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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Welcome to MontPelier Hill

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Situated on the summit of Montpellier Hill,  at 1275 feet above sea level and overlooking the city of Dublin with panoramic views of the surrounding countryside, there resides the ruins of an old hunting lodge from the 18th century. Is this one of the most terrifying places in Ireland? Well on paper it sure looks like to be. Some terrible deeds have occurred here over the years and it soon became known as the ‘Hell Fire Club’, Named after a bunch of rather unsavoury masonic characters whom set up their headquarters there. But to tell the full story, we must journey back to the prehistory of ancient Ireland. The Hill was once the home to what I believe was an important ancient Burial site. There was not one but two Cairns, (4500 – 2000 BC) that once stood on the hill. The first located roughly where the OS trig point now rests and the second larger one to the rear of the old ruins. Very little of these two cairns remain as they were destroyed with their stones being used in the construction to the hunting lodge. There are still some tell-tale signs remaining from the second tomb, with a partial surrounding ditch on the southern side of the mound. Inside this ditch you will find five kerb stones. At the centre of the mound there is a depression which was most likely a chamber. So we have evidence of at least one Passage Tomb for sure.

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Now this is just an educated guess, but I believe that Montpelier was an important place to our ancestors, and the passage tomb was most likely the final resting place of a local chieftain of someone of similar importance. It’s a terrible shame that we know little else about the place or its ancient history. Although it has been suggested that hill may be the place known as Suide Uí Ceallaig which was mentioned in the 12th century registry book of the Archbishops of Dublin known as the ‘Crede Mihi’. Moving on a few millennia to the year 1725, William Conolly of Castletown House had a hunting lodge constructed on the hill. It was named Mount Pelier by Conolly but over the years has also been known as “The Haunted House”, “The Shooting Lodge”, and “The Kennel”. This was built using the stones from the two Neolithic cairn, thus destroying any chance of learning more about who was buried there. Connolly was best known as Speaker Connolly, the Speaker of the Irish Parliament. As well as being a politician, he was also a Commissioner of Revenue, a Lawyer and a wealthy landowner. By the time of his death in 1729 he was said to have accumulated over 148,487 acres with vast estates in Dublin, Kildare and Donegal.

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The Lodge was a large detached building of Palladian design despite its rough outward appearance. On the ground level there was a large kitchen, some servants’ quarters, a number of small rooms and a stairs which led to the upper levels. The upper floor where much of the entertainment took place consisted of a hall and two reception rooms. On the eastern side, there was a third, timber-floored, level where the sleeping quarters were located, with a small loft was over the parlour and hall. At each side of the building is a room with a lean-to roof which may have been used to stable horses. On the eastern side there is a stone mounting block to assist people onto their horses. To the front of the lodge there was a semi-circular courtyard, enclosed by a low stone wall and entered by a gate, but this is now gone. The hall door was reached by a flight of steps. The house faces to the north, looking over Dublin and the plains of Meath and Kildare, including Conolly’s primary residence at Castletown House in Celbridge. However the original slated roof did not last very long and soon after construction it was blown down during a great storm. According to local folklore, this was done by the devil, in retribution for the destruction of the two cairns.

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However I seriously doubt the devil had anything to do with it, perhaps an angry spirit or maybe even the work of the Sidhe? Most likely though it was nature that caused the roof to come down. And so a much stronger barrel vaulted stone roof was erected in its place. Interestingly enough Conolly bought the lands on which he built his hunting lodge from the Duke of Wharton (Philip Wharton, founder of the first ever Hellfire Club – not related to Dashwood’s Hell-fire Club). For more info on the Hell fire Club associated with Dashwood, fellow blogger Sue Vincent wrote a very informing piece which you can red HERE. Well it’s hard to tell if Conolly ever got to enjoy his hunting lodge as he passed away in 1729. Montpelier is said to have laid idle for a whilst until Conolly’s son, known as the Squire Conolly leased it to members of the now notorious Hell Fire Club, from which it took its name, for an undisclosed sum. From here on Montpelier became associated with some terrible acts of cruelty and debauchery including alleged devil worship, sacrifice and demonic possession. There are some tales which would chill you to the bones, but I have been asked not to publish them here as there are still living family members whom do not want wish to be associated with the Club.

