Friday, 27 May 2011

Threecastles Co Wicklow

                                     Above Image: Threecastles at sunset                                                   

                       Above Image: A view of the interior through the East side window                                                         

                                        Above Image: Another interior shot Through
                                                                the East side window

Threecastles derives it's name from the fact that when it was built around the 14th century there were two other Castles in the same area. This gave rise to the Townland of Three castles. Today, this particular Tower is the only survivor of the three.
The Tower consists of three storeys and a staircased turret at it's North Eastern corner. The exterior is in good shape and stands solidly on it's ground.
The Castle's history is sketchy, but it is known that it was involved in an incident in 1547 when English forces along with Brian O'Toole defeated the Fitzgeralds here. The Castle is situated on what was the very western edge of  The Pale and so was no doubt prone to frequent rebel attacks.
Threecastles is well worth a visit as it is a fine example of  it's type. It is situated in a field by the roadside and is convenient to stop for a quick once over. There is parking space for about three cars outside the wire fence protecting it. You can cross this fence through a metal stile . The site is in the care of the OPW, so although the meadow surrounding it is overgrown ( remnants of a picnic table juts out of the long grass) the area directly around the Castle has the lawn cut and stones laid to form a pavement. Being a bit out of the way we have yet to come across any other visitors on the few occasions we were there and on a pleasant day it is a nice spot to stop for a picnic.  There is also a walk you can take around Blessington lakes nearby.
The castle has a fine example of a vaulted or arched doorway on it's Western side. Unfortunately this door is kept padlocked so no interior access is possible, but you can however peer through the narrow window on the East side and on most occasions the sunlight illuminates the inside.
On the West side there also appears to be remnants of a long since vanished structure that was one attached to the main tower but this has since crumbled away.
To find Threecastles, take the N81 from Tallaght towards Blessington. After passing through Brittas, look for a left turn sign for the R759 to Manor Kilbride. Continue on through the Village and after Craul's Shop (seen to your right) you will come to a fork in the road. Take the right hand fork and you will locate the Castle about a mile down the road on your left.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Rock of Dunamase Co Laois

                          Above Image: The picturesque view of Holy Trinity Church
                                                 from The Rock

                                          Above Image: The Barbican gate.                                                 

                         Above Image: The Rock of Dunamase viewed from
                                              Holy Trinity Churchyard

One of the treasures of Co. Laois has to be Dunamase. The Rock while not as high as Cashel still stands majestically at 150 feet above ground. There have been fortifications there since at least the 9th century but the existing castle ruins were first built in the late 12th century as a McMurrough stronghold. It is believed to have been passed on to "Strongbow" and then to William Marshall. The castle was in the hands of the Marshall family until it fell into ruin in 1350 because it largely remained unoccupied. It was finally blown up and put entirely out of use by Cromwell's forces.
When we first visited Dunamase in the late 1980's it was overgrown with gorse and indistinct. You could park outside but a rocky climb awaited you. Once you found your way up there was little to enjoy while stumbling around in the undergrowth.. However time passed and thanks to the "Celtic Tiger" funds became available. So in 2006 the site was restored for public use by the OPW and a great deal of major excavation work done. Today there are parking facilities outside, wooden steps and paved walkways that lead you directly up to the castle. We have since visited twice, both days in glorious sunshine. The thing is, that because Dunamase is somewhat off the beaten track, you can almost have the place to yourself.
The ruin itself consists of a lower Barbican & gate, a curtain wall, lower ward and finally an upper ward and remains of a great hall. When you enter the Barbican gate you are given the choice of turning either left or right. Whichever path you choose you will still circumnavigate the castle. Beware at the rear there is a very deep gully so keep to the path..There is also a lot of debris from collapsed walls in the upper ward but quite safe to move around.
The view from Dunamase is awe inspiring, from the picturesque Holy Trinity Church below to the vast beautiful meadows that surround.You can literally see for miles.
When you finally descend (and you will be reluctant to do so) you will find adjacent to the small car park the aforementioned Holy Trinity Church which has some interesting old stones in the Churchyard. If the gate is locked you can enter by a stone stile in the surrounding wall.
To find The Rock of Dunamase take the M7 from Dublin and exit at Junction 16. You will come to a small roundabout. Take the 2nd exit (called Old road) and continue to drive until you see The Rock to your right. Follow on until you see a right hand turn which will lead you directly to the car park.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Carrigogunnell Castle Co Limerick

