In the footsteps of the Knights Templar
“Where are you looking for?”
“Well, I’m walking to the Hook for now, but I was just looking at some of these paths and trails marked here on the map.”
My faithful friend, the 1: 50,000 Ordnance Survey Discovery Series, Sheet no. 76, showed me an interesting looking road towards the sea and branching off in two further paths. On paper at least they looked inviting and surely worthy of further investigation.
“Have you been down that way?” I asked.
The younger man was studying the map, lifting his gaze to scan the landscape every now and then.
“You’re well able to read the map,” I commented when he pointed to a meandering line of hedges to our seaward side, adding that was where one of the dotted map lines went.
“I’m an engineer,” he smiled, “I’ve been down that way to survey a site for a client.”
“Really? That would be a fine place to build alright.”
We were both quiet then for a moment, contemplating the serenely calm scenes around us. Behind me, Northwards, lay the twin bays of Booley and dollar. The coastline, trending South West here, was composed of much higher cliffs.
Broomhill, at 66 metres the highest point on the whole peninsula, was just ahead. From the map again I knew the little summit was crowned with a Triangulation Point. Small wonder various rough surfaced tracks meandered over the furze speckled landscape.
“I noticed some of these,” said my new friend the engineer., “but I’m afraid they’re overgrown now. I’d say they’re hardly ever used.”
“Would I get through to the cliffs; do you think? I’m trying to follow the coast as closely as I can?”
“I’d say not. Well, maybe you could, but it would be difficult. You’re probably better off following the road for now. How far have you come?”
With that we were launched into a fine conversation about walking the roads at your leisure. He was just one of what would become many. Travel along with at a natural pace with the uniform of the pilgrim, of the walker, broad brimmed hat, stout stick, good hiking boots and you invite many’s the pleasant chat with random strangers by the roadside.
Yet another simple pleasure to be had for free.
We went our separate ways, mine bringing me south again. The road, still rising, brought me to a little pass between Broomhill and an unnamed, 55 metre stretch of relatively high ground. This anonymous little summit was crowned with mobile phone masts, broadcasting signals around the region.
I didn’t bother checking mine, that was unnecessary. My world for the day was quite simply my immediate surroundings and whatever and wherever I could reach on foot.
As I ambled along I couldn’t help but think about the little roads disappearing everywhere across the land. There were various times I can recall when, as a young lad, I walked over hills and uplands with my father. To this day I have few memories of specific journeys or destinations. What I do remember are moments when he would make observations, teaching me to notice the world around us.
It was from him I learned to look out for the ruins of long abandoned cottages. Nearby, he often said, there would be nettles growing profusely because the old people ate nettles as a rich source of vitamins in the hungry months.
The people suffered a gap in late Spring and early Summer when the last of the previous year’s harvest was being consumed and the present years potatoes were still growing. He also taught me to identify the outlines of the distinctive ‘lazy beds’ which were “the gardens where the praties grew” as the old song had it.
Now the cottages and their remains are also fast disappearing, becoming mere humps of stone with some nettles growing through them. It is a rare sight to find now, the outlines of the little plots and cultivation ridges which fed so many in their day.
I was travelling two roads, one being “bóithrín na smaointe,” as they call it in Irish, the little road of thoughts, when the mind meanders at it’s own pace and takes us places we hadn’t thought of before. An apt term surely for a day where little roads, the “bóithríní” invited the curious traveller to take their path and see where they might lead.
Now the road was dropping again. Not far ahead I could see my next destination, the square castellated tower of Templetown Church.
Soon I could see on lower ground inland from me another notable landmark. The tall and elegant tower house of Kilcloggan Castle rose sternly towards the sky. Built by the Knights Templar in historical reality as opposed to modern myth and legend, the Castle is yet another testament to the doughty warrior monks of yore.
At the nearby pub called, what else could it be, ‘The Templar’s Inn’, good food and refreshments were to be had for the hungry and thirsty traveller. It is reasonable to conjecture the same was true in the heyday of the Knights.
On a day like this, early summer, warm air, fresh growth, light and gentle breezes, the world emerging again after the long sleep of winter and the struggle to be born again in spring, on such a day contentment is easily found. You just have to reach out your hand and touch it.
On such a day as this to put my hand on the door of a wayside inn offering rest and refreshment is surely satisfaction personified.
On a day like this to wait outside on warm decking while lunch was prepared inside is surely appetiser enough.
Content once more to merely sit and be I could slowly absorb everything around me.
The Templars Inn or some such establishment has surely stood at this meeting of two roads for centuries. It is also likely that a trackway passed along this route for centuries. The decking ran parallel to the North/South route. The Inn was built at the junction where an East/West route from further inland linked with the North/South route.
Across the road another track led down to yet another little cove. Saving that for another day it was the Old Church beside that path that most attracted me , there was plenty to explore in that ancient place.
