Rothar Routes

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

Posts from the ‘South Leinster Cycle Routes’ category

Battle of the Saints!

For the day that’s in it! I first posted this in 2019 but it’s worth a read again.

And as a bonus here is a great article from RTE ; ‘How the Irish helped create Easter Sunday’

I don’t know if their paths ever crossed, but two of our local Saints, Columbanus and Laserian, (Naomh Eoin and Old Leighlin!) were central figures in the debate over the date of Easter back in the 6th and 7th centuries!

St Laserian’s Cathedral, Old Leighlin

St Columbanus, reputedly born on the slopes of the Blackstairs, became one of the great Irish Missionaries in Europe founding many monasteries along with his followers in France, Switzerland and Italy. While located in the area under the auspices of the Frankish Bishops he became embroiled in a major controversy because he and his followers celebrated Easter according to the Celtic Calendar. The Bishops tried to censure him but he refused to cooperate and wrote to Pope Gregory .

There is no record of the Pope replying and Columbanus moved on to eventually settle in Bobbio, Italy.

Bobbio, where Columbanus founded his last monastery. Thrilled to have cycled to here in 2010 and on to Rome along the Via Degli Abati.

St Laserian spent 14 years in Rome where he was educated under Gregory. When he returned to Ireland he took over the monastery at Old Leighlin and became a strong advocate for the Roman method of calculating Easter. A synod was held at Old Leighlin and it agreed to send a delegation to Rome. It still took some time for the change to Roman calendar to be fully adopted.

Isn’t it remarkable how these monks travelled and communicated with far distant lands in the 6th and 7th centuries?

Molaise’s Well and Cross

Front cover of Cardinal O Fiaich’s book

The assertion he may be from Carlow..

Columbanus is known as the first European, as he advocated for a system of federalism and was the first Irishman to have a book written about him some years after his death, by one of his monks, Jonas.

5k Back to the Future

Before the advent of mass produced bicycles at the end of the 19th century, most people would not have ventured beyond their parish, whether in the countryside or in the small towns of the provinces.

Work would have been local, socialising would have been confined to the village hall and tavern and spare time activities included visits to rambling houses for story telling, dancing at the cross roads, playing caid or hurling, a bit of fishing or hunting. And that was probably about it. A simple existence. A hand to mouth existence for most.

Romance was confined to the local population and outsiders were few and far between.

I often think of one of the stories Peig Sayers recalled of ‘the old hag’ who decided to travel from Corca Dhuibhne to Dublin. She set out from Dun Chaoin but when she got over the hill at Sliabh an Iolar she was shocked at the extent of the country side spread out before her and she turned around and never again thought of leaving her local surroundings.

Travel to larger towns or cities was very difficult and lengthy – only a privileged few would have made it to Dublin.

Night cycle to Ducketts Grove

One of the factors that brought social change was the arrival of mass produced bicycles. It extended the range of peoples horizons; for many it was the mode of transport and we all have heard the stories of football and hurling supporters cycling the Dublin from places like Carlow and Portlaoise for Championship games – and home again!

The arrival of Covid-19 and 5kms travel restrictions brought this into focus for me as we found ourselves in lockdown, confined to our own areas, just like previous generations before us. And it was strange and hard to adapt. One business that has boomed since Covid arrived has been the Local Bike Shop. Sales of new and second hand bikes have gone through the roof. Imagine there are waiting lists for new bikes!

Day time visit to Ducketts Grove!

There are a few positive knock ons from Covid – it’s not all doom and gloom and it will be interesting to see if the effect lasts when vaccines are widely available and we get a return to the old normal; but in the meantime people are rediscovering there own localities, the pace of life has slowed down, more people are exercising – especially walking and cycling. People are looking for new routes all the time. There is less commuting with many people working form home. And people are liking what they are experiencing.

Myself and Mary have never done as much cycling, even though we are limited in where we can go; but we have not allowed weather or darkness stop us from getting out for fresh air, exercise and some exploring and rambling around Carlow and environs.

It has been great to see families out together on their bikes, along the fantastic network or local roads that are very safe for cycling. Here’s hoping it continues as we get a sense of what our forefathers experienced 100 years ago!

