Pedalling around the quiet north east corner of Carlow and into West Wicklow this morning I was intrigued by the fascinating history of local patriots and of the local big houses.
Rathvilly has always been proud of its connection with Kevin Barry who went to school in the village. His parents were from the Hacketstown area and Kevin was immortalised in ballad following his hanging in Mountjoy by British Forces during the War of Independence, following a gun battle on the streets of Dublin in which three British soldiers were killed – the first soldiers to be killed since 1916.
It wasn’t long before I passed the Moate and turned right down to Lisnavagh House, home of the Bunburys since the 1660’s. The house is situated on 600 acres with 200 hundred acres of beech, ash and oak – a beautiful setting. It’s home to Turtle Bunbury, historian and author. Lisnavagh is now a popular wedding venue and I had a great chat with the French visitors before I headed for Haroldstown Dolmen.
The Dolmen featured on the front cover of Robert Kee’s wonderful book A history of Ireland. It is very similar to the famous Poulnabrone Dolmen in Clare and just as important. Located beside a bad bend on the Hacketstown road. That road is too busy for my liking and I quickly slipped of it and across to Clonmore.
Another little village oozing history. Clonmore was a very significant monastic site and there are plenty of reminders of its past in the local graveyard and of course the imposing ruins of the Castle.
The sun was shining on a fine autumn morning and the leaves were turning from green to brown, yellow and gold as I pushed uphill to Hacketstown, home to Kevin Barry’s parents.
After leaving Hacketstown I headed for Kiltegan just over the border in County Wicklow where I hoped to cycle into Homewood Castle to have a look at the restoration of this amazing gothic mansion which was built by the Hume family who settled there in the 15th century. It’s now owned by American billionaire John C M,alone and is strictly off limits. A shame.
No time to linger, I pushed on to the sleepy sráidbhaile of Rathangan and began the climb up to the Glen of Imaal. This is a lovely area with terrific views of Keadeen Mountain and Lugnaquilla. The road winds between the two and the hard graft is rewarded with a great downhill as far as the well signposted McAllister – Dwyer Cottage.
Michael Dwyer was a member of the United Irishmen and fought in the battles of Vinegar Hill, Arklow and Hacketstown. He fought a guerrilla campaign in the region and was forced to move about and use local houses to rest up in. One such house was the one in Dernamuck where he was billeted with a few of his comrades.
Unfortunately for them, they were betrayed by an informer and the house was surrounded by British soldiers. After gaining safe passage for women and children they decided to fight it out against much superior forces. Antrim man Sam McAllister seeing the inevitable, stood in the doorway to draw the fire of the soldiers and Dwyer managed to escape over the snow covered mountains.
He eventually capitulated and negotiated passage to America. However he was instead transported to Australia and while there was sent to Van Diemens Land.
It stuck me that Barry and Dwyer were connected over the centuries of rebellion by the River Slaney which flows down from Lugnaquilla and beneath the cottage and onwards through Baltinglass (where there is a statue to McAllister) and to Rathvilly.
The scenery along this 65kms route is spectacular and would make a great day out for anyone looking for a nice route with plenty of scenery and history. The amount of interesting historical and heritage sites in our county and along it’s borders is incredible and there to be explored.