Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Morett Castle Co Laois

                                            Above Image: Field entry gate

                                         Above Image: Remains of East wall

                                 Above Image: View of the North East bartizan

                                Above Image: Possible remains of an entrance

                                 Above Image: The jagged South West remains

I have passed by this dramatic ruin countless times on the M7 but an opportunity recently afforded me the chance to leave the motorway and find the back roads leading to it.
The castle was a huge late medieval residential tower house built by the Fitzgerald's in 1580. Within 200 years it would be abandoned. It stood four storeys high and had semi-circular bartizans on each corner. Several fireplaces on some levels were represented at roof level by four huge chimneys which are still extant.The castle came under attack by Cromwell's forces in 1641 and was forfeited.but eventually returned to the Fitzgerald's in 1660. One oft told tale recounted in depth by Sir Jonah Barrington in his volumes "Personal sketches of his own times"published in 1830 was that of Elizabeth Fitzgerald who in 1690 found herself besieged in the castle by the O'Cahills who had managed to take her husband hostage and threatened his life if she did not render the castle to them. Staunchly defiant Elizabeth proclaimed "Elizabeth Fitzgerald may get another husband but Elizabeth Fitzgerald may not get another castle; so I'll keep what I have; and if you don't get off faster than your legs can readily carry you, my warders will try which is hardest, your skull or a stone bullet" The castle remained intact and in her possession but her unfortunate husband found himself dangling from a gibbet!
An illustration by Francis Grose from his antiquarian tour of Ireland in 1791 depicts the castle in ruins with all walls standing but the roof missing. What caused the massive crumbling that has taken place over the last 200 years is debatable but it has left two tall shards jutting upwards to the sky. The remains existing today consist of about two thirds of the East wall and North East bartizan, a small portion of the North wall and the corner of the South and West walls with its bartizan.
Back to the visit. We found that the ruins were in fact built upon a rocky outcrop that was now on private land. A Nicely built modern house stood in front of them. When we arrived we planned to simply knock on the door and seek permission as there were "No trespassing" signs on the pillars of the entry lane that led to the rear of the house. To further upset our plans there were several temporary signs placed directing traffic towards a funeral gathering it would seem at the house..Bad timing for a visit it would appear. However we did get an answer at the door by a very charming lady who dressed in black and heading for the said funeral still graciously allowed us entry to view the ruins as she said herself that she had a great interest in things historical.
Up the lane way to the right of the house we found a field gate which was unlocked and access was easy. The ground within is overgrown and slopes downward from the ruin.The surrounds showed several signs of dislodged rock from the castle walls so we took some very careful steps on our ascent to reach the interior. Standing within you could really get a sense of the original size of this castle and how strategically it was placed..Remnants of the fireplaces and even an oven area are still visible but the features have been ravaged by time. A nearby castle at Coolbanagher which had been a similar tall strong tower almost totally collapsed during a bad storm in 2014 and was eventually demolished. How Morett in its current state survived that storm is a puzzle but there you have it, the fickle hand of fate. That aside I feel that unfortunately time will eventually take its toll and we will sadly lose this striking structure from the landscape..
To find the ruins head West on the M7 and take the junction 15 exit signposted for Mountmellick. At the top of the exit ramp take the right hand exit of the roundabout which crosses back over the M7. Go straight through the roundabout on the other side and at the subsequent roundabout turn left again following the sign for Mountmellick. Approx 250m on you will reach another roundabout which you go straight through. Drive for approx. 1.3KM and you will reach a left hand turn. Turn left and after you have crossed over the motorway again take the second left hand turn. This is a Cul-de-Sac with a modern house on the left at the top. You can park here and seek permission for entry to the ruins at the house.   . .

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Finglas Abbey Co Dublin

                                          Above Image: The entrance gate

                                     Above & Below Images: The Nethercross

                                             Above Image: entrance door

The history surrounding this abbey site stretches right back to through the centuries when St Canice from Co Derry founded a monastery here in 560AD. He would later become the patron saint of Finglas. The early monastery thrived for centuries but was laid open to many attacks by the Vikings and virtually destroyed. It was rebuilt during the tenth and twelfth centuries and it is the ruins of these structures that we see today. The abbey was suppressed during the dissolution of the sixteenth century under Henry VIII. Later during his daughter Elizabeth’s reign the church ceased being a catholic place of worship and transferred to the protestant community which it served until 1843 when a larger more modern church was built. The abbey subsequently fell into ruin.
A visit to the ruins can only be made at certain times and outside of those you need to obtain a key to gain entry to the graveyard in which the ruins lie. On my visit on a Sunday morning the gate was unlocked and I had no trouble gaining entry. The ruins are extensive enough and you can walk around them but sadly not enter as the entrance and windows have been barred up. (I must enquire if there is a key available for here also) Nonetheless you can still see around the interior quite clearly. One very interesting monument within the graveyard is a large Celtic cross known as the Nethercross. The name derives from the barony of Nethercross but this ancient monument was carved in the ninth century and stands seven feet high resembling the one actually carried by St Canice. It is the only remnant remaining from the original monastery. During the Cromwellian invasion the locals dismantled and hid the cross in a secret location fearing that the invaders would destroy it. The cross remained hidden until 1816 when a clergyman named Robert Walsh through dogged research eventually discovered its location through the oral history of a local who's forebears passed the secret location down. Walsh had the cross re-erected in the South East corner of the abbey grounds.

