Rothar Routes

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

Posts tagged ‘Cycle Routes’

Malin Head to Mizen Head Day 2

Iskaheen to Enniskillen 110 kms

Tús maith leath na hoibre. An early start makes all the difference. Getting the gear sorted and the bikes properly loaded made for much more efficient cycling today on this longer stage. Yesterday I found the weight distribution was all wrong with too much weight in the front panniers. Lesson learned.

One thing that struck a chord yesterday was the issue of Mica in Donegal houses. It was truly shocking to see the number of homes affected by this mineral in building blocks causing walls to crack and crumble. In some cases homes have been abandoned. It is a major problem and some realistic form of redress is needed for those affected.

We looked forward to visiting Derry and we weren’t disappointed. It’s so improved from when I visited in 1986 while on a family holiday in Bunbeg, County Donegal. Phil Coulter captures the essence of Derry so well in his favourite composition ‘The Town That I Loved So Well’:

We’d need to spend a few days in Derry to do it justice; one of the oldest and most historic cities on the island, its beginnings reach back to the 6th century when one of Ireland’s greatest saints, Colmcille, founded a monastery at Doire. Worth noting the Carlow connection here – he was educated by St Finnian of Clonard – who was born in Myshall and became teacher to the stars of Irish monasticism!

The walled city of Derry has many attractions; it is the only fully intact walled town in Ireland and guided tours of the murals of the troubles is among the attractions. The beautiful Peace Bridge, a walking and cycling bridge, opened in 2011 links the Unionist Waterside with the Nationalist Cityside on the opposite sides of the River Foyle and is a must to traverse.

Our time in the City was too brief and we had to keep moving south. That proved very easy with a terrific underused bike path along the west bank of the River Foyle and we quickly sped onwards.

Great way out of the City!

I was very impressed with the beautiful flower displays in the villages back over the border in Donegal of Carrigans and Saint Johnston as we roughly followed the Sustrans Cycle Route 92 (which links Derry, Omagh and Lifford). These are great routes to plan a journey around as they avail of the quiet country roads. It wasn’t long until we reached Lifford, on the Donegal side of the border and Strabane on the Tyrone side.

Replica Ogham Stone in the Diamond, Lifford.

To mark the new millennium a cross border initiative saw the commissioning of a unique art installation on the border between Lifford and Strabane entitled ‘Let the Dance Begin’. It consists of 5 semi-abstract figures each approximately 18 foot in height representing dancers and musicians, great unifying and popular art forms throughout the locality. The site was hugely symbolic as it was here the old border checkpoint was located. When we visited the five musicians were adorned with massive hooped jerseys of the Noah’s Army Foundation, set up in memory of 14 year old school boy Noah Donohoe who sadly lost his life in Belfast.

We left Strabane and head out via Sion Mills into the hill country surrounding Castlederg. A lot of huffing and puffing in the scorching heat up those climbs but the route turned out to be fantastic – virtually traffic free and great surfaces. I prefer to rely on paper maps than using Google on the phone – Google is a disaster for cycling on country roads and has a mind of its own!

Anyone want to buy a map?

But there was a gap in my map coverage and we were winging it along the ‘sunlit uplands’ of Tyrone and Fermanagh! The views were incredible and at one stage we could clearly see as far as Ben Bulben in Sligo.

Incidentally all the supermarkets we were in were fully stocked and none seemed affected by the dreaded ‘NI Protocol’!

Our target for the day was Enniskillen and we were glad to finally reach our destination after a long day in the sweltering heat. Stayed in a lovely B&B, Drumcoo House, on the outskirts of Town. Day 2 done and dusted.

Sun setting in Enniskillen

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!

Walt Disney, Saint Willibrord, Pierce Butler and Clonmelsh!

The Disney Graves at Clonmelsh Graveyard, Carlow

Talk about a hidden gem!

No sign post, nor information stand  directs or informs visitors to one of Carlow’s most interesting and unique sites of historical importance.

Less than 10 kms from Carlow Town and not far from Milford Cross, on a side road off the L3050 is Clonmelsh Graveyard.

It is the last resting place of the ancestors of Walt Disney, the great pioneer of the American animation industry. Close by is the ancestral grave of the family of Pierce Butler, one of the architects and signatories of the American Constitution.

And less than 100 metres further on are the ruins of a famous ecclesiastical site where Saint Willibrord, patron saint of Luxembourg was educated.

All three are significant historical people and we should do more to promote the sites. Good to see that some locals, I presume, have started the work and sandblasted the headstones and cleared the sites.

Carlow has a seriously rich ecclesiastical history worth telling.

Dermot Mulligan in Carlow County Museum has written about Saint Willibrord and there is a Carlow Diocesan Pilgrimage to Echternach, Luxembourg in June.

I have included this site on one of my cycling routes which will be in my book Cycling South Leinster, Great Road Routes which will be published by Collins Press on May 29th.

Rath Melsigi site of an important monastic site in the seventh and eight centuries

Cross at Clonmelsh


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