Thursday 29 January 2015

Gowran Collegiate Church Co Kilkenny

                                            Above Image: Entrance lane & stile

                                             Above Image: The graceful arches

                                          Above Image: The West gable (Interior)

                                      Above image: Some artefacts from the ruins

                                         Above Image: The West gable (Exterior)

The huge Gowran collegiate Church was constructed in 1260AD on the site of an earlier monastery. It was administered by a college of priests rather than being run like a traditional monastery
 Is it a ruin or is it not? Good question. It is really a tale of two Churches.The structure is now divided into two distinct sections. One section is in ruins the other in use. The original chancel and nave were expanded in the 14th century by the addition of the large tower and battlements .The Church fell into ruin after the dissolution but the chancel end was rebuilt upon in the 19th century incorporating the tower and thus creating a new Church of Ireland parish Church of St Marys which is still in use today.
We came across the Church by chance passing through Gowran, the large ruined section being the first thing we spotted. As mentioned the newer Eastern section is in use and the tower contains some very interesting effigies and tombstones but to me really the ruins outside are the more interesting to see.
You can access the ruins through a stile at the end of a walled lane way that leads up from the main street and then by way of a doorway in the south wall. There is some amazing stonework on this Church including the elaborate crenellations on the high North wall. There are many niches for tombs in the South wall and some interesting carved slabs and masks.
The aisle has arched arcades, the North one still intact. Standing in the nave the tower looms above you and is supported by a large buttress. I felt dwarfed walking around this impressive structure. The many arches and windows are a testament to the masons who constructed them.
Near the Western end of the nave is a tomb with a rather creepy shrouded figure upon it, this is the tomb of James Keally and his wives dated 1646.
A very impressive place then and well worth your time to stop and have a look around if in the area.
To find the ruins take the M9 heading South and take the junction 7 exit. At the top of the exit ramp take the first left on the roundabout and continue on straight through the next roundabout. At the third roundabout take the third exit on the right onto the R448. Drive for approx. 5.5KM until you reach the main street of Gowran. Continue up the main street and you can’t miss the tower of the church on your left. Parking is possible by the roadside at the church itself.  

Wednesday 21 January 2015

Old Duneany Church Co Kildare

                                               Above Image: The roadside gate

                                     Above Image: Entrance gate to the enclosure

                                                  Above Image: The way in!!

                              Above & Below Images: Only visible parts of the walls

                                           Above Image: The remains of the font

It was on a really warm spring Friday that I found myself in the backwaters of Kildare on another ruin hunt. I’d read that there was a medieval Church ruin at Duneany and so I set about finding it. On locating the townland a drive down a long narrow lane brought me to a gate in a stone wall. Beyond this a short wire fenced track led into pastureland to another gate that sported a cross. I knew then that I’d found it!  This gate was part of a circular enclosure wall and was unlocked but anticipation was slowly drowned as I tried to navigate the uneven ground within that was covered with high grass. A number of times I almost tripped on rocks hidden by the overgrowth. I could not for the life of me see any ruins. Finally amongst the leaning weatherworn headstones in a clump of trees and bushes in the centre of the enclosure I came across the remains of a font which apparently dates back to approx. the 13th century. This would date the Church to this time period also. According to records this font was supposed to be located within the Church so I reckoned that this must be where I was. Whatever remains of Duneany now is so covered over with vegetation that that I could only find traces of a wall strewn with dead ivy. I came across something similar at Castlefarm (see earlier post here) but at least at that location there was some more structure evident. What I’m increasingly finding on my visits to these sites is the rising amount of decay not by natural erosion but by neglect. Overgrowth is rampant in places. These historical structures are part of the fabric of the landscape and while I appreciate that landowners cannot afford the time or in many cases the cost of preserving these structures I think that the maybe the OPW should become more involved at local level in keeping these monuments visible. Many local authorities and indeed local people often get involved in clean ups on ruins but sadly there are not enough of these positive minded people around to deal with the more rural or remote sites. This rant aside I still always get something out of my visits to these ancient places and the feeling of antiquity always shines through no matter how great or little there is to see.
To find Duneany Churchyard take the M7 heading West and exit at junction 13. At the top of the exit ramp take the first left hand turn onto the R415. Drive for approx. 800m until you reach a crossroads. Take the right hand turn onto the L7024 and drive for approx. 6.5KM until you reach another small crossroads (There is a bungalow with a conservatory on the right). Turn down the left hand lane at the crossroads and approx. 400m along you will spot the Iron gate on your left. You can park safely here.

