Saturday 20 April 2013

Clontuskert Abbey Co Galway

                                          Above Image: The access path

                                             Above Image: The Cloisters

                                                  Above Image: The Font

                                            Above Image: The Rood gallery

                                           Above Image: The East window

                                      Above Image: Entrance stile at the gate

                                     Above Image: Close up of the East window

                                                 Above Image: An oven

                                   Above Image: The decorative West Doorway

                                         Above Image: The forlorn Saviour

                                             Above Image: The Mermaid

                              Above Image: close up of the West door carvings

                                    Above Image: A view from the South-East

                                            Above Image: Rear of the ovens

Clontuskert Abbey was founded in the 12th century for the Augustinians by Turlough O'Connor on what is thought to be the site of an earlier Monastic settlement founded in the 7th century by St Baeden. The present ruins are entirely from the later construction.
The Abbey caused some controversy in the 13th century when it was found to be corrupt and a fire in 1404AD almost destroyed it. A new building plan was conceived and with the aid of beneficiaries it was reconstructed on a broader scale with more decorative stonework involved. The Abbey was finally dissolved in 1540AD under the dissolution of Abbeys during the reformation.
The ruins lie away from the road in quiet pastoral land and are accessed by a gravel pathway from a small designated car park at the roadside. The Abbey is under the Care of the OPW and a stile is provided in the boundary wall at the Abbey itself.
There are many interesting features to see here. The remains of the cloister or ambulatory with its grass square surrounded by decorative arches is particularly attractive and more complete than many other we have seen. The foundations of many of the domestic buildings appear to be clustered around this area. There is also evidence of some stone ovens in the Eastern section in what was originally the chapter house. Within the Church the nave and chancel are separated by a fine Rood gallery with pointed arches.
The ruins are quite extensive and of particular note is the doorway in the Western wall which was part of the reconstruction in 1471AD. The carvings around this doorway are astounding and include depictions of amongst others John the Baptist, a Mermaid and a star. Of Particular interest is the depiction of the Archangel Michael weighing souls and brandishing a sword on what might be judgement day. Decorative carvings can also be found inside the Church including a Font near the western doorway.
In the corner of the boundary wall on the western side is a carved torso of Christ which is propped somewhat forlornly against the wall. It is partially devoid of limbs and must have been salvaged when the cross it was attached to was destroyed.
There is a very serene atmosphere here at Clontuskert, its pastoral setting certainly helps and we wandered around for over an hour just soaking up the history on show. As with many other places we were the only visitors even on what was a chilly but very sunny day.
Apparently the gable end on the east side collapsed around 1918. This contained the large East window. Restorers managed to locate all of the window components and it was carefully rebuilt to its former glory in the 1970's.
To find Clontuskert ruins take the M6 heading West from Athlone and exit on Junction 15. At the roundabout at the top of the exit ramp turn left onto the R355. A short distance further there is a second roundabout. Take the exit to the right which is the continuation of the R355. Drive for approx. 5KM until you see a small car park on your left with a two storey white house with a conservatory You can park safely here. There is a gravel path in the right hand corner of the car park that leads directly to the ruins.

Sunday 14 April 2013

Old Ballymore Church Co Kildare

                                Above Image: The entrance stile right of the gate

                           Above Image: The ground is littered with ancient stones

                         Above 2 Images: Two of the eight Medieval Grave Markers

                                Above Image: The wall remains with foundations
                                                     in the foreground

                             Above Image: The complete 10th Century High Cross

                           Above Image: The ruins dwarfed by, I think, a Yew tree
                             Above Image: The damaged 10th century High Cross

