A guide to the best and sometimes off the beaten track historical ruins around Ireland and how to get there.
Monday, 29 July 2013
Dunbrody Castle Co Wexford
Dunbrody Castle is a bit of a mystery and a bit of a mix match. It is known that the landowners of the nearby Dunbrody Abbey, the Etchinghams, took to building a fortified house in the years prior to the 1641 rebellion. The house however was never completed but it did incorporate parts of a much earlier Castle that could date back as far as the 1300's. Today this mongrel of a ruin still owned by the descendants of Lord Templemore finds part of it being utilised as a craft shop!
I didn't know if this one was worth seeing when I heard that it had a shop installed but I have to admit that the visit turned out quite enjoyable. The Castle is in close proximity to Dunbrody Abbey which I will cover in a later post. There is indeed a craft shop and a very helpful and pleasant lady within and the grounds contain one of the few Yew tree mazes in the country. Consisting of 1500 Yew trees and gravel paths, this excellent but frustrating enigma is a hoot! There is a nominal charge to see the maze but this includes further access to the ruins as well.
The ruins have a bawn attached which has some squat but sturdy rounded towers with some defensive features while other parts such as the house remains are in fairly bad shape with rubble strewn around and some vegetation invading. The towers though are quite interesting and it is possible at ground level to access at least one of them which lies to the East of the entrance door and is accessed from the green area behind the Castle.
There are a few other parts to climb around which are a bit precarious in places but you wont be disturbed as most people are there to see the maze not the history. When you have done exploring the ruins and the maze there is a tearoom adjacent to refresh your weary bones and all in all it is worth a visit.
To find the ruins take the N25 out of New Ross Eastwards towards Wexford Town. Just after you have passed along the quayside in New Ross the road veers left. Take the next right hand turn onto the junction with the R733.
Drive for approx. 4Km until you reach a right hand turn with a sign pointing to Arthurstown. This is a continuation of the R733. Drive for another 6KM until you see another right hand turn for Arthurstown with a large stone church (St. James's) on your right. Turn right and drive 1.5KM and you will see the huge Dunbrody Abbey on your right. Adjacent to this is a car park and the Castle ruins on your left. Ample parking is available.
Friday, 19 July 2013
Old Ladychapel Church Co Kildare
Situated at the end of a narrow country lane lie the ruins of old Ladychapel. This late medieval Church is surrounded by a walled graveyard and went under some restoration by FAS in 1989. What remains are the East and West gables and a small portion of the North wall. The once upon a time innards of the Church have been crammed with graves and tombs over the years giving it a somewhat cluttered feel.
This site is well maintained and is accessed by a stone stile with some solid steps in the boundary wall. The West gable still shows some evidence of the long missing roof and has an extension to house a double belfry. This part of the Church stands proudly solid. The East gable has a large window opening which probably shone light down on the altar beneath and also looks out upon the holy well that is on site. This very ancient well has a proper circular wall constructed from the ground level up and within a set of stone spiral steps lead down to the water. It appears that the water level may be higher than normal as it looks as if the steps descend further. The whole well has been gated and grilled for safety but I'm sure there must be a key holder locally.
Ladychapel was considered to be a Chapel of reflection and was never actually utilised as a parish Church. its proximity to the well would lend evidence to it being more of a place of retreat. Following the reformation along with so many Abbeys and churches it too fell into disuse and eventually ruin by the end of the 16th century.
The ruins are set in pastoral land and is very quiet with only a few houses nearby. It is easy to access but apart from the gables there is little more of the Church left. Nonetheless it is aesthetically pleasing and worth a visit.
To find the ruins, take the Dublin to Galway motorway and exit at junction 7 onto the R406 heading South. At the first crossroads with the L5037 turn right. You will pass Taghadoe Tower & Church (See earlier post). Drive for approx. 2.5KM and at the next staggered crossroads with the R408 continue straight on onto the L1010 signposted for Donadea. About 800m down this road there is a left hand turn onto a narrow lane. Drive to the bottom of the lane and you will see the Church on your right. Parking for 2 - 3 cars is possible.
Wednesday, 10 July 2013
Grange Castle Co Kildare
We have spent quite a bit of time in the Kildare/Offaly border area visiting among others Carrick Castle and Blundell Castle (See earlier posts here & here) and we were informed of on one trip of another De Bermingham Castle called Grange. This Castle lay fairly close to Carrick so we diverted to take a look.
