Round Tower of Diseart Diarmada

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Continuing on from a previous post on Castledermot we continue on from the Romanesque Archway on the grounds of St. John’s, and move on to the Round Tower. Round Towers can be found all over the country in various states of ruin. But back in their day they would have Im sure held a massive influence over the lands on which they stood. There are many of these structures to be found around the country and each one that I have visited to date always seems to have its own unique differences.  The Tower at Castledermot which is believed to have been built in the 10th Century is certainly no exception. Round Towers were commonly built on the West side of churches however here we find it lying to the North of the church.  Perhaps an earlier church from around the time of the tower once stood in a different alignment? Or is there another reason for this deviation? Some of the information about the great history and archaeology of this great site comes from the guys at Abarta Heritage. Please take a moment and check out the link at the end of this post where you can hear the story for yourself with their free audio guides.

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The other strange thing you may notice about this Tower is the fact that not only is it built very close to the current church, or should I say that the church was built very close to the tower as the Tower was constructed long before its neighbour. Another irregularity is that the doorway seems to have been built at ground level unlike others where the entrance doorway would be located a couple of meters above the ground, and it was believed this was to afford the people inside some degree of projection. But this is now highly debated. Then we have the tower which is connected to the nave of the church by a small corridor, on the day I visited the church was closed so I was unable to have a look on the inside. Im sure that there are reasonable explanations for all these facts. Perhaps on my next visit to Castledermot I may find the answers!

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The Tower itself is only about 20 meters in height so it is not as visibly impressive as say Glendalough or Kildare. But Castledermot is a treasure trove of interesting ruins and history, so and this tower is a part of that heritage. At some stage I can only assume that the conical roof, a standard feature of many of these towers was removed and replaced with battlements. Not a common feature, but there are a few of these around the country, such as the one at St. Brigid’s in Kildare. It was built using uncoursed granite with limestone pinning’s. It has five floors  with medieval era crenellations above two string courses, but the  floors do not correspond to the original levels. The entrance is strangely at ground level through a flat lintelled doorway. I was unable to see any sign of a doorway at height, so perhaps it never had one or the brickwork was matched carefully to the original. There is an arched window on the first floor, and a flat headed window between the second and third floors. The windows at the top, and the crenellations date from the sixteenth century. It is joined to the church by a vaulted corridor with wicker centring, of fifteenth century type. The tower itself appears to be in good repair and I will be definitely returning here to see if I can gain access to the inside and see what else I can find.

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Gallán Bhaile Phúinse

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A short distance up the road from the Standing stone at Craddockstown we find what is possibly the tallest Standing stone in the country. It is definitely the tallest I have come across to date. I first spotted it driving up the old country road, peaking up over the hedgerow, it kind of reminded me of a obelisk from ancient Egypt. Unfortunately it is quite difficult to gain access to and despite numerous attempts to find a way in, nature’s natural barrier, kept this ruin hunter at bay on this occasion, so I had to settle for some shots from beyond the hedgerow. This massive stone which is more commonly known as the Long Stone of Punchestown Great, stands at about seven meters in height, with 1.5 meters of it underground, and appears to have an almost square base which gradually tapers at the top.. It is estimated to weigh approx nine ton, resides in a field adjacent the well-known Punchestown racecourse.

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The long Stone is a National Monument which thankfully is under the protection of the Irish Government for whatever that is worth. Some years ago the land owner erected a small fence around the stone. I can only guess that this was done to stop livestock using it as a scratching post. From my experience animals seem to be drawn to these stones and will regularly use them to relieve that itch. You would not believe the amount of times I have found clumps of wool and other animal hair stuck on similar stones. It is said to have fallen in the early 20th century and was put back in place in 1934. During an excavation carried out at the time a small Bronze Age burial kist was found beside the socket, but it was apparently empty. Perhaps the Long stone was used as a grave marker back in ancient times, or was it erected for some other purpose?

