A guide to the best and sometimes off the beaten track historical ruins around Ireland and how to get there.
Thursday, 23 February 2012
Hill of Slane Friary Co Meath
The Hill of Slane has had a long religious history. St. Patrick is said to have lit a pascal fire on it's summit in 433 AD in defiance of the High King, Laoire, whose pagan beliefs forbade any other fires to be lit except his own during the pagan festival. St. Patrick also appointed St. Erc as Bishop of Slane and the site became a centre of religious activity for many hundreds of years thereafter.
The ruins which stand on the Hill today are those of a Franciscan Friary constructed by Christopher Fleming in 1512 on the site of an earlier Abbey. This fine Friary consisted of a Church with a tall Gothic tower and a college building housing 12 individuals. It remained in use for many years and was finally abandoned in 1723.
The Hill of Slane is in a very picturesque and highly historical area of Co. Meath and access to the Hill is extremely easy. There is a car park at the base of of the Hill and the way to the top is by way of a very gradual grassy incline, making it not difficult to climb.
Once at the summit you can see how very well placed the Friary was. The views are magnificent. The bell tower stands strikingly tall and has been surrounded over the years by a cemetery. There are partial walls of the Church still evident and within the grounds are what are thought some standing stones from the ancient pagan site that preceded the Christian settlement.
Directly across from the Church are the ruins of the college, a large square bawn-like structure with mullioned windows , the remains of fireplaces and even a medieval garderobe (toilet!). Entrance is through a narrow rail which seems more designed to keep you out rather than let you in, though a bit of light aerobics should do the trick!
One corner of the interior has a spiral staircase giving access to a higher view of the site.There is also a large vaulted room containing stone fragments, some of them with decorative carvings. The room has a low roof and even on a warm day it maintains a cool interior.
Climbing around these ruins is a real joy, especially on a fine summers day. When we arrived, there were a few visitors present, which was be expected given this being a well posted historical attraction.But it was in no way overcrowded, so you could have a good look around without tripping over people.The spiral stairs to the roof level is narrow taking only one person ascending or descending at a time, but it is well worth the climb and if necessary, the wait. It strikes me that if you visit this site as early as possible in the day you might find it quite deserted.
To find the Hill of Slane, take the N2 Dublin to Slane road. When you reach the Village, go straight through the crossroads in the centre and drive about 500 yards until you see a left hand turn for Abbey view. Continue up this road, which narrows, for about 800 yards and you will eventually reach a car park. The entrance gate is here in a wall to the left.
Thursday, 16 February 2012
Old St. Annes Church Co Dublin
The very scant remains of an ancient Church can be found on the graceful slopes of the Glenasmole Valley in Co. Dublin.
The Church dedicated to St. Santan was built on an ancient site called Kilmesantan, meaning Church of Santan. Santan was a 6th century Bishop who was mentioned in the book of Leinster.
The approximate date of the construction of the Church is vague and there is very little left to give any indicating factors architecturally of it's age. It was mentioned in records from the 13th century to have been within Irish territory because of insurgency in the area, so it is likely that it was well established by then. It survived in use until the late 1600's when it was finally abandoned and left to fall into ruination. The ruins themselves are positioned North-East - South-West and now only a portion of the South Eastern wall remains. In recent years the stones from it's walls have fallen and scattered around the graveyard, which is still used to this day for an annual outdoor mass. A clean up by locals resulted in the strewn rocks being stacked into tidy piles some of which now have again fallen over.
While unremarkable, the ruins are well worth visiting if only because of their age, the fact that they might not survive too much longer and because of the very picturesque location in which they stand.
We found our way down from the road in St. Anne's Village on a trail through a sloping meadow. There is a gate at a sharp angle to the road which you could drive by quite easily and miss. It has a cross upon it indicating holy ground.
The trail beyond the gate takes you down between two houses and into an open field where the trail continues on around the perimeter to the right. It was a summer's evening when we visited and it was an extremely pleasant walk.
