Sunday, 1 October 2017

Fourknocks Co Meath

                              Above Image: Road signs opposite the entrance

                                            Above Image: Entrance stile

                         Above Image: Don't forget the key or you'll have to go back!

                                         Above image: Approach lane way

                                                  Above Image: The Tomb

                                      Above Image: Steps leading to the crest

                        Above & Below Images: The entrance from the outside and
                                                            viewed from the inside

                           Above & Below Images: The rear recess & lintel stone

                                 Above Image: Domed roof with light apertures

This is a great place to visit. Considering it is only 10 miles from the great tomb of Newgrange which attracts thousands and thousands of visitors each year this remarkable tomb doesn't get the same amount of patronage but in this case this is a good thing. Chances are when you visit you'll be the only one there.
Fourknocks named after the townland "Fuair Cnocs" meaning Cold Hills is a passage tomb which was probably constructed approx. 5000 years ago. It is surrounded by two other passage tombs which are overgrown and inaccessible. Although smaller in size on its exterior to Newgrange, it strangely has a chamber twice the size of its more famous cousin,
What you need to do before you arrive at the site is to obtain a key from the White family who live about 1 mile away on the Kilmoon road. Without this you cannot access the interior.I will give you details at the end of the post.
The site is accessible via a roadside stile which I should mention is not wheelchair friendly. You need to climb over some steps as there is no gateway. A short lane way leads you directly to the tomb. Unlocking the steel door at the entrance is a great thrill and stepping into the darkness with only a shaft of daylight behind you is amazing. The doorway initially is quite low with a couple of steel supports that you should avoid by stooping. Once into the main chamber you can stand tall again. Like all underground chambers and caves there is a steady temperature inside of around 10 degrees Celsius/50 degrees Fahrenheit and it takes a couple of minutes for your eyes to adjust to the littleness of light inside. This site was excavated in 1950-1952 and afterwards a concrete domed roof was put in place as the original roof which would have been constructed of wood had long since disappeared. Within the dome several small apertures were created to allow light to filter through from the outside.Even so I recommend bringing a good torch with you anyway.
Within the main chamber there are three recesses with many ancient flat stones standing between them Each of these recesses were burial chambers. Even in the faint light you can see that visitors have left scores of small trinkets such as coins and coloured pebbles in the same way that people do with rag trees around certain holy wells. The long horizontal lintel stones above the recesses are all carved with diamond shaped or spiral patterns. The tomb itself is supposedly aligned with the winter solstice sunrise as in Newgrange but it's orientation aims it more towards North where it would not capture a sun or moonrise. So we would have to wonder what thought went into its design.
When you have finished exploring the inside take a few steps up onto the crest of the mound for some excellent views. 
Fourknocks is a really interesting historical site and should be visited if you get a chance. I will certainly be returning. When we paid a visit we had the place to ourselves to explore but the keyholder mentioned that earlier that day a bus arrived with 15 people. That would have been a bit less atmospheric an experience.
Okay lets get to the directions. Its a bit off the beaten track so this is the route I chose.
Head North on the N2 from the M2/N2  roundabout towards Slane. After approx 2.5KM you will pass a Topaz Fuel station on your right. Once past the Topaz take the third right hand turn onto the R152 signposted for Drogheda. Drive up this road (you will pass a TOP fuel station on your right) and you will reach two right hand turns close together. take the second right signposted for Garristown. Drive for approx 2.6KM and you will reach a kind of T-junction with a smaller road, keep to the left and continue for approx. 4KM until you see Donnelly's pub on your right. 200m further is a gateway sign on your left for Clogherstown United. Take the next left turn after this.and 450m along this narrow road you will see a white bungalow with a red shed to the right of it. The name White is placed in the stone wall at the roadside. Here you obtain the key. You will be required to leave a €20 deposit which is refundable once the key is returned by 6PM.
Now to find Fourknocks tomb just continue along the road you are on passing through a junction with a stop sign you will then reach a fork in the road with a cottage in the centre. keep to the right lane and you will find the entrance stile to the tomb approx 130m further on your left. There is room to park opposite the stile. Don't forget to lock up when you leave and return the key. Enjoy! 

