Sunday 30 September 2012

The Piper Stones Co Wicklow

                                       Above Image: The Wooden Stile
                                       Below Image:  The sign to look out for.

                                         Above Image: The hill leading up.

                           Above Image: There is a definite sheen to the stones.

                                       Above Image: The Outlier (The Piper)

                                  Above Image: Illuminating skies over the site

The ruins of this megalithic stone circle contains 16 of a possible 29 stones. It sits upon the ridge of a grassy hillock that is almost surrounded by among others Conlon's Hill, Drumreagh, and Church Mountain giving it a sheltered feeling. It is officially known as Athgreany Stone Circle being that it is in that town land but it is more commonly referred to as "The Piper Stones". This name derives from a legend where a piper and some damsels were turned to stone for the sacrilege of dancing upon the Sabbath day. The piper is represented by a large Stone outside the circle called "The Outlier" and the remaining stones are the damsels. Legend or not this feels like a a very mystical place. The stones while not fully dated are believed to fall into the category Bronze Age (2000BC-500BC). These stones were once the site for pagan ceremonies such as sun worship, and indeed some more recent equivalents appear to still occur today by modern sects, as remnants of these activities have been found, usually following a solstice.
The site is designated as a national monument and although there is a sign on the roadside pointing in the direction of the circle, it is positioned on a very straight stretch of the N81 where traffic tends to whizz by probably not noticing. Taking this in mind it is best to slow down after you have passed a left hand side road signposted for Athgreany and you will soon come upon the direction sign. There is only a marginal hard shoulder for parking and this is right at the sign. It is a bit awkward but possible. Access is over a shaky rudimentary wooden stile with partial barbed wire fence running through it so be careful. For a national monument one would think a safer access point would be installed.
We decided to visit these stones on a summers evening and so parked the car against the fence. Being so close to the road it took a couple of minutes to open the door without losing it to oncoming traffic!
Once over the ropey stile it was a short walk forward past some wary looking sheep. A few yards on we came upon a national monument info board. From here we turned right and headed up the grassy slope. The nice thing about this walk is the anticipation and you don't catch sight of the circle until you have crowned the hill. The first view is wonderful. I love these stone circles especially when they are almost compete. This one has a diameter of roughly 70 feet. 14 stones form the remains of the circle with 2 additional stones slightly to the north east. Of the 14 stones in the circle only 5 remain properly upright. The rest have either fallen over or some attempt was made to move them, why, is a puzzle as they are not positioned in a location that is of any use to farming but for grazing. A shame really but nonetheless they still adamantly remain. Sheep in the field wandered in and out of the stones and finally upon our arrival scurried down the hill.
About 40m east of the circle you will see the Outlier Stone (The Piper). The location of the circle away from the road and in such picturesque surroundings adds to the overall ambiance of the place and standing among the stones there is to me a very palpable feeling of antiquity. The only signs of modernity are some electric wires and a distant house tucked beneath the hills.This site being so ancient is very much well worth visiting.
To find "The Piper's Stones" take the N81 from Blessington towards Tullow. Just after Hollywood you will see a left hand turn for Athgreany. Pass this turn and a short distance on you will spot the direction sign on your left. Park as close to the fence as you can for safety.