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The Welsh chronicler Giraldus Cambrensis spoke about many of Kildare’s standing stones in his Topographia Hibernica which was first published back in 1188 as follows:

Fuit antiquis temporibus in Hibernid lapidum congeries admiranda, quae et Chorea Gigantum dicta fuit; quia Gigantes eam ab ultimis Affricae finibus in Hiberniam attulerant, et in Kildarensi planitie, non procul a castro Nasensi, tam ingenii quam virium ope mirabiliter erexerant.

 In ancient times there was in Ireland a remarkable pile of stones, called the Giants’ Dance, because the giants brought it from the furthest parts of Africa into Ireland and set it up, partly by main strength, partly by artificial contrivances, in an extraordinary way, on the plains of Kildare, near Naas.

— Gerald of Wales, Topographia Hibernica, Distinctio II Chapter XVIII.

I found this quite strange as there was no mention in any of the Annals of Ireland which mention Giants from Africa visiting our shores. In fact the only Giant that I know of was the Leader of our legendary Fianna, Fionn Mac Cumhaill whom was sometimes reffered to as being a giant? Well one tale tells that Fionn in a show of strength to his wife threw the longstone from his base on the Hill of Allen, and it landed at its current location Near Naas some which is some fifteen kilometres away as the crow flies. Whatever the truth is, I am sure we can all agree that this is is one magnificent monument, which you really need to see in person to fully appreciate the sheer size of the stone.

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Thobar Muire

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Heading back up the bustling Church Street from the church of Mary in Mullhuddart, there is an interesting vaulted well-house. It was whilst out searching for this that I found the old Church Ruins of Mullach Eadrad from last weeks post.  Situated right on the edge of the busy road, this is surely the strangest holy well that I have come across to date. In its day it was said to have been surrounded by trees in a grove effect which must have looked fantastic. Well over the years the peace and tranquillity of the grove has disappeared along with the trees and it is now surrounded by tonnes of concrete in the shape of paths. housing estates and a very busy road. The well has thankfully been recognised by Fingal County Council as ‘County Geological Site’ which probably explains why it hasn’t been knocked and replaced with a bicycle track or something.

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The rubble stone corbelled roof structure surrounding the well dates back to around 1700,There is both a front and rear entrance. Entry to the well is via the stone stepson the roadside opening, but with all the surrounding concrete you would need to be a hobbit or leprechaun to walk inside. On the roof are two finials, one a stone carved with a cross in relief and the other a stone niche with an inscription.  Like most holy wells, this was once probably a sacred spring for our ancient ancestors. With the coming of the new religion to our shores many of the sacred sites were Christianised, usually by associating them with a saint and changing festival/feast days to Christian ones, Christmas is probably the best known example of this.

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The well at Mullhuddart is believed to have been quite  popular during Norman times and was dedicated to the Virgin Mary, just like the old church a few meters up the road. During the eighteenth century large crowds were said to have gathered here on the 8th of September (Lady’s Day), the feast of the birth of the Virgin Mary, seeking a cure for whatever ailment they suffered from. It would seem that King Henry VI set up an order initially called the Order of the Guild of the Blessed Virgin Mary and provided them with a sum of money for the upkeep of Marian shrines in the area, but in particular for the upkeep of Our Lady’s Well. It was this order that erected a small ‘u’-shaped wall as an enclosure around the well and planted a number of trees to create the impression of a grove. After Henrys death the order seemed to disappear. After this the well and presumably the church came under the care of the nuns of Grace Dieu. The Grace Dieu nuns were an order of Augustinian canonesses dedicated to God, the Holy Trinity and Saint Mary founded by Rohese de Verdon in 1241.

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Whilst this order did not last long in England, they managed to survive a little longer in Ireland. They capped stone roof with a chimney like stone front & rear is inscribed with various prayers to the Virgin and a small niche and an incised cross above. The well is kept in quite good condition, considering its close proximity to the adjacent busy road; unfortunately upon examining the interior of the well it would seem that the water source has become stagnant. Considering the many housing estates and industrial complexes in the surrounding area it is quite possible that over recent years the source has been damaged.

