Saturday, 12 April 2014

Great Connell Abbey & Church Co Kildare

                                          Above Image: The last remains

                                   Above Image: Entrance to Abbey graveyard

                       Above & Below Images: View of the Abbey remains from
                                                          within the graveyard

                                        Above Image: The ruined Church

                                  Above Image: Entrance gate & stile to Church

                                            Above Image: Entrance porch

                                      Above & Below 2 Images: The Interior

Founded in 1202 by Myler Fitzhenry for the an Augustinian order from Wales, Great Connell Abbey was built near a ford in the River Liffey called Connell Ford, which being an important crossing point may also have possibly been a part of the Slighe Dhala one of the five ancient routes from Tara. The Abbey was dedicated to St Mary and St David and was to become the principal Abbey of The Pale acquiring a great deal of land and wealth. Fitzhenry himself spent the last four years of his life within the monastery until his death in 1220.
In 1380 Richard II passed a law which forbade Great Connell from admitting any Irishmen into it's order but there is evidence that this was not always the case. When the Suppression of Abbeys arrived, Great Connell became one of its victims being dissolved in 1541 and the lands being passed to John Sutton. The Abbey slowly fell into a ruinous state and is documented in 1781 to have little of note upstanding and indeed within 20 years most of the stone remaining was removed to construct the British Cavalry barracks in nearby Newbridge.
The remains of the Abbey today are scant but along with a small ruin of a later Church adjacent, are well worth seeking out.
A country road from Newbridge called Connell Drive will get you to the right spot. There is a large gateway blocking a lane way which has a pedestrian stile in it. About 100m up this lane on the left lies an old graveyard which is enclosed by four walls. The Western wall has an arched gateway through which you can enter. What remains of the Abbey forms the Eastern boundary wall. The ancient stones have vegetation springing up from them but are obviously of older origin than the other walls. This wall that is left is believed to be the Eastern wall of the Abbey's Lady Chapel. Standing in this old graveyard on a golden sunlit day with the light reflecting on this wall really evoked a sense of history about it.
Back out at the roadside and to the right of the lane way gate is another graveyard of Victorian age with a walled enclosure. There is a small set of iron gates in the wall which when we visited were only tied up with a piece of cloth. There is an overgrown stile to the left of the gate but it's bottom step is missing.
Inside the enclosure amongst the ancient stones an overgrown pathway leads to the ruins of an 18th century Catholic Church. The windows on the East and North have been barred up but a single window on the South remains open. We walked around the perimeter of the Church and it looked as if there was no way to get a look inside except through the window but then we came across a gap in the overgrowth on the West side which gave access to a small porch entrance where the door had been knocked aside. Inside the Church the floor is strewn with plaster and wood mostly from the latticed ceiling which is till about 60% intact. Also in evidence some empty beer cans, the remnants of some other Un-Church like activity.
The sunlight streamed in through the gaps in the roof and the open window illuminating the interior and showing that this must at one time been a very attractive place especially judging by the plasterwork.
I couldn't find out much about this ruin but it still appeared on the 1897-1913 Ordnance Survey map as "Church". Usually if abandoned it would state "In Ruins". So it may have still been in use up to then. Maybe somebody out there can shed a little more light on this?
To find Great Connell ruins take the M7 from Dublin and take the exit at Junction 10. At the top of the exit ramp turn left and at the following roundabout take the 3rd exit on the right onto the R445 for Newbridge, Drive for approx. 6.5KM and along the way you will encounter two more roundabouts. On the second of these take the first left turn, this is Connell Drive. Continue on down this road straight through the next roundabout and approx. 600m later you come to lane way on your right with a wide closed gate. This is the entry to the Abbey ruins. The gate to the small Church is to the right of this. You can safely park at this spot.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Lea Castle Co. Laois

                                      Above Image: Part of the courtyard wall

                                              Above Image: A gate tower

                       Above 3 Images: Some of the numerous 'nooks and crannies'

                                              Above Image: The stairwell

                                      Above Image: A view from the river below

                                           Above Image: A vaulted basement

                                Above Image: Trees literally melded into the walls

                            Above Image: The River Barrow Adjacent to the Castle

                                            Above Image: A sea of mud.....

