Amazing Places In Ireland – Ferns Abbey and Cathedral – County Wexford

Ferns Abbey, also known as Fearna-nor-Maedhog, Ferna- Fernes, Fernis and St Mary’s Abbey, is an Augustinian abbey, situated just outside the village of Ferns, Co Wexford. It has been functioning as an ecclesiastical site associated with St Edan (Aidan or Máedóc) since the 7th century, the earliest cathedral having been built here at the beginning of the 13th century.

In 1577 the cathedral was attacked and burnt by Fiach MacHugh o’Byrne, who was later forced to rebuild it. Sadly most of the original building had been lost. However the refurbished late medieval cathedral that is now is a Church of Ireland place of worship, incorporates parts of it.

Part of St Mary’s Abbey and its round tower survived to this day and is located close to the structure of what is believed to be the thirteenth century cathedral.

 

Also see nearby Ferns Castle – County Wexford

Amazing Places in Ireland – Sheep’s Head Peninsula – County Cork

“Water and ground in their extremity”

The Sheep’s Head peninsula – a European Destination of Excellence – is situated between Bantry Bay and Dunmanus Bay in West Cork.

The peninsula is popular with walkers and the Sheep’s Head Way offers an 88 km long trail which follows old tracks and roads around the peninsula from Bantry to the headland and back. The trail is very accessible, well signposted and combines low and rugged hills with coastline and cliffs.

For those who prefer two wheels Sheep’s Head Way cycle trail begins in the nearby village of Ballylickey,  extends around the coastline of the Sheep’s Head peninsula, and ends in Ballydehob.

The peninsula has three villages, Durrus, Ahakista (home to the Air India Memorial Garden) and Kilcrohane.

Whether you prefer hiking, cycling, or driving, the peninsula offers a lot to visitors and is one of my favourite coastal areas in Ireland.

Irish Castles – Rock of Dunamase, County Laois

The Rock of Dunamase is an historic attraction found overlooking the valley of the O’Moores, just outside Portlaoise, County Laois. Dunamase was as an early christian dun known as Dun Masc (“the Fort of Masc”). The earliest historical reference to Dunamase is in the annals of the four masters which states that Dun Masc was pillaged by the vikings in 842AD.

Later in the 12th century, when the Normans arrived in Ireland, Dunamase became one of the most important Anglo-Norman strongholds in Co Laois. It was part of the dowry of Aoife, the daughter of Diarmuid Mac Murrough, King of Leinster, when she was given in marriage to the Norman conqueror Strongbow in 1170. When Isabel, the daughter of Strongbow and Aoife, wed William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke, Dunamase was given as part of her marriage’s wedding gift. 

From 1325 until 1609, the castle belonged to the O’Moore family of Laois, after which ownership passed to the Earl of Thomond. It was fatally damaged during the Cromwellian invasion in 1650.

Today what remains of the castle and it’s walls is ruins, but its location on the rock, overlooking the surrounding countryside offers visitors breathtaking views. I really enjoyed visiting the castle and the views offered by its vantage point and highly recommend a visit to this amazing place.

Loads more pics:

Amazing Places in Ireland – Knockroe Passage Tomb

Sometimes called the Newgrange of the south east, Knockroe Passage tombs is not as well known, or spectacular as it’s northern counterpart, but is nonetheless special in its own right.

The Neolithic passage tomb at Knockroe (known locally as ‘The Caiseal’) in County Kilkenny has been excavated since 1990. This megalithic burial site dates back more than 5,000 years and is unique in that it aligns with both the rising and the setting sun, unlike other similar sites, such as Newgrange.

Another aspect of Knockroe that makes it worth investigating is that until its discovery, the previously known most southern site of its kind was at Baltinglass Hill in County Wicklow. And there are also two tombs on this site, which is unusual.

The two burial chambers are constructed of large, upright stones (orthostats) and positioned at the south-eastern and south-western side of the mound. It has about 30 decorated stones and, like Newgrange in the Boyne Valley, the face of the cairn flanking the eastern tomb was decorated with a frieze of quartz.

