Thursday, 27 December 2012

Confey Church Ruins

After having spent a great deal my late teens and early twenty’s living in the Lexlip area, this hunt was a gr4eat trip down memory lane. It was amazing how this not so little town has grown since I last lived there almost fifteen years ago. Well the ruins of the old Confey church also known as St. Columba's Church was quite easily found in the north-east corner of the current modern Confey cemetery. As I passed through the modern graveyard I noticed an unusual amount of graves of children I guess you could call this the ‘Holy Angels’ section. The church ruins are surrounded by a wooded area but are easily accessible. It was here that I began to recall some history of the area of which had some strong Viking connections. During the summer months Lexlip would hold its annual Salmon festival. I remember my first year living there, and on the last day of the festival a replica Viking Longship was burned in the river Liffey. In fact the area of Confey was the site of a great battle in 917AD where the Norse King Sigtrygg is said to have defeated the King of Leinster.

Upon entering the site the first thing which you will notice is a plaque left during some restoration works carried out by Kildare County Council back in 2000-2001. The Church itself believed to be dated 1200AD consists of the remains of a nave and chancel, which I believe are pre-Norman in date, though much of the existing structure is probably late medieval. The walls are of coursed limestone masonry. There are two remaining windows in the N and S walls of the chancel. Whilst it is possible to walk around the entire structure once you leave the relative safety of the stone slabs the ground becomes quite deceiving. The graveyard contains a various assortment of cut-stone grave markers from the 18th-20th centuries, along with some intriguing Crosses. Although the site is surrounded by woodland which gives a rather deceiving impression of seclusion there is a gap in the trees to the north of the chancery here you will find a rather precarious ditch which once crossed leads you to an adjacent field where you can find the ruins of Confey Castle to the North East. Now unfortunately as is the case, Time had gotten the better of me and I was unable to make my way to explore what remains are left of this ruined castle but rest assured I shall return and my findings shall be posted here. These ruins are a great find and well worth a visit, unfortunately even though set in a lovely secluded area surrounded by trees, I did not enjoy my visit here as much as I would have expected. A rather unpleasant & unexplainable feeling overcame me whilst on the grounds which overshadowed what would have normally been an enjoyable time for me. Now I am not easily creeped out or spooked by things but my gut told me that something here was just not right. After I put this down to perhaps the children’s graveyard had had some sort of negative effect on me but who knows? When I come back to explore the Castle ruins I intend to spend more time at the site of the church to try to figure out what had caused this unusual experience. If you do visit this site I would love to hear of your experience.

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Thursday, 29 November 2012

The Way Side Well

This one took me a while to find, most people misleadingly say that it can be found in the car park of the National Stud, however it is actually located at the end of the coach parking facility. Also accessible from the main road. This is believed to be the first well in Kildare linked to the ancient Pagan Goddess Brigid, the other Brigid’s well linked to the Christian saint was previously visited on this blog

This one took me a while to find, most people misleadingly say that it can be found in the car park of the National Stud, however it is actually located at the end of the coach parking facility. Also accessible from the main road. This is believed to be the first well in Kildare linked to the ancient Pagan Goddess Brigid, the other Brigid’s well linked to the Christian saint was previously visited on this blog

This well / spring itself feeds and nourishes the Japanese Gardens contained inside the National Stud. This is the spring source whose waters run off and feed the other Brigid’s well which is just a two minute walk away. It appears to be the least visited of the two and what I could only describe as bordering on neglect, the well is simple, rustic, ancient, and silent except for the occasional traffic from the adjacent road.

Seemingly forgotten. It has only an inscription sign in Gaelic that translates “St. Brigid, Mary of the Gael, pray for us.” However it is still deemed to be a focal point for pilgrimages and ceremonies. The Brigid Eve ceremonies (January 31st) start at a small fire set up just outside the Japanese Gardens car park with a chanting to the Goddess Brigid which is followed by a candlelit journey of contemplation about the Goddess and the Saint and the spirit that weaves them together. The candle lit journey goes to this well and ends at the second well. It is customary to gather this well water in a bottle because of its strong healing properties and in exchange to leave an offering for the spirits and faeries that dwell there.

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Wednesday, 14 November 2012

St. Brigid’s Well

Finally it was back to the car with my assistant Ruin Hunter/Photographer for the short drive across to the opposite side of Kildare, on the road which leads to the National Stud and the famous Japanese gardens, a little gem is to be found down a little country lane. Often disputed with the lesser know Well of Brigid found in the car park of the Japanese gardens.

