The Bulfin Heritage Cycle Rally 2018 We followed in the 'Wheelrims' of William Bulfin

Two wonderful days in August

In the end it all came and went so quickly! After months of preparations the big day finally arrived on August 24th, and the Bulfin Heritage Cycle Rally 2018, was finally under way.

We have so much to share, from an event that truly touched the hearts and minds of all who took part. So many wonderful places were visited, wonderful people were met, new friendships formed, histories and heritages imparted, battles re-enacted, and the fun and camaraderie that abounded was amazing.

In County Laois we cycled, and travelled not just through the beautiful countryside and rolling hills, but through time itself! Each site we visited was steeped in history and wonder. For many of our cyclists these visits may have been their first to certain places, but not their last, we were continuously informed. For others among our convoy, not only had they never been, but had never known of many of sites we called upon, and the fascinating stories attached to each!

And that is what the Bulfin Heritage Cycle Rally is all about, and is also why we can say, with hand on heart, that the event has been a great success. For it’s all about delving into our heritage, finding, highlighting and sharing it, with those wonderful people who brave the two days with us, on vintage bikes in vintage attire.

Day Two - August 25th 2018

Day two began in glorious sunshine! Having slept off the previous day's cycling, everyone was looking forward to hitting the road again, on our Heritage Cycle! Firstly however, was the pressing matter of fuelling up, for the journeying that lay ahead. So after assembly, and a quick head count outside Treacy's Bar & Restaurant, The Heath, we all headed inside, where we were treated to a scrumptious high octane breakfast, which really set us up for the day!

Settling in for Breakfast at Treacy's
Our thanks to all at Treacy's for the excellent food and service we received on both days of this year's cycle!
Tracy's Bar & Restaurant, The Heath
Preparing to leave The Heath
Getting ready to leave Treacy's for Emo Court
Owney McRory O'More joins us for Day Two
A beautiful morning for cycling

Emo Court

So after filling up on breakfast, it was all about getting back in the saddle. Bicycles were given a final check for road worthiness, and everyone gathered together to depart for Emo Court, where a guided tour of the magnificent building awaited us.

At Emo Court

Emo Court House is a neo-classical mansion in County Laois that attracts visitors from all over the country and beyond. Designed by noted architect James Gandon, it features magnificent gardens and is located just 2.5 km from Emo village and 7 km from Portarlington Railway Station.

Designed in 1790 for the Earls of Portarlington, Emo Court House is a magnificent example of the neo-classical style. After some periods of lying empty, it was acquired by the Jesuits in the middle of the 20th century. Functional renovations were made to the estate before it was sold to Major Cholmeley Harrison, a former London stockbroker, in the 1960s.

Cholmeley Harrison’s vision was to restore Emo Court House to its former glory and today the results of his efforts are obvious. Leading London architect Sir Albert Richardson was commissioned to take on the restoration of the house which remained a private residence, though the public were encouraged to enjoy the gardens for a small entrance fee.

In 1994 Cholmeley Harrison presented Emo Court House to the people of Ireland, continuing to live there in private apartments until his death in 2008. Staff of the Office of Public Works (OPW) now care for the estate and preserve its stately elegance for modern visitors.

From Discover Ireland

Relaxing in the sun at Emo Court
Scenes from Emo Court
Bulfin bikes at Emo Court
Departing Emo Court

After our guided tour of the magnificent building, it was time to get back on the bicycles, and make the journey to the Rock of Dunamase, where a little bit of history was about to take place!

The Return of The Seven Septs of Laois

The Rock of Dunamase

The Rock of Dunamase is often called the 'jewel in the crown' of Laois tourist sites, and we really love the place. Admittedly it is a rough diamond; a former stronghold, which was, at some point in history, battered into submission, most probably by the Cromwell fellow. And it lies today as it fell then, a site of shattered resistance and magnificence. The evidence of what must have been a ferocious assault, is there for all to see, in the sheer scale of the embattled ruins. But it is perhaps that, that lends such wonder to Dunamase; the fact that, although the place lies obliterated, it still dominates the landscape, still exudes a sense of it's once great strength, and still inspires awe and wonder, in all who set foot upon it.

And the view from up there, isn't bad either!

A view from Dunamase

A visit to Dunamase would always be a highlight on our heritage cycle, but this year it was that little bit extra special. For we were delving deep into the history of County Laois, to the early 1600's in fact, when seven families, who had fiercely resisted English rule, were banished to Co. Kerry, under sentence of death, should they ever return to Laois.

