Wednesday 24 October 2012

Knickeen Ogham Stone Co Wicklow

                                    Above Image: The Stone stands 8 feet tall

                                           Above Image: The Ogham writing

                                Above Image: Close up of some Ogham writing

This unusual monument has been called in its time either a Long stone, a Standing stone or an Ogham stone. It stands in a forest near the Glen of Imaal and until recently was completely immersed in the woods. The general area has since been cleared making it much easier to locate.
It has been dated to between 400-550AD and contains Ogham writing on the corner facing North Eastwards Ogham is the oldest form of writing to be found in Ireland and the writing on this stone appears to spell "MAQI NILI" translated loosely to "Of the son of Neill/Niall"
The granite stone stands approx. 8 feet in height with a base measuring 1 metre. It increases in width from the bottom up to 2 metres at the top.
We were a little wary visiting this site as we were informed that the stone was located on the border of the Army firing range in the Glen of Imaal. These areas are prohibited to the general public for obvious reasons, but according to the ordnance survey map of the area it is positioned just outside the zone, so we took a drive out to have a look.
Once out of Donard we had to follow a long narrow forest road which was bumpy in places until we reached a form of crossroads. There were warning signs everywhere and on the road ahead a manned sentry box. I parked the car to the side of the road and I asked the soldier if it was OK to take a walk up the forest road to the left. He said this was fine but not to wander too far off the track into the woods. About 40 metres past the barrier on this track we spotted the stone on our right. It was about 10 to 15 metres off the track but seemed close enough to be safe.
This is an amazing looking stone, so unusual in shape (almost an elongated heart) and standing quite firmly straight for its age. Its height also makes it quite imposing. The small area which it occupies even though cleared of trees maintains a very secluded and secretive atmosphere. The inscriptions though faded a little by time and erosion are still evident enough. It is difficult to determine the purpose of the stone, it may have been a grave marker or perhaps a declaration of land ownership, we may never know. But here it stands mysteriously after all those centuries retaining its secrets. Just adjacent on its West side lies a lump of rock embedded in the ground that  may possibly have once been a part of the stone that broke away.
Just to prove the point that it is always safer to follow warnings we had noticed that a tent was posted in the near woods but we didn't think anything of it until there was a hurried rustling in the trees beyond the stone and the sound of voices. Almost immediately five camouflaged figures emerged from the woods brandishing machine guns! We thought it might be a good idea to make a run for the track but as soon as we made a move a voice shouted "Its alright folks, we're just havin' an exercise here, sorry didn't mean to frighten you" It was an Army sergeant and some troops and apparently we were OK where we were as it was outside the boundary of the range. At the point though we thought it might be time to head back to the car!
I would highly recommend a viewing of this monument if you find yourself in the area. It is one of the most unusual stones you will see in this country. Don't be put off by our adventure as the stone is as mentioned situated outside the range, but if there's a sentry on duty it might be wise to ask anyway in case there are any activities in place. Also be careful of the ground underfoot around the general area of the stone as there is a lot of debris from felled trees making it a bit crunchy and uneven in places.

Below is a diagram of the Ogham Alphabet for those interested in deciphering.
To find the Knickeen stone, take the exit for Donard from the N81 and as you enter the village take the left hand road off the main street at the corner shop/post office, then turn right down the road opposite Toomey's Bar. Drive for about 4KM until you come to a fork in the road with a sharp right turn and a bungalow and some sheds on the left. Take the narrower left hand road that faces you and drive for about 2.5KM until you reach a forest crossroads. You will spot the sentry box ahead of you. Park on the left hand road near the barrier.

Monday 15 October 2012

Blundell Castle Co Offaly

                             Above Image: The Castle's overseer, The water tower

Blundell Castle ruins sit on a grassy hill in a small parkland area in the town of Edenderry. The Castle dates from the 15th Century when it was constructed  by the De Berminghams as a rectangular tower house consisting of three storeys. In the 16th Century it passed to the Cooley family whose name gave Edenderry it's former title, Coolestown. The Castle came under attack during the nine years war by the O'Neill clan and by 1659 it was under new ownership by George Blundell, whose family held the said ownership until the 18th Century. The Castle was attacked once again in 1691 by the forces of James II, it suffered badly and afterwards began it's descent into ruin. Today only the East and South walls remain standing exposing some of the innards.
The ruins are presently surrounded by modern housing but are isolated a little within a green area open to the public. These interesting remains are also overshadowed by a tall water tower which is jarring on first sight and with metal fencing now surrounding the ruins it almost looks as if the Castle is being held captive by a tall stark looking guard.
when we arrived there were no people in the park apart from a few hooded teens darting in and out of the trees. I was expecting our incursion on the ruins might draw some unwanted attention from them but fortunately they didn't seem to notice.
A short walk up from the road led us to the disappointing view of the Castle being fenced off, probably for safety reasons, but on closer inspection we found a bar in the fence had been removed by someone, probably not for a good reason, but in this instance I wont complain as it allowed us the opportunity to get access to a closer view. The walls of the Castle that remain jut awkwardly toward the sky giving the Castle a dramatic pose.
Looking at the remains of the interior there is evidence of two fireplaces, one on ground level in the East wall and the other in the South wall on the next level. There were no traces of any steps or stairs as they probably were attached to one of the missing walls.
walking around the rear of the ruins you can see three narrow windows still positioned in the South wall. The ground around the ruins within the fence is quite overgrown and full of nettles but is still quite easily navigated.
There is evidence of a tunnel not far from the ruins and local legend has it that it is part of a long conduit built supposedly between Blundell and another De Bermingham Castle, Carbury (see previous post here) If this is true then it must have been a massive undertaking as the distance between is almost five miles!
To find Blundell Castle, take the M4 Dublin to Galway motorway and exit at Enfield (junction 9).Turn left at the roundabout at the top of the exit ramp and then right at the next roundabout. Follow this road (R402) right to Edenderry. As you enter the town take the left hand turn onto Father Paul Murphy Street (just before the Corner House Pub) and then turn immediately up the road on your right. Drive a little way up this road and you will spot the water tower on your right hand side. Park along the roadside and you will see a small footpath leading into the park.

