|Location Map ( geo)|
|From:||Hennebry's Cross (S493619)|
|Distance:||50.7 km (31.5 miles)|
|Meets:||N77, R694, R426, R431, R430, N80, R428, R417, R418, M9|
The N78 is a National Secondary Road running from the N77 at Hennebry's Cross, 6 kilometres north of Kilkenny, to junction 3 of the M9 at Mullamast near Ballitore in County Kildare. For most of its itinerary, the road follows what was once the principal route from Kilkenny to Dublin, in the guise of the old T6, which joined the T5 at Naas. These days, however, that role is chiefly performed by the N10, which provides a high-quality connection to the M9, which in turn joins the M7 near Newbridge; this leaves the N78 to serve Castlecomer in County Kilkenny, Athy in County Kildare, and the south-eastern reaches of County Laois to the rest of the national network.
Section 1: Henebry's Cross to Castlecomer
We get some indication of the route's former importance from the beginning, as a straight line through the roundabout at Hennebry's Cross takes us from the N77 heading north from Kilkenny onto the N78; the N77 itself continues via a left-turn from the roundabout, bound for Abbeyleix and Port Laoise. There is some indication that the roundabout has replaced an earlier fork in the road, but even then it would appear that the N77 executed a TOTSO while the mainline flowed onto the N78.
Our road strikes out northwards in a straight line as a standard S2, subject to an 80km/h speed limit presumably on account of its width, as there is nothing more than a gentle curve along its route to Castlecomer. It passes some clusters of housing before crossing open farmland to converge with the Dinin River near Ballyrafton Wood. The trees rise up on both sides of the road as it drifts to the right to follow the flow of the river, although the wood itself lies to our left, behind a partially overgrown stone wall. A local road on that side provides access to the wood and its footpaths, before crossing the river via the attractive Tower Bridge. As we pass the wood we adopt a more north-easterly course, and the road becomes a little more curvy once the trees recede. A local road to the right leads to the Dunmore Cave tourist attraction.
The river flows alongside us in quite close company between Ballygrafton Wood and Castlecomer, although we see little of it. We do, however, get to see its Douglas tributary, which we cross via a stone bridge near Bracken. A long curve to the left puts us back on a northerly course, and a T-junction on the outside of the curve brings traffic up from Ballyfoyle. As we begin to draw close to Castlecomer, we get two views of the Dinin, or to be more precise one view of each version of it, as it possess two branches which meet each other a short distance to the west of the road. The N78 widens to accommodate hard shoulders on either side of the road immediately before we cross the first of these two branches, and the fact that the road across the two Dinin Rivers becomes evident at the second crossing, where the N78 passes over a modern bridge adjacent to an abandoned stone bridge with five arches beneath a dense covering of ivy.
Following the northern branch of the Dinin, which flows to the right of the carriageway, we soon enter Castlecomer. The N78 loses its hard shoulders as sporadic housing begins to adorn the roadside. The road through the southern reaches of the town is dead straight, passing a fire station to the left and a Garda station to the right before the speed limits drops to 50km\h. On either side a lane permits parallel parking off the main line of the carriageway, and we know we have reached the town centre when signage indicates that our route turns quite sharply to the right. At the point of the bend lie two T-junctions to the left, in close proximity to one another; the R694 heads west to Ballyragget, while the R426 heads north to Port Laoise. The N78 has priority through the curve, and immediately enters The Square. This long, wide, tree-lined street heads east towards the Dinin River, and has ample parking to serve the local shops and pubs. At its end, we cross the Dinin on an attractive old stone bridge, and are immediately pitched back into the countryside, passing through the Castlecomer Discovery Park which offers visitors walking trails, fishing lakes, and play areas.
Section 2: Castlecomer - Mullamast
The N78 takes a north-easterly course and gains a 100km/h speed limit as it heads with typical directness towards the County Kilkenny border. The only real exception is where it twists its way through the hamlet of Coolbaun subject to a 60km/h limit; thereafter, it is almost completely straight all the way to Crettyard. Before long before entering the village, the road widens out too, taking hard shoulders on both sides for a while, before crossing over into County Laois. Immediately after the county boundary, a T-junction to the outside of a left-hand curve takes the R431 off towards Carlow. There is a very old-fashioned filling station on the inside of the curve, with two petrol and one diesel pump standing right next to the roadside, albeit set far enough inside the curve to allow traffic to stop safely for refuelling. Only a kilometre later, when we pass again over the Dinin River, does signage inform us that we have crossed into another county.
