Rothar Routes

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

Posts from the ‘Folklore’ category

County High Points & Provincial Finals

The high point for many an ambitious Club footballer is an All Ireland or a Provincial Club medal. Today it was the turn of St Brigid’s, Roscommon and Corofin, Galway to contest the Connacht Final in ‘The Hyde’, a venue I like to visit. First though I had an early start as I wanted to take in the County High Points in counties Longford and Roscommon.

The weather forecast was for frost and ice, but thankfully it was raining at 6.30am this morning when I woke – but the fog was milky thick! Undeterred I headed first for the Longford’s high point, Corn Hill (278 metres) and I was atop that little hill at 9am!

Longford is as flat at a midland accent but it was still a lovely short little ramble. I had just stepped out of the car when the sun burnt off the mist on top of Corn Hill. It’s a pretty little spot, steeped in folklore with its original Irish name Carn Clainne Aodha more revealing about its past. There are two possible passage tombs which have two legends associated with them. One of them is supposedly the burial place of Queen Medbh’s nephew, Forbaide Ferbend. who killed her with his sling loaded with hard cheese while she is bathing in Lough Ree in the Shannon, Co. Roscommon; this avenged Medb’s murder of Clothra, Medb’s sister and Furbaide’s mother! The second legend refers to the Cailleach Béara who dropped stones out of her apron as she flew over the hill. We also bumped into her on Slieve Gullion, County Armagh a few weeks back!

It was a short stop here as I had to make it to the most northerly point of Roscommon, a place wedged in between Sligo and Leitrim for the next County High Point – Seltannasaggart (428 metres), hike it and get back to Dr Hyde Park for the Connacht Final at 1.30pm! The fog was as thick as ever when I came down from Corn Hill and the roads were windy and narrow. At least they were traffic free!

A foggy North Roscommon and Lovely Leitrim is a hard place to eke a living in I’d say! Fields full of rushes, broken stone walls and plenty of rain means only the most resilient of folk can survive winters in these parts! Yet there is something mystical and other worldly about these sodden boggy uplands; ’tis no wonder Oweynagat (Cave of the Cats), Rathcroghan earned the title of the ‘Gate to Hell’ by our Celtic scribes or that tales of Queen Medbh and the epic Táin Bó Cuailnge are set in these eerie West of Ireland landscapes.

There was no break in the fog over in the county of the ‘Sheep Stealers’ and my walk uphill was mostly under a blank white cape of fog. I got the odd glimpse back towards beautiful Lough Allen and Sliabh an Iarainn on the opposite side. I’ve done some great cycling across this area in the past few years; it comes in under the radar for most people, but there are beautiful routes and some outstanding areas of natural beauty and of interest. The Roscommon High Point however is a nondescript pile of rocks, called Seltannasaggart set in the middle of a wind farm, with creepy pylons purring in the foggy dew. It’s only about a 5km out and back walk, though this morning I did little bit more as I couldn’t find the marker for a long time!

It was on to the Connacht Final then and a great win for St Brigid’s, who were by far the better team. I wasn’t surprised, having seen the Galway Final a short while ago – Corofin aren’t the team they were. The tackling by the Brigid’s defenders was really top class – touch tight, got out in front, got a hand in, Contested every high ball – and won them. Allied to that they had pace all over the park and a really good midfield pairing. All in all, another great day of football and hill walking!

Gods & Fighting Men

I was ten years of age when I first read this epic story of the Tuatha De Danann and of the Fianna of Ireland by Lady Gregory. It hooked me on Irish mythology and I still have my copy today. Funny the things you remember from childhood.

It’s been on my mind for some time to tie a trip north for a match with a climb up Slieve Gullion in South Armagh. Last week I managed both – I climbed Slieve Gullion on Sunday morning before heading into nearby Newry to see an epic encounter between the Gods & Fighting Men of Down and Monaghan club football clash in the Ulster Club SFC semi final!

The more I walk and cycle on this Emerald Isle the more I feel a close connection with the history, legends and culture of this great land. The beautiful thing about slow travel is you get to see over every ditch and through every hole in a stone wall. There is something of interest in every field in Ireland! Being curious brings great reward!

