Rothar Routes

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

Archive for ‘August, 2021’

Inis Mór

Cuairt ar Inis Mór!

With the last days of an Indian summer approaching I decided on a flying visit to The Aran Islands, my interest piqued by the visit of my good friend Tommy Wogan who was there last week and was raving about the island.

I’ve been to many of the islands of our coast line but Aran eluded me until yesterday.

A late call secured a b&b for Friday night on the mainland. The poor woman, who hadn’t opened since Covid began, recently lost her husband to the virus and I was her first guest. She didn’t even want to take money from me for my stay and I was glad that my stay helped occupy her mind at this lonely time.

Inis Mór is the largest of the three Aran Islands that lie off the coast of Connemara and North Clare. Part of the Connemara Gaeltacht, it was great to hear so much usage of the language in everyday life.

The old Ros a’Mhíl harbour was built in 1877 and it’s principal operation was the transportation of turf to The Aran Islands on the famous Galway hooker sailing vessels. Modern ferries carry a very different cargo!

It’s a bit of shock to the system to arrive in Kilronan which is buzzing with visitors and hundreds of hired bikes! I was glad to get out of it and on to the bóithríns to begin exploring one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.

Ciúnas gan uaigneas! If you wanted a place to get away from it all, you couldn’t find a better pace to visit. Steeped in history and with a dead slow pace of life it is the ideal island retreat.

I was glad I brought my own bike – where the road ends, the rocky mountain trails begin and it meant I could visit parts of the island that couldn’t be visited on a hired bike.

I covered 45kms crisscrossing the island which is 28kms in length and, while there are no massive hills, I did just over 450 metres ascending, some of it on rocky paths.
Dún Aonghasa is surely a rival to the Skelligs for the next Star Wars block buster! This cliff top fort is perched on the edge of 300 foot high cliffs facing westward into the Atlantic Ocean. Entrance is free at the moment due to Covid! It consists of massive semi circular stone walls and it looks like half it may have disappeared into the ocean at some stage in its ancient past. It’s like a magnet for visitors and I found the crowds a little off putting.
Entrance to Dún Aonghasa
You can just see the walls of Dún Dúchatair in the foreground – my drone battery died on me just at the wrong time!

The island has many ancient sites and though difficult to access, I found Dún Duchatair to be even more wondrous – I loved the solitude. ‘The Black Fort’ is very similar to Dún Aonghasa, but to get there requires a difficult enough trek as the the Black Fort is surprisingly difficult to access, set as it is on the far side of long rows of limestone rock that have to be traversed with great attention – the rock is uneven, flat in places, pocked with holes and crevices – and you must focus on the ground despite the stunning surroundings. It’s dramatically perched on a clifftop promontory 2km southwest of Kilronan with terraced walls up to 6m high surrounding the remains of a clochán(early Christian beehive-shaped hut). They say the name comes from the dark limestone prevalent on this part of the island.

The Black Fort with its Clocháns. Note the long lines of limestone rock behind it that have to be traversed.

The Aran Islands are of course an extension of the Burren region of County Clare. Great expanses of limestone are interspersed with sparse greenery.

The islands supports alpine, Mediterranean and artic plants alongside each other due to topography and climate. The crevices in the rock, known as grikes, provide shelter and support some very rare plants such as orchids and gentians.

The Aran Islands and Connemara are famous for their stone walls – what artistry to create these boundary walls of the tiny patchwork of fields
The walls of Inis Mór
Sheer expanses of limestone and row upon row of stone walls
Bun Gabhla, on the western tip of the island.
Islands at the western tip.
Connemara pony

It would take much more than day to explore the island properly and a longer stay is definitely on the cards next time. Dún Eoghanachta is another Stone Age fort but this one is inland and well preserved. Access is easy enough on foot:

Dún Eoghanachta – the name is thought to refer to the Eoghanacht tribe of Munster who settled here in ancient times.
Dún Eoghanachta
Limestone and crevices – best keep your eyes on where you are walking!

I had some great conversations with some local people, a fisherman from Carraroe, who was out at the island with customers; we had a great chat about cycling – he’s a hard bucko and he has taken to the bike when he is not on the sea! Also met a marine biologist who was out investigating a dead whale which had washed up on the island. We had a great chat about basking sharks and other giants of the sea that populate the waters around Aran. It sue was a memorable day; granted it was a pet day but life on Aran seemed to be idyllic – it’s probably a different story in winter storms but wouldn’t it be nice to be there at some stage and experience it! I will have to get back and also visit the other islands next time

Summer Cycling 3 – to Tomard & beyond!

