Monday, 19 June 2017

Knockmaroon Cromlech Co Dublin

                                      Above Image: Pathway up to the site

                                           Above Image: Eastern aspect

                                           Above Image: Western aspect

This small but significant cromlech (or kist) was accidently discovered in 1838 when a renovation of the Phoenix park was taking place. The workmen who discovered it were charged with the removal of a mound which turned out to be an ancient tumulus standing 15 feet high and 120 feet in circumference.on which the cromlech was positioned. It would date sometime between 2500BC to 1700BC. The Royal Irish Academy at the time investigated it and removed two human skeletons and a number of other items including a flint arrowhead. This is reckoned to be the smallest of this type of burial chamber in the country. The name given to the monument is usually Knockmary as it is positioned beside Knockmary keeper's lodge and the area outside has the name Knockmaroon both are derivations of the name Knockmaridhe. It is tucked away from sight and wouldn’t really make itself aware unless sought out. I had a general idea where it was located from an old ordnance survey map so I set out one day to seek it out. I was driving so I entered the park from the Chapelizod gate and once I spotted the Knockmary lodge up on the hill I just parked on the grass verge at the bottom and walked up the pathway towards the lodge. The lodge is surrounded by a fence and you just need to follow the fence around to the right where you will locate the cromlech. To be fair it has been damaged in the past mostly by people knocking parts off as souvenirs and there are signs that a large crack in the centre of the capstone has been repaired but not entirely successfully sometime in the past. The capstone is believed to be made of bedrock extracted from the River Liffey. A large more modern block props up the large capstone on one side where the original stone has either been removed or was damaged and replaced. The burial chamber is underground leaving the rest of this tomb standing on grass but this is nonetheless an interesting piece of ancient history which goes generally unnoticed.
To find the cromlech enter the park by the Chapelizod gate and a few metres in you will reach a T-junction with Upper Glen Road. Turn left and follow the road .You will pass two signs pointing right into gateways, one for St. Mary's Hospital the other for Cheshire home. Approx 100m past the second sign you will see the small pathway leading up the hill. You can park on the grass verge at the bottom.If on foot you can also access by way of a laneway in Chapelizod village that lies beside the Newsagent/Post office. A small pedestrian gate at the bottom of the lane leads into the park directly opposite the hill with Knockmary lodge visible on top. 

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Old Whitechurch Church & Castle Co Kildare

                                           Above Image: Entrance stiles

                                           Above Image: Part of West wall

                                        Above Image: Remains of a window

                                               Above Image: South gable

                                              Above Image: Hidden tower

                                   Above Image: Entrance to tower and stairs

                               Above Image: A view downwards within the tower

I first came across this site in 2013 as I had heard there was both a church and a castle ruin. All I could locate at the time amongst the trees and wild overgrowth was a partial wall and window. I could not see any part of the castle tower. A bit despondent I left but found myself in the vicinity again recently so I decided to have another look.
The town land on which this ancient graveyard is located is called Whitechurch and it was the site of a monastery in 1300 founded by the white friars hence the origin of the name. The present ruins may or may not have formed part of the monastery but it was certainly used as a parish church until the early seventeenth century where thereafter it fell into ruin. Not much is known of the strong tower that was built here but it most certainly of Norman origin and appears to be placed in close proximity to the church and may not have been a castle as such but have served as a fortified refuge for the clergy..
After crossing the two stiles from the roadside I found myself back at the graveyard. In general it appears to be maintained well and contains a lot of jagged ancient stones. On this occasion I got to see what remains of the church as the overgrowth had receded a little or was cut back. Still standing are the West wall and south gable. The west wall is crumbling and contains the remains of a window and doorway. Within, the ground is badly overgrown and there is the remains of an old font amongst the vegetation. The South gable fares better and has a nice window mostly intact. Having viewed the ruins I scoured the area to locate the castle tower. It turns out to be approximately where the North gable would have stood. A lot of overgrowth hides it from view but I could partially see a section higher up. I then spotted at ground level part of the West wall and a small doorway. I broke away some of the dried branch twigs that occluded the entrance and had to climb over a small fallen tree trunk. Within, ivy was curling about but there was a narrow set of stone steps spiralling upward. I managed to get inside the doorway and carefully ascended the steps which were coated in lichen managing to reach a flat area that must have been the first floor. The stairway was really narrow and the steps badly worn but I at least got part ways into the interior. I figured there wasn’t much likelihood of any further steps as I could see daylight above. It really is very hard to discern what is left of the tower but I’m glad I at least got inside.
The site of the ruins is to the side of a narrow country road where passing traffic is frequent as it leads to Straffan and back to the N4. Also there are almost no places to safely park. I managed after a few drives up and down the stretch of road to eventually tuck the car in on a very small grass verge a few yards North of the entrance stile.

