This is a story about a journey Willie White
took between Tinahely to Shillelagh which we all know is in
County Wicklow. The reason I have entered this story here
is because he makes reference to places in County Carlow where he
lives such as Myshall, Killoughternane Clonard and Clonegal and
his mention of St. Finnian who was a Carlow man .
M. Brennan May 2007
Every journey has a story to tell
It was strange the way the mind can
wander and the sight of certain things or places set it working
overtime. I suppose you have to be in the mood for such things to
happen, but then a lot depends on the place you are at the time.
It so happened that on an evening
recently we were driving along the road from Tinahely to
Shillelagh ( I was not driving) but started admiring the
beautiful countryside we were passing through. On the left were
the remains of the nine old woods of the Collattin Estate with
the forty shades of green that would bedeck the slopes later in
the year. It did not take much imagination to visualise the vast
green forests that had covered the countryside at one time.
Then we began passing the open fields
where the Collatin Hunt swept over the fences in their pursuit of
a fox. That reminded me of a day at the Collatin Point to Point
when we stood in the race field and watched the horses start at
the old Union, sweep down the hill to the river, through the race
field, up to the back of the wood and then wait to see if your
fancy was still on his feet as they came into view under the road
and into the field for the finish. Those were the days when the
great Billy Burges rode the likes of Coakley or Ace High and 5/-
was a big bet.
As for the village of Shilleagh
itself, I well remember going on excursion trains to Bray from
the Shillelagh station. Another reminder we had of the railway in
Shillelagh was the place where the tracks which ran along beside
the road for about a mile used to be before we came into the
village and the time the railway was opened for traffic in May
1865, (work commenced on the line from Woodenbridge under an Act
of June 22nd 1863) the mail was sent by road to Rathdrum and then
forwarded by rail to Dublin.
The lands through which the lines
came were purchased by the Dublin, Wicklow and Wexford railway co
except the lands of the Fitzwilliam. Incidentally, the first
engine driver was Richard Hilton, who lived in the cottage facing
the railway station entrance. Once in the village we took a right
turn, up by the Courthouse (built 1892-93) and on to the Tullow
Again the beauty of the countryside
was breathtaking but has it grim reminders of the terrible
destruction caused by The Famine of 1845 -47. It was at this time
that the Union (where the races started in happier later times)
and which had been built in 1841, became so over crowded that an
extension was built on, in an effort to cope with the numbers
seeking shelter. In spite of all this great numbers died. It was
also during this period that huge numbers emigrated to America.
Some of those families came from Wicklow part of the parish of
Clonegal and on their way to New Ross, the port of embarkation,
they paused on the road just above Young’s Bridge and took a look
back at the Wicklow hills. This spot became known as the gate of
tears, because it was their last look at their native county.
Among the schemes of employment in
the Shillelagh area at the time was the making of the road from
Kilcavan Gap to meet the Carnew - Collatin Road. This was how it
got the name The Union Road. As we reached the road leading to
Kilquiggan I remembered that the road beyond Kilquiggan Chapel,
that goes through the bog, to meet the Mullinacuffe road was made
at the same time.
As we swung left we left the Tullow
Road behind us. Had we stayed on that road we could have gone on
to another well known place in the history legends and stories,
and birthplaces of the father of one of the leading poets and
balladeers in the country, the great PJ McCall.
But the road we were on now had its
own stories to tell. It was on this road that we could pass by
the ruins of Aghowle church, this was a church said to have been
built by St. Finnian of Clonard on his return from studies and
missionary work in Wales. But let us forget the road and the
journey an try to tell who St. Finnian really was. Let us go back
in time to before he was born and to a story told by his mother.
We are told that when his mother was pregnant with him, she had a
vision in which a flame of fire came into her mouth and went back
the same way in the form of a bird. The bird then went and sat on
the branch of a tree and all the birds and bird flocks of Ireland
came to sit on that tree and stayed with it there.
She told her husband of her vision,
and he said the child she had conceived was pious and that they
would sleep apart until their gifted offspring was born. During
that time she only ate mild herbs and light victuals. Again we
are told that his parents lived in the district of Myshall, Co.
Carlow. When their baby was born they had him baptised by St
Abban at the place in Killoughternane where the streams of two
fountains met and on account of the Limpid purity of the water,
he was baptised by the name of Finnlach, the child of the Limpid
As a young boy he was one of the
scholars of St Fotcher of Killoughternane. He joined with the
Ecclesiastical order to read the psalms. He also founded three
churches in this area. They were Ross Cuire (Rossacurra), Druim
Faud (Drumphea) and Magh Glas (Kilmaglush). It was later that he
travelled to Wales and he sought permission from Muiredeach,
Ruler of Hy Kinsellagh to build churches to his territory. This
was freely given and he sat about this task. Stories are told of
the wind blowing his cloak to a certain spot from a high ridge
and he decided that he was meant to build there. He sent one of
his followers to cut some wood for to build his church. When the
man returned he had an apple in his hand and when Finnian
completed his church he established a religious community at the
spot and it was named Achadh abhla. ( the field of apple trees).
He spent 16 years in Aghowle before moving on to another part of
Carlow and eventually founding his greatest monastery in Clonard
where he taught the saints and scholars of Ireland.
We are told that in the end his
pupil, Bishop Senach, one day realised how frail and worn Finnian
looked. His ribs could be counted and Senach saw a worm coming
out of his side, this was caused because he was wearing a girdle
of iron around his waist for penance. He slept on the bare ground
and his daily reflection was a bit of barley bread and a drink of
water. On Sundays and holydays he ate a bit of wheaten bread a
piece of broiled salmon and a full cup of mead or ale.
As for out journey, we had stopped at
Byrnes of the Crab Line (Little Wild Apples) for refreshments and
enjoyed the rest of the stories of Aghowle before heading for
Egans of Parksbridge and home to Clonegal. I think every road has
a story to tell if it could only get some one to listen.
- By Willie White
- Courtesy of the Carlow Nationalist
- April 2005
- The information contained in
these pages is provided solely for the purpose of sharing with others
researching their ancestors in Ireland.
- © 2001 County Carlow