There’s nothing I enjoy more than leaving early on a Sunday morning and heading cross country for a football match in the afternoon. Today it was for the battle of the wee counties, the 2nd smallest, Carlow v the smallest, Louth as I travelled to support Rathvilly taking on Naomh Máirtin in the Leinster Club SFC first round. Unfortunately the game came too soon for Rathvilly, who had only won the Carlow Championship last Sunday and then suffered the invisible arrows of misfortune, inflicted on some of their players by Covid.
I often recall a story my father told me many years ago about the great Grange Gael, Kevin McNally. Kevin had developed a tradition of travelling to the Connacht Football Final with his sheepdog and climbing Croagh Patrick in the morning before heading into Castlebar for the Final and then driving home. One man and his faithful dog.
Now that I’ve a bit more spare time I’ve resumed my own practice of the past and like to take off early, listening to Radio One as I head to a venue in any of the provinces. Leaving early allows me to ramble a bit and take in a sight or two that talks to us today of our ancient past. North Leinster hasn’t featured on my cycle journeys so far but I’m looking forward to fixing that in the coming years and the Táin Trail beckons at some stage.
Didn’t realise until I arrived in Monasterboice that this was the home of the Naomh Martín Club! It’s just off the motorway and if you find yourself heading north it’s well worth a visit. There are two of the finest examples of High Crosses in the country here. These crosses were the Facebook of their time! The carvings are still superb despite their age – these crosses are from the 10th Century and the iconography depicts various scenes from the Bible and were story books of the people. The West Cross is the tallest High Cross in Ireland.
This is one of the great treasures of Europe and as you can see the scenes are almost as clear today as when they were carved. There’s a storyboard nearby that explains the various scenes. You can only look in awe at the craftsmanship and imagine a scene where monks explained the Gospels to the gathered believers.
Close by is another very important Christian ruin, Mellifont Abbey which I visited on the way home.
This was the first Cistercian Abbey in Ireland and was built by St Malachy of Armagh in the 12th Century. He had visited Clairvaux in France while on his way to Rome and asked Bernard to teach some of his followers the Cistercian monastic way of life. He returned to Ireland with his followers and with some French monks and built the Abbey which became the ‘motherhouse’ of the Cistercians in Ireland. It thrived until Henry VII suppressed the monasteries in 1539.
Many is the time I’ve driven through Slane but never seemed to have the time to stop off and visit the famed Hill of Slane. Today was a perfect day to rectify that. The air was crisp, the sky was blue and it was lovely to make the short walk up to the top of the Hill, one of Ireland’s most mystical places, stretching back in the mists of time to the ancient Firbolgs but now forever associated with Saint Patrick. This is where he lit the Paschal fire bringing Christianity to Ireland defying the pagan King, Laoghaire on the nearby Hill of Tara.
Long before Patrick arrives on the Hill, the Fir Blog King, Sláine, was buried here underneath the mound which sits on the very pinnacle of the hill. There is a great sense of mysticism attached to the Boyne Valley and there are so many great sites to visit with Newgrange, Knowth, Dowth and Loughcrew all nearby. It feels like the centre point of our national identity.
The sun was setting at this stage and time for exploring over for today. Certainly made for an enjoyable day, even if the match did not go to plan!