Map 8 Castlecoote to Ballygar
The Way continues through fields, a little above the river, to Castlestrange, named for a Captain Le Strange who acquired these lands in the 16th century. The castle has almost disappeared, and the mansion, which followed it, is a ruin, so the main point of interest is the La Tene stone.
It is an ovoid granite stone, perhaps 70cm on its long axes, with intricate spiral patterns carved into it. It dates from the early Iron Age La Tene period (hence its name) and it is more than two thousand years old. Castlestrange is also noted because the first woman to graduate to a veterinarian in Britain or Ireland, Aleen Cust, worked here for some years as assistant to a well-known local vet, William Byrne.
While it is not on the Way, it would by worthwhile to walk a couple of kilometers to Fuerty (just off the map). Here you can find a wedge tomb dated to 2000BC, and in the churchyard are two Early Christian sandstone slabs. In pre-Reformation times there was a monastery here.
Also off the Way and a little off the map, is Ballinturly Lough. It is a “Turlough” a lake with a limestone floor, whose level rises and falls with the rainfall. It is a breeding place for many species, geese, duck, swan and others. In winter it attracts many waders, curlews, plovers, and lapwings.
The Way crosses the many-arched bridge across the Suck and then follows the river bank through meadows to Athleague. This is a delightful open walk beside the lazy flowing river. It is not always lazy! After heavy rain it can flood, and if conditions look bad, it would be worth taking local advice at Castlestrange or Athleague. If it is flooded, it is easy, but less interesting, to walk the road between the two villages.
Athleague, “the Stony Ford of St. Meanacain” has had a long and chequered history. Part of the lands of the O’Kellys of Hymany, it passed in Elizabethan times to the Ormsby family, who were of their time in ruthlessly pursuing priests and Irish ‘rebels’. The ruins of a castle built in 1337 by the same O’Conors who built Ballintober lie behind the big mill just above the bridge. The old Protestant church opposite the mill was converted into an Visitors Centre /Café. Athleague is one of the main angling centres on the Suck.
From Athleague the Way goes easily through fields and along minor roads, following generally the big U-bend of the river, which it meets at Rookwood Bridge. Rookwood House (now demolished), on the Galway side of the bridge provided the setting for a real Victorian romantic story. Sarah Birch from Kent was seduced as a teenager and abandoned in Dublin. After years of penury she met and married Edmund Kelly, a wealthy attorney. They lived in Rookwood House, and when he died in 1845, she inherited all his wealth. There is a sad end: she proved a harsh landlord and was murdered in 1856.
The Way continues past the interesting Araghty bog to Mount Talbot. The name comes from the Talbot family who were granted this part of the O’Kelly lands in the Cromwellian settlement. They flourished and built a fine house in the 18th century, of which only a gatelane. This in turn leads to a stretch of raised bog, where turf is still being cut by hand, and then very shortly you pass the km 100 and are back in Ballygar.