An abbey and an alley in Abbeylara

We headed over for a spin to Abbeylara, on Friday evening, its a quaint little village, close to the Longford and Cavan border. Directions can be found here.  It is one of those Irish villages that could be used as the set of a movie from the 1930’s. The village is kept immaculate, the villagers obviously have a lot of pride in their village and an active tidy towns group.

We wanted to use the handball alley court, I love how this court was constructed back in 1924 by local people, just as the Irish free state was in its infancy.  There are also old Cistercian Abbey ruins in Abbeylara, that date back to the 13th Century, when Richard De Tuite established an Abbey in about 1205 for the Cistercian monks.

I really need a blue sky for my photos, to be considered anyway pretty and or have a filter applied!  Although I got lucky last year, when I got a blue sky, followed shortly by a sun shower and a rainbow appeared, the lighting and weather can really change in the space of a few minutes in Ireland.

These photos are from June 2015 and were just taken on my phone and I have no filters on them.

Before lovely blue sky background.

Cistercian Abbey in Longford
Abbeylara abbey ruins with a blue sky

After 15 minutes, the dark clouds rolled in.

Old Cisterian Abbey monastery ruins
A Rainbox appeared beside the medieval Cistercian Abbey ruins in Abbeylara

The photo below of Richard, was taken in June 2015, at about 7.30 pm in the evening it was sunny but cool, hence the wooly hat and base layer. Also, note to any readers who may not be familiar with the game of handball, this not how you play it!  we were just messing about having a puck about with a hurley stick and a tennis ball.

Handball Alley court

I love this cottage, I think it was an abandoned old cottage in the village that was spruced up by the tidy towns committee.  It reminds me of my Junior Cert Art project, for which I made an Irish cottage complete with green doors and windows but I had straw for the roof.  I still have the cottage in the attic, it was part of the art assessment, you had to create a 3D structure and the subject topic was Ireland in the 18th century, I must throw up a photo of it later.

Irish cottage with a green tin roof
Irish cottage in Abbeylara County Longford
Irish cottage
Irish Cottage with green tin roof in Abbeylara

And the auld triangle went jingle jangle

All along the banks of the Royal Canal.

The Royal Canal was immortalised in Brendan Behan’s song The Auld Triangle.

Last Summer we walked part of the Royal Canal Way in county Longford.  We started off near the village of Kilashee and walked to Clondra and back, it is a distance of about 12 kilometres in total.  I think we started from Aghanaskea bridge point 8 on the Royal Canal trackway map below and walked to Richmond Harbour.  It was a beautiful sunny day and we stopped for a drink at the pub and sat outside.

Royal Canal longford map
Source: www.LongfordTourism.ie

You can view the full map and other information here.

You can start from Longford town and cycle or walk the full 16 kilometres.   The surface isn’t tarmac so it isn’t as smooth in parts, it might be better to cycle it with a mountain or hybrid bike than a road bike with thin wheels.  I believe there is a long term plan that the canal trackway or Blueway will join up with the Royal Canal Greenway which is completed in Westmeath, the route would go from the Mullingar greenway to Abbeyshrule and onto Longford town.   It is connected to the long term plans for the Dublin – Galway Greenway.

Royal Canal Way Walk Longford
Royal Canal Way Walk Longford

This would be a great boost to Longford,  walkers and cyclists could travel from Westmeath to Longford on a safe and traffic free route. The opening of the greenway in Mayo, has given a boost to the local economy and provided a great leisure activity.  The recent opening of the Old Rail trail greenway in Westmeath should hopefully see the same positive results.  I know another greenway is due to open in 2016 in Waterford, it will be called the Deise greenway and will run on the old Waterford to Dungarvan railway.

Royal Canal Gate water

Activities in Longford on the Royal Canal

If you are in Longford for a weekend, this canal trackway is a great amenity:

Cycling:  You could bring or rent bikes and cycle from Longford town or Kilashee to Clondra, this is very doable for all levels of fitness as it is completely flat.  You could always rent an electric bike if you don’t feel up to the full route.  Then have lunch in Clondra village or cycle a little further up the road to the village of Tarmonbarry in Roscommon.

Hikes/Walking:  If you prefer to walk, the canal is a nice flat scenic and safe walk with lots of wildlife to see, you could also bring a picnic along.

Watersports:  At Aghanaskea bridge, you can go kayaking, we saw a sign for kayak rentals.  I’m not sure if anyone is doing it in Longford yet, but Stand Up Paddling is becoming very popular and would be suited to the sheltered Royal Canal.

Fishing: You can bring or rent fishing rods and fish along the canal.

Walking Tour:  We saw a sign for walking tours on the canal, which recounts the history of the Royal Canal.  I would love to do this sometime in the future.

