Easy does it: a gentle cycle in Laois and Kildare
This wonderful route has fascinating stopping-off points in quiet rural settings
The Bluebell Wood at Emo Court, Co Laois. Photograph from Cycling South Leinster: Great Road Routes by Turlough O’Brien
The cycle is in a quiet, rural corner of counties Laois and Kildare. It’s a wonderfully gentle cycle on excellent local roads and has some fascinating stopping-off points. Vicarstown, home to Barrowline Cruisers, is better known to canal lovers than touring cyclists but it is the perfect starting point for this pleasant route.
Leave Vicarstown with the inn on your right. At the T-junction turn right, then pass Annanough GAA Club on your left. The road is very flat and well-surfaced, great for cruising.
Take another right onto the L3932 along a quiet back road that reaches the beautiful Fisherman’s Inn after 5km. It’s a very tempting spot to stop off but with another 50km to go, it’s advisable to keep those wheels turning. Further on the road you will pass Courtwood GAA field on your right and shortly afterwards the road passes over the M7. It begins to rise ever so slightly thereafter.
In another kilometre cross over the slightly staggered crossroads with the R445 and continue on to the next crossroads, where you turn right. Shortly after, turn left at the next crossroads, heading in the direction of Ballybrittas.
At the next T-junction, turn right followed by a left, which will bring you on to the road leading to Emo Court Demesne.
Emo Court is a beautiful mansion, designed by James Gandon. With its attractive gardens and a cafe, it is a welcome place to break the journey. Turn left when exiting Emo Court, then turn right in the direction of the M7 and a short distance ahead turn right onto a minor road, which will bring you to the R445. Turn right on to it, take a left-hand turn and cycle over the M7 heading in the direction of the Heath. The plain of the Heath is a much smaller version of the Curragh, with sheep roaming freely.
Just ahead are the beautiful wooded hills surrounding the Rock of Dunamase. The road begins to rise on the approach to the impressive hilltop castle ruins that were once the home of the O’Moores of Laois. It’s an impressive sight from all sides and worth walking up through the extensive ruins to enjoy the view from the top.
Leave the Rock and keep left to follow the road along the contour of the adjoining hill. At the next crossroads, continue straight ahead until you arrive at a T-junction. Turn left, followed by a quick right and follow the road as far as the intersection with the R427 (which is a shorter return to the starting point, if you need to curtail your tour). Cross over and continue until you meet the main R428, where you turn left for Athy. This can be a busy stretch for the next 10km but it is good and flat and you will speed along. On approaching Athy, turn left on to a road parallel to the Barrow Line of the Grand Canal. This is a lovely way to finish the route with the canal on your left and little or no traffic for the last 10km.
- An edited extract from Cycling South Leinster - Great Road Routes by Turlough O’Brien (The Collins Press), price €14.99 from bookshops and collinspress.ie
Vicarstown – Emo – The Heath – Rock of Dunamase – Athy – Vicarstown
Location: Counties Laois and Kildare
Duration: 2½-3 hours
Height gain: 327m
Verdict: Great cycling country with excellent surfaces
Exit the M7 at Junction 15 on to the L3930 to reach Vicarstown, which is 16km east of Portlaoise and roughly the same distance northeast of Athy. Park in the car park opposite the 250-year-old Vicarstown Inn.