A guide to the best and sometimes off the beaten track historical ruins around Ireland and how to get there.
Wednesday, 27 July 2011
The Hellfire Club Co Dublin
A prominent landmark, the Hellfire Club sits 1257 feet above sea level on the summit of Montpelier Hill in the Dublin mountains. It was built as a hunting lodge in 1725 by William Conolly or the "Speaker Conolly" as he was more commonly known.
The Lodge was constructed from the stones of a prehistoric Cairn or Passage Grave on which the building now sits. The desecration of the grave has led to speculation over the years that misfortune was bound to strike sooner or later. Indeed at one point the roof blew away in a severe storm and this was seen as the work of the Devil.. The roof was replaced with tar and again stones from the Cairn and it has remained intact to this day.
The Lodge got it's alternate name when it is said members of the Irish Hellfire Club held gambling meetings there during the period 1735 to 1741. Wild stories of debauchery, occult activity and even murder followed.
Then there is the oft told tale of the poker game that was interrupted by the arrival of a stranger who joined in the game. When one of the players beside him at the table stooped down to pick up a fallen card from the floor, he noticed the stranger had cloven hooves instead of feet! A fire broke out and the building was gutted inside. Today it remains but a shell of it's former glory.
We arrived at the base of Montpelier Hill early one evening parking in Kilakee car park. This park is open until 9pm April to September and 5pm October to March and thereafter you will have to park on the road outside. There are two routes up the hill to the summit. One is a long but not too steep tarmac track that winds gently up. The much quicker route route is directly up the hill on a hiker's track through the forest. It is a bit steep but you'll be at the top in about 15 minutes.
The Lodge was built in the Palladian design with steps leading to the entrance on the upper floor where there was a hall and two reception rooms. The lower floor housed the kitchen and the servants quarters. The outside stairs is now missing so you enter the ruin by the lower door which is like entering a cave.Within the Lodge it is dim and musty. All the rooms can be accessed up and down as the OPW have added metal stairs.
Some rooms have the remains of fireplaces within. There is an eerie atmosphere about the place, no doubt aided and abetted by the stories over the years. It has been of late the location for some anti-social activity and some say occult gatherings, but this aside we definitely felt uneasy while there. The room at the back on the lower floor with the odd shaped window was the strangest one of all...
Outside, there are fine views over Dublin and just beside the ruin there is a stone mounting block which was once used by hunters at the lodge to aid riders to mount their steeds for the hunt. At the rear of the Lodge you can still see part of the shape of the Cairn as the grassy hill drops about 18 inches.
The Hellfire Club is a must to visit. Whenever we have been there, there has been a few people around, Hikers or sometimes families; a place to scare the kids no doubt!
You can access the Lodge by taking the R115 from the Yellow House Pub in Rathfarnham towards Kilakee. Go straight through the roundabout at Taylor's Lane and take the first turn right onto Scholarstown Rd. A few yards up, turn left onto Stocking Lane and continue until you pass the old Kilakee House. The car park is on the right a little further.
Tuesday, 26 July 2011
Old Athlumney Church Co Meath
The ruins of Old Athlumney Church stand in the centre of a very well groomed Cemetery. The Church was built in the 13th century on a Barony granted by Hugh De Lacy. It is rectangular in shape and has a double bell cote indicative of the time.The graveyard is still in use today and the oldest stone dates from 1709,
We visited on the same day as we saw Athlumney Castle just up the road and were prepared to scale a rather awkward stile in the surrounding wall when an elderly gentleman passing informed us that the gate was in fact unlocked. We are so used to having to find the hard way into places that sometimes we overlook the obvious!
The same gentleman professed that he was not in fact a local as he had only lived in the area for 40 years! He related some of the history and pointed out an unusual grave slab that bore a skull & Crossbones. He thought that it might be associated with freemasonry as this symbol was often used to denote a master mason.
The Church ruin itself is small and mostly ivy covered but it worth a look as it is situated in a very historical area of the country. The informative plate on the entrance wall indicates that there is a ritual unique to this graveyard where the casket of the deceased is laid on a "Chevers-Coff" and the De Profundis is said before internment.
