A guide to the best and sometimes off the beaten track historical ruins around Ireland and how to get there.
Thursday, 29 November 2012
Callan Friary Co Kilkenny
in the grounds
A petition was made in 1461 by Edmund Butler to Pope Pius II for the foundation of a Friary for the Augustinians at Callan.The actual construction did not take place until after the death of Edmund sometime in the late 1460's when it was probably overseen by his son James.
The Friary operated under very strict observant rules but only for a short time as it was disbanded under the dissolution of Abbeys by Henry VIII in the 1500's, the lands being passed to the Earl of Ormonde. A new Augustinian Abbey was built in the town in 1766 by which time the old Friary had fallen into ruin.
We located the ruins on the North East end of the town in an area known as The Abbey Meadow. They sit on slightly elevated ground in an enclosed field adjacent to the King's River. We found parking just in front of the field at the arts centre and entered through a metal gate, then a short walk up a slight hill dotted with wildflowers brought us directly to the site..
The Friary is a long rectangular building sporting a central tower common to Augustinian Abbeys. Within, in the South wall is a remarkable example of a triple sedelia, which is seating for officiating Priests. At the East end is a large gaping arched window which would have shed brilliant light down upon the choir. A spiral staircase leads up to the bell tower which has three storeys, but sadly there was no access on our visit.
The ruins stand proud in the meadow and offer a picturesque point by the river in an otherwise dull part of the town where many of the little shops have sadly suffered and closed due to the financial downturn.
Curiously enough, within the meadow are several of what could be termed modern works of sculpture that have been positioned in various places, one of which depicts a giant open hand. I'm not sure in which context or relation to the Friary these are meant to be but I suspect that they may have some connection to the nearby arts centre and are certainly very striking.
To find the Friary, take the N76 South from Kilkenny for approx. 11 miles until you reach a left hand turn for the R699 pointing towards Callan. Turn left here and continue on until you reach a crossroads with Upper Bridge Street and Green Street. Turn left onto Upper Bridge Street and when you have crossed the bridge on the river take the first right hand turn down a narrow lane. This will lead you to the car park at the arts centre and you will see the ruins ahead of you.
Friday, 16 November 2012
Craddockstown West Menhir Co Kildare
Standing next to this amazing stone one feels a little in awe of its presence. It stands approx. 15 feet high and probably dates back to the Bronze age, yet its purpose remains unknown. It may be a commemoration marker, a way mark or part of an alignment for ceremonies as it appears to be line with the nearby Punchestown standing stone. Punchestown stone or "The Long Stone" is thinner and taller at 22 feet but was re-erected in the past and fenced in, whereas this stone in Craddockstown, although leaning a little to the west, has been left in its original state. This I feel makes it all the more interesting.
On closer view you can see a line of quartz running through it and on a sunny day this stone glistens. It is quite thick at the base and seems to have some disturbed rocks surrounding it (perhaps the remains of a burial chamber?) and it tapers to a point at the top.
The stone is situated on a small crest in a working crop field. I would imagine that during the spring and summer it would be advisable to get permission to enter before tramping all over the crops. There is a nearby farm on the L2023 if you need to enquire. Ideally visit in September when the crops have been harvested, not only is it easier to cross the field but the stone is fully exposed to view and looks all the more dramatic. We visited on one of those days and met no one else while we were there. The field newly harvested posed no problem to cross.The stone looks different from every aspect but with the sun behind you while looking at it really makes it stand out.
The field itself is surrounded by high bushes but if you park opposite it at the main gate of Punchestown racecourse (on non race days it is virtually deserted) then walk down the road in an easterly direction for about 40 yards or so and you will see a gap in the bushes with an exposed fence on an embankment that is easy enough the climb over. This gives you direct access to the field and you will spot the Stone in the near distance. Enjoy your visit but have respect for the owners property by keeping along the tracks made by the tractor where possible. This is one megalith I would strongly recommend seeing. It simply exudes its presence in spades.
To locate the stone take the R411 south from Naas until you reach a crossroads with the L2023 and a sign pointing towards Punchestown.Turn left here and drive for approx. 200 yards and park outside the entrance to the racecourse. You will see the line of bushes opposite. Follow the road further on foot for about 40 yards and you will find the gap with the fence exposed.
Sunday, 11 November 2012
St. Mary's Abbey Co Dublin
King Sitric, the Viking King of Dublin founded the original site of St Marys Abbey in 1042AD. Sitric acknowledged that the area commanded a fine view of the bay and it environs. The original Abbey was eventually absorbed into the Monastery situated on nearby Ireland's Eye, an island just off the coast near Howth.
