Rothar Routes

Cycle routes & pilgrim journeys in Ireland and Europe …..

Archive for ‘January 1st, 2020’

The Old Places

New Years Day and cabin fever at its highest! A day for fresh air and exploring the landscape of County Carlow. Maps intrique me. Old places, long forgotten, apart from some obscure marking on OS maps; like a treasure map, clues to our past.

The brilliant East West Map of the Blackstairs and the Barrow Valley feature a ‘Star Shaped Fort’ at Coolyhune. It has long haunted me. Perched on top of the small hill with great views of Counties Carlow, Kilkenny and Wexford, the site is overgrown and is adjacent to a house on private land. During the summer months when trees are in foliage it is virtually impenetrable but there is some possibilities of seeing the layout in mid winter. But still hard to visualise the fort at ground level.

I was delighted today to get permission to access the site and I got some good footage of the site with the star shape clearly visible. These are the only aerial photographs that I am aware of that exist of the Fort.

The following description is derived from the published ‘Archaeological Inventory of County Carlow’ (Dublin: Stationery Office, 1993):

Pentagonal fort with bastions enclosing summit of hill. Walls of drystone construction (ext. max. H 2.2m, int. H 0.6-2m; top Wth c. 1.2m, base Wth c. 1.5-1.8m), with slight external batter. Construction suggests fairly recent origin, possibly connected with events of 1798. (dims. of interior (excluding bastions) 60m x 60.5m; L of bastion 18m; max. Wth of bastion 20m; Wth of opening to bastions 17.6m). Rebuilding in some areas; entrance gap at S probably not original.

Star Shaped Fort
Star Shaped Fort at Coolyhune
Star Shaped Fort at Coolyhune

We are desensitised to our surroundings and to our environment. Urban landscapes. Asphalt roads. Concrete paths. Hard, unforgiving surfaces. Connecting with somewhere or somebody but not connecting with the land we inhabit. Unlike paths of our forefathers.

Since homo sapiens left Africa we have been crisscrossing continents and leaving tracks behind us. When we began herding livestock we created trails to and from pastures – sure isn’t that where the word ‘bóthar’ came from!

Many of our roads were originally animal tracks – no wonder Irish roads have traditionally been windy and twisty and unsuitable for modern traffic!

Pilgrim roads. Famine roads – built in the 1840s by starving peasants to receive a small return to alleviate hunger; the road to nowhere.

I’ve always been fascinated by Green Roads that cross the country – and can only now be seen on waste ground or mountain sides.

‘Green Road’ on the Blackstairs

There are at least three roads showing on ordnance survey maps along the Carlow flank of the Blackstairs. These are the ‘Wexford Road’, ‘The Tower Road’ and the ‘Gowlin Road’. All three meet up at some stage.

There were traditionally feast days where families of either side of the Blackstairs would meet on top of the Cooliagh Gap at The Meeting Point on the last Sunday in July.

Scots Pine Grove 1800s
‘Green Roads’ of the Blackstairs

Presumably the ‘Wexford Road’ was a short cut over the mountain to County Wexford, while the Gowlin Road finished in the town land of Goolin. The Tower Road was so named after the Tower House, now in ruins.

Further south the around Dranagh, the stone wall landscape is reminiscent of the west of Ireland.

Stone Walls of Drannagh
Stone Walls of Drannagh

A good day exploring the land of the 2019 Leinster Club hurling finalists, St Mullins and the 2013 Leinster Champions Mount Leinster Rangers!

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