ByRoute 9.1 Co. Kildare & Co. Laois

Vicarstown (Co. Laois / East)

Vicarstown (Baile an Bhiocáire) is a picturesque village and harbour with pleasant canalside walks. The marina is a good place to start a cruise down the River Barrow.

Barge approaching Vicarstown.

The origins of the name are unknown. This part of the ancient parish of Moyanna was referred to as Ballenvicker in the 1592 land grant by Queen Elizabeth 1 to Francis Cosby; and has also been called Ballynevicar, Ballyvicar and Ballyvicary.

The great Irish Parliamentarian Henry Grattan bought the local Moyonna Estate from Admiral Philip Cosby in 1782 and planted many beech trees in the area. In 1790-91 he allowed the construction free of charge across his land of the Grand Canal Barrow Line, and Vicarstown quickly developed as an important inland post.

The Canal’s chief engineer, Archibald Millor, was unimpressed by Vicarstown Bridge, predicting that it would not stay up; it is still in place over 200 years later to prove him wrong.

The Grattan Aqueduct, built in 1790 under the supervision of engineer Richard Evans, takes the canal over the Derryvarragh River.

Dunrally Fort, at the junction of the Rivers Derryvarragh and Barrow, was a C9th O’More stronghold, captured and converted into a stockaded settlement and Longphort by the Viking leader Rodolf / Rodalph (d.873 AD), son of Harold, a king of Denmark overthrown and expelled in 820 AD. The fort was destroyed in 862 AD, and Rodolf reapeared four months later on the Rhine. Possession of the site was disputed over the centuries between the O’Mores and various Norman lords. Henry Grattan used it to build a shooting lodge / summer house. He wanted to be buried locally, but when he died in London in 1820 his peers felt the Westminster Abbey was more fitting.

James Grattan, an ” improving” landlord, built Dunrally Bridge in 1820, and in 1838 the family gave financial assistance to the new Church of the Assumption (RC), designed by Joseph Lynch with a similar layout to Carlow Cathedral.

Lady Pauline Grattan-Bellew funded the construction of the architecturally pleasing Vicarstown National School in 1868 for the education of her tenant’s children, and in 1882 built the charming residence now known as Grattan Lodge. She was also responsible for the enlargement of the graveyard at the now ruined church on the Moyonna estate, and the adornment of the entrance with the Grattan coat of arms.

Other interesting buildings in Vicarstown include the old barracks, built in 1801 after damage to the canal by insurgents during the 1798 Rebellion, and later used by the RIC, and the old Market (1820).

Both of the village’s attractive pubs host popular traditional music sessions. The Vicarstown Inn also offers self-catering accommodation.

Vicarstown is linked to Athy (co. Kildare) on ByRoute 7 by a road between the River Barrow and the Grand Canal spur.

Stradbally // Ballintubbert (Co. Laois / East)

Stradbally (An Sráidbhaile“town of (one) street”); formerly Stradbally-Leix (Stradbaile-Laoighisi – “the street-town of Leix”, so named by the Four Masters in 1596) began as a settlement near Oughaval, the site of a late C6th monastery founded at  by Saint Colman-mac-ua-Laoise, a disciple of Saint Columba, and was the location of a C12th Franciscan Friary that resisted King Henry VIII‘s 1540 Dissolution of the Monasteries to survive well into the C17th.

Stradbally in 2007 (Photo by Tommyb67)

Stradbally was later developed as an attractive C18th “planned” village, with a Market Square and a Courthouse Square, designed by the Cosby family, of notoriously bloody ancestry, who still live locally.

Stradbally Hall

 

Stradbally Hall has been the seat of the Cosby family since the C16th, but the mansion as it appears today is a mid-C19th enlargement in Classical style of a Georgian house, built in 1772 to replace a yet older residence, the foundations of which can still be traced among the trees that border the avenue leading from the southern entrance to the demesne.

 

The pillared façades of the mansion overlook parkland, terraces and gardens, while the interior features impressively proportioned and furnished rooms such as the Salon, Great Library/Ballroom. “Prayer Hall”, billiard room, Grand Staircase and Picture Gallery.

