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Of Rings, Raths & the Kings of Leinster: Around the Lisnavagh Estate

View from Eagle Hill.

The word ‘rath’, which appears in so many town names in Ireland – think Rathmines, Rathvilly or, in shortened form, Ratoath or Raheen – derives from the Irish word for a ringfort, or enclosed farmstead. They were built to provide shelter from the weather and perhaps from wild animals such as wolves. Each ringfort would have had one or maybe two dwelling houses within its earthen banks, along with small animal pens and workshops. They were rarely fortified in any military sense.

There are reckoned to have been almost 60,000 of these circular forts in Ireland, most of which were constructed between 550-900AD. These constitute an extremely rich and utterly unique settlement archaeology; nowhere else in Europe has anything approaching this wealth of archaeology from that period. It becomes richer still when considered alongside the vernacular and literary heritage of the period and the remarkable archaeological finds like the Derrynaflan Chalice and the High Crosses, and the other great works of art from this Golden Age in Irish history.

Sometimes the walls of these raths are made of stone but most are composed of earth; they would have been topped by a timber palisade. Most of the ones I know of are located on the brow or summit of a hill. They must have had great calf muscles in ancient times, forever traipsing up and down the slopes to fetch a pail of water and such like.

In the distant past, the raths around Lisnavagh were part of the power base of the Uí Ceinnselaig  (Kinsellagh). This section below considers the links to Rathmore, Rathvilly, the Oldfort ringfort and the Slíghe Chualann, as well as two kings of Leinster, Crimthann mac Énnai (who was baptised by St Patrick) and his father, Enna Kinsellagh .

The Rath at Oldfort

 

The Old River: A soundless underground stream flows east from Oldfort for half a mile before tumbling into the River Dereen. Sometimes, after heavy rains, the stream rises to the surface in the guise of a river and reminds me that our landscape is riddled with secrets. The Oldfort / Tobinstown ringfort is just up to the right of where the water widens in this shot. This stream emerges in the wood just beside the Keeper’s Field and again just before it runs through a tunnel beneath the road, just south of the Laundry House. The very fact that it runs through such a  tunnel means the stream was here before the road. It then powers on to join the Dereen. Was it much wetter in the age when the ringfort was built?

In the woodland belt between our home at Lisnavagh and the R727 road, there is a typical, textbook and very well-preserved Gaelic ringfort, or rath, dating from the 6th-11th century AD, for which we named our house ‘Oldfort’. Every June, the summer sun appears to direct its final rays of the day upon the ringfort, with growing pointedness as the solstice approaches. It stands to reason that the ringfort was constructed when what I call the Old River was more pronounced, providing a ready supply of water for those living in the Oldfort ringfort.

The website archaeology.ie describes it thus:

‘Circular area (diam. 34m) surrounded by bank with external fosse. At E, bank has been straightened slightly as field boundary. Bank and fosse have been cut back at S by adjacent road. Outer face of bank has been scarped at W. Entrance not identifiable.’

Forty per cent of Irish ringforts have internal diameters measuring between 28m and 35m, with the average being 33.3m. As such, Oldfort is about as close to average as you get. In February 2013, I brought Kilkenny archaeologist Coílín O Drisceiol and TV-radio producer Neal Boyle to the ringfort. As Coílín explained, the ringfort comprises of a big sausage of earth in a circle, measuring about 30 metres across, plus the remnants of a ditch that has “silted” up over the years. The ditch would have been much, much bigger and wider, perhaps 10 metres wide at its peak, and that would have been topped off with an earthen bank around the fort which would have been considerably higher, a couple of metres higher than it is now. This in turn would have had a big palisade around it. I think the bank running to the east of the ringfort is an outer fosse. All up, it would have been very stoutly defended. Coílín reckons a ringfort of this size could have been built in eight weeks by a dozen ditch diggers working at full pelt.

Looking south, “up” the Rath Field towards the ring of the Oldfort ringfort.

The interior would have had a collection of houses, maybe two or three, probably round, made from wattle and daub, with perhaps a souterrain or underground passage to serve as a sort of fridge. A huge body of new information from excavations in the last 25 years shows these houses were large, round and circular, capable of taking 2 or 3 modern bungalows on the floor-space, generally built of post and wattle. The Irish laws from the time this was built provide chapter and verse of how to build a ringfort, with the dimensions of the ditch, how many houses you could out inside. They’d have been lovely and cosy inside with a hearth at the centre, timber posts supporting the roof like a wigwam. There’d often be a second, smaller house next door, the Granny Flat, and then there would be workshops and places for metalwork and other annexes.

