Sunday, 20 June 2021

Blackhall Area Castle Co Kildare


                                          Above Image: Field gate (at centre-left)

                                             Above Image: part of the South wall 

                              Above Image: Shrouded remains of South & West walls

                                    Above Image: Castle among farm out-buildings

We were heading across the backroads from Blessington to Naas when I thought I spotted something in the corner of my eye. It looked suspiciously like a ruin partly hidden by some abandoned farm outbuildings. We pulled over and walked back down the deserted road and found a field gate fixed solidly to the ground by vegetation but easy enough to climb over. We were conscious that this was probably somebody's land but there were no prohibitive signs and certainly nobody about so we ventured on to have a closer look. What we found was sadly a very decrepit ruin of what appeared to be a tower house and not one of great distinction by the look of it. Only two walls remained on its Southern and Western sides but the base of the West wall sloped out in what I believe they call a talus or batter. Certainly unusual for such a small and abandoned castle. It had been incorporated, as have many a rural ruin, into some farm buildings, sheds and such. The upper third or so of the tower is no longer extant and the ivy has encroached badly upon it leaving it an odd and spidery look. Truthfully I don't think that the remains are going to be visible for a lot longer as this type of overgrowth is apt to crumble whats left like a boa constrictor.

The wi-fi was not great at that spot but when I finally did get a chance to do some research a little later I discovered the site listed on an 1837 ordnance survey map as the ruins of Blackhall castle (not to be confused with the castle of the same name in Calverstown Co Kildare. See earlier post here) This castle was named after the townland in which it is located and from what I can gather it was associated with the Fitzgeralds who held land here back as far as the Norman invasion when Maurice Fitzgerald initially took possession in 1172. Blackhall castle was more than likely built as one of the £10 castles that dotted along the pale in order to defend it. This would put its age as possibly early 15th century and around the reign of Henry VI. The castle was badly damaged in 1642 by crown forces fighting the rebels (which included the Fitzgeralds) during the confederate war but it is thought to have been reconstructed to some degree a few years later and then inhabited by Anthony Sherlock around 1659. He also came from a Norman family who settled after the invasion and the area known as Sherlockstown not far from Naas is most likely named after his forebears The castle was replaced as a dwelling house in time by a mansion built around the early 1700's and one would imagine that Blackhall started on its road to ruin around then. 

It was a short visit and soon we were back on the road again, but it saddens me a little to see history slowly going to ground in such a way as Blackhall.

This one is only for die-hards to visit! To find the ruins follow this route. From the main street in Blessington opposite St. Joseph's Hall take the R410 signposted for Naas (halfway along this road at Glending there is a shortcut up a very narrow boreen which I would not recommend unless you have a decent off road vehicle. Believe me I found out the hard way) Instead follow the road R410 for approx 5KM until you reach a T-junction with the L2021 where the R410 continues to the left. Drive another 200m and then take the first left hand turn onto a narrow road. Follow this road for approx 2KM until you reach a fork in the road. Take the right hand road and continue for approx 300m until you reach a small crossroads just after a little bungalow. Turn right and drive for approx 600 m until you see the abandoned farm buildings on your left. The field gate is at this spot. It is advisable to park a few metres on up the road where it is a  little wider.

Tuesday, 8 June 2021

Swords Towers Co Dublin

                                                 Above Image: Entrance gate

                                                 Above Image: The round tower

                                       Above Image: The 14th century church tower

These ancient towers stand close to each other in the grounds of St. Columba's Anglican church in Swords, Co. Dublin. The present church is more recent having been built in the early 1800's.
A monastery was founded here in 560AD by St. Colmcille and it thrived initially but fell victim to many attacks over the centuries either by raiding Irish clans or subsequently by the Vikings. Nothing is extant here today of that monastery apart from the 9th or possibly 10th century round tower which would have been constructed as a refuge and safekeeping place against marauders. It stands over 80 feet high and about 16 feet in diameter. The original doorway is now almost at ground level but would have been a few metres higher when it was constructed.The last few metres at the top just below the cone were reconstructed at a much later time and a cross was placed on top.
The square tower standing beside the round tower is the belfry tower from the 14th century church that once stood here. The church nave and chancel fell into ruin long ago most likely after the suppression of the mid 16th century and the remains were still visible until the building of the new church took place in the early 19th century. They were subsequently demolished leaving only the bell tower. A clock was also later added to the East face of the belfry.
Both towers today stand imposingly side by side among the trees and they are somewhat awkward to get a good photograph of together in the one shot, especially when the sun is higher causing them to  silhouette against the sky. But a little time and patience wins out in the end.
Access to the grounds is simple enough with a pedestrian gate to the left of the main entrance gates that is unlocked whether the main gates are locked or not. Unfortunately the interiors to the towers at the moment remain closed.
To find the towers take the junction 3 exit off the M1 motorway and at the top of the exit ramp take the first exit left onto the R125 signposted for Swords. Continue along this road going straight through the next two roundabouts and again on the third joining the R836 for Swords. Continue into the town until you see the Lord Mayor pub on your left. Take the next left turn onto Church Road and follow it up until you see the Anglican church grounds on your left hand side. Parking on this road is reserved but if you follow the narrow road down to its end you will find parking there.

