Rothar Routes

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

Posts tagged ‘Cycle touring Ireland’

We have learned nothing…. only to forget….

I first noticed the shoes at Furey Pub, Moyvalley. They stung me.

As I continued along the Royal Canal Greenway, the shoe markers were a constant reminder that this was no ordinary path; this doubles as the National Famine Way, a route dedicated to marking the desperate journey of 1,490 starving souls who walked, at the height of the famine in May 1847, from Strokestown in Roscommon to Dublin to catch a ship bound for Canada and a new life in a strange land.

Just like those refugees in Lesbos.

Over 1,000,000 Irish people died in the famine and another 1,000,000 emigrated. 1,000,000 emigrated to other countries to start new lives. Many died along the way, may were exploited. Rather like the journeys those families fleeing Syria and other war torn countries. The ones we have turned our backs on….

All those ‘patriots’ wrapping the tricolour around them as they protest against the new Irish would do well to visit Strokestown House and the National Famine Museum. How could we, of all nations, be lacking in empathy for families fleeing torture, persecution, hunger and oppression?

The National Famine Way is a 165km – 100 miles, path from Strokestown to the Custom House Quay in Dublin. Imagine 1,490 people walking, with all their possessions on their backs, from Roscommon, families – sleeping on the side of the canal or in fields at night. This is an historically important trail that forces us to remember the hardships our forefathers experienced and the desperate fight they had to survive hunger and exploitation. We have forgotten our history and are numb to the suffering of other peoples at a time when we, the privileged western nations, should be extending a helping hand to those trying to just survive and look after their families.

The stories are horrific and have so many modern parallels. Almost half of the 1,490 died of disease during the voyage to Canada due to their poor physical condition and the unsanitary environment on board the ships. We only need consider the images of washed up babies on the shores of Europe to know that the world is still cruel and unjust. Because we allow it. We are surely better than this.

Beautifiul sketch map for the route from the National Famine Way website

When I set out on the cycle along the Royal Canal, it was purely to enjoy the pleasure of a long distance off road route and it was a really great trip through the heart of the hidden Ireland, away from the main tourist areas but equally appealing.

I was particularly taken with an off route excursion to the Corlea Trackway, near Keenagh in Longford. This a a heritage site promoting the discovery of a prehistoric wooden road that traversed the bogland of the area. It was created using oak planks 4 metres wide and laid on top of the bog.

Eventually it sunk into the bog where it was perfectly preserved and a section of it is on display in the heritage centre. It really is worth a look at.

It dates back to the year 148BC and is one of the most important finds of its kind in Europe.

One of the things that is out attractive about these routes through the midlands is that they are off the beaten track, people are friendly and authentic, nothing is staged and there is a genuine warm welcome for visitors. Every parish has its attractions and its links with our ancient path. Being on the bike is the best way to see the things that otherwise would be by passed if driving!

Celebrating the endangered Curlew in bog oak at Abbeyshrule
Main Street, Strokestown!
Strokestown House
Cloondara, County Longford

Amazing Irish Cycles

The Irish Independent Travel section of Weekender magazine features some terrrific Irish cycling routes. Delighted to have one of my routes included! Nice to be featured alongside Irish cycling legend Sean Kelly! Thanks to @Nicola Brady and @Indo_Travel_ for including me in the feature.

The Hook head loop is just one of thirty routes in my forthcoming book ‘Cycling South Leinster, Great Road Routes, published by The Collins Press


