Rothar Routes

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

Posts from the ‘Commentary’ category

Cycle Paths v Road

There are a growing number of dedicated cycle paths springing up across our towns and cities.

Carlow and Kilkenny County Councils have invested heavily in this welcome cycling infrastructure with a 40km dedicated cycle path linking both urban centres.

With high levels of obesity and children spending more time inactive than any generation before, getting people involved in physical activity is vital for a healthy society.

There was a time when a lot of children cycled to school but sadly numbers have reduced in recent decades as the traffic volumes increased and parents have become ultra protective of their off spring.

Segregating cyclists from traffic is generally welcomed and provides a buffer zone where cycling should be safer.

Yet many cyclists do not avail of the cycle lanes, much to the dismay of the drivers of cars and other vehicles as this link from the Irish Independent website shows only too well!

From the cyclists perspective there are a few practical reasons why they choose not to use the cycle lanes:

  • Cycle lanes tend to be covered in road debris and are never swept, meaning users are more likely to pick up a puncture. Verges tend to be potholed and contain shores which can be very dangerous.  Roads are much cleaner..
  • Cycle lanes tend to run alongside the road and then suddenly onto footpaths and often coming to a complete halt, only to be picked up again at a later point on the route resulting in the cyclist having to stop and start more often and break their cycling rhythm.
  • Pedestrians tend to walk in cycle lanes that are on footpaths.

Generally speaking casual cyclists will avail of the cycle paths while ‘road cyclists’ who are training or commuting long distances tend to stick to the roads.

it’s frustrating for both road users but bear in mind few cyclists wish to dice with traffic unless it is considered necessary !

The Barrow Track

This morning’s blog seems to have it generated a lot of interest and thanks to all who have read it and got in touch about the sentiments I expressed and on the photographs of the stunning scenery.


Very pleased that my blogs have no attracted almost 11,000 views and 6,000 visitors. Thanks again for the interest.
Due to the interest I thought I would add a few more thoughts and a link to the Barrow in flood ….during the summer months.

As an aside here are a few amusing experiences I have had cycling the Barrow:
– Almost knocked down by an otter who shot across the Track and he then belly flopped into the water!
– Went up to Maganey with Mary on a fine evening some years ago, passing a lot of fishermen on the bank. When I made the return journey I was steering Mary’s bike as well while cycling my own as she had fallen and broken her elbow. Her sister Patricia picked her up at the River Lerr and I returned past the fisherman minus my wife – I got some funny looks!
– A trout swam past me on the track during a summer flood, I kid you not.. See this Link here
I once ended up in the river on Christmas week when my front wheel hit a mucky patch and I went head first into the river, which was very high at the time.

Getting back to the Blue Way and Green Way debate.
I have cycled on two Blue Ways and a Green Way and across old Roman roads in France.
The Blue Ways were on the banks of the Saone and the Rhone. Two great rivers. The surfaces were mixed – grassy banks, paved, dirt tracks.
The Green Way was on a disused railway line and it was a great tarmac surface that went on forever with long straights that were quite boring.

Give me a choice and I would pick the Barrow Track as it now is.

2015 Hols Lyon

2015 Hols Lyon

Cycle Dijon Lyon

Cycle Dijon Lyon

Cycle Dijon Lyon

Cycle Dijon Lyon

Cycle Dijon Lyon

Cycle Dijon Lyon

Cycle Dijon Lyon

Cycle Dijon Lyon

Cycle Dijon Lyon

Cycle Dijon Lyon


I went astray on The Rhone and came across this cemetery for German WWII soldiers. Very sombre.

Cycle Dijon Lyon

Cycle Dijon Lyon

Carlow’s Pilgrim Priest

This is the full text I received from Louise Nugent about a Carlow Priest who went on pilgrimage to Jerusalem. It’s a fantastic tale and I look forward to finding out a little more!

Pilgrim Priest by Gerard MacRory

One of the strangest Irish pilgrims who, in the past, walked to Rome and the Holy Land, was Father Joseph Braughall, once parish priest of Graig-na-managh in the County of Carlow.

Sometime in the year 1821, Father Braughall, a man of forty, was stricken with a severe illness. As he lay suffering he vowed he would make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land on foot as soon as he recovered. There was no question of “if” about him: he would recover and complete his pilgrimage. And lest someone more worldly-wise than he should try to dissuade him, he discussed his vow with no one.

