You might recall my previous visit to St. Maelruains in Tallaght back in 2013. It’s a fantastic site, full of history which dates back to the eight century and a religious settlement built on the outskirts of what would become the Pale during the Norman occupation of Ireland. But before that in pre-history Tallaght as it is now known was the site of destruction of a colony of 9’000 Parthalonians from what is described as a plague or pestilence by the Annals of the Four Masters. As part of the recent Tallafest, the Tower at Maelruains was opened up to the public, so it was a perfect chance for a return visit to explore the belfry tower which dates from the 15th or 16th century. When Maelruain first arrived here in the 8th century an abbey was built and the monastic settlement grew up around it. The monastery became an important centre of spiritual life to the Ceilí Dé. In Norman times the tower with its remaining defensive features would have served as a look out to warn against raids by the native Gaelic clans.
On the side of the Tower where the window resides on the ground level, you can see signs of the medieval church that once stood here prior to 1829AD. From its remains a new church was built using a design by the famous John Semple. However the Belfry tower remained and is still in use today. Getting the chance to climb the tower was a real treat for me, as these places are normally restricted, and I was not the only one to take advantage of the chance to see the inside. Both young and old took turns throughout the day. The entrance to the tower is via the old stone staircase which you can see in some of the images, so upon entering the tower, you are actually entering it on the first floor. What lies beneath, I’m not certain, but if memory serve me correctly, the ground floor houses the heating system for the new church. On the first floor, I was shocked to find a fully functioning drum kit??? One of the kids whom was exploring the tower at the same time, made full use of this and bet the hell out of it.
Sadly it was on the second floor were tragedy struck. I was attempting to get some difficult shots of the stone ceiling when the worst thing imaginable happened! When I pressed the shutter release button, nothing happened! Damn batteries I thought as I checked the power meter. Well I had filled two memory cards at this stage, but no that was not the case. The shutter mechanism had failed. Well I probably should not have, considering where I was, but a few expletives did escape as a result. Of all the times for a mechanical failure to occur, I thought to myself. But not even that was going to dampen my adventure, there was still another floor to go and then to the top battlements and the great big bell that is still used to this day.
So for the rest of the tower, I had to use my HTC camera phone. It’s not the greatest camera on the market these days and it doesn’t offer the same amount of control as the Nikon but in these situations, you just gotta make do and improvise. It took a few minutes to move on as drama broke out when one of the kids whom had gone on ahead took a panic attack on the way back down and would not move for anyone. After numerous attempts at reasoning and bribery, she was eventually calmed down and helped back down the spiral stone staircase. I have to say for a tower that is over 500 years old, it’s in great condition, no signs of damp or leaks and the wear and tear on the stone work is minimal at best.
Moving on from the third floor out onto the battlements was a huge surprise. There is a raised partition on the roof, which is another few feet higher than the rest of the roof, where a great big bell resides, so up I went to the very top, where there were stunning views of the church and graveyard below as well as the surround town of Tallaght. What a feeling it was to be standing up there. The Gaelic clans must not have stood a chance trying to sneak up and attack this part of the Pale. Looking down into the old cemetery reminded me of the night I spent amongst the graves for a dare in my teens. I don’t end up in many photographs as I am usually on the other end of the lense and selfies are few and far between, but the buzz of finally getting up here, demanded that I take one or two. Coming back down to the main roof and the bell got a bit crowded, so I tucked myself in close to the outer wall and enjoyed the view until the remaining people had begun their descent.
One of the nice guides even let me ring the bell. Not a good idea, in such a close proximity. Those big old bells sure do pack a punch. And so I wobbled my way back down the spiral staircase, still recovering from the aftermath of ringing the bell. By the time I got back down onto solid ground, I had fully recovered from my silly altercation with the bell and almost forgotten about my broken Nikon. That aside it was the perfect end to what had been a perfect day. Tallafest really rocked this year and had afforded me to see some hidden parts of Tallaght that not many get to see normally. I wonder what they shall have in store for next year???