2020 Hike & Bike

The strangest of years in living memory saw us rediscover our own country in 2020. Fear, worry, stress, anxiety were all our bedfellows as we wondered where the invisible enemy would strike next. Travel was restricted, social contacts likewise and to get away from it all we sought out the quiet places.

We escaped into nature. It’s amazing how much the most popular trails have deteriorated during lockdown as people took to the outdoors for exercise, fresh air and their sanity. Luckily we have lots of green spaces on this beautiful island of ours.

As soon as lockdown was lifted I found myself heading away almost every evening to somewhere new.

I’ve covered over 1500 kilometres since March on my bike. All of it on quiet country roads or off road along the Barrow Way, the Grand Canal, the Royal Canal and a myriad of cycle trails. Counties cycled in this year were Carlow, Laois, Kildare, Wexford, Kilkenny, Offaly, Westmeath, Longford, Meath, Galway, Roscommon, Clare, Tipperary, Cavan, Fermanagh, Monaghan, Armagh and Down, 18 counties in total! All beautiful and all equipped with that network of rural roads that are safe and a joy to cycle on. I’ve donned hiking boots to visit Máméan in Connemara, the Devils Bit, Slievenamon, the Blackstairs, Ballycumber and Askamore to name but a few.

I’ve made a short video above of some of the sights we saw in our travels. Many thanks for following my blog during 2020 and I hope it brought you some enjoyment.

Happy New Year to all!

Escape to Kilkea

With a raging pandemic in full flow, the thoughts of Christmas shopping fill me with dread. I seem to have missed the warnings today of imminent food shortages and empty shelves judging by the full car parks in Town this morning.

Kilkea Castle from back entrance

The entire country seems to have finally discovered all the great walking trails and loops dotted across the country, judging by the worn paths at this time of year and so are often a little too populated for my liking at this time. The great thing about the bike is it increases your range and your options. Today was a day made for the bike; a blue sky, little wind and the air was crystal clear. Cool but an incredible Sunday in December. An Escape from the madness.

Kilkea is almost directly north of Carlow Town and there’s a spiders web of tiny quiet roads that are just perfect for cycling – I can count on one hand the number of cars met over 32kms cycling. I take the road out through Oak Park, behind the Golf Club and turn left at Ballaghmoon Cross. Thats the first 5kms done! It’s a straight road for the next couple of kms followed by two right turns. Take the second right and continue over the Maganey – Castledermot road at Castleroe Crossroads. The surfaces are great, the roads are quiet and there are great expansive views across the lowlands of south Kildare. After another kilometre, take the left fork in the road and enjoy the freewheeling down the hill before turning right onto a beautiful tree lined stretch that finishes with a stunning view of Kilkea Castle at the T-junction. Take a left into pretty Kilkea village and tuen into the grounds of Kilkea Castle.

It’s a stunning twelfth-century castle, home of the Fitzgeralds, Earls of Kildare. The castle is again a top-class hotel and golf resort for many years, having fallen victim to the economic downturn post-Celtic Tiger but is now open. It has an enchanting history – associated with ‘The Wizard Earl’ who practised alchemy and was reputed to have magic powers. They say the castle is haunted and that he returns every seven years on a white horse!

Kilkea Castle

Another claim to fame for Kilkea is that it is the birthplace of the Antarctic explorer, Ernest Shackleton, and there’s a really great statue in nearby Athy in his honour and also a fine Shackleton museum in the Athy Heritage Centre.

After a few photos it was time to head back home and I took the back road out of the Castle and crossed over at Sills Cross, up the hill returning as far as the fork in the road where I had taken the left fork on the way out.

Back at Castleroe Cross I swung left in the direction of Castledermot and took the right at the top of the hill. It’s another great road, well surfaced and quite wide. I took a right after 2kms approx onto a minor road which brought me back to Ballaghmoon Bridge from where I returned along the route I took out of town.

Total distance: 33kms. Time (including stops) 1hr 54mins. Moving time 1hr 38 mins. Highly recommend this route!

https://ridewithgps.com/trips/60479019

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!

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