Sunday, 17 July 2022

Coole Castle Co Offaly


                                             Above Image: North & West aspects.

                                            Above Image: West & South aspects

                                       Above Image: The guardians of Coole Castle.

Having not been out in County Offaly for a while it was great to take in a bit of ruin hunting!

Just East of the village of Ferbane in the barony of Garrycastle and parish of Wheery on a country lane leading down to the Brosna River is the site of Coole Castle a 16th century stronghold built in 1575 as a gift to his second wife by Sir John MacCoghlan member of a very prominent family in this area.

The castle, a three storied tower house was completed, according to a engraved plaque inside, in 1575 after a couple of years of interrupted construction. An entrance door was placed on the East side while the South side had a commanding view of the river. 

Sir John bequeathed the castle in his will to his wife Sabina O'Dallachain in 1590. It is thought to be one of the many castles destroyed or damaged badly by the English forces following the confederate wars and subsequent Cromwellian invasion. The family name however remained very influential both in the area and in the English parliament as far as 1790 and beyond.

There is only one real access route to the castle unless you have a row boat! A twisty country lane brings you literally down to a narrow bridge at the river and the castle is in a meadow near the road with a small rather beaten up metal pedestrian stile for access. Even though access to the interior is not possible and the upper floor has been damaged badly it is still a very commanding tower and worth a look. After all it is a listed building. The meadow is used for grazing cows and these ladies were very inquisitive but friendly following us around.

The castle has a legend, and we all love a legend, that there is an earthenware pot of gold hidden under a rock somewhere in the castle but it is protected by a spirit who will go to no ends to retain it. So if you find the gold be prepared to bring something else home with you!

To find the ruins take the junction 8 exit from the M6 motorway onto the N62 (first left off the exit roundabout). Drive straight on through the next roundabout following the N62 to Birr. Continue on the N62 until you reach Ferbane. Once on the Main Street take a left at the small crossroads in the village following the R436 to Kilbeggan. Drive approx 600m and turn at the first right hand turn onto the L30048. Follow this winding little road all the way to the bottom (passing Kilreahan cemetery) and you will see the ruins on your left. You can park just before the footbridge at the castle field gate.

Monday, 6 June 2022

Old Balfeaghan Church Co Meath

                                                  Above Image: Entrance gate 

                                               Above Image: Outer East gable

                     Above Image: Inner East gable and partial South wall in foreground

                       Above Image: Portions of the North (foreground) & South walls

                                     Above Image: Fragments within the enclosure.

The ruins of this small parish church are situated in a bucolic setting along the Kilcock to Summerhill road. The parish was created around 1250AD and the small church named after St. Feighin (who may have been St. Feichin of Fore) is thought to have been constructed shortly thereafter. Measuring at approx 44 feet x 16 feet, it appears to have been a single cell structure with no divisions inside. The church may also have been built as a chapel of ease for locals for whom the bigger parish church was a fair distance away. When the abbey at Trim was suppressed in 1540 this small church was listed as a possession and so it too was taken out of use. The church was historically recorded as being in total ruin by 1682.
Access to the site today is easy by way of a metal gate or stone stepped stile into a grassy enclosure which is rectangular in shape. The ruins lie on the crest of a small sloped elevation with the East gable being the most prominent remains. Corner sections of both the North and South walls still remain but the West wall is non-extant although it's position is defined by the slope on that side of the elevated ground.
Around the 1830's a low wall enclosure was built out of the East gable and now houses memorial stones set against the inner wall. Within this enclosure are also to be found a few stone fragments from the church which include part of it's original font and stone window surround. There are no further features extant.

To find the ruin take the R148 from St. Coca's church in Kilcock and approx 800m along take the right hand turn signposted for the R158 to Trim and Summerhill. Drive approx 600m, crossing the River Rye and arriving at a small roundabout. Continue straight on through the roundabout and approx 200m on your right you will see the cemetery. You can park easily at the entrance gate.

P.S.  Please also find an update to the Ballymount Castle post (here)

Sunday, 8 May 2022

Hill Of The Witch Loughcrew Co Meath


                                          Above Image: Entry to hill from car park

                                          Above Image: Stone steps to base of trail

                                         Above Image: A warning to the curious!

                                      Above Image: Posts indicating trail to follow

                                           Above Image: Approach to the summit

                                                       Above Image: Cairn W

                                  Above Image: Cairn T with Cairn V in foreground

                                      Above Image & Below 3 Images: Cairn S

                                                    Below  2 Images: Cairn U

                                   Above Image & Below Image: Entrance to Cairn T

                                                  Above Image: The passageway

                                          Above Image: Passageway entry stone

                       Above Image & Below 5 Images: Interior stones & Passageway

                                           Above Image: View from the summit

                                          Above Image: Trail back from the summit

                              Above & Below Image: Flat extending rock on trail down

The Hill of the Witch is translated from the Gaelic "Sliabh na Caillighe" and refers collectively to the hilltops of Carbane East, Carnbane West, Patrickstown and Carrickbrack. There are approx 25 or more cairns scattered over these hills but the most interesting are on the 276m high Carnbane East which is mostly itself now referred to as the hill of the witch and it's impressive hilltop cairn is known as the "Hag's Cairn" or archaelogically as Cairn T. The scattering of cairns over these hills have all individually been given alphabetical letters.

