Rothar Routes

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

Posts by Turlough

County High Points & Provincial Finals

The high point for many an ambitious Club footballer is an All Ireland or a Provincial Club medal. Today it was the turn of St Brigid’s, Roscommon and Corofin, Galway to contest the Connacht Final in ‘The Hyde’, a venue I like to visit. First though I had an early start as I wanted to take in the County High Points in counties Longford and Roscommon.

The weather forecast was for frost and ice, but thankfully it was raining at 6.30am this morning when I woke – but the fog was milky thick! Undeterred I headed first for the Longford’s high point, Corn Hill (278 metres) and I was atop that little hill at 9am!

Longford is as flat at a midland accent but it was still a lovely short little ramble. I had just stepped out of the car when the sun burnt off the mist on top of Corn Hill. It’s a pretty little spot, steeped in folklore with its original Irish name Carn Clainne Aodha more revealing about its past. There are two possible passage tombs which have two legends associated with them. One of them is supposedly the burial place of Queen Medbh’s nephew, Forbaide Ferbend. who killed her with his sling loaded with hard cheese while she is bathing in Lough Ree in the Shannon, Co. Roscommon; this avenged Medb’s murder of Clothra, Medb’s sister and Furbaide’s mother! The second legend refers to the Cailleach Béara who dropped stones out of her apron as she flew over the hill. We also bumped into her on Slieve Gullion, County Armagh a few weeks back!

It was a short stop here as I had to make it to the most northerly point of Roscommon, a place wedged in between Sligo and Leitrim for the next County High Point – Seltannasaggart (428 metres), hike it and get back to Dr Hyde Park for the Connacht Final at 1.30pm! The fog was as thick as ever when I came down from Corn Hill and the roads were windy and narrow. At least they were traffic free!

A foggy North Roscommon and Lovely Leitrim is a hard place to eke a living in I’d say! Fields full of rushes, broken stone walls and plenty of rain means only the most resilient of folk can survive winters in these parts! Yet there is something mystical and other worldly about these sodden boggy uplands; ’tis no wonder Oweynagat (Cave of the Cats), Rathcroghan earned the title of the ‘Gate to Hell’ by our Celtic scribes or that tales of Queen Medbh and the epic Táin Bó Cuailnge are set in these eerie West of Ireland landscapes.

There was no break in the fog over in the county of the ‘Sheep Stealers’ and my walk uphill was mostly under a blank white cape of fog. I got the odd glimpse back towards beautiful Lough Allen and Sliabh an Iarainn on the opposite side. I’ve done some great cycling across this area in the past few years; it comes in under the radar for most people, but there are beautiful routes and some outstanding areas of natural beauty and of interest. The Roscommon High Point however is a nondescript pile of rocks, called Seltannasaggart set in the middle of a wind farm, with creepy pylons purring in the foggy dew. It’s only about a 5km out and back walk, though this morning I did little bit more as I couldn’t find the marker for a long time!

It was on to the Connacht Final then and a great win for St Brigid’s, who were by far the better team. I wasn’t surprised, having seen the Galway Final a short while ago – Corofin aren’t the team they were. The tackling by the Brigid’s defenders was really top class – touch tight, got out in front, got a hand in, Contested every high ball – and won them. Allied to that they had pace all over the park and a really good midfield pairing. All in all, another great day of football and hill walking!

Pilgrimage to the Home of Hurling.. kind of..

Today I made it to the fourth province, Munster, for another Club Championship game, Dingle v Clonmel Commercials in the spiritual home of hurling, The Field of legends, Semple Stadium.

The usual plan is to go for a little hike beforehand but the weather this morning wasn’t the kindest so I detoured for a different pilgrimage site, Holycross Abbey and a long overdue visit. It was 1989, I think, when I was last supposed to visit Holycross to pick up first prize in the final Tipperary County Board draw of that year! For some reason the presentation was switched to Golden village instead. It was certainly a golden opportunity for me, driving away in a brand new car!

I was delighted with the late change in plan today and had a fascinating visit to one of Ireland’s oldest places of pilgrimage, one that holds a relic of the True Cross.

Unbelievably thieves, using an angle grinder, stole this relic back in October 2011. Thankfully, Gardaí recovered the Relic in January 2012.

The Abbey has a long and storied history since its foundation by the Cistercians, way back in 1182 by a very distant relative of mine Dónal Mór Ó Brian, High King of Ireland! After the widow of King John, the Plantagenet Queen, Isabella of Angouleme presented the relic in 1233 the Abbey became a very busy place of medieval pilgrimage.

It has a fascinating history, becoming a rallying place for victims of religious persecution during the Protestant Reformation and became a symbol and inspiration for The Catholic faith and Irish independence. Red Hugh O Donnell came on pilgrimage here in 1601 on his way to the Battle of Kinsale.