This would have been the residence of a strong farmer in the area, somebody who had substantial – and good – land attached to the ringfort. There’s an element of continuity here from pre-history when people are living in enclosed, defended residences, particularly in the Bronze Age, defending against cattle raids. About twenty or so people would have lived here, maybe more, as well as animals. They would have enjoyed an excellent view all the way to Keadeen Mountain with its giant imprints by Boleycarrigeen where Finn McCool and his wife once lay. And just down the slopes to the east, they would have seen the Dereen wending and the riverside fields that are now alive with dolmens and barrow graves and secrets that we of the 21st century cannot comprehend.

Rectangular log cabins excavated at Russellstown and Busherstown in County Carlow appear to be among the first permanent dwellings built in Ireland. Rectangles then went out of fashion in favour of circular until the 10th century when rectangular dwellings came back into vogue, a switch attributed to Viking influence. A house built of oak might last a hundred years which was considered plenty enough time for those building it. And yet, despite all this civilisation, the new Norman settlers were inclined to think of the Irish as barbarians, not least with Gerald of Wales & co. spinning tales to say they were all immoral reprobates and so justify the conquering army.

 

The circle in the centre of the above picture is possibly the outline of a ringfort in Carr’s South, not far from the Sykes house at Knocknagan. We can see no semblance of it in at ground level but archaeologi.ie described it as ‘a faint circular enclosure (diam. c. 35m N-S; c. 37m E-W) … visible as a cropmark on Google Earth’ (imagery date 14 July 2018), identified and reported by Simon Dowling

 

Kinsellagh’s Hill

 

A few fields north of Oldfort is a field we know as Kinsellagh’s Hill, rising up from the main road between Lisnavagh House and Tobinstown CrossMy parents built a house towards the summit in 2006. Sometimes called Germaine’s Hill, it rolls down to some flat fields running along the River Dereen where the old monastery and graveyard of Acaun are sited. I like to think Kinsellagh’s Hill at Lisnavagh was named for one of the Kings of the Uí Ceinnselaig who ruled southeast Leinster but perhaps it was simply named for a man called Kinsellagh who once owned or leased the field. The Lisnavagh Rent Books for 1800 mentions a tenant by name of Widow Kinshellagh.

Bowe’s Grove is the wood shown at the top centre of this map from Griffiths survey, with a mysterious square shape in it. I believe it is still there today but its purpose or origin eludes me. The rath by Oldfort is located along the red line, the main Hacketstown-Carlow road, and is referred to, in very small writing, as the Tobinstown Rath. There is no record of what we call the Milkmaid’s Cottage, but the Keeper’s Cottage is shown.

The origin of the Hy Kinsealagh is vague but this was certainly their terrain when they came to prominence in the wake of the death of Cormac Mac Art. They seem to have had a series of strongholds at Rathvilly, Rathlyon (on the Tullow road from Tankardstown Cross), Rathdaniel, Raheendaw, Rathmore and Liscolman.

I think Rathgall was much older. A seven-hectare (18-acre) hill-fort from about 900 BC, Rathgall is located less than 8km south of Lisnavagh. As well as a cemetery and a round house, it was home to a substantial workshop for manufacturing exotic glass beads of translucent turquoise, as well as bracelets of jet and lignite, and other objects of amber, gold and stone. When Professor Barry Rafferty conducted his study in 2004, he concluded: ‘The variety of structural information that the excavation yielded is unprecedented in the Bronze Age and the extraordinary concentration of artifactual evidence from the site has not been matched elsewhere in the country.’ Over 50,000 pottery fragments were found at the site, as well as 3,000 bronze and gold artefacts. Within the innermost circle alone, there were 10,000 finds – glass objects, clay moulds, stone and gold objects. There were 88 glass beads, the largest quantity found in any Bronze Age site in Ireland. For more, see ‘Rathgall‘ from Roaringwater Journal, April 2023.

The Lisnavagh estate is – or was – also surrounded by ringforts which appear to have been affiliated with the  Uí Ceinnselaig, including those at Knocknagan (now gone), the Road Field (now gone) and Oldfort (see below) on the east, Rathmore to the north, Williamstown to the south and Rathvilly to the west. There may be another in the 18-acre Bowe’s Grove beside Oldfort.

