Rothar Routes

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

Posts tagged ‘National Famine Way’

Malin Head to Mizen Head Day 3

Enniskillen to Ballymahon 114 kms

Cuilcagh Mountain on a sunny Sunday morning

People often comment that going for a long cycle is some feat of human endurance. Nothing is further from the truth! There’s no denying that cycling 100kms day after day brings a little pain, especially when the weather takes a turn for the worst, or the road continues to rise in front of you and you feel exhausted. Ironically these obstacles are easier manage if considered a part of the deal! Understand that and the sense of achievement is heightened greatly. And we were greatly looking forward to today’s cycle as it involved some cycling in hilly isolated parts of Cavan and down through Leitrim, parts of the country that we wouldn’t get to visit very often.

It was a cracking morning, blue sky, and even at 9am, it was warm for cycling. The route from Enniskillen took us towards Swanlinbar; if we had more time we would have turned off and taken in the Marble Arch Caves in the Cuilcagh Mountains but that’s for another day..

Another great benefit of cycle touring is the freedom of the open road. You can truly experience the places you visit and get to meet people and have a quick chat and gain the benefit from local knowledge. There’s no queueing, no traffic and no delays! As we turned onto Church road and headed for the hills, we had a great chat with a local family and the offer to fill our water bottles. It’s the little things..

Heading into hill country out of Swanlinbar on a tiny traffic free road.

We’d lots of climbing across heavily forested lands in Cavan and Leitrim. It’s easy see why many people in lovely Leitrim are so put out by the concentration of forestry in this sparsely populated county. 19% of Leitrim is covered in Sitka Spruce plantations. Isolated houses are completely surrounded by massive stands of gigantic trees that prevent day light falling in their gardens. There’s an eery silence in sitka plantations; the air is still, frost doesn’t lift easily in winter and there can be a great sense of isolation. The flip side of the coin is that for many small farmers, it’s the only way to make their enterprise viable. Perhaps a greater diversity of planting might satisfy both sides of the argument.

Leitrim actor, writer and playwright Seamus O Rourke captures the essence of Lovely Leitrim and the border counties in his priceless series of video clips. Here he muses on lockdown in Leitrim and forestry gets a mention too!

Whatever about the impact of Leitrim there’s nothing nicer than cycling in the shade of those big trees as we pushed on uphill on our lonely road for the next eight kilometres and then the thrilling descent into Ballinamore.

In this decade of centenaries there are many plaques in the most unlikely of places across the country. Ballinamore pays tribute to Leitrim natives, Seán MacDiarmada and Thomas Clarke, two of the leaders of the 1916 Rising and both signatories of the Proclamation of The Irish Republic. Thats one of the nice things about the bike, you get to see these small details and gain an appreciation of place, people and our history.

With 60kms to go, a quick ice cream was in order and we headed on to Cloone and Mohill and passed through the grounds of Lough Rynn Castle. Definitely the nicest place we didn’t stay!

Two crossings of the Shannon, one at Rooskey brought us into Roscommon and a lovely road all the way to Termonbarry, where we again crossed back over Ireland’s largest river before wheeling towards the start of the Royal Canal at Cloondara.

Cloondara is a lovely place to stay over with its pretty harbour and picnic tables and is the start of the Royal Canal Greenway and the continuation of the National Famine Way. The National Famine Way is a Trail detailing the ill-fated journey of 1,490 famine emigrants who walked from Strokestown Park to ships in Dublin in 1847, at the height of the Irish Famine. It’s an horrific episode in our history and the Famine Museum in nearby Strokestown is a must see to understand the impact the Famine had on Ireland in the 19th Century.

Very evocative markers on the National Famine Way depict a childrens pair of shoes representing children who died on the march..

The Royal Canal Greenway is the most recent of the dedicated Greenways in the country and links Cloondara with Dublin. It’s easy cycling and we quickly covered the kilometres to our day’s destination in Ballymahon and our welcome bed for the night in Skellys on the Main Street. Another satisfying day and 278 kms nearer to Mizen Head!

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!

Famine

The Hunger – Over 1,000,000 dead of starvation and disease, 1,250,000 emigrated…

Over the course of the summer, I had the good fortune to be able to spend some time cycling along the banks of The Royal Canal.

The path doubles as the National Famine Walk – a walking route that commemorates ‘the poignant ill-fated story of assisted emigration in Ireland during the Famine in 1847 when 1,490 poor and hungry were forced to walk the 165km from the Strokestown Park Estate, County Roscommon to Custom House Quay in Dublin. They travelled onward to Liverpool and almost a third of them perished crossing the Atlantic in “coffin ships” bound for Canada’.

I had been on the Canal before and had spotted a most unusual way marker:

National Famine Way Marker

A pair of children shoes. It shook me to my core. As I progressed northwards I saw more of these markers and my journey morphed from a cycle along the Canal to a pilgrimage to Strokestown to visit the National Famine Museum. It is well worth a visit and all the better if you complete the Way.

The two episodes of the documentary ‘The Hunger’ have brought the incredible affect of the Famine into the living rooms of the country and set out in no uncertain terms the scale of death, destruction and devastation inflicted on a peasant people.

The wonder is how we as a nation have rebounded so well from such deep trauma to our psyche. The Irish people have shown their resilience and their abilities – abilities that were denied by our rulers and we should be proud of the nation we have built.

But we should not forget the cruelty inflicted on a suffering people. And I don’t mean remember it in terms of rabid nationalism, I mean in terms of our humanity to other peoples who, incredibly in this day and age are suffering the same fate; arriving on our shores only to often be met with indifference and sadly sometimes worse – downright hostility by people who have forgotten our past and are exploiting our present difficulties.

A picture paints a thousand words. Here are a few images from my cycle along the National Famine Way, a mural in Strokestown of a school project about the Famine and from the exhibits in the National Famine Museum.

Never forget.

Map of the National Famine Way
National Famine Way marker near Enfield
A famine pot in Abbeyshrule
List of persons to get MEAT on Christmas Day
Famine Pot in National Famine Museum
Ration tokens during the Famine
Eviction Crowbar used to dismantle roofs of cabins
School Project Strokestown
School Project Strokestown
School Project Strokestown
School Project Strokestown
National Famine Way Marker near The Downs, Co. Westmeath
Strokestown Park, Roscommon

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

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