A guide to the best and sometimes off the beaten track historical ruins around Ireland and how to get there.
Tuesday, 28 July 2020
Ballyhack Castle Co Wexford
Ballyhack castle is a five storey tower house situated on the Hook Peninsula that was constructed by the Knights Hospitallers of St John one of the two crusading orders of the early Norman period, the other being The Knights Templar. The order of St John had a Preceptory on this site since the beginning of the thirteenth century and they controlled the movement of traffic on the Barrow estuary. They also introduced a ferry system. While the order of St John went about their business their rivals the Templar's were settled across the estuary in Crooke in County Waterford. But in 1308 the well established and very wealthy Templar order was put under threat when the Pope resulting from demands of the then King of France, Philip, ordered their dissolution. The King owed the Templar's a vast sum of money (they were also very notably the inventors of modern banking) and started a campaign accusing them of gross misdeeds.There were accusations which included heresy and they were rounded up, tortured and put to death all across Europe and by 1312 they had been completely disbanded and their lands and wealth confiscated.
The less ambitious Knights of St John built the tower house at Ballyhack in 1450 and fortified it with a portcullis, a murder hole located just inside the entrance and a machicolation above the entrance door on the West wall of the fourth floor. Battlements and a walkway were also constructed. The Knights continued to thrive in this area until the dissolution of monasteries and churches in 1536 when the tower and lands were given to the Etchingham's who lived there until they moved to Dunbrody in the mid eighteenth century.
During the Cromwellian invasion the castle was taken by Cromwell's men and the battlements destroyed and as a result of the act of Settlement in 1652 the tower was used as a point of transportation for those who lost homes and land.
In the 1800's Arthur Chichester built the estate village of Arthurstown as the land lay on the Dunbrody estate. A pier was built in 1829 and the town thrived. The castle stood still and uninhabited on the slopes of the village at Ballyhack for many years until it was partially restored by the OPW and made open to the public. This occurs annually May to August from Saturdays to Wednesdays 9.30-17.00,
Although you can self tour I would recommend taking the guided tour by one of the staff as they are very knowledgeable and also admission is free. You can of course leave a discretionary donation if you wish.
We were informed that the ground floor was the most defensively sound and was generally used for storage and servant sleeping quarters. There are a set of steep stone stairs that lead you upwards and features include some period furniture and knights attire within the floors that have had some restoration done. The top two floors while accessible are still ruinous and shell marks from cannon fire were pointed out to us. The views over the estuary from the high vantage point are spectacular and there is also an opportunity to see the dungeon!
I have to say I myself like my castles ruined where you can explore inside yourself see what damage time has done but sometimes now and again it's good to see a castle that is not inhabited but mostly intact just to get a feel for what they actually looked like in their day. Ballyhack is one of those castles and I found the visit very pleasing and informative.
To find the Castle take the N25 heading West from Wexford Town towards New Ross. After approx 25KM you will pass through the village of Ballinaboola. 4KM out of Ballinaboola you reach a major roundabout (Ballymacar Roundabout) and you take the first exit left (a continuation of the N25).
Drive for approx 5KM and take the slip road following the sign for Arthurstown (R733). At the T-junction on the end of the slip road turn right following the R733 and drive for approx 1.7KM until you reach another right hand turn, a continuation of the R733. Drive for 7KM and then turn right again following the R733. It is 7KM more from here to Arthurstown and when you reach it take a right hand turn onto the coast road and take a short drive towards the ferry pier at Ballyhack. There is parking available in this area and you will see the castle up the hill a little from the pier.
Alternatively if coming from Waterford City take the R683 to Passage East and you can cross on the ferry directly to the pier at Ballyhack. (Cost for car & passengers 8.00 Euro single trip, 12.00 Euro return, Foot passengers 1.50 Euro, return 2.00 Euro)
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