One hundred and twenty one people took part in the Stride for Spraoi on the 22nd of June 2013. I was one of the one hundred and twenty one foot soldiers and I have to say it was an epic day.
The day started with a bus journey to the Nire Valley which took us around the foothills of the beautiful Comeragh Mountain range. The beauty of this part of the country is often overlooked but the lush foliage along the way with the backdrop of the sleeping giant is magical.
We stopped at Hanora’s Cottage to get set up where we learned the plan from the main man TV Honan about the day ahead and how we were going to be a part of a work of art at the summit of the Mountain. He explained how we were going to make a triangle with flags representing Waterford at the top of the mountain, facing into the wind as the Air Sea and Rescue chopper flew overhead to take the money shot. We collected the flags that the children of the Deise worked so hard to make for the event. Being a Mount Sioner I was proud to collect a flag made by the infants of the great school that started an era in Irish History: Cnoc Sion, named after the biblical Mount Sinai, by Brother Ignatius Rice, the founder of the Irish Christian Brothers in 1802. Like Moses going up to collect the tablets, we now had our own mission on a local Mountain.
We walked along the road side to the Nire Valley and we started our hike. It was a fairly mild incline at the start but it started to get tough as we marched through acres of fields covered in bog cotton. We ventured up a steep climb to an unusual Waterfall known as ‘The Smoking Lady’. This Waterfall is bizzare as it falls into a valley directly into the prevailing wind, which causes the waterfall to fall upwards? Like the magic hill on the otherside, this is another of the bizzare features of this wonderful mountain range.
We stopped for a bit of packed lunch there and I looked around jealously at Clem Jacob eating some salty Waterford ribbs (or Ghhrrribs as they are pronounced in Waterford) out of tin foil (a classic treat for Waterford folk at the side of the road at GAA matches normally). I was happy enough with my packet of Aldi Cajun chicken, a bag of mixed nuts and a coffee to wash it down. The weather was a bit miserable at this point but it didn’t get our spirits down as the craic was mighty. I enjoyed the chat with Wayne Browne, my wife Nicola and some of Nicola’s work colleagues who happened to be on the trek.
The sun came out and we began the next stage of our journey. We stretched the legs and strode across the plateau to the highest point in the Comeraghs. This took us across some very boggy terrain, that was commented on as looking ‘very lunar’ but then we did have some space cadet’s in our midst. Wayne Browne managed to nearly get eaten by the bog as he plunged into an inconspicuous hole and, though he suffered a minor injury (the big baby), he ploughed on. Once we got to the pinnacle, we got set up with our flags. Padraig O’Grioffa, a man after me own heart, took out a mighty cigar to reward himself at the top. I had to make do with a little rolley but I have had many the not so sneaky cuban cigars and clonmel chardonnays at the top on previous occasions so I could relate to such exotic pleasures at 2000ft. What is it about mountains, food, drink and cigars… anyway, I digress.
So we all got set up in a triangle equally spaced within an equilateral triangle. It was great fun, but very very cold. Someone kept blowing a sheep whistle or something and it seemed to co-incide with people raising their flags so I just copied everyone like a well behaved comeragh sheep (we saw lots of these). It was amazing to be part of this scene and when the chopper flew overhead we were all buzzing and everyone gave 100%, not that we needed to as the wind was blowing about about gale force 12. We repeated this for take after take until they got the perfect shot for Monday nights Nationwide. Our job was done. This was not the end however, not by a long shot.
We then went across to the most beautiful corrie lake in the Comeragh’s that antique jewel, Coumshingaun, the black lake, with legends of giant serpents and all sorts of other myths and stories (some recent ones too). The lake is about 800 metres long and is 60 metres deep at it’s deepest point. The cliffs are ridiculously high and so the view to the lake is absolutely astounding. If anyone is interested in visiting it please read this post on how to get to Coumshingaun. It is wonderful to have a world class beauty spot like this in Waterford, just minutes from the city (about 20). It is completely unspoilt and let’s keep it that way.
After people had time to take in this view we went back across the plateau to the Mahon Valley, which is the start of the Mahon River, which flows past Flahavans Porridge factory down to the sea at Bon Mahon (which means End of Mahon, it makes sense!). At the top of Comeragh Mountain we were greeted by a Piper. This was a lovely touch before we started our descent.
We made our way down and everyone was still very good humoured, even though we had covered about 15km. The colours and shadows in Coum Mahon were spectacular. Once we got down we crossed the mahon river (a stream at this elevation), looked up at the beautiful Mahon falls and made our way down the comeragh drive to the buses where coffees and chocolate fingers were laid on for us and boy were they welcome.
A great day was had by all and a nice few bob was made to keep the Spraoi festival going, which happens over the Bank Holiday Weekend in August each year in Waterford City. Spraoi is celebrating it’s 21st year which is a testament to the event and the committee, who work tirelessly to put on a great show for the Irish public every year. Let’s hope that it continues indefinitely and that the Stride for Spraoi becomes an annual event.
A big thanks from me, Cian, and my wife Nicola to TV, Dee and all of the organisers for such as great day. The day is over but the memories and photos will last a lifetime.
Here’s a few pics I took on the day. Enjoy