A guide to the best and sometimes off the beaten track historical ruins around Ireland and how to get there.
Friday, 27 January 2012
Laraghbryan Church & Tower Co Kildare
Laraghbryan is the site of an ancient Monastic settlement believed to have been founded by St. Senan in the 6th century. The present Church and Tower ruins were built between 1400-1500AD upon this site. The name derives from "Laithreach Bruin" or "Sanctuary of the O'Byrnes" who were at that time the Kings of Leinster and were patrons of the Church. The Church fell into disrepair in the late 1700's and anything of worth was removed. Since then it has been battered by the sands of time and although some good restoration work took place in 2002, it remains in a very ruinous state, especially the Church walls which are leaning outwards and may in time collapse altogether. The Keep-like Tower, said to be the oldest part of the site, has a spiral stairs and according to local legend, a subterranean escape tunnel which links it to Maynooth Castle not too far distant.
The ruins lie on one side of a more modern cemetery a short distance from Maynooth on the Kilcock Rd. There is a signposted right hand turn down a lane way which leads you to the entrance. The best access is to drive to the bottom of the lane as the gateway here is almost parallel with the ruins. The lane way itself is quite wide and has a derelict house to one side of it at the end, giving the area a very isolated feel.
The ruins themselves are quite dramatic. The side walls , still tall, are leaning outwards and crumbling away in places, which is a shame as they sport some very decorative stone work especially around the arches. I'm surprised that they have not been buttressed to avoid any further collapse, but then funding may not be currently available. It's a pity really as it would be a great loss historically if this building should collapse and disappear. Once inside you can see how badly leaning the walls are.
To the Western end you will find a low entrance to the Tower. Stoop down and you'll manage to get inside. The very worn narrow steps upward are climbable to a point, but only for the intrepid explorer. There is a great sense of decay about the place yet outside the Tower stands quite solidly and will no doubt outlast the rest of the Church. On the day we visited it had been raining and although cleared had left the stonework damp and a tad slippy in places especially the stone stairs so take this into consideration when visiting
To find Laraghbryan, take the R148 from Maynooth towards Kilcock. About 1km out of Town you will see he signpost for Laraghbryan Cemetery. Turn right down this lane and park at the bottom. Here you will find a metal pedestrian turnstile to the right of the gates.
Friday, 20 January 2012
Raheen-A-Cluig Church Co Wicklow
Here's an interesting little one. There is a hill walk between Bray and Greystones over Bray Head in Co Wicklow that is quite well travelled. On the lower Northern slope of Bray Head and just before you enter some woodland, there are the ruins of a small Church named Raheen-a-Cluig. This Church has a commanding view over the coastline and it is believed to have been built in the latter part of the 13th Century. The name translates to "Church of the little bell" and was given to the Augustinian order by the then prominent Archbold family. Apart from some small restoration in the 1700's it has lay in ruin for several hundred years.
The ruins are easily accessed by way of a car park at the top of Raheen Rd, Bray.
We parked and took a short 5 minute stroll up the easy incline and along this pathway we found the Church.
We visited in the evening time about an hour before dusk so there were only a few people out and about, mostly walking Dogs. Other than that we met no one.
The Church is typical of the type built around that time, but wear and tear has left it looking somewhat like a bedstead! There are remnants of a doorway which probably held a heavy timber door and there are a couple of examples of round arched windows. sadly, although cleared of vegetation and under state care, there has been some recent vandalism in the form of graffiti.
The most interesting aspect of the ruins has to be the stories surrounding it, It is known to have been used in it's time as a storage point for smugglers coming up from the nearby cove with their contraband. They themselves probably concocted tales of Ghosts and such to keep away prying locals and especially the local constabulary. Nonetheless the ruins are located in a very odd spot, nestled on an open slope with thick vegetation and woodland in the background. This factor would also make it conducive to these stories.One visitor in recent years claimed to have been menaced by a cowled figure when taking shelter in the ruins one night. An Augustinian Spectre? For minds which run this way and with little information available about the ruins, maybe there has been some turbulence in it's ecclesiastical history resulting in these apparitions. After all, many religious orders lost a lot of their fold in violent circumstances over several hundred years. We kept an eye out for any spectral figures, even holding out until after dusk, but nothing supernatural presented itself. That said it can be quite a creepy place once the sun has gone down.
To find Raheen-A-Cluig take the M11 Dublin to Wexford Rd and exit at junction 5 for Bray. Follow the signs for the town. Once in Bray go straight through main street and take the left hand fork onto the R767 (Vevay Rd). continue on for about a mile until you see a left hand turn for Newcourt Rd. Turn left and then take the 2nd turn right onto Raheen Rd. At the top of this road is a free public car park. The track up to the ruins is on the right hand side of the car park as you enter.
Thursday, 12 January 2012
Ballymoon Castle Co Carlow
The most unusual ruins of Ballymoon Castle lie in an open meadow just east of the town of Bagenalstown.
