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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Monday, 15 October 2012

St. Brigid’s Cathedral

The next port of call was back across the market square to St. Brigid’s Cathedral. St. Brigid’s Cathedral which is located on the original grounds of St. Brigid’s wooden church. The Gaelic word for Kildare is Cill Dara, which means the Cell or Church of the Oak.

St. Brigid built her Abbey in Kildare around 480AD, on a Hill beside a great oak tree. Between 1223 and 1230 the present Cathedral was built. It was semi-ruinous by the year 1500, derelict by 1649; partially rebuilt in 1686 and finally restored to its present form from 1875 – 1896. Its environs include a Round Tower and a high cross. Major Restoration works took place in 1996. The Cathedral is open to the public Mon. – Sat. 10am – 1pm & 2pm – 5pm and Sunday 2pm – 5pm.The Cathedral closes October – April.

The present restored Norman cathedral most likely occupies the site of the original pagan shrine to the goddess Brigid and the later early Christian foundation and church of St. Brigid. The cathedral was built by the Norman Bishop Ralph of Bristol in 1223. It is built in the early gothic style with a square central tower.

Note that the cathedral has been built for defense as well as worship, a legacy of troubled times in the early Norman period. The cathedral continued to serve the people of Kildare down the centuries, though after the Reformation it gradually fell into disrepair and by 1641 it was totally ruined following the Confederate Wars. It was restored to its present glory in the 19th. Century and has in recent years undergone further restoration.

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Saturday, 13 October 2012

Kildare Castle

So our next order of business was to see the site of and last remaining tower of the 12th century Kildare Castle. Located just down the road from the market square, in behind the Silken Thomas premises we found the remains of one of the most important Castles of the Normans in Leinster, home to the Fitzgerald family. It is most likely that Strongbow built a motte and bailey castle in Kildare when it was his headquarters. The first mention of a castle in Kildare dates back to approx 1185. It is unlikely that a stone castle would have been erected by 1185: if it were, it would have been among the earliest in Ireland.

The most direct evidence we have for the date of the building of a castle in Kildare comes from the record of an Inquisition held in 1302. The Inquisition held that: William formerly Earl Marshal, senior, built originally the castle of Kildare on the soil of the church of Kildare, without the consent of the Bishop and Chapter thereof. It would appear therefore, that the castle was built, or at least commenced, before 1219 when William, the earl Marshal senior, died.

The castle passed in time to the deVescy family in 1290. Edward Bruce, brother of King Robert Bruce of Scotland, besieged the castle in the winter of 1315/16 for three days before being driven off. In 1316 the king elevated John Fitzthomas [Fitzgerald] to the newly created title of earl of Kildare in recognition of his services during the Bruce invasion and granted him the castle of Kildare. So began the Fitzgerald association with Kildare castle and town. Today one tower (4 towers were mentioned in 1331) and parts of the castle bailey wall remain. The tower was originally a 13th. Century gatehouse and it was converted to a residential tower, possibly in the late 15th. Century. The tower retains openings related to both periods. It was occupied as a dwelling house until lately. The bailey wall bounds the park on the E. N. and W. sides. There are 2 bastions incorporated in the wall. The walls are probably 16th or 17th century on 13th century foundations. The bailey was also the site of Lord Edward Fitzgerald’s home in 1798. This building has completely disappeared, probably being demolished as a reprisal after the 1798 Rebellion. The tower is best seen from the car park of the Silken Thomas Restaurant while the castle bailey is now largely occupied by a Co. Council yard, which may be approached from the lane on the left side of the Silken Thomas Restaurant.

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Thursday, 11 October 2012

Reginald’s Tower

Our next stop off once we reached Waterford city was Reginald’s Tower. An early fort on this site formed the apex of the triangular Viking settlement at Waterford. It was strategically located on the high ground between a branch of St. John’s River in the south-east (since drained and now known as the Mall) and the River Suir to the north. The City of Waterford consists of various cultural quarters, the oldest of which is known as ‘the Viking Triangle’. This is the part of the city surrounded by the original 10th century fortifications, which is triangular in shape with its apex at Reginald’s Tower. Though this was once the site of a thriving Viking city, the city centre has shifted to the west over the years, and it is now a quiet and tranquil area, dominated by narrow streets, medieval architecture, and civic spaces.

Over the past decade, a number of restaurants have opened in High Street and Henrietta Street, taking advantage of the charming character of the area. Much of Waterford’s impressive architecture is to be found in ‘the Viking Triangle’. Reginald’s Tower, the oldest urban civic building in the country, is situated on the Quays/The Mall, in Waterford. It has performed numerous functions over the years and today is a civic museum. King John visited the tower in 1210 and ordered new coins to be struck here. Richard II visited the tower in 1394 and again in 1399. On 27 July 1399, Richard left Reginald’s Tower as King of England and Wales; on his arrival in England he was captured by the future Henry VI and forced to abdicate. 

In 1463, the Irish Parliament established a mint in the tower. In 1495, cannon in Reginald’s Tower successfully turned away the forces of Perkin Warbeck, the pretender to the throne of Henry VII. This act of loyalty earned the city its motto “Urbs Intacta Manet” – “Waterford remains the unconquered city”. In 1690, following his defeat at the Battle of the Boyne, King James II of England is alleged to have climbed to the top of the tower to take a last look at his lost kingdom before embarking for exile in France.

