Rothar Routes

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

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!

Escape to Kilkea

With a raging pandemic in full flow, the thoughts of Christmas shopping fill me with dread. I seem to have missed the warnings today of imminent food shortages and empty shelves judging by the full car parks in Town this morning.

Kilkea Castle from back entrance

The entire country seems to have finally discovered all the great walking trails and loops dotted across the country, judging by the worn paths at this time of year and so are often a little too populated for my liking at this time. The great thing about the bike is it increases your range and your options. Today was a day made for the bike; a blue sky, little wind and the air was crystal clear. Cool but an incredible Sunday in December. An Escape from the madness.

Kilkea is almost directly north of Carlow Town and there’s a spiders web of tiny quiet roads that are just perfect for cycling – I can count on one hand the number of cars met over 32kms cycling. I take the road out through Oak Park, behind the Golf Club and turn left at Ballaghmoon Cross. Thats the first 5kms done! It’s a straight road for the next couple of kms followed by two right turns. Take the second right and continue over the Maganey – Castledermot road at Castleroe Crossroads. The surfaces are great, the roads are quiet and there are great expansive views across the lowlands of south Kildare. After another kilometre, take the left fork in the road and enjoy the freewheeling down the hill before turning right onto a beautiful tree lined stretch that finishes with a stunning view of Kilkea Castle at the T-junction. Take a left into pretty Kilkea village and tuen into the grounds of Kilkea Castle.

It’s a stunning twelfth-century castle, home of the Fitzgeralds, Earls of Kildare. The castle is again a top-class hotel and golf resort for many years, having fallen victim to the economic downturn post-Celtic Tiger but is now open. It has an enchanting history – associated with ‘The Wizard Earl’ who practised alchemy and was reputed to have magic powers. They say the castle is haunted and that he returns every seven years on a white horse!

Kilkea Castle

Another claim to fame for Kilkea is that it is the birthplace of the Antarctic explorer, Ernest Shackleton, and there’s a really great statue in nearby Athy in his honour and also a fine Shackleton museum in the Athy Heritage Centre.

After a few photos it was time to head back home and I took the back road out of the Castle and crossed over at Sills Cross, up the hill returning as far as the fork in the road where I had taken the left fork on the way out.

Back at Castleroe Cross I swung left in the direction of Castledermot and took the right at the top of the hill. It’s another great road, well surfaced and quite wide. I took a right after 2kms approx onto a minor road which brought me back to Ballaghmoon Bridge from where I returned along the route I took out of town.

Total distance: 33kms. Time (including stops) 1hr 54mins. Moving time 1hr 38 mins. Highly recommend this route!

https://ridewithgps.com/trips/60479019

Famine

The Hunger – Over 1,000,000 dead of starvation and disease, 1,250,000 emigrated…

Over the course of the summer, I had the good fortune to be able to spend some time cycling along the banks of The Royal Canal.

The path doubles as the National Famine Walk – a walking route that commemorates ‘the poignant ill-fated story of assisted emigration in Ireland during the Famine in 1847 when 1,490 poor and hungry were forced to walk the 165km from the Strokestown Park Estate, County Roscommon to Custom House Quay in Dublin. They travelled onward to Liverpool and almost a third of them perished crossing the Atlantic in “coffin ships” bound for Canada’.

I had been on the Canal before and had spotted a most unusual way marker:

National Famine Way Marker

A pair of children shoes. It shook me to my core. As I progressed northwards I saw more of these markers and my journey morphed from a cycle along the Canal to a pilgrimage to Strokestown to visit the National Famine Museum. It is well worth a visit and all the better if you complete the Way.

The two episodes of the documentary ‘The Hunger’ have brought the incredible affect of the Famine into the living rooms of the country and set out in no uncertain terms the scale of death, destruction and devastation inflicted on a peasant people.

The wonder is how we as a nation have rebounded so well from such deep trauma to our psyche. The Irish people have shown their resilience and their abilities – abilities that were denied by our rulers and we should be proud of the nation we have built.

But we should not forget the cruelty inflicted on a suffering people. And I don’t mean remember it in terms of rabid nationalism, I mean in terms of our humanity to other peoples who, incredibly in this day and age are suffering the same fate; arriving on our shores only to often be met with indifference and sadly sometimes worse – downright hostility by people who have forgotten our past and are exploiting our present difficulties.

A picture paints a thousand words. Here are a few images from my cycle along the National Famine Way, a mural in Strokestown of a school project about the Famine and from the exhibits in the National Famine Museum.

Never forget.

Map of the National Famine Way
National Famine Way marker near Enfield
A famine pot in Abbeyshrule
List of persons to get MEAT on Christmas Day
Famine Pot in National Famine Museum
Ration tokens during the Famine
Eviction Crowbar used to dismantle roofs of cabins
School Project Strokestown
School Project Strokestown
School Project Strokestown
School Project Strokestown
National Famine Way Marker near The Downs, Co. Westmeath
Strokestown Park, Roscommon

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