Friday, 24 March 2023

Cromogue Church & St. Fintan's Well Co Laois


                                    Above Image: Steps up to ruins from entrance

                                         Above Image: Remains of the bell tower

                                                Above Image: Entrance to nave

                                      Above Image: Detail of entrance door arch

                                               Above Image: East gable interior

                                     Above Image: Entrance in Southern facing wall

                          Above Image & Image Below; West gable & remains of tower

                                Above Image: Remains of Southwest corner of tower

                                             Above Image: Entrance gate to well

                                                 Above Image: St. Fintan's well

The remains of church of St. Fintan can be found amongst a labyrinthine series of narrow country lanes that lie between Mountrath and Abbeyleix.

The ruins mostly date to the 12th century but have been embellished further by the addition of a bell tower during the late medieval period. St. Fintan had established a monastery in Clonenagh (see earlier post here) around 548AD and is quite revered in this part of the country.

The church roughly measures 14m x 8m with a divided nave with the said bell tower built at its Western gable. It is positioned upon elevated ground within an enclosed is graveyard that has decipherable stones dating as far back as 1737. These graves are all located on the South, East and West sides, the Northern side traditionally left as unconsecrated ground. Some internments were later made within the walls of the nave. Its period of use is unclear but it is safe to say it fell foul of the suppression in the 16th century and is definitely classed as ruinous on the 1837-1841 ordnance survey map.

After a drive down some winding country lanes we finally encountered the ruins and managed to park a little precariously outside the gates of the graveyard enclosure. Access is via an iron gate in the South wall. A small flight of stone steps in the embankment within brings you level with the ruins.    

The remains of the bell tower appear split in two leaving a gap where the South and West walls of the tower once stood. In between this gap, which leaves a tall independent shard (the corner remains of the South-West corner of the tower), is the entrance to the nave positioned on your right hand side. This at one time would have led directly into the tower from the nave but is now left open to the outside. 

Within, the ground is rough and contains a few graves. The walls are bare and featureless with a little ivy encroaching here and there. There is a window in the East gable and what appears to have been the main entrance in the Southern facing wall with a few steps leading into the church from this doorway.

There is an old tale that a clan named Phelan incurred the displeasure of St. Fintan in some manner or other. It must have been fairly serious as he laid a curse upon them warning that any male members of the family would suffer either blindness or lameness before the age of thirty and that all would turn as grey as badgers within the same period. Later he regretted the curse and imposed upon himself  a practice that on every Christmas eve he would say an outdoor midnight mass even in fiercely inclement weather for the souls of the deceased Phelans.

As in most cases on our visit we encountered no other visitors and so when we had finished our tour we headed a short distance Southwest to view the holy well dedicated to St. Fintan. This is a very nicely adorned and very ancient well nestled in a small landscaped close shaded by a huge tree. As at most Irish wells there are mementos hanging which have been left by visitors as rememberences of loved ones and as prayers for their souls. Stones from the well are said to have healing powers and there is a definite strong local belief in this.

As mentioned this ruin is a little off the beaten path so follow these directions.Take the junction 18 exit from the M7 motorway and at the roundabout on top of the exit ramp take the R445 signposted for Castletown. Drive for approx 3KM then take a left turn onto the L26943. Continue on this road for approx 4.2KM until you reach a T-junction. Turn right and continue for approx 1.5KM until you reach a crossroads with a large church opposite. Turn left here which is the L5675 and drive approx 1KM until you reach a crossroads with the R430. Turn left here following the sign for Abbeyleix for approx. 1KM and then take the first right hand road (L5658) and drive approx 400m until the road forks. Take the right hand lane and look for the graveyard gates approx 100m along. You can park directly at the gate but the lane is narrow so allow room for any possible passing vehicles. If you wish to subsequently visit the well then continue on down this lane for approx 100m and take the left hand fork in the road. The entrance gate to the well is approx 100m along on your right hand side. Again space is tight so park close to the gate. 

GPS FOR CHURCH 52°57'32.3"N 7°24'50.8"W

52.958971, -7.414110

GPS FOR WELL 52°57'27.3"N 7°24'52.7"W

52.957589, -7.414644

Sunday, 5 February 2023

Oranmore Castle Co Galway


                                Above Image:  Access gate and access to the pier

                                        Above Image: View from the pier side


This rectangular towerhouse has a commanding view of Galway bay and dates to around the 15th century. It is believed to have been a DeBurgo stronghold built upon a previous fortified building. It is also associated with the Earls of Clanricarde who held it until it was taken during the confederate wars in the 1640's. The castle had been providing supplies to the fort of Galway until it fell. 