During the medieval period, the tower continued to be surrounded by water both to the north and the south east. When the Anglo-Normans attacked Waterford in 1170, the tower was of strategic importance and its capture heralded the fall of the city. The Hiberno-Norse (Irish-Viking) ruler of the city, Ragnall MacGillemaire, was held prisoner by the Anglo-Normans in the tower and it is from him that the tower receives its name. It was in this tower that Strongbow, the leader of the Anglo-Norman invasion force, met Aoife, the daughter of Dermot McMurrough, King of Leinster. Their marriage was to change the course of Irish history forever.

In later centuries, the tower took on the functions of a royal castle. In the early 19th century, it functioned as a prison. In the late 19th and first half of the twentieth century it became the residence of the Chief Constable of Waterford. The tower was opened to the public for the first time in the 1950s and tours are run daily. It is presently managed in conjunction with the Office of Public Works. Admission to the tower costs €3 for an adult and €1 for kids, which is fine given that the tower is 1,200 years old and has been rebuilt and extended over the years.

There are 3 floors of amazing artifacts and a superb video presentation on the top floor. Oh did I mention the lack of lift? Yes as you can imagine there is a narrow winding staircase with only a rope for a banisters, which will keep anyone with claustrophobia fully entertained for the day probably more than a lift would! Now that’s fine for a seasoned ruin explorer like myself but when you add the wife & mother-in-law with five kids all under six into the equation it turns into a bit of a head ache. But despite that Reginald’s tower is well worth the visit and don’t forget to check out the informative video presentation on the top floor, it covers the entire history of Waterford from its earliest settlement right through to modern day.

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Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Waterford Castle

With cabin fever setting in we decided to venture out despite the weather and head into Waterford city for some exploring. We arrived at the ferry to Little Island, the home of Waterford Castle during another torrential downpour. Waterford Castle which has now been converted into a Hotel and Golf Club is situated on its own private 310 acre island.

Access to the island is via a chain linked private car ferry, which operates across Kings Channel between Ballinakill and the island’s west side. The ferry seems to run every 10minutes. The island was about fifteen minutes drive from our base in Faithlegg and is within a short drive from Waterford City Centre. Once you reach the island a lovely winding tree-lined driveway leads you up to the grounds of the castle. It was here that over a thousand years ago the first inhabitants cut out a rough track to secure their settlement. The current 16thcentury castle is completely obscured by trees until you reach the end of the driveway where the castle majestically appears from behind the tree line.

Once inside the Great Entrance Hall, guests are greeted by original Oak paneled walls, Portland stonewalls tapestries and a huge open log fire. Although the Island dates back to the 11th century were it was once home to the FitzGerald Family. According to tradition a Monastic settlement existed on the island sometime between the sixth and eighth centuries, and two “finds” on the land have lent substance to this: A Winged Angel dating from the 8th century and the crude carving of a Monk’s head, dating from the 6th century. (The latter is now prominently displayed over the main entrance to the current castle.)

The Island’s seclusion was attractive to the Monks, however due to its strategic importance they came under frequent attack and were forced to move to safer quarters. During the Viking era, sometime between the 9th and 11th centuries, the island was referred to as Dane’s Island or Island Vryk. The Vikings built two fortifications guarding the river at the north and the south. There is however no trace left of these forts. Moving on to the Norman invasion of 1170AD, the first family to live on the Island were the FitzGerald Family, who were awarded the land for their part in the Norman invasion. They were also relations of Strongbow, the leader of the Norman conquest. During the 15th and 16th centuries the FitzGeralds were Kings of Ireland in all but name and hosted many feasts and banquets on the island.

The first structure built by the Fitzgeralds was a Norman Keep; a tower like stone structure with thick walls, narrow slit windows and a lead roof. At that time the Keep would have been the core of any defense in battle and would have been virtually impregnable. By the 15th century, the ruins of the keep were no longer habitable. A tower, the centre part of the present Castle, was then constructed on the site of the old keep. Initially it was relatively small in size but over the years was gradually expanded, firstly in 1849 by John Fitzgerald and subsequently in 1875 and 1895 when the east and west wings were added. Built entirely out of stone, these additions are now almost indistinguishable from the older structure.Up until the present century the castle retained its original arrow slit windows, giving a fortress like exterior and a rather dark uncomfortable interior.

It was during the last stage of expansion that the farm buildings and stable yard were completed developing the island to support an entire community. Another feature added to the Castle during the centuries was the rooftop gargoyles. Brought here from Castle Irwell in Manchester, which belonged to a female ancestor, they are of great antiquity and interest.

The island and the castle remained in the FitzGerald name for almost eight centuries, until 1958, when the Igoe family bought the property and installed a 5-acre (20,000 m2) complex of glass houses from which they produced fruits and flowers. The chain link ferry between the island and the mainland was installed around this time. From 1973 to 1974, the island served as one of the shooting locations for Stanley Kubrick’s film Barry Lyndon.

Michael Farren from Dublin, a horticultural engineer, renovated and developed the Island from 1974 to 1982. In 1982, the island was rented to a local pedigree dairy farmer, who later bought it. The castle became a luxury hotel in 1988 and the island became its grounds. Much of the land has since been converted into a golf course. Its strategic location, in a pivotal position near Waterford City and its important post, brought it historical fame and caused it to play a major role in the history of the region.

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