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So I shall respectfully sit on these until such time as it would be appropriate to release them into the public domain. But there are plenty of other tales associated which I can share with you today. Richard Parsons, the first Earl of Rosse, along with Lord Blayney and James Worsdale established the Hell-Fire Club in Dublin in 1735. Other members included Baron Barry of Santry, Simon Luttrell, Lord Irnham; Colonel Henry Ponsonby; Colonel Richard St George and Colonel Clements. Whilst many of their meetings took place in the Eagle Tavern on Cork Hill, near Dublin Castle, the remote location of Montpelier would provide a safe and undisturbed place for them to carry out their activities. Parsons was twice Grand Master Mason of Ireland, in 1725 and 1730. The president of the Hell Fire Club was named ‘The King of Hell’ and was dressed like Satan, with horns, wings and cloven hooves. One custom was that of leaving the vice-chair unoccupied for the devil, in whose honour the first toast was always drunk. Members of the club were renowned for their excessive Scaltheen drinking. Scaltheen is a rather nasty concoction made primarily from Whiskey and hot melted butter.  The Club motto was “Fais ce que tu voudras,” or “Do as thou wilt”.

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Meetings started with all members sitting around a circular table upon which was placed a huge punch bowl of Scaltheen. After toasting the Devil and drinking to the ‘damnation of the church the bucks would pour Scaltheen over a cat, and set it alit. After which the gambling, blaspheming, whoring, drinking, violence and Satanism could begin. My earliest recollection as a child being at the club was off the basement. Even back then it was bricked up but even at such a young age I could tell that something nasty lurked within. I have visited the site on countless occasions over the years, especially as a teen when groups of us would hike up for the day during our summer holidays. Don’t get me wrong it is a great place to visit and explore, but that basement still gives me the same horrible feeling. One story I always remember my Gran telling me when I was younger which concerned the Devil himself, whom made a brief appearance there at some unspecified time in the past. One dark and stormy night a stranger arrived at the lodge seeking shelter, after being invited in, a card game ensued. After one of the players dropped his card, he bends down to pick it up only to find that the mysterious visitor is sporting a set of cloven hoofs. Startled by the discovery, he lets out a scream which alerts the devil and he promptly disappears in a puff of smoke leaving a strong smell of brimstone behind him.

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Hell Fire Club (13)

Another story about the club concerns a young farmer from Bohernabreena, whom one night gave in to his curiosity and decided to climb the hill one night in order to see what all the fuss was about. Well the next day he was found wandering aimlessly around the surround woods unable to speak. The poor man is said to have lost his mind and could not even remember his name. Then we have the tale of a priest whom stumbled across members of the club one night. It would seem that the club members had been in the middle of some satanic ritual involving another large black cat, when they caught the priest snooping. Well as the story goes, the priest managed to escape from his captors and grabbed the cat shouting an exorcism as he went. And so the cat was ripped asunder as a demon shot out of the corpse and hit the ceiling, bringing the roof down on its inhabitants. I wonder was this the reason why the original slate roof fell down???  Another macabre tale tells of how a young woman was placed in a barrel, set alit and rolled down the hill to her death. Then there is the story of a young man, a dwarf as the story goes whom was murdered up at the club during a satanic ritual. What makes this tale more believable is that there is evidence that it may have actually happened and not just folklore or history. At the end of the hill there is a small pub and restaurant known as Kilakee House. The owner had been bombarded with what can only be described as poltergeist activity. Even an exorcism by the parish priest could not settle things down. Well back in the early 1970’s the skeleton of a dwarf was found, buried underneath the kitchen floor. In this unusual grave a brass statue of some demon was uncovered. As the story goes, the priest was called for a second time and the remains received a proper burial after which the manifestations stopped.

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Eventually everything came to an end for the Hell Fire Club in 1740 when the place true to its name was gutted by fire. Now here we have three conflicting stories as to how it all happened, so I will share them all with you and let you make your own mind up. Firstly up we have the Club setting fire to the place to give it a hellish appearance, I personally don’t hold much belief in this theory. Yes they were a mad bunch of crazy bastards, but not that mental. The second story also sees the club burn their lodge in an argument over the lease with Squire Conolly, this is somewhat more believable and finally we come to the Scooby Doo ending. Following yet another Black Mass held in the club a young footman accidentally spills a drink over the notorious Thomas (Burn Chapel) Whalley. In response the nasty Whaley whom was known for his arson tendencies involving Catholic churches retaliated by pouring brandy over the man and setting him alight. The fire spread around the building and killed many members. He would amuse himself on Sundays by riding around Dublin setting fire to the thatched roofs of Catholic chapels.  Following the devastating fire, the club relocated further down the hill to Kilakee Stewards House. However, the club’s activities soon declined after this incident. But this was not the last of the Hell Fire Club, In 1771 Irish Hell Fire Club was revived or reincarnated as it were. Now known as the ‘’Holy Fathers’’.  Meetings once again took place at Mount Pelier lodge and, according to one story, the members kidnapped, murdered and ate a farmer’s daughter. Following the death of Thomas Whalley they eventually disbanded for good in 1800, or did they……………………………..