He would be described as a War Criminal today, that beast Oliver Cromwell, conquered Ireland and the Abbey fell into ruins. Restoration was undertaken in the 1970s and in 1969 was returned as a Place of Worship.

There’s some lovely little features that are easily missed but definitely worth seeking out such as the very feint remains of one of the very few remaining 15th century frescos in the is country, depicting a local hunting scene. It consist of two archers, the huntsman blowing a horn while restraining his hound on a leash facing a deer. The photos won’t do it justice:

The ‘Waking Bier of the Monks’ is a beautiful shrine in the south transept, that is claimed was used to house the bodies of the dead monks before their burial. There are little carvings in the pillars created by the stone masons.

It was time to head to the Home of Hurling for the clash of Daingean Uí Chúis and Clonmel Commercials in the Munster Club Semi Final. The big empty stadium did nothing for the game and the first half seemed quite tame to me. It sparked to live in the second period and Dingle just about got over the line by 0-13 to 0-10. All in all though another good day out!

Gods & Fighting Men

I was ten years of age when I first read this epic story of the Tuatha De Danann and of the Fianna of Ireland by Lady Gregory. It hooked me on Irish mythology and I still have my copy today. Funny the things you remember from childhood.

It’s been on my mind for some time to tie a trip north for a match with a climb up Slieve Gullion in South Armagh. Last week I managed both – I climbed Slieve Gullion on Sunday morning before heading into nearby Newry to see an epic encounter between the Gods & Fighting Men of Down and Monaghan club football clash in the Ulster Club SFC semi final!

The more I walk and cycle on this Emerald Isle the more I feel a close connection with the history, legends and culture of this great land. The beautiful thing about slow travel is you get to see over every ditch and through every hole in a stone wall. There is something of interest in every field in Ireland! Being curious brings great reward!

High point marker

Topiscope – places you can see on a clear day – it was raining when I was there so the views were limited!

Long before Fionn however was another great warrior – Cúchulainn who was part of the Ulster Cycle of Irish mythology. He is forever associated with the mountain as it is here he received his name and where he spent his childhood as Setanta. Conchobhar Mac Neasa, King of Ulster, was invited to a feast at the house of a local metalsmith Cualainn, after whom the mountain is named. The King was so enthralled watching the young Setanta hurling that he invited him into the feast. Before he arrives into the feast He is attacked by the King’s ferocious hound but Setanta killed him by hurling the sliotar down his throat! The King was devastated at the loss of the hound so Setanta took his place and earned the title Cú Chulain, the hound of Cualainn. Not men but Giants!

One of the stories in Book IV of Gods & Fighting Men, Huntings and Enchantments, relates the story of the Hunt of Slieve Cuilinn. Fionn Mac Cumhaill was hunting deer on the plains of Allen (Kildare) with his dogs, Bran and Sceolan , who got lost in the chase. He searched everywhere and ended up looking for them on the side of Slieve Gullion, where he met a beautiful woman keening beside the lake on top of the mountain. She begged him to find her lost ring at the bottom of the lake and being the Super Hero he was, he dived in, swam around it three times and found the ring! No sooner had he given it to her but didn’t she change into a witch and changed Fionn into an old man. Talk about gratitude! Cut a long story short but he finally got a cure in the passage tomb on top of Slieve Gullion, called the Cailleach Beara’s house. The Lake was called Loch Doghra, the Lake of Sorrow. Not sure if that name appears on modern maps though!

It’s only a short walk to the summit but a difficult one in wet conditions. The flag stones are slippy and the path steep. It was raining quite strong when I hiked it but occasionally the mist would clear and the views were spectacular. Had a great chat with a man from Mullaghbawn about our epic battle in the All Ireland Club semi final back in February 1996.

Slieve Gullion Hike

It was time to head to Páirc Esler for the clash of the Titans. Kilcoo v Scotstown. What an epic battle that Cúchulainn himself would have enjoyed. Heroic performances on both sides, capped with three incredible long range Scotstown points to win by the narrowest of margins!

This weekend I managed to pack in another trip to Newry for Steven Poacher’s hugely successful coaching day on Saturday and a trip to Westmeath today, Sunday, to climb the highest point in the Lake county before heading into Cusack Park for another cracking club championship game. Naas and St Lomans played out a great 90 minutes of football in Cusack Park, with Nass running out deserving winners and qualifying to meet Kilmacud Crokes in a repeat of the Final of two years ago. I had an early start this morning as I had to head past Mullingar and north through Castlepollard to reach Mullaghmeen Forest Park and the highest point in County Westmeath at 258 metres. This is the lowest county high point but a fairly tough little summit with an average 10% gradient for the last four hundred metres.

The highest point is located in the largest planted beech forest in Europe – almost 1,000 acres of forestry. A pity it wasn’t a few weeks ago as the colours would have been stunning. Unfortunately it was another day of heavy showers and the top was shrouded in a low lying cloud. There are a range of walking routes through the woods of beech, noble fir, Scots pine and sitka spruce.

