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The Old Man Of The Mountains by Dan Hassett F.S.C.

My name is Owen Cleere. I live in the last house in the valley where the River Barrow rises. The valley is called Glenbarrow and the Barrow has it's source in the Upper Cone about two miles to the west. I am giving this account of my life to Brother Dan Hassett who resides in De La Salle College, Castletown, Co. Laois He came across trackless mountains down into Glenbarrow where I live. He said that he had come especially to see me. He heard that I was living in the last house in the valley with my wife and daughter. I am 75 years of age and my daughter is 20. The Brother did not see her at all. She was out on the mountain saving turf.

Owen Cleere's House and Farm.

Owen Cleere's dwelling house is a long thatched one-story building. It has three large whitewashed rooms including the kitchen which has a flagged floor and an open fireplace for the turf fire. It was built by the people of the valley themselves. May years ago, neighbours would come along when their own work was finished to lend a hand building the house. There was no question of payment. All was done in a true community spirit. It was the same when anybody died. All work ceased in the valley until after the funeral. People were poor but very neighbourly.

The farm owned by Owen Cleere resembles very much what you might find in a western Gaeltacht area. Some good grazing land sloping down towards the river and also along the south bank of the river but the land along the river was very much subject to flooding. After heavy rain, violent torrents used to inundate the low-lying places. Owen has about 75 acres of land fenced in. Much of it however is rough and marshy. He has about 1,300 acres of mountain grazing. Besides he has some land near Rosenallis in a place called Lacken. This additional land supplied him with potatoes and vegetables. He kept 6 cows and was able to make butter with a dash churn. He fed milk to the calves.

Last on the Mountain.

I don't know how the Brother found his way across the trackless mountain. It is so easy to go astray even in daylight. A great many years ago there was a man called Fitzpatrick who lived in one of the several houses now in ruins that you meet further down the valley. One night he got lost on the mountain. He experienced several bad falls and finally stumbled into Owen's yard in a state of panic. He was never the same after and he died within a year or two.

A Strange Foreboding.

Formerly, well to the west of Cleere's, there was another family called Hogan who lived in a green open space far from any road or track. It was a large family and their house must have been one of the most isolated in the whole of Ireland. A column of stones similar to the "Stoney Man” marks the spot where the house stood. It was near the source of the Barrow only farther on in Upper Cone. Anything they required they had to carry across the mountain as no vehicle could go there. The members of the family went here and there until only one boy was left in the place. Another boy was employed in the town of Mountmellick. One night as he lay in bed he had a dream about his brother living in Upper Cone. He dreamt that he saw a dog going into the house and almost immediately after, the roof fell in and his brother was killed. Thereupon the boy in Mountmellick woke up in a great state of alarm and although it was the middle of the night, he got up and at once started off for the house in Upper Cone. It was a long hard journey along the river and up the mountain. At length, he reached the house and found his brother asleep in bed. He wakened him up and told him about his dream. The boy in Upper Cone only laughed and told him that it was a foolish errand he had come on. However, he got up and made a meal for the Mountmellick boy. Then, he said that he would go back part of the way with him. The boy from Upper Cone whistled for his dog and they set off. They had not gone very far when for some unknown reason the dog bounded back and disappeared into the house. Scarcely had he done so when with a roar like thunder the roof fell in. (Owen Cleere heard this story from his father as it happened before Owen's time)

My Departure from Glenbarrow.

My good friend, Owen Cleere, warned me against going back over the mountains the way that I had come. He told me that if I went down the valley near the river I would come to another farmhouse near Capard School where there was a farmer called Cleere also. I think he was a brother of Owen. He said that he would give me the loan of a bicycle on which I could ride back to Castletown. I did so and met the other Mr. Cleere. He gave me the loan of a bicycle without any demur. And so I arrived safely back in Castletown none the worse of my experiences.


The End of an Era.

But the valley will soon be more silent than it has been for many a long year. Owen Cleere has sold his holding there to the Forestry Department. He got £450 for it. He acquired a new house and some additional land at Lacken near Rosenallis. Soon he will be moving and an era will have ended. Owen will not go without some regret. He likes to think of the old happy days and the decent kindly people who were his neighbours.

Source of the River Barrow.

To reach the head of the Barrow, follow the river to the left for about 2 miles. You come to a spot where a tributary comes in from the left. You follow the original river to the right. After a short distance you find a round soft opening in the mountain. There the River Barrow rises.


All the events referred to in this account happened more than twenty years ago.

Postscript: 18th March, 1984.

Since writing the foregoing description of Owen Cleere and his home in Glenbarrow; also his anticipated departure from the glen which was due to take place in 1963, and his taking up residence in Lacken near Rosenallis; I have been to Rosenallis and visited Lacken. Owen died about 10 years ago; also his wife. However, I met his daughter in Lacken, now Mrs Dunne. She and her Husband made Br. Paul and myself very welcome. They have a lovely family of 10 children.