Allowed a leave of absence by his Bishop, Dr. Doyle, for his complete convalescence, Father Braughall left Carlow in the summer of 1822, heading for Paris, the first stage of his journey. In an old parish chronicle it is recorded that his whole capital was £5, a sum he had acquired by the sale of his furniture a few days before he set out on his travels.

Europe was in its customary turmoil, spy fever was rampant then as it is now, and pilgrims, in the manner of the Middle Ages, were not encouraged by the authorities. If Father Braughall was aware of European chaos, he was not daunted by it. He arrived in Paris where ill health again afflicted him. For the moment his steadfast confidence seems to have deserted him. He wrote to his Bishop reporting his progress and his plans. He was afraid ill health would defeat his pilgrimage, but as a substitute, he proposed to join the Carthusians, and announced his intention of proceeding to Italy, to a house of that Order.

Apparently on his journey to Rome his health improved for he is next heard of at the Vatican. He was received in audience by His Holiness, Pope Pius VII, who blessed his pilgrim’s habit and presented him with the necessary documents, sealed with the seal of the Holy See, for visiting the Holy Places of Jerusalem, Syria, Judea and Palestine. In great kindness the Holy Father spoke of the dangers that faced the pilgrim and offered to free him from his vow. It would seem that Father Braughall had put aside for the moment his plan to join the Carthusians. He expressed his gratitude for the Holy Father’s kindness but humbly refused the dispensation. The Holy Father than gave his blessing to Father Braughall and arranged that he would receive a special licence permitting him to leave the Irish Mission for the purpose of making the pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

With everything thus in order, Father Braughall left Rome. But if he felt his objective was now in sight, as it were, he was speedily disillusioned. The anti-clericism that was the aftermath of the French Revolution now seemed to obstruct him at every turn.  He wandered from sea-port to sea-port looking for a ship. Along the dock sides he quested, following every rumour, meeting with kindness one day, and the next, with insults and abuse. At length he managed to persuade a skipper out of Leghorn to give him passage to Cyprus, and from Cyprus, in an Arab felucca, he reached Beyrout. By attaching himself to caravans he at length arrived in Jerusalem

Emaciated and weary, he would have gone at once, without rest, to Mount Calvary. He found that the great church built on the site was locked and that no one was allowed to enter it except at certain times and then only on payment of a fee to the Turkish Governor of the city. He requested an audience with the Bashaw of Jerusalem, who was also Governor of the Province. The story of his journey and, it may be supposed, his persistence, impressed the Turk so favourably that he presented Father Braughall with a free and official pass to all the shrines and churches of Jerusalem. When the brief daily opening of the door came next day Father Braughall was there with the other pilgrims.

Because of their Muslim death customs, but more to irk the Christian, the Turkish authorities had threatened to impose a crippling fine if any pilgrim should die in the church. To avoid this fine, the Christian superiors of the Holy Land decreed that the first visit to the church should not exceed twenty-four hours. Father Braughall was irked by this regulation but recognised its wisdom. The only diet allowed in the church was bread and water; only the strongest could endure it for more than the prescribed period.

On his second visit Father Braughall remained in the church for nine days and nights, celebrating the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass at all nine Stations preserved in the building. He seems to have made many friends, for when he left Jerusalem he was carrying many letters from communities and priests to the Holy Father.

Getting home, he found, was just as difficult as getting to Jerusalem. He turned up in Cairo  where he found hospitality in a convent, probably Franciscan, where there were six religious, four priests and two lay brothers. He was suffering from fever and dysentry.  His hosts were the only missionaries in the country, and, as he reports simply, they were all in perfect health on his arrival. Within a few days all six were dead from the fever. He buried them with his own hands and took over their duties until he was relieved. Whether or not he was a plague carrier when he arrived in Cairo, he omits to say, but he does report that upwards of forty thousand persons died of plague in that city, including the wife of the English Consul, whom he had visited. It was with the stricken Consul’s help that he secured a passage from Alexandria back to Leghorn.

Presumably he reached Rome again and discharged the errands he had contracted to do in the Holy Land. Ill health again became his portion. His next few years were spent in a fantastic cat-and-mouse game, between near-health and serious illness. In those years he had drifted-and drifted seems to be the word, since nowhere in his reports of this period is there any sign of plan-desolately from monastery to hospital in Portugal and Spain in search of health.  Penniless as ever, he was dependent on the charity of those he met, and everywhere he went that charity was forthcoming in abundance.

