I have a distinctive memory of these ruins which I came across as you do, by complete accident whilst heading from Dublin to Meath in search of another potential ruin. As it happens the reason this site stuck in my head was not for any distinctive features it might have possessed, after all ruined churches like this are a dime a dozen and can be found scattered across the country. But the niggling pain I was experiencing between my shoulder blades, which got progressively worse as the day went on. Driving became very uncomfortable and using the camera was no easy task. I put this down to a strained muscle and continued on my journey. I actually managed to visit six out of the seven sites I had planned for the day, before I had to call it a day and head home, so with the inclusion of Garristown I still had my seven sites in the bag. As it turned out a trip to the Doctor’s the following morning revealed that I had been suffering the effects of a dose of Pleurisy!
Garristown itself is a small rural village in north Dublin, but could easily be mistaken for a quite countryside village. It was only when passing through a crossroads that I caught a glimpse of the towering ruin perched atop a hill to the North-West of the Village. There are some fantastic views to be seen from here which range from the Mourne Mountains in the North, to the equally stunning Wicklow Mountains in the South. Nearby there is a hill fort with the remains of what looks like an old windmill on top. This is known as Rath Esa after a Celtic Princess whom made the hill her home. At this time three of the most important places in Ireland would have been visible from here, namely, the Hill of Tara, Brú Na Bóinne and Howth Head. As Garristown was not part of my plans for the day I did not stop to check out the hill fort and wind mill but I shall return at a later date to explore this further.
The current church ruin which only dates back to 1888, rests within a walled graveyard on an elevated platform and to be honest is quite stunning in appearance even from the roadside. Along with its adjoining tower to the south, it occupies the site of a much earlier medieval R.C. church which is believed to have fallen into ruin in 1630. To the south east of the church there is a large slop-stone which I would think came from the original medieval church. The roof which has long since gone would have been double pitched, with a castellated parapet and obelisk on each corner of the tower. This is a good example of the Romanesque revival architecture of the period; whilst many of the pointed arch windows in the tower have been bricked up there are three fine specimens of the Romanesque style windows in the west wall and one in the north compete with limestone voussoirs. Whilst there is no door into the church it is still possible to gain entry via an open doorway in the west wall of the tower. The oldest grave slabs appear in the South of the graveyard where there is a line of grave slabs with no inscriptions facing West. Those with inscriptions seem to date from the early 18th to the 21st century. The graveyard would appear to be still in use today.
In ancient times the area was known locally as Ballyogari, even up to the late medieval period. There are accounts which can be found in both the Cath Gabhra which can be found in the Trinity College Library in Dublin and the Book of Howth. Both accounts tell the tale of the Battle of Gabhair from the Fenian Cycle of Celtic mythology. To cut a long story short in involved a massive battle between the Fianna and Cairbre, whom was the high King of Ireland and the son of Cormac Mac Airt. The story ends with both the destruction of the Fianna and the death of Cairbre from his wounds. It is claimed that the only survivors of the Fianna are Oisín and Caílte mac Rónáin, who live long enough to recount their tale to Saint Patrick. Gabhra is generally considered identical to the modern Garristown. During the Battle, warriors would shout the battle cry ‘Ballygarra’, and the name stuck to the area for many centuries later.