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Termonfeckin Castle Co Louth

                               Above & Below Images: The locked entrance gate

                                         Above Image: The projecting tower

Termonfeckin was originally a monastic site founded by St Fechin of Fore in the latter part of the 7th century. The Norman invasion resulted later in the building of two castles in the town but only one survives today. The non extant castle known as "The primates castle" had been used by the Bishops of Armagh over the years most notably by Archbishop Ussher in the early 17th century. It  was partially damaged in 1641 during the rebellion and although still used for several years by James Ussher it fell into further disrepair and was finally demolished in 1830.
The remaining tower is the very sturdy Termonfeckin Castle which was constructed in the 15th or 16th century. It stands three storeys tall with a vaulted second level and a spiral stairs. It has a prominent projecting tower. Originally there was a second projecting tower but it too had been damaged in 1641. Later Captain James Brabazon (1619-1674) repaired and made some alterations to it but it now stands as a ruin.
We visited this castle during a weekday in September with a view to getting a look inside and reaching roof level. I was aware in advance that a key holder had to be located. Actually there is a notice on the gate advising that an entry key may be obtained from the first house on the right of the castle but when we followed the instructions we unfortunately found that there was nobody home and the mobile phone number supplied just rang out. Disappointing maybe as we probably just chose the wrong time to visit. However, I have every intention of returning soon to investigate the interior.
Please note if visiting that the key holder will request a deposit of 50 Euro which is fully reimbursed on the return of the key.
To find the ruin take the M1 heading North and at Junction 10 take the exit for the N51 to Drogheda. At the top of the ramp follow the roundabout to the right until you see the Drogheda exit.. Drive straight through the next roundabout and on the roundabout following that take the second exit to the right onto the R132. Drive for approx. 1.8KM until you reach a set of traffic lights with a left turn onto Patrick Street. Turn left onto Patrick street which once out of Drogheda becomes the R166 and continue for 7.5KM until you reach Termonfeckin. Once you have entered the village and you have crossed over the small stone bridge near the lofty spired church, take the first turn right which is opposite the car park of The Waterside restaurant. Drive up this narrow road and take the first turn left and the subsequently the next turn right down a cul-de-sac.. The castle is located on your right. You can park on the grass margin opposite. 