To find Athlumney Church take the N51 from Navan towards Kentstown. Take the first right turn onto Convent rd and you will find the Church on your right. You can park in the Athlumney Castle housing estate just up the road behind the Castle. Convent Road operates a one-way system, so on leaving you will need to rejoin the N51 at the other end.
Sunday, 24 July 2011
Athlumney Castle Co Meath
Athlumney Castle was first occupied by the Dowdall family. It originally consisted of a 15th century four story Tower house. Later in the 1630's a large mullion windowed strong house was added. The house was now occupied by the Maguires who in 1649 set fire to the building rather than surrender it to Cromwell's forces who were scouring the area razing all in their path to the ground. The Castle was again set alight around the time of the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 and has remained a ruin since.
Athlumney is a striking edifice which is bordered on it's eastern side by a new housing estate. Indeed one of the selling points for the estate was that you would have a fine view of a huge ruin now under renovation. The western side is bordered by the narrow Convent Rd. The renovation, according to one local, has been going on and off for 40 years and shows no sign of completion. Under normal circumstances a key is available from the nearby Convent School for a nominal fee, but the Castle at the moment remains locked as there is a lot of scaffolding about and health and safety comes first. We spent a good while there as you can walk around the entire perimeter, although it is a shame the gates are not open. Nonetheless it is a worthwhile visit.
Athlumney is situated on the East Bank of the Boyne River and to find it take the M3 from Dublin to Cavan. Exit at junction 7 and follow the signs for Navan. At Navan take a right turn onto Athlumney Rd towards Kentstown This is the R153. Take the first turn right onto Convent Rd which is a narrow road with a one way system., so you will have to exit from it's other end when leaving. You can park near a green area in the Athlumney Castle housing estate just adjacent to the Castle and have a good walk around. Just down from the Castle their is also an ancient Church ruin to visit.(see post here)
Friday, 22 July 2011
King John's Bridge Co Dublin
Situated on the Griffeen River in Lucan Co Dublin not far from the ruins of Old Esker Church, this small but significant arched Bridge is all that remains of a once three arched structure that is attributed to King John.
This infamous King of England had a penchant for Bridge building and this Bridge is believed to have been constructed during his reign of 1199 to 1216, thus making it the oldest standing bridge in Ireland. The Bridge had fallen into disuse by 1816 and although now in a ruinous state, it's arch still stands solidly across the narrow River.
If you are in the area it is well worth a look and a short hike through the Riverside vegetation will allow you with due care to stand upon the arch. It can be viewed from the Esker Bridge on Lynche's Lane looking South east and is accessible through the public park.
To find the Bridge Leave the N4 Westbound at junction 3 onto Ballyowen Rd. Turn on the first right onto Bewleys Lawn and at a roundabout take a right turn onto Esker Lane. Continue on until you find a right hand turn for Lynche's Lane. You can park on the road at Old Esker Church nearby (see post here) and it is just a 3 minute walk to the Bridge.
Tuesday, 19 July 2011
Old Tully Church & Crosses Co Dublin
Chimney on Carrickgollogan Hill in the background
Old Tully Church lies abandoned in a now overgrown patch of land in the old Town land of Lehaunestown. It is reputed to be dedicated to St. Bridget, which would date the original structure between the 6th and 9th centuries. The Nave itself dates back to the 13th century. In 1179 the Church was granted to The Priory of The Holy Spirit and remained in use until the mid 1600's when it subsequently fell into ruin.
We visited Tully on a dry evening. We would not recommend visiting after rainfall as the area is quite overgrown.We found the site of the Church quite a way down a narrow lane and managed to park the car at the gate leaving enough room for other drivers to pass. You can access the site over a very solidly built stone stile in the wall. The grass within is quite long, especially around the headstones and there appears to be loose rocks lurking in the undergrowth, so step carefully. Once you reach the ruin you can walk inside or around it quite easily.
