Rothar Routes

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

Posts by Turlough

The Trail of Tiers

As I cycled my way across the border counties of Cavan, Fermanagh, Monaghan, Armagh and Down from Thursday to yesterday, the invisible border beneath my wheels was often on my mind.

Customs Post at Ballyconnell?

I thought of the impact of Brexit on these communities and those thoughts were interspersed with thoughts of the construct of another invisible border, 350kms away, by an Association that prides itself on creating and supporting communities, the importance of the parish and the county.

By the time I weaved my way towards Armagh, where I met young Ciarán Corrigan, All Ireland U131/2 Road Bowling Champion practising road bowls with his brother and father, around a bend of the old Navan Fort Road, the deed was done.

We had been fenced off. Excluded. We are now Associate members.

The British people were sold a pup by Brexiteers. The establishment pushed a spurious argument that will have consequences for years to come. Self inflicted harm on a national scale.

Brexit is an illusion.

So too is the tiered Championship. 

When a competition has to be dressed up – (curtain raisers in Croke Park, All Star Tours) to be sold to counties it is because it does not stand on its own merits. We are told this competition is to support the ‘weaker counties’, give them a realistic opportunity of winning silverware…..

This is not going to do anything to promote, improve or develop football in the affected counties. Rather it will weaken it, irreperably.

TWO COUNTIES have harvested 13 of the 19 championships played since the new millennium began. Just two counties.

Isn’t it shocking that the other ‘weaker counties’, rated from 3 to 16 have no such competition to participate in and give them a realistic chance of winning…. 

If this tiered competition is so necessary and correct, surely the logical extension now is to also exclude these counties from the provincial championships….after all the history books will show that the provincials are also dominated by a small number of counties. Yes even the Ulster Championship, which has had just four counties win the Anglo Celt Cup since the year 2000…..

I find it truly amazing that suddenly money can be found for more ‘All Stars’ Tours when the weaker counties struggle to make ends meet. These junkets are a sham. Meaningless, non productive, a vulgar display of wealth by an Association that cannot devise more equitable ways of distributing largesse.

When a county owes Croke Park for ticket sales, the funds must be handed over next day. No ifs or buts, yet when Croke Park owes counties money, it’s a struggle to get reimbursed despite the strains on cash flow in most of our counties. City Hall truly is all powerful.

The relegation of counties to tier two is going to affect their ability to attract sponsorship. They find it hard enough to do so currently when there is some opportunity to have a big name county visit and create massive promotional opportunity for the locality. Take that away….. we could literally be looking to the local chipper to buy a set of jerseys…..

There is nothing in the new structure that will replicate the promotional opportunity that we had when playing Qualifier games with the likes of Tyrone and Monaghan in Netwatch Cullen Park. These games were bigger than the result and the impact on children, on our clubs, our supporters cannot be replicated anywhere else. Players from both sides mingled with both sets of supporters on the pitch afterwards. Don’t tell me that Tyrone or Monaghan got easy wins either. They got real tests. But sadly that will NEVER  EVER happen again.

There is no need for a second competition based on tiers. The league is the tiered competition. How difficult is that to understand? The Championship was never about that and in the new reality it still isn’t – for counties 3 to 16 it is still about ‘the big day’, an opportunity to cause an upset, a shock and create a little bit of history, to try make a little progress. They are not going to be winning All irelands under the new set up either.

This new tiered competition is going to rehash the national league fixtures to a large extent. What is attractive to the public about Carlow travelling to Carrick On Shannon or to Limerick, or to Corrigan Park? What if players cannot justify in their own heads that the effort required does not match the reward on offer? These are the true amateurs after all. 

If it is not attractive enough then attendances will be small.

It will still cost these counties the same amount of money to prepare for the Tommy Cooper Cup as for the All Ireland Qualifiers, but with less income to offset the level of expenditure. This competition will be a loss leader. Playing the finals as curtain raiser to the All Ireland will not result in one euro additional income to the GAA – Croker will be sold out anyway!

Make no mistake central funding by GAA will be concentrated on the teams taking part in the Sam Maguire. The gulf widens further.

What are the chances of a reduction in allocation of All Ireland Final tickets to the tiered counties!

There is no development for counties in this structure. Playing the same teams year in, year out is not going to improve the standard in these counties. Croke Park has given up on us. We are not on their radar or if we are, we are that pesky drone that has invaded their air space and needs to be taken out.

The only way to improve is to test yourself against teams at a higher level. This ensures it will NEVER happen. EVER.

How could counties vote for this??

They say history repeats itself. It’s certainly true in the GAA. The same counties dominate. The likelihood is that the tiered championship will be dominated by the teams that sit on top of Division 3. The Leitrims, Wicklows, and Carlows may never win it, mighty never make a final. How attractive will inter county football be then to players and spectators in these counties?