In 1666, the same year as the great fire of London, it was lease to William Athy having been regained by Clanrickarde. The Athys were the lessees until 1853 when the castle was left uninhabited and set on the road to ruin. It was saved from it's doom in the 1940's by Anita Leslie, daughter of Shane Leslie, famed diplomat and writer and she is the sister of the late Jack Leslie of Castle Leslie in Co Monaghan. Her daughter Leonie, also a writer, is still resident in Oranmore castle.

Firstly, the castle is a private residence and not generally open to the public but the owner on occasion will give a tour if contacted in advance. In any case the walk around the exterior is well worth a look  and the views from the pier of the castle are very pleasing especially when the tide is out. The castle has four storeys with a squared shaped turret which houses the stairs. There are also some flared embrasures on the ground floor for defensive purposes.

As with a lot of castles with historical connections it is deemed to be haunted and in fact it featured in a 2001 US TV series called "The scariest places on earth" (season 2 Episode 11) directed by John Jopson.

On our visit we parked in the nearby ALDI supermarket car park and followed the adjacent lane past Calasanctious college down to the castle. It was one of those occasions that there was no access but the castle is to interesting looking that it was impossible not to take a walk around its exterior and see how well placed the castle is. Looking seaward it has a wide view of the bay and would have given plenty of notice to those inside of an oncoming attack. 

To find the castle take the N67 road that runs between Clarinbridge and Galway and take the left turn onto the R338 to Oranmore. Drive on down the main street and take a left turn at the Poppyseed Cafe. This is Castle street. If you want to park at the ALDI then take the second turn right. To reach the castle continue on foot down Castle street past the College until you reach the castle and the access to the pier.

Saturday, 7 January 2023

Old Balscadden Church Co Dublin


                                                 Above Image: Entrance gate

                                            Above Image: Remains of North wall

                             Above Image: Foundation remains of Ancillary chamber

Here we have another ruin hidden away in the North of County Dublin bordering on County Meath. The graveyard containing the church ruin is located to the West of Balscadden village and is also known as Tobertown. The original Gaelic of the name Balscadden is Baile na Scadan or Town of the Herrings.

The placement of a church here dates back to the late medieval period, with an original building being mentioned as being under the auspices of the Priory of Holy Trinity as far back as 1275. The present ruins are thought to date to 1419 and are dedicated to St. Mary. The nave and chancel appear to have existed intact until the early 17th century but fell into ruin in subsequent years aided and abetted by the cannons of Cromwell's forces as they marched towards Drogheda. 

The remains standing today appear to be a corner section of the Northwest wall and small part of the Northeastern wall. A few yards to the East of this section are some foundations of a square chamber which is likely to have been an ecclesiastical building associated with the church. A holy well named after St. Mary is situated in a hollow in the graveyard but the water which rarely shifts level is quite stagnant. When we visited there was a number of workers in Hi-Vis jackets pottering around the entrance gate and trimming the interior. They paid no mind to us as we explored the site. Little is left now to examine of the church but what is extant is being upkept and has become a sort of central feature in the graveyard.

To find the ruin take junction 6 from the M1 motorway onto the R122 towards Balbriggan. Drive until you reach a roundabout and continue straight on through. After a short distance you reach a crossroads with the L1130. Turn left here following the sign for Balscaddan. Drive for approx. 2KM and take the second left hand turn, again signposted for Balscadden. Continue up this road passing the Balscadden Inn which is on your left and then across a small stone bridge over a stream. About 50 metres further on you will see a pull in lane on your right. This allows parking at the graveyard entrance.

Sunday, 27 November 2022

St. Fintan's Church & Antiquities Clonenagh Co Laois


                                             Above Image: The Entrance gate

                                                Above Image: Western window

                                      Above Image: Central arch and East window

                                              Above Image: West window interior

                                               Above image: Northern aspect

                                      Above Image: Gate to Catholic graveyard

                          Above Image & 2 Below Images: Early Christian grave slabs

                                              Above Image: Tree site of old well

The ruins of this medieval church can be easily spotted from the R445 and were striking enough to draw us off the road from our journey towards Mountrath.