It was Michael Christopher Keane, who recently researched and highlighted the story of the Seven Septs, in his excellent book, From Laois to Kerry., which was first published in 2016. In the book, Keane describes how the families were were handed over to Patrick Crosbie, and were transplanted to lands he had been granted in the Tarbert area of Kerry. The names of the seven clans were O'Moores, Kellys, Dowlings, Lawlors, Dorans, O'Devoys or Deevys or Dees and McEvoys.

The fact that descendants of the seven septs, still reside in the Tarbert area to this very day, brought a thought to mind; "It's time to bring them home!"

Crowds begin to gather before the arrival of the Bulfin cyclists

With the help of the Tarbert Historical Society, who arrived at Dunamase, carrying seven torches, each representing one of the seven families, we succeeded in having a representative of all the exiled clans, present for their long awaited return to County Laois.

Prior to the arrival of the Bulfin cyclists, you really got a sense that something special was happening on the Rock of Dunamase that day. From every vantage point on the Rock, people stood, scanning the roads, and surrounding countryside, to catch a glimpse of their approach.

And for our cyclists coming from Emo Court, it was amazing to arrive at Dunamase, and see the crowds that had gathered, wanting to be part of, and witness this historical moment. The anticipation was very real, and though the return of the Seven Septs of Laois, was billed as a ceremonial one, it was beginning to feel entirely more real, than it did symbolic!

Waiting for the Bulfin Cycle
Waiting for the Return
Awaiting the Bulfin Heritage Cycle

The Pageant

Michael Creagh, one of the Bulfin cyclists, who also appeared in the guise of Owney McRory O'More, was the man behind the pageant, which took place atop of Dunamase. Written and directed by him, it outlined brilliantly to all present, the story of the Seven Septs of Laois; from their resistance to the Crown forces, to their eventual submission and banishment, in the wake of the death of their great leader, Owney, who had fallen in battle.

We watched as the seven representatives of the clans were handed over to Patrick Crosbie, who lead them from the former O'More stronghold; and then their long awaited return, as they were led back by a lone drummer (Hugh Sheppard). Finally the injustice has been righted, and the Seven Septs of Laois, have returned to the lands of their forefathers. Returned to a county in which they fought so bravely; to a place where they surely imagined their names would be long forgotten, in the passages of time.

But on Saturday, August 25th, 2018, their names were not just remembered, but celebrated, honoured and called aloud from the top of Dunamase!

Scene from The Return of the Seven Septs of Laois
Re-enactment of the banishment of the Seven Septs of Laois
The long awaited Return of the Seven Septs of Laois
Drumming home the Seven Septs
The Seven Septs
The pageant on the Rock
The Pageant on the Rock
Scenes from the Return of the Seven Septs of Laois

Once the pageant had ended, we only had a few brief moments to mingle with the crowd that had gathered there, as our schedule required that we should have been on the road by that time. Everyone there seemed to have really enjoyed the event, and reports of tingling spines and the odd tear being shed, made us feel that the story of the Septs, will long be remembered!

The Rambling House

The Rambling House, at Rockview Walkways, just outside Ballyroan, was our next port of call. Used by Laois Friends, which is a community organisation established in 2000, it is a beautiful setting, hidden away in the countryside, near the battle site, known as The Pass of the Plumes. More about that in a while!

Bulfin bikes at the Rambling House

But first things first, food, music and dance were top of the agenda, and we had plenty of all. We were also joined by the Tarbert Historical Society, who had followed on from Dunamase.

Music & Dancing at the Rambling House
Good food & good times

So after everyone had eaten and danced, it was time for a good old battle.

In 1599 Owney McRory O'More's troops had routed the army of the Earl of Essex, at a site just down the road from the Rambling House. Essex's troops had worn feathers on their helmets that day, and the battlefield was strewn with these, after O'More's men had ambushed and annihilated them. Ever since, the site has been known as the Pass of the Plumes.

So with cries of 'Revenge for Mullaghast" filling the air, Owney once again lead his men into battle!

Pre battle threats!
The Vanquished and the Victorious at The Pass of the Plumes 2018

Our Kerry Visitors

It is not too often that a bus load of tourists travel from Co. Kerry to Co. Laois, maybe it's even a first! One way or the other, we were delighted to host such a wonderful group that day, and hope they thoroughly enjoyed their visit! We were also joined that morning by two cyclists from Kerry, who had traveled up, wanting to take part in the Heritage Cycle!