I am sure heaven and earth will be moved to start this tiered championship with a bang, promises will be made but soon forgotten.

Much talk is made of the success of the Joe McDonagh Cup etc in hurling but ask Carlow and Antrim about how promises turned to dust. A day in Croke Park isn’t the measurement of the success of these competitions.

The GAA is in crisis. All of it of our own making.

Some of the biggest reasons are dreadful competition structures; the only learning we seem to take on board is how to make them worse.

We love to play God and tinker with playing rules, yet cannot address the most problematic, the tackle.

We eulogise about the Club but crucify it with how we have pursued elitism in the inter county game – we are in danger of killing the goose that played the gold egg.

The push is on to become more elite. We cannot sustain it.

Those at the top envy the internationalism of other codes and are chasing the exposure and opportunities those codes can attract – TV rights, corporate sponsorship. In doing so we move further and further away from the objectives for which the Association was founded.

We don’t need to ape them. We have something they do not have – a vibrant community based grass root structure that is at the heart of everything that happens in our parishes and counties. Kill that and we are no different.

Associate Members.

Some more photos of a fantastic cycle along the proposed Turas Columbanus:

Upper Lough Erne from above Cleenish Island
Cleenish Island where Columbanus was educated at St. Sinnell’s Monastery
Deerpark Forest Trail, Virginia
Deerpark Forest Trail, Virginia
Glaslough, All Ireland Today Towns Winner 2019
Tynan Cross

Turas Columbanus – Bective Abbey and Hill of Tara

I’ve been slowly chipping away at cycling the proposed pilgrimage route from The Nine Stones on the slopes of Mount Leinster stretching all the way to Bobbio in Italy.

Over the past few months I’ve been doing small sections of the route and I’m really excited about it.

The route will be very varied between Carlow and Bangor in County Down.

Starting with brilliant downhill from Mount Leinster, the route continues along the side of The Barrow Way to Athy and onwards along the Grand Canal and the Royal Canal, through the rich agricultural lands of Royal Meath. That’s as far as I have got so far, I’ve covered over 200kms of the route (but actually done over 320kms as I have to back track to the car each stage).

Here’s a clip of some of the wonders of Ireland’s Ancient East and Turas Columbanus.

I’m blown over by the Hill of Tara. There is something really special about this place; the inauguration seat of Irish High Kings, the place where St. Patrick challenged the ancient religions, a place stretching back to prehistory….. I will post more later!

Lia Fáil (The Stone of Destiny)
Bective Abbey
Hill of Tara
Trim Castle
Ireland’s 12 Apostles
St. Finnian’s Font
There are two wells dedicated to St. Finian, one in the old church at Longwood and one in Anneville. Both are said to cure stomach trouble, and the first here also has the cure of warts. If you want the cure of warts put a pin in the water!

Blueways, Greenways, Rivers, Railways, Carlow Dream Way!

Thanks to Pádraig Dooley of Carlow Historical and Archaeological Society for telling me about this fantastic Youtube clip of the now defunct railway line from Bagenalstown to Pallas East! Its a great piece of Carlow history.

The brouhaha has died down about the proposed development of the Barrow Blueway by Waterways Ireland since An Bórd Pleanála refused permission to change the use of the Barrow Track to a cycle route. But is that the end of it?

Borris Viaduct

Surely fresh thinking is now required. Where do we go from here?

The concept itself had great merit; rural ireland is crying out for sustainable development and eco tourism offers some hope to isolated communities that are trying to stay alive and reinvent themselves in a country that is becoming as urbanised and centralised as most developed countries around the globe.

I don’t believe any of the people opposed to the development of the Blueway were anti development but they had the foresight to realise the plan was fatally flawed.

It didn’t mean that they were opposed to developing the national Greenway infrastructure in Carlow, rather that they wished for deeper consultation and the selection of the most appropriate route. The establishment of the Greenway network has been hailed as a major success, developing new places of interest for visitors and increasing employment in tourist related activities along the routes. What was overlooked when it came to developing a Carlow Greenway was the basis on which routes were selected in other counties. Disused railways featured heavily across the network.

Ironically we in Carlow have a disused railway running almost parallel to the River Barrow through some of our most beautiful scenic areas – and it would visit our villages of Drummond, St Mullins, Glynn, Borris and Bagenalstown along its 30kms of pristine natural beauty.

Railway Bridge near Glynn

The difficulty of course is that the lands have gone into private ownership and accessing it presents a challenge. it’s no different to the challenge in Waterford and Mayo. With leadership, vision, consultation, dialogue and goodwill there is no obvious reason why we in County Carlow cannot achieve the same outcome.

It would be a major tourist infrastructure for the County and would need the support of statutory bodies to be developed. if we can dream it, we can make it happen. It’s about selling an idea, it’s about promoting our locality, its’ about developing an eco tourism product that will benefit all the stakeholders along the route and one that will not damage the natural environment as the proposed Blueway would have done.

