Tuesday, 3 August 2021

Old St. Margaret's Church Co Dublin


                                                Above Image: Roadside gate

                                             Above Image: Graveyard entrance

                         Above Image & Below Image: Chantry chapel and its entrance

                          Above Image & Below Image: Mausoleum attached to chapel

                            Above Image: Separate mausoleum at Southern boundary

                                                 Above Image: Mausoleum door

                                             Above Image: Within the mausoleum

                                 Image Below: The East wall (with some rebuilding)

             Above Image & Below Image: The ivy covered remains of  North & West walls

                                                Above Image: Plan of the ruins

The remains of this medieval church lie in a walled enclosure in pastureland and are accessed by a roadside gate on the R122 at St. Margaret's, a small community in a pastoral location behind the runways of Dublin airport. A short lane winds from the road bypassing a work yard and a farm residence and leads to the pillared gates of the cemetery wall designed around the old ruins and opened in 1930. It took a few minutes to work out the layout of the ruins within but I think I finally figured them out.

What greets you initially are the walls of a chantry chapel built by Sir John Plunkett of Dunsoghly (1497-1582) who was Lord Chief Justice from 1559 until his demise in 1582. The chapel is attached to what was the South-Eastern side of the old church. Little remains now of the church itself bar a section of the East wall (which has had some later re-building) and partial remains of the South, West and North walls with the foundations of a tower at the Northwest corner. Sadly a lot of overgrowth is now present which almost disguises the presence of this section.

The church is thought to date from the 12th century and was built on the site of an earlier structure of which nothing remains today. It looks, judging by what foundations that are extant, to have been a sizeable structure. It would have served the local community along with its near neighbour Chapelmidway (see earlier post here) and is recorded to have fallen into ruin in the first half of the 17th century.

The graveyard is also the site of two large mausoleums. One is attached to the South-East corner of the chantry chapel and was built in the 19th century. It is distinctly seperate in design from the other adjacent ruins. A separate mausoleum stands isolated at the South of the graveyard opposite the chantry mausoleum. It was built in the 18th century for the Morgan family and is quite classical in design. It has an open doorway and it too like the chapel is roofless. 

The chantry chapel (a name given to a chapel funded by wealthy patrons) has all four walls standing to nearly full height and is the dominant feature in the graveyard. The entrance door is in the form of an archway with decorative stonework otherwise the exterior and interior are basically featureless.

The graveyard, a rather ancient looking site, is dotted with among others some Celtic cross markers, a table tomb and numerous guano covered indecipherable stones.It may still be in use as there is quite a lot of space left but I didn't spot any gravestones dated later than the 20th century. The grass is cut but there is some vegetation present on the mausoleums. Its close proximity to a farmyard yields the frequent honking of Geese but otherwise it is a very placid spot and is I believe due to be the subject of some conservation work in the near future.

To find the ruins take the junction 5 exit for Finglas from the M50 onto the N2. Once on the N2 drive approx 500m and take the exit left for Coldwinters. This leads to a T-junction where you turn right and drive 1.4KM to Kilshane Crossroads. Turn right here and drive to the next roundabout where you turn left onto the R122. Drive on for approx 1.2KM taking the second left hand turn signposted for the R122 to St Margaret's. At the T-junction at the bottom of this short road turn right and approx 30m along you will see a stone pillared metal gate on your left opposite a white bungalow and a farmyard to the right. You can park at the gate but be sure not to block the farmyard entrance.

