Roads of Ireland
With the new points system now being used to try to make
our roads safer and slow down the speed merchants I began
to think of what the roads (if they could be called that)
were like in the olden time, and were there any rules concerning
Strange to say we discovered that Ireland had roads long
before Christianity came to our shores. There was a pattern
of tracks laid down in most kingdoms which connected them
with each other, or with some place of importance such as
well, look-out post, or place of religious importance. Such
tracks were made through forests or across open ground and
often zigzagged in the most amazing ways when they had to
go around a rock or skirt water.
It was a little later, in the time of the Brehon Laws, which
were written down in the 7th century, that we find the names
of, and how wide these roads were. The largest of these
roads was the slighe or main road. This road must be wide
enough to allow a kings and a bishops chariot
to pass each other without touching. The open road, or remut,
leading to the castle or fort of the chief or king was unfenced
but had to be guarded so that no unwanted person could travel
it unnoticed . The bother was wide enough to allow two cows
to walk along it side by side. The boreen, derived from
the Irish botharin, just meant what it is, a little road.
The set was a track wide enough for a horse or cow to walk
along. It is possibly from the conversion of some of this
type of road that we have the twisting narrow roads in some
parts of the country. Another name for the road connecting
the farm or homestead with the main road was the tuagroa,
while the road connecting two such roads was the lamhrota
or link road.
Five main roads branched our from Tara and each had a name.
The Slighe Cualann went south-eastwards, crossing the Liffey
near Dublin. It then ran close to the coast by Booterstown,
Blackrock and down into what is now Co. Wicklow. The Slighe
Ascili ran westwards to Loch Owel in Westmeath dividing
the kingdom of Meath into two parts, north and south. Slighe
Midluachra ran to the north Antrim coast, Slighe Mor went
southwards to Clonard and on the Galway, the Slighe Dala
led to Kilkenny.
We all remember the time the County Councils put the repair
of the roads up for tender,and the local people applied
for the work. I well remember seeing men filling potholes
by taking sod out of the ditch and turning it upside down
in the pothole. There were very few tarred roads in the
area. The method of applying for the contract was to attend
the Council meeting at which roads were given out.
(I remember a farmer who had been at such a meeting, and
when he came home his wife asked him which road he had got,
and back came the reply, All I got was the road home
love.) Strange to say this system applied long before
County Councils were ever heard of.
The Brehon Laws tell us about the maintenance of ancient
Irish Roads and about the fines and compensation to be paid
by anyone who damaged them. The Laws also refer to the times
the roads were cleaned, that was at a time of horse
racing, a time of winter and a time of war. When the
Normans came to Ireland they made Dublin the centre of Irelands
road network. Now this did not happen for some time and
then they selected a Grand Jury to look after the maintenance
of the roads.
Later still, in 1912, an Act was passed putting the roads
under the care of the local constables and churchwardens.
This was probably the forerunner of the County Councils.
Surveyors were appointed at Easter to supervise the work
being done on the roads. These men could call on landowners
to supply horses and carts for six days without payment
and workers had to give six days free labour.
In the time of Charles the First, a levy was placed for
the upkeep of roads and bridges, but there was no great
improvement until the introduction of the Turnpike Road
Law in 1729. Gates were erected on certain roads and a shilling
was charged for each coach, and a penny for every cart.
(Is the wheel beginning to turn full circle).
It was in 1784, when a separate mail-coach system was established,
that a new set of road standards were issued, 52 feet as
the width for main roads, 32 feet for second class roads
and 20 feet for narrow roads.
During the famine years thousands of men were employed in
relief schemes on Irelands roads. Records show that in the
month of October in 1846, 114,000 men worked on the roads
in Ireland, and by March of the following year 1847 (Black
47) the number employed was 734,000.
Now, once again, a levy is being put on the users of the
road. In 1847 it was to try to save lives by giving people
a chance to earn money to buy food, in 2002 it is to try
to save lives by slowing down the speed at which we travel.
It is a strange turn of faith that we are still trying to
save lives on the road by reducing speed, 155 years from
the time when the road was in such a condition that it was
scarcely fit to walk on.
Courtesy of the Carlow Nationalist