Rothar Routes

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

Posts tagged ‘Pilgrimage Routes’

Inis Cealtra – Holy Island

Holy Island Round Tower and St Colum’s Church

Plenty is known about the main pilgrimage routes and sites across Europe and, closer to home, about such places as Croagh Patrick and Lough Derg, Co. Donegal. Pilgrimage to these major shrines and places was usually a once in a life time undertaking which very few of the ordinary people of the country could not contemplate.

But there were many other sites, which were more local in nature that filled a yearning in people for hundreds of years. Inis Cealtra, aka Holy Island is on Lough Derg in County Clare (though once part of County Galway) and it’s a beautiful place to visit.

St Brigids Church

There is little recording of the act of pilgrimage in Ireland apart from some historical references in the Annals to the death of someone on pilgrimage in Ireland. Seamus Heaney accounted for this best when he talks about ‘peasant pilgrimage’ – the goings on of the ordinary person about their daily lives. Going on pilgrimage and retreats was very much a feature of Irish life that did not get recorded, yet was a very important part of living. When you visit a place like Holy Island, you can feel the importance of the place as you as you set foot on it. Holy Island is one such place.

Access to Holy Island is by boat and no better man that Gerard Madden to ferry you across

The island consists of approximately 18 hectares and is accessed by boat from Mountshannon, a pretty little village on the western edge of Lough Derg. There are extensive monastic ruins, including a Round Tower and a number of small Churches – St Caimin’s, St. Colum’s, St Michael’s, St. Mary’s and St. Brigid’s. The monastery was originally founded by St Colum around the year 520 AD.. He is often referred to St. Colm of Terryglass, which is on the other side of the Lake. He was a pupil of St Finian of Clonard – who was originally from Myshall.

The monastery though is mainly associated with St. Caimin who is still revered in east Clare. According to the Annals of the Four Masters, his mother, Cumman had 77 children! One of the stories about Caimin, concerns a meeting he had on the island with his half brothers Guaire Aidhne, and Cummine Fota where they talked about what each wished the Church to be filled with. Guaire hoped for it be filled with gold and silver so that he could be generous to the poor, Cummine hoped for it to be filled with books so that students could learn but Caimin wished for the church to be filled with evert conceivable sickness so that all these diseases could be inflicted on his own body. All three wishes were fulfilled, Guaire got wealth, Cummine learning and Caimin was inflicted with illness!

Holy Island

There are a number of important artefacts on the island among them a Holy Well, also called ‘Lady’s Well’; the Bargaining Stone, where deals were sealed by shaking hands through the hole underneath the stone; some bullaun stones and some important cross decorated stones in the Saints Graveyard.

‘The Confessional’, one of the unique buildings on the Island – was it a hermits cell?
Holy Island Video

It’s a shame we don’t have better historical records as many of the monks who lived in these monasteries went on to be major historical figures in Europe and in the history of the Church. One such monk was Donatus. He was educated here and later travelled to Italy where he became Bishop of Fiesole. Margaret Stokes wrote extensively about the Irish Saints in Italy in her book ‘ Six Months in the Appenines: Or a Pilgrimage in Search of the Vestiges of The Irish Saints in Italy’. Donatus travelled with Andrew the brother of St Brigid. All three have links with Italy. I was fortunate to spend a little time in the area a couple of years ago and sought out these links. It was very rewarding!

Tomb of St. Donatus in Cathedral of Fiesole
St. Brigid’s Cave under the Church in the village of Santa Brigida, north of Fiesole.
St. Brigid’s Church, Holy Island

The Vikings of course visited here too and, led by Tugesius, plundered the monastery before going on to inflict more carnage on Clonmacnoise, further up the river. The island is also associated with Brian Ború, High King of Ireland and the man who got rid of the Vikings for good in 1014 at the Battle of Clontarf. And I might add his son Turlough O Brien, King of Munster, buried his wife Gormlaith on Holy Island in 1076!

WB Yeats wrote about pilgrimage on the island in his poem ‘The Pilgrim’:

I fasted for some forty days on bread and buttermilk,
For passing round the bottle with girls in rags or silk,

In country shawl or Paris cloak, had put my wits astray,
And what’s the good of women, for all that they can say
Is fol de rol de rolly O.