Tuesday, 6 July 2021

Punchestown Longstone Co Kildare

                                           Above Image: Nearest access point

                              Above Image: The stone as seen from the track within the
                                                       racecourse grounds

County Kildare has a number of large standing stones and this is one of the tallest. Standing over 19 feet in height it is composed of granite and from its square base it tapers to up a wedge shape at its summit. It is positioned in a field that is now incorporated into the Punchestown racecourse.
The stone dates back to the Bronze Age which places it sometime between 500BC and 2000BC. These type of stones served several different purposes. Some were raised as waymarkers others for commemorations but this particular one is thought to mark an ancient burial site. This site was important enough to be referenced by Gerald of Wales in 1188 in his work "Topographia Hibernica" 
Prior to 1845 one of the Viscounts of Allen attempted to unearth the stone for transfer to his mansion gardens but a team of workers and horses only managed after extreme difficulty to leave it at a 60 degree angle and inevitably it succumbed to gravity falling completely over in 1931. It remained in a horizontal position until 1934 when it was finally re-erected upright. A discovery was also made of a stone lined burial cist beneath it confirming the stone's purpose. The cist however proved to be empty. 
When we visited it was a race day so we had no problem getting into the racecourse grounds. I'm not sure that there would be access at other times as the gate would be closed although the perimeter wall and fence are not high on the right hand side of the gate pillars.
The field in which the stone lies can be accessed from a narrow track that runs parallel to the main road outside and there are cows wandering around the field but we didn't spot any sign of a bull, so there was no problem getting up close to the stone. A small fence has been placed around the base probably as protection which slightly detracts from the overall view of the stone. There is also an OPW information sign. The longstone is slightly similar to it's sister stone "The Craddockstown West Stone" which stands in a farmer's crop field opposite the other Punchestown entry gate a short distance in a Westerly direction up the road. We visited this previously (see earlier post here).
Unlike the Craddockstown stone which leans at an angle this Longstone has been re-placed upright. Whether or not both were originally placed at a slight angle is still a bit of a mystery but nonetheless they are quite imposing features especially when you stand directly beneath them.
To find the Longstone take the R411 South from Naas until you reach a crossroads with the L2023 and a sign pointing towards Punchestown. Turn left here and drive for approx 800m past the first entrance to Punchestown racecourse on your right until you reach the second entrance. If the gate is open you can park inside, if not just park outside at the roadside. Once inside the gate walk straight on for approx 40m and you will see a track to your left. Follow the track and you will spot the stone in the field on your left. Just look for a gap in the hedge and you can access it over a low fence. I am not sure how private this land is but we saw no prohibitive signs on our visit. 

Sunday, 20 June 2021

Blackhall Area Castle Co Kildare


                                          Above Image: Field gate (at centre-left)

                                             Above Image: part of the South wall 

                              Above Image: Shrouded remains of South & West walls

                                    Above Image: Castle among farm out-buildings

We were heading across the backroads from Blessington to Naas when I thought I spotted something in the corner of my eye. It looked suspiciously like a ruin partly hidden by some abandoned farm outbuildings. We pulled over and walked back down the deserted road and found a field gate fixed solidly to the ground by vegetation but easy enough to climb over. We were conscious that this was probably somebody's land but there were no prohibitive signs and certainly nobody about so we ventured on to have a closer look. What we found was sadly a very decrepit ruin of what appeared to be a tower house and not one of great distinction by the look of it. Only two walls remained on its Southern and Western sides but the base of the West wall sloped out in what I believe they call a talus or batter. Certainly unusual for such a small and abandoned castle. It had been incorporated, as have many a rural ruin, into some farm buildings, sheds and such. The upper third or so of the tower is no longer extant and the ivy has encroached badly upon it leaving it an odd and spidery look. Truthfully I don't think that the remains are going to be visible for a lot longer as this type of overgrowth is apt to crumble whats left like a boa constrictor.

The wi-fi was not great at that spot but when I finally did get a chance to do some research a little later I discovered the site listed on an 1837 ordnance survey map as the ruins of Blackhall castle (not to be confused with the castle of the same name in Calverstown Co Kildare. See earlier post here) This castle was named after the townland in which it is located and from what I can gather it was associated with the Fitzgeralds who held land here back as far as the Norman invasion when Maurice Fitzgerald initially took possession in 1172. Blackhall castle was more than likely built as one of the £10 castles that dotted along the pale in order to defend it. This would put its age as possibly early 15th century and around the reign of Henry VI. The castle was badly damaged in 1642 by crown forces fighting the rebels (which included the Fitzgeralds) during the confederate war but it is thought to have been reconstructed to some degree a few years later and then inhabited by Anthony Sherlock around 1659. He also came from a Norman family who settled after the invasion and the area known as Sherlockstown not far from Naas is most likely named after his forebears The castle was replaced as a dwelling house in time by a mansion built around the early 1700's and one would imagine that Blackhall started on its road to ruin around then. 

