Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Franciscan Abbey, Castledermot



A short walk back up the lovely tree lined avenue to the main street I turned left and adjacent the filling station on the way out of Castledermot lie's the ruins of the Franciscan Abbey of Castledermot. Founded in 1302AD by Thomas, Lord Offaly and the De La Hoyde family whom were benefactors of the order.



Quite surprisingly the abbey is situated on two or three feet off the main road and has remarkably survived in good condition considering its harsh past. Access to the abbey itself is restricted, but the key can be obtained from the care takers house next door. Only the walls of the abbey remain with a number of fine arches and lancet windows surviving in reasonably good condition. Standing in the magnificent confines of the abbey it’s quite hard to believe that a main road is situated on the other side of the wall. Attached to the side of the Abbey is a square tower like building known locally as Abbey Castle. It is believed that this structure was added in the 15th century and that the monks may have lived here at some stage. Unfortunately access to the tower is blocked by a large Iron gate to which there is no key available.





The Abbey was plundered by Robert Bruce in 1317 during his rampage in Ireland. It in part recovered its former appearance, and in 1328 had a chapel dedicated to St. Mary, built by Thomas, second Earl of Kildare, who, with his wife Joan, daughter of Richard, Earl of Ulster, were interred in it. The Abbey was again partially destroyed by Cromwellian forces, finally being suppressed in 1541. 




Only the walls of the church remain, which was originally a long rectangular structure with a doorway, a pair of lancet windows in the west wall and a tower on the south side.  The north transept was added to it later and this is probably identical to the chapel of St. Mary built by Thomas, Second Earl of Kildare in 1328.   Within the Northern transept lie the remains of a font which was probably used for baptism’s etc. 





The abbey really is a wonderful place to visit and is kept immaculate. The remaining stonework is in great condition and will probably last another 800 years. Whilst I was here I was unable to locate a holy well (KD040-002006-) which is shown on the National Monument Service website. Its location was shown to lie outside the North-West perimeter wall, but unfortunately there was no trace to be found.


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Sunday, 27 January 2013

Castledermot High Cross South



Moving on to the South high cross again constructed from granite in the 9th century is by far a more visually pleasing Cross although it lacks the amount of detail contained on its neighbor  The Head also contains a crucifixion scene whilst David, Daniel, Isaac, Anthony & Paul are shown on the arms of the cross. This time the Adam & Eve scene is located on the shaft. There are numerous animals depicted on the base.




 More biblical scenes are depicted on its west face with some more inspiring geometric designs and a blank base on the east face. The East face is my personal favorite  perhaps because of the fact is shows no religious iconography and solely concentrates on the pure Celtic designs of our pre Christian ancestors. A truly awe inspiring cross, this is well worth a visit.





Just off to the right of the pathway as you enter the churchyard lies what looks like an un-decorated third cross base.  Now researching this stone was impossible as there is practically no mention of its existence. The stone base whilst also made from granite is dimensionally smaller than the other two bases and is contains no decoration. Now I guess without supporting evidence, we can only speculate as to its history or purpose. Initially I taught maybe it was a failed attempt at erecting one of the other high crosses, especially as the shaft of the North cross does not exactly fit its base. But taking into account the size of the two high crosses it is unlikely that this base would have been made for either of them. This would therefore lead me to believe that  there was possibly  a third High Cross on the grounds which once stood here but was either destroyed, stolen  or is as yet to be discovered? Whatever story lies behind this interesting stone shall for now at least remain a mystery!

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Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Castledermot Hogback


One of the most interesting finds in my opinion to be found on the grounds of St. James church yard is the Hogback stone. It was found lying underneath the turf back in 1967 near the south-west corner of the church. It is said that the rector at the time of the find Rev. R.R.H. Wharburton retained its original location and east-west orientation whilst raising the stone to its current level. This is the only know stone of its kind found in Ireland. The stone itself is unfortunately suffering from erosion and should probably be moved to a museum to avoid further damage.


