My feet are here on Broadway
This blessed harvest morn,
But oh! the ache that’s in my heart
For the spot where I was born.
My weary hands are blistered
Through work in cold and heat!
And oh! to swing a scythe once more
Through a field of Irish wheat.
Had I the chance to wander back,
Or own a king’s abode.
I’d sooner see the hawthorn tree
By the Old Bog Road.
The Old Bog Road
Well it’s May, and no better time to head on up towards the Old Bog Road and chance upon some May blossom, courtesy of the ever-prolific and always-welcome Hawthorn. I must concede, though, that this event and subsequent post has more to do with serendipity, and my host for Sunday morning’s run, Gary (AKA Royal Canal Runner) than any planned historical outing on my part. Let me explain.
The long run was planned throughout the week. Gary had 20 miles to do, and asked if I would like to join in. Avid readers of my blog know at this stage that I was dropped on my head as a child, but we’re still not sure from what height. Suffice to say, like the fish that got away, it gets higher each year…
And so, as the week drew to a close, and April gave way to May and Bealtaine, the fine weather hung on just long enough to give us a glorious day out on the Greenway. It was cold, mind you; the early start at 05:50 meant I had to scrape the windscreen clear of ice before I could get on the road to meet Gary at his house in Maynooth. With early morning ablutions taken care of, we set off on our way.
May always sneaks up on me. It’s not May’s fault. That’s purely mine. It’s probably my favourite month. Sure, you’ll hear talk of March and all that ‘in like a lion, out like a lamb’ stuff. Well, it doesn’t always follow here in our little rock on the edge of the Atlantic. April can be wet and windy too, but this year… it seems to have been unseasonably dry. And plenty of sun, though it has been cool. But that’s not the point; it’s just that the months ticks over and we pass each marker: St. Patrick’s Day, Spring Equinox, Easter… and then suddenly it’s the May Bank Holiday, and you realise you’re into the fifth month of the year. How did that happen? WHEN did that happen?
And my mind is always a few hours behind. Let’s be honest, with Covid and lockdown, I can generally get through the week without being aware of what day it is. But it’s the sunrise that catches me out. As I arose on Sunday morning to grab some breakfast, I thought about the nice photos I might catch on the towpath as the sun rose behind the trees. Well, I needed to to be up a good hour earlier for that. And then just as that little realisation hits you between the eyes, you get another slap on the back of the head when it further dawns on you that it will start getting darker earlier again in about eight weeks… (Did you just use the word ‘dawn’ there? Ed).
On with the show.
We ran out west towards Kilcock, and soon came to Ferrans Lock. Here is located a small pumping station that takes water from the juvenile Rye River and tips it into the canal. It seems to be running most of the times I pass. Canal enthusiasts understand how canals work, and that they need to be topped up regularly. Canal lock engineering is a triumph of simplicity but it still cannot make water flow upwards. Without a regular source, all canals would eventually drain away to their lowest level, assuming the lock gates allowed even the smallest flow.
Our destination was further on again. A few miles west is Cloncurry Bridge, and we were close to our turning point. It was here that Gary decided to take a small detour to visit Cloncurry Cemetery. He wanted to see the grave of Irish republican and poet, Teresa Brayton. Born in 1868, Teresa was indeed someone who lived during interesting times. Born not far from her resting place, she made her name in the States as a writer, and was a stout supporter of Irish independence. Her Wiki page has a good synopsis, and my favourite quote from it describes her as ‘a patriot, but never in the vulgar sense a politician.’
It would appear that there are a few recent graves here, so I assume it is probably still in use if you have a family plot. There is more history here, and lots of good images. It was the Norman motte and bailey just on the edge of the cemetery that caught my eye, and Gary very kindly researched it on his return and sent me the information. It would seem that this was once the outer edge of Anglo-Norman influence and was a fortification on the boundary known as The Pale. The area was granted to Adam de Hereford around 1176, and this name will pique your interest if you are an Irish history scholar, and especially if you live around these parts. de Hereford was the right hand man of Richard de Clare, better-known as Strongbow (though not during his lifetime). And when they arrived in the Ireland in 1169, they had the run of the place, to use the vernacular. Whilst Strongbow set about taking over the country, he granted lands to all his sidekicks, and de Hereford seems to have been one of his favourites. One of his greatest achievements was the construction of Leixlip Castle. And as I have spent many happy hours in that wonderful building, it was a lovely historical elision.
We sat for a few minutes, pondering on the various graves and names inscribed, took on some snacks and water, and then headed back the way we came. It was getting warmer by the minute, be we managed to keep a reasonable pace. My watch clocked it at 32k in 3.20:23. No land speed records, but that is not the point of the weekend long run, and certainly not when you have all that history and heritage to luxuriate in.
I know all places are like this. Everywhere you go you are surrounded by the ghosts of history. Some loud and proud, others quiet and stoic. Mostly, they’re simply not there anymore, or you need a trained eye to see them. (I think sometimes we Irish believe we are the only people alive with such a rich and tragic history, and of course, that is simply not true.) And that is when a trusty companion can really be a blessing.
You can sail through life blissfully unaware of all that surrounds you. This is why it is a treat to be out and about with someone knowledgeable. It doesn’t matter if that’s an expert on birds, flowers, mosses, history, anthropology, or the engineering behind the internal combustion engine. Or where the author of The Old Bog Road is buried. They say if you are the smartest person in the room, then you are in the wrong room. It’s a great quote. Certainly, there are times in life when you don’t want to be that person, but in more general terms – if we ditch the boardroom hardshaw shenanigans – I believe you will always enjoy the company of people who ‘know stuff’.
I find, too, that those people are usually quite generous with their knowledge. Like running on a sunny Sunday morning along the banks of the Royal Canal, it is one of life’s pleasures.
Speaking of intelligence, did I mention we have two greyhounds?