It was a short visit and soon we were back on the road again, but it saddens me a little to see history slowly going to ground in such a way as Blackhall.

This one is only for die-hards to visit! To find the ruins follow this route. From the main street in Blessington opposite St. Joseph's Hall take the R410 signposted for Naas (halfway along this road at Glending there is a shortcut up a very narrow boreen which I would not recommend unless you have a decent off road vehicle. Believe me I found out the hard way) Instead follow the road R410 for approx 5KM until you reach a T-junction with the L2021 where the R410 continues to the left. Drive another 200m and then take the first left hand turn onto a narrow road. Follow this road for approx 2KM until you reach a fork in the road. Take the right hand road and continue for approx 300m until you reach a small crossroads just after a little bungalow. Turn right and drive for approx 600 m until you see the abandoned farm buildings on your left. The field gate is at this spot. It is advisable to park a few metres on up the road where it is a  little wider.

Tuesday, 8 June 2021

Swords Towers Co Dublin

                                                 Above Image: Entrance gate

                                                 Above Image: The round tower

                                       Above Image: The 14th century church tower

These ancient towers stand close to each other in the grounds of St. Columba's Anglican church in Swords, Co. Dublin. The present church is more recent having been built in the early 1800's.
A monastery was founded here in 560AD by St. Colmcille and it thrived initially but fell victim to many attacks over the centuries either by raiding Irish clans or subsequently by the Vikings. Nothing is extant here today of that monastery apart from the 9th or possibly 10th century round tower which would have been constructed as a refuge and safekeeping place against marauders. It stands over 80 feet high and about 16 feet in diameter. The original doorway is now almost at ground level but would have been a few metres higher when it was constructed.The last few metres at the top just below the cone were reconstructed at a much later time and a cross was placed on top.
The square tower standing beside the round tower is the belfry tower from the 14th century church that once stood here. The church nave and chancel fell into ruin long ago most likely after the suppression of the mid 16th century and the remains were still visible until the building of the new church took place in the early 19th century. They were subsequently demolished leaving only the bell tower. A clock was also later added to the East face of the belfry.
Both towers today stand imposingly side by side among the trees and they are somewhat awkward to get a good photograph of together in the one shot, especially when the sun is higher causing them to  silhouette against the sky. But a little time and patience wins out in the end.
Access to the grounds is simple enough with a pedestrian gate to the left of the main entrance gates that is unlocked whether the main gates are locked or not. Unfortunately the interiors to the towers at the moment remain closed.
To find the towers take the junction 3 exit off the M1 motorway and at the top of the exit ramp take the first exit left onto the R125 signposted for Swords. Continue along this road going straight through the next two roundabouts and again on the third joining the R836 for Swords. Continue into the town until you see the Lord Mayor pub on your left. Take the next left turn onto Church Road and follow it up until you see the Anglican church grounds on your left hand side. Parking on this road is reserved but if you follow the narrow road down to its end you will find parking there.

©  G Hill 2021

Monday, 17 May 2021

Minard Castle Co Kerry


                                                 Above Image: Entrance point

                                        Above Image: Part of a mural passageway

                                 Above Image & Below Image: Photos taken in 1991

Minard castle is certainly one of the most scenically placed fortresses in Ireland. It stands on a high promontory overlooking Kilmurry bay with the stunning acres point to its east and the distant Iveragh peninsula to the South.