The bicycle is a curious vehicle; the passenger is its engine

John Howard, US cyclist

Climbing any of the roads up towards Bilboa and Killeshin or the Ridge at Old Leighlin definitely reinforces that quote! There’s nothing quite like a good steep climb on a bike ride to reduce you to a quivering mess. Heart rate is through the roof, legs are full of lactic acid and you just feel …. great to be alive!

It’s nice to change things up and get up a few hundred metres to admire the views back across Carlow towards the Nurney Plateau, the Blackstairs and the Wicklow Mountains. Especially at harvest time, fields of golden brown mixed with forty shades of green stretch out before you like a painting. The views are stunning and make the bit of effort to climb the hill so worthwhile.

The Blackbog Road is a great road for getting out of Carlow Town; it’s so quiet, has a good surface and brings out to Milford in a flash. Instead of crossing over the skew bridge at Milford I turned left and carried the bile over the drawbridge across the canal, then took the local road out by Ballygowan to Tomard and continued up to Tomard Upper. These are just perfect roads for cycling, virtually traffic free and so peaceful.

This route is a nice weekend route; its 37kms with about 400 metres of uphill – and better still 400 metres of downhill!

Love these ‘dual carriageways!
Map of route

The descent from Rossmore down past the Reservoir and Killeshin Romanesque Doorway is just fantastic but caution is needed – this section fo road can be busy at times and you pick up serious speed so don’t be taking any risks! There’s a lovely walk around the Reservoir and the Romanesque Doorway is always worth a stop off.

Summer Cycling 2

Carlow – Leighlinbridge Loop

Hang this man!!

Sir Richard Butler

And we all think our bosses are the worst in the world! Poor Phil Kennedy worked as a farm steward for Sir Richard Butler of Garryhunden, the part of the county we visit on this route. He was a member of the United Irishmen during 1798. Sir Richard gave him a letter to deliver to authorities in Carlow. When it was opened, it read ‘hang this man’ and the poor man was executed.

I love these gems of local history that I pick up on cycling the backroads of Carlow and beyond. Well done to Carlow Tourism on erecting fantastic storyboards at heritage sites across the county. This one is at Clonmelsh graveyard, where many of the Butler family are buried. One of their ancestors went on to become a signatory of the American Constitution and the creator of the daft Electoral College systems used in American elections!

This is a lovely flat 30kms loop that takes the quiet Blackbog road out of Carlow Town and out to Milford. Just before Morrisseys Quarry, take a right onto a bóitrín which brings you down by the two graveyards. Continue on and you meet the back road to Bagenalstown. Stay on this road as far as the Harrow Cross and turn right for historic Leighlinbridge, one of the prettiest villages on the River Barrow. I love stopping here at the memorial garden where a lot of Carlovians are remembered. Among them the famous scientist and Alpine mountaineer, John Tyndall, Nurse Margaret Kehoe, Orchard, Leighlinbridge, who was shot on Easter Monday during the Easter Rising in 1916 as she carried out her duties. She must surely be related to Captain Myles Kehoe who fought and died at the Battle of the Little Big Horn with General Custer and the 7th Cavalry.

The Black Castle and the Valerian Bridge, Leighlinbridge. The first toll bridge in Ireland!

There’s lots more to see in the Memorial garden, well worth a stop and a nice place to snack. We took the Barrow Track back to Milford.

The grassy pathway is just perfect for cycling, provided Waterways Ireland remember to cut it…..

We crossed over The Barrow at Milford and returned home along the back road to Carlow Town an in along the Green Road.

Malin Head to Mizen Head Day 8

Bantry – Mizen 54kms

I don’t ride a bike to add days to my life. I ride a bike to add life to my days.


The final day. A sense of exhilaration floods the senses. Looking forward to a great days cycling, of great sea views, of the last few hills to climb, thinking of rounding that last headland and the Atlantic Ocean stretching out endlessly ahead of us. Friday’s Bantry Market is famous and it was setting up just as we started. It looked like a great place to grab a bargain! Pádraig and Celine Dooley, who are on holidays close by, popped in to wish us well on the last leg and kindly stayed around to see us at the finish. It must have been the giddiness of anticipation that saw us head 12kms down towards Sheep Head instead of onward to Durrus; we put a nice few extra kms on our route plus a nice climb over the peninsula to get back on track. But again these deviations from plan always seem to work out for the better. We had great views across to the Beara peninsula before we turned inland and over the brow of the hill. A tough climb but with a great tail wind so we weren’t too put out and we were soon rolling into Durrus.

