Rothar Routes

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

Posts tagged ‘Glen of Aherlow’

Malin Head to Mizen Head Day 6

Glen of Aherlow to Millstreet 90kms

Sheltering from the rain near Kilfinane

I love wind

said no cyclist ever

Rain is one thing, but wind on a bike is another! The mind can play tricks with you when it comes to wind; we always know when we have a headwind but never recognise a tailwind. Today was definitely the hardest day so far. Powerful gusts battered us all the way from Aherlow to Millstreet. It didn’t matter if we were descending or ascending, the wind whipped around us and our concentration was on controlling the bikes and moving forward, however slowly.

The Glen Aherlow is just a great place to visit; its a Mecca for hill walkers with a myriad of routes but it is also a great cycling base with the Kilmallock Cycle Hub and Ballyhoura cycle routes all close by. The Glen itself has some fascinating heritage sites worth a visit in their own right. None more fascinating than St Berrihert’s Kyle which I visited on a previous occasion but worth including here.

This simple circular stone enclosure contains an amazing collection of cross and decorated stone slabs. I’ve never seen anything like it. Not many have, as it isn’t signposted (might be a good thing, as these crosses and slabs would be easy remove). The atmosphere here is very special. It has a presence that is seldom experienced. To get to it we had to cross a couple of boggy fields and over a number of stiles. It is obviously a place of local pilgrimage as there are many holly bushes used as rag trees both in the enclosure and outside.

We were shortly into our 13th county of this north to south tour when we crossed the border of Limerick, just after we passed the important ruins of Moor Abbey. The history of Ireland’s oppression can be summarised in the history of this poor ruin which was destroyed during the Desmond Rebellions by a half brother of Sir Walter Raleigh (no wonder I don’t have one of their bikes!) and later by the devil incarnate, Oliver Cromwell. The R.I.C. attempted to blow up the ruin in 1921.

Lost in the mists of time is the reason for the name of Galbally. The Town of the Foreigner (An Gaillbhaile), is not the only town with reference to a newcomer or foreigner to an area, Donegal, Ballygall, spring to mind. We were again following the Beara – Breifne Way signs and a little road brought us past Galbally GAA grounds. A constant theme of our journey was the central presence of the local GAA club in communities. It’s extraordinary how important the GAA is to the fabric of each parish and it’s a great connection when visiting other parts of the country.

This was a magical bóithrín that connected us to the next village of Ballylanders.

Bóithrín..

‘cow path, a path made by a meandering cow or sometimes man made

These local roads crisscross the country and make cycling a joy. With a little planning it’s possible to traverse the country from north to south or east to west along these traffic free roads.

With the weather deteriorating and heavy thunder showers accompanying the wind, we had multiple shelter stops in hedgerows as we diverted once again and we took the protected side of Slieveragh. It definitely protected us from the worst of the weather. We were glad to eventually make it into Limerick’s highest village, Kilfinnane, after a 5km climb. The Golden Vale, which we entered around Tipperary Town covers parts of Tipperary, Limerick and Cork. It’s some of the best dairy farmland in the country and the heartland of the dairy industry. Great herds of friesian cows dotted the hillsides of the Ballyhoura Mountains on way into the attractive market town of Kilfinane.

Stalker Wallace is commemorated in the Town Square. One of Limerick’s old GAA Clubs is named after him. Stalker was captured during the 1798 Rebellion, he was flogged and tortured over a period of days, then hanged and his head displayed on a spike in the Square…. from the Bogside of Derry to here in Kilfinane we have seen so many reminders of the suffering this country endured under English rule. Thankfully those days are behind us but we shouldn’t airbrush them from history. A great source of local history, folklore is the Dúchas website. Approximately 740,000 pages (288,000 pages in the pupils’ original exercise books; 451,000 pages in bound volumes) of folklore and local tradition were compiled by pupils from 5,000 primary schools in the Irish Free State between 1937 and 1939. Have a read of this about the capture of Stalker Wallace:

Kilfinane is another great village in the Ballyhoura area to base yourself in and the Town Square has very attractive shop fronts and street art to welcome the visitor.

