ByRoute 12.1 Co. Meath (S) // Co. Offaly

 Croghan Hill

 

Croghan Hill (234m / 769ft, 460ft above land), a Marilyn in mountaineering terms, strikingly dominates the flat Offaly scenery. (Photo –  A. Heron)

 

Croghan Hill is an extinct volcano “plug”, estimated to have last erupted about 325 million years ago. Although not quite the geographical centre of the island, its position in the heartland of the great raised bogs of the midlands has earned it the title of “the navel of Ireland“.

 

Celebrated in Edmund Spenser‘s Faerie Queene, the solitary eminence is associated with the cult of Saint Bridget. The summit is the site of some Bronze Age earthworks and burial cairns (one said to contain Queen Maeve‘s sister Eile and her chariot) and was anciently used for the inauguration ceremonies of the O’Connor clan chieftains.

 

The ascent is worthwhile for the fine views of the surrounding brown gold green boggy countryside, probably unique in Europe. On clear days the Wicklow Mountains and the Mountains of Mourne in County Down are visible. 

Old Croghan is the location of Croghan Castle, a medieval O’Connor stronghold granted in 1563 to Robert Cowley / Colley, subsequently killed in an O’Connor attack on Philipstown Fort. His daughter Thomasin married Thomas Moore, whose elder brother Edward was Constable of Philipstown. Thomas was killed in a rebel attack on his castle in 1599, during the Nine Years War, His son John was granted the land around Tullamore.

Old Croghan Man was the name given to the tallest bog body found to date, unearthed north of the Hill in 2004 and now on display in the NMI. Believed to have lived in the C2nd BC, he was evidently an individual of high status, with unblemished hands, who was tortured and murdered by stabbing, then decapitated and cut in two, perhaps as a ritual fertility sacrifice.

Croghan Hill Riding Stables is a highly recommended equestrian establishment with excellent cross-country facilities, and also provides self-catering acommodation.

Croghan is a small village beside the Hill. It appears to have only a homophonic link with Croghan (pron. “Krogin“) in Lewis County, New York, named after George Croghan (1791 – 1849), an American military hero of the War of 1812, born in Kentucky, whose father William was from Dublin, and may have been related to George Croghan /Crogan / Crowgan (1720 – 1782), a British Indian agent in colonial America, also from Dublin, who was said to have pronounced his name with a silent g.

Croghan is within easy reach of Tyrrellspass (Co. Westmeath) on ByRoute 13.

Raheenmore Bog is a classic raised bog between the Rivers Boyne and Brosna, now protected as a wildlife sanctuary. Breeding birds include merlin, red grouse and snipe.

Kilclonfert is the location of St Coleman’s church (RC), built as a “chapel” in 1783, with some fine carvings. Nearby, a Holy Well dedicated to the same saint has been the subject of a couple of You Tube videos.

Peat extraction near Daingean. (Photo by Dylan Moore)

Daingean & Ballinagar (Co. Offaly / Central)

Daingean (An Daingean, from Daingean Ua bhFáilghe – fortress of the Ua bhFáilghe / O’Connor Faly  clan) (pop. 1000) was renamed Philipstown in 1557, not long after the entire area was seized by the English authorities under Queen Mary I and called King’s County in honour of her husband Philip II of Spain. It was the County Town until the honour passed to Tullamore in 1833 at the instigation of the Earl of Charleville. Philipstown was renamed Daingean in 1920, shortly before  the foundation of the Irish Free State.

The remains of the original Philipstown Fort, built in 1577 and defended against attacks from the “rebellious” O’Connors, can be seen at  Fortfield Drive.

Daingean has an attractive main street and a pleasant walkway adjoining a new quay beside the Grand Canal.

Molesworth Bridge (1796) was named for the local landlord family, originally from Northamptonshire, who from 1716 held the titles Baron Philipstown and Viscount Molesworth, both “of Swords in the County of Dublin“. They had a strong tradition of diplomatic and military service, producing several British ambassadors, a Field Marshal, and a Major General who was drowned in the shipwreck of the Amiston off South Africa on his way home from India in 1815. By that time the Philipstown land had passed by marriage to the Ponsonby family.

The Town Hall, an early C19th edifice designed as a courthouse by James Gandon, contains a well-preserved atmospheric old courtroom.

St Conleth’s Reformatory, a former military barracks and prison, run by the Oblate Fathers as a notorious institution for troubled boys from 1870 to 1973, is now used as a warehouse by the NMI.

The local burial ground contains the remains of Captain Charles Dodgson (1780 – 1803), whose grandson of the same name would become famous as Lewis Carroll (1832 – 1898). Son of another Charles Dodgson, Bishop of Ossory and later Elphin, he was killed while trying to apprehend the murderers of Viscount Killowen, Lord Chief Justice of Ireland, in the course of Robert Emmet’s failed uprising, leaving his widow with two very young babies.

The Daingean Homecoming Festival is a weeklong annual event at the beginning of each August, and includes a parade, a 5m road race, a raft race on the Grand Canal, traditional threshing, canal gladiators and karaoke competitions and children’s day.

The Midway Park Hotel on Daingean’s main street is a friendly family run establishment with a good restaurant.

Eskermore House, a handsome Georgian farmhouse (1745) with lovely gardens and grounds, is home to the O’Malley family, who provide reasonably priced B&B accommodation

Daingean is within easy reach of Geasehill on ByRoute 11.)

Ballinagar (Béal Ätha na gCarr – “the ford mouth of the cars”) (pop. 400), historically aka Bellanagar,

St Joseph’s church (RC), founded in 1837 to replace a Penal Law era thatched edifice, and improved over the years, was destroyed by fire in 2004, and restored by McCarthy O’Hora of Portlaoise.

