A guide to the best and sometimes off the beaten track historical ruins around Ireland and how to get there.
Sunday, 24 November 2013
Old Harristown Church Co Kildare
Talk about ancient places. The remains of this medieval Church lie in the bucolic backwaters of Kildare in a quiet town land called Harristown. The large Demesne here was most associated with the prominent Eustace family and Harristown House became the seat of the LaTouches.
The old Harristown cemetary is situated down a narrow road and contains stones dating back to the 18th century. The ruins of the parochial Church stand in the centre of the enclosure.
Like many of its kind from this period it would have served as a parish Church up until the dissolution and most likely fell into ruin as the parishes combined and churchgoers dispersed. It is most definitely stated as being ruinous on the 1837 OS map and has certainly crumbled a lot more since then.We came across it on our travels in the area looking for a ruin in Nurney and so stopped to take a look.
The entrance to the graveyard is by way of a small unlocked gate in the West wall by the roadside. Alternatively if you like climbing then there is a stone stile to the left of the gate. Most of the South and West walls of the Church still stand with a portion of the North wall also in evidence. The East wall at the rear has all but disappeared. The overall state of these ruins evoke a tangible feeling of real antiquity.
The long rectangular shape of the structure measures approx. 21m x 7m and there is an entrance doorway in the South wall. You have to stoop down to enter here as the ground level outside is higher than the interior. Within there are some salvaged carved grave markers and the remains of a baptismal font basin which lies a bit abandoned looking on the leafy ground. The ruins seem quite undisturbed and I would imagine that not a lot of visitors pass its way apart from relatives visiting some of the more recent graves. I wonder does it even register in most peoples minds at all. Still, finding one of these medieval Churches especially when unplanned peaks my interest. There are virtually no pictures of these ruins online so hopefully the above will redress this.
To find the ruins take the M7 Dublin to Limerick motorway and at junction 13 take the exit for Kildare. At the top of the exit ramp take the exit left for the R415. Drive for approx. 7KM until you reach Nurney. Just before the large white Church there is a right hand turn. Take this turn and approx. 200m along take the first left turn. Drive for 1.5KM until you reach a forked junction. Take the left hand road and about 100m along you will see the ruins in the graveyard on your left. You can park just along the roadside here.
Sunday, 10 November 2013
Dunbrody Abbey Co Wexford
from the night stairs
Cistercian monasteries are generally massive structures and Dunbrody Abbey is no exception. It stands huge and hulking against the Wexford countryside surrounded on all sides by pastoral land.
The Abbey was commissioned by "Strongbow" (Richard De Clare) in 1170 and was constructed by Harvey De Montmorency. It was completed by 1220. This comprised of the cruciform Church only while the huge tower was added later in the 15th century. The length of the Church measures 190 feet making it among the longest in the country.
The Abbey thrived for centuries until inevitably the dissolution of Abbeys put paid to the Cistercian tenure. It was dissolved in 1536, the monks evicted and anything of worth removed including the lead on the roof.
In 1545 the lands were passed to Sir Osbourne Etchingham who converted part of the Abbey into a residence but over subsequent years the buildings suffered neglect and eventually in 1852 the South wall collapsed causing major damage. What was left of the Abbey soon fell into ruin.
This has to be one of the most dramatic ruins we have visited. They lie adjacent to the Dunbrody visitor centre and Castle (See earlier post here) and a key for access can be obtained from the reception for a nominal charge. A pathway measuring approx. 150m leads you directly from the road up to the Abbey and there is a real excitement to opening the great gates and being the only visitors there. To be honest I think most visitors to the centre come to see the great Yew Tree maze and play miniature golf rather than make the walk to the ruins. This was August and high season and we spent a good hour there alone. Not that I'm complaining as it gives you time to absorb the atmosphere uninterrupted.
Once through the gate you are led directly onto the cloisters under the ruins of what was one the residential area converted by Etchingham. The cloister retains the large green area but the pillared surrounds are now gone. From this vantage point the great tower looms above you and is really a stunning piece of architecture.
In the green area is a circle of stone divided by four gaps. This might have been the top of a well but most likely it may have been outdoor seating for the reflective monks.
there are a number of chambers dotted along the east side of the cloister which are locked as they house some carved stones salvaged from the Abbey.
The great Nave runs in under the vaulted underbelly of the tower and leads to the Chancel in which a stone altar is situated directly beneath the massive East window. There is some restoration work in progress on the the Abbey by the current owners and the OPW but it appears to have been halted for the moment. Any access to the tower and the small spiral stairs we discovered have been locked for now which is a pity as the views above would be magnificent. On the South transept however there is a set of stone steps known as the Night Stairs which lead up to a gated doorway again locked but from here you are afforded views of the cloister from above and part of the ruins of Etchingham's residence. This at the moment is the highest point you can achieve.
On the opposite side of the cloister from the Nave are the remains of the Refectory and Kitchen again adding to the large expanse of this Abbey. All in all there is a lot to see plenty of nooks and crannies to explore and the architecture in places is remarkable evoking a great sense of history.
To find the Abbey 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 visitor centre on your left. Ample parking is available. The centre is only open mid May to mid September. If visiting go as early as possible for a quieter visit. Outside of the seasonal opening you will be able to walk up to the Abbey but not access the interior.
Saturday, 2 November 2013
Broadleas Stone Circle Co Kildare
As with other stone circles visited there is always a sense of mystery to them. This particular one is believed to belong to the late Neolithic or early Bronze age. The circle stands on slightly elevated ground, measures over 30m in diameter and is surrounded amongst others by Hawthorns and a very prominent Ash Tree. These types of trees and bushes had significance to the ancient tribes so it is not surprising to find them at a site such as this. To add to the feeling of antiquity one of the large stones has been split in two by a Holly Tree.
The circle consists of what appears to be a varying amount of stones. Visitors have recorded anything between 27 and 39! This huge difference might be caused by the amount of overgrowth at certain times of the year or by split stones but curiously enough it had been a local legend that counting and recounting the stones always delivered a different figure. We counted 30 ourselves on our visit. Regardless of this the stones form an almost perfect circle and are one of the more interesting circles to be found in this part of the country.
Broadleas is located just over the Kildare county line from the N81 road in Wicklow and the stones are situated in a private field. There are no prohibitive signs and access is through a field gate that is chained but not locked. It was a quiet sunny morning and nobody was around to check with for access so we decided to have a look anyway. Once in we closed the gate behind us as there were some sheep grazing although they didn't seem too bothered by our presence.
The position of the circle on what appears to be a mound would lend the thought that this might possibly have marked a cairn. The stones are wide apart so at times its difficult to make out the overall shape. Also there are some stones placed close together and in other spots there are gaps. Whether this was deliberate or the stones have been removed its hard to say and it takes a good few minutes to walk around the circumference to take it all in. Nonetheless the particular placing of the stones in this order really exudes a sense that this was more than a normal circle maybe an important sacrificial site. There is a definite vibe here.
We got in and out without any difficulty and there was no one else about. However if visiting respect for the landowners property should be observed and permission sought if possible. There is a National monument sign beside the circle so I wouldn't expect permission to be denied.
To find the circle take the N81 Dublin to Tullow road heading South and approx. 9KM past Blessington you will find a right hand turn for the R411 to Ballymore Eustace. Take this turn and drive for approx. 600m until you come to a left hand turn. Turn here and park a few metres around the corner just before the entrance to a farmyard. The field gate and stone circle are directly opposite.
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