The castle is believed to have been built by the Fitzgerald's in the 15th century It is thought that it originally stood three or possibly four storeys high but tragically in 1650 during the Cromwellian invasion of Ireland and while it was garrisoned by Walter Hussey of Dingle, it fell siege to the cannons of English Colonels Sadler and Lehunt. Hussey's men held firm despite the few weapons available to them but the cannons could not bring down the castle. Finally a huge amount of explosives were ignited below the walls and seriously damaged Minard killing all within. The very unstable look of the base of the ruins today attests to this assault. The remains though have stood the test of time, weather beaten by the Atlantic storms from the Southwest that batter the storm bay below. 

A barely visible track leads up the raised ground from the location of the information notice just off the approach road. About halfway up a small wire fence holds a rudimentary notice warning of the unstable ruins but is easily stepped over. Care of course should be given but I think the danger of slipping on wet grass is a more likely endangerment here.

The entrance is on what remains of the West face which overlooks the bay and a short passage brings you to the interior. Not much is left but it is interesting to see the layout of former floors and parts of some mural corridors that the castle one sported. They certainly blew this place to smithereens.

Incidentally, the castle made a brief appearance in the 1970 David Lean film "Ryan's Daughter" where Rosie has her first meeting with Major Doryan.

It really surprises me that these ruins have remained extant for so long given the location. Some of the more recent and damaging storms have destroyed ruins much further inland, for example, Coolbanagher Castle in Co. Laois which suffered great damage in 2014 so much so that the council demolished the remaining ruins as they were deemed too unsafe. 

Minard is a testament to its builders and I hope it remains a sentinel over the bay for many years to come. 

To find the ruins take the N86 heading West from Annascaul toward Annalack and about 500m out of Annascaul take the left hand turn signposted for the R561 to Castlemaine..Drive for 400m then take a right hand turn onto a narrow road and continue for approx 4KM. You will clearly see the ruins on your left upon approach. There is a small car parking area at Minard beach about 100m before the castle.

Wednesday, 5 May 2021

Ballitore Mill Co Kildare


                                            Above Image: View from the R747

                                           Above Image: South facing main block

                                         Above Image: Western six storey tower

                            Above Image: East facing block and adjoining buildings

                                    Above Image: River Griese and old entry gate

This ruin on the outskirts of Ballitore in Co. Kildare poses a striking presence on its surroundings. Ballitore translates from original Gaelic to "Town of the Marsh".

The ruins are the remains of a once productive flour mill founded in 1834 by George Shackleton (1785-1871) who was the grand uncle of Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton.

The Shackleton's were part of the local Quaker community that began with the founding of the village of Ballitore by Quakers from Yorkshire. The first two immigrants John Bancroft and Abel Strettel began farming the area in 1685.

The Shackleton mill was a huge building composed of rubble stone with four storeys and a six storey section on the West end that looks to all intents and purposes like a medieval castle tower. The building was designed with specifically designed wall openings that aided in the proper air circulation needed to keep the stored flour dry. According to a local Historian the mill ran productively for nearly forty years until its closure in 1873 when production moved to the Anna Liffey mills near Lucan in Dublin. This mill ran until 1998 and the modern Shackleton mill is now located in  Ashbourne Co. Meath.

The Ballitore mill is now without a roof and in ruin with its East wall destroyed. The ancillary buildings  that ran alongside the river have also partly collapsed. There is a small iron gate beside the river that was an access point but it is now signposted, as is the main building, with prohibitive signs warning of falling masonry. Regardless it is still possible to get quite close to parts of the structure without endangerment.

This great hulk now slowly crumbles beside the River Griese which is a pity as it represents a time in Irish history when industrialization was in its infancy especially in the rural countryside and if funded it could have been at least partially restored and along with the interesting Quaker museum in the village provided an enhanced experience for the visitor.

It might not strike one as being a particularly beautiful building but it is nonetheless aesthetically pleasing in some ways.Thanks go to Pauline Fagan the librarian in the museum for her kind assistance on some aspects of this post. The museum if you would like to visit after seeing the ruins is in the main street and is open Weds-Sat 10am-1pm, 2pm-5pm except Thurs which the hours are 12.30pm-4pm, 4.45pm-8pm. Free to visit.