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Hell Fire Club (17)

The Conolly’s sold the lands on to a Luke White in 1800. After which they passed hands through inheritance to the Massy family. When the Massy family became bankrupt, the lands were acquired by the State. Today, the building is maintained by Coillte, who manage the forests on Montpelier’s slopes, and have installed concrete stairs and iron safety rails across the upper windows. The Hell Fire club is still a popular place to visit, but beware, if you go into the woods at night

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Hell Fire Club (19)

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A Manor fit for a King.

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Out of all the sites I have visited over the course of the past few years, these ruins must be the most hideous and depressing. Sigginstown or Jigginstown House as it is now know is currently a National Monument in State care? Although to look at it, you could be forgiven for thinking otherwise. Jigginstown House can be found on the old Newbridge road just outside the town of Naas. In its day it made architectural history as it was the very first large scale red brick building in Ireland. It was built back in the 1630’s by Thomas Wentworth the Earl of Stafford, for use as a summer residence and for the possible use by Charles the first during Royal visits. Between 1632 and 1639 he also served as the Lord Deputy of Ireland where he enforced what many say was an authoritarian rule. Whilst the building of Jigginstown castle is believed to have been the work of Rev. Johnson, rector of Dromlease, another person has also been credited with its construction. In his ‘Excursions through Ireland’, Cromwell credits a John Allen with the job. The most likely reason for the conflicting accounts may perhaps be the fact that Allen whom was well known for his taste in architecture was responsible for the planning phase of the building, whilst Johnson carried out the actual construction. Although Wentworth estimated a cost of £6’000 for Jigginstown, the Stafford papers of 1665 record a much higher figure, with the princely sum £20’000.

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The fact of the matter is that Wentworth never got to see his summer residence completed and the King never stayed there, which leaves some speculation as to whether the building was ever completed. By the time of the Civil Survey in 1654 Jigginstown was said to be in ruins. After being recalled to England to serve as advisor to the King and whilst attempting to strengthen his position, he made many enemies in the House of Commons which led to accusations of treason from his time in Ireland. He was impeached and sent to the Tower of London. Now whilst the records show that Wentworth’s alleged acts of treason where bogus, the King most likely signed the death warrant under severe political pressure,  as his parliament where causing him numerous issues in relation to dealing with problems in Scotland. Regardless, Wentworth met his fate on the 12th May 1641 at Tower Hill. Following the news of his execution a rebellion broke out in Ireland which led to further tensions between the King and his parliament. Any hope the King had of Wentworth’s execution averting such a crisis soon disappeared and many of Wentworth’s Irish enemies found that his death had put their estates, and even their lives, at risk. Eight years later it was Charles I, turn to face the executioners block. His last words were claimed to be, that God had permitted his execution as punishment for his consenting to Wentworth’s death.

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The building itself must have been magnificent back in its day and was described as measuring 448ft in length and consisting of fine vaulted cellars and a number of tall rooms on the ground floor, reached by an outside stairs, with further accommodation in the attic space. The main entrance of the building was a hall door which would have led out on to a balustrade platform. A Double Brick house with free stone about the Windows and some column’s and pavements made of Marble. The floors in the middle parts of the House have since collapsed. To the front of the building there was a rivulet (a small stream) running through the garden. The house was flanked by two slightly projecting wings. A winged staircase near the east end of the north wall provided access to the main entrance. The basement walls consist of mortared stone, lit by mullioned windows and roofed with brick vaulting while the main floor is constructed from brick and lit by large, timber framed windows. A central spine-wall supported pitched roofs to each side. Massive brick chimney stacks rise up from the stone bases in the basement, and have wide fireplaces lined with very small red bricks. During an archaeological excavation of the site, an up cast bank was found, near the south side of the building. This bank provided a terrace overlooking the former large sunken garden and it was here that the remains of a limekiln was found, built into the bank. This was most likely used to provide the lime needed for the internal plaster.