Hog back stones are deemed to be Scandinavian grave markers; they have a curved ridge similar to the Viking dwellings found at Trelleborg in Sweden, circa 10th century. And were ornately decorated, due to the considerable erosion on this stone it is quite hard to make out the diamond designs on one side and the two cross type carving on the other.  It is believed that this type of monument originated from Viking settlements in the UK, examples have also been found in Scotland.  Despite their believed origins none of these Hog backs have ever been found in the Viking homelands of Scandinavia.


These stones which would have been made from locally available types of stone, which would have varied in hardness, colour, and shape. As a result, it is quite possible that there may have been more of these stones in Ireland which may have eroded away because they were made from a softer type of stone. This would therefore make it difficult to pinpoint the precise location and time when the hogback stone emerged.


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Sunday, 20 January 2013

Castledermot High Cross (North)


Moving on to the North High Cross, built from granite in the 9th century it is truly a remarkable cross and whilst it is not as well made as its neighbour to the south it is far more interesting with many biblical scenes carved into the stone. The Cross is approx2.2 meters in height and has a span at its widest point of 1.7 meters, with the shaft being 44cm x 23cm in thickness. The Case is 93cm in height with a thickness of 85cm x 75cm. Whilst the shaft of the cross appears a bit narrow for the head the shaft does not seem to fit its base correctly or it may have suffered some damage.


Each panel of the cross has a separate raised frame, whilst the cross and base have roll mouldings around their edges. Now my biblical knowledge is a bit rusty so I may stand corrected but the south facing of the base looks to depict the multiplication of the loaves and fishes from the New Testament. The upper panel of the base contains some wonderfully shaped spirals and lozenges. The cross shaft contains a broad interlacing pattern.


The West facing base is decorated with S shaped spirals withAdam and Eve depicted in the centre of the head of the cross. David, Daniel, Isaac and St Anthony shown in the arms of the cross


The base of the east face has linking s spirals.  With the Cross depicting the ‘Liberation of Saint Peter and Paul’.Saint Paul and Anthony breaking Bread in the desert and the three apostles. At the centre of the Cross head is the Crucifixion Beneath his arms Stephaton and Longinus may be seen, while above his arms are two angels. The other panels are similar depicting sets of 3 long robed figures.

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Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Castledermot Round Tower



The next notable structure within St. James churchyard is the Round Tower. There are many of these structures to be found around the country and each one that I have visited to date always seems to have its own unique differences.  The Tower at Castledermot which is believed to have been built in the 10th Century is certainly no exception. Round Towers were commonly situated to the West side of a church however here we find it lying to the North of the church. It is also strange in the fact that it is probably the only round tower that I have encountered which has been built so close to a church. The next difference to all other towers is the fact that the doorway seems to have been built at ground level unlike others where the enterance doorway would be located a couple of meters of the ground.


Also the tower is connected to the nave of the church by a small corridor, on the day I visited the church was closed so I was unable to have a look on the inside.Standing at approx 20 meters in height the usual conical rooftop has been replaced at some unknown date with battlements added. The tower itself appears to be in good repair and I will be definaltly returning here to see if I can gain access to the inside and see what else I can find.

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Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Castledermot Romanesque Arch



As previously mentioned Castledermot began its life as an early Christian monastic settlement back around 500 A.D. This small town situated on the river Lerr,  really is a fantastic gem of a find with many wonderful historical ruins to explore. There is the ­­­­­­­­­Abbey, a Hibernian-Romanesque arch, a 10th century round tower, two 9th century high crosses and a number of ancient stones and grave slabs. I have decided to post each one separately.

Romanesque Archway
Just a short walk from the main street up a gorgeous tree lined avenue lies the site of the Church of Ireland St. James’s,  and the location of many of the items to be found in Castledermot.  St. James Church lies on the site of an ancient monastery which is said to have been founded back around 800AD by the father of St. Diarmuid from which the town takes its name.  The monastery was like many others across Ireland was raided by plundering Vikings in the 9th century but is believed to have continued to function for at least another 300 years. 