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Church Ruins of Mullach Eadrad

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Whilst out searching for a holy well I happened to come across the ruins of an old Church. Set just outside the old village of Mullach Eadrad (the hill of the milking place), now modern day Mullhuddart The church rests on a raised mound towards the rear of a rather modern graveyard which over time obviously expanded out from the original ecclesiastic site.  With a noticeable curve in the surrounding cemetery wall of the old ruins, I believe that this might indicate that a church was built here during the early Christian period before the arrival of the Normans. The existing church ruins, however, postdate the Anglo-Norman settlement of the area. Known as the Church of Mary, it is shown on old OS maps as being part of the old town land of Buzzardstown. And before you say it, NO, it did not get its name as a result of it being home to a bunch of scavenger birds. Interestingly it takes its name from the family of a William Bossard whom held lands here after the Normans took control of Dublin. Following the spread of Christianity in Ireland circa 500AD there were a number of early churches built around the country. Many of these would have initially been constructed from timber before being upgraded to a stone structure over the following centuries. These early stone structures would have been simple single rooms built with large limestone blocks. It was quite common for them to have been lit by a round headed window in the east, with a square headed door to the west.

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The ruin itself is fragmented, and consists of a nave and chancel probably dating to the fourteenth century and a tower possibly a bell-tower built onto the western end of the church at some stage in the fifteenth century. It was built using coursed limestone blocks with dressed quoins. The addition of the tower resulted in the original doorway being closed off and a new doorway being inserted into the northern wall of the Nave.  The tower, which is vaulted on the first floor, indicates that it may well have served as a residence for the local clergy, as was a popular practise at the time. There is a splayed window in the west wall. The walls of the east end of the church survive at foundation level. There are a considerable number of burials within the church and a mural tablet on the exterior of the west wall of the tower. The church was first referred to in the early 15th century was being dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. In 1532 Henry VIII granted license to found a guild at the site which was known as ‘the guild and fraternity of our Lady of St. Mary of the Church of Mullhuddart’.

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Mass was believed to have been said at the church here until the arrival of the reformation in Ireland during the 1540’s. It would seem that a vast majority of the local population remained loyal to the Catholic church and rejected the ‘reformed church’, which resulted in the Guild of St Mary operating up until 1572. Even though they no longer had the use of the church at Buzzardstown mass would be celebrated secretly in private homes around the area. In 1547 Edward VI granted lands in Mullhuddart to a James Walshe for twenty one years under the provision that he installed a suitable cleric for the church. In 1615 the church was said to have been in good condition, but it seems that there were not enough members attending to warrant regular maintenance. The church was said to have been in poor condition by the mid-17th century with only the bare church walls surviving. Sadly there are many signs of vandalism and anti social behaviour around the site including graffiti, damage to headstones and lighting of fires within the structure along with empty beer cans strewn about the place. Despite the church being in ruin, its walls appear to be structurally sound, but the boundary wall is badly in need of some conservation. On a clear day their are some fine views to be had of the Wicklow Mountains in the distance.

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Chradógaigh Standing Stone

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Kildare is probably best known for its horse breeding and flat open plains, unfortunately we don’t have an abundance of ancient Neolithic monuments, there are no great Stone Circles or Burial Tombs so to speak. But what we do have is a fine collection of Standing Stones or Menhir’s, which includes the tallest one in the country. Aside from Castles, my favourite sites to explore are the many standing stones to be found scattered around the country. Marking the land like the needles of an acupuncturist, in fact I was once told that they were used by our ancestors as such to harness or balance the natural energy of the land similar to how acupuncture works. Whatever use these stones had, they remain to this day quite fascinating. The Gaelic name for these stones is ‘Gallan’, and there are numerous interesting stories associated with them. My personal favourite concerns the legendary leader of Na Fianna, Fionn MacCumhaill and the nearby Long Stone at Punchestown.

