Sunday, 30 September 2012

Cromabu Bridge

Located just beside Whites Castle, spanning the banks of the Barrow river lies the bridge of Crom Abu. The bridge which serves as a main crossing point for traffic in the town also commands fantastic veiws of the Barrow. As mentioned in my previous post Athy is named after a second century chieftain, Ae, who was killed on the river crossing thus giving the town its name the ford of AE or in Irish Baile Átha Í. 

View of Bridge.

Fords played an important role in ancient Ireland as roads were nothing more than rough tracks and rivers which were important landmarks were crossed by fords. Athy was an important fording point on the river Barrow. This is confirmed by the quantity of archaeological objects retrieved from the bed of the river in the 1920s. These included Neolithic axeheads, Bronze Age swords and spearheads and a variety of Iron Age tools. There is no evidence, however, of a settlement at the ford until the latter end of the twelfth century. Crom Abu Bridge is said to have taken its name from the war cry of the Fitzgeralds who ruled over much of Kildare.

View from the bridge

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Thursday, 27 September 2012

Woodstock Castle

Athy was initially developed as part of the Anglo-Norman settlement in Ireland. The Anglo-Norman invaders led by Richard FitzGilbert de Clare, also better known as Strongbow, whom had been recruited by Diarmuid Mac Murchada the former King of Leinster whom had been expelled from Ireland. Most of the province of Leinster came under Stongbow’s control. He granted lands in the area of Athy to Robert de St. Michael who was created Baron of Rheban. The St Michaels family built Woodstock Castle in the early years of the thirteenth century near the ancient river crossing of Ath-Ae. The construction of this fortress in a strategic location was a necessary defence against the native Irish who had been dispossessed of their lands by the Anglo-Norman settlers. Fortifications usually consisted of earthen banks topped with palisades but were later replaced by stone walls. 

The first castle built on the site was probably of wood which was replaced in time by the stone building which still stands as a lonely sentinel guarding the west bank of the River Barrow. It is rather ironic that the castle which once served to protect the town from the native Irish is now itself protected from the same people by a steel fence. Most of the larger windows appear to have been bricked in, the structure itself seems solid.As originally constructed Woodstock Castle was a rectangular keep which in architectural terms might be more correctly described as a “Hall Keep”. It is a classical example of an Anglo Norman construction of the early 13th century and it was the Manor Castle of Woodstock and played a large part in the development of Athy, especially in the medieval years. 

It would have been Woodstock Castle that the Friars of the Holy Cross came in the early years of the 13th century to establish their monastery. The area in which that monastery was located was known as St. John’s, a name still retained for the laneway which runs parallel to Duke Street. The future town, then a mere village, was taking shape on the west bank of the River and in 1253 the Dominican Order founded a second monastery in the area, now known as The Abbey at the rear of Emily Square. Some local stories claim that there is an underground passage between the castle and White Castle. It is believed that Roe O’Neill spent a night at the castle for a meeting of the Confederation. The inner walls of the castle were removed and used to build the Town Hall. One of the windows still remains in the Castle. Another tale of Woodstock Castle, tells of a monkey which saved Tomas, the son of Maurice Fitzjohn from a fire in the castle. Afterwards he introduced the monkey to his crest in recognition of the deed. Today, the monkey appears on the Kildare Arms Stone in White’s Castle.

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Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Jigginstown House

As Promised i made an action in CS6 to replicate an Instagram filter on these shots. Out of all the sites I have visited over the course of the last year or so, these ruins must be the most hideous and depressing. Jigginstown, or Sigginstown House as it was once known, was one of Kildare’s most prominent ruins and was constructed under the guidance of Thomas Wentworth, the Earl of Stafford and who was also Lord Deputy of Ireland during the reign of Charles I. 