Rear of Archway
Unfortunately all that remains of this early monastic settlement is the lovely reconstruction of a Romanesque  doorway which came from a church that has long since disappeared,  A 10th century Round tower, two High Crosses with the remains of possibly a third and a number of ancient stones and grave slabs.With Large chevron designs resting on very eroded capitals. The Pillars of the archway are very plain and rounded. The arched doorway on the current Protestant church is of similar design which I taught complemented each other nicely.The Archway is the first thing you will see inside the walls of the churchyard, standing on its own, it truly is a wonderful feature. 


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Thursday, 10 January 2013

Jack Meades Pub


OK now for something a little bit different, on a trip to Waterford last year we stopped of at Jack Meades Pub near Cheek-point for some afternoon refreshments. Now the pub itself which originally dates back to 1705 did not interest me, it was what lay on the 5 acre grounds to the rear that really captured my attention. Here you crossed the stream to a wonderfully developed landscape on which stood a fully restored Lime-kiln  an Old Well and an old Ice House. Now these structures are not what you would normally come to expect on this blog even though they are quite old, I decided to include them as the are so unusual in the fact that I have yet to come across ones in such good state.


The Lime-kilns date back to the late 18th or early 19th century and were probably built by the local landlord, Cornelius Bolton of Faithlegg whom is said to have introduced new farming methods on his estate. The Limestone used was quarried in Co. Kilkenny and transported over the river Suir and up the pill by boat. From the dock it would have been carted up to the Kiln and tipped in, each layer of Limestone was followed by a layer of firewood until the kiln was full. A fire was then lit in the arched recess and was kept burning for several days by which time the firewood had all been consumed and the limestone had dissolved into powder. This would then have been poured out through a trapdoor at the bottom of the Kiln and carted away.


Burned Limestone had many uses, mixed with milk or bullocks blood and hair it formed a strong mortar for building purposes. Or when mixed with water it formed a whitewash which was brushed onto the walls of houses to keep the dry and bright. It  was also used to enrich the soil. The Well once used to supply drinking water is now a wishing well.



Finally the Ice house also dates back to the 18th and early 19th century's and they were commonly built by the owners of large estates to store ice for the preservation of meat and fish. The ice would have been transported from Norway and stored in the ice house which is basically a large round pit lined with stone or brick and roofed with thatch or sods of earth. Whilst this ice house was built of stone and thatch, it is unusual in the fact that it is situated quite far from any known great house. Perhaps it was built for the local gentry who would have fished the local waters to store their catch. The only known documentation discovered so far confirms that the ice house was leased in 1853 to a J. Crawford for the sum of two pounds per year. The striking thing about this Ice House is the fact that it was not built entirely underground, but has been built into the side of a hill, which I presume was to increase insulation. The exposed wall was built in two layers with a cavity in between.






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Sunday, 6 January 2013

Castledermot Towerhouse




What a start to the new year, my first outing in search of new ruins nearly turned into a disaster. I had been trying for almost six months to get to Rheban Castle just outside Athy. When I eventually tracked the site down it was within the confines of a large private estate surrounded by big gates and walls. So I guess i now have to try and get in touch with the owners to explore this one. Not to be put off i went across to the legendary Kilkea Castle originally a Motte & Bailey built in 1181 and a medieval stronghold for the Fitzgerald s.It was sold in the 1960's and has been run as a Hotel and Golf resort, but it gets worse. When I got there it appears to be under receivership and is completely closed down.



Determined to get something from my first outing I moved on to the nearby town of Castledermot. Castledermot or (Diseart Diarmada) originated in an early Christian monastic settlement from about 500 A.D. It is a small rural area best known for its round tower, two high crosses and a number of ancient stones and grave slabs. Passing up the main street I caught a glimpse of this structure sitting to the rear of some houses. It appears to be either a tower house or the remains of  some unknown fortified structure. Unfortunately the owners of the two houses on which the tower lies were not home so I took a couple of images from the roadside. I have been unable to find any mention of the structure online and strangely enough the national monument service have nothing on their website. So i have added Castledermot to my return visit list, hopefully I might catch one of the home owners who may be able to shed some light on this interesting structure. As always if you know anything about this ruin I would love to hear from you, so until i find out more, please enjoy these images. More from Castledermot shall be posted soon.

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