To find the ruins take the N4 heading West and exit at junction 7 signposted for Straffan. At the top of the exit ramp circle the roundabout and cross the bridge over the N4 and on the roundabout on the other side take the first exit again signposted for Straffan. Continue down this road and turn right at the next roundabout onto Straffan road. Continue driving on this road for approx. 4.5km until you have crossed over two hump back bridges (one the canal the other the rail line) Approx 250m after the second bridge look carefully for the gate and stile in the hedgerows on your right. As mentioned parking is difficult but there is a small grass verge just past the entrance on the same side which may be your best bet.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Old Bodenstown Church Co Kildare

                                             Above Image: Entrance gate

                          Above & Below Images: Tomb of Wolfe Tone within ruins

                              Above Image: Church entrance viewed from within

                                   Above Image: Church entrance exterior view

                                      Above Image: Commemoration plaza

Back into the backwaters of Ireland’s ancient East. I visited this quite well known but off the beaten track church ruin in Co. Kildare.
The medieval Church of Bodenstown has a shrouded history. It certainly predates 1352 as it is mentioned in records dating to that time. It would have served as a parish Church and was certainly in ruin by the nineteenth century. It is known today as the resting place of one of the leaders of the 1798 rebellion Theobald Wolfe Tone who was buried here in 1798. Whether the Church was in use at that point is unclear but because of the positioning of the tomb within the Church it would appear that it was no longer in use and the ground within considered hallowed. Every year on the last Sunday in June there is a republican orientated pilgrimage that takes place and a special commemoration section and podium have been constructed adjacent to the South wall.
The Church measured roughly 39ft x 23ft and what remains today are the West gable and North and South walls. It’s a very peaceful spot and appears to be maintained well. There is some ivy growth beginning to take hold on the North wall but otherwise the remains are still quite sturdy.The entrance doorway is still complete and is positioned in the West gable and the interior ground has been partially paved especially around the area of Wolfe Tone's tomb. The Church stands in the centre of the graveyard on slightly elevated ground and access is by way of a gate at the roadside or a stepped stone stile in the enclosure wall.
To find the ruins take the N4 heading West and exit at junction 7 signposted for Straffan. At the top of the exit ramp circle the roundabout and cross the bridge over the N4 and on the roundabout on the other side take the first exit again signposted for Straffan. Continue down this road and turn right at the next roundabout onto Straffan road. Continue for 1km until you reach a left hand turn onto Barberstown Road signposted for Killeen Golf Course. Take the left turn and drive approx 3.5km and you will reach a small crossroads. Go straight through and you will find the ruins approx 1km along on your left hand side. You can park easily enough at the boundary wall.

Monday, 8 May 2017

Ballyshanemore Castle Co Kilkenny

                               Above Image: North facing wall with ogee window

                                       Above Image: View of East facing wall

I came across this tall sturdy tower house on route to Kilfane Church (see post here) It is located on a side road leading out of Gowran in Co Kilkenny.

Following the Invasion of Ireland by the Normans the lands surrounding Gowran were granted to Theobald Fitzwalter the Chief Butler of Ireland. The family name Butler derived from this and from 1385 onward James Butler built some castles starting with Gowran and then subsequently others on his estate one of which was Ballyshanemore. The castle was in their possession until the Cromwellian invasion in 1650 in which nearby Gowran castle (the main residence) was very badly damaged. Ballyshanemore appears to have fared better and the ruins have survived well enough to this day. A particularly interesting feature is the double lit ogee headed window positioned in the North facing wall. Although there are several other windows present this one is the most decorative. Unfortunately it is not possible to view the interior with its reported large fireplaces as the entrance is completely blocked up. A shame really as it would be interesting to see what else has survived within. The castle has now been incorporated into some farm outbuildings and there was an open field gate when I visited so I could have a look at the out of view East wall. Sadly the field here just beyond the gate seems to have been misused and was strewn with litter some of it not very pleasant.
A nice example of a fourteenth century tower house then and well worth a visit if in the area.

 To find the ruin take the M9 heading South and exit at Junction 7 and at the top of the exit ramp take the left hand exit for the R448 (signposted for Thomastown). Continue straight through the next roundabout and on the subsequent roundabout turn right on to the continuance of the R448. This will lead you to the village of Gowran and once past the huge Gowran Collegiate Church (see earlier post here) take the first left onto Mill Road and you will find the castle 500m along on your left.