©  G Hill 2021

Monday, 17 May 2021

Minard Castle Co Kerry


                                                 Above Image: Entrance point

                                        Above Image: Part of a mural passageway

                                 Above Image & Below Image: Photos taken in 1991

Minard castle is certainly one of the most scenically placed fortresses in Ireland. It stands on a high promontory overlooking Kilmurry bay with the stunning acres point to its east and the distant Iveragh peninsula to the South.

The castle is believed to have been built by the Fitzgerald's in the 15th century It is thought that it originally stood three or possibly four storeys high but tragically in 1650 during the Cromwellian invasion of Ireland and while it was garrisoned by Walter Hussey of Dingle, it fell siege to the cannons of English Colonels Sadler and Lehunt. Hussey's men held firm despite the few weapons available to them but the cannons could not bring down the castle. Finally a huge amount of explosives were ignited below the walls and seriously damaged Minard killing all within. The very unstable look of the base of the ruins today attests to this assault. The remains though have stood the test of time, weather beaten by the Atlantic storms from the Southwest that batter the storm bay below. 

A barely visible track leads up the raised ground from the location of the information notice just off the approach road. About halfway up a small wire fence holds a rudimentary notice warning of the unstable ruins but is easily stepped over. Care of course should be given but I think the danger of slipping on wet grass is a more likely endangerment here.

The entrance is on what remains of the West face which overlooks the bay and a short passage brings you to the interior. Not much is left but it is interesting to see the layout of former floors and parts of some mural corridors that the castle one sported. They certainly blew this place to smithereens.

Incidentally, the castle made a brief appearance in the 1970 David Lean film "Ryan's Daughter" where Rosie has her first meeting with Major Doryan.

It really surprises me that these ruins have remained extant for so long given the location. Some of the more recent and damaging storms have destroyed ruins much further inland, for example, Coolbanagher Castle in Co. Laois which suffered great damage in 2014 so much so that the council demolished the remaining ruins as they were deemed too unsafe. 

Minard is a testament to its builders and I hope it remains a sentinel over the bay for many years to come. 

To find the ruins take the N86 heading West from Annascaul toward Annalack and about 500m out of Annascaul take the left hand turn signposted for the R561 to Castlemaine..Drive for 400m then take a right hand turn onto a narrow road and continue for approx 4KM. You will clearly see the ruins on your left upon approach. There is a small car parking area at Minard beach about 100m before the castle.

Wednesday, 5 May 2021

Ballitore Mill Co Kildare


                                            Above Image: View from the R747

                                           Above Image: South facing main block

                                         Above Image: Western six storey tower

                            Above Image: East facing block and adjoining buildings

                                    Above Image: River Griese and old entry gate

This ruin on the outskirts of Ballitore in Co. Kildare poses a striking presence on its surroundings. Ballitore translates from original Gaelic to "Town of the Marsh".

The ruins are the remains of a once productive flour mill founded in 1834 by George Shackleton (1785-1871) who was the grand uncle of Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton.

The Shackleton's were part of the local Quaker community that began with the founding of the village of Ballitore by Quakers from Yorkshire. The first two immigrants John Bancroft and Abel Strettel began farming the area in 1685.

The Shackleton mill was a huge building composed of rubble stone with four storeys and a six storey section on the West end that looks to all intents and purposes like a medieval castle tower. The building was designed with specifically designed wall openings that aided in the proper air circulation needed to keep the stored flour dry. According to a local Historian the mill ran productively for nearly forty years until its closure in 1873 when production moved to the Anna Liffey mills near Lucan in Dublin. This mill ran until 1998 and the modern Shackleton mill is now located in  Ashbourne Co. Meath.

The Ballitore mill is now without a roof and in ruin with its East wall destroyed. The ancillary buildings  that ran alongside the river have also partly collapsed. There is a small iron gate beside the river that was an access point but it is now signposted, as is the main building, with prohibitive signs warning of falling masonry. Regardless it is still possible to get quite close to parts of the structure without endangerment.

This great hulk now slowly crumbles beside the River Griese which is a pity as it represents a time in Irish history when industrialization was in its infancy especially in the rural countryside and if funded it could have been at least partially restored and along with the interesting Quaker museum in the village provided an enhanced experience for the visitor.

