Robertstown & Lowtown (Co. Kildare / Central)
Robertstown is a highly photogenic canalside village on the edge of the Bog of Allen. Nowadays largely inhabited by DUBLIN commuters, it has a strong community spirit.
Robertstown may have been named for a member of the branch of the Fitzgerald family known as the Lords of Allen, whose castles at Kilmeague and Ballyteague are nearby. The village itself was built to accommodate “navigators” (“navvies”) working on the construction of the local stretch of the Grand Canal in 1785.
The Grand Canal Hotel
The Grand Canal Hotel, Robertstown (photo – IWAI)
The Grand Canal Hotel was opened in 1801 and extended in 1804 due to demand. Its accommodation and cuisine were considered of the highest standards, and business was good, with 100,000 passengers per year using the canal until improved roads, Bianconi coaches and the railway drew them away.
The 72 windows and 62 hearths were blocked to avoid tax in 1849, and the hotel ceased trading in 1853.
It was used as an RIC barracks between 1869 and 1905, a hostel for Bord na Mona turf cutters in the mid-C20th and more recently as a community centre.
Since 1993 the splendid rust-red building has undergone restoration as a multi-purpose local and tourist amenity by the Robertstown Development Association, which also organises barge excursions.
Robertstown Holiday Village is a set of eight canal-side holiday cottages.
Lowtown, literally the high point of the Grand Canal at 85m / 279ft above sea level, is one of the most important hubs of Ireland’s canal network. Here the Main / Shannon Line meets a branch linked to the River Barrow, locally divided into the Old and New Barrow Lines.
Lowtown Marina is the old Grand Canal Transit Yard, redeveloped since 1968 as a popular mooring and currently home to some 240 craft of all types. There are always boats for sale or hire, and local operators offer chandlery and boating services.
Lowtown Cruisers Ltd. hires out six-berth cruisers by the day / week or for longer periods to explore the various branches of the canal and the Barrow and Shannon Navigation Systems.
The 8km Milltown Feeder canal, which carries crystalline water from myriad sources in Pollardstown Fen to the Grand Canal near Lowtown, and is paralleled by an exceptionally pleasant towpath. (Photo, with Hill of Allen in distance – Tuesday Night Club)
Ballyteague Bog is where construction of the Old Barrow Line ran into difficulty. Subsidence eventually forced the canal company to construct the converging stretch of canal which became known as the New Barrow Line.
Ballyteague Castle, originally a stronghold of the Geraldine Lords of Allen / Allone, is said to be where Silken Thomas took refuge after the 1535 Battle of Allen. Before it was repaired the castle walls showed the marks of cannon balls fired from Crosspatrick Hill in the assault of the Cromwellian generals Hewson and Reynolds in 1650. The castle was author Anita Hendy‘s childhood home.
The “Island of Allen” is the name given to the relatively fertile land around the Hill of Allen rising above the peatlands of the Bog of Allen, Ballyteigue Bog and Pollardstown Fen.
The Battle of Allen took place here in 722 AD. The Leinstermen, commanded by their chieftain, Murchad mac Brain Mut, were defeated by the northern and southern Hy Neill, commanded by Fergal mac Máele Dúin, king of Tara, along with his son Aedh Allen, and Aedh Laighean, chieftain of Hy Maine in Connacht. Fergal was killed in the fighting, and it is recorded that in the post-battle celebrations the severed head of retainer Donn Bó sang in honour of the king’s severed head.
The Wars of the Three Kingdoms saw many engagements in this area, especially between Royalist forces and Cromwell’s Ironsides, determined to reduce the Castles of Ballyteague and Kilmeague.
The Hill of Allen
The Hill of Allen / Almu /Alvin (Cnoc Alúine / Almaine / Almha) (206m / 676ft), a Leinster landmark visible for miles around, is a volcanic hill situated on the eastern edge of the Bog of Allen, thought to be named after a Tuatha Dé Danann warrior’s daughter.
The Hill is believed to be the site of a prehistoric tumulus. According to tradition, this was the seat of hunter-warrior Finn Mac Cool / Fionn mac Cumhaill and the Fianna, who used the surrounding flatlands as their training grounds. In Irish Mythology Fionn won the residence by compelling his maternal grandfather, Tadg mac Nuadat, to surrender it. Nuadu Necht, an aspect of Nuadu Air getlám, had been an earlier resident of the Hill.
Aylmer’s Folly, a circular tower on the top of the Hill, was built on the orders of Sir Gerard George Aylmer, 9th Baronet of Donadea, between 1859 and 1863. The names of the workmen are inscribed on the steps. During the construction of the tower a large coffin was unearthed containing human bones, said to be those of Fionn mac Cumhaill. These were reinterred in situ.
The Hill has been gouged by extensive quarrying in recent years, noticeably affecting its distinctive inverted saucer profile.
Allen is a small rural comunity with an attractive church.
Kilmeage / Kilmeague (Cill Maodóg) (pop. 700), originally laid out in 1830, is a small but growing village.
The Point of Gibraltar, where the Milltown Feeder Canal meets Pollardstown Fen.(Photo – Tuesday Night Club)
Milltown (Co. Kildare / Central)
Milltown is named for an atmospherically ruined mill beside the eponymous feeder canal; the otherwise unremarkable village is on the Kildare Way walking network.
The Hanged Man’s is a very highly rated pub / restaurant near the southern end of the Milltown Feeder canal.
Other pubs in the vicinity include a controversial lap dancing venue called The Chicken Run, vociferously picketed when it opened but presumably patronised by local men.
Milltown is close to Newbridge on ByRoute 9.
Pollardstown fen, a post-glacial alkaline marsh situated on the northern margin of the Curragh, is the largest remaining calcareous spring-fed fen in Ireland, As an internationally important ecosystem with unique and endangered plant communities, it was declared a National Nature Reserve in 1986.
Pollardstown is best known for its extensive areas of fen vegetation, dominated by Black Bog Rush and Saw Sedge, almost unique to Ireland. The fen also supports a number of rare and threatened plant species including the Fly Orchid, Pugsley‘s Marsh Orchid, Fen Bedstraw, Broad-leaved Bog Cotton, Tufted Sedge, Slender Sedge and Blunt Flowered Rush. Other orchids to be found at Pollardstown include the Lesser Butterfly Orchid, Fragrant Orchid, Twayblade and the Marsh and Spotted Orchids. Insect-eating plants such as the Common Butterwort and Western Bladderwort are also present, while the Round-leaved Sundew can be seen growing on sphagnum moss in acidic parts of the fen.
The influence of man has left Pollardstown with a diversity of habitats including a central lake, reed swamps and forestry in addition to regenerating and intact fen. These habitats sustain a variety of animal species.
In summer Mute Swans, Herons, Little Grebes, Coot and Moorhen patrol the lake, while parties of Sand Martins swoop low over the open water hunting for insects. The fens, reeds and grasslands are home to Reed Buntings, Meadow Pipits and Skylarks. From the sedge and reed beds Water Rails call noisily and the drumming of Snipe can be heard; across the fen Sedge Warblers sing loudly in defence of their territories. In winter these birds are joined by migrating wildfowl such as Pintail and Tufted Duck.
The fen also supports many species of invertebrates, some rare; the number of dragonflies and damselflies are a delight, while butterflies include the Orange Tip, Green Veined White, Tortoiseshell, Speckled Wood and Common Blue.
Mammals living on the fen include otters, hares and pygmy shrews, while the Common Frog and Smooth Newt are common amphibians.