Rothar Routes

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

Posts by Turlough

Battle of the Saints!

For the day that’s in it! I first posted this in 2019 but it’s worth a read again.

And as a bonus here is a great article from RTE ; ‘How the Irish helped create Easter Sunday’

I don’t know if their paths ever crossed, but two of our local Saints, Columbanus and Laserian, (Naomh Eoin and Old Leighlin!) were central figures in the debate over the date of Easter back in the 6th and 7th centuries!

St Laserian’s Cathedral, Old Leighlin

St Columbanus, reputedly born on the slopes of the Blackstairs, became one of the great Irish Missionaries in Europe founding many monasteries along with his followers in France, Switzerland and Italy. While located in the area under the auspices of the Frankish Bishops he became embroiled in a major controversy because he and his followers celebrated Easter according to the Celtic Calendar. The Bishops tried to censure him but he refused to cooperate and wrote to Pope Gregory .

There is no record of the Pope replying and Columbanus moved on to eventually settle in Bobbio, Italy.

Bobbio, where Columbanus founded his last monastery. Thrilled to have cycled to here in 2010 and on to Rome along the Via Degli Abati.

St Laserian spent 14 years in Rome where he was educated under Gregory. When he returned to Ireland he took over the monastery at Old Leighlin and became a strong advocate for the Roman method of calculating Easter. A synod was held at Old Leighlin and it agreed to send a delegation to Rome. It still took some time for the change to Roman calendar to be fully adopted.

Isn’t it remarkable how these monks travelled and communicated with far distant lands in the 6th and 7th centuries?

Molaise’s Well and Cross

Front cover of Cardinal O Fiaich’s book

The assertion he may be from Carlow..

Columbanus is known as the first European, as he advocated for a system of federalism and was the first Irishman to have a book written about him some years after his death, by one of his monks, Jonas.

5k Back to the Future

Before the advent of mass produced bicycles at the end of the 19th century, most people would not have ventured beyond their parish, whether in the countryside or in the small towns of the provinces.

Work would have been local, socialising would have been confined to the village hall and tavern and spare time activities included visits to rambling houses for story telling, dancing at the cross roads, playing caid or hurling, a bit of fishing or hunting. And that was probably about it. A simple existence. A hand to mouth existence for most.

Romance was confined to the local population and outsiders were few and far between.

I often think of one of the stories Peig Sayers recalled of ‘the old hag’ who decided to travel from Corca Dhuibhne to Dublin. She set out from Dun Chaoin but when she got over the hill at Sliabh an Iolar she was shocked at the extent of the country side spread out before her and she turned around and never again thought of leaving her local surroundings.

Travel to larger towns or cities was very difficult and lengthy – only a privileged few would have made it to Dublin.

Night cycle to Ducketts Grove

One of the factors that brought social change was the arrival of mass produced bicycles. It extended the range of peoples horizons; for many it was the mode of transport and we all have heard the stories of football and hurling supporters cycling the Dublin from places like Carlow and Portlaoise for Championship games – and home again!

The arrival of Covid-19 and 5kms travel restrictions brought this into focus for me as we found ourselves in lockdown, confined to our own areas, just like previous generations before us. And it was strange and hard to adapt. One business that has boomed since Covid arrived has been the Local Bike Shop. Sales of new and second hand bikes have gone through the roof. Imagine there are waiting lists for new bikes!

Day time visit to Ducketts Grove!

There are a few positive knock ons from Covid – it’s not all doom and gloom and it will be interesting to see if the effect lasts when vaccines are widely available and we get a return to the old normal; but in the meantime people are rediscovering there own localities, the pace of life has slowed down, more people are exercising – especially walking and cycling. People are looking for new routes all the time. There is less commuting with many people working form home. And people are liking what they are experiencing.

Myself and Mary have never done as much cycling, even though we are limited in where we can go; but we have not allowed weather or darkness stop us from getting out for fresh air, exercise and some exploring and rambling around Carlow and environs.

