Wednesday, 15 August 2018
Situated in Co Kilkenny and not too distant from Callan Friary (see post here) and the expansive Kells Priory (see post here) lie the ruins of Burnchurch castle. This 15th century tower house was built by a branch of the Anglo-Norman Fitzgeralds. It consists of six storeys with the uppermost floor serving as a hall. Several flights of stone steps are set into the wall starting from inside the doorway on the North facing wall. On the crenellated top the North and South walls rise to form turrets. The tower house had an attached great hall now non-extant and a surrounding bawn, the only evidence left of this is the 12.5 metre high round turret which lies adjacent with part of the bawn wall still attached. The castle fell into the hands of Col. William Warden during the Cromwellian invasion of the mid 17th century and was granted later in 1666 to Major Francis Flood through his marriage to Anne warden. It continued in use as a residence until 1817.
The castle is clearly on private farmland and a rudimentary sign clearly states no entry but yet there is a pedestrian gate to the left of the large electric gates allowing easy access. An information sign is placed at the doorway to the tower but the doorway is padlocked as is the doorway of the turret. I imagine that the landowner may also be the key holder so a little more research may be needed to gain access to the interiors. I have heard that not so long ago it was possible to climb to the top so I will investigate that for a future visit. Nonetheless both the tower and turret are well worth seeing especially in conjunction with the ruins of the old Church of Ireland building that lies across the road. It was commissioned in 1810 by the board of first fruits which had a long standing building programme for the protestant community. It was built on the site of a former medieval church and so the graveyard consists of of mixed internments. The Church, a single cell Gothic-style structure may have originally had a spire on top of the tower but it along with the roof are now gone. The church in use up until 1947 has now fallen into ruin.
To find this interesting set of ruins take exit 9 of the M9 motorway and follow the signpost for the N10 to Kilkenny. On the N10 take the first left turn signposted for Callan and Danesfort Church. Drive for approx 4.5KM (passing through a crossroads with the R697) and you will spot the ruins on a curve in the road. You can park alongside the gate to the castle but try not to obstruct the gate as it is used by the landowner.
Wednesday, 18 July 2018
Leap Castle (pronounced Lepp) originally consisted of just the tower house and is thought to have been constructed by the O'Bannon's in the 13th/14th century. Its original name was "Leap of the O'Bannon's" and was strategically positioned on a huge rocky outcrop on an important pass in the Slieve Bloom mountains.
In 1513 the castle was attacked by the Earl of Kildare who was unsuccessful in his attempt to seize it but on a second attack in 1516 he caused severe damage but gained possession. It would remain that way until the O'Carroll's took possession a number of years later. The O'Carroll's were going through a period of feuding within the family in regards to leadership. One of the O'Carroll's was a priest and was butchered in front of other family members by his brother while hosting mass in the chapel at the top of the tower. As a result of this chapel would later be called "The Bloody Chapel".
Over subsequent years the castle would change hands .The Darby family family took possession in 1659 and later in the early 1900's a descendant Jonathan Charles Darby made extensive additions to the tower adding more residential space. His wife Mildred was a writer and dabbled in the supernatural holding seances in the castle and also widely promoted the castle as being haunted. It is said that the costs of building the additional space gave rise to the raising of rents of local tenants and of course Leap like many large Anglo-Irish houses was burned in the civil war of 1922.
An Australian historian named Peter Bartlett bought the ruins in 1974 as his family on this mother's side had been O'Bannon's. He spent 15 years renovating parts of it but unfortunately died leaving it still mostly in ruin. The present owner a noted musician skilled in the playing of the tin whistle is Sean Ryan. He bought the castle in 1991 and to this day has renovated the South wing and the ground and first upper floor of the tower.
Curiously we had visited Leap once before just before Sean Ryan bought it and it was still quite ruinous. We managed to find our way into one of the buildings attached to the tower. Within the roofless ruins a large tree was growing up and our arrival caused a large number of jackdaws to flutter around wildly and we were actually driven out by a swarm of insects we had obviously disturbed. looking back at the open black holes that were once windows I have to say it felt like we were being ushered out unceremoniously. I remember looking up Leap later in our local library (no Internet for us then!) and found out about its bloody history and of the 30 or more ghosts thought to inhabit it. Apparently it is deemed the most haunted castle in Ireland. In a conversation on our recent visit with Sean he explained that the jackdaws were constantly there destroying the castle steps with their droppings and that the insects we had encountered were most likely flying ants which he said plagued the ruins.
