A guide to the best and sometimes off the beaten track historical ruins around Ireland and how to get there.
Saturday, 31 December 2011
Old Grangewilliam Church Co Kildare
Grangewilliam Church ruins stand on the old Monastic settlement of Donaghmore near Maynooth in Kildare. The Monastery stood here until the approx. the 11th century. The Church was built later on the grounds and itself was in a ruinous state by the 1300's. This makes it one of the oldest Church ruins still in evidence. The surrounding area of Maynooth holds another two Monastic sites, those of Taghadoe and Laraghbryan.
The now ivy covered ruins of Grangewilliam are almost invisible apart from the Gable end and part of it's opposite wall which in part can be viewed from within the ruin.The gable stands tall on the grassy mound and seems very much in competition for prominence beside the yew trees There are annual grave blessings held here and therefore a lot of good work was done by locals to preserve what was there.
You approach the cemetery and ruin through a large rolling meadow. There is an unusual circular copse of trees adjacent and a 19th century wall surrounds the cemetery. This can be accessed by a gate during ceremonies but is otherwise locked and you will need to climb over a slightly precarious stile in the wall to gain entry. The locals have formed a well kept perimeter pathway around the ruins, but the ruins themselves lie heavily covered with ivy and the ground underfoot is rough. Still, to find one of the oldest historical Church ruins is well worth the effort.
Apart from the occasional rumble of a passing train ( The ruins lie close to the Dublin-Sligo rail line) there is a very odd atmosphere. You can almost taste the sense of antiquity. The meadow surrounding, especially on a soft day, with drizzle falling, is almost M R James- like in it's setting As though something ancient was observing the intrusion of it's grounds
To find Grangewilliam(Donaghmore), from the main street in Maynooth, take the R148 road towards Leixlip. After approx. two miles you will reach the large gates of Carton estate on your left. Turn right at the Junction opposite these gates and cross the stone bridge (Pikes Bridge). About 35 yards up this road on your left you will see a gate with a stile to it's right hand side. You Can park on the grass verge a few feet away and walk across the meadow. Keep to the track as the land either side is used by the adjacent Horse Stud and the ground can be a bit Spongy.
Tuesday, 27 December 2011
The Black Castle Co Carlow
The Black castle stands alongside the River barrow in the small Carlow Village of Leighlinbridge. This 50 feet high Tower and partial Bawn are all that remain of the structure that was first constructed in 1320 on the site of an earlier Castle dating back to Norman times. Indeed most of what remain today are additional reinforcements from the 16th century. The Tower was strategically placed adjacent to the fine Valerian stone Bridge built in 1320 by a Canon of Kildare Cathedral, Maurice Jakis. This Bridge is thought to be one of the oldest surviving European bridges still in use. The objective of the Tower was to defend the River crossing and the nearby Priory. The castle was seized by the Kavanagh's in the 14th century who set about charging an early type of Bridge Toll.
In 1547 the Castle fell into the hands of Henry VIII's forces and the Lord deputy Edward Bellingham reinforced the Tower and Bawn and gave it the name "The Black Castle". The Castle was attacked and mostly destroyed by Rory Og O'More, a local Chieftain, in 1577 and although partially rebuilt, it was again ransacked by Cromwellian forces in 1650. The South Western portion of the Tower collapsed in 1888 leaving it in much the same state as it is today.
The Castle is easily accessible to view as it stands beside a towpath on the River Barrow and you can walk alongside it. There is also a fine view of it from directly across the river. While the collapsed portion reveals much of the interior there does not appear to be any public entry to the ruin as it seems to be on private grounds behind the Bawn. there is a Small wooden gate which clearly warns "Beware of the Dog" and although there was neither hide nor hair of this hound to be seen, I think that the message of privacy was well conveyed by it's owners. A bit of a shame really as there appears to be a safety rail of some type on the upper level possibly accessed by a stairwell. The Village is generally quiet but the Bridge can be busy having a footpath only on one side, so keep an eye out as drivers seem apt to hurry across.
To find the Castle, take the M9 Dublin to Waterford road and at junction 6 take the exit and follow the signs for leighlinbridge. You will eventually have to take a left turn onto the R705 for the Village. Street parking is easy enough and a short walk to the bridge is all that is required.
Saturday, 24 December 2011
Old Templeogue Church Co Dublin
Montpelier Hill in the background
These medieval ruins stand on the the site of the early monastery of St Melog or Tachmelog which is in its more modern terminology "Templeogue". None of the monastery ruins remain but the small Church may have some parts that predate the Norman invasion. The Church fell into ruin in the early 1600's and would have disappeared altogether under ivy and vegetation had it not been defoliated in recent times and now appears to be frequently up kept.
The ruins consist of an Eastern facing gable which seems complete and parts of the North and South walls. The western end appears to have an entrance which may predate the other parts of the church.
The ruins stand on a grassy knoll to the side of the very busy Spawell roundabout at the top of Wellington Lane.There are some ancient gravestones surrounding the Church but a more modern cemetery adjacent provides access through it's grounds. The old ruins are kept separated by a wall with an open gate and although the area is overlooked by modern housing, it seems more secluded than it actually is.