There also appears to be a ringfort, close to the Sykes home, in the North West corner of the Road Field (as per photo above), which archeology.ie describes as ‘a faint circular enclosure (diam. c. 35m N-S; c. 37m E-W) … visible as a cropmark on Google Earth’. When you stand on that spot, you are rewarded with a 360 degree panoramic view. And moving into Carr’s Hill West, the unusual mound in the north-west corner … if one removes the hedge between this and the O’Gorman’s farm, the mound would behold a fine view of the seasonal lake that arises there. Again, one wonders what this landscape would have been like in wetter times?

And what of the mound in the middle of the field at Knocknagan just west of the Sykes, described thus:

“Small circular enclosure (diam. c. 15m) defined by earthen bank. Known locally as ‘Knocknaceann’, possibly burial ground associated with battle of Dunmachir, mentioned in Book of Ballymote. Present remains appear to represent ornamental feature.”

There is also a rath at Tobinstown in the field / wood directly opposite the front gate to the Burgess farm, or just south of the former pub, on land owned by Pat Coleman. It has been suggested this is the remains of a Norman enclosure. It is described by archeology.ie thus:

‘Situated on gentle NE facing slope overlooking Derreen River 220m to E. A natural gully or shallow ravine running E-W can be seen immediately N of the monument. Present remains consist of a rectangular area (48.4m N-S, 43.8m E-W) surrounded by well-defined flat-topped earth and stone bank (Wth 2m; int. H 1.3m; ext. H 0.7-2m) and deep wide flat-bottomed external fosse (Wth 3m; ext. D 1-2m). Entrance gap (Wth 4m) close to centre in E side. The enclosing fosse is visible from NE-E-S-W-NW and is best preserved from S to W. Second outer bank exists at E only, not clear if this second bank is an original feature or the remains of a post-1700 field boundary. Traces of shallow fosse 25m E of outer bank probably indicates adjacent enclosed field of post 1700 date. S half of interior of moated site now covered in thorn bushes, while N half of monument in pasture.’

I presume the Hy Kinsealagh’s remit also included the various ring barrows and enclosure at Ballykilduff, discovered in 2018, and the Haroldstown dolmen.

Added to this is an alignment of at least three standing stones at Tobinstown, Rathlyon (Tankardstown) and Liscolman, as explored in more depth here.

And what does one make of the strange square in the 18-acre wood at Bowe’s Grove, still extant today, and shown on Griffith’s maps back as the 1850s. Does this connect to the random segment stone wall on its north-side? Or that ruin we call the Milkmaid’s Cottage!? Was that Bowe’s Cottage? And who was Bowe!? Or could Bowe be a play on ‘Bó’, an Irish word for cattle? I might add that an entrance on the south-side of Bowe’s Grove is known as St Cuthbert’s Gate; it was so-named by my in 2020 simply because I was listening to a podcast about Saint Cuthbert at the time I hacked the entrance into existence.

 

A drawing of a ringfort by Rory O’Shaugnessy, 2011

The Rath of Rathmore

 

This copse near Rathmore House was perhaps connected to the Ui Cinsella kings.The rath of Rathmore appears to stand on the brow of the hill just inside the gates on the west side. There is certainly a mound here, covered in trees, but it’s hard to imagine this was the headquarters of a great dynastic leader. Maybe I’m wrong. The views are exceptional, or would have been in more tree-less times, and the greeny-brown waters of the River Slaney flow at the foot of the hill.

Rathmore was apparently home of Colman, King of Hy Kinsellagh in the 6th century, and a great-grandson of King Crimthann (see below). Colman’s mother was Mella, a sister of St. Kevin of Glendalough. The house at Rathmore Park was built close to the rath on land owned by the Bunbury family, although its date of construction is not yet known. In 1598 the castles of Rathmore and Rathvilly were mentioned as two of the eight ‘Principal Catherlagh Castles’. Five years later, the rectories, churches and chapels of Rathmore (with Straboe and Mocahon) were granted to John Eustace, gentleman. [1]

The Vicarage at Rathmore had St. Patrick for its patron but there is now no sign of church or cemetery; it was apparently on the slope rising up from the avenue and human bones were reputedly found there during a dig in recent times. The late Dick Corrigan told me there was formerly a church on the hill opposite the gate lodge at Rathmore which was abandoned circa 1800. There was a burial ground nearby and human bones were sighted there in the early 1980s when the Raben family were resident. In the lawn of Rathmore House there is a stone with a rectangular hollow which may once have been the socket for a holy cross.

