Sunday, 14 November 2021

Loftus Hall Co Wexford


Above Image: The original entrance.

                         Above Image: Dunmore East in the distance from the grounds

                                              Above Image: Part of the gardens

                                               Above Image: The tapestry room

                                            Above Image: The great staircase

                            Above Image: Two great stone birds above the porch

                                                Above Image: Rear of the hall

I had the pleasure of visiting Loftus Hall a few years back when the house tours were in full swing and it's sad to see that it has been recently sold and that public access is for now at least not possible. Hopefully this will be temporary and it will be open to public viewing again in the future.The previous owner Aidan Quigley who bought the hall when it was falling slowly into ruin and then built it up into a popular attraction has to be commended for his enterprise. The new owner has not been made public but Aidan has said that he hopes the hall will go on to bigger and better things.

The history of the hall began when in 1350 when it replaced a castle built in 1170 by Raymond Les Gros who came to Ireland during the Norman invasion. The new building was named Redmond Hall after its new occupants and it remained so until the plantation when the hall and lands were granted to Dudley Loftus. It then became commonly known as Loftus hall. The house was renovated in the 1870's on the premise that a royal visit would ensue, but this never came to pass and the costs incurred bankrupted the estate leaving the house to fall into disrepair. It was bought by a Benedictine order in the early 20th century and subsequently in 1937 became a convent school for the Sisters of Providence. It spent a short period in the 1980s and 1990s being renovated and operated as a hotel before closing by century's end leaving it again blocked up and deteriorating.. 

Of course the noteriety of the hall which sits on the windblown Western side of the Hook peninsula is its haunting. On the tour we were regaled with tales of severed hands, the forlorn ghost of Anne Loftus and the very Devil himself. The origin of the haunting is said to have been born in 1766 and has a few variants on the tale the most oft told being the following: Apparently the inhabitants welcomed in a stranger on a stormy night and later over a game of cards found they had invited  not what seemed to be a lost soul but actually more like the goat of Mendes,(Satan to you and me). Anne Loftus on reaching down to pick up a dropped card saw the stranger's cloven hooves instead of feet and on letting out a shrill scream caused the stranger, his identity revealed, to exit the room through the roof in a ball of fire. Strangely this particular occurrence was mirrored in the Hellfire club in Dublin a number of years previously (see earlier post here).  Ann Loftus was so distressed by the event that her family, unable to console her or regain her calm, had to lock her away in a room where she eventually died a year later still distraught and in the grip of madness. It is her ghost that is said to haunt the hall as disturbances and unexplained events began to occur following her death.

The haunting and other strange occurrences were recorded over the years by the different orders of nuns in the early 20th century and later by subsequent owners. The hall's use as a hotel failed and even on our visit no one was allowed on the upper floors which were still in bad disrepair and as reported very badly haunted. We were shown the great staircase of a type that was one of three built to that the design the other two being in the Vatican and on the ill fated Titanic. We also were taken to the tapestry room where Anne ended her living days and whether it be by subtle suggestion or actual evocation this was indeed a very unsettling room which caused the peripherals of my eyesight a lot of distress during my time in there.

For now many of the windows still remain blocked up, paper is peeling from the walls inside and there is a general sense of inner distress in the house almost palpable in some sections. 

Paranormal investigations were allowed by the owners and indeed bore fruitful results. Loftus hall is without doubt haunted, be it by spirits or by tragedy. Regardless, its eerie stain will stay with you long after you have left its domain.

To find the hall take the R733 from Wellingtonbridge heading West and after approx. 8KM you will reach a crossroads with the R734. There is a large sign stating "Welcome to the Hook" and a road sign pointing left for Fethard. Turn left at the crossroads and follow the road until you enter Fethard, a pretty little seaside village.  About halfway up the main street take the right hand turn just after the pharmacy and continue on this road for approx 1.6KM until you see the sign for Loftus hall on your right. The entrance gate is flanked by pillars. Hopefully these directions will have purpose again soon and a visit can be made.

Sunday, 17 October 2021

Swords Castle Co Dublin


                                       Above Image: Exterior of constables tower

                                                     Above Image: The Church

                                      Above Image: Constables tower West side.

                                         Above Image: The curtain wall West side

                                                    Above Image: West tower

                                      Above Image: Curtain wall and West towers.

