With county wide travel allowed in recent weeks, it was nice to be able to visit beautiful South Carlow and enjoy cycling routes along the Barrow and under the Blackstairs.
I noticed a revival of an old tradition with the decoration of the May Bush. It seems to have been revived in County Wexford in recent times and is now catching on in the south of the County. Below are a few of the examples I came across in the past few days.
As with much of our traditions, it appears to have its origins in Pagan rituals as much as Christian traditions and some suggest they are to provide sacred protection against the fairies who are very active around May Day! Another theory associated it with the start of summer and in more recent times are linked to honour the Virgin Mary.
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.
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!
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!
On a day when thousands are marching in London for the right to kill their Grannies, it was a tonic to get out on the bike today and take in the wonder of Autumn. People find the Covid guidelines stressful and restrictive, especially the 5k limit. But if you think of it differently it can actually help you to enjoy your local area so much more. When we were in school (many years ago..) we learned that the circumference of a circle is measured as π (3.14) multiplied by two times the radius. And so instead of the limit being 5km it is more like 31kms!!
Today we cycled 40kms – all inside the 5k limit, and it was magnificent. At a time of pandemic there is a real threat to our mental well being and we can be stressed out by worry, fear, restrictions and lack of contact with others. Its important we look after ourselves and the good news is there are simple measures we can take to not only cope with Covid but to thrive in a time of Covid.
Gretchen Reynolds had a great article in the Irish Times last week and it dealt with the benefits of walking compared to the benefits of walking with your eyes open to the wonders of nature and our heritage. Studies have been conducted on this which prove that ‘awe walks’ are really good for our mental health. Highly recommend you read this article!
So much to take in today! Our route took us out past the Browneshill Dolmen, which has the largest capstone of any megalithic tomb in Europe, Urglin Church, around by Oak Park, across to Graiguecullen and the Cruachán, over to Lanigans Lock on the River Barrow, back into Town, visiting Carlow Castle before heading out the Blackbog Road to Tinryland, Staplestown, Kernanstown, Bennekerry and home by the Browneshill Road. 40kms along mostly quiet local roads, virtually traffic free with lots to stop and photograph. The stops are as important to me as the cycle and there is so much to see, if we only open our eyes and take time to admire the beauty and remember our past!
After a good cycle I like nothing better than a hot bath and a good book! I avoid reading too much about Covid etc and prefer to read something positive, interesting, funny and hopefully that involves epic journeys by bike or any other means for that matter! I’d highly recommend Bill Bryson and the one I am reading at the moment is ‘Neither Here nor There’, an ode to an American Anglophile travelling in Europe. It’s hilarious!
Here’s a funny piece of him travelling in Paris with a friend of his…. you probably need to read the full chapter to really get it… but I was hugging laughing!! Laughter truly is the best medicine.
I’ve gone on a bit, but the gist of my post today is to recommend exploring your neighbourhood, 5k gives you much more latitude than you might think, keep your eyes open as you go on your walks or cycles. There’s a lot to be said for fresh air, exercise and stimulation, followed by a hot bath and a good book! I hope this might help anyone struggling with Covid worries at this time and If anyone wants to join myself and Mary at any stage, please get in touch!
With a quiet week on the football front, it was nice to get out and do a bit of wandering around the Rathvilly area. I was delighted to see two medieval crosses that I have never visited before at Waterstown, Rathvilly.
The site is marked as a graveyard on the Ordnance Survey Discovery Series no 61 map. It is easy find – head out of Rathvilly as far as the Moate. Turn left at the cross road and continue for 600 metres or so. There are two small granite posts on the left, that provide access to the field. (You may need to seek permission to enter). The crosses are located on top of a small mound which appears to be an old disused graveyard ( how can a graveyard be disused!)
I was delighted to see and photo the crosses; the large cross is about 2 metres high, it is a plain undecorated cross while the smaller cross has a clear crucifiction motif but the arms of the cross are broken. It’s a very atmospheric site with mature trees hiding the crosses from view.
It isn’t very far across the fields to St Patrick’s Well and closer to the Moate there’s an ogham stone located in the middle of a field which I also photographed. I think the inscription forecast ‘ Rathvilly for the 2018 Championship’! We will wait and see! Credit to landowners who are guardians of most of these sites and farm around them when I am sure it is an inconvenience to do so.
For the week that’s in it, I am putting up a really lovely cycle along country lanes in beautiful East Carlow. An unspoilt green oasis of tranquility, with lots of interesting historical and heritage sites along the trail.