Round Lough Derg’s holy island I went upon the stones,
I prayed at all the Stations upon my marrow-bones,
And there I found an old man, and though, I prayed all day
And that old man beside me, nothing would he say
But fol de rol de rolly O.

All know that all the dead in the world about that place are stuck,
And that should mother seek her son she’d have but little luck
Because the fires of purgatory have ate their shapes away;
I swear to God I questioned them, and all they had to say
Was fol de rol de rolly O.
A great black ragged bird appeared when I was in the boat;
Some twenty feet from tip to tip had it stretched rightly out,
With flopping and with flapping it made a great display,
But I never stopped to question, what could the boatman say
But fol de rol de rolly O.
Now I am in the public-house and lean upon the wall,
So come in rags or come in silk, in cloak or country shawl,
And come with learned lovers or with what men you may,
For I can put the whole lot down, and all I have to say
Is fol de rol de rolly O.

Máméan Part 11

Having walked Máméan on Saturday last, I got engrossed in reading Christopher Somerville’s ‘Walking in Ireland’ (buy it if you don’t already have it!) earlier this evening. I then looked up his website to see had he covered this magical walk at any stage from his great series in the Irish Independent. He did of course, back in 2009 and below is the beautiful sketch map of the walk and the highlights of the route:

‘I always felt close to Máméan,’ observed Fr. Micheál McGreal down the crackly phone line from Mayo. ‘My grandparents had their sheep on Binn Mhairg, and I’d spend my summer holidays with them as a child in the ‘30s and ‘40s. So I always loved that place.’

I’d called Fr. McGreal as soon as I’d got home from Connemara after walking over Máméan, the Pass of the Birds. Who wouldn’t be enthused to bursting by this peach of an expedition through the wild and lovely Maumturk Mountains? It was my walking companion on the day, Tom Fitzgerald – a Kerryman by birth, but a Co. Galway resident these 30 years – who told me, as we climbed the stony path to the pass, of the priest and his revival of a famous, perhaps infamous, pilgrimage.

The 12 Bens of Connemara stood high and handsome behind us across the Inagh Valley, Bencorr in front, with Beanna Beola and Benbaun peeping over her shoulders. Ahead the slopes of Binn Mhór and Binn Mhairg cradled the rising path, their quartzite rock now glinting dully as cloud shadows brushed through, now gleaming dazzlingly as sunlight struck across. Up at the pass stood a tiny chapel, an altar and the cave-like recess called St Patrick’s Bed. A statue of the saint brooded over the path, a sheep at his heels. Had the good shepherd Patrick once walked these slopes, blessed the holy well nearby and slept in the cave? Many down the centuries thought and felt that he had, and they forged a pilgrim path to the pass with its breathtaking views over the Inagh and Maam valleys.

Three or four decades ago, as Tom Fitzgerald told the story, the pilgrimage had all but died out, partly owing to the hostility of the clergy towards the pilgrims’ indulgence in poitín, partly to competition from Reek Sunday – the Máméan pilgrimage shared the last Sunday in July with the hugely popular gathering at Croagh Patrick only 30 miles away. Then Fr. McGreal took a hand, as he himself recounts: ‘I had a youth organisation camp up there one day, a terrible wet day. I said Mass under an umbrella, and thought to myself: This could go on from here! So I got formal permission to say another Mass up there. Afterwards the people pushed a whole lot of money over the rock at me – I didn’t want it, but they insisted. So we built an altar with it. I wanted to put a strong Christian message on the place, without interfering with all the pre-Christian wells and stones and the other sacred sites there.’

The other component parts of the site followed over the years: Stations of the Cross, a small chapel, the statue of St Patrick with the sheep, stained glass windows for the chapel, all built or contributed by local people. Wandering round the Stations and the penitential beds of pebbles, dipping at the holy well, savouring the mighty rushing wind and the never-ending Connemara march of pelting showers, sunbursts and rainbows, one catches the power and pull of this high place.