                                      Above Image: Knights & Squires apartments

                            Above Image: Constables tower South side and courtyard

                                          Above Image: The gatehouse entrance

Originating in the 13th century Swords Castle was established after the Norman invasion. A structure and gatehouse probably constructed of wood had been evident here in the 12th century. A stone church was built on the site during the 13th century and is thought to have been inhabited by Archbishop Comyn. Subsequent buildings were added to the group and it evolved into the Archbishop's palace. It remained so until 1324 when in some state of disrepair after being damaged by the campaign led by Edward the Bruce, the Archbishops moved to a new palace in Tallaght.  

The fine gatehouse, curtain walls with towers and the constables tower were added in the mid 1400's in a time of fortification that took place especially within the Pale due to ongoing attacks in the region.

The fortunes of the castle after this period are unclear but it seemed to have fallen into a ruinous state by the 19th century. It was bought by the Cobbe family in the 1870's and fell under the care of the OPW in 1930 until in 1976 Fingal Co. Council purchased the site in order to set about restoration but it took until 2012 for this to be realized and it was finally opened for public view in 2015.

The impressive curtain walls lend a sense of grandness to the group of structures dominating the South and East side.The entrance gate has two towers attached with spiral stairs within and on the opposite side of the courtyard is the constables tower. 

As you walk through the gate the building on the left was the chambers for knights and squires while the Archbishops apartments lie beyond the church on the right. The remains of the great hall are on the far right towards the North tower. The council have also installed wooden steps and galleries for viewing purposes. 

The castle has a dramatic impact upon the village of Swords and is well worth a visit in which you could also take in the nearby Sword's towers (see earlier post here).

The usual opening hours for the castle are as follows: 9.30am - 4.30pm daily except Mondays on which it is closed. Admission is free.

To find the castle take the junction 3 exit of the M1 motorway and at the top of the exit ramp take the first turn left onto the R125 signposted for Swords. Continue on this road straight through the next two roundabouts and again on the third thus joining the R836 for Swords. Continue straight through the village and you will see the gatehouse at the junction at the top of the road. Turn left here and a few metres down on the left you can park in the castle shopping centre car park.

Friday, 17 September 2021

Old Roadmain Church Co Meath


                                                  Above Image: Entrance gate.

                                               Above Image: West gable window

                                                   Above Image: The interior

                                               Above Image: East gable interior

                                              Above Image: East gable exterior.

There is some ambiguity regarding the origins of this little ruin. Roadmain was part of the townland parish of Cussingstown or Cushenstown as it is known today. The graveyard is called Crossmacole derived from Crossmacool. While the church itself does not appear on church listings there are a number of records to give some backround to determining its age.
On a civil survey made in 1656 there is no mention of a church in Roadmain or indeed Cushenstown. On the 1837 ordnance survey map the structure is described simply as "church" and as "church in ruins" on the 1888 version. But it appears that the church was indeed ruinous back as far as 1836 as a civil survey made then mentions it as so. That leaves the possible origin date as being after 1656 and before 1836. Strangely, this building does have a more medieval look about it so there is one more possibility and that is that this structure being comprised of a single cell was not a church but a chapel of ease. This chapel would have been a small local place of prayer for a community to which a church might be too far a distance to travel. If this was so, it may not have been included on church lists and it could in fact have existed long before 1656. The nearest churches to Roadmain would be the ruins at Piercetown, Kilmoon, Rathfeigh and Ardcath. You can check my previous visits to Rathfeigh (here) and Ardcath (here)..
The  Roadmain ruins lie in an old graveyard in which the original borders are basically defined by the older stones some of which I believe stretch back to the 1780's.The graveyard has been extended beyond these perimeters over many years. Access is easy by way of a pedestrian swing gate and the ruins are close by inside. The structure is unfortunately in a bad state of affairs. Ivy has encroached upon it and sections of it have collapsed especially around the North and South walls. The doorway appears to be in the South wall and there is a large window opening in the West wall. The East wall has a large gap which starts at ground level splitting the gable in two but it may originally have contained another window. The small interior floor is grass covered and contains a couple of gravestones. I've been inside some small church ruins before but this is certainly very small indeed. I can't imagine very many people fitting inside here so the idea of a chapel of ease at least in my mind begins to fit the bill. The ruins are basically featureless today but the interest lies in the origins of this little ruin and what function it served in the community back in its day.
To find the ruin take the N2 heading North from Ashbourne towards Slane. Drive for approx 6KM until you reach a right hand turn at Kilmoon Cross signposted for the R152 to Drogheda. Turn right onto this road and drive until you spot a small pub in Cushenstown on your right with the name P. Dowling. The graveyard is approx 250m past the pub on the right hand side. You can park at the roadside gate.