This well is reputedly a ‘healing well’, one of many in Ireland. The well is still a popular place of pilgrimage where healing liturgies are often held. This well is large and elaborately decorated and is the well that most people visit. It is very well kept with a bridge leading onto the sight and a beautiful statue of Brigid. There are 5 prayer stones standing in a line and it’s customary to stop at each stone and reflect upon an aspect of Brigid/Brighid:

  • First stone: Brigid a woman of the land.
  • Second stone: Brigid the peacemaker.
  • Third stone: Brigid the friend of the poor.
  • Fourth stone: Brigid the hearthwoman.
  • Fifth stone:Brigid woman of contemplation

Behind the 5th stone is a round well that you are to encircle 3 times to achieve harmony within yourself and within the universe. However due to a little incident which involved Ryan taking a stumble into the stream which is fed by the well, our day was cut short. So I shall attempt to complete my tour of local sites at a later date. And Yes Ryan recovered from his fall and is now deemed to be one of the holiest children in Ireland after his (swim) in the reputed holy waters of St. Brigid’s well.

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Tuesday, 13 November 2012

St. Brigid’s Fire Temple

After sharing a well deserved bottle of coke, it was off to the north side of the Cathedral where the restored foundations of an ancient fire temple. A small fire is often lit in the fire temple for ritual on St. Brigid’s feast day on the 1st February. This flame was symbolically re-lit in 1993 and for the present is kept in Solas Bhride House.

Before Christianity took hold of Ireland there was a great cult that surrounded the Goddess. She presided over healing, inspiration/poetry and smith craft. She is provider of plenty, giver of life and is also identified with nurturing, fertility and fire. All wells are sacred to Brigid for they are the doorway to the Underworld and the womb of our Mother, the source of all life.

The Priestesses of Brighid kept her flame eternally lit. 19 Priestesses kept vigil and made sure the flame was never extinguished. When Christianity spread throughout Ireland, the Goddess was so engrained in the Irish people that they couldn’t eradicate her, therefore she became a Saint. In the 6th century, a monastery was built on the same site where the Priestesses kept vigil at the Fire Temple. The original monastery no longer exists but a new Cathedral was built on the site during the 13th century. This Cathedral still stands and the sisters of St. Brigid (nuns) continued the work begun by her Priestesses. They too kept her flame ignited until the time of the Reformation in the 16th century. It was at this time that King Henry XIII destroyed many of the monasteries. The flame was extinguished but never forgotten. On February 1, 1807 Daniel Delany, Bishop of Kildare, began the restoration of the Sisterhood of St. Brigid. Their mission was to restore the ancient order and bring back the legacy and spirit of this amazing figure. In 1993, Brighid’s perpetual flame was finally re-kindled in Kildare’s Market Square by Mary Teresa Cullen, who at that time was the leader of the Brigidine Sisters. The sacred flame was kept by the Brigidine Sisters in their home and on February 1, 2006, the flame was brought back to the center of the Market Square where it has been permanently housed in a large glass enclosed vessel.

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Friday, 9 November 2012

Kildare Round Tower

Next on the agenda was a visit to the round tower, located on the rear grounds of the Cathedral. The original tower possibly 6th century succumbed to assault or simply fell into ruin. At any rate its present rebuilding is said to date from the 12th century. The tower, built of sandstone and granite, is 108 feet high and the second highest in Ireland but it is the highest one that can be climbed. Entry to the tower costs €4 for adults and €2 for kids.

So off we went, Ryan leading the way up the stairs to the tower entrance. The doorway faces SSE; a little over 4.5 meters above the ground level there are several prominent features to be seen in the Kildare tower. The traditional conical cap has been replaced by castellations dating from approx 1730′s.

Immediately obvious is the beautifully finished and coursed granite in the lowest 3 meters of the tower, contrasting with the less evenly coursed and smaller local limestone of which the remainder of the tower is composed. The Romanesque doorway is of dark red sandstone in four receding orders, the innermost being the only to survive intact. It is carved with chevrons, lozenges and stylized marigolds. Set into the stonework above the doorway is a very weathered stone hood moulding composed of the same red sandstone.

After climbing eight or nine sets of ladders we reached the top to a spectacular view of the town and surrounding country side, the first noticeable site after looking down on the Cathedral itself is the ‘White Abbey’, which I hope to revisit soon. Getting up was far more easy than the descent, but it’s defiantly worth the struggle for the amazing view.

Most History books would lead us to believe that the Round Towers of Ireland were used to hide from invading Vikings etc, however similar to the many remaining standing stones which can be seen scattered around the country, the Round Towers where actualy built ontop of places of natural energy (Vortex) points. My Friend Con recently explained this to me as ”think of the towers as designer standing stones which are basic earth energy acupuncture needles,’

Con Connor is the main teacher at Druidschool. He is the Ard Draoi leis an Doire Geallach Doracha (Arch Druid with the Dark Moon Grove) and a member of the Tribann Council of Ord na Drui, he is known as his High Venerated Serenity SSTV /I\ Con Connor in the World Druid Order (, and he is also a member of the Holy Council of Sages of Celtia. Con is a member of ‘Ga agus Claoimh’ – an Irish and Viking age re-enactment group and a member of The Irish Society of Diviners. You can find out more about Con and Druidscool Ireland at  Druidschool

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Friday, 2 November 2012

Taghadoe Round Tower

The early monastery at Taghadoe may have been founded by St Tua, also known as Ultan the Silent, who was attached to the nearby monastery of Clane. Little is known of its history except that one of its abbots, Folachtach of Tech-Tua, died in 770. He had also been an abbot at Clonmacnois. Whilst the site dates back to the 6th Century, the Round Tower which was used for about 1000 years but was left in ruins by the 17th Century. The only remnant of this early monastery is the Round Tower. The Taghadoe Tower is about 20m tall and was built mainly of rough coursed limestone.

