Peig Sayers was a great woman for recounting folk stories that were told around the fireside during her hard life on the Blascaod Mór. Her life story was on the curriculum when I did the Leaving Cert. Unlike many of my classmates i actually liked Peig; I loved the stories – probably because we holidayed in Ballyferriter for many years, I had and have a great affinity for all things West Kerry.
One of the stories she recounted was of an old woman who had never left the parish but one day set out to go to Dublin. When she reached the gap at Sliabh an Iolar she turned back horrified at the vast expanse of land ahead of her!
How times have changed. Today our young people (and my generation) are more familiar with the four corners of the World than with our own locality!
I have been fortunate to cycle in almost every county in Ireland and abroad from time to time. Especially along the Camino, and it was while cycling on the Camino that the thought first struck me that we have so much to offer to touring cyclists and hikers if we only opened up the country side and developed more trails. That’s beginning to happen now and hopefully we will see more of them.
Anyway I have had it in my head to cycle a route around County Carlow for a long time and I wanted the route to be as interesting as possible, with good views, historical sites and quiet roads. The weather has not been kind the past two weeks and I only got to complete the route today.
I started the final leg in Clonegal and marvelled at how well the village has captured the old stories and the old ways of life and commemorated them in the life of the village. Willie White was a great man for local history and he was one of the drivers behind the drive over many years before he passed away some years ago. I was day dreaming about Willie and times past as i was leaving and took the wrong road, heading out the Ardattin road instead of the Wicklow Way. realising the error of my way I detoured and after a fair old climb returned to the route none the worse for wear!
Today I headed up onto the Wicklow Way for a 5kms off road section. It’s a lovely route, very steep but the rewards make it worthwhile. There are great views right across Carlow, Ballon, Tullow and Carlow are all visible in the distance. Add in the Jays, the squirrels and the deer and there is plenty to keep the mind off the steep climb.
The Wicklow Way of course ends in Clonegal and there are road sections; the section out of Clonegal being the first if travelling north, and then later on towards Aghowle. The Church ruins in Aghowle are over the border in Wicklow but what’s a border but a line on a map. It’s one of my favourite places. A simple Church ruins facing towards the Wicklow hills. A beautifully remote setting. Continue past Aghowle and head straight past the famous Crablane Pub of John Byrne and soon you will be travelling along the award winning Pure Mile of Killinure. It’s a lovely pretty stretch of road, well manicured by the residents and notable for a number of road side shrines and a defibrillator conveniently mounted on the road side!
Rath Gall Ring fort is an incredible heritage sight that is under promoted and in need of investment. It could be a great attraction. You would need Carlow Weather’s Drone though to capture it’s magnificence!
It’s a short hop to Clonmore, another hugely important monastic site from the 6th century. There are a large number of slab crosses, a damaged high cross, a bullaun and Clonmore Castle. All worth seeing and knowing more about.
Haroldstown Dolmen is in my opinion a much nicer example of a Dolmen than Browneshill Dolmen and indeed Robert Kee must have thought so too as it featured on the cover of his book of the BBC series a History of Ireland. Very like Poulnabrone Dolmen in the Burren. Just across the road at Tobinstown is Lisnavagh House, home of historian Turtle Bunbury. An historic house owned by the Bunbury’s since the 1700s. Worth a visit!
Onward to Rathvilly, three times winner of Ireland’s Tidiest Town Award and closely associated with Kevin Barry who was executed in Mountjoy in 1920. Of course the town is also associated with St Patrick and there is a famous well where he baptised a local king and his family.
The route now headed back towards Carlow, but only staying on the main road as far as the Bull Ring Cross as this road is quite windy and busy. Turn right at the Cross and head into County Kildare for a short while, passing beautiful Kinneagh Church before turning left in the direction of Knocknacree Cross where another left turn is taken to head in the direction of Ducketts Grove and back into Carlow Town passing the Browneshill Dolmen.
74 kms in total and 1227 metres of climbing. A challenging route that packs in a lot of Carlow history and unspoilt scenery!
Here are a few photos from today: