Abbeyleix Bog Loop, Co Laois
Trailhead: The carpark of Abbeyleix Manor Hotel, which is located just south of the town on the N77, see abbeyleixbog.ie
Once we crawled through serpentine traffic too frustrated to notice the architectural richness. Then, the M8 lifted the siege and visiting this attractive, 18th-century heritage town became pleasurable again. Certainly, Abbeyleix looks dapper on an autumn evening as I traverse, its sun-dappled streets lined with eccentrically eye-catching buildings.
A walk of the nearby Killamuck Loop, organised by rural recreation officer, Anne Lanigan, now beckons. Our guide is local environmentalist Chris Uys, who leads us from the Abbeyleix Manor Hotel across the N77. Then it is along a concrete path towards town with little to challenge even the most unswerving couch potato. The south Laois flatlands are, of course, never likely to provide stroll-stopping views but our compensation is immediate – many authentic cultural echoes from the ascendancy period of Irish history.
Abbeyleix was the fiefdom of the De Vesci family for over 300 years, we are told. Unusually for Ireland, the local citizenry held this landlord family in high esteem which they repaid with monumental philanthropy, particularly during Ireland's famine years. One collectivist vision they inaugurated involved developing an employment-generating carpet factory that produced such high-quality merchandise, the Titanic was fitted with Abbeyleix rugs for its ill-fated maiden voyage.
Next stop is a woodland path, known as Lord’s Walk. A rail connection was such an essential pre-requisite for economic development in the 19th century that this walk was built to directly connect Abbeyleix Demesne with the local railway station.
We now continue through Collin’s Bog, which is actually a clear-felled woodland. Then we briefly shake hands with the now eerily quiet Cork/Dublin road before entering a greenway to Killamuck Bog. Uys explains this area has been leased by the community from Bord na Móna and is being managed by voluntary effort as a wildlife habitat and special area of conservation.
Serene bogland paths now bring us to a quiet byroad and then along a sandy lane leading to a twin-arched bridge on the old railway that formerly linked Portlaoise to Kilkenny. An important commercial artery for Abbeyleix, it was closed in 1962.
Further on, Uys leads us proudly onto the new and innovative “High Bog Walkway”. This is a 600m boardwalk that has been painstakingly assembled by local volunteers to allow even deeper access to the very heart of the bogland. Here, he explains the intriguing process of climate and environmental change that led to the formation of bogs over a period of almost 10,000 years.
Endowed with new found appreciation of the surrounding bogland, we now head back in gathering twilight along the old railway line to the trailhead at Abbeyleix Manor. Here over coffee and doorstep sandwiches I resolve, in future, to reserve the expression “bog standard “exclusively for delicate and complex systems that work exceptionally well.