Old Railway Station at Ballyling near Glynn?

Here is a link to what I have marked as the Bagenalstown to Pallas East Railway based on satellite imagery of South Carlow. Could the route become part of the national Greenway infrastructure?

Maps showing line of the old Railway:

Bagenalstown to Poulmounty 1
Bagenalstown to Poulmounty 2

Goresbridge to Graiguenamanagh

One of the most beautiful off road cycle – hiking routes in Ireland!

Last night was just an amazing evening to spend a few hours on the Barrow Track. I’ve added the drone footage above and a few photos to this post I previously wrote some years ago about this stretch of the river.

 

Ballykeenan Lock

Hanging Gardens Of Graiguenamanagh

Hanging Gardens Of Graiguenamanagh

Ballingrane

Ballykeenan Lock

Ballykeenan Lock

River Barrow and Brandon Hill

Pave it or Save it?

It’s only 30 kms from Goresbridge to Graiguenamangh, return journey, along the banks of the Barrow but it takes a lot longer than expected as there is so much to see!
The river wanders between steep wooded hillsides of ancient oak, ash, scots pine and conifer on its path to the sea.
It seems to have its own micro climate. Lush and green.

And it’s only by walking it or cycling it that one can truly appreciate why there is such controversy about paving this most wonderful natural walkng / cycling route.

My favourite section to cycle, the grassy towpath is smooth underneath apart from the odd disturbance where the roots of trees protrude and progress would be swift if it were not for the constant stopping and starting to marvel at the stunning scenery or to ponder the many historical sites along the way. The hurlers of Mt Leinster Rangers favour this section too for their pre season fitness training!

There are 6 locks on this section of the river – Lower Ballyellin, Ballytiglea, Borris, Ballingrane, Clashganny and Ballykeenan. In times past the lock keepers lived alongside in the adjoining cottages; some are now used as pretty holiday homes. If there are locks there are weirs and the trip southwards is often accompanied to the sound of water cascading over them, the only sound to be heard.
The river is dotted with some massive rocks in this section which are more visible than usual thanks to the dry summer we have had. Elusive herons favour them as isolated perches to rest upon.


Ballytiglea Bridge has five arches and is the access point from Borris to the Track. It is one of the most used access points and you are almost certain to bump in to local fishermen, walkers or swimmers once you pass under the arch. Yesterday I met one lady, who I often meet, that favours a spot about 500 meters south of the bridge for a daily swim.
Borris house is close by but its view is obscured by the dense cover of oak and ash trees on the estate. The ancestral home of the McMurrough Kavanagh clan was established in Brehon times and is still occupied by the Kavanagh family. It is one of the few Irish estates that can trace its history back to the royal families of ancient Ireland. The house and Borris village are worthy of a visit in their own right.


A humped back bridge spans the Mountain River which borders the estate is one of my favourite stopping points; it’s a quiet spot and entertainment today was provided by playful otters and lightning fast kingfishers who are just a blur of blue as they fly past at incredible speed just above the water line.
The last day down here I took a photo or a boat wreck and jokingly referred to Jack Sparrow. Today I sheltered during a rain shower under a canopy of trees closer to Ballingrane Lock where an unfortunate sparrow must have mistaken the reflection in the water as being the sky and crashed in and shuddered to a halt. The poor thing flapped furiously but hadn’t the strength to emerge and quickly drowned and floated away.

Island at Ballykeenan Lock

For the second successive trip I came across people camping on the river bank, this time beside the ruin of the lock cottage. A lovely secluded place to pitch tent.
The iconic photograph of the Barrow is taken from above Clashganny Lock and shows the lock, lock house and the weir from above the tree line of the steeply banked sides of the river. Its one of the few spots on any river where a lifeguard is employed doing the summer months such is its popularity with swimmers. It’s a great spot for canoeing too and Charlie Horan’ of Go With The Flow, has really helped promote use of the river and an appreciation of its history and beauty to holidaymakers and day trippers alike.

Have to say i was chuffed to pass two ladies and one of them to call after me ‘ are you the fella wrote the book?! I had to stop and chat and I was delighted with the reaction to ‘Cycling South Leinster, Great Road Routes’.
Shortly after Clash is the only double lock on the Barrow navigation, Ballykeenan. Behind the island at Ballykeenan Lock is a unique historical link with the rivers past. The monks of Duiske Abbey prized the salmon and eel fisheries of the Barrow and they created eel fisheries on the river in the 13th century. They are still visible 800 years later. Worth seeing!
Its a short spin down to Graigue from here and the surface is good and the scenery spectacular.

Eel Fishery Ballykeenan

Graigue is another great village along the river to visit and explore. But I had to retrace my way to Goresbridge and photograph a few more interesting places!

Approaching Graiguenamanagh

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