Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Rathcoole Standing Stone Co Dublin

                                Above Image: The Western aspect of the stone

                    Above Image: The ancient cross with the stone in the backround

                                        Above Image: Entrance gate to site

I had heard that there was a peculiar looking standing stone present in a Churchyard in Rathcoole so one early Autumn evening I went there and was lucky to find it in the first churchyard I encountered on entering the village. The location of the stone is in the Rathcoole Church of Ireland graveyard. There are a small number of parking spaces outside and an iron gate for entry. I was thinking that this gate was probably locked but was surprised to find it otherwise. Not being exactly sure at that moment what to expect and if I was even in the correct location I scoured the lawn behind the Church building and eventually found the stone on the East end of the graveyard. Now I believe there are a few of these types of standing stones sprinkled throughout the country but this is the first I’ve encountered. It is a rough looking stone unusually short at about 30 inches in height and 27 inches wide. It is standing at an angle leaning back Eastwards The stone most likely dates back to Celtic times or before and what is peculiar about it is that it has a perfectly smooth elliptical hole carved through it measuring 10 inches by 8 inches.
There are some legends attached to these Holed stones. One story is that in Celtic times prior to or during a marriage ceremony a couple would stand either side of the stone and link hands through the aperture which was at shoulder level. This was done to seal the relationship. Another tale is that on stones with a larger aperture children who had fallen ill with some malaise or other would be physically passed through the aperture and in many cases they quickly recovered health. This superstitious practice has continued to some degree to this day in a particular holed stone called the Tolven stone at St Constantine in Cornwall, England. Both of these types of practice it would seem would not relate to the Rathcoole Stone as the aperture is too small to pass through and not high enough for the linking of hands. So either this stone has another significance to it or that the top part had somehow detached from a taller stone leaving this smaller relic to mystify us today. Approx. 12 feet to the South East of this stone in the graveyard there is also an short but stocky ancient cross of unknown origin also leaning at an angle
To find the stone take the N7 heading West from Dublin to Naas and exit at Junction 4. At the roundabout at the top of the exit ramp take the 2nd exit straight ahead onto the R120 (you will pass Avoca Hand Weavers on your right. Drive to the next small roundabout and go straight through. Drive for approx. 200m and you will see the Church of Ireland behind a wall on your left. As mentioned there are 2 or 3 parking spaces at the entrance gate. Once inside the grounds head around the right hand side of the church and look for the stone in the back of the graveyard just beyond the East gable of the Church.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Newcastle Castle Co Wicklow

                  Above Image: The West & South walls with armorial crest remains
                                       above door

                                Above Image: View of the West wall and Motte

                             Above Image: Ruins as viewed from the Churchyard

I previously spotted this unusual ruin a while back while heading for the nearby ruins of Killadreenan Church (see earlier post). It was a late spring evening and light was failing when I had finished the Church visit so I made a note to return again to check out what looked to be a Castle. That revisit took place just after Christmas this year as we happened to be in the area. It was a mild and breezy day for December and quite cloudy but nonetheless we decided to take some time out to have a look.
The ruin is known locally as Newcastle Castle of which history records was built by Hugh De Lacy, Lord of Meath around 1172AD under the command of Henry II and became an important fortification of The Pale. Indeed it may have originated as a Motte & Bailey as the Motte-like mound that still exists today would attest. The Castle known as Newcastle Mackynegan fought off the attacking O'Toole and O'Byrne clans many times before eventually succumbing to defeat and finally destruction in the 16th century.
So in fact the ruins that we see today on the hill are a bit puzzling and certainly open to debate. Some say that this is not the original Castle but a fortified Elizabethan manor built on the site. An environmental protection agency report from 2007 lists it as a 17th century L-Plan gatehouse, but a lot of research has found that elements within far predate the Elizabethan era. Another suggestion is that this is in fact the original gatehouse of the Norman Castle that has been extensively re-modelled for domestic use and indeed the great barrel vault within like most barrel vaulted chambers tend to withstand the ravages of time. I myself lean towards the latter theory as it tends to fit to most of the evidence available. There is a plaque on the roadside wall stating Royal Oak Castle 1172 (another name it was known by because of its strong association with the English crown) and most older ordnance survey maps mention a Castle in ruins and not "the site of". Locals also tend to refer to the ruins of the "Castle" and not the "Manor" and while this could be just local terminology I think there's more here than meets the eye.
 As far as being an Elizabethan manor, there are remnants of some coats of arms above the doorway, a practice of the time among the gentry. I suspect that some remains of the gatehouse were greatly added to converting it to a domicile. However, who resided here and until when is still uncertain and much of the research I've done has not brought anything to light.
The ruin is highly visible from the roadside and reminds me somewhat of Puck's Castle in Co Dublin (see earlier post). The Motte and ruins appear to be on private land and a gateway and drive allows access to a different view of the ruins. There are no restrictive signs but the field gate is locked which generally speaks for itself. I would like to get a closer look here so I intend to return and find the land owner and ask permission to enter. If the ruins had been out in the wilds of the countryside I'd probably have been over the fence and gone, but in this case there is some ambiguity and also the sound of a nearby dog.(Man's best friend, scourge of the ruin hunter!)  Funnily enough during our visit nobody passed along the road that I could enquire further about access. I did spot a Glebe Warden locking the door of the Church opposite but he had disappeared before I reached the spot where he had been. Since the visit I've come across the land owners name so no problem then I'll just have to go back and besides I've recently heard of another Castle ruin quite close by that will add icing to the next visit.
To find the ruins head South on the N11 Dublin to Wexford Road and at Junction 13 exit for Newcastle. The exit reaches a small roundabout. Take the 2nd exit on the right again posted for Newcastle and drive for approx 1.2KM and you will spot the ruins on your left. You can park in the lane way opposite to the right of the Church.


