A guide to the best and sometimes off the beaten track historical ruins around Ireland and how to get there.
Tuesday, 20 December 2016
Old Rathfeigh Church & Motte Co Meath
beneath the overgrowth
Out into Ireland's ancient East again and this time we found Rathfeigh Church or Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary which lies in a very bucolic setting situated down a country lane adjacent to a modern church. The ruins are positioned in the centre of a walled graveyard and are in a fairly overgrown state. The Church is believed to date to at least the thirteenth century as it is mentioned in the Church taxes of Pope Nicholas IV in the early 1300’s. A simple nave and chancel design it is recorded as being in ruins as far back as 1641.
Today only a section of the West wall and parts of the chancel survive to some extent with the rest of the walls now at foundation level. The area of the nave itself has become rather sunken down and is rampant with overgrowth. Indeed the graveyard itself is in a rough state and seemingly not maintained, subsequently the ruins remain hidden under a blanket of overgrowth and are slowly being engulfed by nature. I had a devil of a time locating what was a window in one section of the East wall. On the perimeter of the South wall of the graveyard and set partly into the graveyard is what looks to be to all intents and purposes to be a shed, but this is actually the remains of a watch house. I’ve come across these before for example the Cruagh watchtower in Dublin (see earlier post) These were watch posts that would be manned to ensure that the devilish art of body snatching would not take place. This watch house probably dates to the mid 1700’s and more than likely fell into disuse after the ghoulish practice ceased. A new door and roof have been added and today it is perhaps used to store tools for the modern church grounds.
At the entrance of the lane leading to the Church ruins is a large grassy mound visible beyond a field gate. This is in fact a large Norman motte upon which a bailey or wooden fortification would have stood. It is approx. 25 feet in height with its base diameter around 204 feet tapering to 105 at the summit. Although most of these mottes were built by manpower there is some speculation that because of its size it may originally been of ancient origin.
To find both the ruin and the motte take the N2 heading North from Ashbourne and drive for approx. 8.5km until you see a left hand turn signposted for the L1002 to Rathfeigh. Turn left here and drive for approx. 1.2km until you reach a fork in the road. Tale the left hand road at the fork (again signposted for Rathfeigh) and continue for approx. 400m where you will reach a T-Junction. Turn left here and after a few metres take the first right hand turn. You will spot the motte on your left beyond a field gate and the ruins are approx. 100m along at the end of the lane. Ample room is available to park here.
Monday, 5 December 2016
Oughaval Church Co Laois
resembles a castle tower
This Monstrous sized ruin lies a little South East of the village of Stradbally. It is so unlike many of the church ruins that we normally find scattered around the countryside. Looking rather taller in height to its peers it measures approx. 77 feet in length by 32 feet in width.
Built on the site of a sixth century monastery founded by St Colman mac Ua Laoighse of which there is nothing remaining today, it is something of a mish-mash construction-wise. The earliest section is the nave of which only fragments remain now. The other remains of this section date to the 1500’s with some restoration work done and the addition of a chancel completed in the middle of the eighteenth century. The Cosby’s, a well renowned local family were involved in most of this later work and indeed there is a family mausoleum here. The book of Oughaval later renamed the Book of Leinster was held here for many centuries until it was transferred to Trinity College Dublin.
We visited on a crisp but sunny day in February and found access by way of a V-shaped gap to the left of a small iron gate in the enclosure wall. As the ruins are placed on elevated ground a set of stone steps lead up into them. Within, a small mortuary chapel can be seen and a large triple window in the East gable. The huge vaulted ceiling of the chancel designed for strength seems to be at odds with the climate as a large fissure is forming in the middle along its entire length and seriously looks as if one day soon it will split. While visiting there were constant drops of water kissing the ground beneath it. The atmosphere within this great vaulted chancel has a desolate feel about it and although quite a marvellous structure it just made me feel as if I was inside the belly of a huge whale.
The tall tower section at the North West corner viewed on approach would lead one to believe it to be a Castle tower house but this is actually a section of the church (possibly bell tower) of which the interior is exposed due to the collapse of its Southern wall.
All in all an impressive ruin then and well worth a trip to see especially as it is so near the amazing Rock of Dunamase (see earlier post here ).To find the ruin head West on the M7 toward limerick and take the junction 16 exit signposted for the R445 Carlow. At the top of the exit ramp take the second exit on the roundabout signposted for the L7830 Ballycarroll and drive along this narrow road until you reach a slanted T-junction with the N80. Turn left onto the N80. Drive straight through the village of Stradbally and continue on the N80 and you will spot the ruins on your right just outside the village. There is a right hand turn just at the graveyard enclosure wall onto a road called Kylebeg. Turn right onto this road and you can park opposite the enclosure wall.
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