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Ironically, it was at Jigginstown that James Butler, the 1st Duke of Ormonde signed the Cessation with the Confederates in 1643. Ormonde had formerly worked as head of government of Ireland under Stafford and had done quite well for himself. After the Restoration, Ormonde went on to move some of the marble door-cases and chimney-pieces from Jigginstown to Kilkenny Castle or Dunmore House. Jigginstown passed into ownership of the Fitzwilliam family and over many years almost disappeared into the undergrowth. The Fitzwilliam’s handed Jigginstown over to the Irish state in the late 1960s and eventually all the undergrowth was cleared away from the structure by a group of volunteers. The house was in danger of deteriorating beyond repair which would have been a great loss to the local heritage.

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However, a programme of conservation work was carried out by the OPW (office of public works) at the house between 2003 and 2008 which included archaeological excavations, building surveys and some conservation work on the ruin. The work appears to have been suspended since 2008 whilst alleged emergency work was taking place at the cash cow that is the Connolly Folly Monument at Castletown House in Celbridge. I have no doubt that if the same care and effort that is put into Castletown house was afforded to Jigginstown, we would have another fine amenity to enjoy. The consolidation of the south-west corner was due to commence as part of the 2012 programme of work. But as of today, sadly not a stitch of work has been carried out on the building. It remains a crumbling mess, surrounded by corrugated fencing. A far cry from how it once stood in its former glory. The images I took where all shot through gaps in the fencing. I guess I could have used certain skills to get past it but to be honest on this occasion I did not feel comfortable exploring this particular site. Much of the remaining walls look to have buttresses holding them in place and I fear that my intrusion might disrupt the delicate balance that is holding the old place together. Let’s hope that something is done about this fine piece of architectural heritage is lost forever. And then I can go back and explore those hidden vaulted cellars.

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Jigginstown House-3 (640x426)

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Fraoch Oileán and the Knights Hospitallers

Fraoch Oileán and the Knights Hospitallers (1)

Johnstown is a small village just outside Naas in County Kildare. I have passed by it countless times over the years and just by chance whilst hunting for a standing stone I came across a small little graveyard and church with an amazing history. There are signs of early human activity in the area dating back to ancient times, the most notable being the Holed stone which rests in a field towards the Southern end of the village. The stone is linked to an astronomical alignment to the summer solstice. Today though we are going to have a look at the medieval church at the other end of the village. Originally known as Fraoch Oileán the village name changed to Johnstown, presumably taking the name from the religious order whom established themselves in the area.

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Fraoch Oileán and the Knights Hospitallers (4)

Not to be confused with their infamous Templar brothers, the Knights Hospitallers  or The Order of the Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem  to give them their full title, where one of the big five orders to rise up during the first crusade. Believed to have formed around 1023 at the Amalfitan hospital in Jerusalem to provide care for sick, poor or injured pilgrims coming to the Holy Land. After the crusade they became an official religious and military order under its very own papal charter, Pie Postulatio Voluntatis’, which was issued by Pope Paschal II in 1113. They were charged with the care of pilgrims and defending the holy land against Islamic forces. Their main base of operations was the island of Rhodes and later from Malta. Theirs is a fascinating history, but far too expansive to include in this article.



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They first arrived on Ireland’s shores during the Invasion by Norman forces where they first established themselves in Wexford around 1172AD. Two years later a Priory was set up for them at Kilmainham in Dublin by the Earl of Pembroke, Richard De Clare. Within forty years the order was said to have acquired up to 129 properties under Pope Innocent III. Despite this the number of members in Ireland was said to have been quite small, perhaps only 30 -40 members. In Kildare the knights had three Perceptorys at Tully, Killybegs and Kilteel as well as an Abbey in nearby Naas. Whilst I can’t find a definitive date for the church in Johnstown, I did manage to find the earliest grave slab dating back to 1430AD. So they may very well have arrived in Johnstown sometime between 1212 and 1430AD. Much like every other country in which the order resided their primary role was to provide hospitality to pilgrims and travellers. But with the ongoing attacks by native Gaelic clans following the Norman invasion many of the orders strongholds also served as military outposts. This medieval order of knights who held lands in the surrounding area until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1540s.

