Friday 27 April 2012

Newtowntrim Cathedral Co Meath

                                  Above Image: Newtown Clonbun Parish Church

                                          Above Image: The Entrance Path

                                         Above Image: The Tomb effigies

The immense Cathedral of Newtowntrim was part of the large Priory founded in 1202 by Simon De Rochfort, Bishop of Meath for an order of Augustinians. De Rochfort successfully petitioned the Pope to move Cathedral status from Clonard to Newtowntrim as it would be better protected by the nearby stronghold of Trim Castle.
The Cathedral dedicated to St Peter & Paul and the adjacent St John the Baptist Friary which was run by the Knights of St John of Jerusalem together became a very important ecclesiastical site but eventually fell victim to the dissolution of Churches and Abbeys in 1530's.
Sadly large parts of the transepts and nave of the Cathedral no longer exist having been removed by the16th century although there was an addition of a west facing wall. But what does remain today is quite stunning.
The site is partially covered by trees and from the road you can only see the top of the ruins jutting out. But once you have gained access the extensive size of the ruins are opened up to you.
You enter across a small stream and bridge and the first thing you encounter are the ruins of the small parish Church of Newtown Clonbun.This is notable as it contains the 16th century tomb and effigies of Sir Luke Dillon and his wife, Lady Jane Bathe. Dillon was Chief Baron of the Exchequer during Elizabeth I reign.
A short walk around the gravestones and bushes brings you to the main cathedral site. I have to say that cameras do not fully capture the grandeur of these ruins making it a real must for a visit.
The main parts of the Cathedral still stand rising to a great height and within there are some very decorative carvings in the stonework. Also to be viewed are lancet windows and a double Piscina that was used for washing communion vessels..
There are ancillary ruins also, which would have formed the domestic quarters of the Monastery. At one point you can stand on a wall and if you look one direction you can see the distant tower of Trim Castle and the other direction, St John the  Baptist Friary across the bridge. Truly an historic area.
For such an important site it was almost devoid of visitors when were there. This was of course late spring  so there might be more activity in the summer months. However do yourself a favour and take time to pay a visit.
To find the Newtowntrim ruins, take the R161 from Navan towards Trim. Just before you reach Trim take a left hand turn onto the R154. Drive for about 500m and you will reach a wide fork in the road. The left fork crosses the narrow stone bridge to St John the Baptist Friary and the right leads you to the ruins of the Cathedral. You can park along the wider part of the road here.

Thursday 19 April 2012

St John The Baptist Church Clontarf Co Dublin

                                         Above Image: A View from outside

                     Above Image: A view that may have stoked Bram's imagination?

                                          Above Image: The entrance gate

This interesting ruin lies just off Castle Avenue in Clontarf. This was originally an ancient monastic site but this current structure was constructed in 1609 and dedicated to St John the Baptist. It was in use serving the Anglican community of the parish until 1866 when a much grander Church was built on Seafield Rd to replace it. Although surrounded by a cemetery, it over the years fell into ruin, but what remains is in kept in good order. On it's western face the wall extends higher to form a bell tower. This tower of sorts dominates the skyline as you walk around the Church.
We sought out this ruin not only because it was quite striking but also as an interesting aside, author Bram Stoker was actually baptised here in December 1847.
In a lot of cases these type of walled graveyards tend to remain locked by local authorities to avoid any vandalism or antisocial gatherings but in this case the gate remains open during reasonable hours.
A decorative arched gate leads you into the grounds immediately giving you a good side view of the Church.
As we circled the ruin we noticed that the entrances and windows were blocked by black bars and so were surprised to find a small open gate on the southern facing wall. This led us into the nave of the Church. It was quite large inside having served it's many parishioners for over 250 years. there is a raised area alongside part of the Northern part of the nave which was illuminated by a large window.
As usual we found our visit undisturbed by anyone even though this is a more suburban setting. The light that day captured the ruins quite well I think and made the visit even more worthwhile.
To find the Church ruins, take the M50 Northbound and take exit 3 for the Dublin Port Tunnel. Exit before the tunnel onto the R104 and drive until you reach the junction with the R107 Malahide Rd. Turn Right. Continue until you reach the crossroads with the R103 and turn left onto Collins Avenue East. At the bottom of this road is a T-Junction with the R105. Turn left and then take the 2nd turn right onto Castle Avenue. You will find the Church entrance on your right hand side about 1km down this Rd. Parking is possible along Seafield Rd west opposite.

