A guide to the best and sometimes off the beaten track historical ruins around Ireland and how to get there.
Sunday, 27 May 2012
The Fairy Castle Co Dublin
An unusual entry this one, but fits somewhat into our brief as an ancient ruin of a Bronze age Passage Tomb.
The Fairy Castle as it is known sits upon the summit of Two Rock Mountain at a height of approx 536m and is visible from many parts of the south county of Dublin.The passage tomb below the surface is one of many Neolithic or Bronze age Tombs (circa 2500BC-2000BC) scattered throughout this area, but this is one of the highest of those..
The tomb is marked by the large collection of rocks forming a form of pyramid. The tomb underneath had a height of about 3 metres and some of the original circle of stones are thought to still be in position but have disappeared under the peat and vegetation. The entrance to the tomb once described as "The Cave" has also disappeared under the peat bog. Adjacent to the Cairn is a Trig post for ordnance Survey.
We decided to visit this particular Cairn as it was so prominent and so on a fine summers evening we took the hike upwards to see our ancient ruin.
There is a car park at the Ticknock side of the mountain and a wide pathway winds up towards Three Rock Mountain. It takes about 30 minutes to ascend and you are greeted by the large TV masts. On three Rock you can climb over the large Tors which give the mountain it's name and here is a resting spot at a kind of crossroads.To ascend to Two Rock summit you take the right hand trail at this crossroads and another 30 minute hike will bring you to the top. The pathways become trails and are increasingly rocky and uneven but some good hiking boots and plenty of water should see you there nicely.
I cannot express enough how amazing the views from the Cairn are and of the great peacefulness here. It is well worth the climb. Although deemed a moderate walk I would suggest that a small level of fitness would go a long way. This amazing man made construction is almost a piece of art marking a more ancient form of construction and though precariously placed it is actually possible to climb up onto the top of the Cairn.
To find the Fairy Castle take the Grange road from Rathfarnham and follow it until you pass the Marley Park entrance. Turn right and continue until you reach the junction with the R113 Harolds Grange Road. At this Crossroads Continue across towards the large white Thatched Taylors Hotel . This is Kellystown Road. Follow this road upwards until you reach a T-junction. Turn right onto Ticknock Road and about 100 yards up on you left you will find the entrance to the forest trail. Drive up the road until you reach the highest car park at the forest entrance. Direction boards will guide you on foot from there. When visiting wear suitable clothing and boots. Take water, and a mobile phone and check the weather forecast as it can change quite quickly in the mountains. Above all, enjoy!
Saturday, 19 May 2012
Kells Priory Co Kilkenny
Below 3 Images: St Kieran's Church ruins on Kells site
The Augustinian Priory of Kells is situated beside the Kings River about 9 miles south of the City of Kilkenny. It is one of the largest ecclesiastical sites in Ireland and yet remains somewhat low key. In fact We only stumbled upon it while researching some other smaller sites in the vicinity.
The Priory was founded in 1193 by Geoffrey FitzRobert and it found itself under siege several times from the DeBerminghams and Edward the Bruce between 1252 and 1327. The Bishop of Ossary made a well known visit here in 1324 to prosecute a number of locals accused of Witchcraft. The Priory was finally surrendered in 1540 to James Butler, Earl of Desmond and dissolution soon followed.
The Priory is comprised of two sections, the interior Monastic buildings and the large outer enclosure which in it's time acted not only as a defence mechanism but also to protect the flocks of Sheep from marauders. Funnily enough the Sheep are still a feature today but tend to be on the other side of the walls.
The easiest access to the ruins is by way of a pedestrian gate in the wall of the southernmost side of the site. The OPW have graciously provided a small car park and some picnic tables. On the eastern edge of this car park lie the ruins of St Kierans, a small parish Church now locked up, but if you are agile enough you can clamber over the wall to the left of the gate and take a look inside.
To access the Priory itself, you will need to cross a meadow. On our visit it was late April and lambing season, so the meadow was littered with wary looking Sheep protecting their off springs. We skirted around them so as not to cause alarm (or to get chased by a Ram!).
The sheer length of the surrounding walls of the Priory are breathtaking and surpass the fortifications of many of of the defencive Castles in this country. Locally these fortified walls are known as "Seven Towers".
The main entrance gate is down a slope from the meadow on the eastern facing side. The ruins of the Monastic buildings can be accessed from here by either a large gate Tower on your far right hand side or a metal gate on your near right side Either will do. Once inside you are met with a sprawl of foundations and ruined buildings, some with very decorative stonework. It takes a while to soak it all up and have a good look around.