Sunday, 22 August 2021

Roodstown Castle Co Louth


                                      Above Image: South face and roadside gate

                                      Above Image: On approach from North East.

                                        Above Image: Wall walk and access doors.

                                    Above Image: First storey window in South wall

Motorways have almost killed your chances of seeing some of the historical sites in Ireland. You really have to take the alternate routes and the back roads to find the hidden gems. Roodstown is certainly one of those. A fine example of a medieval tower house whose walls remain sturdy and upright even after 500+ years and unless you are a local and know it's there you would probably never otherwise come across it.

The castle and its location puts in mind the type of structure built in the £10 castle scheme by Henry VI in 1430 to defend he pale. This scheme lasted a decade and produced quite a few tower houses  It could very well be so in this case that it was part of this scheme but it is a bit taller than usual and a bit more elaborate in its design. Termonfeckin castle, also in County Louth (see earlier post here) is quite similar and it is certainly recorded as being part of the scheme.

Local history associates Roodstown castle with the Taafe's, a well established and influential family in the area. The castle is dated to the 15th century and is very strategically placed near the rivers Dee and Glyde. The evolution of its name derives from the area known in the 14th century as Rotheston eventually becoming  Roodstown in the 19th century. The castle is noted to have been burnt in 1596 during a particularly bad time of a plague epidemic that broke out and spread especially throughout The Pale. Having been burnt out it may have begun its road to ruin at that time. A fine art print from 1784 depicts it basically as it is stands today. 

We were disappointed to find the roadside gate locked as it probably has been since the pandemic started but I would imagine there is a keyholder nearby. So when things eventually settle down we will return and investigate that. The castle apart from the vaulted ground floor is basically now a shell. It stands four storeys high with a gated and locked doorway on the Eastern wall. There is a murder hole just above the entrance on the inside.The tower features squared turrets two of which are projecting and a tantalizing wall walk. There is apparently a spiral stair in the South Eastern turret which one would expect leads to the said wall walk. This in itself would be worth the return visit.

Even from its roadside view this is a very commanding structure sited at a junction in roads and worthy of your time to seek out if in the area.

To find the ruins take exit 14 of the M1 motorway onto the N33 signposted for Ardee. About 250m along take the first turn right onto the L2226 for Stabannon and continue for approx 700m to the first turn left at the pub "The Cross Bar". Turn left up this road and drive for approx 1.8KM and you will spot the ruins on your right hand side. We parked at the wall of a house a few metres further on the left without blocking any entrance. 

Tuesday, 3 August 2021

Old St. Margaret's Church Co Dublin


                                                Above Image: Roadside gate

                                             Above Image: Graveyard entrance

                         Above Image & Below Image: Chantry chapel and its entrance

                          Above Image & Below Image: Mausoleum attached to chapel

                            Above Image: Separate mausoleum at Southern boundary

                                                 Above Image: Mausoleum door

                                             Above Image: Within the mausoleum

                                 Image Below: The East wall (with some rebuilding)

             Above Image & Below Image: The ivy covered remains of  North & West walls

                                                Above Image: Plan of the ruins

The remains of this medieval church lie in a walled enclosure in pastureland and are accessed by a roadside gate on the R122 at St. Margaret's, a small community in a pastoral location behind the runways of Dublin airport. A short lane winds from the road bypassing a work yard and a farm residence and leads to the pillared gates of the cemetery wall designed around the old ruins and opened in 1930. It took a few minutes to work out the layout of the ruins within but I think I finally figured them out.

What greets you initially are the walls of a chantry chapel built by Sir John Plunkett of Dunsoghly (1497-1582) who was Lord Chief Justice from 1559 until his demise in 1582. The chapel is attached to what was the South-Eastern side of the old church. Little remains now of the church itself bar a section of the East wall (which has had some later re-building) and partial remains of the South, West and North walls with the foundations of a tower at the Northwest corner. Sadly a lot of overgrowth is now present which almost disguises the presence of this section.

The church is thought to date from the 12th century and was built on the site of an earlier structure of which nothing remains today. It looks, judging by what foundations that are extant, to have been a sizeable structure. It would have served the local community along with its near neighbour Chapelmidway (see earlier post here) and is recorded to have fallen into ruin in the first half of the 17th century.