One thinks also of the Cinerary Urn, known as the Ballybit Pot, found on Colonel Bunbury’s land in 1861, and the granite mortar (without its pastel) that the late Andy Verney found in Monavoth.

I used to swim in the Slaney here in my childhood, when Rathmore belonged to the Raben family, and there was a rock from which one could jump into deeper waters. It was nicknamed the Skeleton Hole. On one occasion we took a dinghy down the river from Rathvilly and disembarked at Rathmore. (‘He’s not a Jaffa’, was a catchphrase from that trip).

I returned to Rathmore again in August 2018 to picnic with my young family. After the hottest summer on record, the river was so low I could wade across it without wetting my waist. We could see the outline of the man-made weirs and clearly humans had banked the east side, but left the west side sloping so that the water is easily accessible to the cattle grazing in the riverside fields amid the doc leaves and ragwort … was this done in more recent times, perhaps by men working for Colonel Kane Bunbury, who owned this land for much of the 19th century and who was a celebrated cattle farmer? [2]

See also Malone of Rathmore.

 

Tuckamine Ogham Stone

In 1938, Edward O’Toole found a rounded granite pillar of pulvinar shape, but ‘split longitudinally, so that the horizontal cross-section is roughly semicircular’ was found in a gateway or gap in the fence by the roadside of the Hopkins farm at Tuckamine. Now held by the National Museum of Ireland, it bears some form of ogham script; two and, possibly three, faint vowel notches can be seen on 3D models. O’Toole suggested it might have once been part of the nearby graveyard at Kilmagarvoge, aka Cell Garbáinm, of which no visible surface traces remain.

 

Moatabower  & Straboe

 

A slight further afield but there is also a fort of some shape at Moatabower just off the R726 by the turn-off for Rathmore and Rathvilly (see here) where, again, the Slaney flows just downhill to the east. (Grangewat is to the south of that junction) It’s more like a motte, with steep slopes and thick walls, or maybe it’s an ancient  burial site. I suspect it has been somewhat reduced in size by the evolution of the R726 itself, which has left it more crescent-shaped than circular. I made my debut visit in January 2018 when, in the wake of Hurricane Ophelia and Storms Brian and Eleanor, there were plenty of trees down, mingling with the thick briars and rabbit holes or possibly foxes dens. In fact, it seemed rather like a fox covert. Looking into one of the many wide holes, I could see some sizeable granite rocks suggesting that, perhaps, the walls beneath the earth are more solid than one might think.

There is another covert-like mound just east of Moatabower, across the road and close to the bank of the Slaney.

A brook runs from Killerrig east to Motabower, crossing the road close to this motte to join the Slaney; this brook marks the division between Rathvilly parish and the next one (Straboe?) Also here at Grangewat is – or was? – a standing stone, which Mr O’Toole described in 1939 as a ‘regularly shaped granite slab … four feet eight inches high and nine feet seven inches in girth. There are no groovings on it’

Moatabower stands in the townland of Straboe (from Srath Bó, meaning ‘ cow street’) which also holds another ringfort near the site of  Templeboy Church, at the end of Straboe Lane. [3] Its just up from the ruined church (or rather, the solitary north wall, which is all that remains) and, while it’s bank is especially low, this is a fabulous setting for a ringfort and this one boasted a pretty sizeable 50 metre diameter. All my instincts tell me this would have been a very important place in time’s past with its sensational 360 degree panorama (see below) taking in, for instance, Eagle Hill, Croaghanmoira, the foothills of the Wicklow Mountain, the Lug, Keadeen, Baltinglass Hill (with Kinneagh church), Mullaghreelan (the stronghold of the O’Toole chieftains, clearly visible), Knocknacree, the Ridge of Leighlin (the scalp) and a splendid vista of Mount Leinster. It was complete peace when I visited with Richard Morris in March 2022, save for a spooked pheasant that shot off to the west and some dipping larks that Richard saw, and I missed. The pheasant was clearly possessed of some courage as there was also a trail used by a fox to bring himself to a nice sunny spot amid the hawthorn trees.

I’m also interested to know more of a castle recorded just south-west of Templeboy Church marked on the 1839 ‘OS 6-inch’ map. Cropmarks on aerial photographs indicate a rectangular enclosure, which is deemed likely to be a castle or a bawn.

Moving towards Hacketstown, there is, unsurprisingly, a rath at Knocknacree, albeit in an overgrown pasture.