The legend behind the name is that a giant witch while roaming across the lands of Meath dropped from her apron a large number of stones thus forming the widespread cairns. The myth states the witch or "Hag" was named Bhearta. 

As stated Carnbane East is the most interesting and so that is where we headed on a quite breezy but sunny morning. The starting point to the hill was not hard to find and a small car park is provided. Our objective was not only to view the cairns but to gain access to the largest one, Cairn T. The key for this we procured from the coffee shop at Loughcrew Gardens a short distance away, which I would heartily recommend for refreshments.  A refundable deposit of 50 euro is required or you can in lieu leave your driving licence. The gardens belong to the Loughcrew estate which was the seat of the Plunkett family and notably Saint Oliver Plunkett who was martyred in 1681. The family church, now in ruins, is a really worthwhile visit and is not far from the coffee shop. I covered this in a previous post (here). 

The ascent of the hill while a little steep initially is not that strenuous. You just follow a set of steps and then a series of wooden posts up to a grassy ridge, then turn left and walk on toward the summit. It takes approx 15 minutes. During June to August there are often OPW guides who will give you a history lesson and guide you into the tomb. At present the interior is closed to the public because of COVID but hopefully that will change soon and anyway it doesn't inhibit you from viewing all the exterior cairn remains. When we visited it was still possible to gain the key and it was just before summer season so we could self guide.

As the magnificent 5000 year old Hag's Cairn came into sight it really was breathtaking. The atmosphere on the hill that day was invigorating anyway. The wind was strong and the views were magnificent in the sunshine and fast moving iron grey clouds. My son had of late undergone major surgery and he said that that day on the hill he had never felt so alive.

The hilltop is surrounded by a rudimentary fence and there is an information board and a pedestrian stile to allow entry. The area is scattered with the exposed remains of several cairns and there are many stones decorated with ancient carvings. You can climb down into the exposed chambers in a couple of cairns. (Cairns S and U). The main cairn is still intact with it's cruciform chamber within and is covered by a mound of stones and surrounding kerb stones. One of the larger stones is unusually shaped and is known as the "Hag's Chair" There is a cross carved into it and you can sit up upon it.

We were lucky, perhaps being off season, to have encountered no other visitors on the summit only a few walkers along the trail. You can indeed follow trails to the other hilltops but it is a fair walk of nearly a couple of hours and strenuous enough at times and some of them are on private farmland.

Once we had the iron gate open on the Hag's cairn we entered a different world. There are many beautiful carvings on the large stones within and a good torch is required to illuminate the beauty and mystery of the chamber. The passage way and chamber are not as large as say the one at Fourknocks (see earlier post here) but still nonetheless amazing. Cairn T was not only a tomb but a place of ritual and orientation to the heavens. On the Spring and Autumnal equinoxes the sunlight streams into the passageway illuminating the chamber and revealing the patterns adorning the stones.

Just like it was in the tomb at Fourknocks there is a feeling of being so divorced from the modern world, sheltered in ancient history and in the darkened chamber your senses are heightened and I felt truly conscious of the nature and importance of this venerated place. 

We spent quite a bit of time on the hilltop examining the various features and taking in the wonderful scenery and I would highly recommend a visit here. If you are reading this Karl, thanks for the recommendation!

To find the site take the junction 9 exit from the M3 onto the N51 for Athboy. Once in Athboy take the right hand turn onto the R154 and drive approx 7KM until you reach a crossroads with the N52. Continue straight through on the R154 and drive another 12KM passing through Crossakiel and eventually reaching a T-junction with the R163. Turn left here continuing on the R154 towards Oldcastle. Drive approx 2.2KM and you will reach a small fork in the road. Take the left fork following the sign for the Loughcrew and if you want to get the cairn key drive approx 5KM until you see the sign for the Loughcrew Gardens and Limetree coffee shop on your left hand side. If you want to visit without the key then drive only 3KM and you will see the sign for Loughcrew cairns pointing down a right hand turn. About 1KM up this road is the car park and hill entry point.

Saturday, 26 March 2022

The Gothic Arch Templeogue Co Dublin

                                        Above Image:  The arch as it was in 2014

                        Above Image: Templeogue House. Parts of the old castle were 
                                               incorporated into the towers at the back. 

