So last Saturday morning, I got up at the crack of dawn, to hit the road and get back on the Ruinhunting trail once again. With permission granted by the landowner, my mission was to finally explore one of the long outstanding ruins from my Bucket list, the ancient Hill of Allen and Aylmer’s folly which resides on the summit. I had planned to do this last year but for a number of reasons I just never got around to doing so. But thankfully I was able to point out my good friend and fellow blogger Ali Isaac in the right direction and she wrote a great piece on the subject along with her own unique way of writing, which I could only dream of achieving. She is an accomplished author, with a number of fantastic novels based on Irish Mythology. So when you’re finished reading this, I would highly recommend that you head over and read Ali’s article HERE. And so on with the show.
After a short 15minute drive in the car, I eventually arrived at my destination. The Hill of Allen or Almu, (Cnoc Almain in old Gaelic), is a former volcanic hill located on the eastern edge of the Bog of Allen in west Kildare. There is also a small village known as Allen nearby and I’ll tell you more about that in a later post. So once I had the hill in sight, it took a few minutes to locate the enterance, which I eventually found. There once was a rough ground car park for visitors, but this is now blocked off by three large boulders, but there is just enough space to park one car off the road at these boulders. The hill is currently part-owned by Roadstone whom have quarried away much of the west side of the hill, but I shall explain this towards the end. On the opposite side of the car park there is a long winding uphill trail, any local traffic is drowned out by the sound of birds whom seemed to be singing a welcoming song to this ancient site. Much of the trail is fenced off in parts and there is an abundance of warning signs, but if you stick to the trail, it’s perfectly safe.
The hill is steeped in a rich folklore and according to the Annála Na gCeithre Máistrí (Annals of the Four Masters) the Hill of Allen was the summer residence of the Legendary Fionn Mac Cumhaill and his band of warriors, the Fianna. Fionn had a fortress on the summit of the hill and the vast surrounding plains were used by the Fianna for hunting and training when they weren’t off kicking ass somewhere else. At the summit when you look around it’s quite easy to imagine Fionn standing on top of his fort, watching over his men during these summer months. A popular local tale suggests that Fionn’s final resting place was in a mound on the top of the hill, the mound is known as Suidh-Fionn, pronounced (She-Finn) or Fionn’s Chair. This mound is said to have been the highest point of the hill. It’s kind of hard to make out the actual location of the mound as much of the summit is quite flat, but if you take the tower as a central reference point which was built on the centre of the mound, you can kind of take and educated guess. The mound in my mind would have replaced the hill fort and is said to have been surrounded by a defensive trench, although there are no visable signs of this anymore. However about half way up the hill I came across what I believe may be a fosse, (long narrow ditch), with rows of trees on its banks. With the quarry taking away almost half of the hill it’s hard to say for sure but this seemingly natural trench may well have been part of Fionn’s hill fort defences. Almu is believed to have been one of a number of Hill Forts which served as an outer ring of defence for the Royal city of Tara, home to the Ard Ri (High Kings) of Ireland. There is another Hill Fort nearby on the bog of Allen not far from the present Lullymore heritage centre. These forts would have been able to communicate with each other quite effectively in a fashion similar to the lighting of the Beacons of Gondor from the Lord off the Rings movie.
Back in 722 AD there was a famous battle which occurred nearby between Fergal Mac Máele Dúin the Ard Ri, (High King) of Ireland and Murchad mac Brain, the King of Leinster. Not the first time this has happened. It would seem that the provincial Kings of Leinster were commonly fighting with their Ard Ri, at various times throughout our history. Moving on to the year 1859 when Gerald Aylmer the 9th Baronet of Donadea, (you can read all about Donadea Castle in a previous article) began the construction of a circular tower on the top of the hill which is now known as Aylmer’s Folly. Whilst we can say for sure what its purpose was, many believe that it was a relief project begun to give employment to the local tenants. It was finally completed in 1863, and the reason it took so long to finish was due to the fact that the hill was far too exposed during the harsh winter, so construction could only be done during the summer months. Bearing in mind that back then there was none of the machinery used in construction today so it would have been no mean feat to get the materials required for the construction up to the top of the hill.