I was passing this Castle about a month after my last visit so I thought I'd stop and take a few new photos as the day was much brighter. Incredible weather for mid-January. I got talking to a builder working in a small site opposite the Castle and he confirmed that it was set on private land but that he had taken a stroll up there one day on the sly and the Castle he said was pretty much waterlogged inside. I still intend to make another trip out and get up close. In the meantime the ruins seemed to have acquired a couple of new residents, two very docile white horses.

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Old Rathfeigh Church & Motte Co Meath

                                 Above Image: Entrance gate & watch house

                       Above & Below Images: Evidence that there is actually ruins
                                                                beneath the overgrowth

                                       Above Image: Overgrown East gable

                                    Above Image: Hidden window in East gable

                                         Above Image: Sunken nave area

                         Above Image: Some onlookers from the adjacent meadow

                            Above Image & Below 2 Images: The Rathfeigh Motte

Rathfeigh Church or Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary lies in a very bucolic setting situated down a country lane adjacent to a modern church. The ruins are positioned in the centre of a walled graveyard and are in a fairly overgrown state. The Church is believed to date to at least the thirteenth century as it is mentioned in the Church taxes of Pope Nicholas IV in the early 1300’s.  A simple nave and chancel design it is recorded as being in ruins as far back as 1641.
Today only a section of the West wall and parts of the chancel survive to some extent with the rest of the walls now at foundation level. The area of the nave itself has become rather sunken down and is rampant with overgrowth. Indeed the graveyard itself is in a rough state and seemingly not maintained, subsequently the ruins remain hidden under a blanket of overgrowth and are slowly being engulfed by nature. I had a devil of a time locating what was a window in one section of the East wall.  On the perimeter of the South wall of the graveyard and set partly into the graveyard is what looks to be to all intents and purposes to be a shed, but this is actually the remains of a watch house. I’ve come across these before for example the Cruagh watchtower in Dublin (see earlier post) These were watch posts that would be manned to ensure that the devilish art of body snatching would not take place. This watch house probably dates to the mid 1700’s and more than likely fell into disuse after the ghoulish practice ceased. A new door and roof have been added and today it is perhaps used to store tools for the modern church grounds.
At the entrance of the lane leading to the Church ruins is a large grassy mound visible beyond a field gate. This is in fact a large Norman motte upon which a bailey or wooden fortification would have stood. It is approx. 25 feet in height with its base diameter around 204 feet tapering to 105 at the summit. Although most of these mottes were built by manpower there is some speculation that because of its size it may originally been of ancient origin.
To find both the ruin and the motte take the N2 heading North from Ashbourne and drive for approx. 8.5km until you see a left hand turn signposted for the L1002 to Rathfeigh. Turn left here and drive for approx. 1.2km until you reach a fork in the road. Tale the left hand road at the fork (again signposted for Rathfeigh) and continue for approx. 400m where you will reach a T-Junction. Turn left  here and after a few metres take the first right hand turn. You will spot the motte on your left beyond a field gate and the ruins are approx. 100m along at the end of the lane. Ample room is available to park here.

Monday, 5 December 2016

Oughaval Church Co Laois

                                   Above & Below Images: Entry gate & stile

                                 Above Image: North West corner section almost
                                                       resembles a castle tower

                               Above & Below Images: The great vaulted chancel

                             Above Image: Fissure along the length of the ceiling

                                         Above Image: Chapel shaped vault

                                                Above Image: East gable

                                        Above & Below Images: Cosby Vault

                                           Above Image: Southern aspect

This Monstrous sized ruin lies a little South East of the village of Stradbally. It is so unlike many of the church ruins that we normally find scattered around the countryside. Looking rather taller in height to its peers it measures approx. 77 feet in length by 32 feet in width.
Built on the site of a sixth century monastery founded by St Colman mac Ua Laoighse of which there is nothing remaining today, it is something of a mish-mash construction-wise. The earliest section is the nave of which only fragments remain now. The other remains of this section date to the 1500’s with some restoration work done and the addition of a chancel completed in the middle of the eighteenth century. The Cosby’s, a well renowned local family were involved in most of this later work and indeed there is a family mausoleum here. The book of Oughaval later renamed the Book of Leinster was held here for many centuries until it was transferred to Trinity College Dublin.
We visited on a crisp but sunny day in February and found access by way of a V-shaped gap to the left of a small iron gate in the enclosure wall. As the ruins are placed on elevated ground a set of stone steps lead up into them. Within, a small mortuary chapel can be seen and a large triple window in the East gable. The huge vaulted ceiling of the chancel designed for strength seems to be at odds with the climate as a large fissure is forming in the middle along its entire length and seriously looks as if one day soon it will split. While visiting there were constant drops of water kissing the ground beneath it. The atmosphere within this great vaulted chancel has a desolate feel about it and although quite a marvellous structure it just made me feel as if I was inside the belly of a huge whale.
The tall tower section at the North West corner viewed on approach would lead one to believe it to be a Castle tower house but this is actually a section of the church (possibly bell tower) of which the interior is exposed due to the collapse of its Southern wall.
All in all an impressive ruin then and well worth a trip to see especially as it is so near the amazing Rock of Dunamase (see earlier post).  

To find the ruin head West on the M7 toward limerick and take the junction 16 exit signposted for the R445 Carlow. At the top of the exit ramp take the second exit on the roundabout signposted for the L7830 Ballycarroll and drive along this narrow road until you reach a slanted T-junction with the N80. Turn left onto the N80. Drive straight through the village of Stradbally and continue on the N80 and you will spot the ruins on your right just outside the village. There is a right hand turn just at the graveyard enclosure wall onto a road called Kylebeg. Turn right onto this road and you can park opposite the enclosure wall.