Friday, 20 November 2020

Grantstown Castle, Laois

Tower Houses are usually percieved as upright rectangular structures resembling a small Castle. In fact they are more often than not called Castles rather than Tower Houses.

Grantstown Castle Laois

There are however a few circular exceptions to the usual rectangular shape we associate them with. I have no idea exactly how many circular Tower Houses there are in Ireland but I've come across at least three that spring to mind.

Given their unusual shape and presumably rare occurance in the Irish architectural landscape it would be reasonable to believe that their preservation would be of the utmost priority but unfortunately that doesn't seem to be the case.

Grantstown Castle Laois

I'm not even sure circular Tower House is the right description for them. Perhaps to be geometrically correct I should refer to them as tubular Tower Houses. That sounds like a good name for a Mike Oldfield composition, a surefire hit.

Grantstown Castle Laois

Leaving my waffling quickly behind I'll get to the topic of this post. Grantstown Castle in Laois is an example of an unusual circular Tower House. It is located on private land but the owner was very welcoming and was happy to let me cross his land to have a look at the Castle.

Grantstown Castle Laois

Viewed from the road the Tower House looks in good shape but on closer inspection while walking around it there was very obvious evidence of a large amount of bad structural damage.

The walls have completely collapsed in places and there is no roofing at all. 

It was described as "roofless" but in good condition in 1905 (Carrigan 1905 vol. 2, 63).

Grantstown Castle Laois

The Tower House at Grantstown is beside a lake, Grantstown Lake. 

It appears to offer recreational angling and looks like a nice place to visit in its own right though I didn't visit it myself. 

Archaeological records show a Crannóg existed here on the lake at Grantstown.

Grantstown Castle Laois

A Crannóg is a man made Island usually constructed by driving wooden wedges and stakes into a lake bed and dropping further material onto that base. 

Small huts and houses can then be constructed on the Crannóg and the surrounding water acts as a natural defensive barrier. 

They are usually associated with the Iron age but were used in certain places right up until the early medieval period. 

At one time Grantstown Castle belonged to Gilbert Rawson Quartermaster of his Majesty's Regiment of Guards in Ireland. 

It then came into the possesion of Edmond Morris who was killed at the Battle of Aughrim in Galway and his estate was forfeited. 

Edmond's wife and children petitioned for the Castle and land but their plea was dismissed before finally the Castle was granted to the Fitzpatricks by William of Orange in 1696. It may originally have been a Fitzpatrick Castle before Rawson occupied it in the first instance.

There is a troubling feature of Grantstown Castle that is not unique to this particular Tower House and which is the disturbing lack of conservation materials or works that appear, or should I say don't appear, to have taken place in order to avoid the total collapse of the building.

The landowner has taken time and effort to fence off the structure and keep cattle out. State investment in the preservation and protection of these type of buildings would be of help I should imagine.

 Tangible physical intervention would be nice to see alongside the existing statutory protections which are already in place but can do little to stay the tide of decay and eventual collapse.

The establishment of the Irish Georgian Society saved and preserved many fine Georgian buildings throughout Ireland which might otherwise have been lost to future generations forever.
 
Perhaps it is entirely possible that some day one of Ireland's many homegrown philanthropic Billionaire developers will come to the rescue in an altruistic fugue and organise an "Irish Tower House Society" dedicated to their restoration and preservation so that future generations can enjoy these beautiful buildings too. 
One lives in hope.
 
Coordinates here:

52°52'06.4"N 7°30'34.7"W

52.868436 - 7.509637

 
 Further reading :

 Gilbert Rawson

NUI Galway - Landed Estates 

National Library - Sketch 

 Duchas - Story

 Duchas - Story  

The Peerage of Ireland - Google Books

 


 

 



 


Sunday, 15 November 2020

Killinagh Cursing Stone, Cavan

 Killinagh Cursing Stone

 

Just outside the village of Blacklion in County Cavan is a wonderful example of a Bullaun Stone, the Killinagh Cursing Stone. 
 
The area is also known as Termon and lies beside Lough MacNean. It's signposted with an easily missed sign marked "Killinagh Old Graveyard and 12th Century Cemetery."
 
