A guide to the best and sometimes off the beaten track historical ruins around Ireland and how to get there.
Sunday, 29 July 2012
Castledermot Abbey Co Kildare
Castledermot Abbey was founded in 1302 by Thomas Lord Offaly along with benefactors to the
Franciscan order, the Hoydes. The impressive Abbey was famously ransacked in 1317 by Robert the
Bruce but continued functioning until it was suppressed by Henry VIII in 1541.
Although only the shell of the Abbey remains today it still retains a very interesting aspect. Attached to the South wall is a square Tower locally called the "Abbey Castle" which dates from around the 15th century and may have been used as a residence for the order. A number of fine arches and lancet windows survive in very good condition and they give evidence to what may have been quite an opulent structure in it's time. The Abbey was partially destroyed by Cromwellian forces in the 1600's and subsequently fell into ruin.
The initial view of the Abbey is of the East wall on Abbey street in the town. It stands literally a few feet from the roadside and looks promising but a little spoiled by the modern buildings adjacent. The interior however that lies beyond the small padlocked gate is far more interesting.
Finding the gate locked to protect the Abbey from damage is at first disappointing, but a key is held in the house to the left hand side of the entrance by a friendly caretaker. He gave us the key and told us to just drop it back in the letterbox of his door when we were done.
Once you enter the gate you are literally transported to another age. The stonework is superb in places and the arches glide majestically over the skyline. The absence of litter within, the silence and the generally good upkeep makes it almost unbelievable that a modern street lies just on the other side of the gate.
One gripe though, access to the "Castle" is not possible but a walk around these walls is interesting enough to warrant a visit. We kept the gate locked during our time there so that we could have a good look around undisturbed, but it didn't seem as if there were any other prospective visitors anyway that day.
To find Castledermot Abbey, take the M9 Dublin to Waterford road and exit for the R747. At the junction of this road with the N9, turn right and drive for approx. 5 miles. This will lead you directly into the main street of Castledermot. This main street becomes Abbey street at the far end of the town. Look for the Abbey on your right. Parking is easy enough around the general area of the Abbey..
Sunday, 15 July 2012
Srah Castle Co Offaly
Srah Castle was constructed in 1588 by John Briscoe, an Elizabethan Officer from Cumberland. It was built as a four storey Tower House stretching 65 feet in height. The ruins of an adjoining 17th century residence stand on the North West corner of the Castle. Features of this heavily defencive Castle include gun loops, bartizans and a machicolation above the now ruined entrance door on the West wall. The machiolation was a projecting gallery with floor openings through which rocks and boiling liquids could be directed at attackers below. Though well designed with defence in mind the Castle still suffered extreme damage during the Cromwellian campaigns around 1650.
Today the Castle is approached by way of a former towpath of the late 18th century Grand Canal which stretches from Dublin all the way to the Shannon River in the West.
We have wanted to visit this ruin for quite a while and an opportunity this summer allowed us to do so.
Walking along the towpath at first there appears to be no sign of the Castle as it is cloaked by a large clump of trees at the field perimeter, but as soon as you reach them then the Castle comes into view looming above them.
The ruins stand in a slightly boggy meadow and you need to carefully step over a low barbed wire fence to gain entry. There is a sign stating "Reserved for Gun Club" but there is no prohibitive message so basically it is fair game. Later we would discover that entry was all too easy as on entering the ruins we were dismayed to find the ground littered with broken bottles and cans which is no doubt nothing to do with the gun club and more assuredly some local wastrels. This unfortunate circumstance may also be the reason that part of the spiral stairs has been removed to avoid any misadventures. The top part of the stairs can be seen above the third storey and it is a pity that you cant access what looks to be exposed doorways leading to mural corridors which would have been interesting to explore.
On the exterior North Eastern facing walls the bartizan is missing leaving a gaping maw in the Castle wall.
Large fissures are also evident on at least two walls stretching nearly the full height.
This is a Castle badly in need of some preservation. It is such a dramatic ruin and would certainly garner tourism especially with it's proximity to the canal and Tullamore Town.
To find Srah Castle take the M7 motorway from Dublin to Limerick and exit at Junction 17 onto the N80.
Follow this road through Mountmellick and Killeigh until you reach Tullamore. Take the route into the Town centre and turn left onto Patrick St. At the top of this street swing right and then left onto Kilbride Street.
Just over the bridge on the canal there is an immediate left turn onto Rahan Road. About 500 feet down this road you will see the towpath on your left. You can park here or back on Kilbride street (Disc Parking) if you wish. Walk along the towpath until you have passed under a road bridge and a rail bridge. The castle is on your right a short stroll later.
Sunday, 8 July 2012
Old Kilcullen Round Tower & Church Co Kildare
Standing on elevated ground above the Kildare countryside and commanding a wide view are the Round Tower and Church remains of Old Kilcullen.
A monastery was founded here by St. Patrick in the 5th century and he placed it under the care of St. Mac Tail who he had himself ordained. Mac Tail died in 548 succumbing to the yellow plague that swept through Ireland at that time. He is said to be depicted on the panel of one of the High Crosses in the grounds.
The Annals of the Four Masters record that the Monastery was ransacked by the Danes in 936AD and again in 944AD. All that remains today on this site are the incomplete Round Tower (circa 11th Century) and the scant walls of the old Church.
The Tower stands at approximately 27 feet with a doorway about 6 feet from the ground. This Tower is believed to have been used as a Bell-Tower and a depository for valuables. The Tower was depicted in a drawing from 1792 showing much of the west side intact and part of the cornice on top, but it was already in a ruinous state and was reduced to it's present size when damaged during a battle on this hill in the 1798 rebellion when over 300 Irish rebels entrenched themselves in the graveyard.
The graveyard is still in use today and easily accessed (if gate is locked) by a sturdy stile in the wall just to the right of the gate. The lofty views from this site especially on a clear day are breathtaking. The remains of the Round Tower bear a plaque recording its damage during the rebellion but it still stands proudly over what is now a much decimated site. The Church ruins are reduced to low walls which just about give an indication of its original size and there are some interesting High Crosses adjacent. There is a great sense of history here and is certainly worth your time if in the area.
To find Old Kilcullen ruins take the M7 from Dublin and exit at Junction 11 onto the M9. Drive for about 4 miles until you reach the exit for the R448. Turn right at the top of the exit ramp and drive for about a mile, you will pass a junction with the N9 on your left . Continue on for another mile or so until you reach a crossroads. Turn Left and drive to the end of this road. You will see the Round Tower ahead of you. There is reasonable space to park outside and a short walk up the hill by pathway will bring you to the site. Be careful to close the narrow metal gate by the roadside as there are sheep in the adjacent field who frequently wander down to it and in our experience tried to get out onto the road.
SECOND VISIT JUNE 2018
Another recent return visit and I'm glad to say that nothing has changed at this site, no deterioration whatsoever. It is still maintained well and we got a better day weather wise to get some additional shots of the wonderful cross shafts here. The smallest and most worn of a base and partial shaft has
even developed a bullaun on top where it has broken away. After rain I would imagine this would resemble a rudimentary font. I would have no hesitation on returning here again.
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