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Fraoch Oileán and the Knights Hospitallers (9)

The church itself stands on a slight rise near the centre of a graveyard. It is a rectangular structure which appears to have had some restoration work carried out over the years. Built mostly from rubble and limestone. There are a number of boulders of granite and tufa where a chancel may once have stood. The west wall contains a rather large two cantered arch. The entrance doorway in the north wall looks does not appear to be part of the original structure and may very well be a later addition. In the east gable wall there is a double ogee-headed window with a broad, square-headed embrasure and sill. Much of the south wall seems to have been rebuilt, and there is a round-headed window-piece which has been reused on the inner wall face to act as a stoup. Also worthy of a mention are the octagonal base of a medieval baptismal font which lies in the confines of the chancel and is in reasonable condition for its age, and a fine example of a lancet window which remains surprisingly intact in comparison to the remainder of the structure.

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Fraoch Oileán and the Knights Hospitallers (13)

Fraoch Oileán and the Knights Hospitallers (12)

One of the most famous families associated with Johnstown were the Flatsbury’s. They first showed up in Kildare during the 13th century and were quite an influential bunch. Members of the Flatsbury family held lofty positions in Ireland from collectors of the Kings revenue to Sherriff’s of Kildare and some where even members of parliament. So it just goes to show that the ‘Big Boys’, club which exists today in politics is an age old, time honoured tradition. J A large plot can be seen tucked away in a corner near the entrance to the graveyard which is the family plot of the Bourke clan. Today it is marked by a simple plain stone cross. And there is a rather nice flat stone slab which still rests within the graveyard at Johnstown, it is connected to the Flatsbury and Wogan families and it has the family Coat of Arms carved into it. Usually when you come across this type of grave marker they are either badly weather worn or cracked and broken up. So it was nice to see this one surviving the years. It is believed to be the grave slab of James Flatsbury whom had been married to Eleanor Wogan back in 1436. The Wogans were another big family in the Kildare area, with the family stronghold at Rathcoffey Castle. Another well-known member for the Flatsbury family was Philip. He was a scholar and scribe whom is best known for compiling the ‘Red Book of Kildare’, in 1503 for the Earl of Kildare, Garret ‘Og’ Fitzgerald. This book contained the details of all the Fitzgerald estates including grants and title deeds. Considering what I have seen of these holdings, this book must have been quite an impressive tome. After the rebellion of Silken Thomas, Garret’s son the book mysteriously disappeared before eventually resurfacing in Trinity College Dublin, where it now resides.  In 1641 the lands around Johnstown and Palmerstown were confiscated from the Flatsbury’s and eventually granted to a family from the West of Ireland known as the Bourke’s.

Fraoch Oileán and the Knights Hospitallers (14)


Much like the Flatsbury’s, the Bourke’s did quite well for themselves with their new found wealth. They went on to acquire the titles of ‘Lord Naas’, and ‘Earl of Mayo’, and held numerous Crown offices. Perhaps their most famous member was a chap was Richard Southwell Bourke, the sixth Earl of Mayo, whom was also known in the village as ‘The Pickled Earl”. It’s actually a funny story, Richard was appointed Chief Secretary of Ireland on three occasions during the 1860s before going on to become the Viceroy of India, where he was stabbed to death in 1872. This left the British Crown with a bit of a problem, how could they get his remains back to Kildare from India him rotting away. Well as the story goes, he was placed in a barrel of Rum for the long voyage home. Not a particularly nice way to end, and a terrible waste of good rum, but it did however earn him the amusing moniker amongst the locals. One of the most striking features within the confines of the church is the wonderfully ornate Celtic cross. And it is under this cross that Richard was buried.

Fraoch Oileán and the Knights Hospitallers (16)

Fraoch Oileán and the Knights Hospitallers (17)

For these and more of my images, why not visit my Website or join me on Facebook or Twitter.



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The House of Tua

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Just outside Maynooth on the side of the Straffan road there is a small graveyard.  This is the site of an early Christian monastery which contains the ruins of a 6th century Round Tower and a 19th century Church. The monastery which was known as Teach Tua or Tua’s House, was founded by St. Tua or Ultan the Silent as he was better known due to his practise of silent prayer for the duration of lent. It is believed that he came from the nearby monastery of Clane to found the monastery at what is now known as Taghadoe, in Kildare. Little else is known about Tua or his early settlement. The earliest mention I could find concerned one of its Abbotts, known as Folachtach, whom had previously been an Abbott at Clonmacnois. He is said to have died at Teach-Tua in 770AD. 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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Taghadoe Round Tower & Church (3)

The site is set within the confines of a relatively modern oval shaped wall on slightly raised pasture land. And is surrounded by a working farm on both sides of the road. So parking is a bit tricky, but it is possible to park a car on the verge, in tight to the wall. Just make sure that you don’t block the farm gates. The only remaining sign of this early monastic settlement is the Round Tower which sadly is missing its conical cap. Believed to have been in use for almost a millennium, it was said to have fallen in to ruin during the 17th century. Ancient lore tells that Round Towers were places of refuge for people and treasures when the monasteries were attacked. With the entrance door positioned above ground level, its sole purpose was to act as a defence against marauding invaders out to pillage the sacred possessions that the Monks held.  However, modern historians seem to believe that they were merely bell-towers and those stories of safe refuge are only folklore.


