While approaching the end of my 680 kms cycling pilgrimage along the proposed Turas Columbanus I took time to make a mini pilgrimage to Goward Dolmen in the Parish of Clonduff, County Down.
The reason being my aunt Madge is married to Pete Kearney and they have lived in Mittagong New South Wales for many years. The Kearneys originally hailed from Goward, but there are no Kearneys living in the old parish now.
While cycling out of Hilltown in the rain recently I asked an elderly lady if she knew of Pat Kearney’s Stone and she gave me good directions. But she wasn’t aware of any Kearneys from the area. As I turned onto the laneway I could see that the furze bushes had been cut and the lane was littered with thorn branches. Between the rain and the thorns I decided not to venture the mile or so off route and planned to visit on my next leg of the journey.
On Tuesday I completed Turas Columbanus to Bangor and on my return via Hilltown, I drove to Pat Kearney’s Big Stone.
Pete’s father, also Peter, carried out detailed research some years ago, along with his wife and established where their ancestors were from and he came across a photo of his great grandfather sitting on a ledge beside the big stone.
The first member of the family to visit the Stone was Pete’s son, and our first cousin, Jason, who was sent on a mission by his Grandad to visit the Stone and take photos. Pete and members of his family subsequently visited the area some years back and completed walks from Kilbroney to the Stone thus honouring their ancestors and their home place. Pete just provided me with the following detail about the Kearney family of Goward and Pat Kearney’s Big Stone.
I never in my wildest dreams imagined spending two nights of my holidays in Banagher! If there is a positive to Covid-19 it is that we are looking afresh at how we spend our time and where we spend it.
#Staycation is the new buzzword and holiday at home is the only recommended option. Avoiding Covid hotspots and crowded venues should be the norm if we are to restrict the spread of Covid.
On the plus side we are looking at our own country in a different way; we are seeing the beauty in the ordinary and loving it. We spent the last week exploring Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands and its Ancient East – never quite sure where the demarcation line is between the two!
One thing for sure is that the welcome is genuine, there is nothing ‘fake’ about the friendliness of people that you meet, which sometimes I question when I visit tourist hotspots along our coasts.
It was our first time to hire a boat and my only regret is we didn’t do it years ago! It was the perfect way to social distance and to see places along the Shannon from a different perspective. Time stands still as the boat moves so slowly! Great to see groups of young people thinking likewise and hiring small boats and barges for a holiday with a difference – they don’t deserve the blame they are getting for the increase in the spread of Covid – they are no more responsible than every age group..
Stopping off in tiny villages such as Dromineer and Terryglass was just perfect; some great local pubs with great food, great walking and cycling routes too.
The Shannon region is steeped in history and there are some amazing sites to visit. Is there a more scenic setting for a monastic site than famed Clonmacnoise? The English and the Vikings have a lot to answer for in relation to our heritage sites. They reduced so many of them to ruins and destroyed such important parts of our history.
Not far away along the byroads of Offaly is Lough Boora Discovery Park and The Offaly Way where we got to take in some lovely cycling routes across a corner of Offaly I’ve seldom visited.
West of the Shannon, Portumna Forest Park covers an impressive 1600 acres and has some incredible single trail cycle tracks. Home to a herd of fallow deer and its possible to spot the White Tailed Sea Eagle from the bird hide on the Lakeshore.
One of the highlights of our trip was a visit to the stunningly beautiful and simple Meelick Church – the oldest church in continuous use in Ireland, Built in 1414 AD it is still in daily use.
Seven days exploring a region that we would normally pass through proves yet again that every county has so much to offer, if we only take the time to visit and explore. Look with new eyes, try something different, use your two feet and explore the great outdoors! We give out about the weather but in reality there is no such thing as bad weather only bad clothing! Stay home this year, spend a few bob in our own country and help small businesses stay afloat and hopefully thrive!
A request by Andrea Ellis to take part in a charity cycle on the Waterford Greenway in aid of The Jack & Jill Foundation had to be supported and provided the motivation to complete the section from The Quays in Waterford to Kilmacthomas.
Weather held up and a slightly crosswind was no impediment to progress.
Two groups set out to meet in the middle, the second group starting in Dungarvan. The event was hosted by Bank Of Ireland and it was great to start from the Branch where Waterford Blaas and sausages were provided before we set out! Nice goody bags provided too and all while supporting a good cause. Nice to meet Hugo Jellett, formerly of Carlow Arts Festival too who gave a short chat on behalf of the Foundation.
The Blaa is unique to Waterford and the name is protected by the European Commission as a local product under the Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) – just like Champagne can only come from the Champagne region of France!
The cycling was easy, these old rail routes are always relatively flat and straight and the section completed today pales in comparison with the Kilmacthomas to Dungarvan section.
Return distance today was 48kms.
Journalist and Author Malachai O Doherty in his book ‘On My Own Two Wheels’ wrote about getting back in the saddle at 60. A good read and he describes cycling on the Western Greenway as ‘boring and tedious. I wondered how this could possibly have given such pleasure to Ethical Traveller, the Irish Times writer who had covered it on an electric bike’. Having cycled now on Greenways in Ireland and France I can understand his point of view. The Greenways are linear and for long sections can be between steeped banks which restrict views. The Waterford Greenway has sections like that but not too much and the views along the River Suir are the best part of the first section; the Kilmac to Dungarvan section is a wonderfully scenic section. The activity along the route is proof of its success in getting people out and active and while it is not for everyone it is a massive resource for Waterford that has regenerated Kilmacthomas in particular. The Waterford Greenway is going from strength to strength and will continue to attract increasing numbers of visitors as it develops in the years ahead. I will be back!