The chancel, now open to the skies, has an entrance arch which has survived time in incredibly good condition and the Church has been designed in usual fashion of the time. It remains a very peaceful spot considering the fact that it is not too far from the sprawling suburbs and motorway.
A little way down the road as you approach the Church you will see one of the two High Crosses that make this site so unique. The cross by the roadside is set upon a plinth and is dedicated to James Crehan who apparently saved the Cross from being discarded when the level of the road was being adjusted in the late 1800's. The plinth replicates the soil removed leaving the Cross standing at it's original height. There are a set of worn steps on one side of the plinth which allows you to climb up and view the Cross closely.
There is a second Cross in the field opposite Tully Church and this can be accessed via a low wooden fence. This Cross dates from the 12th century and is also reputed to be dedicated to St Bridget. It is now quite weather worn and incomplete on one side, but yet still it stands.
To find Tully Church & Crosses, leave the M50 motorway Southbound at junction 15. Follow the sign for Cabinteely and you will come to a small roundabout. Take the 1st left exit and continue on till you reach a set of traffic lights. Turn right. This is Brennanstown Rd. Continue on until you have turned a sharp left bend and then look for Lehaunstown Lane on your right. The Church can be found on your left hand side about a half mile down the lane. Please note that if driving and you need to turn your car around, be aware that this lane is very narrow and there are a number of concealed ditches to the sides which could leave you stuck very badly....We speak from experience!
Sunday, 17 July 2011
Old Rathmichael Church Co Dublin
Old Rathmichael Church stands in ruin in the old Barony of Uppercross in South County Dublin. The Church originally dates from Norman times but some of it's surroundings are from a much earlier time.It is situated within the boundaries of a huge ancient Ring Fort and the stump of the round tower in the grounds dates back to at least the 9th century. This Tower was reduced to it's present size at the time of the purge of local architecture in the 1400's.The Tower became known as "The Skull Hole" when it was used to hold skulls and bones from the adjacent graveyard when more burial space was required. Legend has it that there is a vast tunnel underneath this tower that leads down from Rathmichael towards the coast. Sou terrains have been discovered at the site, so there may be an element of truth here.
The Church itself consisted of a 12th century Nave and a 13th century Chancel. It was regularly in use until it fell into ruin in the 1600's. It is believed to be named after Bishop McTail of Kilcullen who was greatly regarded and the name over time changed to Michael.
The East gable is the most prominent remains and there are quite a few unique grave slabs attached to the walls which were original grave markers of Christians from the Viking era. No two are the same.
We discovered the Church ruins while we were scouting the area. It seems to us that nearly every road or lane leading off Ballycorus road leads to something. The ruins lie at the bottom of a very narrow country lane, so We parked the car on the main road and walked up the lane. At the top is a large white gate on the right which has all the usual threatening signs of death to anyone entering here. But to it's left is a smaller gate which is unlocked. We entered and closed the gate after us. There appears to be one or two houses off the lane, but the track seems to be a right of way. About 50 yards up this rather bucolic track We found the entrance to Rathmichael on our right. There wasn't as they say a sinner about.
There is not a lot of the Church remaining but what does is worth a look over. The grave slabs attached now to the ruined walls are amazing. There is a great sense of peace in this spot. Adjacent is the stump of the Round Tower. You can climb up on this but there is little to see inside except some items left by visitors as providence of their visit. Being so off the beaten track there is no evidence of any anti-social gatherings or graffiti as we have found in some places, so all in all it remains in good order, apart from the grass which is being allowed to grow wild. A site such as this should really be maintained regularly.
To find Rathmichael ruins take the Ballycorus Road from Kilternan and when you have passed Puck's Castle Lane , look for a narrow lane way on your right with a Cul-De-Sac sign. Find a safe place to park. There is a Small road just between Puck's castle Lane and the Cul-De Sac that will do, or you can drive up the narrow lane way where at the white gate you could possibly tuck the car in against the hedgerows. As mentioned there are a couple of residents who use the lane way so it's best not to impede their way. This is one site well worth your time.
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