It might not strike one as being a particularly beautiful building but it is nonetheless aesthetically pleasing in some ways.Thanks go to Pauline Fagan the librarian in the museum for her kind assistance on some aspects of this post. The museum if you would like to visit after seeing the ruins is in the main street and is open Weds-Sat 10am-1pm, 2pm-5pm except Thurs which the hours are 12.30pm-4pm, 4.45pm-8pm. Free to visit.

To find the ruin take the M9 motorway and exit at junction 3. At the roundabout at the top take the exit onto the R747 following the sign for Ballitore. Drive for approx 2.25KM until you reach a T-junction with the R448. Turn left at the junction and drive until you reach the first left hand turn signposted for the L8035 to Ballitore. Turn left onto this road and when you reach a small crossroads a few metres on turn left again (Timolin Terrace) Drive for approx 250m and take the fist right turn onto a narrow road (Fuller's Court Rd) and you will see the ruins about 200m ahead on the left. You can park at the area outside the building itself.

Saturday, 24 April 2021

Site Of Tymon Castle Co Dublin

                    Above Image: Late 18th print of the castle and lane running alongside
                                           Courtesy of Antiqueprints.

                                                Above Image: Old Tymon Lane

                        Above Image & 2 Images Below: The mound & stone remnants.

                                                 Above Image: Site of the ruin.

                                        Above Image: Guide map © Google maps

This has to be the least visible castle ruin I have come across. It saddens me a little as the castle was fairly local to me and I would have loved to see it but it was demolished in the year I was born! 
Tymon castle across the centuries has also been known as Timonthan and Timmond and is generally thought to have been constructed during the reign of King John (1199-1216) It was not a remarkably large structure but it was built on a very defensive spot upon an elevated ridge giving it a wide view of the surrounds. This type of castle interestingly also fits the brief of the 15th century £10 castles which were constructed along the pale by order of the crown to protect the pale from the warring Irish tribes who frequently assailed it. So there is every possibility that it may have been constructed at that time instead. It was situated on a ridge along a very old road called Tymon Lane which still exists today and is now incorporated into the public park which opened in 1986. 
The castle was a two storey structure with vaulted ceilings and a level roof. The doorway was protected overhead by a machicolation designed to rain down rocks or burning objects upon unwelcome visitors. The castle also sported a projection from its wall in which were positioned a set of stairs. Its initial owners remain unknown but the castle was certainly in a ruinous state by 1547 and the lands at Tymon were sold by the crown to James Sedgrave in 1552. Subsequently they were acquired  in 116 by Adam Loftus, a nephew of Archbishop Loftus, The only other mention of the castle was that it had some repairs made in the 1770's and was inhabited for a time by a destitute family who stayed within its walls for a number of years.
During the 20th century the ruins were further diminished and surrounded by meadows. It was a popular spot for people to picnic beneath its ageing walls and there was also the existence of a Fairy well nearby which also drew many visitors.
In 1960 the ruins were deemed dangerous and rather than strengthen and preserve they were demolished taking a well known landmark into memory.
I decided to have a look along Tymon lane and drew upon an old ordnance survey map for the general location. As you walk along the narrow lane with its arch of trees it almost seems like a step back in time. I would imagine that the park was landscaped in 1986 and trees planted but somehow it seems like a lot of greenery here is quite old and indeed a print from the late 18th century does depict trees. The castle ruins stood above the lane and this ridge is still somewhat in evidence as you turn a sharp left bend. On the left hand side the ground goes upward through the vegetation and you just have to find a gap to gain access. We found a likely entry point half way between the sharp left bend and the sharp right bend a few metres on. All we could find among the trees and bushes were several large blocks and stones half buried in the earth which may be remnants of the demolished ruins. Sad to say that these may be all that remains. We also managed to find the site on top of the mound which is now leveled and in use by the park authorities.
I'm sure there are many local people still living who remember the ruins and how the site was affected by the opening of the park, so if anyone can contribute any info it would be gratefully accepted.
To find the ruin site enter Tymon park from the entrance halfway down Castletymon Road and park in the car park to the left of the inner roundabout. Then on foot walk back to the roundabout and follow the road from the left of the roundabout towards the ranger station. Two lanes lead off to the right, the first at the playground and the second at the ranger station. Take the second lane which is the old Tymon lane and follow it down around 250m until it turns sharply left. Between here and the sharp right turn a few metres on is the ridge on your left. As stated enter through a break in the bushes and the ground leads up to the old site.

