here will be low impact. Because there has been so little development locally, the Gurteeny community are starting from a good position. And they are determined to make their mark.
For more of Judy Murphy's piece on Gurteeny see this week's Tribune