Saturday 31 August 2013

KIlmashogue Wedge Tomb & Standing Stone Co Dublin

                         Above Image: The entrance to the woods from car park

                                                 Above Image: First view

                                                Above 2 Images: The kist.

                                  Above Images: Two views of the sylvan setting

                                   Above Image: Part of the central chamber

                          Above Image: The private road to the Standing Stone

                                     Above 3 Images: Views of the stone

Anyone who has been to this location and is interested will know how amazing this megalithic tomb is. Secreted in a copse amongst mainly conifer trees, it remains mostly unvisited by the minions who park about 50 metres below the woodland in a car park designated for those wishing to follow the Wicklow way walk.
This particular tomb dating back to approx. 2000BC is known as a wedge tomb and was excavated in 1953. The cairn that was built upon it is now in ruins and a lot of the stones dispersed in the area or removed for other building purposes. There is an antechamber and a main chamber that measure about 14 metres by 2 metres and are shaped by a triple walled gallery. A few Kist graves appear to have been added later and one of these has its capstone slid back to expose the inside. Some of the original kerb stones are also still evident.
We had first heard of the existence of this tomb about two years ago and almost immediately took a trip to locate it and have since made several more excursions. The car park at Kilmashogue is a rudimentary one but offers fine views out over Dublin. There are a small set of wooden steps that lead up to a track from the car park and if you continue straight on up into the trees in front of you a leafy and slightly steep trail will bring you directly to the site of the tomb. Its not signposted so many would not initially see the trail. The woods here are quite tranquil and the perfect setting for this piece of history. At one time this hill would have been devoid of the forest and the cairn fully visible but it is now surrounded by tall trees, although the area directly over it is exposed to the sky. Shafts of light bear down at times giving it a truly mystical feel.
Unfortunately as with any place exposed to public access not all who visit leave nothing but their footprints. On occasions we have found bottles strewn about and campfires have been built using some of the stones from the cairn. I suspect these activities take place after dusk as on any of our visits here we have encountered no one. Recently we heard that there was also a standing stone somewhere in the forest near to  the tomb. On our last visit we set about locating it and after a surprisingly short time came across it.  It lies a couple of hundred metres due East of the tomb adjacent to a private road. The stone measures about 1.5 metres in height and could very well be aligned with the tomb. Checking it later it does not appear on the OS map but I'm glad we came across it. The small road we came out of the forest onto is in fact a private road leading from the car park. When you climb the wooden steps up from the car park take the track to the left. A few metres on, this track splits into two. The right hand fork is the private road but as the stone lies only 100 metres along on the left hand side I don't think it will harm anyone to take a quick look. Besides it can be reached from the forest anyway.
Both of these monuments being in close proximity to each other make them a must to visit by anyone interested in Bronze Age history.
To find the Kilmashogue car park take the R116 from Ballyboden and drive until you have passed under the M50 motorway above. About 750m later there is a left turn onto the R113 (Tibradden Rd). You will find a small junction with Mutton lane a few metres on, but keep to the main road and drive until you reach a roundabout about 1.5KM further. Take the 2nd exit off the roundabout and you will pass by the gates of St. Columbas College. Continue on another 1KM and you will find a sharp left hand turn for the car park.

Saturday 24 August 2013

Reefert Church Co Wicklow

                                   Above 2 Images: The approach to the ruins.

                                           Above Image: The central arch.

                              Above 2 Images: The entrance door inside and out.

                                   Above Image: Low angle of an ancient cross.

