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.
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.”
A Sunday morning cycle on the Barrow Way alway throws up something new and interesting!
This morning was just my third cycle since January 29th and was 20kms out and back to Maganey. Sunday morning is always a nice time to be on the River and I like nothing better than to keep a sharp eye out for what Mother Nature has in store.
Today it was Mink near Maganey Lock, the elusive black coated mammal loves to frolic along the river bank but is too fast to get the camera out!
On the way back into Carlow Town I came across a Dragon Boat Race. What a spectacle!
When all the controversy over the proposed Blueway, which was refused by An Bord Pleanála, was in full flow, many of us expressed legitimate concerns about the conversion of the national way marked hiking route, that is the Barrow Way into a hard surface. The Barrow Way is the Irish Trail with the least amount of road walking, as confirmed by the great walking couple, Ellie and Carl who run a fantastic YouTube channel dedicated to trail walking in Ireland.
This Irish Times report may be a game changer for the Carlow route and would give us the best of both worlds – our own greenway through the nicest part of Carlow and retains our walking route along the narrow green corridor of the Barrow Valley, thus protecting its biodiversity, its grass surface, its multi purpose use and its status as an area of special conservation.
The thrill of riding in the dark is something I’ve come to savour these past couple of winters!
First thoughts about it were that it would be dangerous and boring, with nothing to see in the pitch black of night. How wrong could I be! Nothing compares to being out on a quiet country road or along the Barrow Track on a cold crisp black night, with stars twinkling overhead or occasionally with the Space Station making its way across the skies. Or a clear moonlit night making it easy to pick out familiar landmarks that aren’t so familiar looking in the half light. Especially trees, which take on a whole new shape and appearance. Throw in a few gusts of wind and it can be damn scary!
It’s only possible of course if you have good lights on your bike, front and rear and you pick your route carefully. With 1800 lumens in my front light I can safely get a good 90 minutes of a ride in. Tonight took me out to other worldly Ducketts Grove – is there a more iconic building for the Halloween season?
Another favourite is the along the River Barrow towpath between St Mullins and Clashganny which I did last year, starting out in daylight on the outward journey and coming back by the light of the bike. It can be tricky on the Barrow in winter as the track softens and becomes slippy so you need to be extra vigilant.
And it shortens the winter; being able to keep up the evening cycles is just magic and helps keep a level of fitness up for the following season!