Home to the clubs of County footballers Darragh Foley, Daniel St Ledger, Liam Roberts and Jack Kennedy who will all be part of the Carlow Squad playing in the NFL Division 4 Final v our great rivals, Laois.
This is a seldom visited part of the county – why not make a day trip this summer and sample it’s delights!
Height gain: 611 metres
Duration: 2.3 – 3 hours
Start / Finish
Park in the town car park opposite the municipal buildings in Tullow.
The roads on this route are exceptionally quiet and the only sound is the sound of bird song as you travel along The Slaney Valley down to Clonegal and onward to Clonmore.
It’s beauty will surprise you in this quiet backwater that really should be a tourist mecca.
Turn left on leaving the car park and leave Tullow behind as you head towards the village of Ardattin 6kms away. The road is good and flat and you will speed along this early section.
Take a right in Ardattin followed by a quick left. You are now onto a very small boithrín that will take you through the townland of Ballintemple and the Coillte nursery. This was once the home place of Pierce Butler, signatory of the American Constitution.
The road runs parallel to the River Slaney here and on the far side but out of sight from here is Altamont Gardens, one of Ireland’s most important gardens – well worth a diversion if you are so inclined.
The further along the road you travel, the grass centre increases in size and the hedgerows crowd in from both sides. It’s enchanting.
You will eventually meet an equally small road and you turn right and continue to climb a little more.
The views now become spectacular across the Slaney Valley towards Mount Leinster. Kilcarry Bridge is also in view below but take care going downhill here as the road surface deteriorates on this section.
These are views few people see of County Carlow and the route is a real treat.
The road meets the L2024 which will take you into Clonegal when you turn left. But first a quick diversion to Kilcarry Bridge which is 50 metres away on your right. A lovely resting place on the Slaney.
Clonegal has been described as ‘The Switzerland of Ireland’ because of the surrounding mountains, valleys and rivers. The Slaney and the Derry rivers meet close by at this meeting point of Counties Carlow, Wicklow and Wexford. The village has twice been awarded the accolade of Ireland’s tidiest village in 2014 and 2015. The displays of flowers every summer are a sight to behold and a great indication of community pride.
A visit to Huntington Castle is a must – the Guardian newspaper voted it one of Ireland’s top 20 hidden gems in 2015. Guided tours are available which include The Temple of Isis, located in the old castle dungeons. The castle is still lived in by descendants, the Durdin Robertsons, of the original owners, the Esmondes who were also involved in Duncan Fort and Johnstown Castle Wexford. A fascinating place.
Retrace your steps to the top of the village and take a right onto the L6049, following signs for the Wicklow Way. This renowned walking route finishes in Clonegal where the South Leinster Way begins. After 4 kms take a left, again following the signs for the Wicklow Way. The road begins to rise steadily and this road section is part of the official Wicklow Way. the Way heads into the woods 2kms further on and we rejoin it shortly after when it comes back to the road.
It’s up and down now for a few kilometres but nothing too difficult. The scenery is beautiful in this secluded border area of Carlow and Wicklow. The road is bordered by woodland on you right and you will shortly take a right at the next junction, again following the signs for the Wicklow Way.
At the next t junction take a left and we leave the Wicklow Way here and continue along a pleasant scenic road as far Aghowle Church. This is one of the prettiest ruins in the country, situated 400 metres down a laneway. Really worth a visit to this 6th century monastery founded by St Finian.
Aghowle Church and Cross
The wonderfully named Crab Lane Pub is 500 metres away, go right here and continue until you meet the R725. Cross over the staggered junction and down the hill. At the bottom continue left followed by a right and heading for Clonmore 5 kms away.
Clonmore is one of County Carlow’s most important Early Christian sites. It was named after St Mogue who built a monastery here in the 6th century. None of the original buildings survived but there are many important reminders of its past with two high crosses, a lintel, an ogham stone, two bullaun stones, a font, nineteen cross-inscribed slabs and a holy well.
The village is dominated by the ruins of Clonmore Castle which was taken by Cromwell in 1650.
Passing the castle we now return to Tullow on good flat roads. We have an option after 7kms to take a right or left – both will take you back to Tullow. Go right and then right again, passing over a bridge and take the next left. Another left after that and you will eventually join the N81, turning left you are on the outskirts of Tullow. Cycle down the Town and back to car park to finish a very rewarding and challenging route.