Anyone who would be frequently driving down the N81 towards Templeogue in the last few years would have been surprised recently to see this stone archway appear as if out of nowhere. It has in fact been a feature for centuries but in the years following the 1980's it began to disappear beneath the ivy and bushes that grew alongside the then newly installed Tallaght by-pass. The Gothic style arch has now once again been exposed to the light as it is anticipated that it will become a feature along a new greenway being developed by the County Council.
The arch is not in anyway medieval or nor is it associated with the ruins of the nearby church at the Spawell roundabout (see earlier post here) but in fact a folly built as part of the ornamental landscaped gardens of the former Templeogue house demesne.
The house itself was by built in late Elizabethan times incorporating parts of the towers and subterranean vaulted cellars of the former 16th century Talbot castle. The lands had been granted to Thomas Domvile by James II following the bloody battle of the Boyne and it was Thomas's son Compton Domville who had the gardens laid out. 
Both the Talbots and subsequently the Domviles were stewards of the City watercourse which ran on the North section of their land and Compton sometime following his Father's death in 1721 had several ponds designed in the forested gardens, that drew from the watercourse that connected to each other via a series of steps which had statues placed at each dropping point. At the Southern end he built the tall Gothic arch under which the stream flowed and then dropped as a twenty foot waterfall before rejoining the City watercourse. 
In 1780 the Domviles moved to the lands at Santry and the ornamental statues and indeed an ornamental temple which had stood on a mound were transferred with them. Only the arch remained probably as it was not practical to take it down and try reassemble it. So as the estate waned the arch became a lonely sentinel over the diminishing gardens. Over subsequent years the streams and ponds dried up and disappeared and the mound on which the temple stood was finally levelled in 1972. The house is now utilized as a training centre and has been renamed St Michael's house.
I remember visiting the site of the arch some years back and finding little of it visible. From the roadside it just looked like part of the overgrown bushes. It was a forlorn sight. But now it has returned and serves as a reminder of a more fruitful time in its existence.
To find the arch take the N81 from Tallaght to Templeogue and after the Spawell roundabout look for it on your left behind a fence. Parking is difficult on the dual carriageway but if the gates of St. Michael's house are open (they are a few metres past the arch) you can park in the spaces inside the gate. The arch is fenced off but you can still get very close to it. If you like you can park at the church ruins back at the roundabout and take in both sites on foot.

Friday, 18 March 2022

Mount Venus Dolmen Co Dublin


                   Above & Below Image:  The gap between capstone and portal stone

                                      Above & Below Image: The huge capstone

I came across this Dolmen a number of years ago but had a chance more recently to visit again. Situated in Woodtown not far from Rathfarnham it is generally known as the Mount Venus Dolmen.

The dolmen is actually an ancient portal tomb dating to the Neolithic period sometime between 4000BC - 2500BC. Portal tombs generally consist of two or more vertical stones supporting a a larger more flatter capstone. They were often covered over with soil or stones or in some cases laid bare.

The Mount Venus tomb can be found in a bushy and somewhat neglected spot on an earthen bank above the West side of the approach drive into the DSPCA animal shelter. There are a set of steps leading up from the car park to a small recreation area but a small diversion in through a hedgerow brings you to the location. 

I was disappointed to see that the area was still somewhat overgrown but its hard to really miss this huge monument from the past.

The capstone measuring approx 18 feet by 9 feet has partially collapsed off all but one of the portal stones forming a triangular crevasse in between. A smaller stone lies beneath and another portal stone adjacent which is overgrown measures approx 15 feet. The size of the portal stones would indicate quite a high entrance height into the tomb when it was in its complete standing form..

The capstone is considered to weigh an incredible 44 tons!  William Borlase, a British antiquarian in his extensive publication "Dolmens of Ireland" described the dolmen as one of the most magnificent examples he had ever seen.

The dolmen has been in this ruined condition since the mid 18th century and is thought to have collapsed into its current state as a result of shock waves from the huge earthquake that took place in 1755 with its epicentre in Lisbon, Portugal. The shock waves also damaged part of Galway's city wall and some strong tsunami waters hit the peninsula at Auginish in County Clare destroying the central section of the peninsula thus creating an island offshore. 

Even in its current state this portal tomb is worth seeking out. The land it is on is not owned by the DSPCA but I believe by Woodtown Farm. I don't think a close-up look at the dolmen would be an issue.

To find the tomb take the R115 (Stocking Lane) from Ballyboden towards Killakee. Go straight through the roundabout (junction with Stocking Ave) and continue for approx 1.4KM taking a left hand turn onto the L4026 towards Rockbrook. Continue down this road for approx 500m and you will see the entrance to the DSPCA on your right. Drive up the avenue and park anywhere along it. Then walk on toward the wire fence and gates that lead to the Cats and Dogs Home. There is a set of stone steps on your right just before the fence. Climb the steps and walk forward on the path until you reach the fenced hedgerow. Look for a gap near a field gate. The DSPCA gate is usually open between 8.00 - 17.30 Mon - Fri.