One of my favourite walking destinations is just over the border in Tinahely, County Wicklow. The Tinahely Walkers Initiative have turned the village, of 2020 County Senior Football Finalists, into a bit of a walking Mecca. Full credit is due to those who banged heads together to arrange a series of looped walks in the area. It obviously took a lot of collaboration between landowners, who granted access, the local walking group, Wicklow County Council and the Heritage Council to develop the walks. Its a tremendous addition to the range of activities and locations for outdoor activity in the Garden County. Hopefully we will see similar initiatives in Carlow.
There are three loops starting at the end of Mangans Lane: (1) Mangan Loop 9kms; (2) Ballycumber Loop 14kms; Kyle Loop 20kms. In addition there is the Railway Walk which links the village with the beautiful Tomnafinnoge Woods Loop.
Today, on National Walk Day, we chose the middle loop – the Ballycumber Loop. We couldn’t have got a better afternoon for a walk. This route is a stunner, a lot of it is on grass in the early stages, some on forest trails and part of it across the heather and fern filled open mountainside.
I have to thank my father for passing on a love for all things Irish – our games, our culture and our heritage. Travelling along in the car we were entertained with quizes, ’20 questions’, ‘animal, mineral or vegetable’, geography and history!
We scanned the horizon for landmarks – who would see the sea first… ‘what’s that landmark over there’ and one that always caught my attention, as we drove south to Kerry on our summer holidays, was the Devils Bit!
Legend had it that the Devil himself (or was it Babs…!) bit a chunk out of the mountain and spat it out to form the Rock of Cashel! We were mesmerised by this stories and the journeys passed quickly.
Its taken a long time but I finally made it to walk up the Devils Bit today and what a day for it, blue skies and amazing scenery in all directions. I would highly recommend it as an easy hill walk and a great way to get an introduction to our hills and mountains.
It was also the location of a famous mass meeting in 1832 against the tithes, paid by Catholics to support the Protestant clergy and over 50,000 people are estimated to have attended to hear Daniel O Connell speak and for a symbolic burying of the tithes.
On the way up to the cross you pass Cardens Folly, a tower built by a local landlord, John Rutter Carden.
There is a nice Looped walk which takes about an hour to complete, it’s a steep rise at the start up to the cross and back down through the forest returning by the same path to the car park. I went back up as I wanted to walk to the top of the actual Devils Bit and it was well worth the effort!
I first noticed the shoes at Furey Pub, Moyvalley. They stung me.
As I continued along the Royal Canal Greenway, the shoe markers were a constant reminder that this was no ordinary path; this doubles as the National Famine Way, a route dedicated to marking the desperate journey of 1,490 starving souls who walked, at the height of the famine in May 1847, from Strokestown in Roscommon to Dublin to catch a ship bound for Canada and a new life in a strange land.
Just like those refugees in Lesbos.
Over 1,000,000 Irish people died in the famine and another 1,000,000 emigrated. 1,000,000 emigrated to other countries to start new lives. Many died along the way, may were exploited. Rather like the journeys those families fleeing Syria and other war torn countries. The ones we have turned our backs on….
All those ‘patriots’ wrapping the tricolour around them as they protest against the new Irish would do well to visit Strokestown House and the National Famine Museum. How could we, of all nations, be lacking in empathy for families fleeing torture, persecution, hunger and oppression?
The National Famine Way is a 165km – 100 miles, path from Strokestown to the Custom House Quay in Dublin. Imagine 1,490 people walking, with all their possessions on their backs, from Roscommon, families – sleeping on the side of the canal or in fields at night. This is an historically important trail that forces us to remember the hardships our forefathers experienced and the desperate fight they had to survive hunger and exploitation. We have forgotten our history and are numb to the suffering of other peoples at a time when we, the privileged western nations, should be extending a helping hand to those trying to just survive and look after their families.
The stories are horrific and have so many modern parallels. Almost half of the 1,490 died of disease during the voyage to Canada due to their poor physical condition and the unsanitary environment on board the ships. We only need consider the images of washed up babies on the shores of Europe to know that the world is still cruel and unjust. Because we allow it. We are surely better than this.
When I set out on the cycle along the Royal Canal, it was purely to enjoy the pleasure of a long distance off road route and it was a really great trip through the heart of the hidden Ireland, away from the main tourist areas but equally appealing.
I was particularly taken with an off route excursion to the Corlea Trackway, near Keenagh in Longford. This a a heritage site promoting the discovery of a prehistoric wooden road that traversed the bogland of the area. It was created using oak planks 4 metres wide and laid on top of the bog.
Eventually it sunk into the bog where it was perfectly preserved and a section of it is on display in the heritage centre. It really is worth a look at.
It dates back to the year 148BC and is one of the most important finds of its kind in Europe.
One of the things that is out attractive about these routes through the midlands is that they are off the beaten track, people are friendly and authentic, nothing is staged and there is a genuine warm welcome for visitors. Every parish has its attractions and its links with our ancient path. Being on the bike is the best way to see the things that otherwise would be by passed if driving!