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Maiden Tower Co Louth

                        Above Image: The Maiden Tower with obelisk in backround

                          Above Image: The boathouse building and Maiden Tower

                              Above Image: Blocked up entrance to Maiden Tower

                                             Below 2 Images: The obelisk

These two unusual structures are situated at the estuary of the River Boyne at Mornington (town of the mariners) in County Meath. The taller of the two is called the Maiden Tower standing 60 feet in height.. It was constructed in 1582 during the reign of Elizabeth I who ascended the English throne in 1558. One of its main functions after 1585 was as a look out post in case of invasion by the Spanish Armada The origin of it's name is unclear. Some say it is in honour of Elizabeth who was known as the virgin Queen but the townland at that time was called Maydenhayes so this would also be a likely origin. Nevertheless it served as a navigational aid for ships attempting to enter the estuary. At night it would be a beacon and during daylight a navigator would know he was on track when the smaller structure disappeared behind the Maiden Tower.
The structures are accessible by a sandy track that leads to the rather stony beach. Apparently within the Maiden Tower a set of spiral steps leads to a barrel vaulted ceiling with an access point out onto the pararpets. A doorway which stands about 3 feet off the ground is now sadly barred up with a steel plate by the County Council as a result of vandalism to the tower in 2003. The original iron grill that blocked the door was forcibly removed  by a vehicle with tow rope for no other reason than pure vandalism and to infiltrate and cause damage to the interior.  To protect the tower from further harm it was closed to any public access.
We come now to the smaller structure which stands at 42 feet in height and is actually an obelisk of sorts. It was most likely used as described to act with the large tower as a navigational aid. It is local folklore that a lady awaiting the return of her mariner husband was viewing the ship's approach and on seeing the black sails which had been raised in error by the crew saw this as a signal that her husband had been killed. Quite distraught the lady threw herself from the tower to her death. It is said that the mariner who was still quite alive constructed the obelisk in her memory and it was called The Lady's Finger. That is the name to which it still known.
The building that stands adjacent to the tower was once a 19th century boathouse for the lifeboat service. This particular one ceased to be in 1926 falling into ruin thereafter. It was later refurbished to avoid more vandalism into a private dwelling but still daubings can be seen on a gable end one of them stating "The Mornington Mafia"
The tower and obelisk are well worth a visit especially on a clear day and with the backdrop of the estuary it's a very picturesque spot.
To find your way there take the M1 motorway heading North and exit at junction 7. Turn right at the roundabout at the top of the exit ramp and cross over the motorway taking the exit ahead on the next roundabout for the R132. Drive for approx 5KM and you will reach Julianstown. Continue through the village and drive another 3KM until you reach two roundabouts in close proximity. Take the right hand exit on the second roundabout onto the L1611 for Mornington. Continue on for another 3.5KM until you reach a stop sign at a staggered crossroads. (you will see a Texaco station ahead). Turn left at this junction and approx 400m along take the third turn right . This is called Tower Road. Just follow it until you see the entrance track to the Maiden Tower & Obelisk ahead. There is a height restrictive barrier for 2 Metres at the entrance but will fit under.and there's space beyond for a few vehicles. 

P.S. I have substantially updated the post on Bective Abbey in county Meath if you would like to check it out.

Monday, 21 August 2017

Leixlip Spa Co Kildare

                                  Above Image & Below Image; Access track

                                         Above Image: Steps leading to Spa

                                         Above Image: Trickle of spa water

                        Above & Below Images: Remains of Lengthsman's cottage

                                  Above Image: Steps leading down to waterfall

                                      Above & Below Images: The waterfall

                                   Image Below: Mouth of the aqueduct tunnel

This unusual site can be found adjacent to the Royal canal near Louisa Bridge in Leixlip.
In 1793 when excavating the land near the canal to build an aqueduct so that the canal could cross the Rye Water some of the workers discovered a hot spring with the water emanating at a temperature of approx. 75 degrees Fahrenheit.  William Connolly of Leixlip Castle (nephew of the famed “Speaker Conolly”) requested the Royal Canal Company to divert the spring water into a brick basin alongside the banks of the Rye Water. Connolly’s entrepreneurial mind envisioned a Roman style outdoor bath and commissioned its construction.  He was motivated by the success of the spring at Lucan which was discovered in 1758 and became very lucrative spawning a hotel at the site and thousands of visitors. The Leixlip Spa once constructed was indeed quite popular but the vision of a hotel never materialised especially following Connollys death. The spa was still in use over the years but by the 1960’s it had fallen into disrepair. A combination of committees and donations helped restore it somewhat and it was a feature in one of the late great Dick Warner’s Waterways documentaries in 2011 showing it then to be in good condition. Sadly now it has regressed, becoming a receptacle for litter and debris.and has also been daubed with graffiti
My curiosity took hold of me recently and I decided to take a look at this oddity. Free parking near Louisa Bridge seems hard to find so I just parked in the railway station car park and paid the fee. I crossed the road to the track the runs alongside the canal and found that a few yards down it split in two. I took the left hand track that runs away from the canal and after a short walk came upon the Romanesque bath in an area just below the grassy ridge I was standing on. A rudimentary set of steps led down to the bath. Unfortunately things have not improved and there was the remains of a fire that had been lit on the stone surround. It would seem that the site is unfortunately attracting more anti-social rather than social gatherings these days. There are two sets of stone steps on each end of the bath which are still in very good condition. This is such an unusual and pleasing remnant of the past and it would be great if it could be restored again. I’m sure if properly managed it would attract visitors to avail of what is said to be healing water.
I left the site following a track that led up through the bushes toward the canal pathway and here I found the derelict remains of the canal lengthsman’s house. This too was unfortunately defaced by graffiti. The Lengthsman would have be responsible for a stretch of the canal maintaining the water level. The run-off water was directed down the slope to the Rye Water forming a manmade waterfall. Water still runs off to this day and you can access the waterfall by taking the long set of  purposely built wooden stairs down towards the river. The area around the Rye water banks is of great ecological interest with some very diverse fauna to be seen.  In late summer and early Autumn be wary of the white flowered giant hogweed that is quite abundant near the river and make sure your skin does not come in contact with it and especially its sap which can cause serious burns.