The site upon which the ruins lie is of some significance as this was the ancient site of the monastery of Clonenagh founded by St. Fintan in the mid 6th century. St. Fintan was a protege of St. Colum of Terryglass, Co Tipperary and is said to be buried at Clonenagh. The legendary literary work known as "The book of Clonenagh"  written in the monastery disappeared sometime during the English invasion and is thought to have been passed down clandestinely through the years, now residing privately in God knows what part of the world.

The monastery at Clonenagh was known to be somewhat austere in its practices but nonetheless flourished. It came under attack by the Danes in 838AD but was not totally destroyed and managed to survive to some degree until the Cromwellian invasion some 800 years later. The The church remains extant today were ruinous by the late 16th century but were adapted into a protestant place of worship during the plantation surviving with partial repairs until the 1840's when the church finally fell out of use. The graveyard surrounding the ruins contains internments of parishioners of the Church of Ireland.

The church measures approx. 27 feet x 27 feet consisting of part of the nave and a chancel with dividing arch.

We found entry by a rather stiff metal gate in the Western wall although had this not opened there was also access by a stile in the wall. The ruins are situated on elevated ground and the area below them is maintained. Several barriers have been placed at entry points which can be moved to gain entry. Within, although at least on our visit, it was quite overgrown and this might have been deemed a safety hazard so tread carefully if you decide to enter. The archway is the most impressive feature although the damaged East window is also of some note, otherwise it is pretty much a featureless shell.

A few yards opposite on the North side of the road from the ruins is another ancient Catholic graveyard surrounded by a wall but easily entered by a small iron gate held closed by a loose chain. Although the graveyard offers no extant ruins it does however contain a number of early Christian grave slabs which have been set against the boundary wall just to the left inside the gate. These date between the 7th and 11th centuries and were discovered at this site during a renovation in 1988. To the right of the entry gate of this graveyard was the site of a holy well which was covered up by the landowner in the 19th century as too many people were trespassing on his land and often unsocial behaviour would erupt. Legend has it that after the filling in of the well  St. Fintan rose the water up through the hollow of a sycamore tree, the remains still visible today. The majority of the tree was damaged and fell during a bad storm in the early 1990's but subsequently fresh shoots emerged miraculously from the stump. St. Fintan's influence still at work?

To find the ruins at Clonenagh, take exit 18 of the M7 motorway and off the roundabout follow the R445 towards Mountrath. Drive approx. 3KM  and you will pass over the M7 below. Continue another 2.5KM driving through a small crossroads with the L5675 and a short distance on there is a small crescent shaped pull in on the left at the site of the graveyard where you can park. The Catholic graveyard with the grave slabs is situated a few metres back on the right hand side again with a crescent shaped pull in so you can park easily.

Saturday, 8 October 2022

Bulloch Castle Co Dublin


                                               Above Image: Southern aspect

                                  Above Image: Approach road and Western aspect

                                                 Above Image: Eastern aspect

                                Above & Below Images: View from across the harbour

                             Above Image: Artist's Impression of castle buildings 1791

This early Irish castle is believed to have been constructed in the 12th century by an order of monks from St. Mary's abbey. The purpose of the castle was as storage and to protect the fishing activity from attacks by the Wicklow clans. A subterranean ice house was built to store the fish levied by the monks for the protection given to the fishing boats. The small village grew around the harbour and various walls and observation towers were added to defend the it

In 1539 the castle fell foul of the dissolution imposed by Henry VIII and became a property of the crown. A series of residents subsequently inhabited the castle including one John Watson (not Sherlock's friend) who in the 18th century added a domicile to the castle and was known to be very charitable. In 1818 a new pier was built in the harbour which is still in use to this day.

The castle and grounds were purchased in the last century by an American Carmelite order and in 1965 they opened the nursing home which still operates today. The ancillary buildings around the castle were demolished leaving the fine tower solely overlooking the harbour.

We took a drive out there recently knowing that the castle is not open to public view but that really only extends to the interior. You are perfectly welcome to view the castle up close from the car park of the home. Bulloch Harbour is pleasantly scenic and the castle adds a really striking focal point. It stands four storeys high and is almost rectangular in shape with a central building between the two towers. The harbourside tower has an archway which is open and divides the car park. This leads into the former courtyard and is a very narrow drive through!

To find the castle take the left hand turn from the Blackrock bypass onto the R119 towards Monkstown. Take the left hand fork of the road divided by the impressive Monkstown C of I church and continue on the R113 towards Dun Laoghaire. Follow on through Dun Laoghaire, Glasthule and Sandycove until you see the castle on your left hand side. We found a parking spot on Breffni Road just before the castle and had no problems. 

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.