Saturday, 29 June 2013
This magnificent Abbey was founded for the Franciscans in1353 by William O'Kelly, Lord of Ui Maine on the site of an earlier but non extant monastery founded by St Conall in the 6th century.
Kilconnell Abbey surprisingly survived through the reformation when it was held by the Crown and somehow evaded dissolution. It also came under attack by Cromwellian forces in 1650 but was defended by Major O'Daly. The monks left the Abbey in the 1690's as vocations to the order slackened, though the Church remained in use for some years until the site was finally left uninhabited in the 1780's. Although it has fallen into ruin it has had guardianship and in more recent times been taken into state care who keep the ruins generally well kept.
Whole visiting nearby Clontuskert Abbey (See earlier post here) we took some time out to visit these impressive ruins which lay just a few miles away.
The ruins lie in a field locally referred to as Abbeyfield on the North end of the quiet village of Kilconnell and are accessed by way of a stile in the outer field wall adjacent to a gate. There is a gravelled pathway that leads up to the ruins and then another stile in an inner boundary wall just beside a sign posted for information.
As you approach the Abbey the great Tower looms above you and is singly the most dramatic feature of this site. On crossing the second stile there is a doorway immediately on your left with believe it or not another stile to navigate!
The first thing that greets you when you enter is a large tomb against the opposite wall. It is highly decorative with a tall ornamental hood above it and carvings of mourning figures on its base. There is another tomb further down the nave that has an amazing carved pyramid shaped hood. Sweeping arches and numerous medieval carvings adorn the Church and it is a joy to wander around.
This site is really big. It consists of the Chancel, Nave, Choir, Aisle and a Transept on the Southern side. There are also some domestic quarters. Originally the site would have consisted of the Nave and Chancel only with the addition of a Tower and Transept being made later.
In the Northern section is the Cloister or Ambulatory where Monks would have strolled in prayer or reflection. Many of the Cloister arches are still present. It is adjacent to this area where you find the domestic buildings and the guardians house. There a lot of nooks and crannies here to be explored and we spent more than an hour doing so. We could spot the top of a huge and beautifully decorated high cross through a gap in the wall just off the nave but there didn't seem to be any way of accessing it apart from climbing up and viewing it through the gap in the wall. It is marking a grave but it is odd that it has been sealed away from public view. We visited in March and the ruins were pretty much deserted but I wonder with Kilconnell's slightly out of the way location if it actually gets any big influx of visitors at all. That aside it is well worth your time to stop and take in the grandeur of these ruins.
To find the Abbey take the Junction 15 exit from the M6 Dublin to Galway motorway. Turn right on the top of the exit ramp and cross over the motorway. Go straight through the roundabout on the other side and on the roundabout following that take the left turn onto the R446. Drive for approx. 2KM until you reach a right hand turn onto the L3412 with a sign pointing towards Ahascragh. Continue on this road until you reach a crossroads with the R348. You will see a sign pointing left for Kilconnell. Drive for approx. 7KM and when you enter the village continue until you see Broderick's Pub on your left. Directly across from the pub is a right hand turn onto the L17423. Go down this road for a few metres and you will see a small parking area on the right. You will see the Abbey in the field beyond. Walk back towards the pub and at the junction you will see a small lane way on your left which leads to the entrance gate and stile for the Abbey.
Saturday, 22 June 2013
to the left
Old Killadreenan Church lies 2KM west of Newcastle village in Co Wicklow. What remained of the old Church of St. Catherine's (c.1189) in Newcastle found itself incorporated into a more modern building but it's near neighbour of Killadreen is thought to be of much more antiquity and very much left un-interfered with. The name loosely translates to the Church of the Thorn field and was recorded as being a possession of the Archbishopric of Dublin in 1179, the Archbishop being Laurence O'Toole a great peacemaker and champion of the poor. While not a lot is known of the progress of the Church through later centuries it is almost certain that it did not survive after the reformation.
My first thoughts on our visit here was how incredibly old it looked. In fact 'old' does not describe it enough, it goes beyond that. Ancient might be a more suitable term. The site is accessed from the roadside by way of a fairly reasonable built stile. It is immediately noticeable that the walls of this Church are slowly crumbling away but it is still safe enough to enter and have look around.