A gaunt bent figure, with flowing iron-grey hair and the sharp features of the half-starved, Father Braughall arrived back in Carlow in 1838, sixteen years of wayfaring behind him. He remained in Carlow, a guest of the college, for a few months. The President of the College, Dr. Fitzgerald, invited him to stay permanently. But just as he had refused the dispensation of the Holy Father, so now he refused the hospitable offer of Dr. Fitzgerald. In 1839 he set out again for Italy, determined to end his days as a hermit.

In the same year, 1839, Father Braughall arrived in Naples only to run into his accustomed difficulties immediately. In pursuit of his plan, he applied for entrance to various hermitages, then dotting on the slopes of Vesuvius. The ecclesiastical authorities of Naples demanded his papers for identification. But these he could not produce! Somewhere along his back trail they had been stolen or mislaid. In his extremity, he wrote to one of the Sisters in the Presentation Convent in Carlow, appealing to her to approach the Bishop for a letter certifying-

  1. That he, Father Joseph Braughall, was a regularly ordained priest,
  2. That he had been a Parish Priest,
  3. That he had made the pilgrimage to the Holy Land with the permission of his Bishop and His Holiness, the Pope.

This letter, he emphasised, had to be written in Latin, signed by the Bishop and his secretary, and sealed with the Seal of the Diocese. He requested her to address her reply to:-

Don Guiseppe Braughall, Prete Irlandese, Residente in Napoli, Naples.

In this same letter he pays a glowing tribute to a German, one Don Giorgio Drasenovich, who, it seems, had supported the penniless pilgrim while he was in Naples, even to the point of buying him shoes and clothes, and paying the fee for the police Letter of Security all foreigners in the city had to have. He speaks also of his growing devotion to Sr. Philomena and records what might have been a vision of the saint. On a journey to Rome he was trapped in an inn and accused of robbery. Before he managed to prove his innocence he was badly beaten. Afraid of repercussions the inn keeper turned him free and set him on his road. While staggering up the hill, weak from blows and hunger, a woman met him, a woman with the most beautiful smile and countenance he had ever seen. She had a cake in her hand and, stopping him, she asked him whither he was going. She gave him some of her cake, but he was so ill that he could not eat it or even speak to her. Putting the cake in his pocket, he stumbled on. Immediately his innate Irish courtesy upbraided him. He turned round to stammer his thanks but the woman had disappeared. The path he was on was a bare path over a barer hillside with no concealment. He was impressed by “her beauty and heavenly countenance, but her sweet smile,” he writes, “has never left my thoughts since and think never will until my death!”

He ate the cake while he rested that night and in the morning he woke up perfectly well, all illness and weariness gone from him. His health continued good for three days, the only time he had been completely free from sickness and pain since he left Paris.

Father Braughall received his certificate at last and again approached the local authorities for permission to enter a hermitage. The Bishop of Naples was cautious. He pointed out that there were so many imposters and renegades on the roads that it was necessary to obtain Rome’s confirmation of the certificate. Poverty, acute ill health and suspicion were the lot of Father Braughall while he waited for the Vatican’s confirmation of his certificate and approval for his plans. When a favourable reply was at last received from Rome Father Braughall was too weak to celebrate the Holy Mass. He turned to Saint Benedict for help. Broken in health he left Naples behind him and climbed the road to Mount Cassino, the famous Benedictine monastery that was to figure in world history again a century later. Here he found what he long sought – the peace of God.

He made yet another pilgrimage to the Holy Land from Mount Cassino. One morning, while making his thanksgiving after Mass, a hand tapped him on the shoulder. A strange youth stood beside him.

“You must go again to the Holy Land,” the youth said, “Go immediately to the harbour and you will find a vessel there ready to sail.”

Father Braughall stooped to pick up his breviary, When he straightened up a moment later he found the youth had gone. Hurrying to the harbour he found the ship ready to cast off. The ship’s captain welcomed him and offered him a free passage. With the conviction that his visitor had been his Angel Guardian, Father Braughall accepted the captain’s offer.

