Monday, 11 July 2016

Ashtown Castle Co Dublin




                                    Above Image: Approach from the car park


                                             Above Image: Entrance door

                                  Above & Below 2 Images: Interior ground floor



                                         Above & Below Images: First floor


                                              Above Image: Second Floor

                        Above Image & Below Images: Third floor roofing & gallery


                                       Above Image: Part of the spiral stair

                             Above Image: North facing wall with old lodge layout
                                                    in foreground (hedges)




Like a Phoenix rising from the ashes this Tower House appeared out of the ruins of Ashtown Lodge in the Phoenix Park. While technically not a ruin as is the normal brief of this blog, it did need restoration and is a fine example of what might be one of the £10 Castles which I have covered numerous times including such examples as Lanestown and Newcastle Lyons Castles in Co Dublin and Fraine and Donore Castles in Co Meath and so I think Ashtown certainly deserves a look.
This Castle emerged from the dismantling of Ashtown Lodge. The Lodge was constructed in the 1770’s and incorporated the existing Tower House into the new building. In 1782 it became the residence of the Under Secretary for Ireland. Then in the 20th century the lodge finally became the residence of the Papal Nuncio and remained so until 1978. The discovery of substantial dry rot rendered the building from being further habitable and so it was decided to demolish it and in doing so the Tower House was discovered underneath one section of the building when the exterior plaster was being removed. It is not clear why its existence had been forgotten but now having been found it became the focal point for a restoration that began in earnest in 1989.
The date of construction of the castle is a little unclear but it is thought to fit the specifications of the aforementioned £10 Castles sanctioned by Henry VI in 1429 to aid in defending the Pale. It was certainly in use in the 1600’s recorded as belonging then to one John Connell and it was apparently surrounded by a great deal of working farmland.
When we visited I was most impressed by the Tower and the area around it. There are hedgerows at the base of the Castle which look to all intents and purposes like a maze but are much too low for this and are in fact a layout reflecting the original foundations of Ashtown Lodge which gives you an idea of how the Castle had been incorporated. On reaching the Castle door I was disappointed to find that it was locked up. This was remedied very quickly when I enquired at the visitor centre and was offered a free tour. A very pleasant and knowledgeable lady called Bernie took us through the four floors of the building relating the history as we went along. It was interesting after visiting so many wonderful ruins of these type of Castles to get an insight just how they might have looked in their time.
Some alterations had been made to the original castle in the restoration. Some Georgian style windows were installed and new wooden floors and roof. The spiral stone staircase which has trip steps to confuse any unwanted invaders dates to late medieval period and may have replaced an earlier wooden one. It’s a narrow staircase but easy enough to navigate.
Both the first floor and second floor contain fireplaces, the second floor being the actual living apartment while the top floor was a garret or attic which has now been turned into a gallery of sorts. I must say the rooms were well lit by the windows and the whitewashed inner walls also contributed to this. I always thought that the whitewashing was a modern touch but It was explained that in those times lime was used to cover the inner walls as an extra sealant and kill any unwanted bacteria so the modern whitewashing is used simply to reflect this. A lot of Castles were also painted on the exterior. The actor Jeremy irons who bought a Castle in Co Cork controversially painted it pink which led to some local objection but in fact this was one of the colours that would have been originally used. Pink in those days was seen as a strong masculine colour while the softer blue was attributed to femininity. There are wall walks on top of the Castle which were originally crenellated but the crenellations were removed in the restoration. Access to the wall walks is by way of the garret level. This is a terrific tour and I would highly recommend a visit especially if you have visited the great ruins of other towers and want further insight. Opening hours for the site are May-October Daily 10am-17.45pm and November to April Weds-Sun 9.30am-17.30pm. Tour is free of charge. There is also a nice Café and a Victorian walled garden on site.

To find Ashtown Castle enter the Phoenix Park onto Chesterfield Avenue and when you have reached the Phoenix monument roundabout at the centre of the park turn onto North Road adjacent to Aras an Uachtarain. There is almost immediately a turn left signposted for the visitor centre. Follow this road up and there is a car park at the top.


Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Glasmore Abbey Co Dublin




                                     Above Image: Windows in West wall



                                                 Above Image: Doorway

                                          Above Image: East facing aspect




Glasmore Abbey is believed to have been founded in the seventh century by St Cronan Mochua. It thrived under his tenure so much so that it unfortunately drew undue attention from Danish invaders stationed in Malahide, a position they held from where they executed raids and plundering on various Abbeys and Monasteries. Glasmore was attacked and destroyed only a few decades after its construction and its entire community ruthlessly slaughtered.
What is known today as Glasmore Abbey on actual viewing seems quite small for a possible Abbey and indeed Fingal county Council have reported that historically according to the Martyrology of Oengus and the well renowned Annals, the Abbey was positioned South of Swords and not North as this structure is, so this of course is leading to some confusion and doubt. The nearby St Cronan’s well may have given the ruin association with the Saint but its true origin remains a bit of a mystery. It is believed judging by the stonework to be dated to the late medieval period which would certainly discount its authenticity as the Abbey. It measures roughly 30 feet by 30 feet in size and is located on a green area in a large modern housing development called Cianlea on the fringes of Swords in County Dublin. The ruins have been surrounded by a fence for protection as in July 2000 they were deemed dangerous by a council inspector and the developer of the new housing estate agreed to clear off the ivy and reinforce the walls where necessary so that development of the estate could go ahead. Even with its surrounding fence it is still possible to see all aspects of the ruin clearly. There are windows in all of the walls and a doorway on the Northern side but the ruins show a structure of an unusual design not looking particularly ecclesiastical and also as pointed out by the council not containing evidence of a chimney that would indicate that it might have been some form of dwelling.
So what is it? For certain it is listed on the 1837 ordnance survey map as Glasmore Abbey (In Ruins) so it has been called that for nearly 200 years or more. But other than that there appears to be no other information that would lend credence to it being the actual Abbey. In the past any excavations have not revealed what remains to be part of a larger structure so it is what it is. From the information I can garner we are still left with a doubt and a continuing mystery. However in any case it is an unusual little ruin and worth a look if you happen to be in the area.

To find the ruin take the R132 Northwards from the roundabout at Dublin Airport and at the second roundabout thereafter (Pinnock Hill Roundabout) turn left for Swords. Drive until you pass a pub with a thatched roof called The Lord Mayor’s and take the next left hand turn onto Church Road. At the top of the road at the large Church take a left hand turn onto Brackenstown Road.  Drive on until you reach the sixth right hand turn which is St Cronan’s Avenue. Turn right onto the Avenue and continue until you reach the third left hand turn into an estate called Lioscian. Follow the road in around a left bend and turn right at the T-junction. A few yards later turn right at the next T-junction. You will see green area ahead at which you can park alongside. The ruins are in the green area.


Monday, 20 June 2016

Old Kenure Church Co Dublin


                                           Above Image: Entrance stile


                                             Above Image: Entrance door


                                             Above Image: West gable



                                                                 Above Image: East gable

This picturesque little ruin lies near the village of Rush in North East Co Dublin. It is situated in an enclosed graveyard which local lore says has been a place of burial for over a thousand years. The Church dates to the late medieval period and has all four of its walls upstanding. The Western gable has a raised bellcote which is now ivy covered and there is an arched window in the East wall. The doorway is in the South wall but is gated and padlocked but it is possible to see some of the tombs within, one of which belongs to the Baron of Strabane and the other of the Palmer family late of Kenure House of which all that remains nearby today is the large Portico (see earlier post). There is a memorial plaque on the North wall of the Church recounting the many victims of Cholera in the area during the great famine. The Church is long out of use and is listed as being in ruins on the 1837 ordnance survey map although much earlier than this is more likely.
Interestingly enough the graveyard also contains the remains of one John Connor an 18th century smuggler locally known as “Jack the Bachelor”. Born in Wexford but brought up in Rush he was heavily involved in smuggling between Rush and the Isle of Man operating out of a cave in nearby loughshinney. Involved as he was in smuggling he was also a very compassionate man and was well liked locally so much so that his funeral was attended by thousands of people.
The ruins today are surrounded by grave markers some dating back to the 18th century. There is a slope on the western side of the church leaving it elevated and although well maintained that the graveyard is some of the stones here are leaning to the side giving the impression of possible subsidence. Well worth a visit and you could tie it in with the Kenure Portico.
To find the ruin of Kenure Church take the R128 heading Northwards from Lower Main Street in Rush. This is the road opposite Hackett's Victuallers. Drive for approx 1.8Km until you reach the old graveyard on your left. There is a left hand turn just past this with a sign pointing to St Catherine's Estate. Turn left and park along here. This road also leads you directly to the Kenure Portico

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Massy's Wood Estate Co Dublin


                             Above & Below Images: Entrance sign and barrier


                                        Above Image: Beginning of the trail

                                Above & Below 2 Images: Ruins of the sawmill



                           Above Image: Possible remains of wheel mechanism

                                             Above Image: The ice house

                                Above Image: Entrance to ice house chamber
                                

                           Above Image:Large tree near entrance to walled garden

                             Above Image: Entrance to walled garden behind tree

                                 Above Image: Another walled garden entrance

                              Above Image Trail to the left inside entrance arch

                                        Above image: Turn right at this arch

                        Above Image: Northern boundary wall and glasshouse ruins

                                 Above Image: Remains of a glasshouse pond

                                   Above Image: Remains of irrigation troughs

                     Above Image & Below 4 Images: Ruins of ancillary buildings at
                                                                      river entrance to gardens