Dr Muiris O’Suillivan, Associate Professor of Archaelogy at University College Dublin, has led the excavation of the site over the past 25 years. The excavation revealed evidence of multiple burials of cremated human remains, along with remains of assorted “grave goods” such as pottery vessels, bone and antler pin fragments and beads.

Despite its historical significance, the site is easily accessible and open to the public year round and is a popular gathering spot on especially the winter solstice, which is normally on the 21st December of each year (but occasionally it can be on the 22nd). For many years now a large gathering of people  come to Knockroe to see either the sun rise or sun set alignment.

Irish Castles – Synone Castle – County Tipperary

Synone castle (Irish: Farrin-a-Urrigh) is a 16th century cylindrical towerhouse situated in Farranavarra, Boherlahan, Co Tipperary.

Little is known about the history of this lovely little castle, except that is is said that many of Strongbows’ forces, in retreat from Cashel, were attacked and buried here.  Human remains were dug up near the tower and years ago a large helmet was discovered. The castle and surrounds however appears to have no official architectural significance.

The castle was at some point the residence of the Butler family and it is said that it was attacked by Cromwell’s army. What remains today is a small, cylindrical ruined tower in fairly good shape, which can be viewed from the roadside. It’s locked up and accessible via the driveway of the adjacent private home. Please respect the privacy of it’s residents when visiting the castle.

Irish Castles – Kanturk Castle – County Cork

Kanturk Castle is an impressive fortified house, built in 1601 for MacDonagh McCarthy as a defence against English settlers. According to legend, the seven stone masons that worked on the castle were all named John, giving the castle the name of Carrig-na-Shane-Saor meaning The Rock of John the Mason.

Known locally as the Old Court, Kanturk castle is a limestone rubble Tudor mansion measuring four storeys high, 28 metres (±92 feet) in length and 11 metres (36 feet) wide, with four towers, each five storeys high, measuring to a height of 29 metres (95 feet).

According to legend, the castle was never completed as word of its construction reached the Privy Council in England. They ordered MacDonagh to stop building works, as they feared it would be used as a base to attack English settlers. Macdonogh was said to be so outraged at this news that he smashed all the blue ceramic tiles meant for the roof and threw them into a nearby stream. The stream became known as the Bluepool Stream, because of the reflection of the tiles in the water.

Over the years, the property changed ownership a number of times, and was eventually donated to the National Trust by Lucy, Countess of Egmont under the condition that it be kept as a ruin in the same condition as it was at time of hand over. The Trust have been managing the Castle and grounds since July 2000 and it is designated as a National Monument.

Kanturk Castle is located about 1.5km (just under a mile) from the market town of Kanturk in County Cork. Take the R579 from town and look for the castle on your right hand side.

Amazing Places In Ireland – Brow Head – County Cork

Brow Head (Irish: Ceann Bró) is the most southerly point of mainland Ireland. It is in the rural townland of Mallavogue, a short distance from the fishing village of Crookhaven in County Cork, Ireland and, in my opinion, offers some of the most breathtaking coastal scenery in West Cork.

At the top of Brow Head the ruined remains of the signal tower can be found. This signal tower is part of a chain of towers built in 1804, during British rule, to give warning of a French invasion. Originally the signalling was done with a system of flags and blackballs on masts.

In the 19th century Brow Head was a mining area and the remains of the mines and the ruined remains of the miners’ houses can still be seen in the area. The first copper ore was extracted here in 1852 and mining continued intermittently until at least 1906.

Fans of the Star Wars movies may recognise the area as some scenes were filmed here for “Star Wars Episode VIII”.

To fully appreciate the views Brow Head offers, I’d recommend wading through the brambles and other unkind vegetation (it’s well worth it, promise!) towards the cliffs and then look back towards the village of Crookhaven. On a clear day, the well known Fastnet Rock can also be seen from this view point.