The route is straight again for the next two kilometres, gaining partial hard shoulders, before it reaches Newtown. We pass through the hamlet with a narrow central hatched area separating the traffic flows, and a crossroads staggered either side of Fleming's Bar takes the R430 across our route from Carlow to the east towards Abbeyleix to the west. Although the surroundings are not at all built up, the central hatching remains for some time after the crossroads, and a large marker reminds us (quite unnecessarily) that we are on the N78. After a further two kilometres of so of straight road, things below a little more twisty as we pass through Gregory's Cross Roads. This sends a trio of very minor roads into the surroundings countryside.
A long, broad curve through Glosna sets us on course for a rendezvous with the N80 at the staggered Simmon's Mill Cross Roads. Here we have another indication of the N78's former status as the main route between Kilkenny and Dublin, as it takes priority over the main road from Carlow to Port Laoise. It is evident that the junction has been reconfigured to stagger the N80 so that its two halves do not meet the N78 directly opposite one another; to our left we can glimpse what remains of the abandoned course of the N80, while to the right the original alignment of that road has become a filter lane. After the junction, Dublin is indeed signposted (in brackets) as being 83 kilometres away, just as we cross the Fuer River.
Another kilometre of straight road takes the N78 into Ballylynan, through which the road pass without the merest hint of a curve, all the way to the county border. Only at Popefield, immediately before crossing over into County Kildare, does it jink very slightly to the left. The road remains deadly straight as far as Maybrook, although it does begin to undulate; after Maybrook it takes on hard shoulders for the short run to Athy.
As we enter the town, the N78 loses its shoulders but remains wide enough to accommodate a central hatched area with turning filters which lasts all the way into the town centre. The initially residential surroundings give way to an increasingly industrial landscape as we reach the N78's crossing with the Barrow Line of the Grand Canal. This potentially characterful setting is rather grey and unkempt, but things do get rather more colourful as we pass through the town centre. The R428 departs for Stradbally from a large turning to the left, while the N78 continues along the narrow Duke Street to cross the River Barrow. This brings us to the most scenic part of the town, as the road crosses the river via a large stone bridge with several arches, right next to the imposing and intact remains of Whites Castle (which is now a museum). A short run along Leinster Street takes us through Emily Square, home to several pubs and cafés as well as the Athy Heritage Centre and Shackleton Museum, which are housed in the old town hall.
To proceed along Leinster Street keeps us with the N78, until we reach an unusual stretch of urban dual-carriageway which begins at a mini-roundabout. At the western end, both sides of the dualled section allow two-way traffic, while by the time we reach the eastern end changing permissions at junctions with side roads on each side restore some sense of normality, and the N78 exits this unusual - if not unique - section of road with one-way traffic on either side of the central reservation. The two carriageways are separated from one another by an old stone wall, and the westbound side is elevated slightly above the eastbound line. The road is far more conventional as it crosses the Dublin-to-Waterford railway and leaves the town through its eastern suburbs.
Now on Dublin Road, we pass the Athy GAA ground before the N78 sees the R418 head off towards Castledermot from a fork to the right. Shortly afterwards, at a large roundabout featuring a representation of a canal with boats and a lock gate in its central circle, the R418 takes over the former route of the N78 for Kilcullen. Our route has been diverted here, to follow a new course to connect with the M9. For some five kilometres, the N78 proceeds towards its current terminus as a wide and modern S2 with continuous hard shoulders. It heads eastwards along the Athy Link Road, sweeping first to the right and then to the left, before straightening out. The N78 passes close to the Burtown House and Gardens - an 18t-century villa on a historic estate - before reaching the M9 at Junction 3. This conventional dumbbell interchange allows us to turn north towards Naas and Dublin, south towards Kilkenny and Waterford, or to continue straight on for Ballintore or Baltinglass.
At the opening of the first stage of the M9 in 1994, the N78 ran as far as the motorway's southern terminus, junction 2 at Kilcullen. When the M9 was extended southwards in 2009, a new direct link was built from Athy to junction 3 of the motorway at Mullamast, and this link became the final section of the N78 and opened in March 2010; the old route north of Athy was reclassified as the R418.