                         Above & Below Images: The remains of the wedge tomb


                              Above & Below Images: Remains of tomb chamber


                  Above & Below 3 Images : The stewards house, stable ruins & belfry







This is a very interesting place to visit in an area steeped with ghostly happenings. The estate lands of the former Killakee House lie at the foot of Montpelier Hill which has upon its summit the infamous Hellfire Club (see earlier post)
The large estate house of Killakee was constructed by Luke White a wealthy bookseller in the early 1800’s. His son Samuel developed areas of the estate into walled gardens that contained some fabulous glasshouses designed by Richard Turner a pioneer in this field. A great variety of different trees were planted and the estate flourished. In 1880 the lands passed to the Massy family headed by the 6th Baron John Thomas Massy. By the early 20th century the Massy’s were in financial debt and unable to upkeep the estate and the last Baron, Hugh Hammon Massy, was evicted in 1924. By arrangement with the bank which was foreclosing the estate the family moved briefly to the steward's house and finally to the small gate lodge. Massy relied on his wife’s small income and became known as the “penniless peer” At times he had been reduced to foraging for firewood on his former glorious estate. He died in 1958. After the Massy departure the house and lands were eventually sold on by the bank to a building company who completely demolished the house in 1941. The formal gardens already overgrown fell back to nature and many new trees were planted turning the area into a forest which was eventually opened as a public amenity by the state.

Having visited the nearby Hellfire Club I was intrigued by the fate of the estate adjacent and had heard that there were ruins of various descriptions still visible in the forest. The remains of the former stables and belfry of the Killakee estate are across the road from the woods and can be seen from the roadside today. The house a former arts centre and restaurant is now a private residence. In the late 1960’s during renovation the then owners had many complaints from builders that they were experiencing apparitions including spectral figures and a ghostly black cat with piercing red eyes.

So off into the woods then. We followed the main trail from the entrance barrier which after a short while led to an old stone bridge over a gurgling stream. A short distance further there is a second bridge but here there is a weir and on the river bank are the ruins of the former estate sawmill. The gables and South wall remain along with some partial ruins at the riverside which I couldn’t identify for sure but may have been part of a structure to hold a mill wheel. Back up on the trail the route forks just after the bridge so we followed the left trail the runs parallel to the river which I believe is called the Owendore. Along this route and signposted are the remains of the Ice house. It is a half cylindrical shaped stone structure built near the river to store lamb and other meat. There appears to be a natural chill here as even on a warm day you can see your breath in the air. Stepping down to take a closer look inside the chamber something moved within it in the dark at the very back. A bit startled we decided that discretion was the better part of valour and moved on rather than explore the movement further. Another of Killakee’s ghosts? More likely it was a large rodent of some sort.

The trail past the Ice house dips down following the course of the river and we began to notice the existence of some stone walls on our right hand side among the bushes and trees. Eventually we came to area dominated by a very tall tree. To the right of this was an arched entrance in the wall. This was one of the many entrance ways of the former walled gardens. We entered through this doorway and turned left following pathway parallel to the high wall until we came to another archway. Turning right here we could see the opposite wall through the trees and about half way across to this we saw more ruins to our left. Here are the remains of the great glass houses. All that remains now are the irrigation troughs and pool depressions for exotic flora that stretch many yards in length. Scattered around are small pieces of glass which may actually be remains of the glasshouse and not from some recent antisocial gathering. Beyond the glasshouse ruins is the northern boundary wall with a gap that allows you to climb down into the ruins of an ancillary building that overlooks the river and brings an end to the walled garden area. Apparently the walled gardens have had their share of stories mostly a spectral figure spotted even during daylight hours and some visitors have had the strong feeling of being observed. Hugh Hammon Massy maybe, still wandering his former estate? Who knows? Ourselves we didn’t encounter anything unusual on our visit in the walled garden area apart from a rope with small noose dangling from the large tree outside the walls.
If you work your way back to the bridge where the sawmill is situated there is another interesting sight to see. Just between the weir bridge and the other stone bridge is a track leading up into the forest. Follow this up until you see a dip-like a gully on your left. Just beyond this behind the remains of a small stone wall is a tree with a megalithic wedge tomb at its base. The tomb was discovered in 1978 by archaeologist Patrick Healy. Most of the stones had been taken and used to construct the aforementioned wall but you can still clearly see the remains of the rectangular chamber. At the time of its construction this hill would have likely to been bereft of trees and the tomb wold be overlooked by nearby Montpelier and Cruagh mountain. It’s a strange little remnant hidden away but worth visiting and is curiously not signposted in any way by the forestry commission.  

To find Massy’s wood take the R116 Southbound from the roundabout at Taylor’s Lane in Rathfarnham. Take the first right turn onto the R115 and then the second turn left which is a continuation of the R115 (known as Stocking Lane). Drive approx. 800m to a roundabout and continue straight through it. Drive a further 2.5KM and you will see the entrance barrier to Massy’s estate on your left a little after the Timbertrove Store & Cafe. About 50m further on the right is the entrance to the Hellfire Club car park. Park here and just walk back to the estate entrance. Opening hours for the car park are April to September 7.00am-9.00pm and October to March 8.00am to 5..00pm. Keep an eye out for any ghosts!