Monday, 7 August 2017

Tullaherin Monastic Site Co Kilkenny

                                              Above Image: Entrance gate

                           Above Image & Below 2 Images: Interior of the church

                                       Above Image: The large Ogham stone

                     Above Image: The tower entrance now looks like a gaping maw

                                Above Image & Below 2 Images: Stroan Fountain

This monastic site is associated with St Ciaran the elder who on returning from twenty years in Rome founded a monastery at Saighir and also here in Tullaherin sometime in the 5th-6th century. While none of the original structures survive at Tullaherin the site was deemed very important and was built upon during the next few centuries. The incomplete Round tower we see today stands approx. 73 feet high and was constructed in the 9th century and as with most towers was designed to protect the monks and their valuables from marauding Vikings. The tower is missing its conical top and indeed shows evidence of leaning somewhat. St Ciaran is reputed to be buried here, some believe in  the vicinity of the tower. The large ruins adjacent to the tower are of an 11th or 12th century Church which was added to in the 1400’s by the construction of a chancel. It is divided into two sections. After the dissolution the Church changed hands to serve the Protestant community and was greatly renovated in 1616. However, the 1837 ordnance survey map lists the church as being in ruins.
The site is very impressive. It is somewhat off the beaten track but is well worth a visit. We were directed here whilst visiting nearby Kilfane Church (see post here) by a local man binging his kids to see the magnificent medieval Knight effigy. We later ran into them again at Tullaherin. A combination of both places makes for a really rewarding journey.
Two Ogham stones were discovered here in the past one of which was removed from the site and rediscovered in the 1980’s propping up a gate on nearby lands. It was brought back to Tullaherin and placed adjacent to the South wall and close to the base of the tower. It still has some inscriptions upon it but they are fairly illegible.
I’m not sure if there is work going on here at the moment but there are warning signs placed on the church ruins to avoid entering the ruins. However you can pretty much get around what you need to see.
Two asides of interest. The first is the existence here of a cillin which is a rather sad thing to encounter. It is basically a kind of potter’s field for children. A mass burial site where unfortunately deceased and unbaptized infants were buried. This was usually situated nearby the consecrated graveyard but still outside the walls leaving them in some respect divorced from the normal populace. It was a common practice in early Ireland and there are numerous examples around the country. Very sad indeed. The other item of interest is on one of the approach roads to Tullherin. It is an ornate fountain called the Stroan fountain It was commissioned by Colonel Bushe of Kilfane House in 1766 using local limestone. Its purpose was to supply water to the tenants of his estate. It is aesthetically pleasing to the eye and was renovated but unfortunately the tantalisingly clear water flowing from it has at the moment a warning not to consume direct from the fountain due to bacteria present. Hopefully this will be resolved at some stage. 

Take the M9 heading South and exit at Junction 7 and at the top of the exit ramp take the left hand exit for the R448 (signposted for Thomastown). Continue straight through the next roundabout and on the subsequent roundabout turn right on to the continuance of the R448. Continue on through the villages of Gowran and Dungarvan and approx. 4KM out of Dungarvan you will find a right hand turn. Unfortunately there are no direction signs but if you pass the Long Man restaurant & bar on your right then you need to turn and go back approx. 500m and take the first left turn. Follow this road for approx. 1.75KM and you will reach a crossroads at Tullaherin Church. Turn left and you can park in the car park of the modern church. The monastic site is directly opposite. 

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Coolbanagher Church Co Laois

                                              Above Image: Entrance gate

                                             Above Image: Entrance door            

                                         Above Image: Restored central arch

                                            Above Image: The cross slab

I side tracked to this interesting ruin while in the vicinity visiting Morett castle (see earlier post here). These are the remains of a medieval church constructed on the site of an early Christian monastery. The ruins after excavation and renovation in the early 1990’s revealed a construction of several phases the oldest part being of early Christian era with later extensions that included a Chancel in the Romanesque style and even later renovations constructed in the Gothic style. The church remained in use even after the dissolution. On February 2nd 1779 when it was then under the name of St Peter’s and serving the protestant community the thatched roof was set alight burning the church badly. A new and larger Church was built between 1782 and 1785 and subsequently the old church found itself utilized as a farm outbuilding. It was listed on the 1837 ordnance survey map as being in ruin at that time.
The ruins are situated in a very pastoral setting surrounded by meadows and access is easy enough by way of a small iron gate by the roadside. All of the walls and gables are extant and access to the interior is now possible whereas in the past the windows and doors had been blocked up. A clean up was done on the site but the overgrowth inside appears to be taking hold again. The structure consists of a chancel and nave and is quite long at 62 feet. It is approx. 22 feet in width. Entry point is the Romanesque door possibly dating to the 12th century that is positioned in the West facing gable. The once Romanesque dividing arch has only the original base extant but the arch has been restored for some unknown reason in the Gothic style. One interesting little remnant can be found on the interior of the North wall adjacent to the East gable. It is an early Christian cross slab which was removed from its original spot and placed securely on the wall during renovation
Coolbanagher was positioned on the road of the assemblies an important medieval route that stretched between the ancient provinces of Mide and Munster. St Aengus the renowned 9th century Bishop and scribe is said to have stopped at Coolbanagher during a journey and whilst there was inspired to write the Félire Óengusso a register of saints and their feast days.
As a small aside a few metres down the road from the church until recently stood the huge ruin of Coolbanagher Castle. A tall tower house, It was located in the grounds of a private residence but partially collapsed during a bad storm in 2014. It was subsequently demolished and all that unfortunately remains now is a large pile of stones.