Killinagh Cursing Stone
 
Also known as Saint Brigid's Stone this is a large multiple Bullaun stone with two smaller Bullaun stones lying alongside. 
 
It's one of a few Bullaun stones in Ireland which have a large number of depressions carved into them and is well worth taking time out to visit. I counted at least 15 depressions in the bullaun stones here.

Killinagh Cursing Stone
 
The Killinagh Cursing Stone is of unknown origin and may predate christianity. It was possibly used during the Iron age by Celts or Druids for some type of pagan ritual.
 
Killinagh Cursing Stone
 
This is just supposition on my behalf or anyone elses for that matter. At present there is no definitive proof for the origins or purpose of Ireland's Bullauns. 
 
These enigmatic stones are still shrouded in mystery and mystique.
 
Killinagh Cursing Stone
 
The stones may also have had other uses, perhaps used as vessels for grinding grains etc. The many Bullauns on this particular stone make that proposition seem unlikely in this particular instance.
 
Killinagh Cursing Stone
 
There are a remarkable number of depressions/sockets in the Bullaun stones at Killinagh and each socket holds it's own little stone which would have been turned in a particular direction as part of an ancient ritual.
 
Killinagh Cursing Stone 
 
Local tradition has it that the stones were used if you wanted to place a curse on your enemy although apparently the curse could backfire on the spell caster if the correct procedure wasn't followed carefully.
 
Killinagh Cursing Stone
 
There is a nearby ruined Church here which has inverted heart or spade shapes carved onto two stones on an exterior wall of the Church.
 
Killinagh Cursing Stone
 
I have no idea what these particular carvings represent but they are very unusual. I'm sure there must be an interesting story behind these stones in the wall though just what it is is anyone's guess.
 
Killinagh Cursing Stone
 
I'm not an architect but I presume it's a late medieval Church with later additions.

Killinagh Cursing Stone

There is also an overgrown circular enclosure on the site which is surrounded by a low stone wall.
 
 Inside there are two small upright stones on the edge of the circle which look like they might have acted as some type of entrace stones. The interior of the enclosure is slightly below ground level.
 
Killinagh Cursing Stone
 
It was very overgrown when I visited but still easy enough to enter and visually get some idea of the layout. The enclosure is known variously as 
"Saint Brigids House" or "The Queen's Bed."
 
 Killinagh Cursing Stone

Previously it has been suggested that the enclosure may have once been an unclassified Megalithic Tomb of some type. No one can be sure of that though it is an intriguing little oasis nonetheless.
 
Killinagh Cursing Stone
 
Between the ancient 12th Century Cemetery, Church ruins, unclassified enclosure and the Killinagh Cursing Stone there is every reason to visit the Cavan town of Blacklion for a pleasant day out and to see some nearby mysterious and historical artifacts.
 
Killinagh Cursing Stone

Killinagh Cursing Stone in County Cavan is a particularly fine example of a large multiple Bullaun Stone and probably one of the nicest in Ireland. Do go and see it if you ever get the chance....

Killinagh Cursing Stone
 
Coordinates here:

54°17'15.0"N 7°54'34.2"W

54.287509 - 7.909511

 

Killinagh Cursing Stone 

 
 
 
 
Killinagh Cursing Stone

Killinagh Cursing Stone

Killinagh Cursing Stone

Killinagh Cursing Stone

Killinagh Cursing Stone

Killinagh Cursing Stone

Killinagh Cursing Stone


 


 
 


Tuesday, 27 October 2020

Labbacallee Wedge Tomb, Cork

 Labbacallee Wedge Tomb

Labbacallee Wedge Tomb lies between Fermoy and Glanworth in County Cork. It is believed to be the largest Wedge Tomb in Ireland.

Labbacalle Wedge Tomb

Wedge Tombs are megalithic funerary monuments which date from the early Bronze age around 2500 BCE. They were built during the transitionary period between the late Neolithic Stone age and the early Bronze age around 4500 years ago.

Labbacalle Wedge Tomb

In common with other types of megalithic monuments such as Portal Dolmens and Passage Tombs they were used throughout antiquity and remains and artifacts from later periods have sometimes been found inside them.