Over lunch I shared the warm decking with a Canadian family enjoying their own Odyssey. It was the hat, the pack and the staff which served to, yet again, break down barriers and launch conversations. Universal symbols of the wanderer, the pilgrim, they invite tales of the road, stories pleasantly shared with strangers.
The descriptions of their journey so far were fascinating. The familiar is always refreshed and renewed through the lens of others. Surely after the vastness of Canada and the great remoteness of continental scale distance our little Island would seem dull and uninteresting by comparison.?
“It’s so different,” one of the younger travellers, “nowhere reminds us of home.”
“And it really is green,” another added with a smile, “definitely an Emerald Isle.” there was much nodding in agreement at this. Although at home in their great land there was green a-plenty, apparently it was not quite the same as our own forty shades of green.
“Where are you heading?” I was asked.
Again there was much agreement that the lighthouse was a fine destination. They had been very impressed both by its wild setting and fascinating history. A lighthouse in continuous operation for over a thousand years was something that spoke volumes to all of us about the common threads running through all our lives down many generations
“Where are you heading?” I asked.
“Cork next, then further West”
“You’re sure to love it, everything becomes much more rugged the further West you go.”
“We have family roots in Cork, be nice to see where our kin folks came from.”
I wished them well on both counts, exploring Ireland and their own Roots. They were lovely people to meet, reinforcing again my belief, and experience, that the world is full of friends we haven’t met, yet.
Settling my hat, pack and staff I took the next few steps on my own odyssey, across the road to the old Templar’s Church.
All across Ireland the most obvious ecclesiastical remains are the “bare ruined choirs” of the great mediaeval monasteries. Templetown Church is nothing like those. A simple square tower, not particularly tall adjoins an equally simple nave, now unroofed, bare to the elements.
On some of the walls, particularly on the windward South and West, slates cling to the walls. I know houses in Wexford Town where the same weatherproofing technique was used. Slate is an impervious rock. Being waterproof they help protect against the furious onslaught of the storm driven wind and rain.
Someday I will travel to the maritime states and provinces of the North Eastern U.S and Canada and look out for the same practical, beautifully simple style. Some day.
In Templetown Church some walls still hold large areas of their slate sheeting. Elsewhere bare stone gives way to patches of weathered plaster before yielding in turn to the ever encroaching ivy.
It is marvellous to see, here and there the work of the old masons’ hands. Nails used to hold the slates in place can be found where the slate has fallen away. The curls and swirls on once wet plaster left by the skilled tradesman can still be seen, centuries later.
This was a parish church, ordered to be built and paid for by the Knights Templar, who one time supported the living of a priest who ministered to the people round about. The tower can be entered from the ground floor. Here is the fireplace where the incumbent could warm himself on wild winter nights. There are the stairs to his living quarters above.
That troubled times came here, that it was built by an Order, no matter how religious, of Knights, is evident just by stepping outside and considering the battlements crowning the tower. This then was a tower to live in but also take refuge in, a place to defend yourself.
Such clues are truly signs of troubled times.
Walking around the churchyard grounds on the North side I stop and consider awhile the little rows of simple headstones telling us tragic tales of more recent troubled times. Here lie at rest the remains of mariners who lost their lives during the War Which Did Not End All Wars, 1914-1918.
You know how much you are in area closely connected to the sea when space is made in their graveyards to bury those who are returned from the deep. All ages, young and old alike, lie here, some named, some not, from both sides in that war. They were lost from submarines, merchant ships, armed trawlers. Their final resting place is in these ancient hallowed grounds. Here they lie side-by-side, enemies in life, neighbours in death.
Continuing around the church to the seaward facing wall I find yet another heart wrenching piece of history. At about the height a man might comfortably work at there is a poignant mark cut into the wall. Bearing in mind that this stone is millstone grit you can but appreciate that this was no easy task. ‘E Lymbery 1847’ So reads the inscription, a name I can barely read and a date.
Graffiti, in the true meaning of the original Latin, to scratch upon a wall. Carving certainly, incised in stone but not by expert hands or someone with the luxury of precision tools. Poignant definitely, the date being that of ‘Black ’47’, the worst year of the Great Irish Famine. The most awful of those terrible times when 1 million died of starvation and disease, when another million fled in horrifying circumstances, a trail of corpses across the Irish Sea and from one side of the Atlantic to the other.
There were countless thousands buried that year in unmarked graves, the dying often burying the dead. In my childhood the story of the hungry grass was still told, still passed down the generations. It was said that where someone had dropped dead from the hunger and been buried where they fell, that place was cursed forever. If you stepped on such ground, you would be overwhelmed by a sudden and terrible hunger.
Did someone later remember that Famine dead were buried on that spot and marked it as best they could? Perhaps someone, before they fled, marked the place where they had hastily buried their own, taking then to the roads and perhaps the sea. The silent testament is there to our very own day.
Stepping back onto the road, over a stone stile that itself must be hundreds of years old, I settle my pack, grasping my faithful staff I head due south again.