Rothar Routes

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

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Turas Columbanus – Bective Abbey and Hill of Tara

I’ve been slowly chipping away at cycling the proposed pilgrimage route from The Nine Stones on the slopes of Mount Leinster stretching all the way to Bobbio in Italy.

Over the past few months I’ve been doing small sections of the route and I’m really excited about it.

The route will be very varied between Carlow and Bangor in County Down.

Starting with brilliant downhill from Mount Leinster, the route continues along the side of The Barrow Way to Athy and onwards along the Grand Canal and the Royal Canal, through the rich agricultural lands of Royal Meath. That’s as far as I have got so far, I’ve covered over 200kms of the route (but actually done over 320kms as I have to back track to the car each stage).

Here’s a clip of some of the wonders of Ireland’s Ancient East and Turas Columbanus.

I’m blown over by the Hill of Tara. There is something really special about this place; the inauguration seat of Irish High Kings, the place where St. Patrick challenged the ancient religions, a place stretching back to prehistory….. I will post more later!

Lia Fáil (The Stone of Destiny)
Bective Abbey
Hill of Tara
Trim Castle
Ireland’s 12 Apostles
St. Finnian’s Font
There are two wells dedicated to St. Finian, one in the old church at Longwood and one in Anneville. Both are said to cure stomach trouble, and the first here also has the cure of warts. If you want the cure of warts put a pin in the water!

Blueways, Greenways, Rivers, Railways, Carlow Dream Way!

Thanks to Pádraig Dooley of Carlow Historical and Archaeological Society for telling me about this fantastic Youtube clip of the now defunct railway line from Bagenalstown to Pallas East! Its a great piece of Carlow history.

The brouhaha has died down about the proposed development of the Barrow Blueway by Waterways Ireland since An Bórd Pleanála refused permission to change the use of the Barrow Track to a cycle route. But is that the end of it?

Borris Viaduct

Surely fresh thinking is now required. Where do we go from here?

The concept itself had great merit; rural ireland is crying out for sustainable development and eco tourism offers some hope to isolated communities that are trying to stay alive and reinvent themselves in a country that is becoming as urbanised and centralised as most developed countries around the globe.

I don’t believe any of the people opposed to the development of the Blueway were anti development but they had the foresight to realise the plan was fatally flawed.

It didn’t mean that they were opposed to developing the national Greenway infrastructure in Carlow, rather that they wished for deeper consultation and the selection of the most appropriate route. The establishment of the Greenway network has been hailed as a major success, developing new places of interest for visitors and increasing employment in tourist related activities along the routes. What was overlooked when it came to developing a Carlow Greenway was the basis on which routes were selected in other counties. Disused railways featured heavily across the network.

Ironically we in Carlow have a disused railway running almost parallel to the River Barrow through some of our most beautiful scenic areas – and it would visit our villages of Drummond, St Mullins, Glynn, Borris and Bagenalstown along its 30kms of pristine natural beauty.

Railway Bridge near Glynn

The difficulty of course is that the lands have gone into private ownership and accessing it presents a challenge. it’s no different to the challenge in Waterford and Mayo. With leadership, vision, consultation, dialogue and goodwill there is no obvious reason why we in County Carlow cannot achieve the same outcome.

It would be a major tourist infrastructure for the County and would need the support of statutory bodies to be developed. if we can dream it, we can make it happen. It’s about selling an idea, it’s about promoting our locality, its’ about developing an eco tourism product that will benefit all the stakeholders along the route and one that will not damage the natural environment as the proposed Blueway would have done.

Old Railway Station at Ballyling near Glynn?

Here is a link to what I have marked as the Bagenalstown to Pallas East Railway based on satellite imagery of South Carlow. Could the route become part of the national Greenway infrastructure?

Maps showing line of the old Railway:

Bagenalstown to Poulmounty 1
Bagenalstown to Poulmounty 2

Dublin, Funding and Tiers!