Jigginstown House, on the old Newbridge road just outside the town of Naas, made architectural history when it was built in the late 1630s as it was the very first large scale red brick building in Ireland. Wentworth had planned the building with the idea that it could be home to the king on royal visits to Ireland. From 1632 to 1639, Wentworth instituted a harsh rule as Lord Deputy of Ireland. Recalled back to England, he became a leading advisor to the king, attempting to strengthen the royal position against parliament. Stafford was accused of treason by enemies in the House of Commons and never lived to see if indeed he housed a king, as he was sentenced to death after Charles I signed the death warrant and Wentworth was executed before a crowd of about 200,000 on 12 May 1641. 

After his death there is still controversy today as to whether Jigginstown was ever really finished however it was described as ‘In a manner finished’ at a cost of £6000..Cromwell in his ‘Excursions through Ireland’ credits the construction to a member of the Allen family – most likely John Allen, who was noted for his taste in architecture. A reasonable explanation for this conflict regarding the constructor of Jigginstown is that Allen was responsible for the planning of the building while Johnson carried them out. The building itself measures 448ft in length and consists of fine vaulted cellars and a number of tall rooms on the ground floor, reached by an outside stairs. 

Following news of Strafford’s execution, Ireland rose in rebellion in October 1641. It was at Jigginstown that James Butler, the 1st Duke of Ormonde signed the Cessation with the Confederates in 1643. Ormonde had been working as head of government of Ireland under Stafford and had been treated with great favour. After the Restoration, Ormonde went on to move some of the marble door-cases and chimney-pieces from Jigginstown to Kilkenny Castle or Dunmore House. Jigginstown passed into ownership of the Fitzwilliam family and over many years almost disappeared into the undergrowth. 

However the Fitzwilliam’s handed Jigginstown over to the Irish state in the late 1960s and eventually all the undergrowth was cleared away from the structure by a group of volunteers. The house was in danger of deteriorating beyond repair which would have been a great loss to the local heritage. However, a programme of conservation work was carried out by the OPW (office of public works) at the house between 2003 and 2008 which included archaeological excavations, building surveys and some conservation work on the ruin. The work appears to have been suspended since 2008 whilst alledged emergency work was taking place at the Connolly Folly Monument at Castletown House in Celbridge. The next phase of the Jigginstown Project will be the consolidation of the south-west corner which is due to commence as part of the 2012 programme of works. So lets hope that the OPW get their thumb out and finish what they started. 

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Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Kilteel Castle

Just six miles north of Naas lies the village of Kilteel. Situated on the foot of the Wicklow mountains is Kilteel Castle. The castle was apparently built on the site of a former monastic settlement in the early 13th century by Maurice Fitzgerald (2nd Baron of Offaly) as a preceptor for the Knights Hospitallers. Records show that the Castle was in need of repair by 1335. Part of the wall of this preceptor still stands today, however it seems that the castle which stands here now is the remains of a 15th century, 5 storey tower house, with a gatehouse and projecting tower with a spiral staircase. The castle which lies on private lands, has been designated a national monument.

There is little mention of the castle in the fifteenth century but in the sixteenth century after the Castle had been suppressed it was granted to Thomas Alen and his wife. In 1669 Col. Richard Talbot, Earl of Tyreconnell became the owner of Kilteel. He then sold the castle to Sir William Fownes of Kilkenny. It remained in his family until 1838 when it was sold to the Kennedys of Johnstown-Kennedy. Kilteel which is approx 800 feet above sea level is by far the highest village in flatland area of Kildare. From these heights a fantastic view can be had across the plains of Kildare and adjoining counties. 

In a field to the rear of the Castle lie the ruins of a much older ancient church with what appears to be a walled graveyard. This monastic settlement is believed to date back to the sixth century. Now to get from the castle to the church ruins you need to cross some very spongy fields, just after the gate I had the misfortune to get not one but both feet firmly stuck almost up to my knees. Now to add to this precarious situation I also had two sheep dogs come bounding across the field. So I managed to free myself by hooking the strap from my camera bag around the nearby gate’s fence post, I even managed to get my shoes out. The final obstacle to get to the church was a semi dried out river bed, which was also swampy in parts, but I was guided across this by my two new canine friends. 