Before the departure of the Tarbert Historical Society, we presented them with a copy of the original 'Septs Transplantation Treaty' framed alongside a translated copy. In return, one of their number, treated us to a wonderful poem he had written; a transcript of which, we hope to acquire in the near future!

Sean Conroy presenting the copy of the Septs Transplantation Treaty to the Tarbert Historical Society

And so, after food, music, dancing, battles and presentations, it was time to depart again, and our itinerary had at this point presented us with a huge problem, in that we were running extremely late. Adherence to our schedule is always our priority, but sometimes events outside of our control conspire against us!

In this instance it was a number of our entourage getting lost on the way to the Rambling House, which caused a considerable delay. We were glad it wasn't the real Owney Mcrory O'Moore waiting on us, for battle!!!

However the lost time determined that we would not be able to fulfil our planned visit to Abbeyleix Heritage House, and to all there who had planned for our arrival, we sincerely apologise.

Aylward's Rural Heritage Museum

Our penultimate stop on this year's Bulfin heritage Cycle Rally, was at Aylward's Rural Heritage Museum, on the outskirts of Durrow. We were extremely grateful to be granted access to the museum, before it's official opening in 2019, and our sincerest thanks to P.J. Aylward and family, for the wonderful reception we received upon arrival. Once again we were bowled over by the hospitality bestowed on us.

Owney McRory O'More resting at Aylward's
Bulfin bikes, at Aylward's

There was an abundance of food and drink on offer, not to mention the amazing collection of artefacts, both inside and outside, of what will be the Rural Heritage Museum. And also there to entertain us with traditional Irish music was members of the highly talented, Spink Comhaltas. We really could not have asked for more, and again our sincerest thanks to everyone.

Outside Aylward's Rural Heritage Museum
Spink Comhaltas
Durrow brick
Scenes from Aylward's Rural Heritage Museum
At Aylward's Rural Heritage Museum
Hugh Sheppard (centre) with our Austrian friends, at Aylward's Rural Heritage Museum

The Homecoming - Ashbrook Arms, Durrow

We could have stayed a lot longer at the Rural Heritage Museum, as everyone was so relaxed in the beautiful surroundings, swathed in evening sunshine, but we had one more appointment to keep! The good news was that this would be the shortest leg of our journey, for Durrow lay, just a little over a mile away!

And so it was, we all returned safely, and in great spirits. All of the cyclist can be proud of their endeavours, and we hope they fully appreciate their accomplishment, in completing 2018's Bulfin Heritage Cycle. We truly wish to thank each and every one of them, for making the event so very special; and though cliched it may sound, we really could not have asked for a nicer group of people, to spend two days with, on vintage bicycles, in the rolling countryside of County Laois.

Upon reaching Durrow, our cycling was over, but our customary Celebratory Meal, still awaited us, at the Ashbrook Arms Restaurant. Our thanks to Sean and Rosezita Murphy, for the four courses of fine cuisine, served to us, in such a beautiful setting

Arriving at the Ashbrook Arms, Durrow
Job done!

Bob's Bar

After our banquet meal at the Ashbrook Arms, we all retired to Bob's Bar, for a few well earned drinks. In the Boathouse we gathered and reminisced on what was a wonderful two days, whilst music and song filled the air. Our Austrian friends D'Oafochn treated us to one last set of traditional Austrian music, before their departure; as they had to leave for the airport. We do hope to see them all again next year!

Bob's Bar

Speaking of which - over the music, song and laughter, in Bob's Bar that night, could be heard, talks of the Bulfin Heritage Cycle Rally 2019. No Rest for the Vintage Cyclist!!!

Until again...

But for now we sign off, after a very successful Bulfin Heritage Cycle 2018. We thank all our wonderful participants, all our support vehicle drivers, all who received us, with such great hospitality over the two days, all who came out to meet us along the route, all who stood with us on the Rock of Dunamase, to bring home the Seven Septs, and all our supporting partners.

As we promised in the brief - we traversed the rolling hills and beautiful countryside of County Laois, visiting many heritage sites along the way. We followed in the 'Wheelrims' of William Bulfin, performing pageants and battle re-enactments, and we returned the Seven Septs of Laois, to the land of their forefathers. Not bad for two days!

The seven torches representing the Seven Septs of Laois, which were carried from Kerry, by the Tarbert Historical Society