Dublin, Funding and Tiers…

Twitter is such an angry place. Between all the rage and the character restriction there isn’t much room for reasoned comment.  Much easier to throw out barbs, attack others, create a twitter storm and stand back and snigger at the damage done to personal reputations There’s been a lot of raw emotion expressed and criticism of the state of football and the dominance of the Dubs. Much of it is justified but it often misses the target.

Here are some of my thoughts for what they’re worth.

This is not an anti Dublin rant. Some of my earliest heroes were the Dublin players of the 1970s. I remember searching Carlow Town as a kid for the Dublin outfit and not finding it, cycling 24 miles round trip to Athy to purchase a Dublin jersey, shorts and socks! It might surprise Dubliners to know they had many admirers outside the Pale – I knew of one Fighting Cocks man who travelled the length and breath of Ireland following Heffos Army!

The turn of the millennium was an ideal opportunity for the GAA to reflect on the needs of the Association in a rapidly changing Ireland. Former President Peter Quinn (our best ever President?) chaired the Strategic Review Committee that produced a really thought provoking analysis of the GAA and its place in Irish society and what the future needs might be.

The founders of the GAA, way back in 1884, were literally operating in a different era and if they were starting all over again in 2000 I am sure they would have thought long and hard about the decision making structures to guide the Association in achieving its aims.

If it’s true that a camel is a horse designed by a committee then the GAA is surely the sporting equivalent of an organisation catering for such diverse interests as parishes, clubs, counties, provinces, hurling and football.

Of course a camel is a brilliantly efficient animal to survive in harsh deserts and likewise the GAA has thrived despite its many disparate parts and interests.

Change is never easy and, in a national institution like the GAA, it is almost impossible to achieve an agreed outcome to so many issues that bedevil the organisation.

When the Strategic Review was under way the Committee recognised the unique circumstances of the Association in the capital city. With a quarter of the population of this island living within the county boundaries, penetration by the GAA was very low. In fact there were large tracts of the capital where there was no clubs present at all. The GAA was losing the battle for hearts and minds.

The powers that be recognised the gravity of the problem and a number of proposals were made to address the issues.

Among them was a proposal to split the county in two and a recognition that a massive financial injection was needed to achieve the objectives of growing participation numbers, improving administration and coaching structures.

The Review Committee had put forward the document for acceptance in its entirety but that did not happen and surprisingly there was support at national and provincial level to provide the necessary funding to tackle the status of the GAA in the capital without the proposed division of the county. 

The proposal to split the county was considered off the wall by many in the Association. Dublin County Board, to their credit, have invested the funding wisely and are harvesting the rewards in terms of their utter dominance at inter county level. Let me acknowledge too the incredible talent in this present day Dublin; a phenomenal bunch, grounded, focused, hard working, dedicated and talented. They have been incredible Champions and look certs to win the 5 in a row. No one can begrudge them if they do. They have set new standards that the chasing pack are finding hard to match.

In this era of fake news, it is disappointing and patronising to hear Dublin’s success credited solely to volunteers as though all other counties are bereft of equally devoted members and players – and that the funding has no impact! If that claim is true it has been money poorly spent. But that Trumpism is patently false. It is disappointing that the public utterances of our top officials is a uniform denial of the impact.

Allied to the other advantages of population, of location, of infra structure, of Croke Park as home venue, of corporate sponsorship, Dublin has turned into a monster that is now out of control and it is surely time for another Strategic Review to recalibrate the financial advantage bestowed on Dublin by the other 31 counties. 

If our counties were member states of the EU, Dublin would be Germany; should Dublin now be a net contributor to the overall Association budget! 

Croke Park and Leinster Council are taking a lot of flak for this imbalance and some of it is deserved – it isn’t right for the other counties to be underwriting the investment in Dublin at this stage. But it was farsighted at the time and it was the correct decision at that time. They deserve credit for that and add in the monies invested across the Association and we get a truer picture of the good work done by the powers that be. Leinster Council has been getting a hammering of late but I believe it is very harsh; the provincial councils are much closer to the grass roots and certainly provide far greater coach education and development. However no one cried halt.