High point marker

Topiscope – places you can see on a clear day – it was raining when I was there so the views were limited!

Long before Fionn however was another great warrior – Cúchulainn who was part of the Ulster Cycle of Irish mythology. He is forever associated with the mountain as it is here he received his name and where he spent his childhood as Setanta. Conchobhar Mac Neasa, King of Ulster, was invited to a feast at the house of a local metalsmith Cualainn, after whom the mountain is named. The King was so enthralled watching the young Setanta hurling that he invited him into the feast. Before he arrives into the feast He is attacked by the King’s ferocious hound but Setanta killed him by hurling the sliotar down his throat! The King was devastated at the loss of the hound so Setanta took his place and earned the title Cú Chulain, the hound of Cualainn. Not men but Giants!

One of the stories in Book IV of Gods & Fighting Men, Huntings and Enchantments, relates the story of the Hunt of Slieve Cuilinn. Fionn Mac Cumhaill was hunting deer on the plains of Allen (Kildare) with his dogs, Bran and Sceolan , who got lost in the chase. He searched everywhere and ended up looking for them on the side of Slieve Gullion, where he met a beautiful woman keening beside the lake on top of the mountain. She begged him to find her lost ring at the bottom of the lake and being the Super Hero he was, he dived in, swam around it three times and found the ring! No sooner had he given it to her but didn’t she change into a witch and changed Fionn into an old man. Talk about gratitude! Cut a long story short but he finally got a cure in the passage tomb on top of Slieve Gullion, called the Cailleach Beara’s house. The Lake was called Loch Doghra, the Lake of Sorrow. Not sure if that name appears on modern maps though!

It’s only a short walk to the summit but a difficult one in wet conditions. The flag stones are slippy and the path steep. It was raining quite strong when I hiked it but occasionally the mist would clear and the views were spectacular. Had a great chat with a man from Mullaghbawn about our epic battle in the All Ireland Club semi final back in February 1996.

Slieve Gullion Hike

It was time to head to Páirc Esler for the clash of the Titans. Kilcoo v Scotstown. What an epic battle that Cúchulainn himself would have enjoyed. Heroic performances on both sides, capped with three incredible long range Scotstown points to win by the narrowest of margins!

This weekend I managed to pack in another trip to Newry for Steven Poacher’s hugely successful coaching day on Saturday and a trip to Westmeath today, Sunday, to climb the highest point in the Lake county before heading into Cusack Park for another cracking club championship game. Naas and St Lomans played out a great 90 minutes of football in Cusack Park, with Nass running out deserving winners and qualifying to meet Kilmacud Crokes in a repeat of the Final of two years ago. I had an early start this morning as I had to head past Mullingar and north through Castlepollard to reach Mullaghmeen Forest Park and the highest point in County Westmeath at 258 metres. This is the lowest county high point but a fairly tough little summit with an average 10% gradient for the last four hundred metres.

The highest point is located in the largest planted beech forest in Europe – almost 1,000 acres of forestry. A pity it wasn’t a few weeks ago as the colours would have been stunning. Unfortunately it was another day of heavy showers and the top was shrouded in a low lying cloud. There are a range of walking routes through the woods of beech, noble fir, Scots pine and sitka spruce.

There were great views of Lough Sheelin on Cavan as I approached he park but the views from the top were blocked by cloud and trees. I took the ‘blue route’ as that takes you up to the summit. Passed by an old Booley hut on the way down; this would have been used a shelter during summer grazing in years of yore and there are relics of famine walls built around old fields. Not to mention a few Turloughs too! (A turlough is a temporary or disappearing lakes!).

Mullaghmeelan Forest Park

Heading home from Mullingar, I took the back road towards Rhode with the intention of paying a visit to the Profundis Stone, which I had often seen signposted but never got to before. I’m glad I did as it is the only one left in Ireland. A Profundis Stone was a resting stone, a local tradition of stopping a funeral procession and reciting the “De Profundis” – Psalm 30. It is shaped like a coffin and here is a graveyard behind a locked gate on the opposite side of the road.