Monday, 24 April 2017

Old Kilfane Church Co Kilkenny

                           Above & Below Images: Entrance gate & trail to ruins

                                                Above Image: First view

                                         Above Image: West gable entrance

                                               Above Image: The sedelia

                                          Above Image: West gable interior

                                         Above Image: East gable interior

                                 Above Image & 2 Images Below: Cantwell Fada


                                Above Image: entrance to tower vaulted chamber

                      Above Image & 2 Images Below: interior of vaulted chamber

                                         Above Image: Steps to first floor

                                              Above 2 Images First floor

                               Above Image: A view upwards through the tower

                                        Above Image: Steps to top of tower

                                     Above Image: Second level without floor

                                 Above Image: View of the sedelia from the top

                                       Above Image: View of Church below

                                              Above Image: twin bellcote

                                         Above Image: Part of a sundial?

This one has been on my list for some time now and I finally had the opportunity to make a visit this year..

Kilfane Church is a medieval parish church more than likely constructed in the early fourteenth century. It incorporates a Norman tower and some notable features one of which is most unusual.
The Church is hidden away from the road shielded by trees but is accessed by a pillared metal gate at the roadside. A short track leads to it and is adjacent to a private house in which the back garden contains a couple of loudly barking dogs but they are of no danger to the visitor. The Church sits in a walled enclosure and a small metal gate allows easy access to the site. It is a long rectangular structure with its main entry on the West gable. There are three other doorways in the North and South walls. Below the window in the East gable are the remains of an altar and beside it in the South wall is a sedelia or priest’s seat which according to the information board outside is thought to have been part of an earlier Church and actually still contains traces of medieval paint. There are also some plain recesses for holding a book and some statues .Of course I have up to now avoided the elephant in the room and I refer of course to the Cantwell fada (or long Cantwell). This 8 feet tall effigy of a knight crusader stands upright within the Church and seems to stare at you as you enter the doorway On approaching it really stretches in height. It is deemed to be the most interesting and tallest effigy in both Ireland and indeed Britain and depicts a knight in chain mail and protective helmet holding a shield close to him which bears the Cantwell family crest. The Cantwells were one of the original families involved in the Norman Invasion of Ireland and were honoured for their service by being made Lords of Kilfane. The effigy is thought to date to around 1320 which leads historians to believe that it depicts Thomas Cantwell who died in that year. Interestingly the feet are turned inward and a local which we met at the site said that this was to indicate that he had died in battle but I’m not entirely sure that this is the case. The effigy is a striking piece of medieval work and is worth your time in itself to make the trip to Kilfane.  I’ve only ever seen one other effigy on my travels and that was of Piers Oge Butler (d. 1526AD) and that was laid atop a tomb in Kilcooley Abbey in Co Tipperary (See post here).
But all this good stuff does not end here. On the Eastern end of the Church is the Norman tower. This is likely to have served as both the sacristy and a place of residence for the priests. A doorway leads into the lower vaulted chamber a dark and brooding place if ever there was one. Out of this chamber a set of worn stone steps leads upward to the first floor which contains like the vaulted chamber, a large fireplace. There is a very tangible atmosphere here of desolation aided and abetted by the constant shrieks of birds hiding in the innards of the tower and flying overhead. Indeed mind your step on these stairs as pigeons seem to tuck themselves close into the steps and are not at least put out by feet tramping close to them. One wrong footing and you could be in trouble. In the South East corner of the first floor a very narrow stone spiral stairs leads further upward. An entry to another floor which was probably wooden and now missing is gated for safety but you can continue on up to what would have been roof level. This is unfortunately also gated now and I can see why by how exposed the roof is but still the view both down on the Church below and of the Kilkenny landscape is excellent from this location. The tower also acted as a bell tower and there is a twin bellcote at roof level.
So after a careful descent and with a nod to the knight we left Kilshane all the better for the visit. There is a lot to see in this area which will be covered in future posts but in the meantime do check out this remarkable ruin.

To find the ruin and Mr Cantwell take the M9 heading South and exit at Junction 7 and at the top of the exit ramp take the left hand exit for the R448 (signposted for Thomastown). Continue straight through the next roundabout and on the subsequent roundabout turn right on to the continuance of the R448. Continue on through the villages of Gowran and Dungarvan and approx. 4.5KM out of Dungarvan you will pass the Long Man restaurant & bar on your right. Approx 100m past this on your left is a turn signposted for Kilfane Church. You will find the entrance gate to the track up to the ruin is 400 m down this narrow road on your right hand side. The gate is directly opposite a more modern church of Ireland church and there is room to park at gate leading to the ruins.