There has been a centuries old debate in The Glens of Antrim as to which of the Glens is the most beautiful. To be truthful from Glenarm in the south to Glentaise in the north, each glen has its own personality. Some are dramatic and awe inspiring, while others with their subtle, intimate nature, charm you just the same.
Glendun is a glen that has much to offer, open moorland, sheep filled pastures, ancient woodlands and an almost crystal clear river, that has but a slight hint of brown, stained from surrounding peat in the uplands.
On a sunny day the river water almost appears golden as she gurgles her way over boulders and what seems like endless gravel flowing to the sea at Cushendun. Indeed, it is the brown hue of the river that gives this glen her name, Glendun or more fully Gleann Abhann Duinne, The Glen of the Brown River.
It is here, about halfway up this glen, in the townland of Sevagh, that the McAuley family have their farm. They have lived in the area for generations; 500 years at least. Their people fought with the McDonnell Chieftains against English attacks and in their struggles with other Gaelic clans.
McAuleys fought in the famous battle of Orra many centuries ago, which saw the defeat of the O’Neills and McQuillans. It also secured the McDonnell dynasty under that greatest of chieftains, Somhairle Buídhe (Sorley Boy). It could be said that the present day Earls of Antrim, the descendants of Sorley, owe the very existence to the McAuleys, amongst other local families.
The McAuleys know this place, every turf, tree, rock and stream. It is in their blood. John McAuley and his late son Ronan are like the very river, they belong here, one in the same with the Glen herself.
When the Heart of The Glens Landscape Partnership Scheme wanted to trial a holistic community planning and resilient landscape project here, the McAuley’s were some of the first to respond. Their strength of tradition did not blind them to new possibilities and an evolving community and landscape. After all Ronan, with his wife and daughter, had built their beautiful new home here, just a short walk from his parents’ house. His intent was clear, despite his day job taking him far and wide, Glendun was still home and a place to raise a family and to be with his family.
What impresses me most about the McAuleys is their practicality. This is a beautiful landscape, but it is a real one. This land works, it raises sheep and provides an income. But the McAuley’s also have a place for their neighbours, for people.
In my conversations with them I have been impressed with their outward approach, “This Glen needs more families, people are our life blood” are words I have heard in many of our conversations. It is for this reason they understood the potential benefits of our new scheme.
“It is about bringing life”, John would say. The McAuley’s when hearing how little access local people have to the landscape, were the first to say, “We will open up our land for access, so people can enjoy this place as we do.”
They had already carried out much work on their farm, clearing new paths, not for people, but for access to sheep in the uplands. However, it was a pleasure for them that others might enjoy these tracks and their lands.
Life can be cruel, for as we were about to begin to build the project with them, tragedy struck. Ronan, a young man in his prime - a husband, son and father - tragically died. There is no logic or reason in these things.
It was in this time of great sorrow that the true character of the McAuley’s shone through. John and his family endeavoured to complete the works in honour of Ronan and now the entire community has a place to go that they can all be proud of ‘Ronan’s Way’. I am only sorry I never got to know Ronan like I have others of his kinfolk, for the McAuley’s have been generous and gracious in continuing with this project. This place is beautiful; nature, farming, river and hill live here together, and so now does Ronan’s memory.
On behalf of the many people who will enjoy this place for years to come, thank you to the McAuley family for your generosity.
We would like to also thank the Heritage Lottery Fund who funded this project, Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council for their support and the rest of our team at The Causeway Coast and Glens Heritage Trust.
Ronan’s way will be opened as an invitation only event on the 12th October. It will be open to the public to enjoy after this date.