When they began digging the foundations for the tower, a nine foot deep cavern was uncovered which contained a wooden box. After opening the box they found the remains of a rather large human skeleton. Many believe these bones were in fact the remains of Fionn Mac Cumhaill himself. The story goes that the workers put the remains back where they found them and continued with the construction. Instead of forking out a big wad of cash on engineers to oversee the project, Aylmer is noted to have told his masons Lawrence and William Gorry that he would rather spend the money creating employment for his local tenants than pay engineers. And so Aylmer put the Gorry brothers in charge and kept a close eye on the work himself. As a reward, Each one of the 83 steps within the tower has the name of one of the workers engraved into it, a nice touch, don’t you think. William Gorry and his brother completed their work by placing a copper-framed glass dome on the tower, and a railing around the building.
The tower itself is about sixty feet in height with a diameter of nine feet with its base reported to be 676 feet above sea level. The Tower was constructed using limestone taken from a quarry in Edenderry, Co. Offaly, and the granite used in the coping, steps and pedestal at the top of the tower came from Ballyknockan in Wicklow. This was all transported via canal down to the nearby town of Robertstown. It would then have been carted up the hill by Aylmer’s tenants. One local story tells how the wheels from one of the canons which were once located at Donadea Castle, were borrowed to assist the carting of stone to the top of the hill. There was once a bug rusty door which prevented people from entering the tower, but this has been removed and now rests just inside the doorway to the left of the staircase. A circular staircase winds its way around the central apex up to the viewing platform at the top. The tower was completed with a copper framed glass dome, presumably to afford people protection from the elements as it can get quite windy when you are standing 736 feet above sea level.
On the outside of the tower there are a number of inscriptions both on the tower and the surrounding flagstones. The most visable being the year construction began, 1859 AD carved into the lintel above the door. If you look up to the windows you will see a number of Latin inscriptions which I will need to investigate further. Then if you move around the tower to the left you will notice some further inscriptions on the flagstones, some have been more affected by the weather than others but I could make one out, which relates to a visit by the then prince of Wales, whom was stationed in the nearby Curragh Camp in 1861 and later went on to become Edward VII. The inscription reads ‘September 16 A.D. 1861 H.R.H. The Prince of Wales ascended this Tower’. Now considering that by 1861, the construction of the tower had not been completed until 1863, I wouldn’t say that the young prince got very far.
Once you reach to top you will notice that there is another inscription carved into the masonry. Some of it is quite faint, but I have learned from previous experience to always carry some tracing paper and a stick of charcoal or crayon with me for such times. So I was quickly able to make out the full inscription, which reads as follows; ‘In thankful remembrance of God’s mercies, many and great- Built by Sir Gerald George Aylmer, Baronet, AD 1860’. Further inscriptions at the landing relate to the stone mason brothers ‘Lawrence and William Gorry, Bros., Masons’. Then on the top steps are the words “assisted by” and the names of the tenants are given on the steps as follows: – James Dowling, Allenwood: Anne Healy, Allenwood: Wilson Symonds, Allenwood, Thomas Baker, Allenwood, Patrick Logan, Allenwood, John Tiernan, Allenwood: Michael Gannon, Allenwood: Thomas Culleton, Allenwood: James Walsh, Allenwood: William Flynn, Allenwood: Denis Healy, Ballentine: John Tiernan, Ballentine: William Lazenby, Ballentine: Mel Somers, Ballyteague: Christ. Healy, Ballyteague: Peter Healy, Ballyteague: Edmond Hegarty, Ballyteague: Edward Payne, Ballyteague: James Doyle, Ballyteague: John Thornton, Ballyteague: James Hennigan, Ballyteague: Patrick Moran, Ballyteague: Francis Dowling, Barnecrow: James Carroll, Barnecrow: Francis Dowling, Baronstown: George Low, Baronstown: Thomas Flood, Carrick: James Walsh, Carrick: George Wilson, Carrick: Elizabeth Knowles, Carrick: James Doogan, Carrick: Patrick Lennon, Cloncumber: Thomas Hynes, Cloncumber: Robert Strong, Coolagh: Thomas Carter, Coolagh: Joseph