 

 

Enna Kinsellagh of Rathvilly – Founder of the Uí Ceinnselaig  Dynasty

 

In the summer of 365AD, a warrior named Enna Kinsellagh (aka Énnae Cennsalach), said to have been born in Rathvilly, commanded the Leinstermen in a bloody encounter with the highly experienced army of Ireland’s Ard Righ, Eochaidh Muighmheadhoin of the Hy Neils. The battle took place on Croghan Hill, which is said to be in the Bog of Allen, but I wonder if it was actually fought on the mountain called Croghan Kinsella on the Wicklow-Wexford border, visible from our house? Eochaidh fielded 100 horse soldiers (all nobles) and 500 foot soldiers (mainly free class). Enna has 80 cavalry and 400 foot soldiers. To the sound of blaring trumpets and horns the two armies met. It was to be a decisive victory for Enna, completed by the capture of Eochaidh’s druid, Ceadnathach. The druid took one look at Enna and said: ‘Thou wouldst never conquer from this hill on which I am, if I were to live’. Quickly identifying the solution to this conundrum, Enna hurled his spear into the druid and let out a raucous cackle.

With his dying breath, Ceadnathach cursed Enna and his ‘foul laugh’ and, the legend runs, ‘cinnsealach’ is Irish for ‘foul laugh’. There are inevitably other translations, with more likely names such as ‘authoritative chieftain’.

Enna’s eldest son Felimy was forefather of the Hy Felimy (Uí Felmeda) from which the parish of Tullowphelim (containing Tullow) is named.

Enna seems to have lived a very long time, banishing Palladius, first Bishop of Ireland, circa 430. One report maintains that Enna was finally killed at the battle of Oagha in Co. Meath in 445, eighty years after the victory at Croghan Hill, but I have no idea where Oagha was.

 

The motte outside Rathvilly has a commanding view of all the counties in South East Ireland.

 

Crimthann mac Énnai, King of Leinster

 

Sticking with the legends, Enna’s third son Crimthann mac Énnai succeeded as King of Leinster in 445 and ruled for forty years before he was reputedly slain by his own grandson, whose name – spoiler alert – was Eochaid the Slayer.

As head of the Uí Cheinnselaig sept of the Laigin, Crimthann apparently had his main residence where Rathvilly Motte stands today, 1km east of the village. While you can see nine different counties from its summit on a clear day, I’ve always felt the Rathvilly motte would have been a relatively small royal residence but perhaps he felt small was beautiful?

So if that wasn’t the ‘rath’ of Rathvilly, what was? My eyes wander to the road that runs around St Patrick’s Church in the centre of Rathvilly. Why does it follow such a curvaceous curve? Was this once the curve of a ringfort!? The church itself is at the top of a hill and I suspect it is built on the site of the original rath.

As Carlow-based writer David Halpin explains in his 2017 article “Who Killed the King? Was it Eochaid the Slayer? An Ancient Irish Murder Mystery”, one translation of ‘Rathvilly’ (Ráith Bilech) is ‘Ringfort of the Sacred Tree’. In terms of ancient sky-watching sacred landmarks, one should bear in mind Rathvilly’s relative proximity to places such as the Haroldstown Dolmen, the passage grave on Baltinglass Hill (aligned with the summer solstice, or is it the equinox?) and the Castleruddery stone circle.

Local lore holds that Crimthann was baptized by St. Patrick in 448AD; an ancient holy well just above the village is named for the saint in honour of the occasion, while there is another St Patrick’s Well on the Dereen, just east of the old church ruins in Acaun and Haroldstown. Chris McQuin, the Tullow historian, has excellent details on St Patrick, as well as St Fortchern and various the local female saints (Lassara, Ríoghnach, Cuman, Cróine, Darchaorthainn, and Eithne) on his page here.

St Patrick arrived in the area about a year after he lit the seminal paschal fire on the Hill of Slane, with his nephew Iserminus on hand to help out. The two missionaries had steered clear of south-east Leinster until Enna’s death in 445. They then crossed down through the hills at Baltinglass, entered Carlow at Graney and followed the river right up to Rathmore where they crossed the Slaney. Patrick then continued on to Tubberpatrick and crossed the River Dereen at Acaun. There is a tradition that he was in a hurry at this stage but was unable to travel the ‘Red Bog of Carric’. [4] He had to take to the hills and it was from here that he allegedly blessed Ireland and all in it with two exceptions, snakes and the Red Bog. And thence to Rathvilly where he met and baptized Crimthann and installed the King’s son Fiacra the Fair as first Bishop of Leinster.