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The Round Tower is situated in the south section of the graveyard and stands at almost 20 meters in height. Although it is missing its original conical cap, it appears to be in decent condition and is believed to have been five stories. It was constructed using roughly coursed limestone. As usual the entrance door can be found at 3.5 meters above the ground. The door resides within a rounded three stone archway, with a plain moulding. It is made from mostly granite with some limestone in the east jamb which would suggest that at some stage an attempt was made to repair or replace the original doorway. Just above the center stone of the archway is another quite weathered stone which may once have been decorated with a head carving. Although there is no current access to the tower it has been stated that the floor levels are all marked by setbacks which would have held the wooden floors in place. These floors would originally have had several floors, linked by ladders, similar to the one at St. Brigid’s Cathedral in Kildare Town which is opened to the public at certain times of the year. The tower is lit by three windows each with inclined jambs and square tops. The first on the second floor to the west, the second is on the third floor just above the doorway with the third on the fourth floor level facing west-north-west.

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Taghadoe Round Tower & Church (7)

One strange thing I noticed on the tower was a ring of small square holes going around the tip of the tower. My guess would be that these are Putlog holes. These holes were used to receive wooded beams, a type of early scaffolding which dates back to Roman times. And were most likely used when fitting the towers roof. Obviously when the roof fell down or was removed, these beams would have rotted away due to weather exposure. During the 19th century a door was inserted into the tower on the ground level to store coal for heating the newly built adjacent church, but this was blocked up in 1886 when the tower was declared a National Monument.


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The current church ruins were built back in 1821 but was strangely said to have been abandoned only 40 years later. Considering it is only 195 it’s a shame to see it in ruin. Ok so it has no roof, but the structure looks to be in good nick. The church has four distinctive octagonal turrets, one at each corner, with some rather pleasant decorative stonework. Whilst visible grave markers are concentrated to the south east of the site, most of the burials are dated from the 17th and 18th century and where used by Roman Catholics. A geophysical survey suggested that the whole graveyard contains interments and that there was an earlier chapel built here, but there is no longer any visible trace of this to be seen. The church was built using funds left from the will of a John Dillon from Carton amounting to £1000 and a donation from Board of First Fruits of £830. This site at Taghadoe is now in the care of the Office of Public Works, with some visible restoration work on both the church and the tower. Steel support bars have been inserted on both the front and rear walls of the church with some masonry work on the Romanesque style windows.

Taghadoe Round Tower & Church (10)

Taghadoe Round Tower & Church (11)

For these and more of my images, why not visit my Website or join me on Facebook or Twitter.

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Church Ruins of St. Columba

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Well it’s a New Year and to start of I decided that the ongoing lack of transport and a camera will not disturb my Ruin hunting activities. So for a while I will be sharing some of the early sites I have explored over the years, which did not get the exposure that they deserved. First up is the old church ruins of St. Columba. I found this little hidden gem tucked away in the far corner of a graveyard in Confey, just outside Leixlip in Kildare. During my late teens and early twenties I left home and moved out to Leixlip where I finished serving my time as an apprentice. These were good times, and as I passed through the town all these memories came flooding back. It was here that I began to recall some history of the area of which had some strong Viking connections. During the summer months Leixlip would hold its annual Salmon festival. I remember my first year living there, and on the last day of the festival a replica Viking Long ship was burned in the river Liffey.  It was amazing how this not so little town has grown since I last lived there over fifteen years ago.

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Leixlip or to give it its original Norse name “Lax-hlaup” which means ‘Salmon Leap’. In fact it is said to be the only inland town known to have a Norse name. Although a Viking settlement, evidence has been discovered that the area was inhabited since the Stone Age. The town was also home to Arthur Guinness’s first brewery back in 1755 before moving to its present location at the famous James Gate in Dublin. But back to the Viking connection. Situated on the banks where the River Liffey meets the Rye, it became an important area due to the fact that this was the furthest point to which the Viking Long ships could be rowed. It also was the scene of a famous battle, where in 917AD the Viking King of Dublin Sigtrygg Caech won a short lived victory over Augaire mac Ailella the King of Leinster.

