Wednesday, 12 January 2022

Haynestown Castle Co Louth


                                       Above 2 Images: Northwest corner turret

                                            Above Image: West and South walls

                              Above Image: West doorway blocked up behind bushes

                                               Above Image: St. Paul's Church

An impressive ruin on a country road in Haynestown Co. Louth, this more unusual looking castle is believed to date to the 16th century. It stands three storeys high with its main entrance now blocked up and situated on the ground level of the West side. A secondary entrance is also blocked up on the East side. Its main feature are the four large circular corner turrets two of which seem somewhat larger than the others and are on the West side. The original owners of the castle remain unknown and believe me I did my best to find out who they were but to no avail. The castle still appeared to be in use in 1784 as an antique print I came across depicts it with a wooden door and also a set of steps in the West side of the Northwest turret leading to a turret door. The turrets on the Northwest and Northeast appear on the print to be shown as degrading at that point so it may be a case of a slow decline into ruination over subsequent years. The 1837 Ordnance Survey map states that it is definitely in ruin by that time. Lewis's Topographical Dictionary of the same year describes the Castle details perfectly under the slightly different townland name of Heynestown but lists the name as Dunmahon Castle which in fact has squared turrets not circular and is a short distance away on private land near Gibstown.

Overgrown vegetation seems to have been the castle's worst enemy in latter years and although cleaned away previously it now appears to be gaining hold again. The turrets all appear to have lost some height over the centuries. I noted on our visit that this castle which contains a spiral stairs within would be a really good project for renovation, at least to the standard of unblocking the entrance, placing gravel ground inside and giving public access to see the interior and perhaps climb to the top of what is left of the Southeast turret. 

The castle is adjacent to a Church of Ireland church built in 1803 and renamed from St. Nicholas' to St. Paul's when it was renovated in 1827. The location of both castle and church are on a small country road which was almost devoid of any passing traffic, at least while we were there. I attempted to navigate the base of the castle but was thwarted by the ever growing bushes. It still surprises me how many castle ruins are secreted away on country lanes but this one is worth seeking out and perhaps a further clean up may expose more of its features,

To find the ruins take the junction 16 exit of the M1 motorway and take the exit for the N52 to Dundalk off the roundabout. Drive for approx 220m and take the first left turn onto the L7165. Get into the right hand lane and turn right at the T-junction. This is a small loop road that takes you back onto the N52 so that you can access the next road you need which is across the dual carriageway. Turn right back onto the N52 and then a few metres further on turn left onto the continuation of the L7165 signposted for Haynestown. Drive approx 400m until you cross a small bridge over the rail line and turn right at the T- junction beyond it. Continue on for another 500m and straight through the crossroads. The castle and church are approx 320m along on your left hand side. There is ample room to park outside the church.

Tuesday, 21 December 2021

St. Mary's Priory Co Louth


                                     Above Image: Lane way from the roadside
                                                   Above Image: Entrance gate

                                             Above Image: South wall arches

                                         Above Image: South wall entrance door

                                           Above Image: East gable inner view

                                          Above Image: Steps to basement door

                                           Above Image: West gable inner view

                                     Above Image: Sunken oratory or mausoleum.

                                Above Image: Stone remnant with raised head figures

                                               Above Image: St Mochta's house

St. Mochta, a disciple of St. Patrick is said to have founded a monastic site here in the early 6th century in what is now the Northern end of the village of Louth. No remnants remain of this early site which was frequently attacked over subsequent centuries nor indeed of the monastery built by the Augustinians in the 1130's which was destroyed by fire in 1166. The present ruins are likely to have been built in the early 13th century and remained in use until the priory was suppressed in the late 1530's. The building and lands were then passed to the Protestant Church of Ireland in the wake of King Henry's formation of the Church of England. During the confederate wars in the years following 1641 the priory was badly damaged and subsequently fell into ruin.
The village of Louth contains a number of historical sites and this priory in particular is very easily accessible. A gravel and grass lane leads up from the roadside to the gates of the graveyard that forms the area to the priory's Southern side.
The priory itself is a long rectangular building stretching impressively over 140 feet in length of which the inner floor is around a metre lower than the outside graveyard. This means you have to drop down if you wish to have a look at the interior which contains further graves interred there as it is deemed consecrated ground. Being an Augustinian priory there may originally have been a tower in the centre area between the Nave and the Chancel but nothing remains extant today. The East gable has an arched window partially bricked up with what appears to be a small bell aperture above it. while a single arched window is the only feature present in the West gable. The Eastern end of the South wall sports a number of fine arches while on the West end of the South wall a small set of stone steps lead down to basement chamber which naturally of course is gated off. I certainly would like to have investigated that further.
On the East side of the graveyard a small vaulted and somewhat sunken building, perhaps an oratory or  mausoleum lies partially overgrown.
The ruins and graveyard were empty of other visitors during our time there so we had an uninterrupted  look around at our own pace. 
The Northern wall of the priory looks out onto farmland and is not accessible by the public from that side. This wall is virtually featureless unlike its Southern counterpart.
In the field adjacent to the West gable on the farmland mentioned, is a small vaulted structure standing alone and appearing somewhat akin to the oratory of St Columb's in Kells, Co Meath.(see earlier post here) A renovation took place in the 1930's on this structure which resulted in it being dated to around the late 12th century. In medieval times it was common for the relics of Saints to basically go on a grand tour and it is recorded that the relics of St. Mochta travelled from Rome to St. Mary's priory around that particular time leading to speculation that the small vaulted chamber was built to contain and display the relics during their visit.
This is a very interesting historical site and is well served by information boards on the lane leading to its entrance. It is worth consulting the information on display which can lead you to enhance the visit with some other nearby historical places.
To find the ruins take the R171 heading North from Ardee signposted for Tallanstown. When you reach the crossroads in Tallanstown village turn right at the Louth Arms pub. Drive for approx 5KM until you reach Louth village and take the left hand turn just past the Louth village playground which is situated on your right hand side. Drive down the main street until you reach a small manicured grass area where the road forks. Continue a few yards around the left fork and you can park at McCooey's pub. The lane leading to the ruins is just opposite.

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.