Ballinagar is

Killeigh horses (Photo by Shawna Colorado)

Killeigh (Co. Offaly / South)

Killeigh / Killeagh (Cill Achaidh/-Droma Foda an Dá Sincheall – “the church of the Field/ of the Long Ridge of the two Saint Sinchells”, one of the longest Irish toponyms, referring to two early Christian holy men who lived locally), another former Digby estate property with an attractive village green, was once a place of some significance.

Killeigh Abbey, founded in the C6th by Saint Sincheall the elder, was the most important ecclesiastical foundation in the area for many centuries, attracting scholars from as far afield as Armenia ad North Africa; it survived despite frequent attacks from both natives and Norsemen (one captured abbot drowned off Dalkey in 938 AD), and the earthworks now remaining do no justice to a once great centre.

By the end of the C14th Killeigh could boast a castle, a Cistercian Priory, an Augustinian Nunnery and a Franciscan Friary (founded 1293).

In 1433 Margaret O’Connor Fahy, daughter of Teige O’Carroll, Lord of Ely and wife of Calvagh , Lord of Offaly, issued invitations to almost 3000 minstrels, bards and the like from all over Ireland and Scotland to attend successive festivals, the first at Killeigh, at which she received them “clad in cloth of gold, her dearest friends about her, her clergy and her judges”. Known as Margaret-an-einigh (of the hospitality), this remarkable woman, mentioned in the Annals of the Four Masters for her lavish hospitality to poets, minstrels and mendicant friars, and also remembered for negotiating exchanges of hostages with English officers at Trim and leading a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, died of breast cancer in 1455, only 24 hours before the death of her eldest son. In 1556, her descendant and namesake personally travelled to England and persuaded Queen Mary to release her father from the Tower of London.

The Franciscan friary was looted in 1537 by Lord Deputy Grey, who stole the organ and windows from the church. The ruins stand behind the Church of Ireland edifice; the grounds also contain several interesting tombs commemorating old Offaly families, and the unmarked grave of the poet and short story writer Edward Egan (1858 – 1940).

St Patrick’s church (RC) is a modern edifice, constructed in 1971 to replace a splendid old building dating from 1808.

Killeigh’s Seven Blessed Wells are said to contain water with curative powers.

Killeigh is

Clunagh House & Gardens comprise an C18th country residence with attractive grounds.

Killurin & Black Lion (Co. Offaly / South)

Killurin was the birthplace of William Quarter (1806 – 1848), the first Roman Catholic bishop of Chicago.

Black Lion / Blacklion is a rural village.

Killoughy parish church (CoI) was erected in 1818.

Black Lion is north of Castlecuffe (Co. Laois) on ByRoute 11

Blue Ball (Co. Offaly / South)

 Blue Ball / Blueball (An Phailis), formerly known as Pallas, is a tiny hamlet, mainly notable for the Blue Ball pub (a friendly establishment) and its gallows-like hanging blue ball.

Lough Pallas was described in 1837 as “the most remarkable lake in the county“, apparently because it contained “the finest tench in Ireland“. Nowadays the 13ha / 33 acre expanse of water, with no outlet above ground, is stocked with trout for anglers. The shoreline is soft and quite dangerous for wading.

Pallas Park House, an impressive ruin, formerly the home of the Malone family, was destroyed by the Great Wind of 1839.

Gortnamona House, originally known as Mount Pleasant House when erected in 1804, bore an inscription reading “This House was built by Maurice Nugent O’Conor, Heir to the Principality of Ofelia“, followed by a verse: “O’Conors once they ruled the country round / Their brows with roses and with laurels crowned /But fickle fortune while she changes things / She took their honours, but left them kings“. In 1890 it was the residence of Judge William O’Conor Morris, who founded the local school. The mansion was burned down by Republican vandals  in 1922 and is now a ruin scenically overlooking its former lakeside demesne.

Rathrobin, home of the Biddulph family from 1694, was redesigned c.1885 by Sir Thomas Drew, only to be torched by nationalist fanatics in 1920, and is now an ivy-covered ruin.Approaching Ballyboy (Photo – www.hallerfamily.co.uk)

Mount Bolus & Ballyboy (Co. Offaly / South)

Mount Bolus / Mountbolus (Cnocán Bhólais) is a quaint village.

Killoughy / Killoughey cemetery, said to be the site of one of the first monastic communities established by Saint Brigid, contains the ruins of a church which according to local tadition was burned down by Cromwelllian troops while locals attended Christmas Mass in 1651

St Brigid’s church (RC), completed in 1837, has beautiful stained glass windows, commissioned in 1917 from Harry Clarke Studios

Rathlihen

  

Rathlihen / Rathliphthen / Rathlion  is thought to have been the centre of the ancient territory of Firceall, one of the 17 components of Meath. It was so named for “the men of the woods / churches“, and later came to be called “O’Molloy Country“.

 

 A small medieval church commemorates Saint Illand / Iolladhan,  a bishop who founded a monastic school here c.560 AD; June 10th is recognised as his feast day in local tradition and by the Greek Orthodox Church. The ruin is surrounded by an atmospheric pre-famine burial ground.  (Photo – www.killoughey.com)

 

The  headless skeleton of former parish priest Fr Edward Molloy, hanged and decapitated in 1691, was unearthed during restoration work in 1985 and re-interred; a plaque now marks the spot.

  Approaching Ballyboy (Photo – www.hallerfamily.co.uk)

Ballyboy was an important medieval community, giving its name to the local parish and surrounding barony.

St Cormac’s church (1815) is an impressive roofless ruin with an intact tower.

Ballyboy is north of Cadamstown on ByRoute 11.

 

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