Wednesday 10 October 2012

Donore Castle Co Meath

                                          Above Image: The boggy approach

                                         Above Image: The darkness within...

                            Above Image: Looking up the turret stair (now broken)

                              Above Image: Close up of the projecting stair tower

                                         Above Image: The entrance stile.

In 1429 The King of England Henry VI in an effort to secure the defenses of The Pale, an English controlled area on Ireland's East coast, promised £10 to any of his subjects who would build a Castle to certain specifications. Subsequently a number of these "boutique" castles sprang up on the borders of The Pale over the next few years. While not a certainty, it is widely believed that Donore Castle in County Meath fits that brief.
The Castle, built by the McGeoghegans, has unusual rounded external corners and a projecting round tower on it's South-west corner. The Castle was in use until 1650 when it was then seized by Cromwellian forces and over forty of the McGeoghegan clan put cruelly to death.
The ruins stand today in a field not far from historic Trim and are listed as a National Monument.
We found that access to this field is by way of a large wood and stone stile with wooden planks on the other side to aid crossing a ditch. There is also an information board pinned to the stile which sheds some light on the Castle's history.
Tramping across the field was a bit of a trudge as the ground underfoot was quite boggy in places (appropriate footwear recommended!) and with cattle also present there was a great deal of Cow pats to deal with as well.
The Castle comprises of three storeys and stands at about 40 feet high. All of the walls are intact but there is a large crack on the approach wall. We had read that the Castle gate was usually locked and a key could be obtained from the bungalow on the opposite side of the road, but when we arrived the gate was visibly open. Anticipation of a climb up the tower stair was well and truly shattered upon finding that the staircase was crumbling and parts of it had fallen or were removed. Perhaps the landowner had done this for insurance purposes and therefore no need to lock the gate.
Anyway back inside, the Castle has a vaulted roof on the lower floor and two small windows, but it was difficult too see much as it was quite dark within. Coupled with that was an unfortunate lingering odour which I'm putting down to the cattle possibly wandering in and out of the gate. I believe that there are mural garderobes and a fireplace on the upper floors but now unfortunately they are inaccessible.
One of the Castle's defenses is a machicolation situated at roof level above the door, used to attack any would be assailants from above.
All in all it was a mixed experience, not much to see inside with the stairs gone and no feeling of dread considering it's violent history, but the unusual exterior features are still worth seeing.
To find the ruins, take the R161 from Trim and drive for about 8 miles. You will cross Inchamore Bridge  and thereafter keep your eyes open for a single storey house on your right. The entrance to the field is opposite this house and you can park safely on the verge nearby.

Sunday 7 October 2012

Aghowle Church Co Wicklow

                         Above Image: Some very oddly paced Trees around here....

                                            Above Image: The High Cross

                               Above Image: Some of the decorative windows

This off the beaten track Church is one of Ireland's oldest ruins. The original Monastic site is believed to have been founded by St. Finian of Clonard in the 6th century of which no part now remains.The present ruins date from the 1100's and contain some good examples of early Romanesque design. The Church remained in use by the Church of Ireland until 1716 when it was replaced by the present St. Michaels. It has since fallen into ruin with the South facing wall now missing.
The ruins lie down a lane way off a By-road and while not difficult to find are truly tucked away from the main roads. On approach you can see it is positioned on elevated ground and it's high walls give it all the more an imposing feel.
We parked at the gates of the surrounding graveyard and although there is a stile in the wall for access we found the gate unlocked.
The Church is long and rectangular with high gables on both ends and is divided into two sections. The first section has the missing wall while the far side has a doorway leading into a small chamber. The doorway is of the post & lintel type . The 3 windows in the East and North walls  all have decorative Romanesque mouldings. It's a most unusual design for a church and commands a fine view of the very pleasant countryside in which it is located.
A few yards from the Church is a roughly hewn granite High Cross with a water font at it's base. The grave yard is quite old in parts and has some very oddly placed trees with old headstones surrounding them like rotten teeth.
We appeared to be the only visitors until a car pulled up as we were about to leave and disgorged a whole family clad in blue and red waterproof jackets. A customary nod was made between us but by their accents they were probably on a tour of some historical sites while on vacation. Fair play to them, but their Hi-Vis jackets began to dominate any more possible photos that I might have wanted to take.
As an aside there is in a field directly opposite one of those frequently found Bullaun stones. This one looked quite large but we were denied any closer view as the fence around appeared to have been electrified and foolhardy as we might be sometimes, we are not stupid. 
To find Aghowle Church, take the R725 from Tullow and drive for approx. 8 miles until you reach a staggered crossroads with a sign for the Crab Lane Lounge on the right hand turn. Turn right and drive until you reach a T-Junction with the aforementioned Crab Lane Lounge on your right. Turn left at the junction and drive for approx 200m. You will see a sign for the Church  pointing down a lane to the right. Follow this road and you will eventually see the ruins ahead of you.