Tuesday 13 January 2015

St Finghin's Church Co Clare

                                                Above Image: The East gable

                                 Above Image: The Tower on the South West Corner

                              Above & Below Images: Two aspects of the East gable

This striking ruin lies adjacent to the River Rine in the village of Quin in Co Clare. It is thought to have been constructed by the DeClares in the late 1270’s as a parish Church and dedicated to St Finghin ( a Saint of which little is known of but who may have been associated with St Columba in the 6th century) It is a single cell Church long and narrow with a fine triple lancet window in its Eastern gable. A three-level tower of an unusual design was added to the Church in the 1500’s and was linked directly to the interior.
This ruin is close to Quin Abbey which is situated across the Rine. The area around the ruins of St Finghins has been nicely landscaped and is easily accessible from the main street through an iron gate. The most striking feature has to be the tower standing at approx. 56 feet on the South West Corner. It leans slightly but otherwise It’s in reasonable condition. Its design to me looks a little more continental than the usual square towers seen in this country. The North wall of the Church is missing but the South wall with its entrance door and window remains intact. The other interesting feature is the East gable with its triple windows still looking very ornate after all these years. This is a very aesthetically pleasing ruin and appears to be well maintained and is well worth your time to visit especially on a sunny day as the surrounds are quite attractive.  
To find the ruins take the M18 heading South and exit at Junction 12. At the top of the exit ramp take the first left hand turn. Drive for approx. 4.5KM until you reach a crossroads with the R469 and a sign pointing right towards Quin. Turn right and drive for approx. 5.5KM until you reach Quin village. Just after the Abbey Stores the road swings left into the village. Continue and you will find the entrance gate to the ruins just opposite the Monks Well Inn. Ample parking available in the village.

Friday 2 January 2015

Taghmon Church & Castle Co Westmeath

                              Above Image: The entrance gate & stile (to the left)

                                    Above & Below Images: The Sheela-na-gig

                              Above Image: An ecclesiastical head carving above
                                                   Northern door

                                Above Image: Large machiolation on South wall

                                Above Image: An interior view of part of the cell

                               Above Image: View of the Castle from the Church

                                      Above & Below Images: Taghmon Castle

Located in the pleasant Westmeath countryside this impressive structure when first viewed from the road really demands your attention.
It was constructed as a parish Church in the mid 15th century on the site of an ancient 7th century monastery founded by St Munna (Aka St Fintan). The Church was greatly fortified primarily by it's stocky tower and also by its numerous crenellations. The Church had been ransacked in 1452 by Farrell MacGeoghegan and so the tower became a refuge for the clergy in the event of any further attack. After the reformation the Church was passed to the Nugent family who found out later during their tenure that Cromwell's army and according to rumour Cromwell himself was using it as a bivouac in order to attack their Castle. The Church being disused became almost ruinous by the early 17th century. Records show it as being revived in the 1750's and some restoration done around a century later creating a place of worship for the Church of Ireland Community. It is now no longer in use and under state care.
The two bay single cell interior has a vaulted roof as do some of the floors in the four storey tower. The interior is now an empty shell and usually locked up but there a few interesting features to the exterior.
The site is accessed by a stone stile directly to the left of a wrought iron gate. The first exterior feature that greets you is that of the Sheela-na-gig over the window in the North wall. These type of carvings that appear at first to be rude figures are actually an ancient form of effigy designed to ward off evil. They are found quite prolifically in both Ireland and Britain.There are also some ecclesiastical head carvings to be found on the other walls. On the South wall is a large machiolation which is another defence feature normally associated with fortified castles. This could be used to pour down boiling liquids or cast rocks on any assailants below.
The great fortified tower itself almost diminishes the nearby Taghmon Castle tower which now sits in a farm field slowly crumbling away and being increasingly infested by ivy. We were very impressed by the Church at Taghmon and it was well worth the time to visit. The Castle, which is accessed up a narrow lane way across from the Church, seems less impressive and in fact looks like it might have once been a corner turret for a larger structure. Access is possible over a field gate but bear in mind it is on private farm land. When we visited, a rather vocal hound of some sort was tearing at the hedgerow between us and him on the lane way to the Castle. Dogs and Bulls, the bane of Castlehunters!
To find Taghmon Church take the N4 heading West from Mullingar and take the junction 17 exit for the R394 signposted for Castlepollard & Crookedwood. Drive along the R394 for approx. 7KM and then take the right hand turn onto the L1618 at Murray's "The Wood" pub at Crookedwood. Drive for approx. 2KM and you will spot the Church on your right. You can park alongside on the road safely enough.