According to stories gathered for the Folklore Archive, the patron saint baptised not only Crimthann but also his wife Mell and their infant son Cathi in a sacred well in the vicinity of Highfield, ¼ mile from Moate, so I’ll need to check if that’s the same one referred to earlier. The well water was drunk by the people in the belief that it cured earache, toothache, bad eyes and leg sores. On St Patrick’s Day, people would visit the well and walk round it three times, saying three Hail Marys. The pattern day associated with the well was suppressed by the Catholic church because it inspired too much magical activity and ‘pagan’ merriment.

When Crimthann was slain in 484, the blame fell on his grandson Eochaidh Guinech  (aka ’the Slayer’), son of his second daughter Ingren, and a member of the Uí Bairrche. However, the ‘Tripartite Life of St. Patrick’ claims it was actually Eochaid’s father, Oengus, who killed the king after Crimthann banished a tribe by name of The Sons of Mac Ercae, of which Oengus was leader. The jury is still out.

A ‘respected’ man who lived at Knockboy in the 1880s and who represented Rathvilly for many years on the Baltinglass Board of Guardians stated that on summer nights he often heard the music of a military band, or military music, begin faintly about Lisnavagh, get clearer and more distinct as it approached Knockboy (5km north of Lisnavagh, beside Mount Lucas), and then gradually die away as it approached the place where Crimthann’s last battle was supposed to have been fought. [5]

In any event, Crimthann’s descendants continued to rule for numerous generations and eventually became the MacMurroughs.

 

 

 

The Slíghe Chualann & Other Roads

 

The old road from Carlow to Hacketstown is said to have come through the centre of the Lisnavagh estate, arriving at the Ballybit end, coming down the Green Lane and the Lime Walk, past the present house, down Kinsellagh’s Hill to what is called Dinny’s Turn and through the River Field to a spot where the River Dereen was forded.

The main R727 road west of Tobinstown likewise did not exist beyond Woodview Cottage (formerly Lizzie Doyle’s) at the present-day junction with Bunny Lane. The length of the R727 road that ran from that junction all the way over the railway bridge to the N81 at Tankardstown Cross was built in the 19th century. Prior to that, all the traffic wiggled up what we call Bunny Lane to Ballybit.

The Broadleas Stone Circle be seen from the R411. This is a Google Map perspective from 2023.

The Slíghe Chualann, one of the five great highways of ancient Ireland, ran from Dublin to Bray and then veered west to Kilteel, near Rathmore, County Kildare, where the Record of Monuments and Places suggests there was a prehistoric barrow on a hilltop within Kilteel Wood that functioned as an inauguration site. [6] According to Colm Ó Lochlainn’s ‘Roadways in ancient Ireland’ (1940), the authoritative source, the highway then became an ‘Itinerary coinciding with Slighe’ that continued south along the west side of the Wicklow Mountains from Ballymore Eustace via Dunlavin, Baltinglass and Rathvilly to Tullow, presumably following the River Slaney, which would bring it very close to Rathmore (Carlow), Knocknagan and several other royal residences. (One feels this must have been the original N81 and certainly Baltinglass was a prominent place in the Bronze Age with hill forts all around. There’s also a ringfort on Raheen, the hill just north of Baltinglass up which one might drive as a shortcut to Grangecon.  (A useful guide to some of the sights along the N81 can be found here). It then cut across from Tullow to Din Righ / Old Leighlin in County Carlow, before continuing down the River Barrow by Old Ross towards Waterford. The road would have been especially busy during times of war with hostings of warriors and armies on the move, as well as the occasional cattle raid. Henry Morris seems to suggest it followed the line of the present-day N81 from Ballymore Eustace via Dunlavin, Baltinglass and Rathvilly to Tullow. [7]

I am starting to get quite far away from Lisnavagh now but, in terms of the N81, there is also the Piper’s Stones stone circle while, just off the N81, on the R411 to Ballymore-Eustace, one can see the 39 stones of the Broadleas Stone Circle from the road, on the left. The N81 was known as the T47 in my father’s childhood and was the only road in the vicinity that was tarmac. He believes the R727 from Tankardstown to Hacketstown became tarmac in 1948-1949 when they laid tarmac all the way from Carlow to Hacketstown. (It was not named the R727 at the time.) The road from Rathvilly to Tobinstown was tarrmac’d in two halves – reaching the School House from Rathvilly in the first year, and then, a little more hesitantly, extended to Tobinstown Cross. The hesitancy was because of an anticipation of high speed drivers using the road. Indeed, the long straight between Denny’s Turn and Tobinstown Cross was almost irresistible to boy racers like my friend AR into the 1990s.