There doesn’t appear to any bike rentals online for Longford, but I do believe you can rent a bike locally in a bike shop or from a local cycle club.  I think this is a potential business opportunity for someone! but until the Westmeath to Longford greenway opens, it may not be a viable option.

Quick History of the Royal Canal

The Royal Canal was built over 27 years, starting from the initial land survey in 1789 and work finishing in 1817.  Barges carried cargo and passengers down the canal.  It proved a popular mode of transportation for goods and passenger’s for the next 30 years, but the arrival of the railways signalled the end of the canals.  I read online on the RCAG website, “that a passenger journey time from Dublin to Mullingar initially took twelve hours..” .  By the 1880’s passenger journeys ceased and only cargo was transported until 1961, when the Canal closed.  In 2010 this section of the Royal Canal in Longford was reopened.

Royal Canal 19th Century Stone Bridge in Longford

The Royal Canal is a lovely scenic walk and you will pass wildlife on the canal and we were lucky enough to see cattle been herded on the other side of the canal path and brought across the canal bridge for milking.  It was a nice rural scene to catch,  all the cows walking along and lined up.

 

 

We passed an old canal gate keeper’s cottage, which had a plaque on it, the cottage was restored by a lady called Frances K. Kelly, who lived in Forest Hills in New York.  You can read about Frances and the cottage restoration project here.  I have to say, it really is a heart warming story.

Frances' Cottage on the Royal Canal
Frances’ Cottage on the Royal Canal

 

The plaque reads “She always loved old buildings and the history that went with them.”

Frances K. Kelly Royal Canal cottage
Frances Cottage

I would love to restore an old house and for the same reason as Frances did.   Although the entrepreneur in me, I would probably put the spare room on Air BnB!

 

 

Roadside Art fiddle
Fiddle road art on N5 in Longford

 

boats royal canal Ireland
Boats on the Royal Canal

 

kayaks on royal canal
Kayaker’s on the Royal Canal in Longford

 

Boats at Richmond Harbour
Richmond Harbour in Longford

 

bridge over royal canal Longford
Bord na Mona Bridge on Royal Canal

 

royal canal pathway
Royal Canal Blueway

All along the banks of the Royal Canal

Images from a walk on the Royal Canal Way in Longford, Ireland, from Kilashee to Clondra in June 2015.

To read the blog post, click here.

 

 

 

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Blacksmith of Ballinalee

We drove through north county Longford recently and noticed this prominent bronze statue of Seán MacEoin by sculptor Rory Breslin, erected in 2013 in the quaint village of Ballinalee, County Longford.

Seán Mac Eoin was an Irish politician with the Fine Gael party and soldier, rising to the position of a General,  who fought in the War of Independence.  He was commonly referred to as the “Blacksmith of Ballinalee”.

The Battle of Ballinalee took place during the Irish War of Independence on 3 November 1920. The Irish Republican Army(IRA), led by Seán Mac Eoin, drove a force of British Army and Royal Irish Constabulary from the village of Ballinalee in County Longford.

Photos below show the location of the Clonfin Ambush, where a monument is erected.  The North Longford IRA flying column defeated the British forces at Clonfin,  Ballinalee in Longford on the 2nd February 1921.

Seán Mac Eoin’s Blacksmith forge which was burnt down by the British and later rebuilt.

Blacksmith forge Longford
Sean Mac Eoin Blacksmith forge

The grave of Seán Mac Eoin, who died in 1973 and is buried at St Emer’s cemetery in Ballinalee, County Longford.

Seán Mac Eoin IRA leader of the North Longford Flying column

 

Images: Melcoo.com
Text: Melcoo.com & Wiki
Image of Sean MacEoin - Irish archives

To Edgeworthstown and Beyond

We took part in a new walking tour over the summer in County Longford.  The St. Mary’s to St. John’s & Beyond walking tour is an historical and literary trail based in the town of Edgeworthstown.

St Marys to St Johns and Beyond Walking heritage trail
St Marys to St Johns and Beyond Walking Tour (Click on images to enlarge & click outside of images to close)

The walking tour tells the history of the town and of the Edgeworth family and other famous literary figures connected with the family in County Longford, including the head of the family, Richard Lovell Edgeworth, who was an inventor, (find out what he invented here) and also about his daughter, the novelist Maria Edgeworth.

Maria Edgeworth Portrait
Maria Edgeworth Portrait in the Rectory

Maria Edgeworth, was born on 1st of January 1767 near Oxford in Great Britain but spent most of her life in Ireland.  Her novels include, Castle Rackrent and The Absentee, which were novels about Irish tenants and the Landlord classes.  Castle Rackrent was the first novel to give the ordinary Irish peasant a voice.

