River systems – the super highways of early Christian Ireland. By Bernie Moran

On 23rd April I will get another chance to show you some modern clues to our ancient past. I have a lot more evidence than I had when I gave a presentation in 2010. My article on the subject is in OHAS Journal 6, pp 84-98, published in 2011. Here is the short version again just to whet your appetite and encourage you to attend the lecture at Offaly History Centre, Bury Quay, Tullamore at 8 p.m. on 23rd April. Feel free to email me your questions to info@nativeguide.ie so I can answer them on the night.

Image 1. Cnoc Aiste nativeguide.ie
Cnoc Aiste from Ardagh, Co. Longford, with the Slieve Blooms in the background.

The Inny, the Shannon, the Brosna and the lakes (Lough Ennell and Lough Owel) create an island. This is particularly obvious from a small hill called Cnoc Aiste in Rosemount near Moate. This photograph of Cnoc Aiste was taken from Ardagh, Co Longford with a clear view of the Slieve Blooms on the Laois/Offaly border in the background. Cnoc Aiste is now in County Westmeath but before the county boundary it was in the territory of Mide and was an important landmark which would have to be known to those who travelled in an otherwise flat landscape. The waterways are not very obvious to us now because we cross the bridge at Kilbeggan, Athlone, Ballymahon or Ballinacarrigy near Mullingar. Before those bridges people crossed at the most logical (to them) place between their home and their destination. Shallow river crossings or fording points, usually created by nature, provided a safe place to cross and were well known. Settlements such as Clonmacnoise and Rahugh grew to serve those who crossed on foot or by coracle or boat. Natural obstacles such as hills or human obstacles such as warring tribes also had to be considered and can be factored in to our study of their times. Many clues to their routes remain in the form of castles, churches and other ruins or place names.

The people of Rosemount are very proud of their ancient hill and have created a graphic explaining the view of 14 counties. It is based on a letter written by Harold Leask who was then the head of the National Monuments Service in 1932. The counties are Westmeath, Offaly, Laois, Kildare, Tipperary, Galway, Roscommon, Longford, Sligo, Leitrim, Cavan, Fermanagh, Meath, Kildare, Dublin and Wicklow. I expect that with improved technology it should be possible to see more distant hills but it is the gaps between those hills that create the line of least resistance for walkers and water. The attached photograph looks over Rosemount church and community centre to Keeper Hill in Tipperary in the middle distance. We use routes left of Bellair Hill (with the trees in the centre of the photograph) but right of Cloghan as we weave our way past lakes, rivers and bogs and over eskers on our way to Limerick via Borrisokane.

Image 2 Bellair with Keeper hill in background with nativeguide text box
Overlooking Rosemount church with Keeper Hill, Tipperary in the distance

I am very grateful to Niall Sweeney for creating the following two maps to aid our understanding of the interaction between the water and the monasteries.

Image 3 Nialls map nativeguide

Image 4 Nialls large map nativeguide

It turns out this area, the territory of Fir Cheall, was rocking during the Golden Age, circa 700AD and is the subject of a well-researched book called Celtic Leinster by Alfred Smyth. The Department of Environment and the National Roads Authority have studied the area while working on the motorway and reported it on archaelogy.ie and nra.ie. A Bronze Age home was found by the National Roads Authority in Tober, near the modern cemetery at Kilcurley. This drawing by Liz Allman helps us understand its size compared to a modern home and double decker bus.

Image 5 Graphic by Liz nativeguide

Tubber/Tober, County Offaly and Moate, County Westmeath are not noted for their history yet we have so much to be proud of and it is now the gateway from the Motorway, national road and cycle track.

I set up Nativeguide (www.nativeguide.ie) as a hobby/business using my spare time, spare capacity, and our rich history to develop and protect a resource for future generations. In my view this important information deserves to be more widely known as it can be a useful resource in an area in need of resources. I gather my facts from locals who are very well informed and generous with their knowledge. It is published in two journals and mentioned in three books. I will continue the research and am happy to share it so we can learn our history, be proud of it and able to tell it on.

Nativeguide struck “gold”…since its inception in 2007 as I used the clues in the landscape and research to solve a puzzle from earliest times. You can enjoy this puzzle too by emailing your observations and suggestions to info@nativeguide.ie.

I have prepared a PowerPoint presentation with many more photographs for the lecture on the 23rd April 2018 and hope you can attend. See you at the Offaly History Centre, Tullmore for 8 p.m.