Regardless how small we think our island may be, there have been land and river transport routes in Ireland connecting settlements and facilitating trade since ancient times.
The first routes in Ireland were prehistoric trackways that mostly followed the natural landscape. While no large roads were constructed during the Stone Age, archeological discoveries indicate that around 2500BC (Late Neolithic) a network of roads was used for transport around the Hill of Tara.
Indeed, discoveries of wooden trackways and platforms have been discovered around the same period in Edercloon, Co. Longford. The appearance of solid wooden disc-wheels in Bronze Age made these wooden tracks more widely used. The fact that Ireland was never part of the Roman Empire delayed the introduction of stone roads to the Iron Age. We cannot blame the TII (www.tii.ie) for the state of our roads!
The road network remained underdeveloped in Ireland throughout the Late Medieval and much of the Early Modern periods. It was not until the 18th century that an extensive system of roads suitable for long-distance travel was developed. Waterway transport was by far faster and safer than roads. Historians estimate a ship could cover around 100Km per day whereas a land traveller would cover around 40Km daily.
Perhaps one of the most interesting ancient roads in Ireland is the Esker Riada (Irish: Eiscir Riada). The Esker Riada is a system of ridges that stretches across the narrowest point of Ireland, between Dublin and Galway and passing the counties of Dublin, Meath, Kildare, Westmeath, Offaly, Roscommon and Galway. Eskers take the form of low ridges composed of sand, gravel and boulders deposited by water flowing beneath glaciers. These ridges became exposed when the glacier melted at the end of the last ice age, around 10,000 years ago.
The Irish name ‘Eiscir Riada’ provides an indication of the significance of the eskers, ‘Eiscir’ meaning ‘divide’ and ‘Riada’ meaning ‘road’. Following a battle at Maynooth, in the year 123 AD, the island of Ireland was divided into two political entities along the line of the eskers: ‘Leath Cuinn’ (‘Conn’s Half’) to the north, and ‘Leath Mogha’ (‘Mogha’s Half’) to the south.
Because the slightly higher ground of the Esker Riada provided a route through the bogs of the Irish midlands it has, since ancient times, formed a highway joining the east and west of Ireland. Indeed, its ancient Gaelic name is ‘An tSlí Mhór’, meaning ‘The Great Way’. So next time you are driving along the Dublin-Kinnegad-Galway road (N4, M4, N6, M6) remember to be proud you are driving along our very own Esker Riada. Who said the Roman Via Apia was such a feat of engineering. See the road map of Ireland HERE.
And don’t forget, Deadline Couriers can handle all your next day parcel delivery services across Ireland, both North and South of the Esker Riada.