To find the ruins head West on the M7 and take the junction 15 exit signposted for Mountmellick. At the top of the exit ramp take the right hand exit of the roundabout which crosses back over the M7. Go straight through the roundabout on the other side and at the subsequent roundabout turn left again following the sign for Mountmellick. Approx 250m on you will reach another roundabout which you go straight through. Continue for approx. 1.8KM and take the third right hand turn (this narrow road is at an angle to the main road). Drive down this road and after approx. 1KM you will reach a crossroads. Go straight across and drive another 600m until you reach a T-Junction. Turn right and approx. 200m on you will spot the ruin on your left. You can park at the verge at the entrance gate. 

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Morett Castle Co Laois

                                            Above Image: Field entry gate

                                         Above Image: Remains of East wall

                                 Above Image: View of the North East bartizan

                                Above Image: Possible remains of an entrance

                                 Above Image: The jagged South West remains

I have passed by this dramatic ruin countless times on the M7 but an opportunity recently afforded me the chance to leave the motorway and find the back roads leading to it.
The castle was a huge late medieval residential tower house built by the Fitzgerald's in 1580. Within 200 years it would be abandoned. It stood four storeys high and had semi-circular bartizans on each corner. Several fireplaces on some levels were represented at roof level by four huge chimneys which are still extant.The castle came under attack by Cromwell's forces in 1641 and was forfeited.but eventually returned to the Fitzgerald's in 1660. One oft told tale recounted in depth by Sir Jonah Barrington in his volumes "Personal sketches of his own times"published in 1830 was that of Elizabeth Fitzgerald who in 1690 found herself besieged in the castle by the O'Cahills who had managed to take her husband hostage and threatened his life if she did not render the castle to them. Staunchly defiant Elizabeth proclaimed "Elizabeth Fitzgerald may get another husband but Elizabeth Fitzgerald may not get another castle; so I'll keep what I have; and if you don't get off faster than your legs can readily carry you, my warders will try which is hardest, your skull or a stone bullet" The castle remained intact and in her possession but her unfortunate husband found himself dangling from a gibbet!
An illustration by Francis Grose from his antiquarian tour of Ireland in 1791 depicts the castle in ruins with all walls standing but the roof missing. What caused the massive crumbling that has taken place over the last 200 years is debatable but it has left two tall shards jutting upwards to the sky. The remains existing today consist of about two thirds of the East wall and North East bartizan, a small portion of the North wall and the corner of the South and West walls with its bartizan.
Back to the visit. We found that the ruins were in fact built upon a rocky outcrop that was now on private land. A Nicely built modern house stood in front of them. When we arrived we planned to simply knock on the door and seek permission as there were "No trespassing" signs on the pillars of the entry lane that led to the rear of the house. To further upset our plans there were several temporary signs placed directing traffic towards a funeral gathering it would seem at the house..Bad timing for a visit it would appear. However we did get an answer at the door by a very charming lady who dressed in black and heading for the said funeral still graciously allowed us entry to view the ruins as she said herself that she had a great interest in things historical.
Up the lane way to the right of the house we found a field gate which was unlocked and access was easy. The ground within is overgrown and slopes downward from the ruin.The surrounds showed several signs of dislodged rock from the castle walls so we took some very careful steps on our ascent to reach the interior. Standing within you could really get a sense of the original size of this castle and how strategically it was placed..Remnants of the fireplaces and even an oven area are still visible but the features have been ravaged by time. A nearby castle at Coolbanagher which had been a similar tall strong tower almost totally collapsed during a bad storm in 2014 and was eventually demolished. How Morett in its current state survived that storm is a puzzle but there you have it, the fickle hand of fate. That aside I feel that unfortunately time will eventually take its toll and we will sadly lose this striking structure from the landscape..
To find the ruins head West on the M7 and take the junction 15 exit signposted for Mountmellick. At the top of the exit ramp take the right hand exit of the roundabout which crosses back over the M7. Go straight through the roundabout on the other side and at the subsequent roundabout turn left again following the sign for Mountmellick. Approx 250m on you will reach another roundabout which you go straight through. Drive for approx. 1.3KM and you will reach a left hand turn. Turn left and after you have crossed over the motorway again take the second left hand turn. This is a Cul-de-Sac with a modern house on the left at the top. You can park here and seek permission for entry to the ruins at the house.   . .

