Sunday 14 April 2013
Old Ballymore Church Co Kildare
in the foreground
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.
RETURN VISIT MARCH 2015
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.