From Lurgan, drive out the Avenue Road (towards Moira) and turn right on the Dromore Road. Drive into and through Dromore turning right on to the B2 (Ballynahinch Road) shortly after leaving the Square. About 5 miles further on turn right on to the Hillsborough Road and in a further couple of miles you will arrive in Dromara.
Turn right in the centre of Dromara on to the Rathfriland Road and take B7 south for approximately one mile to Finnis Massford. At Finnis turn left leaving B7 and drive over small bridge (over River Lagan) and pass Massford Close housing development ignoring road on left. The Dree Hill Road climbs steeply and becomes single track higher up as the land opens up into moorland. After a little over three miles look out for car park on left - Grid Reference J 300 452. If you travel a further 350 metres along Dree Hill you will come to a T junction with Finnis Road/Clonvaraghan Road; turning right here gives an alternative route back into Dromara via Carrigagh Road.
Slieve Croob or in Irish, Sliabh Crúb – the mountain of the hoof – rises to a height of 534 metres (1755) feet and is the source of the River Lagan. Locally the mountain is known as ‘The Twelve Cairns’. There are transmitter masts near the summit the walk but on a clear day it offers outstanding views over the Mourne Mountains and surrounding countryside.
The walk follows a well surfaced road which winds its way through open moorland to the summit of Slieve Croob which is the highest peak in the Dromara hills, a range of mountains forming the foothills of the high Mournes. These hills are, however, much older than their southern cousins, the geology of the area being some 400 million years old. Near the summit the River Lagan rises as a tiny stream and begins its journey to the sea at Belfast.
There was once an enormous cairn – probably marking an ancient burial place or place of special significance – on the summit and from this the local name – ‘The Twelve Cairns’ originates. Lewis in his 1837 ‘ A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland Volume 1’ (p.473) states:
“…Among the ANTIQUITIES are two remarkable Carins; one of them on the summit of Slieve Croob, measuring 80 yards around at the base and 50 on the top, and forming the largest monument of the kind in the county: on this platform several smaller cairns are raised, of various heights and dimensions.”
Sadly now little remains of this once striking monument other than some scattered stones around the triangulation point on the summit.
Slieve Croob was associated with the celebration of the Celtic harvest festival of Lughnasa, in honour of the God Lugh. It was one of quarterly feasts of the old Irish year. Lughnasa or Lammas took place in late July or early August. It continued into Christian times as a harvest festival. The festival was often associated with community gatherings on the summits of mountains or hills which gave a commanding view over the surrounding countryside. On the way to the summit the dark blue bilberries – known locally as ‘blaeberries’ – would be picked which gave the festival its local name of ‘Blaeberry Sunday’. It is also known as ‘Cairn Sunday’ as it was said to be a tradition to carry up a small stone to place on the cairn. Once at the summit, an afternoon of dancing, music and games and courtship followed. Blaeberry Sunday was celebrated until the 1950’s on Slieve Croob, and in recent years has undergone something of a revival with an annual walk being organized by local community groups.
This side of the mountain is dominated by grasses such as densely tufted mat grass. This wiry plant gives a characteristic whitish tone to the slopes in winter, which contrasts with the green of cultivated fields below. The nodding white heads of cotton grass signal wetter areas. The grassland frequently grades into wet flushes. If you look closely among the sedges, you may find butterwort, with a rosette of spreading oval pale-green leaves looking like a yellow starfish (can be seen just off the transmitter road, near the summit).
Meadow pipits, small brown birds, are often seen dropping like paper darts into clumps of rushes. Hunting kestrels are a familiar sight, hovering or hanging in the updrafts over hill edges with a fanned tail on the outlook for prey. Buzzards are also frequently seen in the area – identifiable by their extended wing tips in flight and large size. A more recent addition are Red Kites which have recently been reintroducted into this part of County Down by the RSPB. Red Kites are distinctive because of their forked tail and striking colour – predominantly chestnut red with white patches under the wings and a pale grey head. They have a wingspan of nearly two metres but a relatively small body weight of 2 – 3 lbs. This means the bird is incredibly agile, and can stay in the air for many hours with hardly a beat of its wings.
The sculpture in the car park is a public art piece created by local artist Christ Wilson entitled ‘Source of the River Lagan’. It consists of slabs of Mourne granite sandwiched together with a window to view the landscape and etched plates representing local heritage in the form of the nearby Legananny Dolmen and the continuation of ancient traditions in the form of the Blaeberry/Cairn Sunday walk.