Patriot Path



Lisnavagh House

Lisnavagh House

Humewood Castle entrance

Humewood Castle entrance

Heading towards the Glen of Imaal

Heading towards the Glen of Imaal

Pedalling around the quiet north east corner of Carlow and into West Wicklow this morning I was intrigued by the fascinating history of local patriots and of the local big houses.
Rathvilly has always been proud of its connection with Kevin Barry who went to school in the village. His parents were from the Hacketstown area and Kevin was immortalised in ballad following his hanging in Mountjoy by British Forces during the War of Independence, following a gun battle on the streets of Dublin in which three British soldiers were killed – the first soldiers to be killed since 1916.
It wasn’t long before I passed the Moate and turned right down to Lisnavagh House, home of the Bunburys since the 1660’s. The house is situated on 600 acres with 200 hundred acres of beech, ash and oak – a beautiful setting. It’s home to Turtle Bunbury, historian and author. Lisnavagh is now a popular wedding venue and I had a great chat with the French visitors before I headed for Haroldstown Dolmen.
The Dolmen featured on the front cover of Robert Kee’s wonderful book A history of Ireland. It is very similar to the famous Poulnabrone Dolmen in Clare and just as important. Located beside a bad bend on the Hacketstown road. That road is too busy for my liking and I quickly slipped of it and across to Clonmore.
Another little village oozing history. Clonmore was a very significant monastic site and there are plenty of reminders of its past in the local graveyard and of course the imposing ruins of the Castle.
The sun was shining on a fine autumn morning and the leaves were turning from green to brown, yellow and gold as I pushed uphill to Hacketstown, home to Kevin Barry’s parents.

After leaving Hacketstown I headed for Kiltegan just over the border in County Wicklow where I hoped to cycle into Homewood Castle to have a look at the restoration of this amazing gothic mansion which was built by the Hume family who settled there in the 15th century. It’s now owned by American billionaire John C M,alone and is strictly off limits. A shame.

No time to linger, I pushed on to the sleepy sráidbhaile of Rathangan and began the climb up to the Glen of Imaal. This is a lovely area with terrific views of Keadeen Mountain and Lugnaquilla. The road winds between the two and the hard graft is rewarded with a great downhill as far as the well signposted McAllister – Dwyer Cottage.
Michael Dwyer was a member of the United Irishmen and fought in the battles of Vinegar Hill, Arklow and Hacketstown. He fought a guerrilla campaign in the region and was forced to move about and use local houses to rest up in. One such house was the one in Dernamuck where he was billeted with a few of his comrades.
Unfortunately for them, they were betrayed by an informer and the house was surrounded by British soldiers. After gaining safe passage for women and children they decided to fight it out against much superior forces. Antrim man Sam McAllister seeing the inevitable, stood in the doorway to draw the fire of the soldiers and Dwyer managed to escape over the snow covered mountains.
He eventually capitulated and negotiated passage to America. However he was instead transported to Australia and while there was sent to Van Diemens Land.
It stuck me that Barry and Dwyer were connected over the centuries of rebellion by the River Slaney which flows down from Lugnaquilla and beneath the cottage and onwards through Baltinglass (where there is a statue to McAllister) and to Rathvilly.

The scenery along this 65kms route is spectacular and would make a great day out for anyone looking for a nice route with plenty of scenery and history. The amount of interesting historical and heritage sites in our county and along it’s borders is incredible and there to be explored.

The Thatched Villages of South Kilkenny

Some more images from the thatched villages of South Kilkenny. Great cycling country with stunning views of the River Suir.







The Three Sisters

The Three Sisters – The Barrow, The Nore and The Suir three mythical rivers on our doorstep. Lots of legends and history attached to all three and fantastic cycling route alongside all three. I only read recently in John Keane’s ‘Hidden Kilkenny’ of the Thatched Villages of South Kilkenny and cycling through them yesterday was like a journey back in time. Easy imagine an era when all houses were thatched; The villages are located in a curve in the River Suir that juts into Waterford. It really is unspoiled, a parallel universe where time has stood still. Remarkably John Keane mentions that the area even has a dialect that exists nowhere else and a form of English going back to Elizabethan times.

One of the cottages is the birthplace of Bob O Keeffe, after whom the Leinster SHC Cup is named.

It’s a fascinating enclave, off the beaten track; there aren’t as many of the thatched cottages still in existence as in times past and the remaining ones are in varying condition. But these are the real thing – these are not fake folk villages but a living breathing community. The River Suir is an important source for the reeds used to thatch the cottages and in times past, a plentiful source of salmon. Salmon fishing has been banned for the past three years and one local man I spoke to wasn’t to pleased with that!

I continued on towards Waterford, stopping at the impressive ruins of Grannagh Castle before heading onto Kilmacow, Slieverue and Glenmore with stunning views of the Barrow and Nore combined. Nice climbs to Glenmore and across to Mullinavat and onto Pilltown, my starting point.

The Hidden Ireland waiting to be explored on our doorstep.

The Barrow and The Nore

The Barrow and The Nore

suir grannagh-castle thatched-village5 thatched-village4 thatched-village3 thatched-village2 thatched-village1 grannagh-castle2

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