We moved on and the 15kms or so to Ballyhea in County Cork, our final county, was a good flat run across on quiet roads. Ballyhea is situated on the busy N20 Cork to Limerick road. We were glad to cross it and head over through Churchtown.

Churchtown, County Cork

We headed into a fierce headwind on the way across to Liscarroll, home of the Donkey Sanctuary and an imposing Castle ruin, right at the centre of the village. The Donkey Sanctuary has done fantastic work since 1987 and has saved over 1800 donkeys in that time. Lovely to see and hear them as we passed by! No photos as we were struggling badly at this stage! Our planned route was to continue west and uphill but the wind was ferocious and we decided it was best to head south instead. Delighted we did as this was a long hard day and we took the R580 into Kanturk. That meant that we would then have to travel the busy N72, the Mallow – Killarney Road, for 7kms but the compromise was just about worth it given the wind. Not a comfortable ride but needs must at times. We were glad to turn off and take a much quieter road down into Millstreet, host town to the Eurovision Song Contest in 1993, which was won by Niamh Kavanagh with her beautiful song ‘In Your Eyes’. Hard to believe it was that long ago. Ireland won three in a row 1992-1994 and then 1996. We can hardly qualify these days! A relief to get a room in the Wallis Arms after a day we struggled badly on! 590 kms completed, just 116kms to go!

1993 Eurovision Song Contest Final participating countries.

St Berrihert’s Kyle

My cycling routes over the past year have taken me through counties Carlow, Laois, Kildare, Meath, Cavan, Fermanagh, Monaghan, Armagh, Down, Offaly, Galway, Clare, Limerick and Tipperary! Off the beaten track. The Hidden Heartlands or Ireland’s Ancient East…. I’m never too sure where the boundaries lie between the two!

Cycling along pilgrimage routes tends to follow the path least trodden – at least in today’s world but, in older times, these routes and places were very important to local communities as places of religious importance and of spiritual importance – dating back to pagan times.

It has been richly rewarding for many reasons – great cycling terrain, great physical activity, many interesting heritage sites and stunning scenery.

Just when you think you know the country along comes another gem to delight in.

Yesterday Mary and I were deep in the Golden Vale, cycling in the beautiful Glen of Aherlow, (a place I first cycled in many years ago with great school friend, footballing colleague for club and county, Tom Cullen). It brought back great memories. And created new ones.

One of the most fascinating places I have ever visited, happened yesterday – when we eventually found St Berrihert’s Kyle.

St Berrihert’s Kyle

This simple circular stone enclosure contains an amazing collection of cross and decorated stone slabs. I’ve never seen anything like it. Not many have, as it isn’t signposted (might be a good thing, as these crosses and slabs would be easy remove). The atmosphere here is very special. It has a presence that is seldom experienced. To get to it we had to cross a couple of boggy fields and over a number of stiles. It is obviously a place of local pilgrimage as there are many holly bushes used as rag trees both in the enclosure and outside.

St Berrihert’s Kyle

The site looks to be ancient but in actual fact the enclosure is of relatively recent origin and was constructed, by the OPW in the 1940’s to house the crosses which were present on the site. It certainly captures the significance of the site and retains a sense of a place of great spirituality and significance.

We were both blown away by it. And then we saw the Well.

St Berrihert’s Well is located two fields away, again across boggy ground but there is a dilapidated boardwalk to assist passage across the fields. I’ve never seen a well like it. This is a natural spring, with the water bubbling up from the sandy bottom. It is crystal clear. The well is in a large natural hollow surrounded by a grove of trees and bushes laden down with votive offerings.

The spring water bubbling to the surface. Magical!

Between the well and the Kyle, I wasn’t sure whether we were in early Christian Ireland or on a set from Lord of the Rings! It is simply amazing.

St Berrihert’s Well

Who was St Berrihert? According to the Dictionary of Irish Saints, he is also known as Beircheart and was of Anglo Saxon origin. He appears to have been associated with Cork, Tipperary and Kerry. There was large patern associated with him here in what was the local parish of Solloghhodbeg but is now the parish of Galbally – Lisvernane as far as I can make out.

St Berrihert’s Kyle
More Abbey, near Galbally
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