To find the ruin take the M9 motorway and exit at junction 3. At the roundabout at the top take the exit onto the R747 following the sign for Ballitore. Drive for approx 2.25KM until you reach a T-junction with the R448. Turn left at the junction and drive until you reach the first left hand turn signposted for the L8035 to Ballitore. Turn left onto this road and when you reach a small crossroads a few metres on turn left again (Timolin Terrace) Drive for approx 250m and take the fist right turn onto a narrow road (Fuller's Court Rd) and you will see the ruins about 200m ahead on the left. You can park at the area outside the building itself.

Saturday, 24 April 2021

Site Of Tymon Castle Co Dublin

                    Above Image: Late 18th print of the castle and lane running alongside
                                           Courtesy of Antiqueprints.

                                                Above Image: Old Tymon Lane

                        Above Image & 2 Images Below: The mound & stone remnants.

                                                 Above Image: Site of the ruin.

                                        Above Image: Guide map © Google maps

This has to be the least visible castle ruin I have come across. It saddens me a little as the castle was fairly local to me and I would have loved to see it but it was demolished in the year I was born! 
Tymon castle across the centuries has also been known as Timonthan and Timmond and is generally thought to have been constructed during the reign of King John (1199-1216) It was not a remarkably large structure but it was built on a very defensive spot upon an elevated ridge giving it a wide view of the surrounds. This type of castle interestingly also fits the brief of the 15th century £10 castles which were constructed along the pale by order of the crown to protect the pale from the warring Irish tribes who frequently assailed it. So there is every possibility that it may have been constructed at that time instead. It was situated on a ridge along a very old road called Tymon Lane which still exists today and is now incorporated into the public park which opened in 1986. 
The castle was a two storey structure with vaulted ceilings and a level roof. The doorway was protected overhead by a machicolation designed to rain down rocks or burning objects upon unwelcome visitors. The castle also sported a projection from its wall in which were positioned a set of stairs. Its initial owners remain unknown but the castle was certainly in a ruinous state by 1547 and the lands at Tymon were sold by the crown to James Sedgrave in 1552. Subsequently they were acquired  in 116 by Adam Loftus, a nephew of Archbishop Loftus, The only other mention of the castle was that it had some repairs made in the 1770's and was inhabited for a time by a destitute family who stayed within its walls for a number of years.
During the 20th century the ruins were further diminished and surrounded by meadows. It was a popular spot for people to picnic beneath its ageing walls and there was also the existence of a Fairy well nearby which also drew many visitors.
In 1960 the ruins were deemed dangerous and rather than strengthen and preserve they were demolished taking a well known landmark into memory.
I decided to have a look along Tymon lane and drew upon an old ordnance survey map for the general location. As you walk along the narrow lane with its arch of trees it almost seems like a step back in time. I would imagine that the park was landscaped in 1986 and trees planted but somehow it seems like a lot of greenery here is quite old and indeed a print from the late 18th century does depict trees. The castle ruins stood above the lane and this ridge is still somewhat in evidence as you turn a sharp left bend. On the left hand side the ground goes upward through the vegetation and you just have to find a gap to gain access. We found a likely entry point half way between the sharp left bend and the sharp right bend a few metres on. All we could find among the trees and bushes were several large blocks and stones half buried in the earth which may be remnants of the demolished ruins. Sad to say that these may be all that remains. We also managed to find the site on top of the mound which is now leveled and in use by the park authorities.
I'm sure there are many local people still living who remember the ruins and how the site was affected by the opening of the park, so if anyone can contribute any info it would be gratefully accepted.
To find the ruin site enter Tymon park from the entrance halfway down Castletymon Road and park in the car park to the left of the inner roundabout. Then on foot walk back to the roundabout and follow the road from the left of the roundabout towards the ranger station. Two lanes lead off to the right, the first at the playground and the second at the ranger station. Take the second lane which is the old Tymon lane and follow it down around 250m until it turns sharply left. Between here and the sharp right turn a few metres on is the ridge on your left. As stated enter through a break in the bushes and the ground leads up to the old site.