To find the Spa take the M4 junction 6 exit heading north toward Leixlip. Follow on through two roundabouts and turn right on the second one onto the R149 and continue until you reach the bridge over the canal at the train station. Take the first right hand turn after the bridge and you will see the car park on your right. The fee for the day is €4.50. The Spa can be found on the opposite side of the road. Just follow the track alongside the canal and take the left hand fork a few yards down. 

Monday, 7 August 2017

Tullaherin Monastic Site Co Kilkenny

                                              Above Image: Entrance gate

                           Above Image & Below 2 Images: Interior of the church

                                       Above Image: The large Ogham stone

                     Above Image: The tower entrance now looks like a gaping maw

                                Above Image & Below 2 Images: Stroan Fountain

This monastic site is associated with St Ciaran the elder who on returning from twenty years in Rome founded a monastery at Saighir and also here in Tullaherin sometime in the 5th-6th century. While none of the original structures survive at Tullaherin the site was deemed very important and was built upon during the next few centuries. The incomplete Round tower we see today stands approx. 73 feet high and was constructed in the 9th century and as with most towers was designed to protect the monks and their valuables from marauding Vikings. The tower is missing its conical top and indeed shows evidence of leaning somewhat. St Ciaran is reputed to be buried here, some believe in  the vicinity of the tower. The large ruins adjacent to the tower are of an 11th or 12th century Church which was added to in the 1400’s by the construction of a chancel. It is divided into two sections. After the dissolution the Church changed hands to serve the Protestant community and was greatly renovated in 1616. However, the 1837 ordnance survey map lists the church as being in ruins.
The site is very impressive. It is somewhat off the beaten track but is well worth a visit. We were directed here whilst visiting nearby Kilfane Church (see post here) by a local man binging his kids to see the magnificent medieval Knight effigy. We later ran into them again at Tullaherin. A combination of both places makes for a really rewarding journey.
Two Ogham stones were discovered here in the past one of which was removed from the site and rediscovered in the 1980’s propping up a gate on nearby lands. It was brought back to Tullaherin and placed adjacent to the South wall and close to the base of the tower. It still has some inscriptions upon it but they are fairly illegible.
I’m not sure if there is work going on here at the moment but there are warning signs placed on the church ruins to avoid entering the ruins. However you can pretty much get around what you need to see.
Two asides of interest. The first is the existence here of a cillin which is a rather sad thing to encounter. It is basically a kind of potter’s field for children. A mass burial site where unfortunately deceased and unbaptized infants were buried. This was usually situated nearby the consecrated graveyard but still outside the walls leaving them in some respect divorced from the normal populace. It was a common practice in early Ireland and there are numerous examples around the country. Very sad indeed. The other item of interest is on one of the approach roads to Tullherin. It is an ornate fountain called the Stroan fountain It was commissioned by Colonel Bushe of Kilfane House in 1766 using local limestone. Its purpose was to supply water to the tenants of his estate. It is aesthetically pleasing to the eye and was renovated but unfortunately the tantalisingly clear water flowing from it has at the moment a warning not to consume direct from the fountain due to bacteria present. Hopefully this will be resolved at some stage. 

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. 4KM out of Dungarvan you will find a right hand turn. Unfortunately there are no direction signs but if you pass the Long Man restaurant & bar on your right then you need to turn and go back approx. 500m and take the first left turn. Follow this road for approx. 1.75KM and you will reach a crossroads at Tullaherin Church. Turn left and you can park in the car park of the modern church. The monastic site is directly opposite.