Monastery Ruins

Very little remains of this monastic settlement thought it contains what is said to be the only remaining Romanesque chancel arch in Ireland. Some rather intriguing sculptures can be found within these walls. Finally back towards the main road in a nice little fenced of area you can find the remains off a broken stone cross and a baulin stone. 

The site itself is on private property, and the sign on the fence clearly states ‘No Trespassing’. However after knocking in the adjacent house and introducing myself to the owner of which also owns the surrounding lands on which the ruins lie. The Lady of the house was only too happy to give me permission to explore the site.

View of monastery Ruins

Baulin Stone

Broken Stone Cross
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Craddockstown West Standingstone

Just opposite the main entrance to the racecourse at Punchestown, lies the Standing Stone of Craddockstown West. Situated in a crop field and easily noticeable from the road, the massive megalithic Longstone stands approx 5 meters in height, but lies slanted to the west. This is the third of several such Monoliths in the Kildare area. The Longstone is situated in the middle of the field on an elevated position which gives a nice view of the surrounding area. In fact it is my plan to return here quite soon for a sunset visit which should be magical. Again this monument has a large base with signs of packing stones around its base and tapers to the top in a conical fashion. There is a noticeable scar near the base and a vein of quartz running across it. Despite its closeness to the similar Longstone of Punchestown, this monument was far easier to gain access to. Though it should be noted that the Stone lies within a crop field on private land so permission should be sought before entering, if you do get a chance its well worth the visit.

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Monday, 24 September 2012

Castle Rag

Whilst out and about recently in the Naas area of Kildare, I came across this fascinating little ruin known locally as Castle Rag .This Tower House is hidden in a pasture behind the abandoned ruins of Jigginstown Castle, off the old Limerick road. Surprisingly there is little information to be found regarding the history of the structure. The Ruin which appears to be in good condition and consists of a rectangular Tower House and seems to comprise of three stories in height.

This type of Tower house castle was a typical sight to be seen around the verge of the Pale. These fortifications were built by the English occupiers to defend themselves from the native Gaelic people whom would regularly run raids for livestock in the area. Infact it is believed that Castle Rag predates its larger neighbor by over two hundred years, which means that it was built in the early 1400’s. There were many of these fortifications built all along the line of the Pale and the remains of similar castles can still to be found in other parts of Kildare like Rathcoffey and Clongowes Wood.

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Longstone of Punchestown Great

View from the Hedgerow
Just a few minutes up the road from Craddockstown West Standing stone which can be found atop a hill in the field adjacent the racecourse at Punchestown lays the ‘Longstone’, of ‘Punchestown Great’. This monument can be partially seen above the hedgerow from the road, and similar to the Stone at Craddockstown is difficult to access. I had to drive back up the road and park near the Racecourse entrance before walking back down the road. The only way into the field would have been to fight my way over the roadside bank, through the waist high nettles and a bramble filled ditch, for which I was not appropriately dressed for. So after walking in each direction for about 20 minutes on this occasion I would have to settle for some shots from the fence.

This standing stone is known to be the tallest and probably the most awesome of all the stones to be found in Ireland. The stone itself was said originally seven meters in height and weigh approximately nine tones and appears to have an almost square base which gradually tapers at the top. In 1931 the stone was toppled and re-erected three years later, but during its restoration it lost almost a meter in height. You would really have to stand up close to this monument to fully appreciate the sheer size of the stone. There was a bronze age Kist found beside the monuments stone lined socked but no burial artifacts were recovered as it was found to be empty. It is the largest of several such monoliths which can be found in the Kildare area. Numerous functions of such standing stones have been suggested over the years, ranging from burial markers to boundary stones, Places of ritual for our ancestors to astrological calendars. A small wooden fence now surrounds the stone along with an official OPW sign. Whilst the fence does visually impair the site, it also protects the monument from livestock which seem to graze in the same field.

