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.  

Monday, 10 April 2017

Monasterboice Co Louth

                                    Above Image: The approach from the gate.

                                Above Image & Below 2 Images: the West cross

                              Above & Below Image: One of the two church ruins

                                    Above 3 Images: More of the West cross

                                Above & Below Images: Muiredach's High Cross

                                            Above Image: The North cross

                                 Above Image: Original shaft of the North cross

We paid a visit here on the same day we visited Mellifont (see earlier post here). It is located down a winding country back road but is well enough signposted. These are the ruins of an early Christian settlement and one of the most striking places I’ve seen. It was founded by St Buithe (a follower of St Patrick) in the fifth century and was an important centre of learning until it was superseded by nearby Mellifont in the 12th century. The round tower which was then a refuge from attack and a receptacle for the monastic library was burned in the late 11th century but it still remained steadfast and new churches were added on long after that event. The site has now been surrounded by more modern graves and an oval shaped enclosure wall. The most dominant feature is the round tower standing approx. 90 feet high although it is missing its conical top. There is a stairway built up to the door but it is not possible to access the interior. The site contains the ruins of two churches circa 14th century. The one furthest South is the older of the two but both are very basic and ancient structures.
Perhaps the most notable features at Monasterboice are its 10th century high crosses. Muiredach's High Cross is probably the finest example in Ireland. It stands approx. 18 feet high and is finely decorated with depictions from the bible. It is named after the Abbott Muiredach mac Domhnaill who died in 923.
The cross known as the West cross is an impressive sight. It is the tallest high cross in the country at approx. 21 feet in height and is also finely carved throughout although a little more weather worn. It stretches upward beside the round tower as if it was in competition with it.
The North cross standing at approx. 10 feet in height is unfortunately not as decorative as the others but is nonetheless interesting. It stands now in an enclosure along with some other items from the site including remnants of a sundial and a bullaun stone. The shaft of this cross has been partially replaced as the remains of original shaft which also stands in the enclosure was damaged at some time in the past. The cross head itself is very nicely carved and still in good condition.
This is a very interesting and atmospheric site we spent ages wandering about it and it can be nicely coupled with a visit to Mellifont as well.  We made the visit on Good Friday when it was quiet and almost devoid of people only a couple of other interested parties soaking up the culture.

To find Monasterboice take the M1 heading North and exit at junction 10 for Drogheda. At the roundabout at the top of the ramp take the 2nd exit onto the R168 and drive for approx. 5.5KM until you reach Nursery cross where a road to the right is signposted for Monasterboice. Drive down this road for approx. 1.5Km where the road forks to the left and is signposted again for Monasterboice. Turn onto this road and drive for approx. 1.5Km and you will spot the round tower on your left. There is ample parking opposite the site or if the gate is closed you can park at the entrance gate of the site. Access through the gate if open or otherwise by a stile on either side of the gate.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Nurney Pigeon Tower Co Kildare

                                             Above Image: Entrance stile

                         Above & Below Images: Rock outcrops or castle remains?

                                  Above Image; The older square base section

                                    Above Image: Looking up within the tower

                                         Above Image: Small lower chamber

Sometimes called Nurney Castle this is in fact not the actual castle remains which disappeared many years ago. They were situated beyond the opposite bank of the river that was once part of a millrace.. However there may be some relation between the two as this structure appears to have been built in separate parts. The lower section with its four rudimentary apertures (not quite doorways) is constructed of an older stone cobbled together not unlike the fashion of medieval tower houses. It may have been an outpost of the nearby castle and situated on Pigeon hill as it is gives a commanding view of the area. On the South side of the tower there are two lower apertures that seem to lead into a small chamber beneath giving more credence to this being of use than it is considered today. The upper section is constructed of redbrick and looks more modern probably dating to the 19th century and was fashioned to be a pigeon house probably giving name to the hill upon which it sits. It’s a most unusual looking structure and when you step inside you can see how the tower above tapers to a window to the sky. Little information is forthcoming about it and its origins, the locals call it the pigeon house but I would like to think that it is somehow connected in part at least to the now non extant castle. The hill itself looks to all intents and purposes to be a motte on which a Norman fort would have stood. Whether it is a natural formation or man built is again unclear. On the West facing side of the hill a couple of large boulders jut out of the ground. Again these might be remnants of part of a fortification now long gone or a natural rock outcrop which could rule out the hill being man made as there would be no purpose in placing them where they are. Speculation abound then but I continue to seek more information and perhaps somebody out there might know the truth behind this mysterious structure. Across the road and a few yards South there are the remains of the medieval church covered in an earlier post here. Access to the tower can be made easily by parking in the car park opposite the modern church and just cross the little wooden bridge over the river adjacent to the car park. A couple of stiles are all you need to navigate to reach the base of the hill.

To find the ruin take the Junction 13 exit of the M7 motorway and take the R415 signposted for Nurney. Drive for approx. 6KM until you enter the village of Nurney. Look for the modern church on your right where you will find car parking spaces opposite. The ruin is on the hill behind the car park.