The extraordinary piety of the Irish wayfarer of God edified everyone in the monastery where his memory is still revered among the surviving community as that of a saint. It is recorded that when the King of Naples and his family visited Mount Cassino they found Father Braughall kneeling in adoration before the Tabernacle. The royal party knelt behind him, and when they were leaving each of the party, preceded by the King, reverently took up and kissed the hem of Father Braughall’s habit, while he, unconscious of their presence in the depth of his devotions, prayed on.

He died on the Feast of the Ascension in the year 1850 at the hour of Vespers and, his pilgrimage at last ended, he was laid to rest near the tomb of St. Benedict.

Irish roads are too dangerous for cycling…

The biggest misconception about cycling today is that you are taking your life in your hands on our roads.

I can see where that comes from.

It mystifies me to see so many cyclists train along national routes where traffic is heaviest and risks are greatest. I certainly wouldn’t use them unless there was no other option. Of course these are usually racers and not casual cyclists like you or I. And we are heavily influenced by what we see the pros do and by what the bike industry wants us to do. More about that at another time.

However we are blessed in our country with a massive network of minor roads that connect every village and lamp post in the country.

When I cycle I usually cycle for 60 – 70 minutes. I take different routes every day and in good weather I cycle seven days. If I meet 3 or 4 cars on those routes it’s the limit!. I have the freedom of the road!

You can too, with a little bit of planning.

These routes are ideal for family cycles; they are all loops and are never more than 6 – 7 miles from home. That means I can cut back home if the weather turns foul or I have a mechanical problem. If I want to extend the loop I have options to go any distance and still be in touching distance of home.

Not only are the roads safe but they are interesting as well; there are so many things to see, old ruins, significant historical buildings and interesting places, wonderful views, the natural flora and fauna, picnic areas and even places to swim! The bike really can be magic for young children and it’s all accessible from our front doors.

Most Local Authorities are considering the needs of cyclists now. The provision of cycle lanes in our Towns is a welcome development which should encourage biking to school and work. Indeed a new bike lane is underway between Carlow and Kilkenny.

Over time I will put up some route maps for anyone interested in getting out and about!

Cycling is Freedom!

The simple invention of the bicycle made a huge difference to society when the first versions appeared – coincidentally around the time the GAA was founded in 1884!

It immediately took off. Where before people seldom travelled beyond the boundaries of their parish, ordinary folk were suddenly mobile. The bike flourished in the big industrial cities and suddenly towns began to expand outwards from the congested tenements of the inner cities to create suburbs.In rural areas people were now moving beyond their traditional stomping grounds and suddenly people began moving away from places associated with the family names for centuries.

The world was suddenly a smaller place and a revolution was underway.

Cycling was at first a  means of getting to work and developed into a healthy pursuit of the working classes, while bike racing became hugely popular among the masses.

Of course the bikes of the 1890s bear little resemblance to what we have available today and the comfort factor has increased exponentially. Thank God for that!

In a world of few enough leisure activities the arrival of the bike provided ordinary people with  a whole new way to spend their spare time. It opened up the country side to day trips and to even longer forays by the more adventurous. I can’t but recall the tale told by Peig Sayers of the ‘old hag’ who decided to venture forth to Dublin from Dun Chaoin. When she finally crested the bothrin over Sliabh an Iolar (Eagle Mountain) and saw the vast panorama ahead of her, she turned back home!  The bike certainly encouraged others to travel beyond their local hinterland.

If the bike was the mode of transport of the working man, the arrival of the mass produced motor car changed the landscape even further and over time came to dominate our means of transport.

So much so that in modern times the bike has been shunned by the majority as cars and big scary lorries trundled down inadequate roads.  However once again there is a real shift in public affections and there is a massive growth in cycling both as a leisure pursuit and as a sport.

We have been slower in this country to revert to our two wheeled friend but the bike to work scheme has accelerated our move back.

It’s great to now see so many biking around our Towns and Counties even if most of it is my the sports enthusiast rather than the leisure cyclist.

The bike certainly opened up the countryside once it began to be mass produced and now today we are all aware of the incredible biking feats of individuals who have truly found their freedom.

Think of Mark Beaumont, Rob Lilwall and Julian Buhring. Who would ever hace thought it possible to cross continents and explore such far off places on a bicycle/

Anyway, I hope my blogs will sow some seeds in my reader’s minds (all 2 of them).

Buy a buy and recapture your freedom!