Grange Castle is a tower house constructed in 1460 by the aforementioned De Berminghams and is admired for its ornate battlements and chimneys which were added to the original structure in the 1600's. The Castle remained in De Bermingham hands until 1735 when it was sold to the Tyrell family who held ownership until 1988. It was then passed to the OPW by Robert Tyrell. The lands are held by the Tyrell trust who received grants to help restore the Castle to its former glory. Unfortunately any further plans were abandoned in 2003 even though a lot of restorative work had been carried out including restoration of the great hall inside and the addition of a visitor tearoom and an office. The trust had tourism in mind but alas it now lies abandoned and is unfortunately looking as if it might return to its semi ruinous state.
We found entry by a field gate on the western perimeter of the estate and this seemed the best way to approach as the gate on the northern end was further away from the Castle. There was no distinct pathway so we just followed the direction of the Tower until we came across and entrance way to it. It is partly surrounded by more modern buildings one being a 19th century house. I was surprised to see glass in some of the windows as I was expecting more of a ruin. At this point, although there were no prohibitive signs, we began to wonder if anybody was occupying any of the adjacent buildings, security guards or such, as we were unaware initially on our visit that it had undergone some restoration. It didn't take long to realise that it was in fact abandoned and had been for some time.
We peered through the window of one of the ancillary buildings to see if there was any access but there was just debris strewn around. Many of the windows have been broken and interiors tampered with, signs of the mindless vandalism that abandoned buildings tend to attract. We walked around the area and found further outbuildings one containing some bags of plaster left over presumably from the restoration work. The gardens which look as if some landscaping had taken place are now overgrown including a very wild walled garden with an arched entrance. I've often seen a great castle and it's land in latter ruination but it was interesting to witness what it looks like in its onset.
The Tower itself is to my eyes magnificent and still holds a lot of its charm. It is very slightly marred by the derelict buildings adjacent but its architecture is so unusual to the general tower house types that it is definitely worth the time to seek it out. It would be nice to get a chance to see inside but with its large padlocked gate it doesn't look like this will be anytime soon.
To find Grange Castle take the R401 out of Edenderry and about 4KM along the road you will spot the ruins of Carrick Castle on your right. About 250m past the ruins there is a left hand turn It has Grange Castle signposted. Follow this narrow road until you reach a T-Junction. Turn left and about 100m down the road you will find a field gate angled away from the road. It is possible to park on the grass margin in front of the gate. Once over the gate use the Tower as a guide to head in the right direction
Thursday, 4 July 2013
The Brehon's Chair Co Dublin
This unusual monument shares a common legend along with The Druid's Judgement Chair in Killiney (see earlier post) that it was the seat of a "Brehon" or "Judge" from which judgements from the laws that governed Ireland in the period leading up to the Norman invasion would be passed. On excavation it was discovered to be a megalithic passage tomb with portal entrance which would date it anywhere between 500BC and 2000BC. If it was indeed the site of a Druids judgement it was most certainly not a chair. Its position and dolmen like features ensure that it was at some point very important and certainly one of the largest tombs of its type. The entrance opening faces South towards the nearby hills and may have been part of some alignment. The rear stone functioned as the portal door to the tomb. The tomb is situated in Taylor's Grange to which this monument is also sometimes referred to and more than likely gave name to the Grange road.
This is a national heritage monument and would originally been surrounded by the huge Glensouthwell demesne but suburban development at the turn of the millennium saw to it that it became a showpiece in a private gated housing development and it now sits in the dead centre of a recreation area.
We tried to visit on a Summer evening last year following the national monument sign but the gates were closed to the estate with only residents gaining access. A bit disappointing then but recently on our way up to Kilmashogue mountain on a Sunday afternoon we found the gates open and so unexpectedly got a chance to get a view of this interesting site. The few residents who were pottering around enjoying the sunshine didn't seem to be put out in any way by our presence.
The Three granite stones each stand about 9 feet tall, closely huddle to each other and do in fact give the impression of being shaped like chair. Even with its close proximity to modernity it still exudes an ancient quality in bucketfuls and probably would be even more effective if it was still in its original state and not surrounded by a flower bed. To be fair it is kept in good condition, not interfered with or defaced though its exclusivity is a little annoying.
With the property boom well and truly doused at the moment we can be thankful at least for now that other accessible historical sites will not be fenced off from the public by private development.
To locate The Brehon's Chair take the junction 13 exit of The M50 motorway and at the top of the ramp turn left onto the R133 (Grange Road). Drive for approx, 1KM until you see a sign with a left hand turn for the R133 to Stepaside. Turn left and drive until you come to a sort of staggered crossroads. You will see the large white building "Taylor's Three Rock" ahead of you. Drive towards this but be careful as it is actually a right hand turn off the road you have come which itself continues to the left. Once past Taylor's and the M50 overpass take the second right turn into the road signposted Brehon's Chair. If the gates are open you will find the monument a little way down on your right.
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