Tuesday 25 September 2012

Glendalough Co Wicklow

                    Above Image: Note the Robin on the gravestone in the foreground

                                            Above Image: St Kevin's Cross

                                         Above: Gable end of the Cathedral

                                          Above Image: The Priest's House

                                    Above 3 Images: Remains of the Cathedral

                                          Above Image: The Entrance Arch

                                       Above Image: The great Round Tower

                                          Above Image: St Kevin's Kitchen

                            Above Image: Grave slabs within St Kevin's Kitchen

                                  Above Image: Remains of St Kieran's Church

Spectacular in both it's location and it's beauty, Glendalough stands as a fine example of an Irish monastic settlement. Founded by St Kevin, the original monastery was formed as a place of tranquility, reflection, study and the copying of manuscripts. It grew in time to be truly a monastic city with domestic and visitor dwellings and even a farm. St Kevin's fame as holy man spread far and wide and he attracted a great many followers. He himself died in 618AD but the settlement continued to thrive. Most of the existing ruins were constructed between 900AD and 1200AD on the original site.
In 1111AD it was designated as a diocese of North Leinster and in 1128AD St Laurence O'Toole became Abbot. Glendalough's centre of attention waned in the early 1200's when it was united with the diocese of Dublin. English raids in 1398 resulted it being left in ruins. From there on it became more a focal point for pilgrimage.
There is so much to see in the Glendalough. The valley itself holds many other ruins other than the monastic hub and we will try to cover these in future posts.
The first thing that greets you is the fine arched gateway. It stands as a truly unique structure and some of the original paving is still in evidence.This gateway can be found at the bottom of the approach road beside the river and the Glendalough Hotel.
You will need some time to have a really good look around. This site is a tourist attraction so I would recommend if visiting, especially in the summer months, to go in the evening time when all the tour buses have departed. We visited on a fine September evening around 6PM and saw no more than half a dozen others there. This gave us the full effect of the tranquility of the place and a good chance to take some uncluttered photos.
The Round Tower, the most prominent feature, is in good shape. The ruined conical top was reconstructed using original stones and it stands majestically at approx. 90 feet high. The doorway as in most Round Towers is a few yards above the ground and would have been accessed by a ladder and then the laddeer pulled up, protecting the monks within from raiders. All valuables and food stocks would have been stored in one of the four storeys within. The top of the Tower has four windows, each pointing North, South, East and West respectively.
In the shadow of the great Tower lie the small ruins of the Priest's House which again was carefully reconstructed from original stones using an 18th century sketch as guidance.Also in the area are wall fragments of St Kieran's Church uncovered in 1875 and a tall complete High Cross called (no guesses!) St. Kevin's Cross which is situated near the Cathedral ruins.
Nearer the river on the far side of the site is the well preseved St Kevin's Chuch (AKA St Kevin's Kitchen) a marvellous small Church with a a small coniocal Tower mirroring it's larger cousin. Within are some grave slabs propped against the wall.
Probably the largest ruins are those of the 12th century Cathedral. This building would have been very important in it's time and had many additions made to it, but has now been somewhat decimated over time. The wonderfully decorative east window has also sadly suffered but some of the decorations still remain.
As mentioned, the valley extends outwards in both directions along the river and some designated walks can lead to ruins of other Churches, the lakes and even a disused mining village. This is a highly recommended site to visit. If you dont mind crowds then anytime is good otherwise, as I would prefer, off peak times give a more rewarding experience.
To find Glendalough, take the R755 from Enniskerry and follow on through Roundwood and Annamoe until you reach Laragh. Keep right onto the R756 and drive for approx 1 mile and you will see a side road sloping downwards on your left. Halfway down this road on the left is the Visitor Centre with ample car parking or if you are going off peak continue on down the hill past the hotel and you can park at the river. Here you will find the large stone entrance arch.

