Wednesday 25 June 2014

Old Bannow Church Co Wexford

                                          Above Image: The entrance stile

                                      Above Image: South wall entrance door

                                                 Above Image: The Font

                                             Above Image: Stone coffin

                                           Image Below: The grave slab

                                           Above Image: The East window

                   Above & Below Images: The Prince Michael Sepulchre & Plaque

                   Above & Below Images: Two views of Bannow Bay with the Saltee
                                                       Islands on the horizon

These interesting ruins are located on a sandy headland overlooking Bannow bay where the Normans first invaded Ireland in 1169. The Church constructed in the 13th century in a Romanesque style is the only remnant of the lost Norman town of Bannow which is said to have sunk beneath the sands in the 16th century when the silt in the bay rose and swept over Bannow Island. The town which was of some importance and had nine ‘named’ streets disappeared with the exception of the top of the chimney of the town hall. The church only survived because it was positioned 30 feet above sea level.
The Church dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary consists of a nave and chancel and is now surrounded by a more modern graveyard enclosure. The walls of the Church are crenellated giving it a very fortified appearance.
We came across this ruin purely by accident. We had taken a trip down to Bannow Bay to see where the Norman invasion had initiated and spotted the large structure in the distance on our way back. Never one to turn down an opportunity to see a good ruin I diverted us to have a look. A small sandy car park is provided as the Church is surrounded by a graveyard still in use. A stile gives you access and you enter the ruins by a doorway in the South wall of the nave. A small font lies just inside but apparently a more ornate font was removed in the past and now resides in the Church in Danescastle.
There are some interesting artefacts to see within including a large stone 14th century grave slab and an open stone coffin. The chancel area contains a large arched East window and some tombs.
Outside the walls a portion of the North wall has been smoothed for it seems to use as a hand ball court. I have noticed this several times before in places such as Newtown Church in Co. Kilkenny (See earlier post) Is this a peculiarly Irish thing?
At the North eastern end a large sepulchre stands attached with a memorial plaque dedicated to Prince Michael of The Saltee Islands and his wife Anne. In 1956 Michael Neale a colourful and quite wealthy character self declared himself Prince of the offshore Islands which he had purchased in 1943 and subsequently turned into a bird sanctuary. He and his wife lived periodically in this self styled micronation until their deaths in the 1990’s and his son Prince Michael II has now taken up the mantle. Visitors are allowed to visit the Great Saltee Island only during certain daytime hours.
So this small diversion turned out to be a quite interesting visit. The Church of Bannow stands silently now alone on its windswept location the only testament to the lost town but I have to say it was well worth the time to make a visit in what is a very historical area.
To find the ruins take the R736 south from Wellingtonbridge and drive for approx. 4.5KM until you reach a T-Junction. Turn right following the sign for “The Bannow Drive” and continue for approx. 4KM until you reach a fork in the road with two signs one pointing right to “Bannow Island” and the left for the “Bannow Drive”. Follow the right for “Bannow Island”. Approx. 400m later there is another fork in the road and you will see the ruins in the distance on your left. Follow the left track and it will lead you to the car park.

Monday 16 June 2014

Rathmore Motte Co Kildare

                            Above Image: The lane way between Church & Motte

                                           Above Image: The entrance stile

                    Above Image: The sweeping dip between Motte & Embankment

                      Above Image: "Soil creep" give the North slope a rippling effect

                         Above Image: The South slope with burrow visible near top.

                                               Above Image: The burrow

                                  Above Image: View from the top Westwards

                                 Above Image View To the approach road below

                                  Above Image: View from the adjacent Church

                     Above Image: Aeriel view of the Motte with Church to the South

This very prominent Motte is located in a field beside a Church in Rathmore in North Co. Kildare.

 A Motte is a mound which was usually artificially built or in some cases an existing mound was expanded upon. A wooden or stone fort was then placed upon the flattened top and a fortified enclosure called a bailey at the base. They were easily built but formidable structures. This Motte is thought to date to the late 12th century and was a stronghold for the Fitzgeralds. It was designed to defend an important pass through the hills. In the 1890’s it was the subject of some excavation work after a landslide exposed a burial chamber with a skeleton dating to the Bronze Age. Indeed some Mottes were often built upon barrows so this was nothing too unusual.