Well that was the last stop on another interesting ramble. I have it in my head to climb the highest point in each county over the next while. I have 12 completed already over the years so I will keep posting as I get around to the rest!

Local Loops are Lovely!

Not all bike journeys have to be epic! I had a lovely short cycle this evening along the Barrow to Maganey and returning via Sleaty. There is always something new to see to bring either a smile or a scowl to my face!

Leaving town I past a few lads, the worse for wear, falling around the Town Hall car park; I was to meet them later in Bridewell Lane, one of them crawled on the bonnet of a car, shouting for the Guards, blocking the lane and preventing cars driving through..mad stuff.

Not long after I met this man on the Barrow track, where I often bump into him and his pet Jackdaw who he brings for a walk!

One of the great advantages of the grassy banks of the River Barrow is its capacity to cater for all sorts of users. Hikers, fishermen, swimmers, cyclists and canoeists. I met a large group of canoeists who had pitched their tents at Bestfield Lock gates, something that would be impossible if this was converted to a hard surface to create a bike path. I often meet groups, usually on Bank Holiday weekends, who come down from Athy or Monasterevin on their way to St Mullins at the tip of County Carlow. These boys were well set up with all the gear!

The Barrow Track will always be special to me; it’s a beautiful green corridor full of nature and biodiversity that we are obligated to protect. We must ensure that no further damage is done to one of our greatest natural resources because when it’s gone, it’s gone forever. I spotted a cormorant and an egret today, birds that you won’t see too often in these parts but the Barrow is their home and needs protecting.

I cycled out to Maganey bridge and crossed over into Laois; three counties on this little loop, Carlow, Kildare and Laois! I wheeled left towards Knockbeg and it was a glorious evening on this quiet local road, one of my favourites.

With the sun setting in the west, the light at Sleaty was golden and perfect to take a photo of the famed St. Fiac’s Cross at Sleaty Church ruins.

Below is a lovely tale from the Schools Collection on the Dúchas website. It was recorded in Fairymount School, Crettyard in 1938:

“In the seventh century there lived in Sleaty or Sletty a saint whose name was St Fiach. The ruins of his church are still to be seen on the road leading from Ballickmoyler to Knock-beg. It is surrounded by a grave-yard circular in shape in the middle of a big field and is called Rathillenane. Tradition his it that every lent the Saint went to the doon of clopook and spent seven weeks in fasting and prayers. He took seven loaves with him and on those he lived during lent.
The doon is a circular pile of limestone rising sheer from a broad plain to a height of 150 feet. At its base is a cave or tunnel cut through solid rock beneath the hill in the direction of Stradbally. On the other side is a smaller tunnel facing for Luggacurren. Through this tunnel St Fiach (usd) used to go to three times every night to pray in the ruins of Clopook. The tunnel is half a mile long ending in a vault beneath the church. The writer travelled about 300 yards through this under ground passage, some years ago. On the top of the doon is a level floor about 50 feet in diameter. On the North end of this green carpet is the withered stump of a white thorn.
On the Luggacurren side of this old tree is a square piece of earth about 4 feet long by 2 feet wide. This is said to be where the saint stood while celebrating Mass in the shelter of the old white thorn.”

— from Dúchas, The Schools Collection

May Bush

With county wide travel allowed in recent weeks, it was nice to be able to visit beautiful South Carlow and enjoy cycling routes along the Barrow and under the Blackstairs.

I noticed a revival of an old tradition with the decoration of the May Bush. It seems to have been revived in County Wexford in recent times and is now catching on in the south of the County. Below are a few of the examples I came across in the past few days.

As with much of our traditions, it appears to have its origins in Pagan rituals as much as Christian traditions and some suggest they are to provide sacred protection against the fairies who are very active around May Day! Another theory associated it with the start of summer and in more recent times are linked to honour the Virgin Mary.

Here is a great post about the traditions on The Fading Year blog which I just came across:

Near St Mullins
near Drummond