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Confey (5) (640x426)

Well the ruins of the old Confey church also known as St. Columba’s Church was quite easily found in the north-east corner of the current modern Confey cemetery. As I passed through the modern graveyard I noticed an unusual amount of graves of children I guess you could call this the ‘Holy Angels’ section. During the flu pandemic of 1918/19 many local children died and were quickly buried in mass graves in the oldest part of the cemetery.

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Upon entering the site the first thing which you will notice is a plaque left during some restoration works carried out by Kildare County Council back in 2000-2001. It’s a rather poor rectangular structure which has been overgrown by ivy in parts and surrounded by some rather decrepit looking trees. Although the church was said to have been is use by 1200AD, it appears to have been built in three different periods. The original structure believed to date back to the 11th century would have been nothing more than a single cell structure. So the chances of this site having any direct connection to Columbus whom was also known in Ireland as Colmcille are rather slim considering that he died in 597AD.

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Confey (9) (640x426)

This structure was then converted into a nave followed by the addition of a chancel and chancel arch to its eastern end in the 12th-century. The extension of the Nave to the west was the final stage of its construction which is believed to have taken place in the 15th century. This final addition to the west end of the nave has since collapsed, but there is surviving evidence of a doorway with segmented arch in the west end of the south wall, along with traces of a possible opposing bricked up doorway in the north wall.

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The nave is lit by two extremely narrow windows at the east end of the south wall, one of which is lintelled, while the other is round-arched with a tympanum-stone under the arch giving a square-headed ope. There are two further windows in the chancel, near the east end of its north and south walls, with a third and final window in the east gable wall of the nave. The interior contains a number of 18th/19th century burials marked by headstones, and piles of collapsed masonry.

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Confey (13) (640x426)

Whilst it is possible to walk around the entire structure once you leave the relative safety of the stone slabs the ground becomes quite deceivingly uneven. The graveyard contains a various assortment of cut-stone grave markers from the 18th-20th centuries, along with some intriguing Crosses. Although the site is surrounded by woodland which gives a rather deceiving impression of seclusion there is a gap in the trees to the north of the chancery, where you will find a rather precarious ditch which once crossed leads you to an adjacent field where you can find the ruins of Confey Castle to the North East. Now unfortunately as is the case, Time had gotten the better of me and I was unable to make my way to explore what remains are left of this ruined castle but rest assured I shall return and my findings shall be posted here.

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Confey (15) (640x426)

These ruins are a great find and well worth a visit, unfortunately even though set in a lovely secluded area surrounded by trees, I did not enjoy my visit here as much as I would have expected. A rather unpleasant & unexplainable feeling overcame me whilst on the grounds which overshadowed what would have normally been an enjoyable time for me. Now I am not easily creeped out or spooked by things but my gut told me that something here was just not right. After I put this down to perhaps the children’s graveyard had had some sort of negative effect on me but who knows? When I come back to explore the Castle ruins I intend to spend more time at the site of the church to try to figure out what had caused this unusual experience.

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Confey (17) (640x426)

For these and more of my images, why not visit my Website or join me on Facebook or Twitter.


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Capturing History Challenge Week 19

Heritage Challenge Logo (640x270)Welcome to the final Challenge of 2015. What a year it has been, with the generous submissions from fellow bloggers, we have traveled to so many wonderful parts of the globe and hopefully enjoyed the history behind the images. So for the final installment I have decided to share some of my favorite castle ruins which I have explored over the years in addition to this weeks submissions. But before we continue I would like to thank each and every person whom made this little challenge possible. It has been a pleasure to share these wonderful images over the past months, so THANK YOU.

This week we start of in Sunny Spain, with an old Bell Tower in the Cantabrian Mountains near Riano. Then its of to Somerset, England and the rather striking Church of St. Michael on the Burrow Mump.  We then head north to Scotland to the tragic Cairn at Culloden. The scene of the slaughter of 2000 highlanders during the Jacobite rebellion of 1746. Then we as always finish our trip with a selection of some of my favorite Castles around Ireland, all in various states of unfortunate ruin.