To find the ruins and cross take the junction 5 exit of the M50 for city centre/Finglas. This leads onto the R135 (North Road). Continue on until you reach a roundabout. Go straight through and approx. 500m later you will drive under an underpass and subsequently an overhead footbridge. 140m beyond the footbridge on the left there is a Permanent TSB bank with a small car park in front and you can turn in here and park. Directly across the road you turned in from is Wellmount Road. Simply cross over the road to it and on the corner there is a line of stone cottages with a ramp leading up in front of them . At the top of the ramp is the entrance gate to the graveyard. The gate is open on Sundays and Bank Holidays from 10.30am-5.30am. Outside of these times you can obtain a key from Thomas Lynch at 5 Barrack Lane which is one of the stone cottages mentioned.

Monday, 19 June 2017

Knockmaroon Cromlech Co Dublin

                                      Above Image: Pathway up to the site

                                           Above Image: Eastern aspect

                                           Above Image: Western aspect

This small but significant cromlech (or kist) was accidently discovered in 1838 when a renovation of the Phoenix park was taking place. The workmen who discovered it were charged with the removal of a mound which turned out to be an ancient tumulus standing 15 feet high and 120 feet in circumference.on which the cromlech was positioned. It would date sometime between 2500BC to 1700BC. The Royal Irish Academy at the time investigated it and removed two human skeletons and a number of other items including a flint arrowhead. This is reckoned to be the smallest of this type of burial chamber in the country. The name given to the monument is usually Knockmary as it is positioned beside Knockmary keeper's lodge and the area outside has the name Knockmaroon both are derivations of the name Knockmaridhe. It is tucked away from sight and wouldn’t really make itself aware unless sought out. I had a general idea where it was located from an old ordnance survey map so I set out one day to seek it out. I was driving so I entered the park from the Chapelizod gate and once I spotted the Knockmary lodge up on the hill I just parked on the grass verge at the bottom and walked up the pathway towards the lodge. The lodge is surrounded by a fence and you just need to follow the fence around to the right where you will locate the cromlech. To be fair it has been damaged in the past mostly by people knocking parts off as souvenirs and there are signs that a large crack in the centre of the capstone has been repaired but not entirely successfully sometime in the past. The capstone is believed to be made of bedrock extracted from the River Liffey. A large more modern block props up the large capstone on one side where the original stone has either been removed or was damaged and replaced. The burial chamber is underground leaving the rest of this tomb standing on grass but this is nonetheless an interesting piece of ancient history which goes generally unnoticed.
To find the cromlech enter the park by the Chapelizod gate and a few metres in you will reach a T-junction with Upper Glen Road. Turn left and follow the road .You will pass two signs pointing right into gateways, one for St. Mary's Hospital the other for Cheshire home. Approx 100m past the second sign you will see the small pathway leading up the hill. You can park on the grass verge at the bottom.If on foot you can also access by way of a laneway in Chapelizod village that lies beside the Newsagent/Post office. A small pedestrian gate at the bottom of the lane leads into the park directly opposite the hill with Knockmary lodge visible on top. 

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Old Whitechurch Church & Castle Co Kildare

                                           Above Image: Entrance stiles

                                           Above Image: Part of West wall

                                        Above Image: Remains of a window

                                               Above Image: South gable

                                              Above Image: Hidden tower

                                   Above Image: Entrance to tower and stairs

                               Above Image: A view downwards within the tower

I first came across this site in 2013 as I had heard there was both a church and a castle ruin. All I could locate at the time amongst the trees and wild overgrowth was a partial wall and window. I could not see any part of the castle tower. A bit despondent I left but found myself in the vicinity again recently so I decided to have another look.
The town land on which this ancient graveyard is located is called Whitechurch and it was the site of a monastery in 1300 founded by the white friars hence the origin of the name. The present ruins may or may not have formed part of the monastery but it was certainly used as a parish church until the early seventeenth century where thereafter it fell into ruin. Not much is known of the strong tower that was built here but it most certainly of Norman origin and appears to be placed in close proximity to the church and may not have been a castle as such but have served as a fortified refuge for the clergy..
After crossing the two stiles from the roadside I found myself back at the graveyard. In general it appears to be maintained well and contains a lot of jagged ancient stones. On this occasion I got to see what remains of the church as the overgrowth had receded a little or was cut back. Still standing are the West wall and south gable. The west wall is crumbling and contains the remains of a window and doorway. Within, the ground is badly overgrown and there is the remains of an old font amongst the vegetation. The South gable fares better and has a nice window mostly intact. Having viewed the ruins I scoured the area to locate the castle tower. It turns out to be approximately where the North gable would have stood. A lot of overgrowth hides it from view but I could partially see a section higher up. I then spotted at ground level part of the West wall and a small doorway. I broke away some of the dried branch twigs that occluded the entrance and had to climb over a small fallen tree trunk. Within, ivy was curling about but there was a narrow set of stone steps spiralling upward. I managed to get inside the doorway and carefully ascended the steps which were coated in lichen managing to reach a flat area that must have been the first floor. The stairway was really narrow and the steps badly worn but I at least got part ways into the interior. I figured there wasn’t much likelihood of any further steps as I could see daylight above. It really is very hard to discern what is left of the tower but I’m glad I at least got inside.
The site of the ruins is to the side of a narrow country road where passing traffic is frequent as it leads to Straffan and back to the N4. Also there are almost no places to safely park. I managed after a few drives up and down the stretch of road to eventually tuck the car in on a very small grass verge a few yards North of the entrance stile.