The Motte is on farmland and the field gate on the main road is locked. However in a laneway that runs between the Motte and the adjacent Episcoplalian Church of St Columbkille there is a stile for access. It is a bit hidden and easy to miss but is located in the hedgerow just a few yards up the lane on the right hand side.  One of the steps on the stile is broken leaving it a bit awkward to cross but once over there is a track that leads you around the base of this great Motte. You will notice that there is also a large embankment on its East side which would have been an added defence against attack.

 I really felt dwarfed by its size but getting to the top wasn’t too hard although it would appear to be easier for the many sheep who seem to like the view from there and scurry away as you approach. There are some quite steep parts so if climbing wear boots or good grip shoes. The Northern slope has a rippled effect which is a result of subsidence. This could have been partly caused by the fact that the Motte once faced a sand pit and was partially excavated for gravel. Near the top there appears to be a burrow of some sort hollowed into the hill. What might reside there I don’t know but I wasn’t sticking my hand in to find out. The view is really good from up here and it’s not hard to imagine that from the fort that you could see for miles in all directions and be forewarned of an impending attack.  A very interesting and atmospheric place and well worth a visit on a fine day.

To find the Motte take the N81 South from Brittas towards Blessington and approx. 5KM out of Brittas you will see a right hand turn with a grotto and statue of Our Lady on the corner. Turn right onto this road and follow it for approx. 5KM until you come to a T-Junction. The lane way leading to the stile is directly opposite and you can park alongside the wall on that side of the road.

Saturday 7 June 2014

Three Castles Church & Castle Co Kilkenny

                                Image Below: The steps leading to the entrance.

                             Above Image: Church ruins forefront with tower behind.

                                         Above Image: The Church entrance.

                                          Above Image: Interior with tomb.

                                   Above Image: Outline of former Church roof.

                              Above Image: Roadside view. Steps to the right.

A little out of the way this one. Situated in the parish of Odagh in Co Kilkenny this is a medieval parish church with an added fortified tower. The tower was once one of three defending the Nore river the other two now being non-extant.
The ruins are surrounded by a graveyard of which access is by a flight of stone steps that leads up from the road. Above you the tower looms beyond some trees. A gate at the top of the steps is the entry point. The feeling on this first visit was of entering a secret garden.
The graveyard seems partially maintained although it is quite secluded from the road. The Church section has an arched doorway which remains locked with some very finely sharpened tops to the vertical bars in the gate that would impale anyone attempting to climb over. Inside, the ground of the church appears to have been adapted into a sort of decorated courtyard. In any regard there is no need to gain access as you can see all there is to see through the gate. There appears to be a tomb within but it's hard to make out any detail from the gate. You can see where the original roof met with the fortified tower by the apex shaped remains. It looks to have been a small Church and why it was important enough to be attached to a tower is a mystery. The nearby Three Castles demesne was the seat of the Ball family who may have been descendants of the Norman "Balles" of Northamptonshire. Perhaps they may have had some involvement with the Castle & Church site.
The tower consists of two upper storeys over a vaulted ground floor. Access to the tower is prohibited by a high wall topped with barbed wire. There is a definite air of  No Trespassing here which was a bit disappointing. Nonetheless this is an interesting ruin in a bucolic setting. 
To find the ruins take the N77 heading North from Kilkenny City towards Durrow. About 3KM out of Kilkenny you will reach a roundabout. Take the first left exit signposted for Durrow. Drive for approx. 2KM until you see a white gabled house facing you on your right and a left hand turn for Freshford. Turn left here and approx.1KM along the road forks. Take the left hand road and drive for approx. 600m. You will cross a stone bridge over the Nore river. Just past this the road curves to the right. Park at the wall and gate on the curve. The steps leading up to the ruins are at the end of the wall on the right.