Sunday 8 April 2012

Cullahill Castle Co Laois

                               Above Image: A Narrow passage around the base

                                 Above Image: A rocky ascent into the interior

                                   Above Image: An entrance to the courtyard

                                   Above Image: One of the interior passages

                                 Above Image: Steps leading to the courtyard

This impressive ruin stands up to 90 feet high and is built on solid rock. It was a formidable keep constructed in approx.1425 by Finghin MacGillapatrick. It stands five storeys high and is built of limestone.The castle saw many attacks through its relatively short life by it's owners enemies from Kilkenny, who supported by the Crown sought to destroy this massive keep. Eventually it would fall to the forces of Cromwell in the mid 17th century who totally bombarded it with cannon fire leaving it ruined and uninhabitable by 1657.
The Castle stands at the southwestern end of a large circular bawn and it's sheer height must have given it wide strategic views of the surrounding countryside. The cannons took out the north facing wall and portions of the east and south walls, otherwise the remaining walls stand to their full height and are home now to flocks of birds which circle the tower breaking the silence. The exposed interiors of the castle highlight many arches and fireplaces. The very thick walls carried mural passageways and led to many chambers.
Accessing this Castle is easy. It sits on the fork of two minor roads just off the main road in Cullahill Village. When we arrived it was quiet and only a couple of people sat at a picnic table just outside the bawn wall. This route is part of a heritage trail so many people pass this way. But how many try to access the ruins? We looked for some form of entrance and found that a yard adjacent to a house had a small irregular entrance into the bawn. This was private land so we just took a quick look but didn't immediately find any entrance to the Tower itself. A cat strolled by nonchalantly looking sideways at us but it was when a dog appeared glaring at us we thought it better to slip away.
Back outside we climbed up the rather tricky area that led up to the exposed interior. It was overgrown with thickets and was quite steep and rocky underfoot, but we managed to ascend to one of the openings in the wall. A couple of locals passed by with dogs and seemed bemused at our antics, advising us that the ruin was dilapidated and might be dangerous. We acknowledged their concern and carried on. Faint heart never won fair lady as they say.
Within the ruins we followed a passageway looking for some way to ascend further. Eventually we found a stairs which led both down and up. The stairs actually led down to part of  the courtyard! It might have been a better idea to ask the owners of the house if we could enter and they might have mentioned the stairs. On the other hand when we reached the top of the stairs it ended in a sheer drop without any safety rail so they might not have encouraged the climb for safety reasons. All in all it was very satisfying to have made the climb although it was trickier getting back down to the ground as we decided to go back the way we came. Our canine friend was still probably patrolling the courtyard. This ruin is a must for a visit. About a hundred yards down the road is a small ruined chapel that was associated with the castle's owners and is also worth your time.
To find Cullahill Castle, take the M7 Dublin to Limerick motorway and exit at Junction 17. Follow the N77 through Abbeyleix and when you reach Durrow take a right turn onto the R639. Drive for approx.5 miles and you will spot the impressive ruin in the distance to your left. As you enter Cullahill Village there is a left hand turn just opposite the Sportsman's Inn Pub. You will find the Castle a few yards up this road. Roadside parking is possible near the ruins.

Sunday 1 April 2012

The Black Abbey Co Kildare

                                      Above & Below Images: Inside the Tower

This sturdy ruin was built in the early 13th century as a preceptory for the Knights of St John of Jerusalem. The name derives from the colour of the habits worn by this order and it appears this site at Tully was of some importance in it's early years. Several chapters of  the order were held here and patronage came from the local lords. The turmoil of the reformation however meant that the site was eventually confiscated and suppressed by the Crown of England in 1538. The lands passed through many owners thereafter and time took it's toll on the great building leaving it in ruin like so many others of it's kind.
Today it is situated within the grounds of the National Stud of Ireland. Strangely enough there is no access from the Stud itself, a hedgerow borders the grounds, but being that an old cemetery is adjacent there is access from the Tully road that borders it on the South-west side. A low wooden fence marks the perimeter of the National Stud grounds and one would think that this was private property with no access. In fact there is a small wooden gate which has a chain latch. It looks locked but it unhooks easily enough. It bears a sign saying "Please Close Gate". So we did. A wall surrounds the site of the ruins but there is again a gate with a chain latch and additionally a stone stile for access. Nobody seemed to mind us clambering about. Over the hedgerows National stud staff were going about their business and we expected to be approached and maybe told to leave.But it never happened.
The ruin itself consists mostly of a tall square Tower and some adjoining walls. You can step inside the Tower through an open entrance on the South facing side and there is an additional small arched gateway on the north facing side. This leads only to a grave site. Within the Tower itself, the light streams in from the semicircular window and  shows off the very fine construction of the walls.Unfortunately there doesn't appear to be any way of climbing the Tower. I would imagine there would be some view from up there. An ancient graveyard sits beside the Tower and there are some more recent graves dotted around the area.
To find and access the Black Abbey, take the M7 Dublin to Limerick Road and exit at Junction 13. Take the left hand turn at the roundabout onto the R415. Drive for approx. 600 metres until you reach a small crossroads. Turn left following the sign for The Japanese Gardens and drive to the end of this road until you reach a T- Junction. The small wooden access gate is directly in front of you and to it's right is a small area where you can park off the road. Follow the requests to close gates behind you and you should have no trouble entering.