The site was re-founded by the Archbishop of Dublin in the late 1300's but the Church built then was demolished and replaced with the present building by the St. Lawrence family in the 15th century. It was modified quite a bit over the following hundred years. Originally it had two aisles with gabled roofs but this was changed into a single much taller gable with an allowance for a bell on the Western end. The Eastern end was adapted into a private Chapel for the St. Lawrence's and the Church remained in use until 1630AD when its congregation moved to another Church in the area and so it subsequently without patronage fell into ruin.
When we arrived in Howth for a visit we managed to get parking along the Harbour side and then walked up Abbey street as far as the Abbey Tavern. To the immediate right of this Tavern is a narrow alley (easy to miss) where a set of stone steps ascends to join Church Street above. This is the easiest route to the ruins. On a glorious summer day when we arrived we were disappointed to see cranes and construction equipment in the vicinity of the ruins. There was also a construction site warning pinned to the gate leading in.
Well it must have been lunchtime or something because there was no activity or any hard-hatted people to be seen, so after about 10 minutes considering our options and with no one to ask for permission we decided to have a quick look anyway. The iron gate was open and some steps led down to the ruins. The Church overlooks the Harbour from its elevated position and offers fine views. The building is a long rectangular shape, much longer than most Churches of the time and is surrounded by a modern graveyard. There is an entrance way in the Southern wall. Within, the two aisles are divided by a central wall with archways and on the Southeastern end is a finely carved tomb with effigies of the 13th Baron and Baroness St. Lawrence dating from 1470AD. This gated area remains locked to protect the tomb. The main entrance gate is usually locked as well but there is a sign stating that the key can be had from a caretaker in a nearby residence. Our visit was short but I'm sure that access is easier at other times and that the restrictions were only in place because of the construction activity.
To find St Marys Abbey, park anywhere along Howth Harbour and head up Abbey street. About halfway up the hill you will see the Abbey tavern on your right. just to the right of the building is a narrow alley with a set of stone steps. At the top of the steps turn right at the Blue Burger Bar and you will find the gate to the ruins just a few yards ahead of you.
Saturday, 3 November 2012
Kinnefad Castle Co Kildare
Another example of a De Bermingham stronghold. This one is situated just outside the town of Edenderry on a by-road slightly over the border from Offaly in Kildare. Kinnefad is named after its location and translates to "Head of the Ford". It was constructed by the De Bermingham's in the 14th century, its large solid almost square shape designed for the defence of a pass in an area that witnessed a lot of turmoil over the years. Indeed quite a few weapons such as swords and spearheads have been uncovered over time here. The whole Eastern wall of the Castle is now missing.
It was a bit of a runaround trying to locate this ruin as it is well off the main roads, but a quick stop and a chat to a local put us back on track and eventually we came across it in a field down a narrow by-road.
There was a large gate leading into the field and a bungalow on the opposite side of the road. I decided to play safe and enquire at the house if access for us was permitted. The house owner said he didn't really know as it was council land but that it was frequently visited by passers by. The gate as it happened was closed with only a loose chain and no padlock probably to keep the cows that were present in the field from wandering out.
The stretch of land over to the ruins was rough and somewhat boggy in places and there was a notice on the facing wall warning of the ruins being unstable. We took a look anyway. The three remaining walls looked solid enough with just a few small crumbling sections. These walls had a few scattered narrow windows.
The Eastern side with its missing wall exposes the inside showing scant remains of a stone staircase and a very solid looking vaulted ceiling. This Castle had certainly been built for strength. There is a mural corridor in the wall on the left hand side of the gaping maw which with a little agility and a lot of foolhardiness can be entered. Though the Castle is in a dilapidated condition I think the strength of the vaulted ceiling is keeping it standing nonetheless. I could not locate any later history of the Castle and how it met its fate. Possibly cannon fire from Cromwellian forces might have blown the wall out but at the moment I cant really be sure.
To find Kinnefad Castle, drive Southwards from Edenderry down St Mary's Road (R402) until you reach a crossroads with the R441 and a sign pointing right towards Rhode. Turn right and drive until you have reached a small roundabout. Go straight through and drive approx. 1.5KM until you see a fork in the road with the right lane sign pointing to Castlejordan. Turn right onto this lane, and this is very important, turn right again just a few yards in. Drive down this narrow road for approx. 1.5KM and you will spot the Castle in a field on your right. You can park alongside the road opposite.
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