Saturday, 17 July 2010

The Commons Cattle Trail Today

When I went back to the Commons recently to see if any parts of the old cattle trail from Ballynure to Dalway's Bawn could still be traced on the ground, I saw this old haunt in a new light.

The photo shows the old drove road as it leaves the south-east end of the Commons just below Lough Mourne, heading east towards Dalway's Bawn. From here the trail continues as an unsurfaced country lane for 3 miles across the 'North-East Division' of Carrickfergus County, and on through the townland of Bellahill, down past the 'Resting Slap' to 'Bullock's Walk' beside Dalway's Bawn.

The first thing that strikes you when you look at this on a 1950s map of this part is that the Commons trail which once crossed an open upland area has been mostly hidden under a patchwork of small fields and farms that followed the 'Enclosure' and letting of the Commons after 1860. Only eastwards from the south end of Lough Mourne does the original track survive, roughly from the point where Hart's Loanen reaches the Commons from Boneybefore. Hart's Loanen remains a similar 'green' country lane up at its north end, and is the way we Boneybefore lads walked up to Lough Mourne countless times in the 1960s and 1970s.

This Land Valuation map of 1860 shows the Commons about to be enclosed, with the outlines of the new land parcels outlined and numbered in red. This was before the fields were planted out and before any houses had been built there.

But the faint lines of the unfenced track-ways still
(in 1860) crossing the Commons from north-west to south-east can be seen underneath. The Cattle trail seems to have wandered about the open hill top grassland at will.

The highlighted boundary of the Commons shows that only this bottom part of Lough Mourne was actually in the Commons.
Lough Mourne itself was turned into a Water Reservoir in the 1930s, and to preserve the immediate water catchment area around it from farm 'pollution' the surrounds were planted out with conifers about the same time.

But the big 'planting' difference in the landscape up here was made with the setting of hawthorn field hedges when the small 'Commons' farms were laid out 150 years ago (wherever the upland was grass rather than bog).

Even the thorn hedges which grow along the dykes on either side of the surviving cattle trail were not an original feature on the Commons.


  1. Phillip. History is so interesting and in many ways I hate to see the changes, yet to progress I suppose they have to be. Ireland is a mystery to me and you live in the north. A few years ago, before my second marriage I corresponded with a policeman from Belfast. He had a lot of interesting information to share. Can you imagine all the feet that have walked over ground before you. They would go back hundreds perhaps thousands of years....and now you pass along the same way...makes my heart swell!

  2. Thanks, Crystal Mary,
    I think imagining the places you visit as they might have been in the past is one of the things that brings history alive. But having worked in a folk museum for many years, I have begun to dislike the forced re-enactments of theme parks. Our imagination is much richer, and can at times I believe be inspired. And sometimes, when a writer's imagination gets going like that, he/she feels a story coming on!

  3. I've got mixed feelings on re-enactments. They do let folks with little knowledge get a quicker grasp on things. However, being both a history buff and a country boy, I see a lot of "baloney" being passed off as gospel truth. I even find things mislabeled in museums. All the good intentions in the world shouldn't replace proper research. Knowing your background, I suspect you've seen some such situations. (Alliteration unintentional.)