A bit of sunshine on a Saturday afternoon and a nice cycle along quiet country roads and on the Barrow Track… never fails to surprise.. The network of local roads in this country is tailor made for cycling. Today brought me out towards Ballylinan, Barrowhouse and home via Maganey and the Barrow Track. I estimate that once I left town I met fewer than 10 cars in 35kms and yet was never more than 15kms from Town..
There is a really well kept monument to the Barrowhouse Ambush, just outside the village, which was erected on the 100th anniversary of the Ambush in May 2021. The site was the location of an ambush by the B Company, 5th battalion of the Carlow Brigade of the Irish Republican Army of a convoy of Royal Irish Constabulary officers. Two local volunteers, William Connor and James Lacey, both young men of just 26 years were the only fatalities on that day.
I love the roads around Killeen, Barrowhouse and across to Kilkea. It’s great cycling terrain, good surfaces, quiet roads and flat! There’s always something to see and there’s the Barrow Track to approach Carlow Town from.
Today I had just met Dermot McGrath at Westfield Lock, and we fell into talking about Carlow v Wicklow. I’m tipping Carlow for the revenge in Aughrim tomorrow! Just after I passed Dermot I pulled the bike to a quick halt as I saw this beautiful group of Mute Swans.
Dermot’s dog appeared too and Daddy Swan was on point right away, hissing and making himself big to scare him away.
A lovely loop for anyone looking for a quiet route to cycle.
On the first part of the journey I was looking at all the life There were plants and birds and rocks and things There was sand and hills and rings The first thing I met was a fly with a buzz And the sky with no clouds The heat was hot and the ground was dry But the air was full of sound
I’ve been through the desert on a horse with no name It felt good to be out of the rain In the desert you can remember your name ‘Cause there ain’t no one for to give you no pain
“A Horse with No Name’ courtesy of Dewey Bunnell, America
We are just back home from a visit to our youngest, Ronan, and his wonderful fiancee Hannah in Dubai last week. It was our first visit out and it was so much more than we could have wished for! It was a marvellous week and we built in a lot of sightseeing, walking and cycling.
Yes Dubai is a tourist Mecca, with a skyline to outshine Manhattan, but it also mixes the old and the new. Part of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), it is one of the most westernised societies in the Middle East – not sure that is a recommendation though! I much preferred their promotion of their own culture, hospitality and their pride in their place in the Arab and Islamic world.
It was marvellous to go out and visit Ronan and Hannah; we take it for granted that they are doing fine but nothing beats family and the importance of those ties was reinforced over our visit. They really looked after us and it is heartening to see their interest in being active and interested in the culture of the country in which they are making their living, while still obviously very much tied to their roots on the glorious Emerald Isle of ours!
The highlights of this trip for me were the walks, the cycles and the sightseeing; you don’t have to spend a fortune to enjoy yourself and to broaden your horizons.
It’s hard to believe it is a week since we had an incredible cycling experience in the Al Qudra desert, cycling on the 50kms Al Qudra cycling track. Such a contrast to cycling here at home! The day time temperature was 33 degrees and we planned our cycle for the evening, starting in daylight and finishing under the desert night sky.
With 50kms to cover and no towns or villages on the route, it meant carrying a lot of water. I was parched after a few hundred metres but quickly adapted. The route itself is tarmac, in excellent condition but what a strange environment; sand dunes and a scorching sun overhead, silence… but with eyes peeled looking for Arabian sand antelopes and a longed for sighting to the endangered Arabian Oryx. ‘Inshalla’, we might catch a glimpse – and we did!
We saw small herds of the Arabian Sand Antelope but the closest we got to any was unfortunately to a dead one on the side of the track..
Night comes to the desert all at once, as if someone turned off the light.
Joyce Carol Oates
I’ve always been fascinated by the desert; perhaps it was childhood tales of Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves, Sinbad the Sailor and Arabian Nights; stories about the nomads and the camel – the fabled ship of the desert… so it was a great experience to be out there among the shifting sand dunes and the burning sun.
Magic of the shadows. can best be seen in the deserts
Mehmet Murat Ildan
The route was relatively easy when we completed it – there was little wind, the heat was dissipating as evening approached and conditions were perfect.
The Desert Fathers were early Christian hermits and ascetics who lived in the Egyptian desert. They were a source of huge inspiration for Irish Saints, in the 5th and 6th centuries, who sought out remote locations to live similar lives – none more remote than the Skelligs, and there are many Irish place names that feature the word Díseart – desert in English. There is one close enough to Carlow – Díseart Diarmada (Castledermot). One of our great saints and a Carlow man, Columbanus set out as a wandering Irish Perigini in Continental Europe. Ronan and I cycled from Canterbury to his tomb in Bobbio, Italy in 2010 on our way to Rome. Funny the connections you can make but they resonate with me.
The desert does not mean the absence of men but the presence of God.
There is something magnetic about the pull of the desert; it’s primal, it’s harsh, it’s a place to empty your head. Certainly the vastness, the barreness, the solitude has an attraction especially in today’s busy non stop world. A welcome break from the traffic of Dubai!
There are a small few shelters to get a break from the constant sun – but bring your own water as there is none!
It was amazing how quickly the sun dropped from the sky; we were racing to the shelter to take a photo of the sunset but it happened so fast we had no chance!
Definitely one of the highlights of the trip; others being visits to the Abu Dhabi Grand Mosque, the Emirates Palace and Qatar Al Watan. But that’s for another post!