Tom and I upped anchors eventually and went on down the northern side of the pass, with one of Tom’s extra special home-made blackberry and apple pies the promised prize at the end of the walk. It was a magically beautiful descent with the Maam Valley stretched out at our feet, and a farmer and his dogs gathering sheep on the green slopes of Binn Mhairg as young Micheál McGreal helped his grandfather do some seventy years ago.

‘As long as I am a priest,’ says Fr. McGreal, with quiet determination, ‘I’ll say Mass at Máméan once a year. It’s a remarkable experience. Nearly a thousand people can be up there. I like it when they pray in total silence – but you have to be very tolerant of the way people worship their God! When they are all quiet, it’s beautiful, even in the wind, the fog and mist – just beautiful.’

WAY TO GO

MAP: OS of Ireland 1:50,000 Discovery 37, 38, 44; downloadable map/instructions at http://www.discoverireland.ie/walking.

TRAVEL:
Road: A 2-car walk. Park one car at Keane’s pub, Maam Bridge (junction of R336 and 345); drive other car R336 to Maam Cross, N59 towards Clifden. Entering Recess, just before bridge, right on country road (OS ref. L 873475; ‘Slí Chonamara, Máméan’ sign) for 2 miles to parking place at foot of Máméan (OS ref. 892495).

WALK DIRECTIONS: Follow yellow ‘walking man’ waymarks for 2½ miles up over Máméan pass and down to road (922519); ahead for 1¼ miles to Cur/An Chorr; right for 2 miles to R336; left to Keane’s pub.

LENGTH: 6 miles: allow 3-4 hours

GRADE: Moderate

CONDITIONS: Steady climb and descent on rough mountain path, then country roads

DON’T MISS … !
• views back toward the 12 Bens
• Tobar Phádraig at the pass
• views to your left, while descending, up Gleann Fhada to Barr Sliabh na Ráithe

REFRESHMENTS: Picnic at the pass

ACCOMMODATION: Rosleague Manor, Letterfrack (095-41101; http://www.rosleague.com) – very comfortable, stunningly located.

GUIDE BOOKS/LEAFLETS: Slí an Iarthair, the Western Way in Connemara by Joss Lynam, Justin May, Tim Robinson (Folding Landscapes)

HOLY DAYS AT MÁMÉAN: St Patrick’s Day (1.30 pm, Mass); Good Friday (3.00 pm, Stations of the Cross); 1st Sunday of August (3.00 pm, Mass)

INFORMATION: Walking tour operators, local walks including Discover Ireland’s National Loop Walks, walking festivals throughout Ireland: http://www.discoverireland.ie/walking; http://www.coillteoutdoors.ie

INFORMATION:
Tourist Office: Oughterard (091-552-808; http://www.discoverireland.ie/west)

csomerville@independent.ie

Turas Columbanus Stage 5

Clonard to Ballivor

Ballivor to Trim

With the evenings closing in, my window for completing this route was narrowing fast. The only way I could see it being completed would be to drive up in the evening, complete 15km sections and cycle back 15kms to the start point. Like eating an elephant, one bite at a time.

It was frustrating but it enabled me to take knock up the kilometres, always edging further along my chosen route.

The flat lands of Kildare and Meath made for easy cycling; no great level of fitness required setting out but with regular stages it doesn’t take long to make big aerobic improvements. I like cycling on my own; I can go at my own pace, stop and explore when I want and easier to hear nature all around!

The road from Clonard to Ballivor took me back over the Royal Canal at Blackshade Bridge – I have no idea where the name came from.

Thankfully the road was quiet as it was narrow with no verge and little margin for error.  I took the first left turn which brought me over by Killyon GAA Club which is the halfway point to Ballivor.

Not a place I was familiar with, but it made ties in nicely with the route as the local Church is called after St Columbanus.

It hit the headlines in recent times with the discovery of a preserved Iron Age body in the local bog, now known as Clonycavan Man. He appears to have suffered a violent death and speculation is that it may have been some part of a ritual sacrifice..