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Just opposite the main entrance to the racecourse at Punchestown, lies the Standing Stone of Craddockstown West. Thankfully it is under a Preservation order, which means that it cannot be touched or damaged in any way. And although the Land owner seems to be respecting this, fingers crossed it stays this way. It resides on a slightly raised part of a crop field and can be easily seen from the road. This massive megalithic stone stands at just over four meters in height, with a slight lean to the west. This tall granite stone tapers towards the top.

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This is one of several such Monoliths in the Kildare area, I have yet to visit the final two which have been somewhat elusive so far. Similar to the standing stone in Kilgowan, this monument has a large base with signs of packing stones around its base and tapers to the top in a conical fashion. There is a rather nasty looking scar near the base and a vein of quartz running across it. As always this stone lies within a crop field on private land so if you do get a chance to go and see this for yourself, please seek permission before entering and try to stick to the tractor marks so you don’t damage the crops.

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Diseart Diarmada & the Romanesque Arch

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Hidden away in the small village of Castledermot in Kildare you will find a surprising mass of historical sites with a heritage that goes back over 1200 years. Castledermot or Diseart Diarmada to give it its original Gaelic name, means ‘Dermot’s Hermitage’. Some of the information about the great history and archaeology of this great site comes from the guys at Abarta Heritage. Please take a moment and check out the link at the end of this post where you can hear the story for yourself with their free audio guides. It started its life as an early Christian monastic settlement which was said to have been founded by a St. Diarmait back around 800 A.D. As with many of these early Christian saints, names and dates can easily get mixed up over time, but Diarmait was believed to have been a grandson Áed Róin King of the ancient kingdom of Ulaid,  (Modern day Ulster). Whilst most of what we know about Castledermot’s past comes from Annála na gCeithre Máistrí or Annals of the Four Masters as they are best known now. These annals were written in medieval times by a number of monks. It is said to be a chronicle of Irelands history from the time of the biblical flood up until 1616 A.D.

Diarmait was said to have been a member of the Ceile De or Culdee movement. Similar to St. Maelruain over in Tallaght which I have written about previously HERE & more recently HERE. The Culdees were by all means a cult by todays standards. Think of them as early christian extremists whom were opposed to materialism and they sought a return to piety in their every day life. The mere fact that Diarmait’s monastery is mentioned so frequently in the annals, would suggest that it survived for over 300 years. This is most likely due to the patronage of the O’Toole clan whom would have ensured their financial stability. Just look at some of the other historical structures nearby. These could not have been achieved by mere men of straw. Despite their claims to oppose materialism, money was most certainly not hard to come by in Castledermot back then.

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The settlement was attacked not once but twice by our roaming friends from the North, the dreaded Vikings. And Castledermot was most certainly an easy target for these marauding adventurers, as it sits nicely on the banks of the River Lerr, a tributary of the larger River Barrow and the second longest river in Ireland. So the Annals tell us that the settlement suffered attacks in 841 and again in 867 A.D. Then in 1037 A.D. Donnchad mac Dómnaill Clóen, King of Leinster was said to have been blinded and killed at Castledermot. He was a member of the Uí Dúnchada, one of three septs of the Uí Dúnlainge dynasty which rotated the kingship of Leinster between 750 – 1050. Máel Mórda mac Murchada of the Uí Fáeláin sept replaced him as king, the annals do not mention whether he was responsible for the deed.

Moving on to 1040 A.D. another rival clan plundered Castledermot and took prisoners. Then in 1043 a tribal chief and his wife were killed whilst under the hospitality and protection of the monastery.  In a land filled with ongoing power struggles, the monastery was unable to avoid the impact of such events. Our annals final mention of Castledermot tells of its destruction by fire, prior to the arrival of the Normans in Ireland. So we don’t really know much after this, was there any reconstruction or did the settlement move away?

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All that remains of the early settlement is a stunning Romanesque doorway from a former church which no longer survives and acts as a gateway to a more modern church known St. James. Within the grounds of St. James you will also find the remains of a 10th century Round tower, two High Crosses along with a possible third one and a number of ancient stones and grave slabs. But we shall save all those gems for a later day. As you approach the Archway, I am reminded for some reason of the Iron Throne, from the Book and TV series, Game of Thrones. The fact that it is still standing just goes to prove how bloody well it was constructed. Set atop two badly weather worn capitols, there are two levels of chevrons. And the door of the modern church seems to have mimicked the design which is rather appealing as you look through one into the other.

