As part of National Bike Week and Galway Bike
Festival, I initiated on behalf of Cumann na bhFear (Men's Shed) a new heritage cycle trail on Sunday June 15th.
The event will be repeated on Sunday August 30th. Rendezvous: 10.15am, in front of Athenry Castle.
Known as the Three Athenry Castles' Heritage Looped Cycle Trail, it starts at Athenry (Irish = Baile Átha an Rí, "Ford of the King") Castle, continues on through the bogs of Bengarra
and Monivea, through the demesne of the Anglo-Norman Ffrench family, onto the village of Monivea (Irish = Muine Mheá, "Meadow of the mead), with a stopover at the fine Georgian mansion of Castle
Ellen and finishes up at its medieval starting point.
|Botharín, Currantarmuid |
The rural landscape covered by the trail is a
delightful though largely unknown (to the non-residents) cornucopia of
small farms, hedgerows, traditional drystone walls, botharíns, villages, lakes,
bogs, rivers, castles, and Georgian mansions that are waiting to be discovered
by walkers and cyclists.
One of the main highlight for participants will be a stop-over at the 1810 Castle Ellen (Caisleán Eilise) mansion
where we will be greeted by the owner and renowned antiquarian Michael Keaney (Micheál Ó Cionnaith) and his assistant Annette Flanagan.
|fFrench Mausoleum, Monivea|
|Castle Ellen jn its imperial heyday|
Michael has a keen interest in ensuring
that our looped heritage cycle trail becomes a permanent tourism fixture in
east Galway as he has ambitious plans to transform this historical building and
it grounds into an alternative hostel aimed towards the walkers’ and cyclists’
The proposed living quarters for guests has a dormitory layout, woodfire stoves, limestone walls and paintings by Lol Hardiman (see photo above).
|The new Dormitory|
Michael will bring us on a guided tour of his
fascinating mansion, its extensive farmyard and outbuildings, the pasture lands
and a new wood that he is populating with trees, native wildflowers and
Castle Ellen is the former residency of the
Anglo-Irish Lambert family and the birthplace of one Isabella Lambert who was mother
of the arch-Unionist and the great hate figure of Irish republicanism, Edward
|Climbing an old demesne tree|
He was known as the creator of Northern Ireland and a huge statute of
him dominates the front of the Northern Ireland parliament at Stormont in
Belfast. He is also remembered as the barrister responsible for prosecuting and
ending the career of Oscar Wilde, his former friend, who supposedly was brought on a number of occasions to enjoy the hospitality and scenery of Castle Ellen whilst they were students together in Trinity College Dublin.
| Captain Peter Lambert of Castle Ellen (c1785-1844)|
It seems that Edward spent many happy times at
Castle Ellen. It was during his sojourns in east Galway that he learnt the
Gaelic game of hurling which he helped popularized at Trinity College Dublin,
one of the great bastions of British imperialism in Ireland.
Michael bought the demesne in 1974 when the
buildings were in an advance state of disrepair and has spent much energies and
monies over the subsequent years endeavouring to bring the place back to its
former Victorian aristocratic splendour. A true labour of love that he deserves
great admiration for.
|Steps to the former Tennis & Croquet Lawns|
In the process, he has built up an eclectic mix
of memorabilia, from military artifacts to ancient farmyard machinery. You get
a strong sense of the British Empire at its zenith as you wander through the
remnants of croquet and tennis lawns, the walled gardens with their orchards
and maze, the tree lined avenue, court yard, the pony-driven water well and the livestock tunnel.
|Old farm machinery, Castle Ellen |
During the 1990s, Castle Ellen was an renowned artists’
retreat, where painters, sculptors and others were given residency in lieu of
restoration and enhancement works to the mansion,
|Basement Servant's Quarters, Castle Ellen|
The Three Athenry Castles Looped Heritage Cycle
Trail: Route Overview
The c29km looped cycle tour starts at Athenry
Castle and then travels onto the Monivea Road before turning right
approximately 1.5km outside Athenry in the direction of Graigabbey.
then passes through the farmlands and bogs of Bengarra,
|Bog Cotton, Monivea|
on into the village of
Newcastle, along a botharín through the Monivea Bog with its fascinating flora
to the Monivea demesne with its collection of historical sites that
was for centuries the home of the renowned Anglo-Norman fFrench family, one of
the famous merchant tribes of Galway.
This is followed by a stopover in the
quaint colonial plantation village of Monivea where flax in former times was laid out to dry on
its spacious green.
All the Fun of the Monivea Fair!
Our tour of August 30th coincides with the hosting of the annual Monivea Fair aka Agricultural Show where we will enjoy all the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, culinary delights, displays of prized animals and vintage farm equipment, fairground attractions, games and merriment of a traditional rural gathering at the end of the harvest in Ireland in days gone by.
|Prized Sheep at Monivea Fair|
|Fowl & Vintage Tractors at Monivea Fair|
After this thoroughly enjoyable event, we will continue onto Castle Ellen where
visitors can enjoy a walk along the lawns of the famed Georgian mansion that
was formerly the residency of the Anglo-Irish Lambert family.
|Archery at Monivea Fair|
The route then
continues onto for five km to the medieval town of Athenry.
Click here for an online map of the route.
|Lamberts' Coat of Arms|
|Keep, Athenry Castle|