The round-headed doorway faces SSE and is about 3.5m above ground level. It is built mainly of granite blocks except for the right jamb and the sill which appear to be limestone. It has a plain raised moulding, 15cm wide, in the granite portions and the sill. There are three windows, all with square heads and inclined jambs. One of these is above the doorway about three floor levels high. Ancient lore tells that Round Towers were places of refuge for people and treasures when the monasteries were attacked. That the entrance door is nearly 4 meters up, and somewhat defensible, which supports this view. However, modern historians seem to believe that they were merely bell-towers and those stories of safe refuge are only folklore.

There are the remains of about 100 Round Towers in Ireland. The Ruins of a church built back in 1831 and a graveyard surround the Taghadoe Tower. With most of the burials dated from the 17th and 18th century. The church has four distinctive octagonal turrets, one at each corner. This church is believed to have been abandoned some forty years later, which would explain the unusually small graveyard. During the lifetime of the church the base of the Round Tower was believed to have been used as a coal store and a doorway was inserted at the base of the wall. This was built up when the tower became a National Monument in 1886.

This site at Taghadoe is now in the care of the Office of Public Works, with some visible restoration work on both the church and the tower. Steel support bars have been inserted on both the front and rear walls of the church with some masonry work on the Romanesque style windows However, the conical cap, which would have been typical of such a tower is missing and has not been replaced. The tower would originally have had several floors, linked by ladders, similar to the one at St. Brigid’s Cathedral in Kildare Town which is opened to the public at certain times of the year.

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Wednesday, 31 October 2012

St. Brigid's Kitchen

Just adjacent the entrance to the Cathedral is a restored 14 th century underground burial vault locally known as ‘St. Brigid’s Kitchen’ which is said to be the starting point of a reputed secret escape tunnel, lost for centuries. Little else is known of its significance or purpose.

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Tuesday, 23 October 2012

GreyFriars, The French Church

The medieval site known as Greyfriars or The French church is located two minutes walk from Reginald’s Tower and is about a quarter mile from the present day friary. The 13th century ruin of the Fransiscan Friars got the name Greyfriars after the color of the habits worn by the friars. This former Franciscan friary was built about 1240, only fourteen years after the death of Francis of Assisi, the founder of the order. Just outside the site lies the statue of Luke Wadding, the Waterford-born Franciscan friar who persuaded the Pope to negotiate with Charles I on behalf of Irish Catholics. Hugh Purcell gave the church to the Franciscans in 1240, asking them in return to pray for him once a day.

During the thirteenth century the friars received an annual allowance for the purchase of new habits from Henry III of England. Their habits were made from un-dyed grey woollen cloth, the cheapest available, and were worn as a sign of humility. A twenty five meters high bell tower with stepped battlements was added in the late fifteenth century. The friary was dissolved by order of king Henry VIII in 1540 and, in 1544, Henry Walsh, a wealthy Waterford merchant received a charter from Henry VIII to convert it into an almshouse. This almshouse was known as the Holy Ghost Hospital.

The almshouse remained on this site until 1815 when it transferred to a new location on the Cork Road. It is still in operation today and is one of the oldest charitable institutions in Ireland., and was then occupied by French Huguenot refugees between 1693 and 1815. The Walshs were driven from the city during the Cromwellian period. They took up residence in the Canary Islands and became involved in the wine business. Yet despite religious differences, for many years the Protestant corporation that now controlled the city allowed the exiled Walshs to appoint Catholic masters to the hospital each time the post became vacant.

In 1693, the corporation encouraged French Huguenots to settle in Waterford and establish a linen industry. The Protestant bishop Nathaniel Foy had the choir of the old friary fitted out for their religious service, hence the name the French Church. The Catholic almshouse and the Huguenot house of worship coexisted peacefully on this site for over a century.

Among the distinguished persons buried in the friary is Sir Niall O’Neill of County Antrim, who fought for King James Il at the Battle of the Boyne and who was wounded while defending the ford at Rossnaree. He was taken to Waterford where he died shortly afterwards at the early age of thirty-two. O’Neill’s monument now stands against the wall on the left-hand side of the chancel. Beneath the tower arch lies the unadorned limestone grave slab of the city’s most famous architect, John Roberts.

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