It's history is quite sketchy, but it is believed to have been built in approx. 1300AD by the then prominent Carew family. The Castle, designed as a fortress, also housed the Knights Templar who no doubt were well able to see off local raiders.The Knights also being a religious order would account for the more domestic aspects of the Castle as there are remains of numerous fireplaces and latrines in evidence.
The Castle has a large courtyard space flanked by thick high walls which would once have sported fortified walkways. These walls had turrets for extra defence and at the entrance a gateway with evidence of a portcullis. It is also debated that the Castle may not have been occupied for a long period and indeed may not even have been fully completed in it's time.
Ballymoon is one of several Castles in the area, but it's prominent position with views of the surrounding countryside would have made it a formidable structure. It stands just off a narrow country road and we found we had to drive a little past it to get safe parking. This country road can be quite busy and you will have to tuck your car tight against the hedgerow.
Access to the land containing the ruins is by a small footbridge with spring hinged gates crossing a narrow but deep ditch. The bridge at first view might look a little unsafe but it is actually quite sturdy. A short walk across the field brings you to the ruins. On the far side the land slopes downward from the castle giving it a more imposing look than when viewed from the roadside.
Entry to the interior is either by a breach in the wall or by the large gatehouse and once inside you can appreciate the true size of the inner bawn. All of the interior buildings have long since disappeared but there are many traces of them still to be seen. On the Northeastern wall there are a small set of worn steps leading to a dark chamber, possibly a former latrine Wont stay too long in there!. Scattered about in piles are rocks that have no doubt been assembled in the clean up operation by the OPW who now have the ruins in their care.
On the Southeastern side it is possible with a bit of agility to climb atop the wall and get a view of what it was like to one of the sentry guards.
Ballymoon's location is a bit of a lonely spot and it can be a little eerie especially when the wind spirals around the courtyard. As usual we were the only ones visiting at the time but all in all it was a rewarding experience, especially as this is an unusual example of the architecture of that period.
To find the ruins, take the exit from the M9 Dublin to Waterford Motorway onto the R705. follow this road until you enter Bagenalstown. It can be a little tricky navigating through the town so follow the road called "The Parade" until you reach the junction with the R724 (Kilcarrig Rd). Take this road towards Fenagh and about 3 Km later you will see Ballymoon on your left. Park carefully to allow vehicles to pass safely.
Monday, 2 January 2012
Oughterard Tower & Church Co Kildare
Above Image: The vaulted roof views from within.
Images Below: SECOND VISIT 2014
There appears to be a very vague history to the ruins at Oughterard. The site was initially a monastic one and said to be founded by the 6th century St Briga. The monastery was destroyed by fire by Vikings in the late 10th century. The round tower is thought to be the only remnant of the early monastic site and by the 1700's it was already in ruins. It stands partially today at a height of approx. 9.5 metres. The ruined Church is dated anywhere between 1189 and 1350 although the later date is more likely and sports a fine vaulted roof . By 1620 the Church itself was in ruins having long been in disuse following the dissolution of the monasteries.
It's not difficult to find Oughterard but you could drive by it quite easily. The entrance gate lies between two residences and could easily be mistaken for a private entrance.Although it seems possible to drive up the small hill to the ruins, the main gate at the road appears to be padlocked. There is however a turnstile at the right hand side for pedestrian access. Once up the hill you will find the site surrounded by a high wall. Access looks to be by steps up to an equally high stile, but we found on the day we visited that the main gate was unlocked.
The area is extremely well kept and the undulating land within would suggest some evidence of Barrows or vaulted graves. Indeed The late great Arthur Guinness is interred within this very cemetery.
The Round Tower, now decimated to to less than half it's original size, is inaccessible, but the Church ruins are freely open. Within the barrel vaulted roof the interior is dark and sombre. The eastern facing window is still intact but does not shed much light within. Just inside the entrance to the right is a stone staircase, narrow and worn, which leads the more intrepid visitor up onto the roof where fine views of the surrounds can be seen. It was quite breezy when we climbed up and a few rogue gusts made things a little precarious. This Tower has partially subsided away from the main building and has been buttressed by two concrete supports to avoid further movement. It is surprising that you are still allowed access to the stairs, but hey, who's complaining? From the roof vantage point you can also see not too distant the ruin of a Castle Tower. It is located in an adjacent field on private land and although thought to be associated with this site is not easily accessible. The field is barb fenced and there is a very aggressive looking Black Bull in residence.
To find the Tower & Church ruin at Oughterard, take the N7 from Dublin. When you have passed the Blackchurch Inn on you left you will see the next exit is for Castlewarden. Take this exit and at the top turn left and cross the motorway bridge. Follow the sign left for Castlewarden and then right. About 2 miles up this long country road you will come to a crossroads. Take the right hand turn for Ardclough. About 1000 metres up this road it takes a sharp right bend. You will find the entrance gate between two houses just after the bend. Roadside parking is available.
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