The walls are constructed with a mixture of stone rubble and slate. The East gable still stands although mostly covered with ivy and the south wall, the most intact, extends to incorporate a doorway with an unusual arch connection of two lintels. The Northern wall is pretty much covered in vegetation now only small sections visible while the West wall is all but gone, opening the church to the surrounding graveyard, a cluttered mound of very old canted headstones which seemed very dramatic in the evening sunlight. The ruins consist of the Nave and Chancel and there are two small windows, one in the East wall and one in the south wall. With the antiquity of this site I had hoped that there might be some unusual grave slabs or such and indeed we spotted what looked to be something of that nature propped against the southern wall under the small window but it turned out to be a headstone which had been broken in half and apparently just left there.
The site seems mostly unvisited although the odd crushed beer can would suggest otherwise. The ground within and surrounding the ruins is very uneven and the grass quite long in some spots so a measure of care is needed when walking about. I think we visited at a favourable time when the evening was bright and the sunlight was streaming through the trees. I would imagine that this would be quite a different place and certainly a much shadier ambiance on an overcast or rainy day. Not a place I would like to find myself after dusk.
To find the ruins take the N11 from Dublin heading South and exit at junction 13 for Newcastle. The exit swings round and up to a roundabout. Take the first exit left onto the R772 and drive for approx. 400m. You will spot the ruins by the roadside on your right. You can park safely enough by the boundary gate.
Friday, 14 June 2013
When the Knights Hospitallers settled in Ireland they set about building Abbeys and Churches. This particular one is dedicated to St John of Jerusalem and also gave name to the village in which it is located.
While the date of construction is unknown there is within the Church a grave slab which is said to be dated 1430AD. This would appear to give some indication that the Church would also date from around that time or just before. The Church would have been in use until it fell foul of the dissolution in the 1500's. What remains today are an almost complete East wall, partially upstanding remains of the South and North walls and the large arch on the West. The East gable has a complete and ornate double ogee-headed window.
You can access the walled graveyard in which the ruins stand through an iron gate in the North wall directly opposite the Johnstown Inn. The heritage trail community group have kindly posted an information sign on one of the gate pillars. Inside there is a rough pathway that surrounds the ruins which stand on a grassy mound.
This is a nicely maintained site and is easy to get around. There are many ancient headstones scattered throughout several of which are now leaning at at an almost 45 degree angle.
We paid a visit on a very fine Sunday evening and the sunlight glistened through the mature trees giving a luminosity to the ruins. It is so quiet here that it is hard to believe that a busy motorway lies only a short distance away.
The first thing that greets you is the imposing arch which presumably at some point held a window or a door. It is now a tall slender structure still adjoined at the top attesting to the workmanship involved in its construction.
Within the ruins we found the aforementioned grave slab which is thought to be dated 1430AD. Strangely though it appears to have 1289 engraved on it, maybe somebody can shed some light on that. It bears the coat of arms of the Flatsburys and the Wogans, the Flatsburys being a notable family in the area whose name has all but disappeared now. Directly under the grave slab are the remains of a baptismal font, probably once part of this Church.
Near the tall archway and just within the Church is a tall and very decorative high cross marking the grave of Richard Southwell Bourke, 6th Earl of Mayo. A noted politician he became Viceroy of India in 1869 and on a trip to a penal colony in the Andaman Islands East of India in 1872 was assassinated by one of it's inmates. Legend has it that his body was shipped back on the arduous journey to Ireland preserved in a keg of either vinegar or rum, though I should think the mariners would not have chosen the latter. This circumstance lent to deceased nobleman the unfortunate title of "The Pickled Earl!"
The ruins are well worth a visit and well maintained by a conscientious group of people. To find them, take the N7 from Dublin and exit at junction 8. At the top of the exit ramp take the first exit off the roundabout and drive for approx. 500m. You will see the ruins on your left at the entrance to the village opposite the Johnstown Inn. There are spaces to park by the Church gate.