Saturday, 21 April 2018

The Gates Of Heaven Co Wicklow

                                                  Above Image: Entrance gate

                              Above & Below Images: The landscape of the cemetery

                                  Above & 3 Images Below: The Gates Of Heaven

                                         Above Image: Grave of Sam MacAlastair

                                 Above & Below Images: Two ancient stone crosses

                                             Above Image: St Bridget's holy well

                                 Above Image: Some of the foundations remaining.

                   Above Image: The rear gate & well enclosure in right hand backround

                     Above Image: Keadeen Mountain with images of Fionn MacCumhaill
                                            and his wife on slope in centre of image.

On a bright sunny day we ventured into the garden of Ireland to locate a remote graveyard containing an odd but alluring feature known as "The Gates of Heaven". Kilranelagh graveyard is located on a slope in Colvinstown Upper not far from the striking Keadeen Mountain with its odd markings one of which is said to be an image of Fionn MacCumhaill and his wife.The graveyard is quite well signposted once you start on the right road.
When we reached the last signpost it led us up a a very narrow uneven gravel track about 200m long.It was a bit hairy on the ascent and the track ends right at the gate of the graveyard with no place to turn. So we prayed the gate was unlocked or we were in trouble as a backward descent was out of the question. Luckily the gate is held closed only by a ring of wire and please take note that it opens outwards, if you push it in it gets jammed. Inside is a wider area to turn the vehicle.So once parked we began our search. The uneven slope of the landscape was a bit tricky at times as the grass could be deceiving hiding potholes underneath. A stick or a staff is ideal for poking a route around. Curiously also the grass was alive with small darting black spiders that seemed like they were everywhere. I have not come across this before in other such places. The ground contains a lot of foundations one I know was of a Church as it was mentioned on an old ordnance survey map but there appeared to be foundations of other buildings too. After a bit of a search we eventually found the Gates. They can be difficult to spot as there are so many ancient stones here to confuse you, The easiest way to locate it is to walk to the rear gate of the cemetery and cross to the metal fence erected around st Bridget's well. The gates of Heaven are located in the area to the right of this. The "Gates" appear to be two remaining orthostats and a sillstone from a portal tomb. I believe before they got their name that they functioned as gateposts to a more ancient graveyard here.They get their name from a local custom that before a body was interred here they would pass the coffin through the stones which would ensure that the deceased would enter straight through The gates of heaven. They are fascinating to see be it legend or not and must be many thousands of years old. The graveyard also contains some ancient stone crosses, the holy well and the grave of  Sam MacAlastair a hero of the rebellion of 1798. It is well worth your time to make a visit as there is a lot of antiquity here.
To find Kilranelagh graveyard take the R747 East out of Baltinglass and drive for approx 3KM until you come to a left hand turn signposted for the L3273 to Rathdangan. Turn down this road and drive for approx 2KM where you will reach a T-junction. Here you will see the first sign pointing left for Kilranelagh graveyard. Follow the signposted road for approx 1.5KM until you see another sign for the graveyard pointing right. Turn right here and drive for approx 350m and a sign points left up the track to the graveyard. Your decision here is to drive or walk up but it's pretty much decided for you as there is virtually no place to park on this road or indeed the one you just left. It would be an idea if you are unsure to send someone up on foot who could check the gate is unlocked and then phone down to you. Do drive slowly and carefully up this track.

Saturday, 31 March 2018

Aideen's Grave Co Dublin

                                  Above Image: The access steps right of the Hotel

                                                   Above Image: The initial trail

                                            Above Image: Dolmen direction sign

                                            Above Image: Take the right hand trail

                                          Above Image: First view of the Dolmen

                                           Above Image: Beneath the capstone

                                            Above Image: The portal tomb floor

Here's another hidden treasure. Located in the woodland behind the Deerpark Hotel in the grounds of Howth Castle this ancient portal tomb bears a legend that doesn’t quite ring true.
The story goes that this is the grave of Aideen wife of Oscar of the famed Fianna. When Oscar died at the battle of Gabhra, Aideen went into shock and died as a result. Oscar’s father Oisin had her buried at Howth and had the Dolmen constructed as a memorial to her. The Fianna are of a time dating around the very early medieval period but the portal tomb is exactly like others of it’s ilk dating to the Neolithic period which ended in 2500BC. But as they always say print the legend! The tomb has the second largest capstone in the country weighing in around 75 tons. The largest is the Brownshill Dolmen in Co Carlow (see earlier post here)
The grounds behind the hotel have many trails but the trail to the dolmen takes you through the rhododenrons. It’s a narrow trail with many little tracks leading off mostly to the left. A lot of large rocks lie among the trees and could be mistaken for the dolmen at first sight but they are just debris from the nearby cliff face. One you stick to the trail its not too long before you come across the tomb and it really is a stunning example of its type. The huge capstone has collapsed to one side forcing the portal stones apart but you can still step inside although the imposing capstone certainly made me a little nervous. The woodland setting and nearby craggy cliff all lend a very atmospheric feeling to the place. We visited on a Friday afternoon and encountered no one else at that time

