Sunday 27 September 2015

Moore Hall Co Mayo

                                       Above Image: Car park starting point

                                              Above Image: Entrance stile

                                         Above image: The trail to the ruins

                                        Above Image: The house emerges

                                 Above Image & Below 2 Images: Interior views

                                    Above Image: Route to the rear of house

                                       Above Image: First view of the tunnel

                                       Above Image: Dank and dark interior

                               Above Image: Intestinal-like tree roots take hold

This ruin of a once fine house had its history originate with George Moore a very wealthy merchant in the brandy and wine business trading in Spain. Upon selling his business in 1784 he returned to Ireland. George wanted to use some of his fortune to construct a fine mansion to be named aptly Moore Hall. He bought property on Muckloon Hill near Lough Carra but was repeatedly advised that it was a known to be a cursed place deriving from the story of the death of the King of Connacht Brian Orbsen in the fifth century. When Orbsen was killed his druid Drithliu fled and went into hiding on Muckloon Hill but to no avail he was hunted down and killed. George scoffed at these tales and in 1790 began the construction of the mansion. Nine years later he met a bad end when he initially went blind then died as a result of a stroke. His Son John who had been arrested during the rebellion in 1798 in which he took part died shortly later while being transported to the West Indies. Some said George should have heeded the warnings. Descendants who continued to live in Moore Hall included the famous writer George Augustus Moore who entertained many renowned people there. The house was occupied until 1910 and then went under stewardship. During the civil war in 1923 it was destroyed by fire set alight by members of the old IRA who arrived at the estate in the form of a mob and who objected to the then owner Maurice Moore’s stance on being pro treaty. There was a concerted campaign on these big houses during the conflict and Moore Hall was unlucky to be one of them. The house was completely gutted and never reconstructed. The curse continued. Today the lands are in state ownership and run by the forestry commission Coillte. As with many Coillte sites parts of the forests are available to the public for walking and this is also the case with Moore Hall’s estate.
A car park at the edge of Lough Carra is the starting point and when we visited we took the track the furthest from the entrance way which leads directly to the ruins in a short walk of a few minutes.
The atmosphere in the woods is one of silence. Rarely did I even hear birdsong along the route. The rough track eventually opens out to the large copse in which the ruins stand. Large stone steps lead up to the portico and the now gated up doorway. The bare window frames like eyeless sockets seem to glare on the modern world with some disdain. Access to the interior has now been prohibited because of incidents in the past of falling masonry. You can still look inside through the doorway and some of the windows and see what a large interior it had although the trees and vegetation now curl around corners and cling to the brickwork. I have seen pictures of this house when it was still occupied and it was indeed a fine building and even now its stonework is quite solid but the building itself has become quite stark and derelict and seems to loom over you almost balefully.
We took a walk around the rear of the building and discovered that a tunnel lay beneath our feet accessed on either side of the building at basement level. This was apparently a carriage tunnel for deliveries to the house and kitchens. In the centre of the tunnel a wooden gate gives a rear view of the house but when I tried to access I got bogged down in mud made worse by rainfall the night before. Indeed the tunnel was haunted by sounds of dripping rainwater and had a distinctly unpleasant atmosphere. I ventured no further as I really did feel I was not alone in there. Interestingly the cellar I believe is home to a colony of Lesser Horseshoe Bats which are a protected species. I would have really liked to have seen some but none were apparent in the tunnel area that I managed to traverse. They are nocturnal creatures and tend to keep hidden away. The bats are not the only fauna at Moore Hall. Legend has it that a Peist roams the water of lough Carra. (A Peist being a large serpentine creature) This folklore only adds more atmosphere to an already mysterious location. A family out walking passed through while we visited breaking the silence with jovial conversation but as soon as they left the house and its surrounds returned to that almost tangible quiesience that we had experienced since our arrival. 
An atmospheric visit then to a type of ruin that is usually tucked away from public view on private land. Many thanks go to Coillte for allowing access to this historic yet creepy manse.
To find the ruin of Moore Hall you need to take a trip down a few back roads. Entering Ballinrobe from the Castlebar direction you will see a large Pylon on your right and a shop ahead at a junction with a sign “Pete’s PC’s”. Turn left at the shop onto the High Street (L1607) and drive for approx. 6.5KM until you reach a crossroads with some large sheds on your left hand side. There are signs pointing left to Lough Carra and Moorehall. Turn left at the crossroads and it will be a 5KM drive to your destination. After 1.5KM of this section of your trip you will turn on a sharp right bend. Drive on for another 2KM and you will cross over a stone bridge known as Annie’s Bridge. 300m after the bridge the road takes a sharp bend right and 400m beyond this is a left hand turn with a sign pointing towards Burriscarra Abbey. Turn left here and drive alongside the north shore of Lough Carra for approx. 1KM until you see an entry way to a car park. It is clearly signposted “Welcome to Moore Hall”.  In the car park there are two entrance trails to the forest. Take the one furthest from the road entrance at the end of the car park.