To find the ruins take the N4 heading West and exit at junction 7 signposted for Straffan. At the top of the exit ramp circle the roundabout and cross the bridge over the N4 and on the roundabout on the other side take the first exit again signposted for Straffan. Continue down this road and turn right at the next roundabout onto Straffan road. Continue driving on this road for approx. 4.5km until you have crossed over two hump back bridges (one the canal the other the rail line) Approx 250m after the second bridge look carefully for the gate and stile in the hedgerows on your right. As mentioned parking is difficult but there is a small grass verge just past the entrance on the same side which may be your best bet.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Old Bodenstown Church Co Kildare

                                             Above Image: Entrance gate

                          Above & Below Images: Tomb of Wolfe Tone within ruins

                              Above Image: Church entrance viewed from within

                                   Above Image: Church entrance exterior view

                                      Above Image: Commemoration plaza

Back into the backwaters of Ireland’s ancient East. I visited this quite well known but off the beaten track church ruin in Co. Kildare.
The medieval Church of Bodenstown has a shrouded history. It certainly predates 1352 as it is mentioned in records dating to that time. It would have served as a parish Church and was certainly in ruin by the nineteenth century. It is known today as the resting place of one of the leaders of the 1798 rebellion Theobald Wolfe Tone who was buried here in 1798. Whether the Church was in use at that point is unclear but because of the positioning of the tomb within the Church it would appear that it was no longer in use and the ground within considered hallowed. Every year on the last Sunday in June there is a republican orientated pilgrimage that takes place and a special commemoration section and podium have been constructed adjacent to the South wall.
The Church measured roughly 39ft x 23ft and what remains today are the West gable and North and South walls. It’s a very peaceful spot and appears to be maintained well. There is some ivy growth beginning to take hold on the North wall but otherwise the remains are still quite sturdy.The entrance doorway is still complete and is positioned in the West gable and the interior ground has been partially paved especially around the area of Wolfe Tone's tomb. The Church stands in the centre of the graveyard on slightly elevated ground and access is by way of a gate at the roadside or a stepped stone stile in the enclosure wall.
To find the ruins take the N4 heading West and exit at junction 7 signposted for Straffan. At the top of the exit ramp circle the roundabout and cross the bridge over the N4 and on the roundabout on the other side take the first exit again signposted for Straffan. Continue down this road and turn right at the next roundabout onto Straffan road. Continue for 1km until you reach a left hand turn onto Barberstown Road signposted for Killeen Golf Course. Take the left turn and drive approx 3.5km and you will reach a small crossroads. Go straight through and you will find the ruins approx 1km along on your left hand side. You can park easily enough at the boundary wall.

Monday, 8 May 2017

Ballyshanemore Castle Co Kilkenny

                               Above Image: North facing wall with ogee window

                                       Above Image: View of East facing wall

I came across this tall sturdy tower house on route to Kilfane Church (see post here) It is located on a side road leading out of Gowran in Co Kilkenny.

Following the Invasion of Ireland by the Normans the lands surrounding Gowran were granted to Theobald Fitzwalter the Chief Butler of Ireland. The family name Butler derived from this and from 1385 onward James Butler built some castles starting with Gowran and then subsequently others on his estate one of which was Ballyshanemore. The castle was in their possession until the Cromwellian invasion in 1650 in which nearby Gowran castle (the main residence) was very badly damaged. Ballyshanemore appears to have fared better and the ruins have survived well enough to this day. A particularly interesting feature is the double lit ogee headed window positioned in the North facing wall. Although there are several other windows present this one is the most decorative. Unfortunately it is not possible to view the interior with its reported large fireplaces as the entrance is completely blocked up. A shame really as it would be interesting to see what else has survived within. The castle has now been incorporated into some farm outbuildings and there was an open field gate when I visited so I could have a look at the out of view East wall. Sadly the field here just beyond the gate seems to have been misused and was strewn with litter some of it not very pleasant.
A nice example of a fourteenth century tower house then and well worth a visit if in the area.

 To find the ruin take the M9 heading South and exit at Junction 7 and at the top of the exit ramp take the left hand exit for the R448 (signposted for Thomastown). Continue straight through the next roundabout and on the subsequent roundabout turn right on to the continuance of the R448. This will lead you to the village of Gowran and once past the huge Gowran Collegiate Church (see earlier post here) take the first left onto Mill Road and you will find the castle 500m along on your left.