It has been great to see families out together on their bikes, along the fantastic network or local roads that are very safe for cycling. Here’s hoping it continues as we get a sense of what our forefathers experienced 100 years ago!

Walk and Gawk!

We all know the benefits of walking for our physical and mental health. Consciously looking for the wonder in the world around us amplifies the impact of walking on our wellbeing. It’s fantastic to see the massive increase in walking and running during this time of lockdown. More and more people are taking to the roads and streets of our towns and villages.

Here in Carlow, the O Brien Road seems to be the epicentre for most walking activity. I prefer to take a different approach.

Join me on a virtual 11km walk that takes me away from the crowds and inspires me as I walk to look afresh at my surroundings.

An easy starting point is Askea car park on the O Brien Road. My route takes me away from this busy thoroughfare as much as possible.

The map above shows a 3km radius within which the walk takes place, so no problem keeping within the 5km limit.

There’s approximately 4kms of this route off road so that’s a really nice aspect of in town walking that many aren’t aware is possible. Leave Askea, head over on to the Tullow Road, turn right after the filling station and follow the road around until you meet the River Burrin at The Laurels Housing Estate. When we were kids we followed the ‘cart track’ out to here to get to the Burrin for a swim and adventure. The cart track is long gone but Carlow County Council added a linear park along the River Burrin from Hanover Bridge all the way out as far as the Laurels.

It’s very under utilised and should be better promoted as a walking route.

Just beside the path is an ancient Fairy Fort; fairy forts, fairy trees, were and are a common feature of the Irish country side and God help any farmer or worker who interfered with a fort or a tree – they were faced with a wretched life thereafter! Every community in the country had these locations where ‘ the Fairies’, ‘Leprechauns’, ‘the Little People’, ‘the Good people’ or the ‘Síoga’ lived. There was often white thorn tree present. I had a visitor, a young lady from Canada, arrive at my doorstep a couple of years ago who was obsessed with fairies and she was mad to see fairy forts and all the old places. She was enthralled. We shouldn’t forget or dismiss our history and culture!

The Fairy Ring at the River Burrin Linear Park Walkway.
The Fairy Ring at the River Burrin Linear Park Walkway.

The River Burrin was Tramore for many Town families and we have fond memories of trekking up the railway line to the New Burrin and picnicking on top of the hill just above the weir. This is now easier access from close to Éire Óg Club.

The New Burrin, but not as we remember it!

Continuing over the road at Éire Óg, the pathway turns to a rough path heading towards the railway line and a very low bridge which you will have to ‘duck’ under to pass. It can be muddy under the bridge but immediately you reappear on the tree lined linear path along the River Burrin. The River is a haven of wildlife with lots of swans, water hens, trout and even salmon which can be spotted at the Hanover Bridge as they may their way up river to their spawning grounds every winter. The path ends at the Gala shop beside the bridge near Woodies. Cross over the road and another path continues into the bus park, keeping you off road and passing the nicely refurbished weir. Aldi is on the opposite side of the River, continue across there Kilkenny Road and into Hanover Park (due a facelift soon) and out onto Kennedy Avenue with the River on your left.

Carlow County Council always plant a fantastic display of flowers at Hanover Bridge, opposite the Post Office. A nice place to stop and sit down for a few minutes.

Continue heading along Kennedy Street and onto Castle Hill, turn left down into Mill Lane and take in the views of Carlow Castle, built in the 13th Century by William Marshall.

An incredible fact is that Carlow was the Capital of Ireland for 14 years between 1361 and 1374 when the Exchequer was moved here from Dublin only to return there following repeated attacks on the Town, which was on the edge of The Pale – the area of the country under English rule.

The Castle is unfortunately now in ruins thanks to Dr Middleton who accidentally blew it up in 1814 to build a lunatic asylum. I think he would have been a suitable candidate as the first patient…

Carlow Castle recently suffered storm damage and is currently under repair and inaccessible.

