Castle Ellen & the 3 Athenry Castles Heritage Cycle Trail: Part 1

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. 
fFrench Mausoleum, Monivea
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.
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’ market. 
The new Dormitory
The proposed living quarters for guests has a dormitory layout, woodfire stoves, limestone walls and paintings by Lol Hardiman (see photo above).  
The Courtyard
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 pathways.
Climbing an old demesne tree
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 Carson
Captain Peter Lambert of Castle Ellen (c1785-1844)
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.
Dining Room
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.
Steps to the former Tennis & Croquet Lawns
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.
Old farm machinery, Castle Ellen
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.
Basement Servant's Quarters, 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,

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. 
Bog Cotton, Monivea
The route then passes through the farmlands and bogs of Bengarra, 
Bengarra Bog
on into the village of Newcastle, along a botharín through the Monivea Bog with its fascinating flora and fauna; 
Monivea Woods
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

Archery 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. 
Lamberts' Coat of Arms
The route then continues onto for five km to the medieval town of Athenry.  
Click here for an online map of the route.
Keep, Athenry Castle



Anonymous said...

Hi do you have a map of the route

Speedie's Blog said...

I will post a map of the route at the weekend.

Ihab said...

Looking forward for this promising cultural tour. Cycling never been more interesting :)