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Monday 23 April, 8pm, Offaly History Centre

Bernie Moran

River Systems - superhighways of Early Christian Ireland
 
Illustrated lecture 

All welcome at 8 p.m. 

Members €2/Non-members €5

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.

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. 
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