Friday, 24 October 2014

Old Ardkill Church Co Kildare

                                         Above Image: The new roadside gate

                                 Above Image: The second stile (to right of gate)

                                           Above Image: The walled enclosure

                                            Above Image: The enclosure gate
                                             Above Image: The East gable

                                  Above Image: Route from the road to enclosure

You’ll need some good walking boots for this one. The medieval Church of Ardkill (meaning High Church) lies in the Townland of the same name and requires a bit of a trek to find it. The first indication of its existence is a gate with a cross on it at the roadside which now has a brand new stile attached. From here it’s a walk across three fields and over another stile before you spot the walled enclosure around the ruins. This route may have originally been a Mass path for Churchgoers. The last of these fields has a cattle enclosure and a stile to cross. When we visited, the last field was chock full of Sheep who moved in great waves as we approached and at least two rams were giving us the beady eye. Just as you reach the enclosure wall you have to cross a small ditch which even on a sunny day still manages to retain some water. There is a gate in the enclosure wall on the South west corner which has a spring loaded catch which nearly took my finger off so be wary of this.
What remains of the Church is unfortunately mostly hidden by vegetation but it appears both gables are standing and partial amounts of the South and North walls. The Church would have measured approx. 21m x 10m. The ruins are situated on raised ground within the graveyard which is pretty uneven and they would probably look more dramatic if the ivy was cleared. The Kildare burial grounds survey documents that the East gable is buttressed but it’s not very evident with the overgrowth. There are a number of 18th century interesting grave markers scattered around.
It’s a long trek for such scant remains but there is a very remote, windswept and historical atmosphere to the place. There are also, a couple of fields further on, the partial remains of a Castle tower. This can be spotted from the road as you approach the roadside stile that accesses the mass path. We decided on this visit to pass on that viewing as we had pretty much enough of the smell of country air!
To find the ruins take the M4 junction 9 exit. At the top of the ramp take the R402 exit of the roundabout for Edenderry. Drive a short way to the next roundabout and take the 2nd exit continuing on the R402 toward Edenderry. Pass through the Village of Johnstown Bridge and drive for approx. 6Km until you reach a small crossroads with a white thatched cottage on the right. Turn left at the crossroads and drive for approx. 900m and keep an eye out on your right for a field gate with a cross on it and a stile adjacent. You can park on the grass verge opposite. Once over the stile follow the line of the hedgerow on your right and you will find the right route.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Timahoe Round Tower & Castle Co Laois

                                           Above Image: The footbridge entrance

                                            Above Image: Romanesque doorway

                             Above Image: Almost as if the tower had sprouted twigs!

                              Above & Below Images: Remains of the Church/Castle

                                                 Above Image: The choir arch

                                               Above Image: Remains of a font?

This monastic site was founded by St Mochua in the 7th century. None of the original monastery buildings survive after being seriously damaged in 1142 but the tall 90 feet tall round tower which was constructed in the 12th century remains intact and peeks above the trees on the skyline of the Village.
Access to the site is by way of a small footbridge over a stream into a secluded area. The conical roof remains atop undamaged making the tower a fine example of these amazing type of structures. There are four windows near the roof that face to all four compass points but most importantly a beautifully carved Romanesque doorway is situated approx. 14ft from ground level. This decorative doorway makes this tower unique in Ireland. The doorways on towers like these were placed high  mostly as form of protection. If under attack a ladder could be pulled up to deter the assailants.
 A few yards from the tower a more modern Church building stands intact and has I’ve been told adapted into a library.
Adjacent South West to the tower are the ruins of a 15th century Church from a Franciscan friary constructed by the O’Mores. The friary was closed in the dissolution of the 1540’s. In the 1600’s the lands were passed to the Cosby family who were notable in the area and they went about converting the remains of the Church into a Castle complete with tower and bawn. Only partial remains exist today mostly of the East wall and a gable end of the Church. The East wall contains a choir arch which is completely blocked up.
The site sits in a very quiet spot in the village and has a very calm and peaceful atmosphere. When we visited there was just one other visitor who appeared to be a local walking his dog. Although the remains of the Church/Castle are scant the tower really makes a visit worthwhile.
To find the ruins, take the M7 Dublin to Limerick motorway and exit at junction 16. At the roundabout at the top of the exit ramp take the second exit and drive for approx. 4.5KM until you reach a T-junction with the N80. You will pass by the Rock of Dunamase on your way (see earlier post). Turn left onto the N80 and drive approx. 3KM until you reach Stradbally. In the Village take the right hand turn opposite the “Daniel Dunne” pub. Drive for approx. 8KM until you reach the crossroads in Timahoe Village. Drive ahead through the crossroads and take the first left turn. Once around, the road forks. Take the right hand fork and a few metres on you will spot the small footbridge crossing the stream. You can park safely along here.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