The tour starts from the gothic style St Mary’s Church, which is just off the N4 road in the town, we got an introduction on the Edgeworth family and a short history about the church.  The guide that day was Matt Farrell, he has a nice pleasant manner and is very knowledgeable and enthusiastic, which really helps to bring the stories and sites we visited to life.

St Marys Church Edgeworthstown
St Marys Church Edgeworthstown

We left the church and walked across the road into the grounds of the Manor nursing home which, was the ancestral home of the Edgeworth’s family.  We got to see the house and grounds where they lived and also the walled garden’s.

Edgeworth Walled Gardens
Edgeworth Literary Trail Gardens
Edgeworth Walled Gardens
Edgeworth Walled Gardens

As this is private property, it was great to view this site in particular on the tour.  We then moved onto the Main Street and found out about a few of the buildings in the town, this was very interesting as having passed through the town for many years, it was great to find out the background, one in particular was the connection to Charles Bianconi.

The Lodge Edgeworthstown
The Lodge Edgeworthstown
Porter House Edgeworth Trail
Porter House Edgeworth Trail

The tour then moved onto the Rectory and to St John’s Church and graveyard, where the Edgeworth family are buried.  We heard lots of interesting stories and history along the way connected to the Edgeworth’s and visitors to Edgeworthstown over the years, you can check, out the tour to hear all about them.

St Johns Church Edgeworthstown
St Johns Church Edgeworthstown

We were lucky to attend the walking tour during the Maria Edgeworth Literary festival and when we arrived, at the Rectory there was a short presentation by the artist Bernard Canavan as he presented a painting of the Edgeworth’s to the town, I really liked this painting it reminded me of Jack B Yeats work.  We also got to attend an interesting lecture on Maria Edgeworth given by Dr Derek Hand  in St John’s Church.

Matt Farrell Tour Guide Bernard Canavan Artist Edgeworthstown
The artist Bernard Canavan presents a painting to the people of Edgeworthstown

The tour is a great idea and is run by the Edgeworth Society and is a great boost to tourism in the county, I recommend doing the tour and afterwards, you can visit nearby Ardagh village.  This quaint village is synonymous with the poet Oliver Goldsmith.  (Check out our post here).

You can book a group tour or contact the Edgeworth Society through their website or on their Facebook page, to find out about their next organised public tour.

I love everything that is old..

Travel back in time to an old world village in the midlands of Ireland. Ardagh is a hidden gem in Ireland, as we reckon, not many of the estimated 60,000 motorists who pass everyday within a few kilometres of Ardagh have been here or are aware of how different and unique this Irish village is.
Ardagh in County Longford, Ireland, is a village which can trace it’s roots back to the 5th century, when Saint Patrick founded a monastery here.  Today, it is known as a heritage village, it looks and feels like a village from the pages of a Jane Austin novel. I’ve always thought, it would make an ideal location for a movie like Pride and Prejudice, perhaps one day it can be used for a Oliver Goldsmith film. It has the look of a quaint 19th century English village.  It is an Estate Village designed and built in the 19th century, by the local landlords, the Fetherston Baronets.

The village buildings have been preserved and have protected structure status.  The village has many fine examples of mid 19th century Victorian architecture, from the village square, church and a bell tower.  The former Fetherston estate worker’s picturesque cottages are dotted around the village.  There were also later additions with the late nineteenth century public house building, called Lyons and the schoolhouse.


The 18th century writer, poet and gambler, Oliver Goldsmith, based his play “She stoops to conquer” in Ardagh.                                                 Ardagh and the townlands nearby are known as Goldsmith country.

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Image Credit: Oliver Goldsmith by Sir Joshua Reynolds by Joshua Reynolds – National Portrait Gallery: NPG 828 via Wikimedia 

Oliver Goldsmith had originally planned to become a member of the clergy and studied theology and law at Trinity College but never really took to studying and was even expelled at one stage for rioting. He eventually finished his studies but didn’t obtain the appropriate grade to become a clergyman.  He went onto Edinburgh and studied medicine but again failed to study and changed careers. During his lifetime, Oliver studied, travelled around Europe, wrote plays and poems and gambled a fair bit as well!

So it is quite ironic, that a man who never really took to formal education, should now have a prominent statue erected in front of Trinity College or perhaps it is quite apt, considering the dropout rates in colleges, as young people try to figure out what they want to do with their lives.

Oliver Goldsmith statue at the front of Trinity College

Ardagh is located in County Longford, about 8 kilometres from Edgeworthstown, Longford, off the N4 National road and between Ballymahon and Edgeworthstown, off the N55 Secondary road.

See directions on how to get to Ardagh.

We love old buildings and travelling to old historic sites, Ardagh really ticks a lot of boxes, as Oliver said..

I love every thing that is old; old friends, old times, old manners, old books, old wines.