The graveyard in which the ruined remains stand overlook the Glenasmole reservoir with it's ample plantation of Scots Pine and Douglas Firs. The site is surrounded by a stone wall and there is a large iron entrance gate which at first appears to be sealed shut. To it's right hand side amongst a nest of nettles is a rudimentary set of stone steps set against the wall, but on the other side is a steepish drop. Knowing that this site is part of the Dublin Mountain Walk we thought it strange that easier access was not available, so we looked at the iron gate again. As it happened it was just tightly jammed and with a bit of pressure it opened with a loud creak.
The Church remains may be unimposing but on close inspection you can trace most of the foundations of the Nave and Chancel giving you a fair idea of the the original size. It takes a bit of climbing around rocky ground to achieve this. I have seen an old photo of the ruins taken quite a number of years ago when there were more of the walls intact but they now seem to be disappearing quickly. Although the Church was long out of use, the graveyard was still being used until the 1950's. Just inside the entrance gate to the right, you will find the remains of a large stone font which although mostly complete has been damaged by an attempted removal some years back.
To find St. Anne's ruins, take the N81 from Templeogue to Blessington and exit at Old Bawn Rd (R113). At the top of this road take a right hand turn at the Old Mill Pub onto the R114. Take the second turn left and drive up the hill past the local Church until you reach a fork in the road. Take the right hand fork.You will need to drive approx. 2 miles up this steadily narrowing road until you reach a second fork. Again take the right hand fork signposted for Castlekelly. Keep your eyes peeled on the right hand side of the road until you spot a gate on a grassy slope leading down from the road. There is also a small road sign indicating the graveyard.
If parking, please note that there is a private gate adjacent so be careful not to block.
Tuesday, 7 February 2012
Ballyloughan Castle Co Carlow
The striking remains of Ballyloughan castle stand in a meadow south east of Bagenalstown. The 13th century structure was once a very formidable castle with some evidence that there was also a moat. All that remain today are the impressive two-towered entrance gate and some remains of two corner towers that once were conjoined by a large curtain wall. On it's periphery, on a hill, are the remains of a later 16th century mansion, jagged and striking in it's ruination. It is believed that the Castle contained a large courtyard within and was occupied originally by the Kavanagh family and acquired much later by the Bagenals who were very prominent in the area.
The Castle passed hands through the years but may not have been occupied by it's later owners, in fact it is thought that it possibly may have been abandoned early in it's history. The ruins, while visible from the road and with a small OPW sign for information, are still quite off the beaten track and are located down a side road off the main Bagenalstown to Fenagh road.
We were visiting Ballymoon Castle in the area and decided to take a chance at finding Ballyloughan.
We parked at the iron gate where the information sign was situated and we could see the great gatehouse across the field, but the iron gate at the roadside was firmly padlocked. There was also a second gate to traverse inside
There were a few houses dotted along the road so we knocked on the door of the nearest one to see who we could seek permission to enter from. As luck would have it a very amiable gentleman took some keys and opened the lock for us. No clambering over gates this time!
The field is well kept and the ground underfoot is quite even , so it only took a few minutes to reach the ruins.
First impressions are of a well scattered series of buildings ending high on a hill and the feeling that in it's time this was a very large and well fortified site. The undulations of the surrounding ground would suggest the possibility of a filled in moat.
The gatehouse which is acknowledged as a fine example of it's type stands high and proud and is accessible through a quite tight rail underneath the archway. There is a spiral stairs leading to the upper floor and you will find passageways and chambers to explore.
One of the legends of the Castle is of a haunting following the betrayal of a local priest by the owners of the Castle who was in hiding from the Royalists. As soon as the man had been hanged strange sounds began to rush along the passageways of the Castle
One of the adjacent corner towers is accessible by way of a stone stile.We spent about an hour wandering from one ruin to the next in this large meadow. On an incline behind the Castle looms the ruins of a large mansion from which you can get a better view of what the Castle layout might have been like. All in all this is one set of ruins worth your time.Do seek permission to enter as they are on private land.
To find Ballyloughan take the R724 from Bagenalstown to Fenagh. About 2 miles along you will spot Ballymoon Castle on your left. Take the first right hand turn after Ballymoon and after approx. 500m you will reach a T-Junction. Turn left and and after a few yards turn right. You will find the ruins about 1km down this road on your right hand side. It is a narrow road so park close to the gate.
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