The beauty of the Dingle peninsula is best experienced on foot or by bicycle; it’s largely missed by those coach loads of tourists and hire cars that now snake around the winding roads of West Kerry.
The branding of the Wild Atlantic Way has been so successful the roads have become much busier and the road network is not designed for the volumes of traffic. Maybe vehicular access should be curtailed!
And as that is hardly likely I’d recommend cyclists travelling counter clockwise when travelling these roads as the majority of vehicles travel out through Ventry and clockwise back to Dingle. Far better to see what is ahead of you than worry about what is behind! There is little difference in the views going in either direction as the landscapes are panoramic and breathtaking with every turn of the wheels.The Loop I completed is only 45kms approx; it can easily be extended back the other side of Dingle but my purpose wasn’t the physical challenge, it was to see and enjoy as much as possible and not have the head down bursting a gut!
West Kerry is full of reminders of our long and ancient history and there are many examples from pagan and early Christian civilisations, and by taking the R559 be sure to stop at the old burial ground of Kilfountain on your right after about 1km, and marvel at the impressive standing stone. The ogham stone consists of the inscription St Finian and a Chi-Rho cross.
Resuming on the road there is a gentle up hill pull and you reach the top in 3kms. That’s the highest point of the cycle over and done with and in truth only a gentle hill.
It’s now the views begin to open up and before you is Smerwick Harbour. The downhill is welcome; Cosán na Naomh, the pilgrimage walking route to Mount Brandon, crosses over the road, and our first stop is at the Gallarus Oratory.
No one is too sure when it was built but it is certainly over 1200 years old. No mortar was used in it’s construction, yet it it bone dry. It looks like an upturned boat.
We back tracked slightly to take the road to Baile an Fheirtéaraigh and made a mad dash for it as the clouds swept in off the Atlantic dumping rain for the only time during the week on top of us. The museum in Ballyferrietr is worth a visit as it has many examples of ogham stones and other interesting artefacts.
This is the heart of the Gaeltacht Corca Dhuibne with magnificent panoramic views of The Three Sisters and Ceann Sibéal. Well worth a visit on another day to climb to the top of these imposing cliffs.
The Three Sisters
The shower passed and we weren’t long drying out in the breeze before this impressively framed view of ‘An Fear Mairbh’ came into view, beyond Cloichear Strand. This is a magical place to watch a winter storm as the massive swell fills the small bay.
It’s hard not to be giddy so stunning are the views and the hills had no impact as we pushed on to see the next exciting coastal view.
It isn’t long until the views of Inis Tuaisceart, Beiginis and An Blascaod Mór come into view.
Mary admiring the Blaskets
The Blaskets have given us so many great writers Peig Sayers, Tomás Ó Criomthain and Muiris Ó Súilleabháin, not to forget the Englishman Robin Flower. It’s worth taking a boat trip out and walking the island; it is appreciated all the more if you have read some of the books. And who hasn’t read Peig!
The coastal drive along here is probably the most scenic route in Ireland. Every turn brings an even more breath taking view and it’s no surprise that cars are constantly stopping and creating traffic jams!
Cycling past the Blaskets
The area shot to international fame with the filming of Ryan’s Daughter in 1969. I was 8 at the time and remember it well as it was our first holiday in Ballyferriter. So a visit to the schoolhouse with the greatest view in Ireland was a must, and we took our bikes along the walking path to pay it a visit.
On the Cliff path
Path to to Schoolhouse
Admiring the Blaskets
The colours on the headlands of pinks and purples showed up brilliantly against the turquoise ocean colour below.
The road drops down into the ancient village of Dún Chaoin and and the Pier is probably one of the most photographed in the country, often featuring in calendars.
Dún Chaoin pier
Just when you think it can’t be any prettier a turn in the road has you cycling above Coomenoule Strand with the view of the Blaskets beyond. Truly magical country. The beach here is quite dangerous but very popular with surfers and paddlers and a good place for a picnic and a refreshing paddle!
Coomeenoule from headland
There are a lot of beehive huts and old stone buildings scattered along here and later on too at Fahan
Dunmore Head and the Blaskets
Ruins and Blaskets
The road clings to the cliff side all the way around Slea Head and Fahan with the views across the bay to the Iveragh Peninsula and the Skelligs – a danger to drivers who can be so easily distracted!
Mary at Dunmore Head
A mountain stream crosses the road at one point just before Fahan where there are numerous beehive huts which can be visited on the road to Ventry.
No visit to Ventry is complete without dropping into Páidí Ó Sé’s pub at Árd a Bhothair. The late Páidi was one of a kind and I had the good fortune to know him quite well and for many years I had a photograph I took on the Blaskets on display in his massive collection that adorns the walls of the pub, now run by his children.
It’s short run into Dingle from Ventry and the completion of one of the most enjoyable cycling routes I’ve been on, home or abroad.