The Town hit he headlines in 1940 when Dr. Herman Goertz parachuted in and was eventually captured resulting in his internment in the Curragh Camp. He was an Intelligence Officer with German Military Intelligence, the Abwehr. He was wearing a full German officer’s uniform and a cost stuffed with $20,000, in the middle of the night he swam across the River Boyne and hiked his way across country to Laragh Co. Wicklow to the home of Iseult Stuart. He had remained on the run for 18 months.

The road from Ballivor to Trim was quite a busy one; one turned off it a km out of town onto minor roads and had the scenic road all to myself for the 14 kms to Trim.

Trim is one of the oldest and most historic towns in the country. It is buking the trend of the decline in rural towns and it was great to see all the local shops on the main thoroughfares doing brisk trade.

There’s an old Meath saying “Kells for brogues, Navan for rogues and Trim for hanging!”.

It has many of the old medieval buildings still in existence and they have become major tourist attractions in recent years.

In fact Trim was itself reputedly a major centre for pilgrimage for 400 years from 1397 onwards. A wooden statue of the Virgin Mary, known as the ‘Idol of Trim’ was venerated here in the middle ages until the practice was outlawed by Henry VIII during the Reformation. The Statue was alleged to have worked many miracles and was destroyed, though local legend says it was saved by the town’s people only to be destroyed by chance later on.

Trim Castle
Remains of The Yellow Steeple

There is much to explore in Trim; it is the largest and best preserved Norman castle in the country. Some of Braveheart was filmed here. Across the Boyne is the Yellow Steeple, the remains of the Priory of St Mary. The Abbey was destroyed by one William Cromwell, who went through causing devastation and suffering.

Make sure and visit St Patricks Church for it has some of the finest stain glass windows in Ireland, absolutely stunning display of colours.

It’s a great town to stop over in with lots of accommodation and restaurants.

Turas Columbanus Stage 4

Robertstown to Enfield

Enfield to Clonard

After two great days cycling off road it was time to hit the asphalt again. Luckily in this country we have an amazing network of local roads that carry little traffic and are quite safe and pleasant to cycle on.

One of the concerns I had about this route before I started was the amount of road cycling involved.

This is still Bog of Allen country and bog roads are liable to be subside, but this road was well surfaced and was very easy cycling as it was all on the level plains of Kildare!

Coill Dubh is a relatively new village established in the 1950s to house workers on the Bord na Móna peat bogs and was reached petty quickly after just 3kms. It’s a name always resonates with me because of the Hurling Club. Funny how some names stick in your head, it was great to pass so many club grounds along this route.

Take a left turn at the t junction on to a road that winds its way for the next couple of kilometres. Good flat roads to the sleepy sráid bhaile of Timahoe which hasn’t seen much excitement since President Richard Nixon visited his ancestral homeland in 1970. His family emigrated from the Quaker settlement here in 1729. There isn’t much to mark the connection though I believe there is a memorial stone on the site of the Quaker burial ground.

Its more famous today as being the home of Kildare GAA sponsors, Brady Ham!

They came up with a great marketing campaign built around a song to the air of ‘Come our Ye Black and Tans’.

“Oh, Brady family ham, well it is your only man. Cured for three whole days and there’s no added water. Sure it’s cooked from one pork joint, unlike others – that’s the point! It tastes just like the ham baked by your mother. Come out you other hams, come and face me ham to ham”

Sure, it was all good craic.

I turned left at their plant onto a minor road but there were no free samples as I passed by!

This was a lovely quiet road that led to Johnstownbridge 10kms away passing by Dunfierth Church Ruins.


Dunfierth Church ruins

Dunfierth Church Ruins

Enfield is the neighbouring town over the motorway.

Joining the Royal Canal at Enfield

I started the day on the banks of the Grand Canal and now was on the side of the Royal Canal. Enfield’s history goes right back to the time of the High Kings of Ireland and was on one of the five ancient roads that led from the Hill of Tara, where the High Kings were crowned.

  1. Slighe Cualann went SE crossing the Liffey near Dublin and down into Wicklow
  2. Slighe Ascili went West to Loch Owel in Westmeath, dividing the kingdom of Meath in two.
  3. Slighe Midluachra went through Slane, to Eamhain Mach and the north to the Antrim coast
  4. Slighe Mhór joined the Esker Riada near Clonard and on to Galway
  5. Slighe Dala went towards Kilkenny

I was looking forward to getting back off road and joining the Royal Canal for the next leg.