Labbacalle Wedge Tomb

The tombs get their name from the distinctive wedge shape they form and they slope downwards from front to back. 

Labbacallee Wedge Tomb is a perfect example of the type and because so much of the structure is still intact it is easy to see the wedge shape of the burial tomb. Labbacalle translates into English literally as "The Hags Bed".

Labbacalle Wedge Tomb

There are hundreds of Wedge Tombs in Ireland with some in better condition than others. A lot of the tombs are in inaccessable or remote areas. 

Labbacalle is right by the roadside with easy access. Most of these tomb types are located in the western and southern areas of Ireland and while there are also some in eastern areas they are to be found in far fewer numbers.

Labbacalle Wedge Tomb

The inside of a Wedge Tomb is usually divided into several smaller chambers. Sometimes this internal division into separate areas can be clearly seen. 

At other times the structures are in poor condition or have been altered at a later stage and the separate chambers can't be easily identified by the naked eye.

Labbacalle Wedge Tomb

The sides of Wedge Tombs are supported by rows of large upright stones, orthostats. Most but not all of these tombs use a double wall construction technique along the sides of the tomb. 

The roof is covered with huge stones, the capstones. The capstones at Labbacalle are quite big and in a period without modern mechanisation it must have required a considerable effort to place them into position. 

One single stone is estimated to weigh at least 10 tonne.

Labbacalle Wedge Tomb

It's interesting to ponder on what system they might have used for construction. 

Did they use big wooden levers and rollers, did they have some type of pulley system for hoisting the stones, were Horses or Oxen involved perhaps used to pull the stones or was all the work done by human hand alone? 

It's impossible to know and an exercise in pure guesswork.

Labbacalle Wedge Tomb

Wedge Tombs are believed to have been initially covered in two ways. 

Cairns of smaller stones were built up over them while in other instances loose earth and mud was piled on top of and around them. 

Wedge Tombs which are above ground now stand denuded of their original covering of small stones or clays.

Labbacalle Wedge Tomb

Skeletal remains were excavated at Labbacalle several of which were reburials and the headless skeleton of a woman was also discovered, as were cremated bone fragments. Beaker pottery has also been excavated at the site.

In Ireland at this time it appears that there may have been various burial rituals in practise simultaneously. 

This is evidenced by a lot of Bronze age sites containing a mix of unburnt skeletal remnants and cremated remains side by side. 

Perhaps social status dictated a particular funerary rite for a given individual but again that's just supposition as it's impossible to know without written records of which there are none.

Labbacalle Wedge Tomb

Similar tombs are found throughout Europe where they are sometimes referred to as Gallery Tombs. They are often distinct from the Irish Wedge Tomb and have very different features.

Labbacalle Wedge Tomb

The Wedge Tombs dotted throughout Ireland were to be the last of the big megalithic monuments that our distant relatives built.

Labbacalle Wedge Tomb

The era of large stone built monuments to the dead was ending. 

What began in the Neolithic period culminating in wonderful rock art and huge Passage Tombs lasting for over two thousand years into the Bronze age came to a close with the building of the Wedge Tombs. 

There were to be no more large megaliths erected in Ireland again.

Labbacalle Wedge Tomb

We are fortunate to have such a vast collection of different megaliths scattered throughout such a small Island. 

Standing testament to millennia of human occupation and the evolution of belief systems and practises they are truly outstanding works of art and artistry.

I am typing this on a high powered Laptop fitted with a modern processor which uses scientific concepts such as quantum tunnelling to operate. 

I momentarily think to myself as I tap on the modern keyboard. 

Could I direct and oversee the construction of a tomb such as those at Carrowkeel or Loughcrew, tombs which for thousands of years have remained completely dry inside? 

I sincerely doubt it. Our forefathers and mothers, from places as far flung as Brittany, Uzbekistan or even the Rift valley could teach us a lot.


Coordinates here :

52°10'26.8"N 8°20'03.9"W

52.174108 - 8.334407 

 

Further reading:

Penn Museum/Sean O Nuallain 

Landscape contexts of Wedge Tombs in the Northwest of Ireland - Kurt D. Springs 

Wedge Tombs - Get behind the Muse

Archaeology.ie - Farmers Journal 

Neil Carlin - A proper place for everything:The character and context of Beaker Depositional Practise in Ireland

Survey of the Megalithic Tombs of Ireland Volume 4 

 

  


Friday, 23 October 2020

Monaincha, Roscrea, Tipperary.