Love the colourful Montbretia, so popular on the byroads of Cork and Kerry

The tail wind became a head wind soon enough and only the stunning coastal scenery kept our minds off the pain! Views of Barley Cove, Cape Clear, the mystical lonely Fastnet Rock inspired us with every turn of the pedals. Just one breathtaking view after another.

Goleen was buzzing; two large groups of cyclists passed us in the opposite direction with support vehicles, presumably head to Mizen! Once we turned at Goleen the wind was relentless; almost stopping us in our tracks. Ronan passed by, coming down to collect us. Pure adrenalin kept us going at this stage.

Not too far away now!

Eight days after leaving Ireland’s most northerly point, Malin Head, we crossed the finish line at Mizen Head. We didn’t kill ourselves, took our time, enjoyed the scenery, the fresh air and the exercise, getting stronger each day. I can’t recommend a bike trip like it highly enough. There are so many reasons to go on a long trip. The sense of complete freedom and independence on the road means travelling is so relaxed. It’s just you and the road. You decide when you go and how far you go. Its your schedule and not some tour company. It’s never about speed or time on the road. The pace of life away from the busy towns and tourist areas is a joy; people move slowly, cars stop behind you and are in no rush to whizz by. Things go wrong and you improvise. You get lost in your own thoughts; there’s a lot of public emphasis on wellness and mental health; I guess that’s what bike touring actually is when you boil it down. it’s good for the body and good for the soul! Thanks to all who have followed the blog – I hope it gave you a flavour of our trip and encourages you to try it someday for yourselves! Now where to next Mary?

Malin Head to Mizen Head Day 7

Millstreet – Bantry 72kms

Gougane Barra

Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of riding a bike

John F Kennedy

So many reasons for cycling Malin to Mizen. Nothing is as exhilarating as riding a bike. You feel the warm sun on your face; even on the warmest, gentlest of days you feel the cooling breeze. There are days you want to cover every part of your body from the wet and cold and on other days you just want to don just a t shirt and shorts. Take in the fresh air, smell the honeysuckle in hedgerows, admire the stunning Irish vistas unfolding slowly before your eyes. Living. Over the week all our senses were overloaded with nature at its best; in a kilometre on the bike you will appreciate the great outdoors more than you would in a 1,000 kilometre car journey. Over 700 kilometres, it’s a veritable sensual feast.

The finish line is fast approaching and today is one of the days I most looked forward to. Heading back to Béal Átha an Ghaorthaidh where I spent the most wonderful month attending Irish College in 1973. Getting an early start set the day up nicely and we quickly made progress out of Millstreet, so good we missed our turn for Ballyvourney! But sometimes it’s for the best and we ended up on a marvellous route. Realising we were gone too far, we stopped to look at our map when a lady pulled up and advised us to continue on to Macroom or if we preferred hills she recommended another road through Clondrohid which brought us over by Renaree! The local roads always appeal best and we had a nice long 11km pull to the top of Renaree with the added pleasure of a great 5km downhill to Ballingeary.

At the top of Renaree

Great memories of my time in the Gaeltacht with a lot of my class mates from CBS Carlow. Céilís, football, hurling, hikes and treasure hunts…. it was a magical month that left an indelible impression on all of us. The next time Ballingeary came onto my radar was the explosion of John O Driscoll on the International Rules game in 1986. He was only a kid but won the third test and the series for Ireland with his lightning pace and his 15 points haul. He went onto play for Cork for a good number of years after.

We left Ballingeary and headed out to Cork’s Glendalough… Gougane Barra. Saint Finbarr built a monastery here in the 6th century on an island in the lake, the ruins of which are still there beside the beautiful oratory with its stunning stained glass windows. The Lake is the source or Cork’s famous River Lee.

We reluctantly left Gougane Barra behind and cycled back out to the main road and we were straight into the famous Pass of Keimaneigh. In the 19th century this road would have been much more difficult as it passed through the rugged but it still retains its beauty today. Cath Céim an Fhia was a famous poem we learned in school about the Battle of Keimaneigh.

Pass of Keimaneigh

Once we crested the Pass it was virtually downhill all the way through Kealkill into Bantry. Heavy rain from Kealkill meant we were glad to roll into the square in Bantry for our final overnight stop. Just 54kms to go. But who’s counting!

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