After the castle take a left and a short zig zag brings you down to the Barrow beneath ‘Wellington Bridge’. Cross over into Graiguecullen and follow the Killeshin Road out of Town and take a right onto Church Road, rather than follow the boring ring road around Town. Cut back in to the heart of Graiguecullen, up St Clare’s Road and Pears Road, passing the Croppy Graves. How often do we pass by without giving a thought to what it represents… 640 United Irishmen were massacred on Tullow Street and Potato Market by the Yeomen in 1798. Can you imagine the carnage and the scenes in Carlow on that day…..

The Croppy Memorial

Head over and cross through the stunning Carlow Town park, take the pedestrian bridge over The River Barrow. We turned our backs on the River for decades but the Council deserve read credit for the beautiful development of the Riverside here.

Aspiro Choir performing the Dawn Chorus on the banks of the Barrow.
Carlow Town Park

Head up Cox’s Lane, and over onto Brown Street, a very old part of Carlow Town. At the end of Brown Street, cross into St Patricks College and follow the road around to the rear and complete a lap of the playing field. An oasis in the middle of the Town.

Carlow College
Carlow College and replica of Sleaty High Cross, lit up in green for St Patricks Day some years ago

Founded in 1782 St Pats is the 2nd oldest university level institution in Ireland and was for many years a seminary for the Diocese.

With my interest in pilgrimage routes, I’ve been particularly interested in the life of the pilgrim priest Fr Joseph Braughal of Graiguenamanagh who attended the College. He vowed after a serious illness in 1822 to go on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. When he recovered he left Ireland flush with £5 in his pocket, making his way to Paris and then Rome. Illness was to be a constant companion of his for the rest of his life yet he made his way from Rome, via Cyprus to Beirut and then Jerusalem. He returned to Rome via Cairo, where he suffered from fever and dsyentery. 40,000 people died of plague in the city in that year. Sounds familiar now… He eventually arrived back in Carlow in 1838 but returned to Italy to live the life of a hermit and seems to have settled in Monte Cassino. He again pilgrimed to Jeruslem and returned to Monte Cassino where he died in 1850 and was laid to rest near the tomb of St Benedict.

Anyway back to finishing the route, head back out onto College Street, take a left onto Tullow Street and return via Staplestown Road to Askea. Almost 11kms, a rewarding walk with great natural views and some local history to add a bit more interest to your exercise regime! Enjoy!

2020 Hike & Bike

The strangest of years in living memory saw us rediscover our own country in 2020. Fear, worry, stress, anxiety were all our bedfellows as we wondered where the invisible enemy would strike next. Travel was restricted, social contacts likewise and to get away from it all we sought out the quiet places.

We escaped into nature. It’s amazing how much the most popular trails have deteriorated during lockdown as people took to the outdoors for exercise, fresh air and their sanity. Luckily we have lots of green spaces on this beautiful island of ours.

As soon as lockdown was lifted I found myself heading away almost every evening to somewhere new.

I’ve covered over 1500 kilometres since March on my bike. All of it on quiet country roads or off road along the Barrow Way, the Grand Canal, the Royal Canal and a myriad of cycle trails. Counties cycled in this year were Carlow, Laois, Kildare, Wexford, Kilkenny, Offaly, Westmeath, Longford, Meath, Galway, Roscommon, Clare, Tipperary, Cavan, Fermanagh, Monaghan, Armagh and Down, 18 counties in total! All beautiful and all equipped with that network of rural roads that are safe and a joy to cycle on. I’ve donned hiking boots to visit Máméan in Connemara, the Devils Bit, Slievenamon, the Blackstairs, Ballycumber and Askamore to name but a few.

I’ve made a short video above of some of the sights we saw in our travels. Many thanks for following my blog during 2020 and I hope it brought you some enjoyment.

Happy New Year to all!

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