Malin Head to Mizen Head Day 4

Ballymahon to Terryglass 107kms

Clonmacnoise , County Offaly

It is by riding. a bike that you learn the contours of a country best, since you sweat up the hills and coast down them

Ernest Hemmingway

We hadn’t made any arrangements about breakfast the night before and when we woke we discovered we were locked in to the pub! With miles to go before we slept again we had to let ourselves out and arrange to pay later – which we did! Bikes were packed and we were on our way by 8.20am. We were neither north nor south now. If there is such thing as the centre of this island it has to be around Ballymahon, Moate and Clonmacnoise and being the midlands we looked forward to speeding along the flat open roads of Longford, Westmeath and Offaly. But Ernest was right, what appears flat while driving in a car is often an illusion and it wasn’t long until we were cresting waves of tarmacadam, small bump in the road followed by more bumps. Old mariners tales claim waves come in groups of seven with the seventh being the biggest of the bunch and the pattern was similar this morning as we sailed merrily onwards between the stone walls of the back roads, there was always one little hill that caused us to frantically slip through the gears trying to find a gear we could turn the pedals in.

It wasn’t long until we were cycling into Moate past the beautiful Dún na Sí Amenity Park, which recently featured on RTE’s Tracks and Trails. Moate brought back great memories from my distant youth, of one of my first epic cycles with my great friend Tommy Wogan. We had got a lift to Moate with Tommy’s brother Michael and cycled west to Cong in Mayo, then down through Galway and Clare to Ventry in Kerry. We did it in three days – we were fit in those days!

The 42kms Old Rail Trail links Athlone and Mullingar

The Old Rail Trail facilitated our exit from Moate and we had an easy four kilometres before reaching our turn off. It is straight as an arrow. Personally I find the Greenways to be boring and prefer the local roads for character and colour. We were happy to get off the Trail and head to one of the places I most wanted to visit on this trip, Clonmacnoise.

St Ciarán founded his monastery on the banks of the River Shannon in the 6thCentury.  The monastery flourished and became a great seat of learning, a University of its time with students from all over Europe.

The ruins include a Cathedral, two round Towers, three high crosses, nine Churches and over 700 Early Christian grave slabs – the largest single collection anywhere in Europe. It’s a stunning location for a monastery, perched just above the meandering River Shannon, would have dominated the area and was strategically located alongside the great Slí Mhór that traversed Ireland from East to West, running along the Esker Riada.

An inspiring place, it fills me with wonder how well educated these monks were, proficient in many languages. It’s incredible to think of the impact these Peregrini had on European civilisation as they departed these shores with their books and learning. You could say they were first Consultants to royal courts of Europe as their advice was greatly valued!

We were now following the River Shannon south as far as Lough Derg. Roads were good and we made rapid progress to the next village of Shannonbridge. As the name suggests the Bridge is the focal point and its a beauty. Constructed in 1757 the massive bridge is an impressive sight. Between boating on the Shannon and its proximity to Clonmacnoise, Shannonbridge has a good footfall of tourists during the summer season. The ESB and Bord na Móna though have been the mainstay of the local economy for over 50 years. That’s all changed with the recent closure of the peat powered ESB Station that towers over the landscape for miles around. Locals are taking it in hand to reinvent Shannonbridge; it has great tourism potential and we wish them every success.

Grey clouds were gathering at this stage, a change of weather was imminent – well says I to Mary ‘that beats Banagher’. Our lovely sun was disappearing on us and we were a little concerned we might not make our destination of Terryglass today. At least we would make Banagher, another busy boating centre on the Shannon. Wasn’t long until we were flying through Banagher and heading into north Tipp.

We made great progress but had to take the busy Birr – Portumna road for 7kms, which we dreaded; it’s twisty, has no margin and is not a good cycling road. Add to that the rain was coming down, heavy. On the plus side we were edging closer and closer to Terryglass and I would finally get to drop in on the tiny village of Lorrha. I don’t know why but I was aways curious about Lorrha. I think it had to do with John McIntyre, the Tipp hurler and former Galway hurling manager! Lorrha is a parish steeped in history that flourished in the peaceful days of the saints and scholars from the 6th to the 9th century, was raided and pillaged by marauding Vikings, recovered to become a major monastic settlement only to be overrun by the bete noir of Ireland, Oliver Cromwell. It’s great to see the storyboards popping up in our villages that give some information about the area and its history. They are really helpful in promoting these small villages and giving an insight to the locality. We saw our first signs for the Beara – Breifne Trail here but more about that later in the journey.

Sheltering from the rain in Lorrha

We were in touching distance of Terryglass, just another 7kms away and we were relieved to finally make it into Terryglass around 7pm. With the rain bucketing down we were praying to find a B&B for two wet cyclists; our luck was in, the first door we knocked proved successful and we had a lovely host in Patricia in Woodview B&B. Just 100 metres from the local bar and restaurant. Just perfect.

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