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  • Writer's pictureHugh MacMahon

Five for the Road!

I had heard that just as in Europe ‘all roads led to Rome’, in Ireland ‘all roads led to Tara’ and five of them were main routes called ‘Sli’

It was only recently I realised that one of them actually passed by my door.

That road was the dividing line between the north and south of Ireland as decided after a battle that took place not far from that same front door – in Maynooth.

It was in the year 123 AD when Eoghan Mor from Munster (also known as Mogha Nuadhad) defeated Con of the Hundred Battle, the High King. After that the southern half of the country was known as the Leath Mogha (Mogha’s Half)_and the northern as ‘Leath Conn’. Mogha Nuadhad also gave his name to Maynooth, the location of the battle.

The dividing line followed the Eiscir Riada (literally. ‘Dividing Road’) which was based on a low-lying ridge of sand, gravel and boulders left across the country by glaciers. It forms an almost continual raised causeway across the central bog and made travel possible between the east-coast ford over the Liffey that gave Dublin its old name of Baile Atha Cliath (Town of the Wattle Ford) and the western wattle ford of Atha Cliath Maree on Galway Bay.

It is no coincident that two of the major monastic schools in Celtic times, Clonard and Clonmacnoise, were on that Sli Mor (Great Road, as it was also called).

Discovering this made sense of my local geography which is dotted with early monastic sites: Clondalkin, Celbridge, Taghadoe, Raheen, Clonshanbo, Donadea and Timahoe. Now I could see how they stretched in a line from Clondalkin out into the boggy centre of the country along the Sli. I began to put together a picture of the exceptional women and men who occupied them.

Today only traces of the actual Sli Mor remain though efforts have been made to have it recognised as a UNESCO cultural site. Constructions companies have eaten into its gravel and sand. Motorways, especially the M4, have taken over its function.

However one short stretch of the Sli Mor remains in Donadea forest park. I walk it occasionally thinking of saints, kings, armies, pilgrims and drovers.

(If you would to follow visits to forgotten treasures of Ireland see the Facebook pages of hugh macmahon.)


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