Strong, Coolagh: John Rochford, Coolagh: Patrick Callan, Derrymullen: Bridget Mulhall, Derrymullen: Thomas Harbert, Derrymullen: Joseph Payne, Drimshree: Peter Cribbin, Drimshree: Michael Thorpe, Drimshree: Samuel Strong, Dunburne: William Wilson, Dunburne: Hugh Kelly, Dunburne: James Dowling, Dunburne: Patrick Dunn, Dunburne: Charles Ryan, Dunburne: James Norton, Grangeclare: William Price, Grangeclare: James Carter, Grangeclare: John Fitzpatrick, Grangeclare: Michael Connor, Grangeclare: Joseph Nevitt, Grangeclare: Joseph Carter, Grangeclare: Thomas Carter, Grangeclare: George Price, Grangeclare: William Tyrell, Grangeclare: Lawrence Behan, Grangeclare: James Brennan, Grangeclare: John Lazenby, Grangeclare: William Ormsby, Grangeclare: Christopher Hickey, Grangeclare: John Cribben, Grangeclare: Ed. Nowlan, Grangehiggin: Matthew Nowlan, Grangehiggin: Peter Noylan, Kilmeague: William Curtis, Kilmeague: Stephenson Haslam, Kilmeague: Matthew Lazenby, Kilmeague: John Healy, Kilmeague: Christopher Quinn, Littleton: Marcella Cribbin, Lowtown: Lawrence Cribbin, Lowtown: Matthew Knowles, Pluckerstown: Denis Dunny, Pluckerstown: John Dunny, Pluckerstown: Patrick Hickey, Rathernan: Richard Kelly, Rathernan: Catherine Healy, Russellstown: Peter Healy, Russellstown.
The top of the tower has had a rather unusual glass conservatory installed, but as luck would have it, there is a window, which can be opened. Thankfully my recent lifestyle change and fitness regime has seem me lose a bit of weight and I was able to squeeze out through the window and stand in the gap between the crenelations and the glass. The surrounding view is thoroughly amazing; with clear skies I was able to survey all around me from the Hill of Croghan rising out of the bogland below to the Curragh plains and the Slieve Bloom Mountains. As I was making my way back towards the trail, I suddenly became aware of a very strong and sweet scent. For a moment I turned around and was temporarily overcome with an unusual sense of peace. So I stopped to savour the moment. It is not very often that I come across a place that emits such a strong vibration or presence that it stops you in your tracks like this, and on a number of occasions, especially last year these occurrences where quite negative, which means that it’s time to leave. Thankfully this was not the case here; I guess the best way to describe the experience was a very strong sense of welcome. This will be one place that I shall be returning to again and again; maybe I might see you up there someday?
As mentioned earlier there is unfortunate downside to the Hill, back in 2008 most of the hill or if you believe Kildare County Council, the entire hill is owned by Roadstone Dublin Ltd. This would explain why the heritage officials advised me to contact Roadstone in order to get permission to visit the site. As with many important heritage sites around the country there are no road signs or information boards to tell you of the hills importance. Whilst the heritage officials are quite helpful in my experience, I got the impression that there was something more sinister going on. For starters why the hell would the Kildare county council give away the rights to such an important landmark to a private company, whom have almost quarried away the entire west side of the hill. In Roadstone defence, although they have quarried almost right up to the mound, I found them most helpful when I was seeking permission to gain access to the site. Even though the car park is blocked off, which I personally believe to be the work of the council, there is a nice clear trail which leads you right up to the summit, much of which is heavily signposted and fenced off in the more dangerous parts. This does not seem like the work of someone whom has something to hide. Now I might dirty my bib for writing this but, it would seem to me that the council have some serious questions to answer. Don’t get me wrong there are many great people working in the heritage departments, but I do think there is a major cover up going on in relation to the Hill of Allen. It would seem that contrary to the advice I received from Kildare County Council, The Hill and Folly are actually open to the public. During the course of the two hours I spent on the hill I met a number of locals whom say that they regularly use the hill for walking. What really needs to be done here is to have the quarry filled in and let nature restore the hill to its former beauty. Any monies coming from the activities of the quarry could easily be replaced with a properly run Heritage/Tourism plan.