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Uachtar Ard

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Uachtar Ard was well named as it translates from Gaelic to mean A high place, The Round Tower at Uachtar Ard rests beside the ruins of an old church ruin on a quite hill top in Kildare. It is associated with an ancient monastic settlement believed to have been founded here, way back in 605AD by a Saint Briga? It took me some research to check this important fact, as I initially believed that Briga was the Brigid whom also founded the famous monastery in Kildare Town. But this is not so. In fact records show that there were a number of Brigid’s taken from the martyrologies and heroic literature, whom can only be identified by their feast day, so far I have been able to identify 14 individuals known as Brigid or various spellings of the name. So Briga, was the daughter of Congall, and said to have been a good friend of Brigid of Kildare. Some of the information about the great history and archaeology of this great site comes from the guys at Abarta Heritage. Please take a moment and check out the link at the end of this post where you can hear the story for yourself with their free audio guides.

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The site is also associated also with another sixth century female saint, Saint Derchairthinn whom was a descendant of Cairbre Lifechair via the Colla Uais line. This monastery was under the patronage of a local branch of the Uí Dúnlainge dynasty whom held the kingship of Leinster between 750 & 1050 A.D. The hilltop monastery and round tower were burned by the Dublin Vikings under Sigtrygg Silkbeard in 995. There is a reference to another raid in 1094 mentioned in the Annals of the Four Masters, but nothing else known of it. During the Norman invasion of Ireland in 1169–71 the parish was a part of the large estates given as a dowry by Dermot McMurrough on the marriage of his daughter Aoife to Richard De Clare in 1170.

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Uachtar Ard or Ougherard became a Royal Manor and Borough in the 12th century. Next it was owned by Adam de Hereford, who willed all his lands to St Thomas monastery in Thomas Street, Dublin, and died in 1210 A.D. For several centuries the monastery rented the land to tenant farmers until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536–41. According to recent research by the archaeological historian Mike O’Neill, the current ruined church on the site dates back to 1350AD and not 1609 A.D. as previously thought. Following the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland in 1649–53, land had to be surveyed and then often confiscated from parliament’s opponents to pay its debts under the 1642 Adventurers Act.

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Situated not far from Ardclogh I followed the road up a hill for about 2 km before veering off to the right. The main entrance is quite easy to miss as it is located in between two residences which surprisingly I also drove by, not noticing the site until I had driven well past it. I was able to park the car on the verge opposite the entrance. The gate is marked Oughterard Cemetery. When I visited, the gates were locked but access can be had via and old-fashioned turnstile leads to a short trail up the remainder of the hill to the site of a very old graveyard, surrounded by a high wall which also contains the ruins of an old church and the round tower. The gates into the graveyard where also locked, but I was able to climb the wall via an ancient stile. The grounds of this site are kept extremely well and the first thing that struck me was the vast amount a slab marked graves, which I have not seen in such abundance anywhere on my numerous explorations.

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The Round Tower which dates back to the 8th century is in quite a bad state with only the lower eight meters still standing. Aside from a burning in the attack of 1096, there is little is recorded about the site and the round tower is not mentioned until 1792 in ‘An Eighteenth Century Antiquary’ by Austin Cooper whom was Deputy Constable of Dublin castle. This is one of five such Round Towers which can be found in Kildare, the others reside at Old Kilcullen, Kildare  Town, Taghadoe and of course Castledermot. It looks almost the same as described back in 1792. The last visible remains of the early Christian settlement, it was constructed mostly from limestone masonry. The door which there is no access to unlike the one at Brigid’s Cathedral in Kildare town stands approx. 2.5 meters above ground level. It faces east and is round-headed, built from granite with inclining jambs. You can just about make out the three floor-levels with one round-headed window surviving on the first-floor level facing south. The round tower is a National Monuments and in State ownership.

