Rothar Routes

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

Posts tagged ‘Royal Canal’

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!

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!

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