What to do now though is the question.

Redistributing Dublin’s annual financial injection among the other 31 counties would reduce the impact by the time it is distributed pro rata. I think it could be quickly gobbled up by county teams preparations, 

We are probably getting a better return now for our investment because it is so concentrated!

Possibly the best outcome would now be to identify the 2/3 key issues affecting the GAA in selected counties for short term investment and moving on then after a period to another 2/3 priority areas in different counties.

Withdrawing the funding could jeopardise coaching positions across Dublin clubs, although with Dublins commercial clout it is very possible that they can replace the loss of the funding with alternate commercial sources.


I don’t think we can throw any more money at the problem of inter county preparations – it has turned into an arms race and all teams are spending ridiculous amounts of money to chase success which seems as elusive as ever. Only one team can win the All Ireland in any year – and for the moment it really is only one team!

Part of the problem we face today is that there does not appear to be a strategy in play. 

We seem to be reactionary. 

Brendan Behan once said that the first item on any republican agenda was the split. I think the same could be said for any unit of the GAA! Like it or not we have created official splits in the GAA through the GPA and the CPA. There should never have been a need for these organisations to be formed but they were borne of necessity because the voice of the ordinary member has been lost in the democratic bureaucracy of the Association.


We have competing demands for more inter county games, a better club fixture programme, unnatural expectations of our players and team officials and ever increasing expenditure on county teams.

Why are we discussing a tiered championship in isolation – which will increase the number of inter county games while on the other hand discussing a fairer club fixture programme with the CPA? These are conflicting objectives. We have added in the Super 8s and the new hurling structures and now we decide we need to do something for our clubs. 

What is the end goal?

What type of organisation do we want? 

Are we fulfilling our aims and objectives or have they changed?

Are we for elitism or for mass participation – or is there a balance we can achieve to ensure the rude good health of the Association into the future?

Croke Park has decided to push the introduction of a tiered championship as if this was the solution to all our problems. Last Sunday should have sent a message back that there is only one team in Tier One and the rest can compete in Tier Two. It is not the answer and will do much damage to inter county football down the divisions. Football is much more balanced across the country than hurling and there is a vibrant club scene in all counties. We do not need a tiered championship.

Many desire to provide all teams with a realistic chance of winning and the opportunity to play a final in Croke Park. 

As though winning was all that mattered. It isn’t – surely its the will to win that matters? It’s about getting the best out of yourself and competing at as high a level as possible, its about testing yourself against the best. There is only ever one winner – it doesn’t mean everyone else is a failure.

And if we think a little deeper about that, how realistic is that claim about a chance to win silverware? The likelihood is that the Tier 2 or Tier 3 Championship will be dominated by the teams competing at the top end of Division 2/3. There is a real possibility that counties like my own will never play in a Tier 3 final or maybe do so once in a lifetime but will loose out on the great days that we had over the past few years. Is it worth that trade off? I don’t think so.

Almost all Carlow players would not swap those brilliant days we experienced in recent years for a B competition played in front of empty terraces- and make no mistake the Final will not remain on All Ireland Final Day, as touted, once introduced. The focus of those in favour of this tiered structure is always on a packed Croke Park where these finals will be played as a curtain raiser. But no one mentions all the other games played before sparse attendances, shunned by supporters, barely covered by an over stretched media (they can’t be everywhere!) and the 14 teams that don’t make the Final!

For those advocating the Tiers, we already play these teams every year in the league – we don’t need a duplicate competition, in a GAA version of Groundhog Day, that will not do anything to develop players or county teams. In fact it is likely that this competition will be loss making for the counties involved and require subsidisation – more funding required, more fund-raising by county squads (for those in Dublin, that’s one of the additional demands country lads face, along with those long commutes!). The magic of the Championship is the one off nature of the fixtures, the opportunity to take out a big name.

