Moving on to the second site I recently visited with my newly recruited Ruinhunters, was the site of Oughaval church near Stradbally in Laois. It is a picturesque old ruin which can only be appreciated fully by exploring. From the road you could easily mistake this for one off the many church ruins that you would find scattered about the countryside. But on closer examination Oughaval is a massive structure which lies on a slightly raised mound within a walled graveyard. This is actually the site of a monastery founded in the 6th century by St. Colman, whom was also known as St Colman mac Ua Laoighse, or St Colman of Oughaval. Colman is said to have been a disciple of St. Fintan from nearby Clonenagh and St Columba of Iona. After spending time at Clonenagh and Iona, he founded his own monastery here at Oughaval, sadly none of this monastery remains today. The monastery ceased to function long before the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII.
Access to the ruin is through a gap in the wall of the cemetery, which I must say is kept in pristine condition. There are quite a number of interesting grave markers scattered around the site. The book of Oughaval or the ‘Lebor na Nuachongbála’ was kept here for many years. Interestingly enough this went on to become the famous ‘Book of Leinster’.The oldest remaining part of this building today is the ruined Nave which dates back to the 12th century. There has been a number of different rebuilds over the years mainly carried out by the Crosby family whom owned vast lands in the area and still do to some extent. One of the most interesting additions was the chancel in the 18th century, with a raised floor, under which there lies a vaulted mortuary chamber.
This can be viewed as you make your way around the outside of the building, but is protected by an iron gate. Ryan, my eldest had an interesting observation on the chamber, ‘Daddy, thats were the Vampire’s live’, Now how the hell did he come up with that? Have you ever tried convincing a seven year old that something doesn’t exist. But thats a story for another day. The chancel has a huge barrel vaulted ceiling, it is in fact quite similar to the one at Oughterard but is significantly much larger. Unfortunately it appears to be cracked and may be in danger of collapse if not repaired. There is a stunning triple window in the east gable which was added in the latter part of the 19th century. The small chamber within the nave is actually the Crosby family vault.
The sheer size of the chancel which incorporates wall walks on the north and south walls along with the crennellations give the church a somewhat appearance of a castle. Even though alot of my ruin posts are about religious sites, I actually much prefer to write about castles and Neolithic monuments. But I must say that I was very impressed by Oughaval, it is unusual in its architecture and simply quite stunning. That said the kids were uncommonly well behaved for the duration of our visit and couldn’t stop talking about it on the drive home. So if you happen to be in the area of Stradbally or just passing by, I would strongly recommend stopping by to explore this fantastic church.