Kildare seems full of old ecclesiastical ruins, some are extremely ancient and almost gone to ground. Ballymore Church would fall into this category but it's nonetheless worth a visit as it is set in a most dramatic walled graveyard with some very ancient artefacts to see.
The ruins lie in the grounds of the present Church of Ireland of St John which is situated on the outskirts of Ballymore Eustace. The present Church was built in 1820 on elevated ground but slightly to the East of it in it's older section are the scant remains of the medieval Church dedicated to the Virgin Mary and subsequent to the reformation to St John. The old Church was under the auspices of the Archbishop of Dublin and along with other nearby Churches such as Ballybought (See earlier post here) would have been used as a local parish Church. The presence on site of two 10th century High Crosses would indicate the probability that there was once a monastic settlement here. The old Church more than like fell into disuse after the dissolution of Abbeys and Churches by Henry VIII. Ballymore Eustace itself was one of the walled border towns of the English Pale and for several centuries no Irishman was allowed to live there.
What remains of Ballymore Church today is a tall ragged column which was probably a corner section of the East gable standing precariously on a mound. There are also the foundations of one of the former side walls.
On closer examination the column appears to be crumbling with a lot of the slated stones loosening so I'm not sure how much longer this is going to be around. It is best then to document it now before any more ruination occurs.
The site is accessed by a stile at the main gate which is up a short lane way from the main road. We found an OPW notice pinned to the wall by the door of the present church. This advised of the existence of some engraved medieval grave markers and two 10th century High Crosses. On our visit the Church was locked so we were unable to see the old baptismal fonts and the effigy of the knight Sir Richard FitzEustace which are kept protected inside.
The two High Crosses are remarkable. The Cross on the Northern end of the grounds stands to 11 feet tall and is inscribed on top with being re-erected in 1689 by Ambrose Wall, Sheriff of Wicklow.
The second Cross is situated South East of the new Church. This has been damaged and is missing half of the top circular section but still stands to approx. 6 feet. Both Crosses are fine examples of early medieval stone masonry.
Although the graveyard is littered with old gravestones some just above ground level, there are also the eight grave markers with cross engravings. It became a bit of a treasure hunt to find them and indeed after two visits we still have to locate one of them.
The ruins though scant are really worth your time especially with the other artefact's to see.
This might sound a bit obvious being that this is an old graveyard but on both visits we experienced something strange. On the first occasion while photographing the Church ruins our attention was drawn to a very odd sound coming from the trees in the East of the graveyard. It uncannily sounded like the creaking that a rope makes when say a body is hanging from a gibbet. I know this sounds mad but that is exactly what it resembled. We couldn't locate the source but it continued for a long while. On our second visit and not even thinking of the first event we spotted a black shape flitting through the same trees. Too big for an animal or bird and too high from the ground to be a person. We went to investigate and again found nothing. We were certainly a bit unnerved at this and decided at this point that maybe we should leave.Later while researching Ballymore Eustace I discovered that during the period of the Pale on a hill called Close Hill only a couple of hundred yards from Old Ballymore Church there was a place of execution where many suffered the death penalty by hanging......

To find the ruins take the N81 south and about 5KM past Blessington there is a right hand turn just before a Tougher Oil petrol station pointing to Ballymore Eustace and Punchestown. Turn right here and follow the road for about 2KM until you see a small arched gate in the wall on your right. 100m later there is a sharp turn on your right which is the lane way to St Johns Church. You can park here outside the gate.


                                Above 2 Images: Collapsed remains of East gable
                                Image Below: Foundations

Sad to say that on a return visit with my son and his girlfriend from Canada I was shocked to see that the East corner column of the old Church was now but a pile of rubble. I don't know if it was demolished or collapsed although I did note on my original post that it looked decidedly unstable. A shame really. All that remains now is a small section of the foundations as pictured above.

Saturday 6 April 2013

Rattin Castle Co Westmeath

                            Above 2 Images: The gaping holes show evidence of
                                                     mural corridors

                                          Above Image: The approach road

                                     Above Image: The possible entrance door

Rattin Castle was constructed in the 16th century as a defensive Tower-house for the Anglo-Norman lands in this area. It is built on land once owned by Hugh De Lacy who in turned passed it to John D'Arcy. The D'Arcys had this family castle built and it remained in their possession until a descendant, Nicholas, forfeited it during the 1641 insurrection. The Castle was in a ruinous state by the 18th century.
The ruins are situated close to a very narrow and somewhat grassy lane way in the pasture lands just south of the M6 motorway. Indeed you can get a good view of the Tower from the motorway as you drive by but it is some distance away and reached by some out of the way by-roads. We spotted it this way ourselves and decided to seek it out when next in that area. This actually turned out to be just a week later.
On locating it's position we managed to find a place to park at a field gate just in  front of the castle. The gate was thankfully unlocked held closed only by a simple chain. There were no cattle present but evidence of electrified fencing made us wary. There is a wire fence with posts surrounding the base of the castle but it is possible to lie down and roll in under it. Foolhardy this might seem but if the fence was electrified it wasn't switched on that day (we checked). The Castle stands approx 30 metres tall and the entrance appears to have been in the East facing wall as there is a large gap here with a small entrance chamber to it's left. Inside the walls run high on three sides and there appears to be remains of a roof turret. There are several large gaps in the walls high up that look to be mural passageways. There is a lot of rubble strewn around no doubt from the crumbling walls. It is a very impressive structure even in this ruinous state and those who lived within must have felt very safe indeed.
It was a quiet April day when we visited and were disturbed by no one. There are no prohibitive signs but the very uneven ground in the meadow showed signs of recent use. It might not be a good idea to enter the field when there are cattle present and if you do make sure to avoid the wire fences and to latch the gate.
To find Rattin Castle, take the M6 heading West and exit at Junction 2 taking the first left hand turn at the top of the exit ramp onto the road signposted for Ballinabrackey. Drive for approx 1.2Km until you reach a T-Junction with a sign pointing right to Milltown Pass. Turn right and drive down this narrow road taking the fourth left hand turn onto a narrow lane. There is a house with three apexed attic windows on the corner. Continue on down this lane until you see the Castle on your right.