Monaincha

Once in a while you head off somewhere without great expectation only to be pleasantly suprised when you get there. Monaincha just outside Roscrea in Tipperary turned out to be just such a place.

Monaincha

The name Monaincha is a combination of several Irish words. Inis na mBeo is the name which originally describes the monastic site here as The Isle of the Living. It was believed that except for a single caveat no one could ever die at Monaincha.

Monaincha

The exception to this legend were women. As soon as a woman set foot on Monaincha she would die. Soo too would female animals, while female birds flew past and never dared to land here.

Monaincha

It's a  great story which was probably believed at the time and it was possibly a story designed to keep women away from the celibate monks at Monaincha or to deter the monks from fraternising with the opposite sex. I had no idea that was Roscrea was such a hotbed of amorous activity but the old cliché about no Smart phones or TV spring to mind.

Monaincha   

Knowing little of its history and with just a general idea of where it was situated Monaincha turned out to be quite a beautiful and interesting place situated in a picturesque location. Peaceful and magical are some of the words I have heard to describe it and I wouldn't disagree in the least.

Monaincha

Early christianity in Ireland can be difficult to decipher and many Saints are obscure in both name and origin. It's believed that Monaincha was founded by a Saint Elair sometime in the 7th century however the site is also associated with Saints Canice of Aghaboe and Cronan of Roscrea.

Monaincha

Monaincha is one of those places that is seldom visited for reasons unknown to me, places of outstanding natural beauty and tranquility that are hidden away in the most unlikely of locations.

Monaincha

Originally the site was an Island on a small lake, Lough Cré, surrounded by water which has long since been drained. There were at least two Islands here at one time, possibly more.

Monaincha

The Church at Monaincha is architecturally described as a 12th century Hiberno-Romanesque construction and it is a wonderful building with plenty of beautiful red sandstone. The doorway and arches are in the Romanesque style and are wonderful examples with zigzags, chevrons and various patterns on the carved stone columns and jambs surrounding them.

Monaincha

At the rear of the Church are vaults and stairways which were probably constructed at a later date but add to the overall beauty and impression of the structure.

Monaincha

A High Cross stands to the front of the Church and it is purportedly a combination of at least two different fragments from seperate crosses, the base and the head being unrelated according to some.

Monaincha

Giraldus Cambrensis otherwise known as Gerald of Wales was a chronicler who described himself as a scout and explorer. He wrote about Ireland in his Topographia Hibernaie. 
 
Giraldus was what could best be described as an early Norman propagandist and not always kindly in his description of Ireland or the Irish. In his accounts of Ireland he describes Monaincha and its deleterious effects on women.
 
 Monaincha
 
The site's early origins are associated with the Culdee community. These were a type of austere hermit who lived very simple and basic lifestyles. At some time during the 12th century Monaincha became an Augustinian Church.
 
Monaincha 
 
A Woman's Church is mentioned located near Monaincha but if it existed there is no trace of it now. 
 
Monaincha
 
If it did exist it makes more sense taken in combination with the legends of women dying should they set foot on the larger Island of Monaincha. The legend would have helped to keep the early nuns and monks apart and the singing and dancing to a minimum.
 
 Monaincha Abbey Carvings
 
 There were also fish ponds at Monaincha which were an early form of aquaculture and provided a reliable source of valuable protein in the monks diet.
 
Monaincha Abbey, Vault.
 
Monaincha is a wonderful place to visit. A place it seems that time has forgotten and where beauty, nature and history converge in peaceful solitude.
 
Monaincha Romanesque Arch
 
Monaincha was also described in the 14th century manuscript The Book of Ballymote as the 31st Wonder of the World. If that doesn't give you a reason to visit nothing will.......
 
Monanaincha Romanesque Carving
 
Coordinates here :

52°56'46.6"N 7°45'16.5"W

52.946267 - 7.754588

Monaincha High Cross

Monaincha High Cross

Monaincha Abbey Ruins

Monaincha Romanesque Carvings