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Whilst the first half of the church is in a bad state of ruin, entry into the second part of the church is quite dark. The main window on the east side of the church is still intact but sheds little light into the room.  What appears to be a table top style tombstone can be found directly underneath the window.  The surviving church remains consist of the lower portions of the walls of a 12th century Nave, abutted by a large barrel vaulted chancel from around 1350 A.D. Access used to be via the chancel arch, built from Tufa, (a variety of Limestone). The arch was blocked up over the years and a square-headed, granite doorway was inserted into it. On the chancels south facing wall, there is a turret containing a stairway which leads up to the top of the barrel vaulted roof. This may have been added to the structure around the same time that the chancel arch was blocked up, but today it is falling away from the main structure and is supported by two concrete buttresses to stop any further movement.

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Being the dare devil that I am I decided to climb the turret and safely made my way out onto the roof. The steps leading up seem to be constantly wet and it can be quite slippy in parts, so I would advise using extreme caution, if you attempt the climb. It gets surprisingly windy up there, but there are some magnificent views of the surrounding landscape to be had from up there, if you have the head for it. From here you can really see a better layout of the graveyard and make out where the vaulted tombs are. Moving on to the Nave which was built using large blocks of roughly coursed limestone with a limestone quoin in the north east corner. The original entrance is not known, but a sketch from Cooper’s book, shows a porch on the south wall, the north wall contains a blocked, round-arched doorway near its centre.  The nave was lit by a narrow, round-headed window with a chamfered granite arch in the west gable wall, and there are faint signs of a window-splay and tufa jambs towards in the S wall.  Above the west gable is the remains of the bell cote.

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As you stroll around this graveyard there are numerous grave stones dating back from ancient time’s right up to the modern era. Most of the legible burial markers date from the 18th century, with the earliest recorded death in the year 1700. There are also two rather interesting crosses to be found. One could almost be mistaken for a high cross, but it is not. The other is a rather short cross, which is not to unsimilar to the one at St. Doolaghs in Dublin.

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Oughterard once stood on the main road from Dublin to Limerick and Cork, and according to history, Arthur Guinness’s grandfather, William Reed whom was a local farmer first began selling home brewed ale in 1690 to passing troops during the Jacobite wars. Arthur obviously continued this tradition and went on to create the world renowned ‘Black Stuff’, which has become one of Irelands best known exports. Local tradition claims that it was at his grandfather’s home that Arthur was born, so it should have been no surprise when I stumbled upon Arthur’s gravestone within the ruins of the church, but to be honest, I never expected to find his final resting place in this quite, off the beaten track graveyard. Another famous persons from our past buried here include Arthur Wolfe AKA Lord Kilwarden, whom resides within the Wolfe vault. There is a small ruined castle tower which stands about 300 meters south-east of the graveyard, but I shall have to explore that at a later date.

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The Last One Standing

 

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This lonely Tower house sits in a field to the west of Jigginstown House which I spoke about a few weeks ago. It dates back to the early part of the 15th century and is typical of the many Fortified tower houses built along the outskirts of the Pale in order to defend the Norman centre of influence in Dublin and the surrounding counties. Most of these where built as a result of a grant of £10 from Henry VI. It was actually quite commonplace for merchants to construct such castles and the town of Naas had at least eight of these within its walls with another six on the outskirts. Castle Rag was one of two such Tower houses said to have been in the possession of Roland FitzEustace back in 1486. We don’t know for sure if he built them or was granted them, but considering that in 1474 he was one of the founding members of the Brotherhood of Saint George, a military order charged with the defence of the Pale, He is more than likely responsible for their construction.

Roland was an interesting character, born the son of Sir Edward FitzEustace, the lord Deputy of Ireland. In 1462 he was elevated to the Irish peerage as Baron Portlester and went on to become Lord Chancellor of Ireland and Lord Treasurer of Ireland by Edward IV of England in 1474. It was during this time that he was accused of Treason against the Crown, but it is said that he defended himself with such vigour that all the charges were dropped. In 1478 his son-in-law, Gerald FitzGerald, 8th Earl of Kildare, was replaced as Lord Deputy of Ireland by Henry Grey, (Baron Grey of Codnor), to which Portlester organised a campaign of non-cooperation with the new Deputy. When Grey ordered him to hand over the Great Seal of Ireland, Portlester refused, which made the conduct of official business impossible.