Oliver Goldsmith, She Stoops to Conquer

Photos from Ardagh Village

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The Ardagh Heritage centre which is housed in the old village schoolhouse, has an exhibition about the history of Ardagh, which is well worth a visit, they also host different Art and Craft events regularly.

For more on Ardagh, check out the Longford tourism site.

Also, for more details on the buildings architecture, check out the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage (NIAH) website and the Archiseek website , which are both treasure troves of details.

Special mention goes out to the Goldsmith Inn, a pub in nearby Edgeworthstown, where we first heard of the writer, they have a nice little history of Oliver Goldsmith, hanging along the walls of the pub.



 

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Newcastle House and Newcastle Woods

Forest trail longford
Newcastle Woods in Ballymahon, County Longford, Ireland

If you are passing through the midlands of Ireland, a hidden gem well worth a visit is Newcastle Woods and Newcastle House in county Longford.

Newcastle House is an old Manor house built in the 18th Century (from about 1710, with alternations up to 1860), located in Ballymahon, County Longford.  It was the main residence of the King-Harman landlords.  The forest beside Newcastle house is called Newcastle Woods and use to be part of the Newcastle estate, it was sold by the King-Harman family in 1934 to the Irish Forestry and is now owned and maintained by Coillte, it is open to the public, all year round and there are four different walks you can do, the Access for All walk, the River Inny Walk, the Church Walk and the Wandering Walk.  Source: Coillte Outdoors

Big House Longford
Newcastle House in Ballymahon, County Longford, Ireland. 

 

How to get to Newcastle, Ballymahon, Longford

Directions to Newcastle Woods and Newcastle House:

M6/Athlone/South direction: Coming from Athlone, County Westmeath, drive 24 kilometres on the N55 to Ballymahon Village, turn left onto the main street, over the River Inny and on the right hand side, between the River Inn Bar and St Catherine’s church, there is a narrow side road. Follow this small windy road, for about 2 kilometres to a T junction beside Newcastle bridge.  Newcastle Woods is on the left (you will see the entrance to the carpark opposite the T junction) and if you take a right and drive over Newcastle bridge, for another 500 metres, you will find the entrance to Newcastle House on the left.

M4/Edgeworthstown/North direction:  Coming from Edgeworthstown, County Longford, drive 15 Kilometres, about 2 kilometres from Ballymahon on the left hand side you will see a sign for Cooney’s Hotel, take the left here and drive onto to the Newcastle road for 1 kilometre, the entrance to Newcastle Woods will be on your left.  Continue over the Newcastle narrow bridge for another 500 metres for the entrance to Newcastle House.

History of Newcastle House

According to this piece from the Longford.ie website, “Newcastle House was originally established c1680.  A Robert Choppayne is credited with building the centre block.

During the 17th century, a Scotsman named Anthony Sheppard purchased the estate. Following Anthony’s death in 1725, his sister Frances became his heir.  Frances Sheppard married Wentworth Harman and the estate remained the seat of the Harman family throughout the 18th century.  Late in the 18th century the house was enlarged and altered by the addition of a single story east wing and a two-story west wing by Lawrence Harman-King Harman.

The house remained in the family until Col. King-Harman’s death in 1949, when it was sold to the Holy Rosary Sisters. They, in turn, sold the building to a Nicholas Kindersley.”

I’m not sure how long Nicholas Kindersley kept the house but the next reference I can find to the ownership of the house is in around 2001.

In the Noughties, Newcastle House was bought by a retired New York Fire Department Firefighter called Joe Donovan.  Joe who had worked at the Twin Towers on the day of the 9/11 attacks, bought the property to renovate it, along with wife Suze Donovan, they restored the House.  Source: Independent.ie

I think they operated it as a Guest house and hired out Newcastle House for occasional functions.

By 2012, the Donovan’s decided to move back to New York and Newcastle House was sold to its current owner, a Hong Kong based business man named Mr. Hau Yan Lee.  Mr. Yan Lee has big plans for Newcastle House, going on this Longford Leader article.  There are plans to renovate the main courtyard buildings into 40 guest rooms and to convert the existing derelict back courtyard buildings into cafe/tea rooms, outhouses to Guest Apartments and upgrading the House to become a Hotel with swimming pool and a gym.  You can check out the Newcastle website here.

Also, Center Parcs have leased part of the forests around Newcastle woods and will be opening a new Irish Center Parcs in Newcastle woods, which is due to open in 2019.

 

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Also, since 2012, the Newcastle Summer Music Festival, called NewCfest, has taken place on the grounds of Newcastle House.

A Hot Air Balloon festival has also regularly taken place on the grounds of Newcastle House over the last few years.

When Newcastle House is re-opened to the public, I’m looking forward to re-visiting it and seeing the renovations.

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