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1. Old Bell Tower, Riano, Spain. By Darlene Foster @DarleneFostersBlog

Burrow Mump

2. Burrow Mump, Somerset, England. By Phil Platt  @WheresPhil

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3. Culloden Cairn, Scotland. By Cybele Moon @  TheRuinsofTheGatekeepersDaughter

BallyAdams Castle

4.  BallyAdams Castle, Laois, Ireland.By EdMooney@EdMooneyPhotography

Carbury Castle

5.  Carbury Castle, Kildare, Ireland. By Ed Mooney@EdMooneyPhotography

Carlow Castle

6.  Carlow Castle, Carlow, Ireland. By Ed Mooney@EdMooneyPhotography

Dunamase Castle

7.  Rock of Dunamase, Laois, Ireland.By EdMooney@EdMooneyPhotography

Goat Castle

8.  Goat Castle, Dublin, Ireland.By EdMooney@EdMooneyPhotography

Kinnefad Castle

9.  Kinnefad Castle, Kildare, Ireland.By EdMooney@EdMooneyPhotography

MacFeorais Castle

10. MacFeorais Castle, Kildare, Ireland. Ed Mooney @EdMooneyPhotography

Nenagh Castle

11. Nenagh Castle, Kildare, Ireland. Ed Mooney @EdMooneyPhotography

Ballyadams Castle is a stunning Castle built by Adam O’Moore in the 15th century. Although in ruin, the Castle still proudly stands unlike the 17th century fortified Manor House which was attached over 200 years later. Very little of this addition is still standing. And being the adventurous type I did manage to safely explore the castle up as far as the third floor. To read more, CLICK HERE.  Carbury is more of a fortified Manor House than a castle but stands on the site of an earlier Norman castle. It has a fascinating history which dates right back to the bronze age, Read all about it HERE.

Next up is Carlow Castle, with a history spanning much of Ireland’s troubles. Built on the site of an earlier Religious settlement. The Castle at Carlow became the home of William Marshall, one of the Norman invaders best soldiers and politicians, before being used as a lunatic asylum. It was the doctor ruining the asylum whom is responsible for much of the castles demise, you can read all about it HERE.  What can I say about Dunamase that has not already been said before, it was one of the first ruins I ever explored and has been visited by thousands of people including myself on numerous occasions. From the early and quite embarrassing images HERE to more recent visits HERE and HERE.

Goat Castle in Dalkey is another fine fortified Tower House which now houses the Dalkey heritage center. You can enjoy a great guided tour of the Castle complete with period dressed actors, check it out HERE. Moving on to Kildare we have the ruins of the 14th century Castle at Kinnefad. One of a number of Castles in the area built by the De Bermingham family along the Offaly/Kildare border. It is now in really bad shape and will probably crumble to the ground if it is not repaired soon, local stories tell of many great battles which took place here. To read more, click HERE. Nearby you will find another of the De Bermingham strongholds, Mac Feorais Castle or Carrick-Oris Castle is another badly damaged ruin from the 15th century. It stands on the site of an earlier Castle built 300 years earlier.It was in this very castle in 1305AD where the notorious Sir Pierce Mc Feorais (Bermingham)whom was also known as the ‘Treacherous Baron’, viciously plotted and murdered  many members of the O’Connor clan. You can find out all about its murderous history HERE. Last but not least is the stunning remains of Nenagh Castle. All that remains is a single circular Tower, but with a fascinating history it is well worth exploring as you can actually climb the very top. Obviously alot of work has been done here to keep the Tower in such great condition. So check it out HERE for the full story.


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Twas the Night before Christmas………………………….

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As usual, the kids are still up, all the final bits of shopping have been done and well if I have forgotten anything it will just have to wait. The kids are watching Home Alone for the millionth time this week and very soon it will be time for bed. They have been so excited following Santa’s travels via the NORAD Satellite. As we speak Santa and his sleigh are somewhere over India. So once he hits European air space it will be time to go to sleep. Then Mammy & Daddy can finish off all the important preparations for Santa’s arrival.

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It become a bit of a tradition in our house to do some Christmas Jumper shots in front of the Tree each year, and this year will be no exception. We had no visit from the Rex the Christmas Elf this year, whom first came to stay in 2013, and again last year we had the pleasure of Lloyd the Elf, but to be honest I was glad to see the back of him, he was a bit mischievous and kept moving stuff around last year.

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So all that’s left to say is to wish one and all a very Merry Christmas, and thank you for all the support throughout the year 🙂

Ar mian leat agus mise Nollag Shona, tá na bliana nua atá sábháilte agus níos rathúla.

Wishing you and yours a Happy Christmas, have a safe and prosperous new year.

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