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Henry VI went to considerable lengths to support Grey, and even ordered the Master of the Royal Mint in Ireland, to strike a new Great Seal, declaring that the Seal held by Portlester was annulled, and that all acts passed under it under it were utterly void; but this did not work as planned and after a few months Lord Grey was forced to return back to England a failure. FitzEustace was reappointed Chancellor by Henry VII, but removed yet again, for the part he played in the crowning of Lambert Simnel, as King Edward VI of England, in 1487. This coronation took place in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin and was attended by almost every noble and Prince in Ireland. After the defeat of Simnel at the battle of Stoke, Henry was now secure on his throne, but pardoned FitzEustace and his peers.  Roland remained an influential figure for the remaining decade of his life, and was able to fight off an attack on his record as Treasurer in 1493.

The Tower house is on private lands and has a number of horses grazing nearby, so I didn’t chance entering to have a look around without permission, hopefully I will be able to track down the owner in the near future and get access. It is a small two-storied structure which is accessed via a partially robbed-out doorway in the east wall. There are parapets and a slightly projecting stairs at the north angle which are built of rough rubble and limestone masonry with large, well-dressed quoins (corner stones). The walls taper inwards slightly towards the top, under which beam-slot holes mark the floor line of a loft, which is lit by narrow loops in the east and west walls. The narrow spiral stairs is accessed through a plain, square-headed doorway in the N corner and is lit between ground and first-floor levels by a loop window and a slightly larger rectangular window to the north. Between the first-floor and parapet level by a rectangular window in the east and another loop to the west. The first floor is said to be entered through a plain square-headed doorway in the north corner. The floor is lit by two large opposing square-headed windows with traces of window seats in the east and west walls, there is also a blocked loop is visible in the south wall. A robbed-out fireplace with red brick mantle-supports resides in the north wall with a chimney that projects from the outer wall supported on two corbels. The battlement level is inaccessible, but lower courses of crenulations and gutters survive on the projecting parapet. Aside from St. David’s Castle in Naas town which I have also yet to explore, this is the last standing castle of its kind in the area. Although from the outside it appears to be in relatively decent condition would be a crime to allow it to end up like the dozen or so neighbouring Tower houses which once stood nearby.

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Maigh Reichead Castle

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The crumbling ruins of Maigh Reichead Castle have fascinated me for many years. As you travel the M7 towards Portlaoise you will notice the ruins of this once fine castle rising up over the horizon. After passing it by on numerous times I eventually took the time to seek it out. And I am sure glad that I did. It actually resides in someone’s back garden now. So after a knock on the door and a quick hello, the lady of the house gave me permission to go onto her lands to have a look around. I didn’t stay too long, as I unfortunately attracted the interest of a couple of horses grazing on the land, one of whom seemed to like the idea of nibbling on my camera bag for some reason. Whilst there is very little mention of the castle to be found,  Maigh Reichead or Morett as it is commonly known these days has a history going back thousands of years.  The earliest mention I could find off Morett is in the Annals of the Four Masters, which states that the woodlands of Maigh Reichead had been cleared during the reign of Irial Fáid, (1681–1671 BC). Irial was I guess an ancestor of mine as my family are said to be descendants of his father Érimón, one of the early Milesian High Kings of Ireland. As the story goes Irial followed in his father’s footsteps to become King. Érimón killed his brother at the battle of Airgetros before becoming sole Ard Ri. And Irial followed suit by killing three of his cousins, Ér, Orba, and Ferón the sons of Éber Finn in the Battle of Cul Martha. It is said that this was in revenge for their killing of his brothers Luigne and Laigne, although it may have had more to do with leaving him with no opposition to the throne of Ireland. During his reign he was said to have cleared twelve of Irelands great plains, built several royal forts and fought four battles against the Fomorian’s whom were still lurking around Ireland up into the times of Cú Chulainn.  This Castle was also referred to as Moret Castle in Groses’s Antiquities of Ireland. Believed to have been built around 1580Ad by a Lord Mortimer. It consisted of a rectangular tower house, built on a rock outcrop and constructed from rubble limestone. Rising up too four storeys high with NE, SE and SW corners are barely there, but most of the connecting walls have fallen. I could not see any evidence of a murder hole, garderobe or doorway, but considering its current state, this is no surprise. There is a large chimney stack in the remaining cable with a number of fireplaces at different levels.

