ByRoute 7.1 Co. Kildare // Co. Tipperary

Mageney Bridge on the River Barrow (Photo by glenaa)

Sletty / Sleaty / Slatey is the name of this part of County Laois; some locals insist that the district also includes parts of County Kildare. It gave its name to the local Civil Parish.

Sletty monastery was founded in the C5th by Saint Fiach, later became famous  under Abbot Aedh, a biographer of Saint Patrick,  as a centre of Patrician studies; it was once the See of a great bishopric, later transferred to Old Leighlin (Co. Carlow).  The only remains are two undecorated granite High Crosses.

Sliabh teach (“Mountain house”), a ruined medieval church reputed to have been of great importance, has a pointed side door.

Shrule / Shruel Castle, a large Elizabethan Tower House, was built at an important crossing point of the River Barrow by Sir Robert Hartpole, constable of Carlow castle and governor of the Queen’s County, but soon passed through female heirs to other families, as gleefully recounted in the legend known as the Hartpole Doom. (Photo by M Brennan on the Brennan Family History website)

Arles & Ballickmoyle (Co. Laois / Southeast)

Arles / Arless, (derived from either An Ard-lios – “The High Ring Fort / Fortified Hill” or An Ard-glas – “The Verdant Hill”), formerly Killaban, was the site of a monastery founded in the earl C7th by Saint Abban, who reputedly lived for 300 years.

The Sacred Heart church (RC) was built in 1866 to a design by EW Pugin. Nearby, a bizarre mausoleum commemorates the Grace family, descendants of Strongbow’s henchman Raymond le Gros, one of whom, William Grace (1832-1904) became a Peruvian bat-guano merchant prince, multi-millionaire and first Roman Catholic Mayor of New York City.

Coolanowle Country House & Leisure Centre is set on a beautiful estate with a Beech Wood garden and an C18th flax pond. The upmarket Guesthouse / B&B and self-catering accommodation facilities are highly rated by visitors, with particular praise for hosts James and Bernadine Mulhall and the food, all produced on their certified organic farm. Coolanawle won the Good Food Ireland “Best Breakfast” Award 2008.

Castletown Killaban was once an important medieval borough built around Castle Oboy, erected in 1182 by Robert de Bigarz. It is known that the castle was granted to John Barnyse in 1570; only the motte remains, in the grounds of Castletown House.

Castletown church (CoI) was built in 1801 to replace an older building, presumably derelict. The churchyard contains several Roman Catholic graves. There is a local tradition that a priest was once drowned in the nearby River Douglas. Close to the church there is a striking mound, believed to be a prehistoric Tumulus.

Arles is not far from Ballylinan on ByRoute 8.

Ballickmoyler (Baile Mhic Mhaoilir) is strategically located, and has frequently suffered as a result. According to Lewis (1837) the village was first destroyed by Danes en route from Dublin to Carlow in the C10th, and again as a result of fighting during the C16th and C17th. It recovered to become quite an important market town.

According to PW Joyce‘s Concise History of Ireland (1916), 1785 saw ‘a revival of the Whiteboys, now calling themselves “Right-boys,” led by an imaginary “Captain Right.” These misguided men committed outrages like the Whiteboys, on agents, middlemen, tithe-proctors, and others. The proctors especially, who had rendered themselves intensely odious by their cruel extortions, were pursued mercilessly, often mutilated and sometimes killed. Another class, who were mostly blameless, the Protestant curates, always present to bear the odium, and striving to live on poor incomes of £40 or £50 a year, often suffered grievous ill-treatment. The Right-boys were denounced by the Catholic clergy, especially by Dr. Butler archbishop of Cashel and Dr. Troy bishop of Ossory.’

During the 1798 Rebellion, Ballickmoyler was a meeting point for insurgents marching on Carlow Town. They found their way barred by Crown troops, who chased them back the way they came. Some say it was the rebels who burned the village in frustration, others that it was a British reprisal; quite likely both sides contributed to the destruction, which left more than half the village in ruins.