The graveyard is also the site of two large mausoleums. One is attached to the South-East corner of the chantry chapel and was built in the 19th century. It is distinctly seperate in design from the other adjacent ruins. A separate mausoleum stands isolated at the South of the graveyard opposite the chantry mausoleum. It was built in the 18th century for the Morgan family and is quite classical in design. It has an open doorway and it too like the chapel is roofless. 

The chantry chapel (a name given to a chapel funded by wealthy patrons) has all four walls standing to nearly full height and is the dominant feature in the graveyard. The entrance door is in the form of an archway with decorative stonework otherwise the exterior and interior are basically featureless.

The graveyard, a rather ancient looking site, is dotted with among others some Celtic cross markers, a table tomb and numerous guano covered indecipherable stones.It may still be in use as there is quite a lot of space left but I didn't spot any gravestones dated later than the 20th century. The grass is cut but there is some vegetation present on the mausoleums. Its close proximity to a farmyard yields the frequent honking of Geese but otherwise it is a very placid spot and is I believe due to be the subject of some conservation work in the near future.

To find the ruins take the junction 5 exit for Finglas from the M50 onto the N2. Once on the N2 drive approx 500m and take the exit left for Coldwinters. This leads to a T-junction where you turn right and drive 1.4KM to Kilshane Crossroads. Turn right here and drive to the next roundabout where you turn left onto the R122. Drive on for approx 1.2KM taking the second left hand turn signposted for the R122 to St Margaret's. At the T-junction at the bottom of this short road turn right and approx 30m along you will see a stone pillared metal gate on your left opposite a white bungalow and a farmyard to the right. You can park at the gate but be sure not to block the farmyard entrance.

Tuesday, 6 July 2021

Punchestown Longstone Co Kildare

                                           Above Image: Nearest access point

                              Above Image: The stone as seen from the track within the
                                                       racecourse grounds

County Kildare has a number of large standing stones and this is one of the tallest. Standing over 19 feet in height it is composed of granite and from its square base it tapers to up a wedge shape at its summit. It is positioned in a field that is now incorporated into the Punchestown racecourse.
The stone dates back to the Bronze Age which places it sometime between 500BC and 2000BC. These type of stones served several different purposes. Some were raised as waymarkers others for commemorations but this particular one is thought to mark an ancient burial site. This site was important enough to be referenced by Gerald of Wales in 1188 in his work "Topographia Hibernica" 
Prior to 1845 one of the Viscounts of Allen attempted to unearth the stone for transfer to his mansion gardens but a team of workers and horses only managed after extreme difficulty to leave it at a 60 degree angle and inevitably it succumbed to gravity falling completely over in 1931. It remained in a horizontal position until 1934 when it was finally re-erected upright. A discovery was also made of a stone lined burial cist beneath it confirming the stone's purpose. The cist however proved to be empty. 
When we visited it was a race day so we had no problem getting into the racecourse grounds. I'm not sure that there would be access at other times as the gate would be closed although the perimeter wall and fence are not high on the right hand side of the gate pillars.
The field in which the stone lies can be accessed from a narrow track that runs parallel to the main road outside and there are cows wandering around the field but we didn't spot any sign of a bull, so there was no problem getting up close to the stone. A small fence has been placed around the base probably as protection which slightly detracts from the overall view of the stone. There is also an OPW information sign. The longstone is slightly similar to it's sister stone "The Craddockstown West Stone" which stands in a farmer's crop field opposite the other Punchestown entry gate a short distance in a Westerly direction up the road. We visited this previously (see earlier post here).
Unlike the Craddockstown stone which leans at an angle this Longstone has been re-placed upright. Whether or not both were originally placed at a slight angle is still a bit of a mystery but nonetheless they are quite imposing features especially when you stand directly beneath them.
To find the Longstone take the R411 South from Naas until you reach a crossroads with the L2023 and a sign pointing towards Punchestown. Turn left here and drive for approx 800m past the first entrance to Punchestown racecourse on your right until you reach the second entrance. If the gate is open you can park inside, if not just park outside at the roadside. Once inside the gate walk straight on for approx 40m and you will see a track to your left. Follow the track and you will spot the stone in the field on your left. Just look for a gap in the hedge and you can access it over a low fence. I am not sure how private this land is but we saw no prohibitive signs on our visit.