Wednesday, 17 March 2021

Old Ardcath Church Co Meath

                                                 Above Image: Entrance gate

                                     Above Image & Below Image: Bell & Bell chain

                                            Above Image: Exterior of North door

                                              Above Image: Interior of South door

                                        Above Image: East gable and Chancel area

                                                     Above Image: Choir arch

                                             Above Image: West gable & Nave

                                               Above Image: Sacristy doorway

                                               Above Image: East gable exterior

 Ardcath Hill was the standing point for the Fianna in Irish lore before they went into battle with the Kings of Ireland who gathered on Garristown Hill in adjacent County Dublin. The name Ardcath translates to "Hill/Height of the battle"
This large church ruin has been recorded as having been built in the early 14th century and quite a sizable portion still remains extant to this day. The church was originally dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary and was in use as a Catholic church until the suppression in the mid 16th century. It subsequently was adopted by the Church of Ireland community until it became ruinous in the early 1600's and was laid open thereafter to the elements.
Access to the ruins is by way of a roadside pedestrian gate and they are perched upon elevated ground. The long nave and chancel within are divided by a choir arch and the church has two open doorways, one in the North wall and another in the South which face each other. A now non-extant sacristy was led to through another (fenced off) Southern door within the chancel. 
A huge arched window is situated in the Eastern gable which would have been just above the altar. The light in the chancel area through this and along with several large adjacent side windows must have been exceptional. The chancel area beyond the choir arch has not weathered as well as the nave. Tree branches have encroached upon the area and we had to wind our way through them.The walls in the chancel appear to be crumbling on top. The decorative framing within the large window arch is looking in danger of also falling away.
In the West gable a window has been blocked up and above it an arched aperture serves as a belfry. The bell that still remains has been dated back to at least the early 16th century and we found on the exterior gable wall a chain suspended from the bell for the purpose I believe to be rung when someone has passed in the community.
The ruins are fairly similar to other church ruins of it's size that we have come across but the existence of the church choir arch and more than normal amount of windows make it a worthwhile visit. You can also tie in a visit to nearby Garristown church ruin on the same trip. (see earlier post here)
To find the ruins take the N2 heading North from the roundabout at the Pilo Hotel at Ashbourne and drive for approx 6KM until you reach a right hand turn onto the R152 signposted for Drogheda. Turn right here and follow the road for approx 700m and then take again take a right turn that is signposted for Garristown. Continue for approx 2.5KM along this road until you reach a T-junction with a stone bungalow with an arched door opposite. Turn left and approx 200m later the road makes a sharp right turn. Continue on for approx 1.5KM until you reach a crossroads. Turn left following the sign for Ardcath. Drive into the village and as you pass Bennett's Bar and Lounge on your right take the immediate left hand turn.thereafter and you will spot the ruin on your left. We parked against a wall opposite the entry stile as the road is quite narrow.

Sunday, 28 February 2021

The Well Of The White Cow Co Meath


                                           Above Image: Roadside entrance gate

                                       Above & Below Images: The Well entrance

                                                 Above Image: The Well water

                                                   Above Image: The Rag tree


Holy wells...the mere name suggests a sense of something old and unusual and while I would not normally seek them out I have come across a few on our travels and they have somehow weaved their way into my circle of interest so I will always divert to take a look at one if possible.
This particular well is one of maybe half a dozen recorded in the area surrounding Tara in Co Meath. Most but not all are now non-extant having been covered over or absorbed into the local drainage system but The Well of the White Cow has been saved from ruination and restored for public access. 
The name given to it is one of several monikers including "Cormac's Well", The Well of the Dark Eye","The Physicians Well" among others and more recently "Saint Patrick's Well". I much prefer the White Cow title myself.
The well has been a local feature for many centuries and at one time was a supplier of water for the nearby village. It's origin date is unknown but many wells can stretch back far beyond early medieval times. St. Patrick whose name is also given to the well lit the paschal fire on nearby Slane in 433AD and as it is also named after him maybe it was in existence at that time. What is commonly known is that it's period of use ended sometime around 1800 and that in the early part of the 21st century was situated within the bounds of private farmland.
In 2002 according to a signpost at the site, the then landowner Mr Dinny Donnelly permitted a local group called The Friends of Tara and also "Slaine" the society for well restoration to restore the well with the aid of a council grant and a public fundraiser. Public access was granted and a roadside gate and pathway were installed after completion.
The well sits now within a small subterranean chamber surrounded by stonework and a metal entrance gate giving it the look of the entrance to a small Neolithic burial chamber. It has frequent visitors evident by the little tokens people leave behind and also by the rag tree to which people attach ribbons and such.
This a very peaceful and bucolic site and indeed Tara itself is well worth a visit if you find yourself in the area.
To find the well take the M3 motorway and exit at junction 7. Take the R147 South from the roundabout signposted for Skryne. Drive for approx 1KM until you see a right hand turn for the L6200 for Tara. Turn right here and drive the length of the road until you reach a T-junction with the Tara car park opposite. Turn left and continue for approx 180m past Maguire's Cafe which is on your right hand side and you will find the well entrance. I would suggest parking at the car park at Maguire's and take the short walk down to the well gate which is also on your right hand side as the road is a little narrow for parking outside..
Don't forget to try the tea and cream scones at the cafe!