There may not be much left of Carrigogunnell Castle but what does remain is quite dramatic especially when viewed for the first time. Set on a volcanic crag in a wide plot of land near the village of Clarina in Co Limerick, It's limesone shell stands like a row of jagged and rotten teeth protruding from the hill.
The Castle is believed to have been constructed around 1449 and housed the O'Brien family. It's unsettled history ended with it surrendering to Cromwell's forces in 1651 and being blown up by an ungodly amount of gunpowder during the second siege of Limerick in 1691.
You can access the castle but it is a trek across what can be somewhat rough terrain at times and a bit of a hike up through some gorse. (Wear appropriate footwear).
To find the Castle, take the N69 from Limerick towards Askeaton. About 6 Miles (10Km) from Limerick take a right turn at Clarina and continue on through the village until you reach a T- Junction. Turn left and then take the first right. Along this road you will get your first glimpse of Carrigogunnell to your left hand side. Car parking is restricted to the road, so do so carefully

Photos: G Hill 2011

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Hore Abbey Co Tipperary

                                         Image Below: The Rock of Cashel viewed from
                                                              Hore abbey   

Hore Abbey (Also known as St Mary's) lies in a meadow in the shadow of the Rock of Cashel in Co Tipperary (see post here)  It was a former Benedictine Monastery which was given over to the Cistercians around 1270AD. As with most ruined Abbeys, it fell into disrepair after the Cromwellian invasion of the 17th century. It has the unusual feature that it's cloister lies to the North.
The extensive ruins are well worth your time. On the several occasions we visited, there have only been a handful of people around, most visitors are ensconced in the much more dramatic Rock of Cashel nearby. There is a great serenity about the place and it's picturesque locale adds a lot to this. Take some time to explore the nooks and crannies thoroughly.
To find the Abbey (after viewing the Rock of course!) go through the Main Street of Cashel until you find a right hand turn onto the R505 (Camus Rd). Continue on and take the first left turn and about 100 yards down this road you will find the entrance gate to the field in which the Abbey stands. There's room for at least a couple of cars to park here. It's only 2 or 3 minutes walk across to the ruin.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Rock of Cashel Co Tipperary

If you are travelling from Dublin to see the Rock of Cashel you will find yourself coming round a bend in the road and all at once this spectacular ruin perched upon a limestone outcrop comes into view. If it is a bright day it will be silhouetted against the sky like some vision of Castle Dracula! The Rock, also known as St Patrick's Rock, is a holy site dating back to the time of St Patrick. The ruins consist of 12th century Chapel and High Cross and a 90 feet tall Round Tower. Surrounding these are a 13th century Gothic Cathedral and a 15th century Castle. Quite a collection in one spot! Cashel was the seat of the Kings of Munster prior to the Norman invasion. In 1647 it was ransacked by English parliamentarian troops and all within were slaughtered. 1749 saw the roof being removed and the site fell into ruin.
The Rock of Cashel is a must see and although there is an admission charge it is worth your time. We have visited about 3 times over the years and it never fails to enthrall. There is so much history here.
To get to The Rock take the M7 from Dublin then join the M8 and exit when you reach Junction 17. Take the R639 into Cashel. Once into the town you will see a sharp V-shaped turn right. Carry on down this Road and you will find a large car park on the right (€2). It is a short walk uphill to the entrance.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Dunluce Castle Co Antrim

