Most of those who climbed Slieve Croob on 19th January will have stepped across the source of the Lagan - some of us may not even have noticed; it's just beside the road where the waymarked path joins it, near the summit. The River Lagan (from Irish: Abhainn an Lagáin meaning "river of the low-lying district"; Ulster Scots: Lagan Wattèr) runs 40 miles from Slieve Croob to Belfast where it enters Belfast Lough. The Lagan forms much of the border between County Antrim and County Down.
It rises as a tiny fast moving stream off the Transmitter road near to the summit of Slieve Croob; from here it continues on its journey to Belfast through Dromara and Dromore. On the lower slopes of the mountain it is joined by another branch from Legananny (Cratlieve) Mountain, opposite Slieve Croob. The river turns east to Magheralin into a broad plain between the Antrim plateau and the plateau of Down on its journey to Belfast where the Lagan Weir (pictured left) controls it flow. The Weir was completed in 1994 at a cost of £14m. It is a series of massive steel barriers which are raised as the tide retreats to keep the river at an artificially constant level. This and other improvements such as dredging and aeration have led to a marked improvement in water quality and the environment around the river which now supports salmon but was formerly an aquatic death trap. The salmon have been followed by an otter (not, it is believed, the Six Mile Water otter!) and seals.
Huddled together for warmth and shelter on the top of Slieve Croob and sometimes looking uncannily like a group of Emperor Penguins in Antarctica, walkers from Cedars Walking Group (
right left) had to endure high winds and occasional wintery showers but they were rewarded with exceptiional views, not only of the Mournes to the south, but also the country surrounding Slieve Croob, all the way to Scrabo Tower and beyond. Apparently on a good day you can see Armagh Cathedral, if you know where to look.
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 know 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 1950s on Slieve Croob, and in recent years has undergone something of a revival with an annual walk being organized by local community groups.
When we reached the summit we were nearly blown away in the high winds and there was little shelter to be found as we made our descent. However, for the lead party (those of us who got to the summit first!) we found an excellent dining space (right) in a ditch at the top of the farm lane leading us back to the mini bus. A few brave souls very decently agreed to walk the last 1.8 miles back up to the car park rather than overload the minibus - to them, thanks.
Despite all our difficulties with wind, cold and rain there were no complaints from our walkers and the view of the Mournes which we enjoyed on the summit of Slieve Croob was breathtaking.
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