The site appears to have recently been under some restorative work but this may have been halted due to the economic downturn. A lot of scaffolding has been left in place but it doesn't detract from the enjoyment of the visit. Platforms have been laid at various unstable points so that you can still get a safe view. The foundations and walls that scatter the area indicate how really big this Priory was with it's many rooms both large and small.
Kells is one of those rare places that is so interesting that it makes you wonder why it is not as widely known. Up the road Jerpoint Abbey is stuffed with tourists while we only encountered 4 other people during our time there. I much prefer the quieter sites anyway as you can take in the surroundings without noise or distraction, but still it would be a shame for Kells not to be given the opportunity to be appreciated by more people.
Around the rear of the ruins lies the Kings river and there are some very picturesque views of the Priory from here.
To find Kells Priory, take the M9 Dublin to Waterford Motorway and exit for the N10 just after Kilkenny. Follow this road for about 5KM until you reach a sign for Stoneyford. Take the next right onto Lawcus Fields and drive for about 1KM. You will pass over the M9 Motorway and about a further kilometre down this road you will find the car park on your right.
Friday, 11 May 2012
Grallagh Castle Co Tipperary
There is a sketchy history surrounding Grallagh Castle. Situated in the Barony of Middlethird it was constructed in the 16th century when the lands of Grallagh were passed to Edmond Butler and subsequently James Butler the son of Lord Dunboyne.
The four storey Tower stands quite solidly today partially ruined and surrounded by the remains of a Bawn. There are wall turrets (Bartizans) on both the North east and South West corners. Access to the Castle is by means of a doorway in the West wall and within there is a stone staircase that ascends up the western side.
We found ourselves passing through the curiously named Horse & Jockey in Co. Tipperary and so decided to check out this nearby ruin as in the past it was possible to ascend to the top. The OPW have it under their care and so their is a roadside pedestrian gate allowing access to the site. The first thing you encounter is a small doorway on the wall facing you as you enter which appears to be blocked up with black bars. Surprisingly the grill opens, but unfortunately only leads into a tiny chamber and not the main part of the Castle. As we soon discovered the main door was on the reverse side out of view of the road and was open apart from some bars erected no doubt to keep animals out.
Our disappointment was not to end however as we found the staircase inside was well and truly padlocked. We discovered later that this was due to insurance concerns as someone had been spotted hanging out of an upper floor window. There is an adjacent house at which we received no answer that day, so anyone visiting might care to try and see if there is a sympathetic key holder available!
What we did get to see was the lower room with it's slit windows and barrel vaulted ceiling. The Tower on the outside is quite impressive rising to quite a height with most of it's exterior walls intact. If you happen to be in the area it is definitely a worthwhile stop.
To find Grallagh Castle, take the M8 from Portlaoise to Cork and exit at Junction 6. On the roundabout at the top turn left and drive for about 200 yards until you reach a T- Junction with the R639 at Horse & Jockey. Turn right onto the R639 and a few yards later take a left turn. You will find Grallagh about a Half mile down this road on your right hand side. Limited parking is available at the roadside gate.
Sunday, 6 May 2012
Donadea Castle Co Kildare
The lands of Donadea were granted to the Aylmers of Lyon in 1597 by the Earls of Ormond. The original Castle Tower was constructed by Gerald Aylmer over many years finally reaching completion in 1624. The Castle was damaged badly during the rebellion of 1641 but saw many changes to it's structure during the course of the next 200 years. It was rebuilt in 1773 and in 1827 the whole front of the Castle was remodelled incorporating the original Tower. Wings were added a few years later and the surrounding lands landscaped into a fine estate.The last resident of the Castle was Caroline Aylmer who passed away in 1935 leaving the estate to the Church of Ireland and subsequently the Irish State. It was deroofed during the 1950's and subsequently fell in to ruin not having ever been occupied again.
The Demesne of Donadea was laid open to public use in 1981 and has remained that way to this day. There is a large forest car park (parking for the day €4) and a wonderful forest walk that incorporates the man made lake built by the Aylmers.There is also a Cafe for refreshments available for you after your walk.
We visited on a sunny day in April and the late spring sunshine really evoked the grandeur and colour of the Demesne. The Castle itself is barred up as it is probably unstable within but you can see the interior through the gate. You can walk around three of it's four sides and each aspect is different. It is surrounded by a high wall at it's rear which also has a trail leading around it. Though overgrown and laid bare it is still a wonderful structure and must have been magnificent in it's time.
To find Donadea Castle take the Junction 8 exit on the M4 from Dublin.On the roundabout at the top of the exit ramp take the left turn onto the R158. This will lead you to a smaller roundabout. Turn right onto the R407 and drive for about 6km until you reach Baltracey crossroads. You will see a sign facing right for Donadea. Turn right and drive for about 3Km and you will come upon the entrance way to the Demesne.
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