The Big Wind of early January 1839 wrought havoc, and the community was devastated by cholera during the Great Famine – for which the Carlow Sentinel, “a journal, it should be borne in mind, but little inclined to cast undeserved blame upon the landed proprietors“, criticised local landowners thus: “In the Ballickmoyler district, Queen’s County, a few have, it is true, contributed; but where are the names of the Earl Kenmore [sicor of the Earl of Portarlington, upon whose estates a vast mass of hideous poverty exists? We have not heard that 1s of their money has yet been contributed, although their agents draw large sums from the extensive estates of these two noblemen in the awfully distressed district to which we refer. We have heard, but cannot say the rumour is true, that Sir Charles Coote, M.P., has only forwarded the relief fund the paltry sum of 10l. Can this be true? We really cannot credit the assertion that a wealthy baronet, of large estate in a barony of the country which he represents, with a vast means of pauperism in the district, and a great number of starving people on his estate, would only contribute a sum of 10l.! If he has been so fortunate as to send 1s. more we shall apologize for our error in the cause of humanity and the poor of our country. Our readers should fully comprehend the causes why we dwell on a subject of so much importance in this district of the Queen’s County. . . .”

Cooper Hill / Cooperhill, about a mile south of Ballickmoyler, was an estate acquired by a Quaker called Edward Cooper in 1714, and occupied by his family until his last male descendants were killed in WWI.

Cooper Hill House, built in 1717 and considerably altered and extended in 1840, has been the residence of the Brennan family since 1942. It has a very attractive avenue and demesne.

There are pleasant forest walks in the vicinity of Ballickmoyler.

Ballickmoyler is quite close to Killeshin and Clonmore near Graiguecullen, nowadays part of Carlow Town.

Wolfhill & Swan (Co. Laois / Southeast)

Wolfhill is a former coalmining centre on the northern edge of the Castlecomer Plateau. Local collieries saw extensive Rockite (“Whitefoot”) disturbances in the late 1820s.

Wolf Hill (800ft) is heavily forested. The summit commands wonderful views of the Slieve Margy region. There are two Neolithic / bronze age tombs, a chambered cairn known as “the Druids’ Altar” (hence the local townland’s name, Monamanary – “Plateau of the Druidesses”), surrounded by a Stone Circle, and the less elaborate  “Ass’s Manger”.

Tulip Cottage is a small attractive traditional Irish farmhouse in a scenic district on the slopes of Wolf Hill. It has full self-catering facilities and is available for rent on a weekly or monthly basis.

Wolfhill, on the northern edge of the Castlecomer Plateau, is within easy reach of Luggacullen on ByRoute 8.

Swan / The Swan is a relatively new community, named after the local pub, The Swan Inn. Apart from agriculture and horse breeding, the main industry is a fireclay factory established in 1935 by PJ Fleming, a prominent IRA activist.

Swan, on the northern edge of the Castlecomer Plateau, is linked by the R426 to Timahoe on ByRoute 8.

Spink (Co. Laois / South)

Spink (“pointed rock”) is an attractive rural district.

Saint Lazarian’c church (RC), built in 1849, has a Grotto devoted to the Virgin Mary, visited by thousands during the “Moving Statues” craze of 1986.

The church carpark is the starting point of a pleasant rural walk criss-crossing the Owenbeg River, a tributary of the River Nore.

Dysart Abbey was inhabited by monks until Cromwellian times, when the church was plundered and left to rot.

The Wartstone at Dysart crossroads used to be the Dysart Abbey holy water font. The hollow in the Wartstone has never been known to go dry, no matter how long a dry spell. Its reputation for curing warts has been handed down through the generations. To avail of the cure, “wash the wart thoroughly in the water with a piece of cloth, recite five ‘Our Fathers’, five ‘Hail Marys’ and five ‘Glory Bes’ and then hang the piece of cloth on the adjoining whitethorn bush. As your rag disintegrates, so your warts will disappear“. The practice is very much alive to judge by the number of rags hanging from the bush.

The old Cooper Estate features a path constructed  as a relief scheme to provide employment in the 1930s, forgotten until 1990 and now signposted by the local authority as a walking route.

Cooper’s Hill has a viewing platform commanding marvellous panoramas of the surrounding countryside.

Dinny’s Hill has a picnic area at its foot, and also provides lovely vistas over five counties from its summit.

Spink is quite close to Abbeyleix and Ballynakill on ByRoute 8.