The Gaelic name for these stones is ‘Gallan’, and there are many interesting stories associated with them. My personal favorite concerns the legendary leader of Na Fianna, Fionn MacCumhaill whom some say was a giant. Legend states that as a test of strength, Fionn was said to have hurled the stone at his wife in Punchestown from the hill of Allen.

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Sunday, 23 September 2012

Oughterard Round Tower & Church

After being told about the round tower here at Oughterard by a colleague whom lived in the area, I set of on the way home from work one evening to try and find the site. A couple of wrong turns later and a detour through Newcastle which also had some interesting sites, which I plan to visit soon. I eventually made my way through Ardclogh. Following the road up a hill for about 2 km the road veers off to the right. The main entrance is quite easy to miss as it is located in between two residences which surprisingly I also drove by, not noticing the site until I had driven well past it. I was able to park the car on the verge opposite the entrance. The gate is marked Oughterard Cemetery. When I visited, the gates were locked but access via and old-fashioned turnstile leads to a short trail up the remainder of the hill to the site of a very old graveyard, surrounded by a high wall which also contains the ruins of an old church and the round tower.
The gates into the graveyard where also locked, but I was able to climb the wall via an ancient stile. The grounds of this site are kept extremely well and the first thing that struck me was the vast amount a slab marked graves, which I have not seen in such abundance anywhere on my various explorations to date.
Oughterard which in Gaelic (Uachtar Ard) translates to (A high place), was associated with an ancient monastery from approx 605AD and was alleged to have been founded by a Saint Briga, whom was the daughter of Congall and whose feast day is held on January 21st. Now this woman is not the same as Saint Brigid of Kildare whom was the daughter of Dubhthach and has a feast day on February 01st. This monastery also had links to the Uí Dúnlainge dynasty whom held the seat of the kings of Leinster during the period of 750 – 1050 AD. They were said to have been the patrons of this monastic settlement. Recent research has established the existing ruined church on the site dates to c. 1350 and not 1609 as previously thought.
The round Tower which dates back to the 8th century is one of five which can be found in County Kildare, is in a good state of repair but appears to have suffered severe damage as only the first 8 – 9metres remain. The round tower is the only remains of an early settlement here and appears to be constructed of mainly limestone. The door which there is no access to unlike the one at Brigids Cathedral in Kildare town stands approx 2.5 meters above ground level
The monastery and round tower were burned during Viking raids led by Sigtrygg Silkbeard in 995 AD. The site was part of a large estate given as a dowry by Dermott McMurrough on the marriage of his daughter Aoife to Strongbow whom was also known as Richard DeClare, Earl of Pembroke during the Norman invasion of Ireland in 1170. The site next fell into the ownership of Adam deHereford whom passed it on to St. Thomas’s monastery when he died in 1210. For almost several centuries the monastery lands were rented to local tenant farmers until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in Ireland in 1536-41. The church was described as being “in ruins” by 1620 although it is not clear when the church fell into disuse.
The Church ruins are dated anywhere between 1189 and 1350 although the later date is more likely due to a fine example of a barrel-vaulted roof. An adjoining tower has partially come away from the main structure of the church and has been supported by two concrete buttresses to stop any further movement of the tower. Within the church lies the tombed vault of the infamous Arthur Guinness whom set up the Guinness brewery at St. James Gate in Dublin and is father to one of Ireland’s most popular exports. Whilst the first half of the church is in a bad state of ruin, entry into the second part of the church is quite dark. The main window on the east side of the church is still intact but sheds little light into the room. What appears to be a table top style tombstone can be found directly underneath the window. Just inside the roofed area of the church lies the entrance to the falling tower which is surprisingly still accessible for those brave enough for a climb up the winding stone stair case which could be extremely slippy on a wet day.
From the top of the tower you can step directly out onto the barrel-vaulted roof where a fantastic view can be had, (if you’re not faint of heart). From here you can really see a better layout of the graveyard and make out where the vaulted tombs are. A small ruined castle tower stands about 300 meters south-east of the graveyard, which I intend searching for at a later date.

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