On a trip to Glendalough you will come across many, many ruins one of the nicest being that of the remains of Reefert Church nestled in woodland above the upper lake.
The small nave and chancel structure is believed to date back to the 11th century and was considered an important place of pilgrimage. Those determined few who made the long and strenuous pilgrimage to Rome returned bringing with them soil from the tombs of great martyrs which was used to consecrate the ground at Reefert giving it its name "Righ Fearta" or "Graveyard of the Royals"
The Church would have remained busy with pilgrims even after the English raids in 1398 left much of Glendalough in ruins, but with the onset of the reformation the pilgrimages waned.
When we visited Reefert it was an August evening when the tourist levels at Glendalough were easing from another busy day. We decided to cross the stream beyond the visitor centre and take the brisk 1.5KM walk towards the upper lake.You eventually reach a conversion of pathways and a sign directing you to Reefert in the woods to the left. The ruins lie in a very nicely landscaped area which is accessed by climbing about a dozen or so steps to it. These steps are of varying height and a bit uneven, so a little care is needed while ascending them but they also add a little anticipation of what is above.
With the early Autumnal evening light glistening through the trees I must say the ruins looked picturesque in a very tranquil setting.
The entrance is in the West facing wall and consists of a flat-headed doorway and there are rounded windows in the East and West walls. A fine central archway divides the nave from the chancel and there are corbels that lay evidence of a once wooden roof. The sheer peacefulness here leaves no doubt to the imagination that it was a place of reflection.
Surrounding the ruins are quite few ancient crosses some worn and rounded by time and to the North West end a slightly leaning High Cross. This is a wonderful ruin and if visiting Glendalough it is really worth the trek to get to it especially in the evening time during late Summer or Autumn.
To find Reefert Church take the N81 Dublin to Tullow road heading South and approx. 11KM out of Blessington take a left turn onto the R756 for Hollywood. Bypass the village and take picturesque drive for approx. 24KM over the mountains until you see a sharp right hand turn signposted for Glendalough.
There are several parking areas here. If you park in the area by the visitor centre (parking charge) or by the river at  Glendalough hotel (limited but free) then you will need to cross the stream on the far side of the main Monastic site. Once over the little wooden bridge take the track to the right and about 1.5KM down this track you will come to a conversion of pathways with another small bridge on the left and a sign that points to Reefert. Alternatively if you visit during daytime and want to avoid the longer walk then it is possible to drive beyond the Glendalough hotel to the upper lake car park. From here take the pathway in the South West corner of the car park and about 100m along it joins another path. Take a left here and walk for about 250m until you reach the conversion of pathways and the aforementioned  small wooden bridge and sign for Reefert.

Saturday 17 August 2013

Fethard Castle Co Wexford

                               Above Image: Part of the interior (now locked up)

                             Above Image: Reverse of the tower showing the belfry

The Hook Peninsula in Wexford contains many, many ruins and the small village of Fethard-On-Sea is of no exception.
The Castle in Fethard was constructed in the 1400's by the then Bishop of Ferns. It is basically an L-shaped fortified manor with a tall round tower attached at it's South East corner. The Castle is built on the site of an early Norman Motte & Bailey, the large grassy mound behind the Castle would attest to this. The Bishop utilised the Castle mainly as a summer retreat but in the 1600's following the reformation the lands and Castle were passed to the Loftus family, a well to do family of some notoriety who later moved to the creepy and isolated Loftus Hall further South on the Hook Peninsula. Subsequently the Castle was over time let out to tenants until it finally fell into disuse at the height of the civil war in 1922. Whether the war had any direct influence on it's abandonment is unsure, but the police barracks in the town was heavily attacked and burned.
The Castle today stands on a green area off the main street of the village. Truthfully we drove right past it first time without spotting it as it is set back from the road. The area seems to have been designed as a public park but although the grass in front of and behind the Castle where the Motte lies is well kept, the immediate area around the ruins is heavily overgrown with grass and nettles. You can still get fairly close to it but unfortunately access to the interior is prohibited by a large locked steel door. Parts of the North end have been fenced off probably for safety reasons but you can still see into the innards of that part of the castle. This particular section is in a very bad state indeed. The other part of the residence facing Eastwards is mostly intact wall-wise but as mentioned locked up.
The most impressive part of the structure has to be the tall cylindrical tower that apart from some minor damage at the top stands complete. On the topmost part and to the rear of the tower is what appears to be a belfry. Apparently at the ground level of this tower the section within was used as a dungeon during the latter Bishop's tenure.
All and all even with its limited access it is worth your time if in the area to make a stop in the village and take a closer look at this unusual edifice.
This may sound is a bit tricky but here we go. To find Fethard Castle Take the N25 from Wexford towards Rosslare. About 2KM along you will see a junction on the right for the R739 to Kilmore Quay. Take this right turn and drive for approx. 9KM until you reach a right hand turn for the R736 signposted for Wellingtonbridge. Turn right onto the R736 and continue on to Bridgetown and in this town take the right hand turn at the T-Junction with the pharmacy on your right and then after you have crossed the railway level crossing turn left. Drive for approx. 12KM to Wellingtonbrgidge  Cross over the river bridge in the town and turn left onto the R733. Drive for approx.6KM until you reach a crossroads with the R734. This has a sign welcoming you to the Hook and pointing left towards Fethard which is approx. 6KM along this road. When you enter Fethard look for a small parking area on your left which is situated directly in front of the Castle grounds.