Dunluce Castle stands on a rocky basalt outcrop on the North Antrim coast. It was built by the 2nd Earl of Ulster in the 13th century. The castle throughout it's history had been occupied by both the McQuillan and the MacDonnell clans. The castle is strategically facing seaward and is accessible from the mainland by a bridge over a large deep crevasse. The Spanish galleon "Girona" floundered on the rocks below the castle and its large cannon were salvaged and placed on the gatehouses. During the last occupancy by the MacDonnells the kitchen which was precariously close to the edge crumbled and fell into the sea killing all but one inside. After the Battle of the Boyne the MacDonnells fell into poverty and the castle began it's descent into ruin.
Today the castle stands as a majestic ruin, one of the best to be seen in Ireland. We have been there twice and I would'nt hesitate to go again.There are so many places to walk around and so many breathtaking views of the coastline from the steep battlements especially on a fine day, that you will find yourself spending hours there. There is a small entrance fee of around £2 for adults or £1 for children and there is parking available on the road outside the castle. While in the area, don't forget to check out the Giants Causeway and the Carrick-a-Rede Bridge.
To get to Dunluce take the A2 from Portrush towards Bushmills (visit the distillery!). At Ballytober Crossroads take a left and you will find the castle along this road.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Castle Roche Co Louth

Castle Roche was the seat of the De Verdon family in the 13th century. It was built on the northern frontier of "The Pale". Legend has it the the very wealthy Roesha De Verdon promised her hand in marriage to any man who could build the castle for her. The man who finally did, on their wedding night, was led to the great open bedroom window by Roesha to view the land he had come into possession of and was promptly pushed out to his death by his scheming new bride. His ghost haunts the "Murder Window" to this very day, which strangely enough is bricked up from the inside...
The castle was finally laid to ruin in 1641 by Cromwellian forces.The very imposing ruin now sits atop its rocky hill overlooking the border countryside and although quite prominent in its locality, is very much off the beaten track. To visit you will need to climb the grassy slope and once there you can enter the ruin by it's main door. Within is only the shell of the once great house but it is well worth your time. The views from atop are astounding. You can also see the famous Murder Window.
To get to the castle, heading north from Dublin, on th M1, take the Junction 17 exit and take a left onto the N53 for Castleblayney. At the nasty-sounding Hackballscross, turn right and follow on through Shortstone keeping an eye out to the right. You should be able to take a right turn onto a narrow road before Edenkill. Parking is restricted here but you can park one car safely at the gate to the field in which the castle lies. Do not block the other gate which is used by a local farmer.

Fore Abbey Co Westmeath

                               Above Image: The marshland on which the Abbey is built

                                                 Above Image: The strange tree

First let me say that Fore Abbey was one of the best monastic ruins we have ever visited. We only heard about it recently and it is a shame that it is not mentioned more in tourist guides and such.
The Abbey lies on a marshland in the Ben of Fore and the whole valley seems to be littered with monastic ruins. The main building is the 13th century Benedictine Priory and then there are further ruins from the 15th century. The church of St Fechin lies on the hill opposite the priory and it dates back to 630AD!
The day we visited was a gloriously hot late April day and it really showed the beauty of the valley.
To see the main priory you have to cross the marshland by a long narrow walled causeway. along the way you will come across a very strange tree littered with personal articles people have left as intentions to St Fechin. On a small wooden bridge you can stare into the crystal clear waters below and many visitors have thrown coins in as if it were a wishing well. The priory is huge and has many places to explore. In the back of the main chapel we found a room where a lot of ornamental stones from the ruin had been stored and next to this was a gate which it seemed had been locked but was now sawn open. This led to the stone stairs to one of the towers. Some of the steps were worn but it was quite accessible and we finally got to see a wonderful view from the top.
When you have visited the priory and climbed over many of its adjacent buildings, take some time to cross the road and climb up to St Fechin's Church & graveyard.
The Abbey is also famous for it's seven wonders, they are:
                                  The Monastery built upon a marsh.
                                  The Mill without a race.
                                  The water that flows uphill
                                  The tree that has three branches and won't burn.
                                  The water that won't boil (And is bad luck to try to)
                                  The Anchorite in a cell.
                                  The Lintel-stone raised by the prayers of St Fechin.

If you find any of these elusive, visit the Seven Wonders Pub just up the road in the village.There is a trove of information there. There is also a coffee shop nearby to rest your weary feet.
To find Fore Abbey take the R154 from Trim Co Meath as far as Oldcastle. Then take the R195 towards Castlepollard. look for signs pointing left near the Ben of Fore and follow the road until you reach Fore Village. Take a right in the village past the Seven Wonders Pub and you will find ample parking outside the Abbey.