Prior to the 1960s, the road between Lisnavagh and Rathvilly’s Phoenix Centre (including Phelan Street) was a rough surface, riddled with potholes. Stone was quarried from the site of the Haroldstown Dump  and carted to various points along this stretch of road where stone-breakers would then smash it into smaller chunks to fill the potholes. One of these points was between Denny’s Turn and the entrance to the Lisnavagh Saw Mill, where the road is a little wider, where Dad often recalls seeing men at work during his childhood.

Views from Oldfort

 

The eastwards and southerly view from our house embraces a series of mountains and hills from the lower Wicklow Mountains. I think I have identified a bundle of these as:

 

  • Keadeen from the Haroldstown Cemetery.

    Keadeen (with the well-defined ‘beds’ of Finn MacCool, his wife Sadhbh, and their dog, as well as the Glen of Imaal (O’Toole country) behind it, the Dwyer McAllister Cottage … can we see the cairn on its summit on a clear day? Sebastian Barry’s ‘Annie Dunne’ is based around that area.

 

  • Lugnaquilla, east of Keadeen, aka ‘The Lug’ (north-east through trees) with Slievemaan in front. Lugnaquilla is the highest mountain in Ireland outside of Kerry, as well as the source of the River Slaney. The Archival Records section of Logainm.ie gives us the name ‘Logney O’Nill’ in 1617 and ‘Loghnecully’ or ‘Lognecally’ in Petty’s 1654 Survey It was spelled as Lugnaquilla on Jacob Nevill’s Map of County Wicklow of 1760. Barry Dalby suggests the name ‘Log na Coille’, meaning ‘hollow of the wood, derives from the great gash / hollow of the ‘North Prison’ (a steep glacial corrie) viewed from the Glen of Imaal as the Imaal side was more heavily settled in older times.
    Liam Price had a theory that the townland of Barravore is a clue to an older name, simply Barr Mhór or the great height. As Barry says: ‘This makes sense as, when viewed from any rise in north Carlow, the bulk and size of the slate capped, granite-rooted hill is obvious, even though it’s quite the distance away. For example, drive the Carlow to Bunclody road and where you cross the Nurney ridge, look north on any decent day and it’s very striking as a ‘great height’. The logs or hollows on it are not to be seen from a distance.’
    In Edward King’s ‘Munimenta Antiqua’ (1799) he records ‘a large Cromlech’ on the summit of ‘Lug-naCullach’. In 1806, Mathew Sleater noted that ‘eagles have long dwelt’ in the Lug, and that there was ‘a Cromlech, or kneeling stone’ on its summit. In Wright’s Guide to the County of Wicklow (1822 edition, page 94), he describes ‘a large stone, resting upon small and low supporters, not unlike a druidical cromlech,’ which he calls Pierce’s Table. Barry adds: ‘It’s most likely that the survey team associated with the OS primary triangulation of the 1830s destroyed what was there to build their cairn and marking pole etc. There’s an account of similar destruction/ reconstruction at Slieve Donard, Co.Down.’ The large stone summit cairn, topped by a triangulation pillar, stands today. That said, Alexander Strahan’s Contemporary Review (1867, Volume 5, p. 369) suggests the table was ‘… upset, perhaps by some of the ’98 yeomanry, who relieved in this way the monotony of desecrating old burying grounds and wrecking disused churches. They have the credit of pulling down the fine cromlech called Pierce’s Table, which now forms the base of the sappers and miners cairn on the top of Lugnaquilla.’ However, given that there’s no record of it being trashed by Wright, King and Sleator, it was surely ‘upset’ post-1822!?

 

Francis Rawdon-Hastings, 1st Marquess of Hastings (‘A man of importance’). by James Gillray, published by Hannah Humphrey.

