Tuesday 25 August 2015

Kille Abbey Co Mayo

                                               Above Image: Approach track

                                                   Above Image: Eastern aspect

                                                   Above Image: South gable

                                    Above & Below Images: Interesting grave stones

                                                     Above Image: West gable

                                                Above Image: Sunken doorway

                                       Above Image: Interior view to South gable

                                                      Above Image: Archway

                                      Above Image: Ancillary structure in West wall

                                             Above Image: Alcove in South wall

                                         Above Image: The famous Donkey!

We were on our way to view Shrule Castle (see earlier post here) when I spotted a sign pointing to this Abbey so not knowing what it was like we decided to take a diversion on our return journey to check it out.
A winding country road brought us a view of the ruins in the near distance adjacent to the Lough Nakill turlough. (A turlough is a sort of disappearing lake which fills up in wet weather and empties during dry spells and with only a few exceptions is peculiar to Ireland). A narrow track then brings you down to the ruins which are located within a graveyard enclosure.
The history that I could gather regarding the Abbey which was originally known as Killeenbrenan or Moorgagagh (the adjacent townland) is that It is thought to have been constructed on the site of an earlier Church sometime before 1428 by one of the De Burgo family for the Third Order of Franciscans. It was a noted Abbey being mentioned in many records of the time and is considered to be the first Franciscan house in Ireland. According to local lore it survived the dissolution but came under attack by Cromwell’s forces in the mid 1600’s. The monks escaped when forewarned of the oncoming troops.
Being in such an off the beaten track location we didn’t expect to find many sightseers and in fact we didn’t except for the presence of a donkey which must be a very special one as there is a sign posted outside the Abbey along with some architectural details advising to keep gates closed to protect this donkey. It also states “enter at your own risk” presumably an insurance disclaimer as I would not suspect the Donkey of being a man-killer.
The location of this site is in a particularly beautiful part of Mayo and there is a great sense of peacefulness in the air. The Abbey is in a fairly poor state, parts of the walls having crumbled, but two gables still stand tall one South facing the other West facing. The donkey is positioned in the field with the West gable. He seems a bit indignant to visitors and snorts if you approach so we left him to his own devices. To the left of the West gable a slightly sunken doorway enables you to enter what remains of the inside. A single arc of stone is all that is left of an inner archway but it is quite dramatic. On the inside of the South gable there is a small alcove where the priest would have washed his hands  before handling the sacrament.
There are a couple of interesting headstones in the graveyard including one for a blacksmith depicting the instruments he would have used in his trade. In the wall furthest from the entrance gate there is a hole in the stone in the wall about four feet from the ground. Legend has it that if you walk towards it with eyes closed and your arm outstretched and manage to put your arm through the hole you will most certainly go to Heaven. It’s some feat as the ground is very uneven underfoot and if not careful you are likely to trip over something.
I found the visit rewarding and in a very bucolic landscape. Well worth your time to detour to.
To find the ruins drive northwards from Shrule towards Kilmaine and about 2KM out of Shrule you will see a left hand turn with a white sign pointing to Kille Abbey Cemetery. Turn left down this road and follow it until you spot the ruins on your left. You will see a narrow track leading down to it. Parking is tight at the gate but turn the car facing back towards the road and you should have no problem.  

Monday 17 August 2015

St Mobhi's Well & Church Co Dublin

                                        Above Image: Magical location of the well

                                            Above Image: Entrance stile to well

                                          Above Image: Hidden entrance gateway

                                                    Above Image: Forest track

                                      Above Image: well is located behind this tree

                                                      Above Image: Well steps

                                             Above Image: Descent to the well

                                 Above & Below Images: Hole and carvings on rocks

                                          Above Image: Entrance to graveyard

                                     Above & Below Images: Church foundations

                                               Above Image: Church doorway

                                               Above Image: A bullaun stone?

