LONG before the advent of GPS, Sat Nav, Google Maps or less developed means of navigation – and when many a journey undertaken on our roads was on foot or upon a horse – a welcome sight for a weary traveller would have been a milestone to tell them how close, or how far, they were from the end of their journey.

As darkness began to settle and they knew they were close to the nearest sanctuary, a place to rest and recover before setting off again, it was old stone milestones that provided such useful information.

But as the world developed around them, milestones became redundant. With the introduction of rail, new roads and directions, people had other ways of completing their journeys.

However, still they stand, dotted here and there for sharp-eyed people to notice – a reminder of days gone by as milestones stood sentinel at the side of the road.


Now, two men – George Elliott and Brian Osborne – have taken up the challenge of locating milestones around Fermanagh, and raising awareness of these historic, useful markers.

“Along the Gola and Crom Roads, you may be forgiven for missing the stone milestones which sit on the verges,” explains George.

“As a modern-day traveller in a hurry, this would not be a surprise. They stand as an indicator of times of old on what was the Olde Coach Road [from Londonderry] to Dublin, which passes through Fermanagh on its way to Cavan.”

On this particular stretch of road starting at Tamlaght, this Gola route on maps should have six milestones. From Lisnaskea Main Street going along the Crom Road and ending at Wattlebridge, there are 10 milestones marked, adding up to 16 in total.

“Of these 16, Brian Osborne and I have located 12 of them; there are three on the Gola Road, of which one is in a garden, and one of these we have reclaimed.


“On the Crom Road, we have found nine of the 10 milestones, and we believe that we have found the base of the tenth. Of the nine, we have reclaimed four of them, and like the Gola Road, there is one in a private garden.”

George says all of the milestones are of the same type, apart from the one placed at Crom Cross, which is of a bigger construction.

“This also has writing on two sides, and is the only one on the right-hand side of the road if you were travelling towards Newtownbutler or Wattlebridge area.

“We believe that this was put into place by the landowners of Crom Estate; this may not have been unusual for the time.”

What might not be known to many is the distance between the stones – a measurement in what were known as ‘Irish Miles’.

One Irish Mile is equal to 2,240 yards, as opposed to the modern imperial measurement of 1,760 yards to our modern mile.

As well as the Irish Mile being somewhat longer than a modern mile, these were also the distances that the milestones were placed apart from one another on the Olde Coach Road.

“With the need for better road structure due to the increase in travellers both socially and in business,” explains George, “particularly with the introduction of the Irish Coach Mail System, networks were developed and routes evolved, being changed or extended to suit demand.

“This also saw an introduction to Coaching Inns. Indeed, one of the milestones sits opposite the historical building known today as Manorwaterhouse, built by Sir Stephen Butler and sold to Charles Waterhouse in 1629.

“The inn was like a modern-day hotel where people could stay the night before continuing with their journeys. Stables were also nearby for horses to be watered and rested. Manorwaterhouse still stands.”

The location of Manorwaterhouse is approximately halfway between Londonderry and Dublin.

While the milestones eventually became of little use to travellers, there is an interesting story about them during World War Two.

“People were told to remove and bury them so that if the Germans did manage to invade, it would confuse them as to where they were!

‘Fear of German invasion’

“It is thought that the milestone that sits embedded into the wall below a large house in Main Street, Lisnaskea, has been turned around because of the fear of German invasion.

“This story has been corroborated by Jim McDonnell, of the milestone at Macknagh, which was buried in 1940 and was subsequently erected again in the 1960s.”

The milestones have witnessed many a traveller pass by since their erection, and George and Brian hope to inform more people about their long and storied history.

“The milestones are part of our heritage, both as a physical reminder and also part of a social history of those that have travelled the Olde Coach Road.

“Indeed they exist in defiance of metrification and represent an era gone by,” added George.


A poem by Robert Elliott.

I stand a sentry on this side

The same road within my sight.

Carved in my torso, head and neck which are all one

are placenames and Irish Miles.

Called from a quarry and into existence

To stand fro decades in one place.

Like my brothers and sisters that too were made.

Many I am told still survive

Yet none I have ever met.

Noticed, admired and thanked was I.

Before the advent of these metal signs.

My obsolete state, I am aware,

As are they with their superior height!

My miles are wrong, these roads have changed.

Many stop for these signs to seek their aid.

That once was me!

That once was us!

Nothing more but a relic on the side of these roads,

Nothing more than a useless beauty of the past,

Yet still I stand, yet perhaps I must!