  • Croaghanmoira (664 metres, behind Aughavannagh, with its distinctive “pyramidal” profile and probably named ‘Moira’ for Francis Rawdon-Hastings, 1st Marquess of Hastings, the Earl of Moira, who owned the nearby lands of Greenan; I think Glenmalure (O’Byrne country) is to its north, and there be gold in them rivulets. His County Down house, Montalto, was caught in the middle of the battle of Ballynahinch in 1798. He died in 1824 Malta and has a rather fabulous tomb in Hastings Garden, Valetta. Not all of him is in Valetta. According to Wikipedia: ‘He died aboard HMS Revenge and following his directions his right hand was cut off and buried with his wife when she died; this wish was complied with, and it now rests clasped with hers in the family vault at Loudoun Kirk.’ Before I met her, Ally acquired a print called ‘A Man of Importance’ in a London bookshop I think … many years later, I deduced that it was himself. And now here I am looking at his mountain having narrowly missed him on my war tours to Ballynahinch and Valetta … Thomas Kemmis purchased the Ballinacor Estate, comprising Croghanmoira and lands in the area around Greenan, from Lord Moira in 1805. Will Goff advises that Balliancor covers approximately the East and South to Westerly side of Croghanmoira, the other half belonging to Coillte. He has been to the summit numerous times, always on motorbikes, and says there is a concrete triangulation point at the top with spectacular views. The best place to go to access the mountain is Mucklagh Bridge.

 

  • Askanagap – Bog of the Stumps, which may be blocked from our view by Ballycumber, where there was a deadly avalanche in 1867; the ruins of the Mulhall house stand yet. This is close to Ballymanus where another wind farm is planned by ABO Wind Ireland, scion of a German company founded in 1996, which would run through Coillte’s property in the townlands of Askakeagh, Ballinglen and Killaduff, as well as Roddenagh and Preban, Ballinglen).

 

  • Cushbawn Hill, with Aughrim and Mizen Head in a line behind it – Cushbawn could derive from ‘Caisleán’, as in castle, being the highest hill in the group here and apparently known as The Rock – the Race to the Rock is run annually.

 

  • Knockananna, where the Scotland Brook, a tributary of the Derreen, rises.

 

  • Eagle Hill / Constable Hill

 

  • The Ballycumber ridge, where a six-turbine wind farm was developed by NTR plc (a scion of the National toll Roads, I believe) in 2019, which can apparently produce clean energy to power 16,400 homes.

 

  • Croghan Kinsella(east of Tinahely, with Arklow and the Irish Sea behind it, where the battle alluded to earlier might have been fought) and Slievefoore.

 

 

  • Seskin and Aghowle … There’s a gap below Shillelagh, where, I think, Crossbridge lies, then a rise to Farny Hill. … to the right of Farny Hill, its a bit confusing but the money is on a combination of Seskin Hill with Cronelea Hill just behind (that has turbines as well), and then down to Bunclody where the Blackstairs & Mount Leinster sheet takes up.

Looking south towards the wooded rise of Knocklow from the Oldfort ringfort. The standing stone of Tobinstown is visible from here also.

 

  • Directly south we can see the wooded rise of Knocklow (sometimes Knockloe), a townland of 666 acres, with Rathgall (and Rathwood Garden Centre) rising about a mile to its south-east and, by night, the distant lights of Tullow to its west. (Tullow Hill should be visible on a clear day). The Deerren flows south through this townland also, beneath Knocklow Bridge and Mills.

 

  • And then across the road from our entrance, looking south-east across the Burgess farm, we should also see Stookeen Hill, the setting for ‘They Were Good Days’ by Felicity Braddell Smith, a farm history of Raheengraney House in the mid decades of 1900s.

 

End-Notes

 

[1] In 1611, the manor, castle and water mill of Rathmore passed to Sir Christopher Cheevers of Macetown, Co. Meath – but was this Rathmore in County Kildare?

[2] With thanks to John Ryan.

[3] With thanks to Paddy and Clare Halligan.

[4] James Grogan proposed that the Red Bog of Carric is on the eastern side of Clonmore, where there is a townland called Redbog and, immediately to the south of it, in County Wicklow, the townland of Carrick. This is just before you reach the hills heading up to Knockmatomcoyle and Stranakelly (where the inimitable Dying Cow pub (Tallon’s) is discretely located along the Wicklow Way walking route). In Carrick, there is a mysterious, almost giant coffin shape, now crossed by a road.

[5] Béaloideas: The Journal of the Folklore of Ireland Society, 1927, p. 318.

[6] The barrow is marked as a substantial enclosure on Alexander Taylor’s map of 1783 and as a ‘fort’ on John Taylor’s 1816 map.]

[7] Morris, Henry. “The Slighe Cualann.” The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, vol. 8, no. 1, 1938, pp. 113–129