Tucked away on a country road near Skerries these ancient sites are really worth a visit. They are associated with St Mobhi who founded a hermitage here in the 7th century. He is different to the earlier St Mobhi of Glasnevin. The hermitage is thought to have been on the site of the current graveyard.
There are rectangular foundation ruins within this graveyard enclosure which are accessed by either stile or steps from the roadside. The foundations which I’m supposing to be of a former medieval church have a gap in the south side which was probably the doorway. Funnily enough although marked on modern maps these foundations are not marked on historic maps but a mention is made in the Fingal development plan of 2011 that the graveyard contains the remains of a base of a Church so maybe someone out there has a little more info as to It's origin. At the rear of the enclosure is what looks to be a bullaun stone sitting in a random locaton. Walking around this site there is Certainly a very strong atmosphere of antiquity.
About 50 yards further up the road there is a locked pillared gate and to the right a very prominent stile. This is the access point to find your way to St Mobhi’s well. Once over the wall you will see a track ahead of you but this leads to the private property of Milverton Demesne. On our first visit we accidentally followed this route in search of the well and although didn’t encounter anyone we eventually knew that we were on the wrong track as we reached some farm buildings and thought it better that we retreat. At this point I have to thank Jim Dempsey of Megalithic Ireland for putting me in the right direction. The correct route is as follows. Once over the stile turn to your right. What looks like a bunch of brambles actually conceals a gateway with the metal gate now removed. There is a sign on the tree to the left of this gate which says private property. This is new since our last visit but I think it pertains to the other track that we had gone on in error. Anyway bear this in mind while visiting that the well was in the past open to access but things may have changed. Still, with a stile provided and an open gateway one would assume it’s OK.  So, when you pass through the gateway follow the narrow track to the left among the trees. It’s about a four or five minute walk to the well with a few fallen branches to step over and some ferns to brush aside but it all adds to the mystery of this location. The well is located behind a tall tree and the rocky construction placed on top of it is megalithic in style but is more than likely of a much later date. Regardless this site has been visited for over a thousand years so the construction is probably quite old. The well itself is considered to be several thousand years old.  After the debacle of our first visit I was really excited about finding this and I think it looks amazing. A short series of flat steps leads down from the forest floor into the well but be careful if descending as it can be slippery at times near the bottom and I’m not sure how deep the well actually is. The rocks that are built up around the well are also interesting. One large boulder has what looks to be cup marks in it like mini bullauns. There are also crosses etched into two of the stones.  Although we didn’t encounter anyone else on our visit, there were signs of visitors with little trinkets and flowers being left as token offerings. The ivy has a hold on some of the stones but I imagine that in late autumn or winter a lot more would be exposed of this wonderful well. Reason enough for another trip then!
To find the ruins and well take the Junction 4 exit of the M1 for the R132 towards Skerries. Drive for approx. 3KM until you reach Blakes Cross and take a right hand turn for Lusk onto the R127. Drive another 3Km and you will reach the Dublin road roundabout. Take the right hand exit following the R127. You will encounter 3 more roundabouts. Drive straight through the first 2 and then turn right at the third still following the R127 towards Skerries. Continue on this road past a left hand turn signposted for Man O'War and then take the next left turn onto the L1275 for Balbriggan. Drive for approx. 1KM and you will spot the graveyard on your right. There is some parking space at the side of the road adjacent to the graveyard wall. The access stile for the well is a few yards further down the road on the graveyard side of the road. 

Addendum February 2016: Planning another visit here soon in 2016 but have noted some changes to the access point on Google streetview. Firstly there is a security sign on the locked gates adjacent to the stile and the gate lodge which was abandoned now appears to be occupied, so we will probably check at the lodge to see if access is still okay. The old trail access to the right of the stile which was fenced off seems as if it might be open but it's difficult to discern on streetview. We will check this in due course. In any event the forest trail to the well appears to have been cleared of debris which is definitely a good sign.


Well what a surprise! The Google streetview images mentioned in the above addendum must be years old. The site remains as it was in our visit last Summer. Nothing has changed. The gate lodge is still abandoned and the old track fenced off. So it was over the stile as before. We wanted to return at a different time of year in the hope that the vegetation and overgrowth would be at a minimum but it was much the same, although there was some more sunlight due to the absence of leafage on the trees. Having visited twice now I think I prefer the Summer visit when the whole site seems to glimmer in a golden glow. Below are a few photos taken on this latest visit 

                                    Above Image: Well located behind this tree

                                     Above Image: A Bullaun stone inserted into the well wall

Saturday 1 August 2015

Shrule Castle Co Mayo

                                  Above Image: Stile to right of gate overgrown

                                      Above Image: Entrance on East Side

This strong three storey tower house is located adjacent to the Black River very close to the border with Galway. It was built in 1238 by the the Norman DeBurgo family. The castle was given to John DeBurgo in 1308. Among the outstanding features are an skirt like base batter that spreads out from the walls at the bottom and four great bartizans on each corner at the top. Each bartizan would have been used as multiple machicolations for defence. The castle came under attack by the English in 1570 and was seized but a retaliation force made up of the Burkes and O'Donnells made a valiant but failed attempt to retake it. The castle passed then into the hands of the William Burke in1574 and his heir John in 1610. Eventually the Castle and lands were leased subsequently to Pierce Lynch the mayor of Galway by Richard Burke.
The Castle came under some controversy in 1642 when some English settlers taking refuge there were sent after about a week with an escort to Galway fort for safety, but after handing them over to the escort which was led by Edmond Bourke, he ordered the killing of the group along the way. This historically is now referred to as the "Shrule massacre".
The castle ruins today are in quite a dangerous condition. The stone work around the doorway and the base batter have been either removed or tampered with, the stones being pilfered for no doubt for other building purposes. This has seriously undermined the building and so it is now closed to public access. The old stile in the outer wall is covered in brambles and although we tried to get access by asking a local, he said that the owner was now in England but you could hop over the wall at your own risk. That is not that easy as the land on the other side is at a deeper level. I think discretion was the better part of valour here so we relented on this occasion. Nonetheless it is a very impressive structure and well worth taking time to stop and view.
To find the ruins take the N84 Northbound from Galway City and drive approx. 20KM until you reach the crossroads in Headford. Turn right here and continue on the N84 for approx. 5KM and you will reach Shrule. You cannot miss the ruins on your right.  Park in the Pub car park opposite.