 

Nowadays, the estate is best-known as the original headquarters of the Irish Steam Preservation Society, whose Steam Museum in the village puts steam engines, and steam-powered tractors and cars on display; those in working order are demonstrated, and what is claimed to be the only narrow gauge Steam Railway in the Republic of Ireland offers rides along a short track.

 

The annual Steam Rally, held here since 1965, is an opportunity to view the most extraordinary contraptions, lovingly maintained by eccentrics from all over the island.(Photo by Tommyb67)

 

The demesne is also the venue for the fashionable Electric Picnic, a “boutique” music festival held every year since 2004.

 

A Russian Orthodox church dedicated to Saint Colman of Oughaval was erected in the grounds in 1994. (Photo by brien h)

Oughaval / Oakvale is the site of Saint Colman’s original C6th monastic foundation, where The Book of Leinster / Lebar na Nuachongbala was kept for many years. It is the location of a ruined C12th church with a mortuary-chancel added by the Cosby family in the C18th. A memorial to the remarkably longlived Thomas Douglas (1630-1734) on the south wall bears the legend “Blest be ye men who spare these bones, Curst be they who move these stones!”

Oughaval Woods is a 150ha Coillte  forestry plantation of mixed conifer and broadleaf trees with over 20km of walking trails. This is an excellent place to spot wildlife, including squirrels, rabbits, foxes, badgers, game birds and a wide range of native avian species. Deep amongst the trees can be found an C18th Mass Rock and a later folly called Cobbler’s Castle.

Patrick Semple, the writer and broadcaster, was the Church of Ireland Rector in Stradbally for several years.

Stradbally hosts an annual Summer Floral Festival, and is one of the locations on the Laois Sculpture Trail.

Timogue church (CoI), about a mile and a half south of Stradbally, is an unusually splendid church built c.1736, containing an ancient octagonal Baptismal font. The aisle is flagged with Fitzgerald and Byrne family memorials, and there is a striking early monument to Gerald Fitzgerald of Moret, “murthered and his castle burnt there in the reign of Queen Elizabeth

(It is elsewhere related that, having decoyed a leading member of the O’Kelly clan into his Castle of Morett under pretence of hospitality, Fitzgerald had his guest’s head struck off. He wrote immediately to Queen Elizabeth informing her that he had despatched a chief rebel who was in close alliance with the O’Mores; whereupon he received from the Queen a grant of O’Kelly’s property, which was acquired after his death by Daniel Byrne, a wealthy Dublin draper, whose descendants became Baronets and eventually moved to Cheshire).

Nearby are two Ring-Forts, a ruined mill, the site of a Tower House, and the childhood home of Kevin O’Higgins, the Irish Free State government minister murdered in Dublin in 1927.

This village in the Slieve Margy hills was famously linked with the Landsdowne estate at Luggacurren and the Land War of the 1880s and 1890s.

Ballintubbert House, formerly Ballintubbert Glebe, was the birthplace of Cecil Day Lewis. The house later belonged to the actor John Hurt.

Kellyville, Ballintubbert, was the birthplace of the Rev. Thomas Kelly (1769 – 1855), whose evangelical zeal alienated him from the Church of Ireland authorities. Banned from preaching in Anglican churches, he founded the ‘Kellyites’, with their main meetinghouse in nearby Athy (Co. Kildare) and others in Portarlington (Co. Laois) and Blackrock (Co. Dublin). He produced many tracts aimed at converting Roman Catholics, and also published eight editions of his hymnal, containing several hymns still in use today. The sect withered away after he died.

Kellyville Lake, a man-made lake of approximately 12 acres on the former Webber Estate, was the location of the most successful Duck Decoy in Ireland, operating in the period 1870 – 1910. Thomas Webber wrote in 1891 of between six and seven thousand ducks on the lake. It silted up and became overgrown with vegetation over the years, but has now been fully restored and stocked with coarse fish. There are lakes with the same name in Oklahoma and Greenland.

Stradbally and Ballintubbert are within easy reach of Ballylinan and Timahoe on ByRoute 8.