The Royal and Grand Canal are quite different. The Grand was less developed and wilder. The Royal has been developed as a cycling track and it was much easier to cycle but not necessarily better for that! It has much more variety and there were some very pretty places along this section; progress was too easy though and I went way beyond my turning off point as a result!

The Canal skirts the Motorway for the first few kilometres and the constant hum of traffic was off putting but the path was excellent, and it was easy make progress.

Fureys Pub at Moyvalley is a good spot to take a break.

The Royal Canal is part of the National Famine Walk route which starts in Strokestown Roscommon and finishes at Spencer Dock in Dublin. It commemorates the 1,490 tenants of Denis Mahon’s estate who were forced to emigrate to Canada from having walked all the way to Dublin. They went from Dublin to Liverpool where the sailed to Quebec on board badly provisioned ships. Almost half of them died on the voyage. Black ’47. We shall never forget.

There are very poignant way markers – sculptures of children’s shoes and if you click on to the website there are ‘shoe stories’ for each of the markers www.nationalfamineway.ie

My journey, in much different circumstances, was taking me in the opposite direction recalling the journey of a much older period, 6th century Ireland when Irish Christianity was spreading out across Europe and I am on the trail of Columbanus of Carlow.

2kms past Fureys is the unusual footbridge Ribbontail Bridge. It is thought the name refers to the movement of the 1800s called Ribbonism. Their supporters were called Ribbon Men and they campaigned against landlordism. Land agitation of course stretched back into the previous century too when there were a number of secret agrarian societies agitating for land reform and tenant rights, usually with romantic names such as The Whiteboys, Peep o’ Day Boys and Defenders.

Ribbontail foot bridge

The canal continues west, and it isn’t long before the path passes over the River Boyne Aqueduct. Is there a more historic river in Ireland than the Boyne? It stretches right back into folklore with the marvellous story of how Fionn Mac Cumhaill gained the knowledge of an Bradán Feasa, or the Salmon of Knowledge.

In short version, when Fionn was a young boy he went to work for the wise old poet Finnegas who lived on the banks of the Boyne. Finnegas knew so much about the birds, animals, and nature than any other man in Ireland and Fionn was there to learn as much as he could from the old man. Finnegas told him about the Salmon of Knowledge. It was as result of eating the nuts of some magical hazel trees that the Salmon had acquired all the knowledge of the world.

And it was prophesied that the one who would eat the Salmon would gain the knowledge for themselves. Finnegas eventually caught an Bradán Feasa and got Fionn to cook it while he went to gather firewood but warned him not to taste it. When he returned the salmon was cooked but while turning it Fionn had burnt his thumb and put it in his mouth to cool it. As a result, he inherited all the knowledge in the world!

That’s always the first image that comes to my mind whenever the Boyne is mentioned!

The Canal is carried over the River Boyne
The Boyne Aqueduct

Local history makes these pilgrim routes so much more interesting and every turn in the road is filled with promise.

I continued onwards as far as the Hill of Down Bridge over the Canal from where I re-joined the road towards Clonard. Unfortunately, I was daydreaming at the time and the cycling was so easy I continued along the canal bank as far as Mary Lynch’s pub at Coralstown – adding 46 kms to my day! I didn’t mind at all as this was a lovely section of the canal.

Eventually I made my way back to the village of Clonard. I didn’t appreciate the connection between Clonard and Columbanus until I arrived there to discover that St Finnian was also associated with the village of Myshall as was Columbanus.

Finnian founded his monastic school here in Clonard in 520AD which has at one stage 3,000 students! A reasonable sized university! He educated some of the most significant Irish monks – the 12 Irish Apostles were taught by him here – among their number was Colmcille, Ciarán of Clonmacnois, Seir Kieran, Brendan and Columba.

There are only ruins remaining now on the outskirts of the village where there is a trough for cures and a well close by.