To find the Dolmen take the R809 from the M50 motorway towards Clarehall. Continue on this road through Donaghmede until you reach a T-Junction at Baldoyle. Turn right and take the nearby left hand turn onto the R106. Go through the railway level crossing following the coast until you reach Sutton cross. Turn left at the Bank of Ireland and continue on this road (R105) towards Howth. After approx. 1.9km you will see the large entrance gates to The Deerpark Hotel on your right. Follow the road right up to the hotel ( you will pass Howth Castle on the way which I will cover later) Park in the car park and Follow the steps up on the right hand side of the hotel adjacent to the golf course. Follow the pathway and you will see a sign posted on the tree directing you to the Dolmen. Turn right here and follow the path keeping to the right along the way and approx. 200m along you will reach a T-junction with another pathway. The Dolmen is a few metres down the right hand path.

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Connolly's Folly Co Kildare

                                    Above & Below Images: Pineapples and eagles

                             Above Image: Photo from Autumn 2017 for comparison

This unique and imposing structure can be found along a very narrow laneway not too far from Leixlip. To be honest unless you were deliberately looking for it you would never know it was there.
Following a bitter winter and a hard hitting famine in 1740  Katherine Connolly, the widow of the famed William “Speaker” Connolly, who was of a very humanitarian disposition commissioned the renowned architect Richard Cassels whose work has included Leinster House and Powerscourt House to design an elaborate structure that would also serve as a rear entrance gatehouse for Castletown estate. The locals could then be employed to construct it thus giving them a source of income to navigate the hard times.
The structure when completed cost a hefty £400 and stood 140 feet in height. It is composed of several arches and a very tall obelisk stretching skywards. There are adornments of eagles and of pineapples. The inclusion of pineapples represents at the time a sign of affluence as this fruit was exotic and much sought after. The actual position of the structure left it actually in the end not on Castletown estate but on the adjoining lands of Carton House thus it became known as Connolly's folly. Nonetheless this incredible monument has stood for nearly 300 years but did over time fall into disrepair. To prevent it becoming ruinous it was acquired and eventually restored in 1965 by the Irish Georgian Society and it is now under the auspices of the OPW.
Unfortunately these days it is surrounded by an ugly looking fence with a large padlock but it still does not deter from the majesty of this monument. There are rails visible above the main arches and I wonder are they merely an adornment or was there actually access inside to reach these. Standing at the base and looking up you really feel dwarfed by it. I visited briefly last Autumn but on this visit recent snowy conditions really brought definition to the structure.
Katherine Connolly also commissioned another folly on Castletown Estate known as The Wonderful Barn. You can see my previous post here Thanks to Karine Demeure for suggesting a visit to Connolly's folly.
To find the folly take the M4 heading West and exit at Junction 6 for Leixlip. At the top of the exit ramp follow the roundabout around to the right and take the exit for the R449 again for Leixlip. Continue on this road and on the second roundabout encountered turn left onto the R148. Drive through two sets of traffic lights and after the second take the small laneway on the left signposted as the L81206 (Obelisk Lane). About halfway down this long lane you will reach a fork in the road. Keep to the right hand lane and continue on for approx. 1.7KM until the road bends sharply to the left. The folly is approx. 100m along on the left. You can park at the gate which though locked has a small pedestrian entry point to the right of it.

Monday, 26 February 2018

Ballyowen Castle Co Dublin

                                      Above Image: North & West facing walls

                                         Above Image: North & East facing walls

                                     Above Image: Old print showing original castle

You never know when you are going to come across some hidden historical site that is literally under your nose. I had been aware that there had been in the past a castle at Ballyowen but with all the development of the area in the closing years of the last century I imagined it had disappeared into rubble. Well thanks to Kevin Andrew for mentioning it’s existence on the comments in the Old Irishtown Castle post.(see here)
Only a portion remains today and it has been incorporated into Ballyowen shopping centre and is currently in use as a solicitor's office.
The castle originally dates back to the 16th century but there is not a lot of information relating to it other than it was occupied in the 16th century by the Taylors and subsequently by the Nottinghams and the Rochforts in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Looking at the structure now really the only original remains are of part of the tower. If you look at some old prints depicting the castle you will notice it was L-shaped. The tower was also much taller standing at three storeys. The building attached to the tower today is probably the remains of the later added farm house building.

While not the most spectacular of sites it is still interesting to see how the past can be incorporated into the present and form a function.

To find the Castle remains take the N4 west from Dublin and exit at junction 3 for Ballyowen. At the traffic lights at the top of the exit ramp turn left onto the R136. Drive on through the next major junction and continue on until you pass The Penny Hill Bar on you left. At the next junction just past the bar turn left and then take the first left into the car park. The castle building is at the bottom of the park beside the Eurospar shop.