The Lee Valley extends from the Derrynasaggart Mountains on the Cork/Kerry border to Cork Harbour. It is comprised of two main the rivers, The Lee which rises in Gougane Barra and The Sullane which rises just past Coolea. The area extends over 1,000sq. miles (1,600sq. Km) and is known for its peace and tranquility and the friendliness of the people.
Gougane Barra is a trout anglers and painters paradise with dramatic rocky slopes and cascading streams pouring from the cliffs on the wooded hillsides into the dark lake below. There are various walks, trails and picnic sites around the lake. Situated on a tiny island called Holy Island and linked to the shore by a causeway is St. Finbarrs Oratory which has some fine stained glass windows.
The Lee then travel 4Km NW to the litte village of Ballingeary which is located at the mouth of the Pass of Keimaneigh. Ballingeary is a noted centre for students wishing to learn the Irish Language. There is a very scenic mountainous route from Ballingeary to Ballyvourney on the main Cork / Killarney road. Note: it is a single lane track and is not recommended for nervous drivers as meeting an oncoming car can result in having to reverse for hundreds of metres.
The Lee immediately enters Lough Allua once it leaves Ballingeary. Lough Allua is a six mile chain of lakes around which there is excellent scenery and every bend of the road brings an ever changing scene of rural splendour. The most scenic route from Ballingeary to Inchigeela is along The South Lake Road. There is a natural spring alongside the road by the entrance to Herlihey's Farm where even on the warmest summers' day the water frosts the drinking glass. A little further on is the Mass Rock, which served as an alter during Penal Times in Ireland. There are also several ring forts and an anient lake dwelling in the Area
Inchigeela 10 miles SW of Macroom is a lovely lakeside village. Entertainment is organised during the holiday season and tennis, pitch and putt and basketball are provided on nearby Pleasure Island. On leaving Inchigeela the Lee travels towards The Gearagh.
Three miles from Macroom on the Road to Inchigeela, there is an area of alluvial forest which was formed in the basin of the Lee at the end of the Ice age. This is called the Gearagh, an old Irish name for a wooded river. It is the only extensive remains of Alluvial Forest found in western Europe. It was described by a 17th historian as " an immense plain covered with trees and divided by the River Lee into 1,000 islands".
It is a unique place of streams, narrow channels and small islands. Here are found some very rare plant and insect specimens which have been investigated and recorded by famous naturalists and scientists since the 19th century. There are 100's of species of flowers, plants and ferns. During the autumn and winter months migratory birds arrive in vast numbers and flocks of wild duck, snipe, woodcock, curlew, lapwing and swans can be seen on the islands. With foxes, stoats and otters in abundance the area is a treasure trove of wildlife.
It is said that a thousand people could spend a week in the Gearagh without meeeting each other. The most famous inhabitant was a man named Sean Rua na Gaortha who "robbed the rich to help the poor" and whose daring exploits and miraculous escapes are part of the folklore of the area. However it is certain that he was hunted continually by the Militia, but always seemed to elude them in his home territory of the Gearagh, and by all accounts he lived to a great age and died in bed
In latter years the Gearagh has achieved a certain amount of fame as a source of poitin or Irish Mountain Dew. This is an illegal and highly potent alcoholic brew. In 1987 the area was declared a statutory nature reserve with the co-operation of the E.S.B. who own the land. The water level in the Gearagh is controlled by the hydro-electric dam at Carrigadrohid. There are several well signposted walks through the Gearagh and it makes an ideal location for those seeking relaxation and peace. The Lee flows out of the Gearagh to the Eastern side of Macroom where it meets with the river Sullane coming from Coolea at a place called The Two Mile Bridge.
The Sullane which rises in the Derrynasaggart Mountains just past Coolea is a smaller river than the Lee but possesses equal beauty. It flows in a North-Easterly direction towards Ballyvourney which is on the main Cork/Killarney Road. From Ballyvourney it follows close to the main road all the way to Macroom. The Sullane falls a much greater distance then the Lee and so no lakes are to be found along its course. There are several white water stretches which make the river ideal for canoeing. It is not until the Sullane reaches the Western outskirts of Macroom that it becomes more sedate and wider. One of the most beautiful spots is at the Weirs which is found just a mile from the centre of Macroom. The Sullane is joined by the Larne which flows from the North of Macroom just before it meets the Lee at the Two Mile Bridge.