Lea Castle was a huge Keep fortified by four towers and defended by a portcullis gate. It was constructed by William DeVesey in 1260 on the South bank of the River Barrow on elevated ground. Throughout it's turbulent history it included many owners, the Fitzgeralds, the O'Kellys, the O'Dempseys and even the Earl of Ormond. It was attacked and burned in 1294, 1315 (by Edward the Bruce) and again in 1346. By the 1640's rebellion was in progress and the Confederate Catholics took occupation. In 1650 this ended when Cromwell's enforcer in Ireland Col. John Hewson destroyed the Castle with a massive amount of explosives leaving only one of it's four corner towers remaining. What also remains today are parts of the double towered gatehouse, a section of the keep and outer ward walls.
I passed this Castle about 20 years ago and remember that it was on private land. I couldn't get access then but I do remember spotting a figure sitting on an exposed ledge on the first level reading a book! So I reckoned there had to be a way of getting in. It didn't happen that day but now 20 years later we decided to take a trip out again and try our luck. This visit became what I could only term "an adventure in mud....."
As it happens the Castle is still on private farmland and a large locked gate through a farmyard down a narrow country lane offers the only direct access. There was no one in the yard and in the general vicinity there appears to be quite a lot of signs posted relating to a local gun club a police text alerts. With this in mind we sought out the location of the landowners house by enquiring at a house on the lane who directed us to the right person. I have to say the farmer was a very pleasant gentleman who had no quibble about us wanting to see the Castle but advised us that boots were essential as there was mud....a lot of mud. The Castle is situated beside the Barrow river and I don't know if it is the river or the constant use of the surrounding fields for cattle that has contributed in making the approach to the ruins such a quagmire. Anyway having traversed the tall gate and tramped through the mud, nearly losing a boot at one stage, we followed the farmer's directions across a field and through a broken section of a barbed wire fence. Once you reach the ruins the land is drier and easy enough to walk on.
These are really great ruins. There are so many nooks and crannies to explore and you can even walk down to the river and take a look back up at the Castle and see how imposing and strategically placed it would have been.
Within the walls there is a really worn set of stone steps that bring you up onto I might say a fairly dangerous viewpoint. Some sections of the steps have crumbled so a lot of due care is needed here especially when your boots are muddy and slippery. You can also find access to the vaulted basements which are quite creepy. The outer enclosure is clogged with overgrowth and some trees have melded with the walls but parts are still accessible.
The Farmer informed us that a local group are lobbying to have the Castle cleaned up and made accessible to the public. While I welcome this I would urge you to try and see the ruins in their raw state before any clean up begins. A trek through the many arches and damaged walls just oozes with history.
Within the ruins you can really see the destruction wreaked by Hewson and his explosives. This once fine fortress could never be the same again.
This was one of our favourite ruin hunts and I would certainly be going back again for another view.
To find Lea Castle take the Dublin to Limerick motorway and exit at junction 14. Cross over the motorway bridge to the other side and you will come to a T-Junction with the R445. Turn left and drive for approx. 4KM until you reach Monasterevin. Drive through the Town until you see a right hand turn at a tall stone Celtic cross. Turn right here and continue along this road (R424) for about 5KM until you reach junction with the R420. Turn right onto the R420 and drive for approx. 1KM and you will see a right turn posted for the L7176. You will spot the Castle in the distance. Turn right onto this narrow road and continue for approx. 500m until you will see a farmyard gate with a derelict house on your left. You can park on a grass verge just before the gate. It is best to seek permission before entry and this can be sought at the first bungalow on the right just past the entrance to the L7176 on the main R420 road.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Lady's Island Castle & Church Co Wexford

                                      Above Image: The gatehouse entrance

                                        Above 2 Images: The leaning tower

                                    Above Image: Entrance to the graveyard

                                  Above & below Images: St Abban's Church

                              Above Image: The shrine attached to the Castle

Situated on an isthmus jutting into Lady's Island lake this group of ruins are positioned in an area long renowned for pilgrimage. Indeed when we last visited there in August there were quite a few people around the Church area but luckily for us not so congested at the ruins.
The remains of this Tower house built by Rudolph DeLamporte in 1237 continued in use until the Cromwellian invasion in 1649 in which the castle was burnt and plundered and the surrounding lands passed to the Browne family.
The Tower house today still stands to four storeys high and there appears to be a little renovation in progress. The whole area is an important religious shrine so I think the ruins may be benefiting from the general ongoing upkeep. The North wall of the Castle now has attached to it a modern shrine to Our Lady. There are apparently stairways within the tower that lead to a wall walk but these were not accessible on our visit.
The entrance to the courtyard is through the arches of a sturdy gatehouse which is attached to the tower and on either side of these structures are fragments of a curtain wall.
A few yards North of the Tower house are the remains of a curtain wall tower which now leans precariously at a 30 degree angle. Surprisingly this has thankfully not been demolished but simply cordoned off by a low fence and left for people to gasp at. It teeters with it's innards exposed and in this particular position is very striking looking indeed. The leaning tower of Lady's island!
At the far end of the courtyard from the main Castle to add to the interest of this area is an ancient graveyard containing the scant remains of the medieval Church of St. Abban. All that is left now is the gable end that housed the Bell.
The ruins are set in a particularly beautiful setting. The lake itself is interesting as it is one of only two of these types of lake in Ireland. The other being Tacumshin Lake. The lake is divided from the sea not by land but by a sand bar and water from the sea frequently seeps through. It is more akin to a Lagoon.
To find the ruins take the N25 from Wexford towards Rosslare and about 4.5KM ahead of Rosslare you will pass by Cushen's Pub on your left at Tagoat. You will see a sign for the next right turn to Lady's Island. Turn right and follow this raid for approx. 4KM until you reach Lady's Island village. You will find a parking area opposite the spired Church of the Assumption and you will spot the ruins directly across a large grass area.