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Finglas Abbey Co Dublin

                                          Above Image: The entrance gate

                                     Above & Below Images: The Nethercross

                                             Above Image: entrance door

The history surrounding this abbey site stretches right back to through the centuries when St Canice from Co Derry founded a monastery here in 560AD. He would later become the patron saint of Finglas. The early monastery thrived for centuries but was laid open to many attacks by the Vikings and virtually destroyed. It was rebuilt during the tenth and twelfth centuries and it is the ruins of these structures that we see today. The abbey was suppressed during the dissolution of the sixteenth century under Henry VIII. Later during his daughter Elizabeth’s reign the church ceased being a catholic place of worship and transferred to the protestant community which it served until 1843 when a larger more modern church was built. The abbey subsequently fell into ruin.
A visit to the ruins can only be made at certain times and outside of those you need to obtain a key to gain entry to the graveyard in which the ruins lie. On my visit on a Sunday morning the gate was unlocked and I had no trouble gaining entry. The ruins are extensive enough and you can walk around them but sadly not enter as the entrance and windows have been barred up. (I must enquire if there is a key available for here also) Nonetheless you can still see around the interior quite clearly. One very interesting monument within the graveyard is a large Celtic cross known as the Nethercross. The name derives from the barony of Nethercross but this ancient monument was carved in the ninth century and stands seven feet high resembling the one actually carried by St Canice. It is the only remnant remaining from the original monastery. During the Cromwellian invasion the locals dismantled and hid the cross in a secret location fearing that the invaders would destroy it. The cross remained hidden until 1816 when a clergyman named Robert Walsh through dogged research eventually discovered its location through the oral history of a local who's forebears passed the secret location down. Walsh had the cross re-erected in the South East corner of the abbey grounds.

To find the ruins and cross take the junction 5 exit of the M50 for city centre/Finglas. This leads onto the R135 (North Road). Continue on until you reach a roundabout. Go straight through and approx. 500m later you will drive under an underpass and subsequently an overhead footbridge. 140m beyond the footbridge on the left there is a Permanent TSB bank with a small car park in front and you can turn in here and park. Directly across the road you turned in from is Wellmount Road. Simply cross over the road to it and on the corner there is a line of stone cottages with a ramp leading up in front of them . At the top of the ramp is the entrance gate to the graveyard. The gate is open on Sundays and Bank Holidays from 10.30am-5.30am. Outside of these times you can obtain a key from Thomas Lynch at 5 Barrack Lane which is one of the stone cottages mentioned.

Monday, 19 June 2017

Knockmaroon Cromlech Co Dublin

                                      Above Image: Pathway up to the site

                                           Above Image: Eastern aspect

                                           Above Image: Western aspect

This small but significant cromlech (or kist) was accidently discovered in 1838 when a renovation of the Phoenix park was taking place. The workmen who discovered it were charged with the removal of a mound which turned out to be an ancient tumulus standing 15 feet high and 120 feet in circumference.on which the cromlech was positioned. It would date sometime between 2500BC to 1700BC. The Royal Irish Academy at the time investigated it and removed two human skeletons and a number of other items including a flint arrowhead. This is reckoned to be the smallest of this type of burial chamber in the country. The name given to the monument is usually Knockmary as it is positioned beside Knockmary keeper's lodge and the area outside has the name Knockmaroon both are derivations of the name Knockmaridhe. It is tucked away from sight and wouldn’t really make itself aware unless sought out. I had a general idea where it was located from an old ordnance survey map so I set out one day to seek it out. I was driving so I entered the park from the Chapelizod gate and once I spotted the Knockmary lodge up on the hill I just parked on the grass verge at the bottom and walked up the pathway towards the lodge. The lodge is surrounded by a fence and you just need to follow the fence around to the right where you will locate the cromlech. To be fair it has been damaged in the past mostly by people knocking parts off as souvenirs and there are signs that a large crack in the centre of the capstone has been repaired but not entirely successfully sometime in the past. The capstone is believed to be made of bedrock extracted from the River Liffey. A large more modern block props up the large capstone on one side where the original stone has either been removed or was damaged and replaced. The burial chamber is underground leaving the rest of this tomb standing on grass but this is nonetheless an interesting piece of ancient history which goes generally unnoticed.
To find the cromlech enter the park by the Chapelizod gate and a few metres in you will reach a T-junction with Upper Glen Road. Turn left and follow the road .You will pass two signs pointing right into gateways, one for St. Mary's Hospital the other for Cheshire home. Approx 100m past the second sign you will see the small pathway leading up the hill. You can park on the grass verge at the bottom.If on foot you can also access by way of a laneway in Chapelizod village that lies beside the Newsagent/Post office. A small pedestrian gate at the bottom of the lane leads into the park directly opposite the hill with Knockmary lodge visible on top.