Finally continuing my journey along Turas Columbanus
Trim to Navan to Slane
Everyone is familiar with the four provinces of Ireland – Leinster, Munster, Connacht and Ulster but in ancient times, Ireland had five provinces! The Kingdom of Meath was the fifth Province and the county became known as the Royal County due to the Hill of Tara being the seat of the High King of Ireland.
The county is central to much of Ireland’s ancient history, from its world-famous Neolithic sites at Brú na Bóinne consisting of Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth. And many more besides which do not have the same footfall are equally mythical and mesmerising such as Loughcrew and Fourknocks Passage Tomb well worth a visit at some stage.
The road out from Trim is the Dublin road and a left turn after 3kms is on to a nice rural road, ideal for cycling and the first stop today after 10kms was at the ruins of Bective Abbey, situated close to the River Boyne. Ireland’s second Cistercian Abbey. The ruins are on the left at the crossroads. It is more famous today for being used in the 1995 movie Braveheart for the scene between the Princess and her maid. The cloisters are very well preserved, and the Abbey is a nice stopping off point.
Return to the crossroads and continue straight heading for Kilmessan village, one of the strongholds of Meath hurling.
Wheel left in the village and continue past the GAA club heading towards the first hill since we left Carlow – the most famous hill in Irish history, the Hill of Tara!
Tara is magical. It reaches right back into our pagan past.
In Irish mythology The Hill of Teamhair was the sacred place of the Gods and the entrance to the other world. It was important long before it became the seat of power of the Irish High Kings – 142 Kings are said to have reigned from here.
One of the great legends of Tara tells the story of Conn of the Hundred Battles. Conn and his druids mounted the ramparts of Tara to protect it from the people of the other world. He stood on the Lia Fáil, the Stone of Destiny, which was said to cry out when a true King entered Tara. The Lia Fáil stands at the top of the Hill in the centre of the mound.
A sacred place and it still has the feel and energy today.
St Patrick is said to have come to Tara to confront the pagan religion at its most powerful site.
The view from the top of the hill is incredible for such a low hill – it must be possible to see half the counties in Ireland. On the day I visited I reckon I could see as far as our starting point on Mount Leinster in Carlow, to Galway in the west and to the Mourne Mountains in Ulster.
Another fascinating story of Tara is of recent origin. A group of Israelites came to Tara in the beginning of the 20th Century believing the Arc of the Covenant was buried there! The conducted some digs but alas returned empty handed!
There is so much to see here and maybe more importantly to feel here that an hour on top may only scratch the surface. I have to say I was overwhelmed here, I found Tara incredibly moving and it was easy to be transported back into Irish mythology as I wandered around the Mound of the Hostages, the outer mounds, the multitude of holy wells and as I took in the breath taking views in all directions and contemplated the five ancient roads that linked Tara with the rest of Ireland. An ancient place still resonating today.
I left Tara in a flash, the first downhill I’ve had since Carlow and quickly passed the HQ of the Columban Fathers at Dealgan Park just outside Navan.
I mentioned earlier that St Patrick had confronted the old pagan ways at Tara. My next destination was Slane and it was a real treat and a surprise to cycle along the banks of the Boyne on the old path of the Boyne Canal walkway. It’s a narrow path, slightly overgrown on the sides but with lovely river views which are overlooked by Dunmoe Castle and Ardmulchan Castle and Church.
The path ends after 7kms at Broadboyne bridge and its back on nice country roads to all the way into Slane.
The Hill of Slane, like Tara, stretches back into the mists of time, to the time of the Fir Bolgs and the Tuatha Dé Danann. It was where Patrick chose to light the first paschal fire in 433 AD in defiance of the pagan King Laoighre, who at that time was lighting the Bealtaine fire on the distant Hill of Tara.
Slane Castle, home to Lord Henry Mountcharles, has hosted some of the greatest open air rock concerts in the world – a virtual who’s who from the rock hall of fame U2, Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Queen, David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen, Neill Young, Guns N’ Roses, Thin Lizzy….
It’s a pretty little village with a lot of heritage packed in.
The return route took me past Slane Castle entrance on the Navan Road, continuing to Wiggers Cross and back down to Broadboyne Bridge and the Boyne Canal walkway.
Navan to Kells
I avoided the main road to Kells, far too busy, and went via Bohermeen along the Cortown road.
This was a pleasant cycle along well surfaced roads with little traffic through the rich pasture lands of Meath. It wasn’t long until I reached Kells or Ceannanas, another famed Meath Heritage town, steeped in ancient history.
The town is associated with Saint Colmcille who established a monastery here before a dispute over copyright saw him go into exile to the island of Iona. After his death the monks returned to Kells bringing their monastic treasures with them including the Book of Kells which it is thought was completed in Kells.
There are four High Crosses in the grounds of St Columba’s Church and another at the far end of the town, a Round Tower and Columcille’s House all of which are really worth spending a little time to view.
Kells to Virginia
I took the Moynalty road out of Kells and shortly after passing over the River Blackwater I wheeled left onto a minor road which took me all the way to Mullagh, County Cavan and the province of Ulster!
The terrain begins to change from here with small hills or drumlins now a feature. Mullagh Lake is a lovely stopping off point for a short break.
In deciding what route to take, safety has been one of my main concerns and I tried to weave a route along minor roads linking places of interest. The Mullagh – Virginia road was too busy and narrow for my liking and so I took a left along a beautiful road on the northern side of the lake, named as ‘The Golden Mile’. After 1.5kms I continued straight at a t-junction until Fartagh Cross roads a further 1.5kms distant.
This is a lovely bóithrín and a great way to approach Virginia as the main roads are far too busy and I had to use the N3 for the last kilometre into the town.
Lough Ramor is on your left as you approach Virginia.