Leon O’Cathasaigh takes a trip around North Kildare and Meath.
The forecaster proudly proclaimed we are in grip of Atlantic regime. I am old enough to know what that means in Ireland. A succession of weather fronts line up out there, somewhere in Atlantic, and take turns sweeping in from west. Wind, rain and short days make long-term planning difficult. My bike is rested up in hall way and like dog, makes me feel guilty each day we don’t get out and about.So when I saw at last crisp blue sky one morning, I seized opportunity and cycled out to explore countryside of North Kildare. This area is often overlooked by visitors as they head straight for sea cliffs and mountainous areas to west. I remember in school teacher explained that Ireland was shaped like a great big saucer with high parts around rim and a flat plain in middle. Kildare stretches toward middle; it’s landlocked and there are few hills. However, it would be a mistake to underestimate beauty and depth of this great county. Winter cycling can be an ever changing experience.One minute you’re pushing along in shelter of hedgerows and next you’re battling swirling wind from across fields.
At times you need sunglasses to deal with low sun and later you need lights to deal with dark skies. Sometimes you feel too warm and regret many layers you have on, while other times chill wind passes through all attempts at insulation. Today was none of these. Today was perfect. Perfect light, no wind, and a long road to explore. This is land of horse and Kildare is known throughout equestrian world as a quality location for breeding stud farms. Foals born in leafy pastures of north Kildare are destained for future Derbies in Epsom and Churchill Downs. These were my thoughts as I passed through townland of Moyglare. On each side double fencing and manicured trimmings of elite stud farms remind me of wealth and nobility associated with this part of country.
It is a quiet time, mares in their winter jackets left to graze and build strength, no doubt carrying within future hopes for Melbourne Cup or Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. I too was racing along in high gear; my shadow bouncing alongside and low light of sun bringing texture to every surface. I was in zone.When ambush came I startled and swerved awkwardly. He must have been hiding behind low hedge waiting for me to pass. He shot out, barking furiously and scuttled alongside expressing annoyance at the invader. I would love to suggest he was size of an Irish wolf hound but perhaps Toto from Wizard of Oz is more accurate. By time I realised my life was not in danger he was struggling to keep up. Further on I pulled up and looked back; he stood there in middle of road satisfied with his work. I smiled at him and he still looked angry. In field nearby I noticed a donkey observing scene – both ends of equestrian spectrum on same road.This part of Ireland was once known as Pale. Centuries ago it was where most of Normans lived protected by a fortified ditch that kept them safe from wild Irish tribes.
They had come to Ireland in 12th century and over years, integrated so well they were said to be ‘more Irish than Irish themselves’. Gerald FitzGerald was most powerful man in Ireland and acted as King’s Deputy at time of Henry VIII. That was until he was called over to London for being ‘sedicious’ and stripped of office. His son, known as Silken Thomas because of fancy clothing worn by his guard, went into a rage and marched on Dublin to declare rebellion. Henry responded by sending an army and Thomas and other FitzGeralds were eventually taken and executed.Maynooth Castle, my eventual destination, was ancestral home of FitzGeralds and has seen many battles. I know town well and like to think that at one time it was centre of power in Ireland. An interesting aside is coat of arms, still to be seen at entrance to castle, bears symbol of two monkeys. The story goes that first Earl of FitzGerald was rescued from a fire by family pet monkey and animal has had pride of place ever since.
Many Irish people have names that indicate a Norman ancestry such as deLacy, FitzMaurice, FitzPatrick and of course, FitzGerald. Although Normans invaded and displaced people before them they also integrated and enriched cultural mix of island. In end it was their independent thinking and, you could say, Irish-ness that caused so much upset to kings of England and would eventually lead to their downfall.Evidence of past is embedded throughout landscape of this route. Further on, I come across old church at Rodanstown complete with yew trees and overgrown cemetery. I stop to explore and try to make out names on old stones. They are too old and worn to reveal their details. It should be quiet and peaceful but crows and ravens above were having conference and created quite a racket. The road becomes a path and path becomes a track – this is cycle way – and I get back to rhythm of journey. Where grass grows in middle you need to be cautious. My bicycle is a hybrid, somewhere in between a racer and a mountain bike. It can take some uneven surfaces but it’s not built for rough stuff. Eventually I come to join a road and head north to take wide loop around to Maynooth. There is a gradual hill and I have to work harder to stay pace. I had left Kildare and was now in County Meath, Royal County, so named because of famous high kings of Tara. I came to wonderful sign: this way for St Bridget’s