Rothar Routes

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

2021 – a great year for the bike!

What a year of joy, cycling north, south, east and west of this beautiful island!

Approaching the finish of Malin to Mizen

I’ve said it before but we have an unbelievable network of local roads suitable for riding bikes, whether it be an hour loop or a long distance tour. The beauty of the local roads is that it takes you into the heart of rural Ireland, into small villages and off the beaten track. Virtually traffic free the roads are super safe. As rural Ireland declines, eco tourism offers a mountain of possibilities and the growth of hiking trails and bike routes will aid in the promotion of local areas and perhaps keeping them populated with increased economic activity associated with sustainable tourism. With Covid concerns in 2021, we really enjoyed avoiding the ‘tourist hotspots’ over the year and travelling the road less travelled; people have more time to be friendly and it has a more authentic feel to it.

The Blackstairs Mountains, County Carlow

There’s massive potential for off road touring too if routes can be accessed and developed. Any route development needs to be minimal; in most cases all that is needed is some annual maintenance and good signposting.

Ballycarney, Co Wexford
Sunset Dungarvan Harbour

It’s taken me a while to come to the realisation that a Greenway is definitely not designed as a cycle route. At this stage I’ve now cycled on all the Greenways across the country:

  • Great Western Greenway, Mayo, 42kms
  • Waterford Greenway, 46kms
  • Old Rail Trail, Westmeath, 42kms
  • Royal Canal Greenway, Longford to Dublin, 130kms
  • Suir Blueway, Tipperary, 21kms

My experience on the Greenways is that the routes are used more by walkers than cyclists and by families with young children. Consequently most of the activity is typically in the 5 kms close to the hub points, with the mid sections very quiet. As most of them follow the path of old railway tracks they tend to be very straight and boring after a few kilometres. While there is stunning scenery on the Western Greenway and the Waterford Greenway, most of the routes are enclosed by the old banks that bordered the railway line or hedging. I find them a bit soulless and sterile and much prefer the local roads that twist and turn offer up interesting heritage sites and beautiful views. The Greenways are great additions to an area but for cycle touring I would tend to probably avoid them unless they linked specific places I needed to get to.

Gougane Barra, West Cork
Free Derry Corner, The Bogside, Derry en route from Malin Head to Mizen Head

The majority of our cycling is of course locally and we have got into the habit of cycling all year round. Night cycles on cold winter nights are exhilarating and we have so familiar with our favourite routes close to Carlow Town that the bikes almost steer themselves!

Night cycle on the River Barrow
Heat Map of our cycle routes

We covered a lot of ground in 2021, most of it local but looking at the heat map, we are only scratching the surface of places to see and visit in the years ahead!. Roll on 2022.

How now brown cow?
Training run before Malin to Mizen
Barley Cove, West Cork

The Greenway for south Carlow?

When all the controversy over the proposed Blueway, which was refused by An Bord Pleanála, was in full flow, many of us expressed legitimate concerns about the conversion of the national way marked hiking route, that is the Barrow Way into a hard surface. The Barrow Way is the Irish Trail with the least amount of road walking, as confirmed by the great walking couple, Ellie and Carl who run a fantastic YouTube channel dedicated to trail walking in Ireland.

This Irish Times report may be a game changer for the Carlow route and would give us the best of both worlds – our own greenway through the nicest part of Carlow and retains our walking route along the narrow green corridor of the Barrow Valley, thus protecting its biodiversity, its grass surface, its multi purpose use and its status as an area of special conservation.

Sunday Miscellany

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.

The West Cross at Monasterboice with the Round Tower behind.

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.

Muiredach’s Cross

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.

Mellifont Abbey

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.

Surviving section of the Lavabo.
Impressive ruins of Mellifont.

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.

Hill of Slane

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.

Hill of Slane

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!

Ducketts Grove Night Ride

The thrill of riding in the dark is something I’ve come to savour these past couple of winters!

First thoughts about it were that it would be dangerous and boring, with nothing to see in the pitch black of night. How wrong could I be! Nothing compares to being out on a quiet country road or along the Barrow Track on a cold crisp black night, with stars twinkling overhead or occasionally with the Space Station making its way across the skies. Or a clear moonlit night making it easy to pick out familiar landmarks that aren’t so familiar looking in the half light. Especially trees, which take on a whole new shape and appearance. Throw in a few gusts of wind and it can be damn scary!

It’s only possible of course if you have good lights on your bike, front and rear and you pick your route carefully. With 1800 lumens in my front light I can safely get a good 90 minutes of a ride in. Tonight took me out to other worldly Ducketts Grove – is there a more iconic building for the Halloween season?

Another favourite is the along the River Barrow towpath between St Mullins and Clashganny which I did last year, starting out in daylight on the outward journey and coming back by the light of the bike. It can be tricky on the Barrow in winter as the track softens and becomes slippy so you need to be extra vigilant.

And it shortens the winter; being able to keep up the evening cycles is just magic and helps keep a level of fitness up for the following season!

Alternative Fixture Proposal

I burnt the midnight oil last night trying to put some structure on those random ideas that were flying around in my head earlier while out on my cycle!

Like many others before the call for Proposals in 2016, I tinkered with a restructuring of the Fixtures programme to address the failings of the fixtures programme.

Time moves on but as the weekend has shown, frustration has grown with the inability to agree change. It’s concerning how this debate is framed. It’s always easy side with players but we shouldn’t deny the validity of other points of view. Far better we think independently than follow a herd mentality and get change for changes sake.

The one thing all were united on at Congress was that change is needed and it is needed sooner rather than later. There is a momentum for change and everyone has to now walk the walk.

Martin Wynne (@martywyn) tagged me in a post, and it was a bit of a eureka moment for me. He mentioned an interview with Cahair O Kane of the Irish News in which he talked about a radical change to the NFL. And that for me is one of the keys to unlocking the potential of reforming the entire structure.

Can this work? Maybe maybe not. There are probably flaws in this and I’d be interested to hear what they might be.

(1) It retains the provincial championships. Provincial Councils and their constituent counties have a responsibility to come up with structures for their Championships that are better than the present options. Leinster in particular, with 11 teams should be able to devise a competitive structure – the Ulster Championship being a good example for them to follow. I don’t buy into the defeatism around the Leinster Championship; small things have aided the strongest in the province. Remove seedings; insist on home venues for teams and remove in built advantages for the strong. It can be reformed. Ironically the period of Dublin dominance may be on the wane and the sands of time may bring a natural reordering in the province.

(2) It links the league to the All Ireland. There has been a call for more competitive football in the summer months for all counties. With tightened fixture scheduling it is possible to link the NFL with the All Ireland once the Provincial Championships are concluded. Rather than training ad naseum, players want to reduce the training to games ratio – it makes sense; we are obsessed with drawing out competitions longer than necessary.

(3) It includes all counties. Proposal B really failed a lot of tests in my opinion. No one is excluded here in this and the step up for lower ranked teams is incremental if they progress. In addition the Tailteann Cup is broadened out to include the last sixteen teams, which depending. on results, could in fact include teams from the top two divisions of the league. It’s suddenly a more attractive proposition and if the follow through is that the Final is indeed played alongside the All Ireland Final, then maybe it has a future.

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