Sunday, 28 August 2022

Clonony Castle Co Offaly


                                                  Above Image: Entrance gate

                                           Above Image: Steps to courtyard gate

                                           Above 2 Images: Ground floor interior

                                                    Above Image: Spiral stairs

                                           Above Image: View of bawn from first floor

                                       Above 2 Images: Interiors from upper floors

                                                      Above Image: Courtyard

                                                Above Image: Ruins of kitchen

                                            Above Image: Boleyn grave marker

                             Above Image: Printed text of engravings on grave marker

The sturdy and very striking castle of Colony towers over its surrounds and is probably the finest testament to the MacCoghlan's who constructed it during the 1490's. They also built nearby Coole castle which I visited recently (see earlier post here).

The castle stands three storeys in height and has partial remains of ancillary buildings attached. There are ruins of a kitchen and a chapel.

The history of the castle is particularly interesting because of its associations to the Boleyns of Tudor history. It was seized as an asset by Henry VIII in the early 16th century and was later given with its lands to the newly appointed Earl of Ormond, Thomas Boleyn It was a crafty move by Henry to gain Boleyn's daughter Anne as his bride, as she would now hold a position appropriate for a King to marry. Of course the best laid plans went awry later when Anne met the blade of the axeman. Following this event it was thought wise to relocate her cousins Elizabeth and Mary to the safety of Clonony castle in Ireland where they would eventually live out their lives. Elizabeth died quite young and it is said that Mary threw herself from the parapets in grief of her loss. In 1603 when land was being quarried near the castle, a cave was found and within it were the remains of two bodies with a stone slab declaring their place of burial. These were identified as those of the Boleyn girls. The bodies were supposedly later buried in the grounds of Gallen priory but the grave marker was placed under a hawthorn tree back in the grounds of the castle where it can be seen today.

During the reign of Elizabeth I the castle was owned by Matthew De Renzi who became something of a Gaelic scholar more so to keep ahead of the local Gaelic speaking MacCoghlans who resented him as an interloper and the fact he lived in a former MacCoghlan stronghold. De Renzi is attributed with compiling the first English - Irish dictionary.

Some conservation work was done on the castle in 2010 and restoration within has also been lovingly achieved by its current resident Rebecca Armstrong, a former ballerina from the United States. When we visited we had hoped to meet Rebecca but she was away from home that morning. We were however greeted by a friendly chap named Adam James who has been landscaping the garden and bawn area and was only too happy to show us around and tell us the history.

Once you enter through the impressive gate  from the roadside the castle comes into full view standing proudly on its rocky outcrop. A series of well worn steps lead up to the courtyard gate and the entrance to the tower. Within, on the ground floor, is a fine library with a large table and the walls depict the castle history through paintings and prints.

The upper floors are accessed by a narrow stone spiral stair bringing you to the living quarters where much of the restoration has taken place. The top floor and parapets are apparently haunted by a ghost in full armour. Is there not a castle in Offaly without its ghosts?

The courtyard area still remains ruinous and contains amongst others a former castle kitchen. There is also a very visible machicolation above the entrance door which is in the West wall.

All in all a very impressive structure and definitely worth visiting. The future of the castle being open for public visits will depend on the new owners as Rebecca has decided to move on (maybe to another project) so if you intend to visit use the contact details below to ask about access.

The castle is normally open during the summer months Friday - Sunday 12pm-5pm or otherwise by appointment. Contact +353877614034.

To find the castle take the junction 8 exit of the M6 and follow the signs for the N62 to Birr. Continue on the N62 through Ferbane until you reach Cloghan where you take a right turn onto the R357 toward Shannonbridge. Drive approx 3.5KM and you will see the castle bawn wall on your right. There is a small parking area just past the castle entrance gate. If the castle is open there is usually a sign hung up outside.

Friday, 12 August 2022

Old Palmerstown Church Oldtown Co Dublin


                                  Above Image: Corner of East and North walls

                                           Above Image: Inner Entrance gates

                                   Above Image: Corner of North and West walls

                                          Above Image: Section of North wall

Very little remains of this small medieval church which lies in the Northwest corner of the County of Dublin. 

The church which is recorded as being once under the auspices of St. John the Baptist priory was probably constructed in the 12th or 13th century. It was more than likely a small parish church or chapel of ease and has not withstood the sands of time very well. After the dissolution in the 16th century a lot of small churches fell into disrepair and ruin as the community had no means to maintain their upkeep and this appears to be one of them. 

The ruins are situated on elevated ground within a walled enclosure which is from a later date. The site is accessible from a country road through two sets of gates.  The inner gates are part of the actual enclosure which is based in farmland. Among the gravestones the East and West gables exist only at foundation level with the North and South walls barely over a foot high. A great deal of work is happening on a continual basis to keep the graveyard clean and it is commendable. It's a shame that the church has been reduced to the level it is but efforts are being made to inhibit any further loss.

The earliest inscribed marker here dates to 1774 and there is a well also dedicated to St. James in a field to the South.

Point of note, parking at the roadside gate is precarious. There is only a small tarmac area which is slanted down from the gate leaving your car parked at an odd angle. There is also a bend in the road just prior to the gate so be very aware before open the door and step out.

To find the ruins take the junction 3 exit from the M2 and at the Nine Mile roundabout take the third exit onto the R125 towards Swords. Drive approx. 700m until you reach a junction with the L5019. Turn left here and then immediately right onto the L5022-9. Continue on this road for approx. 500m where the road bends sharply right and then left. Continue straight on approx. 900m to the next sharp right bend and 300m farther on is the gate to the graveyard on your left.

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.