Going back tot the analogy of the camel, GAA competition structures tend to be camel like too; our Championship consists of knock out, back door and league elements! We are always tinkering with strictures to accommodate the ‘what ifs’ – take the relegation arrangements around Leinster and Munster SHC games. We can’t have it all! As my eldest son, temporarily domiciled in the Phillipines keeps telling me, KFS!

The GAA must decide if is is for elitism or not. If it is, it will inevitably concentrate on the top 4/6 teams and forget about the remainder because counties cannot sustain the level of expenditure. 

Adding in Super 8s and Tiers is only adding to the costs. We cannot generate the income to compete over a longer season. 

If we cannot generate the revenue we need to look at our cost base. And reduce it.

That will mean a more condensed inter county season and less games, not more – better timing of competitions can achieve the same outcome and address many of the issues.

Why should counties (or the GPA) have to travel to the US to raise funds for an amateur sport – robbing the local organisation of potential sponsorship? It’s mad stuff.

The most important competition we have is the League. It’s a brilliant competition played at the wrong time of year.

The current Championship structures favour the strong by giving them a second bite of the cherry should they be beaten. A return to a knockout championship will restore competitiveness and if it is run concurrently with the NFL we could reduce the playing season, reduce the cost of preparations, improve the chances of upsets in the Championships, attract much larger crowds to Friday night league games – played in good weather, improve the calendar for club activity and perhaps save the endangered species that is the dual player…….

It may not be perfect but surely deserving of consideration and possible tweaking….Dublin

Huntington Castle

Tucked away in the south east corner of our tiny county is the historic village of Clonegal and its incredible Huntington Castle. A gem.

Huntington Castle is the ancient seat of the Esmonde family. The Esmonde’s moved over to Ireland in 1192 and were involved in other castles such as Duncannon Fort in Waterford and Johnstown Castle in Wexford (both also feature on my cycle routes in Cycling South Leinster) before building Huntington and settling down in Clonegal. The family name has changed twice due to inheritance down the female line and the present family name is Durdin Robertson, who are direct descendants of the Esmondes.

I was surprised to learn that one of their notable ancestors was Lady Esmonde (Alish O’Flaherty) – the grandaughter of Grace O’Malley the famous Pirate Queen of Connaught.

Barbera St. Ledger (Not Bríd), Edward King, Herbert Robertson MP, Nora Parsons, Manning Robertson, and latterly Olivia Robertson are others to name but a few. A Tour of the Castle introduces the visitor to their back stories and to ghosts, witches and Egyptian Goddesses!

The Castle is presently lived in by three generations of the Durdin Robertson family, and the current owners Alexander and Clare Durdin Robertson are very much hands on with the business and can frequently be found giving tours, working in the gardens or making tea in the tearooms.

Rose Shiels, wife of Stephen – a great servant of Kildavin and Carlow football in his day, introduced me to Alexander and I spent a fascinating afternoon plodding round the gardens.

The Gardens were mainly laid out in the 1680’s by the Esmondes. They feature impressive formal plantings and layouts including the Italian style ‘Parterre’ or formal gardens, as well the French lime Avenue (planted in 1680) The world famous yew walk is a significant feature which is thought to date to over 500 years old and should not be missed.

Later plantings resulted in Huntington gaining a number of Champion trees including more than ten National Champions.

The gardens also feature early water features such as stew ponds and an ornamental lake as well as plenty to see in the greenhouse and lots of unusual and exotic plants and shrubs.

The Lake at Huntington Castle

The Lake at Huntington Castle

Vintage Tractor Run at Huntington Castle

Huntington Castle

The Lake at Huntington Castle

Huntington Castle

Huntington Castle

Huntington Castle

17th Century Parterre Gardens at Huntington Castle

Huntington Castle

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