Cure for warts…..

St. Finnian’s Well

St. Finnian’s Baptismal Font

A beautiful stone baptismal font was removed to the Church in Town which features clear biblical scenes on the side panels. There are also some terrific stained-glass windows celebrating the life of Finnian.

I initially thought Clonard was a strange detour from the pilgrim route, but I was delighted to visit and learn of the association with Columbanus and the importance of St Finnian.

A surprisingly great stage!

Turas Columbanus Stage 3

Monasterevin to Robertstown

The Barrow Way out of Monasterevin skirts the edge of the mighty Bog of Allen which covers an area of almost 1,000 square kilometres, taking in parts of Kildare, Laois, Offaly, Meath and Westmeath.

Peat production is coming to a complete halt across Ireland as Bord na Móna reinvents itself.  A number of raised bogs have been successfully restored (such as Clara Bog, Abbeyleix Bog, Pollardstown Fen) and have become important areas of biodiversity, attracting a lot of support from the public and have become tourist attractions in their own right. Not something that would typically come to mind as such – we tend to think about mountain scenery, lakes and rivers, valleys and rich farmland first but there is a wildness and earthiness to the bog landscape with its different palate of colours browns, tar black waters, copper, golden browns, purple heathers, white bog cotton, green mosses and lichens.

Thatched cottages at Lock Gates. A journey back in time…

Its strangely remote along this section of the route as the Canal crosses over the sparsely populated bog lands of Kildare. I loved it. The weather was good and importantly I had a tail wind!

Leaving Monasterevin I took the left hand bank for the first three kms before crossing over at McCartney Bridge (1784) to the opposite bank. There was heavy covering of grass which slowed progress, but I was in no hurry along this isolated towpath and I was enjoying the peacefulness of it all.

Milestone

There are a few mile markers still to be spotted along the way, but the names are feint at this stage but Monasterevin can be made out with a bit of effort.

Its quite open ground for the 10kms to Rathangan but there is a welcome break from the wind at a wooded section just over halfway.

Spencer Bridge

It isn’t too long before Spencer Bridge comes into view on the approach to the town. Spencer Bridge is named after a local landowner James Spencer who was killed by pikemen in the Battle of Rathangan in 1798. He was reputedly a distant ancestor of Lady Diana.

The Canal provides a really pleasant entry to Rathangan with a lovely linear park alongside.

There are plenty of places for refreshments in the town before getting stuck into the next 15kms.

The surface is quite good most of the way to Roberstown and it is very similar to the first part of the route; open skies, remote and very quiet.

Generally a good surface for hikers and bikers
Thirsty work
Ballyteigue Castle

Ballyteigue Castle comes into view in another 10kms. It’s a very pretty part of the Canal here with the 20th and 21st Locks very close together and the surrounding area well maintained. The Castle is a typical fortifies Irish Lords House from the 16th century and Lord Thomas Fitzgerald or as he was better known, Silken Thomas, took refuge here after the Battle of Allen in 1535. He earned the nickname, Silken Thomas, because of his richness in clothes and the silken banners carried by his standard bearers. He had been tricked into believing his father had been beheaded in the Tower of London and on hearing it rebelled against King Henry VII. No sooner had he rebelled when word came that it was untrue, but the die was cast, and he was executed alongside his five uncles at Tyburn.

The next bridge is called Skew Bridge, for it is skewed and the Barrow splits in two here into the New Barrow Line and the Old Barrow Line.

The Old Barrow Line

I followed the Old Barrow Line passing the Milltown Feeder along the way. The Feeder is the main source of water for the Grand Canal and this line goes as far as Pollardstown Fen, now an area of special conservation. It is recognised as an internationally important fen ecosystem with many unique plants and a great bird sanctuary. It is fed by several springs in the area. I visited it on another cycle and it is well worth a visit at another time.

Lowtown

The Barrow Line meets the Grand Canal at Lowtown just outside the pretty village of Roberstown.

Robertstown

Today’s route was only 25 kms but it was hard enough work as the grass bank was quite high and I was glad to call it a day!

Stages 1 -3 Turas Columbanus 105kms approx
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