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.”
I followed the soft path uphill through the forestry in the direction of the cliff face of Sliabh Iarainn. I feel drawn to following these ancient pathways that have been worn into the countryside by our ancestors. The Apache Indians were in tune with their surroundings and a trail was often seen as a link with the past. A path trodden by their ancestors, but largely invisible to the living, is littered with traces of memories of those who went before. We too have a rich tapestry here in this country, of traces in place names and in ancient sites and monuments of our past.
I’ve been thinking about this little hike for quite a while, having read about it some years ago in Christopher Sommerville’s delightful book “Walking in Ireland’. Here is the beautiful colour illustration of the route from his website.
I wanted to see the mass rock and today’s NFL game in Carrick on Shannon afforded me the opportunity. A 7.30am start had me at the start point for 10am. It’s only a short walk and it was easy fit it in before heading back down to Páirc Seán Mac Diarmada.
The approach is a gentle climb of just 2kms, though wet underfoot where it crosses squelchy bogland. As it approaches the cliff face it becomes a bit of a scramble. I’ve been trying out hiking poles and today was a good test. They worked well, apart from when I tried to video and had a good tumble!
Mass Rocks were rocks used as altars during the Penal Laws in the 1700s and were usually located in out of the way locations. This one is perfectly hidden from view behind a tall pinnacle and is difficult to find. Once you turn at the pinnacle there is a short little section of roughly cut steps that take you to this unique mass rock. It’s perfectly secluded and with watch outs on duty the priest and his flock could safely celebrate mass without fear of the redcoats or peelers surprising them.
Sliabh an Iarainn derives its name from the iron deposits found in the rock here and they say the iron ore used to make the Ha’penny Bridge in Dublin was mined here on Sliabh Iarainn. It’s a place steeped in ancient history. and it features in The Book of Invasions as the landing place for the ancient race of the Tuatha De Danaan, the people of the gods of Danu. They came in a mist out of the heavens – our alien race?!
I’m smitten with Leitrim. It’s a lovely unspoiled county with some real gems to see. Would like to have had a bit more time to explore further but had to get to the match!
If Morat Rais and his band of Barbery Pirates had not sacked Baltimore in 1631 and forced the survivors to row up the Ilen River and establish the town of Skibereen, Éire Óg might well have been crowned All Ireland Club Champions in 1992!! Of course I jest but I found myself, accompanied by my good wife Mary in ‘Dear Old Skibereen’ at the weekend for a beautiful wedding of a lovely Carlow couple, Maeve and John. We had a few great days in the home town of the O Donovan Rossa Club, the team that beat us in that epic All Ireland Final, over two glorious games, in March 1993. Two games that really launched the Club Championship, drawing massive crowds to Croke Park and The Gaelic Grounds in Limerick.
Of course Skibereen, not being content to ‘keep its eye on the Czar of Russia’, has truly been placed on the World Map thanks to the exploits of its rowers especially the O Donovan brothers who really captured the heart of the nation.
It’s a great place to visit and, like a number of other west Cork towns, it has retained its charm. The town centre remains an historic busy market town. We’ve stayed in some lovely places up and down the country but I don’t think any come near to our three nights in the wonderful Bridge House B&B, run by hostess supreme, Mona Best! Her home is indescribable – a Victorian film set with every room uniquely furnished and decorated. You see something different every time you open a door. It is eccentric, exotic and quirky and it’s obviously a labour of love for Mona. Her beautiful organic breakfasts were the perfect start to the day. Words fail to do it justice, so here’s a few photos that may!
If you are ever in Skib, be sure to give Mona a call and she will look after you better than your own mother! With all those fine breakfasts and the beautiful food in the lovely West Cork Hotel, we needed to get out and about for a bit of exercise and exploring. The farmers markets of West Cork are famous – Skibereen has a great one every Saturday. West Cork is home to a lot of ‘blow ins’ who crave an alternative lifestyle and many of them are into organic food, art and crafts. It’s all there in the market!
I love the multi coloured shop fronts and houses in West Cork, local shops with local produce, local book stores; Skibereen has its fair share of them, these caught my eye:
No weekend away would be complete without a cycle or a walk and doing it in West Cork is as good as it gets. We had a couple of walks out by Lough Hyne, one of them accompanied by our good friends Declan and Áine. What an incredible body of water! I have to go back in season to do the night kayaking. Lough Hyne is just 1km long and 3/4km wide, it is one of the most important marine habitats in Europe and was made Ireland’s first Marine Nature Conservation Reserve.
In the centre of the lake is Castle Island on which stand the ancient ruins of Cloghan Castle, once a stronghold of the O’Driscolls. According to local folklore here lived King Labhra Loinseach, who had asses ears, a story we learned in primary school and it was great to visit the area!
We did a beautiful looped walk, we thought it would circle the lake but it actually turns west in the direction of Baltimore and it’s a lovely scenic 5kms of road walking. There’s a few nice hills on it and we ‘had to pull like dogs’ to get up them! I mentioned the sacking of Baltimore earlier; that was areal event that occurred when Barbery pirates attacked the village and captured over 100 locals which they brought back to North Africa and sold into slavery. It’s an astonishing little known piece of our unique history which I read about about a few years ago in a terrific book, ‘The Stolen Village’ by Des Ekin;
All in all a great weekend in ‘Dear Old Skibereen’.