So here now 27 years later I managed to get hold of Sean by phone and arranged to make a visit.
We arrived at Leap on an overcast day which only lent more atmosphere to the place. A number of fairly friendly cats roam the grounds and some of them decided that our car was good place to sleep. Three of them nestled on the bonnet and roof.
Sean met us at the door and invited us to the fireside and gave us the history of the castle. He is a very genial man and a great storyteller and I asked him about living with these ghosts. He said that they don't really bother him they make their presence known doors opening and closing and sometimes the chattering of a large amount of people which stops suddenly when investigated. He said some visitors have seen the "Red Lady" who haunts the castle clutching a dagger. Others have seen little girls playing in the hall one who Sean identified historically had tragically fell from the parapet and died. The tower stairs holds the presence of some horrible entity which exudes a foul smell and the atmosphere within the bloody chapel has actually made some people feel faint.
What really made the trip even better is that after our conversation Sean handed us a torch and sent us off on our own to explore the tower and chapel. The first room we encountered was on the first floor. it had a long table with chairs, a large fireplace and many nooks and crannies. A couple of beds are also here and a collection of odd art and curiosities adorn the shelves and walls. This is apparently where in the past several psychic investigators and television ghost hunters have set up camp. It is a room both pleasing and unsettling and I'm sure it would feel much different after dark.
The next level was filling me with both anticipation and dread. This is the top floor and the site of the bloody chapel. It is still in ruin with no glass in the windows so the wind blows through it. It is dark and ominous and as we walked around it did make me fell a little unsettled. In one corner is the hole in the floor which led to an oubliette, a small chamber full of spikes where people were thrown into never to see light of day again dying in agony from their wounds. Hundreds of bones were removed from the oubliette during renovations.
From one of the open windows you can look down upon one of the the ruinous wings of the castle and also out onto the plains below the rear of the castle and the rock it is built upon.
We must have spent an hour and a half wandering and revisiting rooms. There are many little alcoves dark and uninviting but we never saw anything unusual. The only thing that was odd was a series of knocking sounds while we were talking to Sean but he didn't seem fazed at all. I guess he has just gotten used to the sounds and such of the castle be they supernatural or not.
The tour is available on weekdays but you need to call Sean in advance so he can arrange to be there.
A small donation of €6 per person towards the renovation is suggested but not asked for. But it is worth every cent and is going to a really good cause.
The telephone number for tours is 0868690547. The Email is email@example.com.
To find Leap castle take the M7 Dublin to Limerick road and exit at junction 22 for Roscrea. At the top of the exit ramp turn right onto the N62. As you approach Roscrea there is a roundabout called the Templemore Road roundabout with a McDonalds situated there. Turn left off the roundabout onto the R445 and drive until you reach another roundabout where you take the second exit to the right. Continue on this road which will lead you through part of Roscrea town until it the becomes the R421 on exiting the town. Continue for approx 6KM until you reach a left hand turn with a small cottage on the corner with the name Breretons Bar. Turn left here (it is signposted for Clareen) and drive for approx 4KM where you will reach the entrance gate for Leap on your right hand side. Drive through the gate and follow the track down to castle where you can park. Look out for the cats!
Tuesday, 17 July 2018
I came across this church ruin on the road between Gort and Loughrea in Co Galway. It looked quite striking sitting atop the elevated ground within the graveyard and I wasn't going to pass it by without having a look.
There is little information available regarding the history of this church. It is most certainly medieval in origin and the place name "Kilchreest" translates to Christchurch which may have some link to the more famous Christchurch in Dublin. The townland that contains the church was part of the lands owned by the Persse family of Roxborough, their great house being the family seat for 245 years. Their is among their history as landlords the eviction of village tenants which would not have sat well over subsequent years and indeed Roxborough was burned in the civil war of 1922.
The church at Kilchreest is listed as being Roman Catholic and in ruins on the 1837 ordnance survey map. It is quite possible that this church could have been abandoned as far back as the dissolution in the mid 16th century.
As I say the ruins are quite striking when viewed from the road. Most of the North and South walls have disappeared leaving the church in two distinct sections. A single bell cote is evident on the extended West gable and there is a single window in the East gable which would have been the chancel. A further look around the graveyard revealed a few very interesting grave slabs.
