Five Great Roads of Ireland
The Five Great Roads of Ireland are listed in an entry in the Annals of the Four Masters for AD 123. It records five principal highways (slighe) leading to Tara (Irish: Teamhair) in Early Medieval Ireland. The entry in the Annals claims that these routes were 'discovered' at the birth of Conn of the Hundred Battles:
The night of Conn's birth were discovered five principal roads leading to Teamhair, which were never observed till then. These are their names: Slighe Asail, Slighe Midhluachra, Slighe Cualann, Slighe Mhór, Slighe Dala. Slighe Mhór is that called Eiscir Riada, i.e. the division line of Ireland into two parts, between Conn and Eoghan Mór.
Others have suggested that "the ancient road system (such as it was, since there was no developed national system) fanned out not from Tara but from Dublin.".
- The Slighe Assail (now marked by the R392 road) went due west towards Lough Owel in Westmeath, thence to Cruachain.
- The Slighe Midluachra went towards Slane, through the Moyry Pass north of Dundalk, round the base of Slieve Fuaid, near Newtownhamilton in County Armagh, to Emain Macha, ending at Dunseverick on the north coast of County Antrim.
- The Slighe Cualann ran south-east through Dublin, crossing the River Liffey via a hurdle-bridge, then went south "through the old district of Cualann, which it first entered a little north of Dublin, and from which it took its name".
- The Slighe Dala ran towards and through Ossory in County Kilkenny.
- The Slighe Mhór ('Great Highway') joined the Esker Riada near Clonard, Meath. It then, more-or-less, followed the Esker Riada to County Galway.
Unlike Roman roads, these routes were not clearly physically defined:
It is important to remember that unlike, for example, Roman roads, these medieval routes were not essentially physical entities—thin strips of land with physical boundaries; rather they were rights of way, sometimes with legal and traditional status. Routes tended to follow the line of least resistance, twisting and turning to avoid poorly drained areas and land that was easily overlooked. Where there was a hill to climb or a difficult area to pass through, multiple tracks would develop, the traveller taking the easiest route. Routes may also have varied seasonally as changing weather affected the condition of the pathway.
Early medieval road terminology
An early medieval Irish law tract, produced the first written details of different categories of roads that existed in Pre-Christian Ireland. It set out five types of road:
*the 'highway', slige, on which two carpait/carpenta [chariots] could pass without one having to give way to the other,(F. Kelly, Early Irish Farming. Early Irish Law Series vol. IV, Dublin 1997, 390 f.)
- the 'local road', rout [or ród], on which at least one carpat/carpentum and two riders can pass side by side as a regional main road,
- the 'connecting road', lámraite, a minor road connecting two major roads,
- the 'side road', tógraite, leading to a forest or a river, which private persons could rent, for which they then could extract tolls from people driving cattle on them, and finally
- the 'cow road', bóthar, which still had to be as wide as two cows, one standing parallel and one normal to the road.
Conair and cai were general terms, given in Cormac's Glossary, for any type of road and "thirty-seven ancient roads [were] mentioned with the general name bealach", meaning 'pass'.: Cásan was a term used for a path and a ceis was a path made of wattles.
The word bóthar is now the most commonly used term for road in modern Irish: its diminutive form, bóithrín, (or boreen in English) is used as a term for very narrow, rural roads.
- Ruth Dudley Edwards (2005). An Atlas of Irish History. Routledge. p. 176. ISBN 978-0-415-33952-0. https://books.google.com/books?id=7SckintZ0eEC&pg=PA176.
- Annals of the Four Masters: University College Cork]
- Mark Callanan; Justin F. Keogan (2003). Local Government in Ireland: Inside Out. Institute of Public Administration. p. 190. ISBN 978-1-902448-93-0. https://books.google.com/books?id=P6OdT7MIflgC&pg=PA190.
- Doran, Linda: 'Medieval Communications Routes' – Royal Irish Academy
-  Library Ireland: A Smaller Social History of Ancient Ireland
-  Raimund Karl: Chariotry and the road systems in the Celtic World
- FitzPatrick, Elizabeth: Roads and Routes
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