Glenariff - Glen of the Arable Land.
The 'Queen of the Glens' , well travelled Victorian visitors often remarked that it reminded them of a mini Switzerland, it certainly is an impressive, large glen which in geological terms represents a classic U cut glacial valley. This formed as the result of melt water from an ice cap which cover this area some 10,000 years ago. The small village of Waterfoot lies at the foot of the glen. The walks, bridges and tea room here were designed by Berkeley Deane Wise as part of the Belfast & Northern Counties Railway development to provide attractions and recreational facilities for railway excursions to Parkmore station at the top of the glen.
The upper part of the glen has excellent forest walks which follow the river past several several waterfalls. Beside the main road near Kilmore is the impressive 'Mare's Tail' waterfall which drops hundreds of feet down the glen side. During heavy rainfall a series of other waterfalls flow over the cliff edge along the length glen.
Across the glen you can see a distinct line descending on a steady incline to the shore, this once carried the Glenariff Mineral Railway. It was built by the Glenariff Iron Ore and Harbour Company to facilitate the extraction and shipment of iron ore to furnaces in Scotland and England,. The line was 4.5 mile long and descended from two hundred metres to a purpose built harbour at Carrivemurphy. This was the first narrow gauge railway in Ireland completed in 1873.
The mines failed a few years later despite several attempt to rejuvenate it. The railway line from Ballymena stopped at Cargan, then in 1876, an extension was opened to Retreat. Initially, it was for the shipping of ore. However, as the industry declined, a passenger and goods service began, Parkmore Station became the main passenger terminus on the line. The railway operated from 1876 until 1932 when it finally closed. The Old Station and Water Tower can still be seen today standing amongst the undergrowth at Parkmore.
The Forest Park at the top of the Glen contains excellent walks through a variety of landscapes, paths wind along mountain side and down through deep gorges carrying the river Acre and Inver over several waterfalls. A viewing point bridges one gorge in front of the largest waterfall, Eas na Lárach (Mare’s/Larch Waterfall). This gorge is designated as an ‘Area of Special Scientific Interest’ (ASSI) due to its unique biodiversity. The other notable waterfall is Eas na gCrub (Fall of the Hooves) is close to the lower access road and a short walk from the car park.
Kilmore graveyard sits in an idyllic setting surrounded by trees and adjacent to the main road on the right half way up the glen. In 1832 a house, offices and garden existed on the site. It is believed that it was an ancient burial site dating far beyond the oldest legible headstone of 1795. A local story tells of a large limestone slab which existed on the pathway nearby. The slab covered a grave of Friars. It was removed by a farmer to create a pathway into a cow byre, but the cows refused to walk over it. The farmer, fearful of anything happening to him, returned the slab to its original site.
If you look carefully along the side of the glen, you will notice long strips of land with a characteristic pattern. These are referred to as ‘ladder fields’. The shape of the glen was ideal for land owners to divide up the land for their tenant farmers. The farms were long strips which allowed an equal division of lowland pasture land, arable land, and mountain grazing, giving each tenant farmer similar land to work. Rigs, or Lazy Beds, ran across or up these slopes, giving it the visual appearance of a ladder. A rig was usually the width of a spade. Manure was spread out on the ground, and the sods were cut around the bed and turned over, to form a raised bed. Kelp would have been brought up from the shore as fertilizer. Rigs were practical and commonly used to grow potatoes, oats and barley. Other vegetables were also grown this way in slightly larger rigs.