To find the ruins take the M50 as far as the N81 Tallaght exit heading East toward Templeogue. The following roundabout turn left and about 100 metres down the road you will see a right turn to the gate of the new cemetery. You can park here and enter over a stile in the wall.
Sunday, 18 December 2011
St Mary's Priory Co Meath
This fine structure was built in the 13th century by Hugh De Lacy for the Augustinians on the site of a 12th century Church. It was dedicated to St. Mary and still bears that name. Some fragments of the earlier Church are still to be seen within..
The huge Tower was added in the 15th century and was adjoined to a then existing Round Tower. The Round Tower has since disappeared but the scarring from its removal is still highly visible on the existing Tower's North facing side.The area around this Priory was once an ancient monastic site managed by St Cianan in the 5th century who was a disciple of St. Patrick. There is a more modern Church adjacent to the ruins also called St Cianan's which was built in 1816 and appears to now be a restaurant!
The Priory ruins are in the centre of the town on an oval shaped area bordered by the Main St and Church Lane. We found the large gate to the Churchyard unlocked and got access easily. On this site are two 9th-10th century High crosses, although both could be termed otherwise because of their height. One is less than two metres high and the other, just the base and head remain. Within the ruins are also some very decorative Medieval tombs. The site seems well kept although there are signs that the ruins have been used occasionally for alfresco imbibing by local youth. The imposing Tower looms above you with it's large tear down the North face where once stood a Round Tower. St Mary's is worth a visit if in the area and is generally quiet. We visited in Summertime and only met one other person in the grounds.
To find St Mary's take the N2 heading North from Dublin.as far as Cushinstown Here there is a right hand turn onto the R152. Drive for about 4.5 miles until you reach Duleek Town. Take a left turn onto Mill Hill. This in turn leads onto the Main St where you take a right hand turn onto Church Lane. Follow this Lane until you see the Priory on your left. You can park on this Lane quite easily enough.
Sunday, 11 December 2011
Carthy's Castle Co Dublin
Carthy's Castle is a bit of a misnomer. It's not a Castle and it wasn't lived in by anyone named Carthy! What remains on the slopes of Montpelier Hill is the West Tower and some outbuildings of the once remarkable Dollymount House or "The Long House" as it was sometimes called.
Dollymount House was an extravagant hunting residence built in the last part of the 18th century by Henry Loftus then Lord Ely. Lord Ely's first wife Frances Monroe was an Aunt of a noted debutante beauty named Dorothea Monroe whom she brought to Dublin to introduce to society. Ely named the hunting lodge Dolly Mount in her honour.
The large house with two entrance arches on both sides had ancillary buildings that ended both West and East in two Three storied Towers. Some of the stone used for building was culled from the old hunting lodge on the top of Montpelier, known today as the infamous "Hellfire Club".
The Elys abandoned the lodge after a number of years and a tenant named Jack Kelly took over. This tenant subsequently singlehandedly aided in the ruination of the lodge by stripping the roof of it's lead and dismantling the floors as firewood. He built a Piggery from lintels within. By destroying the Lodge he attempted to ensure no one would disturb his tenancy and it very quickly fell into ruin One record may hold a key as to why the Tower still bears it's current name. It is a record of the large Stone Balls that adorned the arched gates being sold to a Mr. Handcock for transportation to the Sally Park Estate in Firhouse by a man called Carthy in 1880.
In the 1950's the remnants of Jack Kelly's destruction were finally demolished leaving only the West Tower remaining which is now oft mistaken to be a Castle ruin.
While there is access to the ruins we took steps to ensure we were not trespassing by checking with the owner of Oldcourt Farm. He said it was no problem to go up and have a look and gave whatever information he knew of it's history.. It appears there is a hill walk in this area that leads up to the summit of Montpelier and a lot of people use the trail although I'm not sure that is really a right of way. There are cattle grazing in the meadow around the ruin so it's important to respect the owners property.
It's about a 10 minute walk from the gate at the entrance to the meadow up to the Tower.It's slightly steeper near the ruin but grassy underfoot..When you reach it you will find that it has been fenced around no doubt to keep out antisocial visitors and for insurance purposes, but there are a couple of places in the fence where you can carefully climb over and have a closer look. The Tower is partially ivy covered and there is not a great deal to see within.It's hard to believe that this was once an opulent residence.You can trace the lines of the old house foundations right to the site of the now almost disappeared East Tower.There are some runs of outhouses around the rear but it is the Tower which now silently stands guard like a sentinel overlooking Dublin On a fine day you can see for miles and it is said that under the right circumstances you can see the outline of the ruin of Carbury Castle out in County Kildare!
To find Carthy's Castle Take the N81 as far as Tallaght Village. Join the R113 Old Bawn Road and continue straight on through the Crossroads at The Old Mill Pub. Take the first right hand turn. When you reach a small roundabout, turn right. About a 100 yards further turn left at another small roundabout. This will lead you onto Oldcourt Rd. Drive on for about a mile until you see a row of new apartments on your left facing an open meadow on your right. you will see a road sign for turning right. This right turn has a small sign at it's entrance stating Cul-De-Sac. Follow this road right to it's end where you can park by a long field gate.You will see the entrance to Oldcourt Farm on your left should you need to enquire.You will need to climb over the field gate to access the ruins and I would advise dry conditions to visit.
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