Wednesday 19 September 2012

Old Donard Church Co Wicklow

                                    Above 2 Images: The Ogham Stone at dusk

                                           Above Image: The entrance door

Tucked away down a narrow lane off the main street in Donard lies the ruins of an old medieval church located within a wall enclosed graveyard. The graveyard is called Heighington burial ground and contains old headstones, some dating back to the 1750's. The Church itself dates between the 15th and 16th century and was probably in use at least until the suppression of Abbeys and Churches in the 1500's.
The ruins stand upon elevated ground and indeed the hill behind it had once a hill fort upon it giving Donard it's name. "Dun-Ard" (Fort on the Hill). The remains of the Church include both gable ends, the western facing one containing a doorway and extended wall to house a bell. while the eastern end has a large arched window cavity. Fragments of the side walls are also evident.
We were in the area of Donard on a September evening about an hour before dusk and decided to check out the ruins before darkness fell. They are situated down a narrow lane so we carefully drove the car down near the end and found a spot to park.
On first view the entrance gate had a large black chain and a padlock on it and the wall was too high to climb, so we walked around the perimeter to see if there was any other access.Unfortunately the high wall continued all of the way. A bit dismayed we decided to take a couple of long shot photos and go upon our way. On the way back around to the car we got talking to a very pleasant lady called Nuala who runs the nearby caravan park and we mentioned our interest in the ruins. It was a fortuitous conversation as we discovered that the gate was not actually locked  but the chain just wrapped around it. Thanks Nuala! We managed to get a quick look around the grounds before the light began failing. What an eerie place it was near dusktime. The interior had been used as a burial spot over the years and there were a few tombs within, one of which the marble had cracked and begun to sink. The old and crumbling interior had a definite M R James effect to it. I must say that the surviving gables strike a very dramatic pose especially as you approach the site from the road. All in all not a major ruin but given it's age and access its Worth a look.
As an interesting aside just as you exit the lane onto the main street there is a nicely landscaped green area to your right. On the edge of this stands a very interesting Ogham Stone about 1.4 metres in height. it was apparently moved here from it's original location and given a more prominent position in the Village. There is some faint Ogham writing on one of it's edges.
To find Donard Church take the N81 from Tallaght to Tullow and exit for Donard at the crossroads with the "Olde Tollhouse" bar. Drive for about 2KM until you reach the Village. Keep to the right in the Village until you see a small green area . Turn right just before this and follow the lane down. You will immediately see the ruins on your left.

Tuesday 11 September 2012

Old St. Fintan's Church Co Dublin

                                   Above Image: That fiendish locked gate!

                                   Above & Below Images: The Bullaun Stone

Easy enough to find but not so easy to access this ruin is surrounded by a high wall and the entrance gate remains locked. I am endeavouring to locate the key holder which may or may not be the local County Council. However that aside it is worth a visit because of its easy to find location and the fact that it is situated on one of the oldest ecclesiastical sites in the country.
The original monastic site was founded in the 6th century and was dedicated to St Fintan. When the old monastic building was replaced in the late 11th century under charge of the Augustinians, the Grange Church as it was known adopted the old St Fintan's name. It was used as a Parish Church for several centuries escaping suppression by Henry VIII as the Augustinian Priory in charge submitted to him. By 1630 a combination of poor attendance and an inability to raise funds to make necessary roof repairs set it on a decline into ruination. The parish was eventually absorbed into the nearby parish of Monkstown.The graveyard however remained in use up until the early 1900's.
It was of course disappointing not to get a closer look but we will revisit soon when we locate the key. If anyone knows it's whereabouts I would be extremely grateful. According to a local, the council locked the gate from public access after a series of incidents that resulted in vandalism to the headstones within. I was advised that there are also some interesting grave slabs in the Church, again hopefully to be seen on a future visit. The ruins have on their North East facing side a Bell Tower which is an extension of the wall rather than a separate entity. For it's age this Church still has some very solid walls.
In the green area just in front of the Church gate, nearly unnoticeable, lies a large earth fast Bullaun Stone apparently dating back to the Bronze age. These type of stones usually have cup shaped indents in them designed to collect rainwater and are believed to have healing powers to those who partake of the water collected. This particular Bullaun has one large cup but the stone is sliding over to one side so that the cup is now almost touching the ground and no longer able to fully hold water. We have come across many of these stones on our travels which I will highlight on future posts.
To find St Fintan's ruins take the N11 Dublin to Wexford road and exit onto Kill Lane (R830). Follow this road through the crossroads with Deansgrange Road and the take the second left turn onto Kill abbey. The ruins are to your right a little way down this road. Roadside parking is available. The Bullaun Stone lies just inside the low wall surrounding the green area in front of the Church gate.