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Morett soon passed into the hands of the Geraldine Dynasty and by 1585 the Earl of Kildare had left Morett and almost 3000 acres of land to his son Gerald Fitz Gerald. Morett remained in Fitzgerald hands until 1641 when their lands were seized by the Crown, although by 1660 Morett was returned to a Robert Fitz Gerald. One terrible story associated with Morett concerned the local Gaelic clan of O’Kelly. As the story goes the Earl of Kildare came to stay with the O’Kelly’s and was made sponsor too their new-born child. On the day of the child’s baptism, both the child and mother were found dead in their bed. After the funeral The Earl invited the grieving chieftain to come stay with him at Kilkea Castle where he came to an untimely end and was beheaded. However despite the account it would seem that the wrong Gerald Fitzgerald was blamed. It was actually Gerald of Morett that was responsible for the deaths of the O’Kelly’s. He was married to one of John (The Pike) Bowen’s daughters of Ballyadams Castle. John was brutal man, known for carrying a pike wherever he went, and a sworn enemy of the native O’Kelly and O’ Moore’s. However for his treachery Gerald was killed by the O’ Moore’s and they burnt Morett to the ground. During the confederate wars in Ireland many Châtelaine were said to have taken up arms to defend their homes. One such occurrence involved Elizabeth Fitzgerald. Whom told that her husband would be hung if she did not surrender? Her response was not what you would expect. Calling their bluff, she responded that ‘Lady Fitzgerald may get another husband, but she would never get another castle’. And so her poor husband was hung, but she held on to the family home. The Castle is now in a sad state and unlikely to ever be repaired. Just another one of our fine pieces of heritage heading for the historic scrap heap :-(

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Someone To Watch Over ME

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Fionn MacCumhaill and the Fianna are historical figures whose heroic deeds and life stories have been embedded through time, in myth and legend. There are many tales concerning their acts of bravery and magic. The Fianna were the bravest, swiftest and strongest of  hunters and warriors who made the wild planes and forests of Ireland their home. Fionn, the last leader of the Fianna and arguably their greatest. Said to have been larger than life in more ways than one and always accompanied by his two hounds Bran and Sceolan who were said to be his cousins or nephews (depending on which tale you read),transformed into hunting dogs by evil sorcery.

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Now this may not technically constitute a ruin, but considering its historic connection to Fionn Mac Cumhaill and its location it is a magnificent sculpture, I think it more than deserves to be included in my list of historical places. Situated on the Ballymany Roundabout (exit 12 of the M7 motorway), at the entrance to the Curragh Camp, The majestic statue of a spear-wielding Fionn is five meters high, whilst his hounds stand at three meters. The Hill of Allen, which I visited last year, was the home of Fionn MacCumhaill and the headquarters of the Fianna; it can be seen from the site of the sculpture. Fionn and his Hounds are a powerful symbol of strength and protection and they now stand guard once again watching over the vast plains of Kildare.

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Completed in March 2010, the sculpture by Lynn Kirkham cost €45,000 (paid for out of profits from Newbridge Town’s car parking fees) and the figures are made of Corten and stainless which has turned ‘rust-like’ over the years adding an authentic vibe. Its one of the many cultural & Historical gems to be found in Kildare & the surrounding areas.

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Posted in Diary of a Ruinhunter, Photography | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 47 Comments