To find the ruin take the R380 out of Gort towards Loughrea and drive for approx 20KM until you see the sign on your left that you are entering Kilchreest. The graveyard and ruin are approx 450m past this sign on the left hand side. You can park at the roadside wall.
Tuesday, 3 July 2018
medieval stone head
it the other tomb fragment set in the wall.
Again in a lonely place, this time in Co Meath we come across another abandoned Church of Ireland church standing derelict in an ancient graveyard. This was once the site of a medieval church which was in ruin by the early 1640's. This new Church was commissioned in 1820 by the then Lord Bishop of Meath Thomas Lewis O'Beirne who ran a Church building programme over a 25 year period starting in 1798. Some fragments of the medieval Church were included in the new building and these are as follows: the Pedimented entrance door, a atone head that projects from the wall to the right of the entrance door, three arched windows in the middle section of the bell tower and some fragments from a chest tomb, one in the East gable above the window and the other above the double ogee-headed window over the entrance door. The new Church was kept in use until services ended in the mid 1960's and it has now subsequently began to fall badly into ruin.
The Ruin of the church which was dedicated to St Patrick is accessible up a side road from the main road into the village of Nobber. The actual lane way leading up to the graveyard is what I term a "Hairy road" which is nothing more than a gravel track with a bank of grass running up along the middle. It was not a very comfortable drive up and an car exhaust problem (loose & missing brackets) a few days after the visit I think I can attribute to this road. If you are lucky to own an SUV then it's a doddle but be careful driving up otherwise.
My first impression of the ruin was how a bit uninviting it looked. I will admit I'm not prone to any form of psychic sensitivity but I got a feeling here that I have had in several other places and it is a bit unsettling. However I have never shirked from continuing an investigation uncomfortable or not and so onward we went regardless.
As the ground of the graveyard is at a higher level than that of the church the pathway leading up to it is walled on both sides. This brings you to the door and above it is a plaque dedicated to those involved in the church construction. The curious stone head is at a height to the right of the door protruding as if like a watchful sentinel. The wooden door is still mostly extant frame-wise anyway and has been forced open. It is jammed halfway due to fallen rubble from the bell tower and indeed stepping in and looking up there is still much loose debris to be seen. I am quite surprised that the doorway has not been bricked up for safety reasons as something could easily come down upon you. However I was also a bit glad that we could still get inside to have a look.
The interior of the church is now a mess of fallen rafters and crumbling plaster. The roof is fifty percent gone and the rest probably wont be too far behind. It looked to be well lit building in its time with light streaming in from the large arched windows in the South wall and East gable. It seems a sad place now and quite desolate only echoing within its walls the sound of some birds in the bell tower.
We walked outside and my son went to investigate the sunken mausoleum at the rear of the graveyard which has steps leading down allowing you to walk around its perimeter. I remained standing outside the Church door and again I got that unsettling feeling especially as there came what sounded like footfalls on the debris in the Church interior coming closer towards the doorway behind me. I stood and waited for the arrival of whomever or whatever it was but no one came. The footfalls ceased and the atmosphere returned again to just the distant sound of the bell tower birds. Definitely a little eerie I might say.
Opposite the bell tower's West side among the ancient graves is a excellent stone grave slab standing about a metre high engraved with a simple framed Latin cross. It was a particularly interesting find in this somewhat foreboding location. I found the visit here very interesting and atmospheric especially with the additions of the medieval remnants. Apparently there is also a stone Knights foot part of an effigy from the medieval period somewhere in the graveyard but it unfortunately remains elusive at the moment.
To find the ruin take the M3 heading North and after junction 10 the motorway ends at a roundabout.
Take the third exit on this roundabout and then the first exit on the subsequent roundabout following the signs for the N52 to Dundalk. Drive straight through the next two roundabouts and then on the third take a left again following the N52 for Dundalk. Continue on this road for approx 12KM through Carlanstown and Staholmog until you reach a T-junction with the R162. Turn right here and bypass the immediate left turn for the N52 taking the next left turn about 200m ahead. This is Castletown Court. Drive for approx. 600m and you will come across a narrow lane way on you left adjacent to a bungalow with a conservatory. Turn up the lane way and drive carefully to the top where there is room to park at the entrance gate. The gate is unlocked so out of courtesy close it again when leaving.