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The Old Places

New Years Day and cabin fever at its highest! A day for fresh air and exploring the landscape of County Carlow. Maps intrique me. Old places, long forgotten, apart from some obscure marking on OS maps; like a treasure map, clues to our past.

The brilliant East West Map of the Blackstairs and the Barrow Valley feature a ‘Star Shaped Fort’ at Coolyhune. It has long haunted me. Perched on top of the small hill with great views of Counties Carlow, Kilkenny and Wexford, the site is overgrown and is adjacent to a house on private land. During the summer months when trees are in foliage it is virtually impenetrable but there is some possibilities of seeing the layout in mid winter. But still hard to visualise the fort at ground level.

I was delighted today to get permission to access the site and I got some good footage of the site with the star shape clearly visible. These are the only aerial photographs that I am aware of that exist of the Fort.

The following description is derived from the published ‘Archaeological Inventory of County Carlow’ (Dublin: Stationery Office, 1993):

Pentagonal fort with bastions enclosing summit of hill. Walls of drystone construction (ext. max. H 2.2m, int. H 0.6-2m; top Wth c. 1.2m, base Wth c. 1.5-1.8m), with slight external batter. Construction suggests fairly recent origin, possibly connected with events of 1798. (dims. of interior (excluding bastions) 60m x 60.5m; L of bastion 18m; max. Wth of bastion 20m; Wth of opening to bastions 17.6m). Rebuilding in some areas; entrance gap at S probably not original.

Star Shaped Fort
Star Shaped Fort at Coolyhune
Star Shaped Fort at Coolyhune

We are desensitised to our surroundings and to our environment. Urban landscapes. Asphalt roads. Concrete paths. Hard, unforgiving surfaces. Connecting with somewhere or somebody but not connecting with the land we inhabit. Unlike paths of our forefathers.

Since homo sapiens left Africa we have been crisscrossing continents and leaving tracks behind us. When we began herding livestock we created trails to and from pastures – sure isn’t that where the word ‘bóthar’ came from!

Many of our roads were originally animal tracks – no wonder Irish roads have traditionally been windy and twisty and unsuitable for modern traffic!

Pilgrim roads. Famine roads – built in the 1840s by starving peasants to receive a small return to alleviate hunger; the road to nowhere.

I’ve always been fascinated by Green Roads that cross the country – and can only now be seen on waste ground or mountain sides.

‘Green Road’ on the Blackstairs

There are at least three roads showing on ordnance survey maps along the Carlow flank of the Blackstairs. These are the ‘Wexford Road’, ‘The Tower Road’ and the ‘Gowlin Road’. All three meet up at some stage.

There were traditionally feast days where families of either side of the Blackstairs would meet on top of the Cooliagh Gap at The Meeting Point on the last Sunday in July.

Scots Pine Grove 1800s
‘Green Roads’ of the Blackstairs

Presumably the ‘Wexford Road’ was a short cut over the mountain to County Wexford, while the Gowlin Road finished in the town land of Goolin. The Tower Road was so named after the Tower House, now in ruins.

Further south the around Dranagh, the stone wall landscape is reminiscent of the west of Ireland.

Stone Walls of Drannagh
Stone Walls of Drannagh

A good day exploring the land of the 2019 Leinster Club hurling finalists, St Mullins and the 2013 Leinster Champions Mount Leinster Rangers!

The GAA’s Berlin Wall

It’s early morning after Éire Óg’s great win in the Leinster Club Championship Semi Final over Portlaoise.

Carlow Clubs will this year contest a 7th Leinster Club Senior Football Final since 1980 and a second Leinster Club Senior Hurling Final. 

Éire Óg first appeared in the 1980 Final when losing to Meath’s Walterstown. Éire Og were trained by Dan Carbery at that time. Dan was from an athletics background – he had ran in the historic first sub four minute mile to take place in Ireland, the first occasion five men had run sub four minutes in the same race. He was a lover of all sports and life long student of sports performance. Dan always claimed the reason they lost the Final was they never truly believed in their ability.

In other words they expected to lose.

Roll on to the glorious 1990s and Laois legend Bobby Miller, arrived into Páirc Uí Bhriain where he instilled that self belief and structures which enabled Éire Óg to transform from an underachieving club from a success starved county into the dominant club team of the decade. 

Five Leinster Club titles. Two All Ireland Final appearances.

They expected to win.

Fast forward to 2000, Éire Óg’s cross town rivals O Hanrahans (100 years old this year) picked up on that self belief and in a changing of the Carlow mindset went on to Leinster glory when defeating Na Fianna of Dublin 1-7 to 0-5.

Mount Leinster Rangers Hurlers fed off this new found self confidence in Carlow club to claim an historic first Leinster Senior Hurling Club title when beating Oulart-the-Ballagh 0-11 to 0-8 in 2013.

Last week St Mullins emulated Rangers by qualifying for this years Leinster Club Final having taken the scalp of two time All Ireland winers Cuala in the opening round and Rathdowney Erill in the semi final.

Two Carlow Clubs contesting the two provincial Senior Club finals in the same year.

There are four senior hurling clubs in Carlow and eight senior football Clubs!

Carlow Senior hurlers and footballers have also achieved ‘above their station’ in recent times.

Despite the great progress of the senior hurlers, they were relegated unnecessarily out of the Leinster SHC. The same fate possibly awaits Laois in 2020. It shouldn’t.

And now the GAA are intent on football apartheid by denying Division 3 and 4 Counties the opportunity to play for the Sam Maguire. Second class citizens of a supposedly community based sports organisation.

Where we all belong’ Yeah right. Slick marketing campaigns may be catchy but are meaningless and insulting.

A genuine dual county. A tiny county.

I compare it to the Berlin Wall. 

An artificial man made barrier dividing the same nation. 

The super powers (GAA HQ) sometimes complete a prisoner exchange and allow a limited number through Checkpoint Charlie. The top 2 teams in Division 3 escape and the bottom 2 in Division 2 are incarcerated.

But the masses have little chance of penetrating that barrier. 

For years we knew little about life in East Germany. It will be like that in the Tier 2. Forgotten. Out of the media spotlight. No opportunity to promote the game. We will become a wasteland.

The sad part is that some of our counties have voted for this.

In the words of the great Jim Larkin, ‘The great appear great because we are on our knees. Let us rise’.

The reason some counties voted for this ludicrous proposal is because their expectations are at an all time low. They have stopped believing.

Dan Carbery was right. 

Bobby Miller was right. 

Henry Ford was right. 

‘Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right’.

Thank you Éire Óg. 

Thank you O Hanrahans. 

Thank you Mount Leinster Rangers. 

Thank you St. Mullins.

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

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