St Kevins Church Co Dublin

                                              Above Image: The entrance gate

                                                   Above Image: Interior view

                                                   Above 2 Images: The belfry

                                  Above Image: Some of the removed headstones

The first mention of a Church on this site just outside the then walls of Dublin was in the annals of 1226. No trace of this medieval church survives and the parish was administered after the reformation by the Church of Ireland. The present Church ruin dates to around 1750 and was built on the site of the old church. Quite a large structure for its type it was notable as the baptismal site for The Duke of Wellington who battled Napoleon at Waterloo. The church remained in use until 1912 when it was closed and its font removed and transported to St Nahi’s Church in Dundrum. In the 1960’s the site was being developed as a public park and excavations revealed some medieval coins and burials.
I wasn’t aware of the existence of this ruin until recently. It is closeted away down the narrow street called Camden Row and is surrounded by buildings and walls. An arched gateway provides access from the street and is open during daytime for the public to avail of the park. The Church lies at the North end of the enclosure. It feels a little encroached upon by the buildings but the park is maintained and is quite pleasant to walk in.
The ruins have been gated up so there is no access to the interior but you can see quite clearly through the bars all you need to see.  A tall belfry is situated on the West gable and is still in fairly  good condition.
One strange thing is that most of the gravestones have been removed from their sites and repositioned around the interior of the boundary walls. Whether this was to facilitate a more park like feel or not it seems a little bit careless to those interred there. This situation has led to stories of hauntings in the park by its interred community apparently aggrieved by the disturbance of their graves. History also notes that body snatching took place here a couple of hundred years ago and this coupled with the ghostly tales lends a more uneasy atmosphere to the site. The site is also infested with pigeons who lounge around on the gables of the Church.

To find the ruins, from the junction of Kevin Street Lower and Cuffe Street turn onto Wexford Street. About 80m along there is a right hand turn at Ryan’s pub. This is Camden Row. You will find the entrance gate to the ruins about 100m up this road on your right. Disc parking is available along this road.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Blackhall Castle Co Kildare

                                            Above Image: The entrance gate

                                    Above Image: Exposed interior of the West wall

                                               Above Image: The Sheela-na-gig

                              Above 2 Images: The entrance to stairwell & the stairs

Tucked away on a private estate deep in the heart of Kildare stands Blackhall Castle, or at least half of it!
It was constructed by the Eustace family in the 1400’s and stands four storeys high. It pretty much remained mostly intact over the centuries though uninhabited for a long period, until in Feb 1999 a severe storm caused a structural subsidence resulting in the complete collapse of the East section and parts of the North & South walls.
The Castle is located on private property but a sign on the wall at the entrance to the estate advises that visits are allowed during certain months of the year. We visited in May. It is a little difficult to find the entrance to the estate as it looks like a normal pillared gate shaded under a tree but once you do find it then a short drive up to the estate house and castle is all that is needed.
When we approached the ruins a Dog began barking loudly and chasing the car. We drove around to the rear of the house where there was a door open and hoped the barking would alert the owner to our presence. Not wanting to get out of the car we waited until eventually a man appeared and we explained who we were. He grinned and told us that the dog’s bark was worse than his bite and indeed once we were with the owner the dog became the most friendliest of hounds.
The owner, a genial man called Jeff White, took some time to tell us about the castle and its history. He recalled that the damage to the castle occurred while they were on holiday in Australia and after a few weeks away returned to find that that half the castle had collapsed into a pile of rubble in their yard. They thankfully while sifting through the debris found that the renowned "sheela na gig" that had been placed above one of the now destroyed doors had miraculously survived. They also managed to get a grant from the government to restore what was left of the castle and reset the Sheela in a lower spot. Jeff said that cement was literally poured into the wall cavities to strengthen the remains. After taking up what I’m sure was his valuable time Jeff left us to wander around the ruins and take some photos. At one time you could climb the steps inside to the top but unfortunately they had to cordon it off for safety reasons. The lower floor of the castle is now used as a storage space for farm implements.
With the interior of the Castle exposed it gives an interesting aspect on how it is structured. You can ascertain the different floor levels and see a large fireplace on top floor.
It think it’s nice to have the opportunity to see a castle such as this. A lot that lie on private land are inaccessible but thanks to the owners here for putting in the effort into restoring what they could of Blackhall and still allowing access to the public.
To find the ruins take the M7 Dublin to Limerick motorway and at junction 11 take the exit for the M9. At junction 2 take the exit for Kilcullen and at the top of the exit ramp turn right and follow the sign pointing to the R448 for Castledermot. Drive for approx. 3.5KM until you see a turn on the left for the L8008 for Calverstown. Take this left hand turn and drive until you have passed through Calverstown Village. Once through the Village and 400m on you will pass over a small stream and pass by a large 5 windowed house on your right with a rounded arch door. Continue on and you will pass a left hand turn. The entrance to Blackhall lies 600m beyond this on the left. As mentioned its shaded by trees but it lies just a few feet past an oval shaped gate entrance with four pillars. The Blackhall entrance has a small sign left of the gate with the opening times. Drive up the driveway and you will find it turns sharply right. Continue on until you see the castle on your left.

The opening times for visits are restricted to the following times
May 1st –May 31st  2pm-6pm.  September 1st –September 30th  2pm-6pm  December 1st-21st   2pm-6pm.