When I researched the route I was struck by a phrase in the Rough Guide about Dungarvan which it describes as “largely unscathed by the blight of chain-store similitude” which turned out to be apt. It was a pleasure to walk round such a variety of shops.
I woke early to look around in the daylight and make some small purchases but first walked along the Quay again. The previous night had been dark and raining but I had spotted some ancient looking walls which I guessed must be the Castle. It had been built in 1185 as an Anglo-Norman command base, like many of those castles I had visited in Wales. Inside there had been a barracks occupied during the IRA in the Civil War and burned by them when they abandoned it. The main parts of the old castle left were the walls.
As I walked down the Quay I was struck by the blueness of the Harbour, such a contrast to the Bay when I first saw it the previous night.
My route so far had been hugging the coast going though the towns which had grown up at the first crossing points of the rivers. Now I would cross to the River Blackwater, following its valley west along the lanes. My next overnight stop would be at Fermoy, with the inland countryside to explore.
On leaving Dungarvan I saw a sign showing a cycle route which was named after a famous local cyclist Sean Kelly, and followed the lanes which were part of my own route.
Sean had been one of the most successful road cyclists of the 80s, his most famous victory being the Vuelta a Espana in 1988. He had been born in Waterford in 1956 of a farming family. The inaugural Sean Kelly Tour of Waterford was in 2007 with 910 participants including Sean. The numbers rose to over 8,000 over two days with three distances. It was cancelled this year with a view to restructuring it including moving the date. The council Head of Enterprise said that “August does not work any more”. One of the problems was accommodation. I can relate to that.
Something struck me as being incongruous and I realised it was the metal pole that the sign was attached to. English practice is to put notices on metal poles which are often an eyesore. Like many continental cities, Ireland uses them as little as possible and in an unobtrusive manner.
After a few miles of very quiet lanes through rolling countryside, I freewheeled downhill into the picturesque village of Villierstown, with a shop/delicatessen coming into view at just the right time. Part was a shop and the other half something I saw at a number of places along the way: a counter laid out rather like a Subway with a motherly figure behind, waiting to have an Irish chat and prepare a sandwich. There was also a microwave to prepare toasted snacks. A sandwich was made up for me and I sat at a table outside, with coffee, in the sun, watching residents walking up the street to the shop exchanging banter and local news – all was good with the world. I finished and went to go when I saw a door marked “Library” so I went to walk in and met an engaging lady coming out with keys in her hand. It was one o’clock and she was leaving for lunch but was pleased to tell me about it and how it was run entirely by volunteers, now on a part-time basis.
I cycled off up the road and through some big ornamental gates. They were part of an extensive park and gardens and I emerged at the other end through a startling minaret- topped archway with single-cell porters lodges on each side, I then passed over the Blackwater, for the first time, on a handsome bridge. It was called the Dromana Gate. It had been built in wood and papier-mâché to greet the owner of the estate, Henry Villiers -Stuart, and his wife Theresa on their return from their honeymoon in Brighton in 1826. The couple was so enchanted with the gate that they later had it reconstructed in stone.
The first Duke of Buckingham was George Villiers, a favourite of King James I and from 1616 built up Irish estates.This had been a seat of the Villiers family, hence the name of the village. I then stopped to look at a very delicately coloured flower, so pretty that you can understand why the plant was brought into the country for ornamental damp areas but it was now rampant alongside this section of the Blackwater.
I had found the rough patch repairs increasingly irritating as my unsprung bike rattled over them. They tended to be splotches of tar often laid over similar, worn splotches. The big plus was that I had not seen a pothole all day, admirable safety-comes-first in Ireland. I had wondered how the repairs were laid and the sign gave a clue.
I eventually arrived in Fermoy after a 42 mile ride but the lateness was mainly due the number of times I had stopped in this very interesting section of the Blackwater Valley. Often, through a gateway, you would get a view of a meadow decorated with grazing cattle sloping down to the river with a longer, steeper slope with more meadows and an interesting building.
I was, again, staying in a large hotel with a small cheap room and it was just after 8pm when I went out to find some food. I was starving as it was a very long time since the lunchtime sandwich. I saw that the hotel restaurant had closed at 8pm. I went into the town and could see nothing so enquired of a passer-by where she recommended but she said everything was closed except the chippy but there was a Chinese and an Indian near the hotel. I went in the Chinese, this time, and had a very filling meal. I was the only customer but there was a steady trade in takeaways.
It had been a good day with Ireland at its most pastoral.