Above Image: Sketch map of castle site
Having passed by the ivy coated tower house near the junction 9 exit of the M50 for almost 15 years I felt it was probably about time to investigate it further! The tower stands in an area called Ballymount Great and a public park was created here in 2001 by the local council. The ruins now lie within the confines of the park. I arrived at the site only with the knowledge that the tower is called Ballymount Castle (and sometimes Kingswood Castle by locals) but this unassuming ruin turned out to be just a small part of what was a much greater complex.
Ballymount Castle is believed to have been constructed in 1622 on lands granted by James I to William Parsons the surveyor general of Ireland. Parsons had great plans not only to construct a fortified manor house but to extend it structurally over the years and to landscape the grounds around it. Unfortunately for him the civil war of the 1640’s put paid to his tenure and he fled the country leaving his great house to be burned down by rebel forces in November of 1646 a mere 24 years after its construction. The Castle has never been rebuilt and ruination set in very quickly. Two paintings from the late 1700’s one by Dutchman Gabriel Beranger and another by James Saunders depict the house and ancillary buildings as they were then and gives an insight to nature of the Castle, but today there is very little remaining of these structures. But a little in this case is still nonetheless interesting.The first thing I found was that the tower house that is visible from the motorway is now isolated in a sliver of land between the motorway and the LUAS light rail system. I was about to be disappointed at not getting closer access but I then discovered two pedestrian swing gates in the perimeter fences along the rail line which allowed you to cross the tracks and access the tower. At this point I must stress that if visiting due caution must be taken crossing the rails as the LUAS can travel quite fast and is quiet running as I found out quickly enough myself, so double check each way before stepping forward onto the tracks.
The ivy covered tower reveals a large archway on its North West face which is not visible from the road and you can actually go inside. There’s really not too much to see in here but it looks as if there was only one storey above the arch. There are a couple of small windows on the ground level and at least another on the top floor. The ivy outside had made quite a bit of encroachment on the top of the interior and may eventually find its way down to the ground on the inside. The Eastern aspect of the tower outside looks to all intents and purposes like a tall unruly bush, no part of the wall underneath visible. This tower was not the castle itself but the original gatehouse to the site and the archway runs straight through it. It’s a pity that the ivy has not been removed and the ground around it cleared as the grass is quite long and rampant in parts, but it is still worth traversing to have a look inside.
If you follow the LUAS perimeter fence heading in a northerly direction away from the swing gate on the tower side you will see an outcrop of wall now daubed with graffiti. The rail line has run right through what was once a part of the manor house, this being a particular section of the building with a lower chamber that is vaulted and would have more than likely been part of the cellars of the castle. If you hop over the perimeter fence of the rail line you can see an access point which is usually fenced up for what I imagine would be for safety reasons but on my visit about half of the fence had fallen in so I could actually get inside on this occasion. I carefully climbed in to find an unusual chamber with two or three apertures of a sort which may or may not originally have been doorways. The fencing had fallen inwards from these also and the sunlight streamed in as much as it could. It felt a bit strange to be standing in the cellar of a building that was no longer there. Unfortunately the scene with its fallen fences was also marred by the presence of a dumped shopping trolley which might explain how the fences got broken in the first place.On the park side of the tracks you can see a section of wall also daubed liberally with graffiti and judging by the old layout plans from an excavation in 2006 and the aid of an old OS map this looks as if it might possibly be part of the courtyard wall. In the overgrowth of bushes behind this section of wall the ground dips and is madly overgrown but a small jagged portion of another wall juts up and is likely to be remains from one of the manor’s main section. This and the other parts mentioned appear to be the extent of what is left of the castle ruins but it is fascinating to try and ascertain what is what and see how the modern world has encroached upon the site.
A number of excavations took place here over the years that revealed some ancient artefacts. Indeed just a short distance to the northwest of the ruin site is a large mound called The Motte which is actually believed to be a Bronze Age burial mound and not of medieval construction as a true Motte would be. When I spotted this I was surprised to see another ruin sitting on the crest of it, so I enthusiastically followed the track up to the top to discover that this appeared to be the remains of another tower house. While I scouted around the area the weather took a sudden turn and a heavy rain shower powered by the tail end of storm Gertrude lashed against the stones. I actually found shelter among the ruins on the mound proving that even today they still served a purpose. A little research later revealed that these ruins are of a venture known as John Butler’s folly. Butler who in the early 18th century had resided in the nearby Ballymount House and whose family had come into possession of the lands on which Ballymount Castle had stood went about constructing what was basically a fake ruined tower as a centrepiece of his daughter’s wedding so that the gardens still maintained around the ruins could be viewed from aloft. The building was deliberately never finished to give it an authentic ruin appearance and ironically it has fallen into further ruin over the years.
A mixed bag then but a really interesting visit and surprising to find more than the tower I initially came to see. Best time to visit I would suggest is on a weekday morning as the park can be quite busy at other times. Not that it would interfere with you looking around but it’s more atmospheric I think when there are fewer visitors about. I don’t think I met more than 4 or 5 people on my visit mainly dog walkers.
To find the ruins head North on the M50 and take the Junction 10 exit for Ballymount. At the top of the exit ramp take the left hand slip road onto the R838. Follow this road which is parallel to the LUAS rail line until you reach a set of traffic lights. Turn right at this junction onto Sylvan Drive. Follow this road and take the third turn right onto Ballymount road. Then drive until you reach the third left turn that leads onto Kingswood Castle and simply continue to the end of this road which leads directly to the gates of the park. You can park alongside the pavement at the entrance gates. Once through the gates take the first path right which is a few yards inside and you will see the tower across an expanse of grass. Once you have reached the perimeter fence of the rail line look for the pedestrian gates to access the tower. To find the mound with its ruin simply follow the line of the aforementioned courtyard wall in a Westerly direction and you will see a gap through the bushes that leads to a tarmac pathway. Turn right onto the pathway and follow it on until you see the mound in an area just past the bushes on your left.
SECOND VISIT JUNE 2022
As you can see above the local council took a notion one day and cleared the ivy off the gatehouse tower. This was done a while back but I've only had a chance recently to repay a visit. It certainly looks a whole lot better. I was informed that the whole area around the tower was cleared in 2020 to make it more amenable and more aesthetically pleasing. But since then the grass and bushes are growing wild again in the area around it's base. The proximity to the rail tracks and LUAS trams that appear silently at speed might have put a health and safety warning in their minds, so this may be the extent of the clean up. I'm happy though to finally see the brickwork again instead of a jungly nightmare!