There were great views of Lough Sheelin on Cavan as I approached he park but the views from the top were blocked by cloud and trees. I took the ‘blue route’ as that takes you up to the summit. Passed by an old Booley hut on the way down; this would have been used a shelter during summer grazing in years of yore and there are relics of famine walls built around old fields. Not to mention a few Turloughs too! (A turlough is a temporary or disappearing lakes!).

Mullaghmeelan Forest Park

Heading home from Mullingar, I took the back road towards Rhode with the intention of paying a visit to the Profundis Stone, which I had often seen signposted but never got to before. I’m glad I did as it is the only one left in Ireland. A Profundis Stone was a resting stone, a local tradition of stopping a funeral procession and reciting the “De Profundis” – Psalm 30. It is shaped like a coffin and here is a graveyard behind a locked gate on the opposite side of the road.

Well that was the last stop on another interesting ramble. I have it in my head to climb the highest point in each county over the next while. I have 12 completed already over the years so I will keep posting as I get around to the rest!

A Walk in the Burren

By the time we finished secondary school Leo McGough aka The Hurling Hobo, @thehurlinghobo, had enrolled us all in the cult of Clare hurling! So I have a soft spot for this beautiful county and I was delighted to take a break last weekend from my Darragh and Eimear’s wedding celebrations for a short walk in the Burren. It is the most unique landscape in Ireland, with its rolling limestone hills, underground rivers and caves, unique flora and fauna. An area steeped in history and heritage sites. It’s tricky walking territory and you need to focus on each step as the limestone is full of crevices and cracks, loose rocks and stone walls. That makes it hard to take in the natural beauty surrounding you, so it’s wise to stop and gaze as often as possible! Not everyone in the past was so taken with the wonders of the Burren:

“It is a country where there is not enough water to drown a man, wood enough to hang one, nor earth enough to bury him…. and yet their cattle are very fat; for the grass growing in turfs of earth, of two or three foot square, that lie between the rocks, which are of limestone, is very sweet and nourishing.”

Cromwellian general, Edmund Ludlow (1617-1692).

An Bhoireann….” a stony place..”. Never was a place so well named for this area of north Clare is world renowned for its unique landscape. Between those rocks and crevices is a unique eco system where alpine and mediterranean plant species are found side by side. It is a botanists paradise!

The Burren landscape was formed millions of years ago and there are clues to its ancient past in the rock surfaces, with fossils such as the coral below in abundance:

The Burren extends from approximately Corofin northwards into Galway, covering an area of about 530 square kilometres. A small part of that is designated a national park and thats where we completed this short walk around beautiful Mullaghmore mountain. The walk extends over a series of rocky terraces with beautiful lakes, some are turloughs (temporary lakes found in limestone areas), the colours of the water were stunning.

We often hear about the farmers in the Alps bringing their cattle to high pastures in the summer. This practice is called transhumance. For thousands of years, Burren farmers have marked the end of summer by herding their cattle onto ‘winterage’ pastures in the limestone uplands where they spend the winter grazing. This ancient reverse ‘transhumance’ tradition is synonymous with the Burren and is key to the survival of the region’s famous flora and fauna.

Farming practices in the Burren

Saturday Cycle

Mute Swan protecting cygnets….. wouldn’t take him on!

A bit of sunshine on a Saturday afternoon and a nice cycle along quiet country roads and on the Barrow Track… never fails to surprise.. The network of local roads in this country is tailor made for cycling. Today brought me out towards Ballylinan, Barrowhouse and home via Maganey and the Barrow Track. I estimate that once I left town I met fewer than 10 cars in 35kms and yet was never more than 15kms from Town..

There is a really well kept monument to the Barrowhouse Ambush, just outside the village, which was erected on the 100th anniversary of the Ambush in May 2021. The site was the location of an ambush by the B Company, 5th battalion of the Carlow Brigade of the Irish Republican Army of a convoy of Royal Irish Constabulary officers. Two local volunteers, William Connor and James Lacey, both young men of just 26 years were the only fatalities on that day.

I love the roads around Killeen, Barrowhouse and across to Kilkea. It’s great cycling terrain, good surfaces, quiet roads and flat! There’s always something to see and there’s the Barrow Track to approach Carlow Town from.

Today I had just met Dermot McGrath at Westfield Lock, and we fell into talking about Carlow v Wicklow. I’m tipping Carlow for the revenge in Aughrim tomorrow! Just after I passed Dermot I pulled the bike to a quick halt as I saw this beautiful group of Mute Swans.

Dermot’s dog appeared too and Daddy Swan was on point right away, hissing and making himself big to scare him away.

A lovely loop for anyone looking for a quiet route to cycle.