Tuesday 15 September 2015

Ballylahan Castle Co Mayo

                                                  Above Image: Entrance stile

                                      Above Image: Interior of the remaining tower

                            Above Image: The possible postern gate partially blocked.

                                                Above Image: remains of tower

                                         Above Image: Southern aspect of ruins

This interesting Castle was constructed near the River Moy in 1239 by Jordan De Exeter whose family came from Devon in England. De Exeter took part in the battle of Connacht in the 1230’s and later became Sheriff of Connacht. This Castle became one of his strongholds. The Exeter name later changed to Mac Jordan (meaning son of Jordan). The Castle came under attack early in 1316 by the King of Connacht Felim O Concobair in his last year of reign (he died in August of that year at the second battle of Athenry) and it was almost destroyed. It appears that reconstruction never really took place and so the Castle has fallen into further ruin over the centuries.
This was a most formidable structure in its time having two robust towers added 21 years after its initial construction, one on each side of the entrance on its East side. The bawn was unusual in that it was constructed in a hexagonal shape.
We had spotted this ruin just off the roadside on the way to Foxford and being situated in a field I thought it might be on private land and inaccessible but it proved completely otherwise. We discovered a partially overgrown stile alongside a locked field gate on a side road and once over this access was really easy. l found an OPW information sign in a bad state lying face down in the grass which had somehow been dislodged from its post so I leaned it up against the inner wall so it wouldn’t get any further damage. This is possibly an indicator that the site is not often visited or maintained in any way by the OPW.
The Castle is built on a grassy mound and at the site of its former entrance gate only one of the large cylindrical towers that once stood proudly is still partially in evidence. The bawn within is quite large but damaged, a lot of it now just mere foundations. This Castle really looks like it got a thorough beating by its assailants. The Western face of the tower remaining is blasted open revealing the innards, while the other tower has been reduced to just a sliver. Within the bawn there are remnants of interior buildings in the walls and a large archway which looks a little too large to be a postern gate (which were back entrance gates intended for secret comings and goings) but may very well be one.
For such a large Castle it is surprising that some reconstruction did not take place but then some of the De Exeters were killed during the attack and this may have had some bearing on the situation. There are a fair amount of Jordan descendants still in Ireland who may be able to shed more light on this great ruin.
To find the Castle take the N5 from Castlebar heading North East towards Swinford. About 10KM out of Castlebar you will see a left hand turn for the N58 towards Foxford. Take this left turn and drive for approx. 7.5KM and you will reach a right hand turn for the R321 towards Kiltimagh. You will spot the Castle ruins on your right among the trees just before the turn. It is advisable to park on the hard shoulder on the main road rather than on the narrow R321. It’s a short walk to the stile up the R321 from here.

Monday 7 September 2015

Castletown Motte & Tower Co Louth

                                                 Above Image: Entrance stile

                                               Above Image: Track to the Motte

                                          Above Image: Spiral track up the Motte

                               Above  & Below Images: Entrance to top of Motte area

                                                   Above Image: Byrne's Folly

                        Above & Below Images: Some of the ground stonework around
                                                                the folly

                             Above & Below Images: Entrance door and interior view

                         Above & Below Images: 2 Views looking up within the tower

This unusual site is well worth a diversion to if anywhere near the town of Dundalk. Located off a side road a little West of the town you would not be immediately aware of its existence. A stile in the wall by the roadside gives access to a short track that leads you directly to it.
The earthen Motte that is located here was probably constructed in the 12th century as a Norman defence. A wooden bailey and tower would have sat upon its flattened top. The Motte measures over 30 feet high and approx. 320 feet in diameter, quite an impressive construction. A number of names have been given to it over the centuries ranging from Cuchulainn’s Hill (legend has it that this site was his birthplace) , Dun Dealgan (the gaelic for Dundalk) and Castletown Motte (a simple explaination of its location). A local man named Patrick “Pirate”Byrne who ran a successful salt manufacturing business near the port and was suspected of being into a bit of smuggling (hence his nickname) built a stone tower house on top of the Motte in 1780 as a show of wealth and this came to be known as Byrne’s folly. The tower is castellated and has a track cut out of the side of the Motte to lead up to it. This track is the one you use today to access the summit and it has a guard rail on it as there is a deep ditch around the base. I really like this tower and Motte and the walk up is quite easy. I don’t think that it was a main residence but more like a holiday retreat for Byrne. The door is gated up now and looking up inside all of the floors are missing. I suspect that they were simple wooden ones that fell apart over time. I see this as a hidden gem and a great place to bring the family. When we visited it was quite early in the day so we had the place to ourselves.
To find Castletown Motte and its folly take the junction 17 exit of the M1 for Dundalk (Town Centre)  onto the N53. Drive for approx. 800m until you reach a crossroads. Turn right at the crossroads onto Mount Avenue. Drive for approx. 200m and you will see a gate with stone pillars on your right. Park on this side between this gate and the adjacent gate. You will see the stile in the wall to the left of the left hand pillar. Just follow the track up to the Motte.