Sunday 11 August 2013

Ferns Castle Co Wexford

                                    Above 2 Images: The supposed moat, but
                                                               actually a deep ditch.

                                 Above Image: Showing the 3 levels of the keep.

                              Above Image: The ruined South East quarter tower.

                                    Above Image: Grinding stones in the tower.

                              Above Image: The decorative vaulted Chapel ceiling.

                       Above Image: A piscina (left) & a sedilia (right) in the Chapel

                            Above 2 Images: doors leading to and onto the roof.

                                      Above Image: A garderobe on the roof.

                           Above 3 Images: Views from the roof of the intact tower.

                      Above Image: All that is left of the North East & North West
                                            Quarter towers

The great four towered Castle of Ferns was constructed upon a base of volcanic rock by William Marshall in approx. 1220AD. Marshall who whose name was attained by being a marshall of the King's horses became one of the most renowned knights of the period. The Marshalls held control of the Castle until it was burnt by the Irish clans in 1346 and was eventually taken by the Kavanaghs who held control over the town of Ferns until 1540 after which the crown regained control and a Governor installed. The Castle was finally blown up in 1641 by Charles Coote a parliamentarian and not by Cromwellian forces in 1649 as presumed before. Coote also ordered the death sentence to most of the locals. A chilling precursor of what was to come several years later.
The Castle was surrounded by a deep ditch for defence. This was not a moat as it did not contain water but was used as a dump for waste food and such so that it became a pit of foul smelling and probably diseased matter. A deterrent no doubt to any attackers but in fact just as dangerous to the inhabitants within.
This ditch was eventually filled in but was excavated in the 1970's by the OPW and most of it reopened although only to about half of its former depth. Painstaking work has been made to restore what could be repaired and this shows through to this day.
We visited here in August at the height of the summer season and sure enough there were a few visitors but considering that it it is such a dramatic ruin and that there is a visitor centre with a free guided tour I'm surprised that it is not overwhelmed. Although you can freely walk around the Castle and its courtyard, the only access to the tower and basement is by way of the guided tour which I strongly urge you to take. It is free after all!
The courtyard contains what look to be two large boulders. These are in fact the only remains of the two rear tower that were destroyed in the destruction of 1641. The rest of the destroyed tower's stones were subsequently pillaged for other local construction. The tour takes you to the chilly basement and also to the Chapel with it's fine vaulted ceiling. There are quite a few steps up and down and narrow in places but you are all the time guided through safely. You will also have a chance to view the very historical town of Ferns from the roof of the tower. This was truly amazing especially on a clear day as you can see for miles.The true destruction of the other partially standing tower really strikes through from this vantage point.
If only all ruins were so easily accessed. We spend a lot of time being warned off by bulls in fields or "no trespassing" signs that it is a Shock to the system to view this magnificent ruin hassle free. Thanks must go to the OPW. but I want to give special thanks to the very friendly bunch of people staffing the visitor centre and in particular Christine who led our tour. Her knowledge and informal delivery of so much interesting information made the visit so much more worthwhile. Do not miss a visit here.
To find Ferns Castle take the N11(M11) from Dublin to Wexford. The road runs straight through he town of Ferns.When you reach the roundabout in the town take the road to the right of the pointed modern Church. This is the continuation of the Main St (R745). Drive about 200m until you reach a Londis supermarket on your right hand side and then park in the small car park opposite it on the other side of the road. This is adjacent to the stile and entrance way to the ruins.