3.8 km east Brow Head is the equally amazing Mizen Head Signal Station & Visitor Centre.

Amazing Places in Ireland – Victor’s Way (Indian Sculpture Park), Co Wicklow

Day trippers looking for a quiet spot to while an hour or two need looking no further than Victor’s Way, the sculpture park near Roundwood in Co Wicklow. The beautiful wooded garden covers some 20 acres and the contemplation path is 2kms long, with sculptures placed along the way.

Victor’s Way was designed as a contemplation (or meditation) space for adults. Though children can be brought to the park, it is generally discouraged, due to the efforts to maintain a peaceful, relaxing and quiet atmosphere for visitors for meditation (and also, in my opinion, because some of the sculptures may be a bit too “interesting” for young minds to appreciate!) Dog walking is discouraged at the park, for the reasons mentioned above.

The garden contains 7 major and 37 minor black granite sculptures and took 25 years to complete. The major sculptures represent 7 development stages of life and each is accompanied by a well written peace explaining it’s symbolism. All the sculptures were designed in Roundwood and were then hand cut in a dedicated workshop in Mahabalipuram in South India.

Victor’s Way also offers the opportunity for forest bathing.

I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to the park, from arrival where I found the entrance fees are payable via an honor system, €5 per adult (no charge for children). The well stocked shop at end of the walk is run in the same honor system, so make sure you bring cash and plenty change! Items in the shop are priced very reasonably and the stock is beautiful, ranging from wall hangings to jewelry, a great place to buy a souvenir.

You’ll find Victor’s Way on the Old Enniskerry Road, L1036, about 2 km north of Roundwood in Co Wicklow. The park is open during the summer months, from from April 14th to September 30th, every day from 12.30 to 18.00.

Mizen Head Signal Station & Visitor Centre – County Cork

Of all the coastal places I’ve visited in Ireland, and there were many, Mizen point is one of my favorites and after numerous visits to the area, the scenery, cliffs and views from the head still takes my breath away.

The visitor centre has a lot to offer visitors and even on a less-than-perfect-weather day is well worth a visit, though I’d recommend visiting on a day when the weather is fair to experience the walks fully.

The visitor centre offers Navigational Aids Simulator, Fastnet Hall, the Geology of the Mizen, the Fastnet Rescue Tide Clock, Tidal Mural, Historical Tour of the Mizen Peninsula, SS Irada Propellor and much more, including a lovely little gift shop filled with a great selection of maritime gifts, model boats, books, toys for all ages, postcards, cards and maps.

From there take the walk to the Signal Station, down the famous 99 steps, and over the Arched Bridge.  The scenery and views from there is amazing, with the possibility of seeing seals, kittiwakes, gannets and choughs. It’s also said to be one of the best places in the world to see Minke, Fin and Humpback Whales and Dolphins.

For those unable to take on steep climbs, there is a level path out to overlook the famous footbridge and enjoy the wonderful views from there. Look down from the bride and you may see a seal or two playing in the waves below (we did).

From there take another path down the cliff to see the Sea Arch Over the Bridge, then walk up the third path to see the view over Dunlough Bay to the Sheep’s Head and Beara Peninsulas.


You can also take a walk down the path to the old derrick platform for a better look under the bridge. Below you will see the Keepers’ Quarters in the former Irish Lights Signal Station; the Engine Room with Marconi Radio Room and The Workman’s Quarters with the Mizen Map Collection, the spectacular Bird Mural room with 100 Birds in the Mizen area and their eggs, Whales and Dolphins, Wrecks and CIL Boats displays.

Or just wander around the paths and enjoy the incredible scenery and cliffs, which by themselves alone makes this place worth visiting.

Mizen Point is a lovely family friendly place, WELL worth a visit and highly recommended! Also see nearby located Brow Head.

For opening hours, etc, see their website: http://www.mizenhead.ie

Haunted Ireland – Leap Castle, County Offaly

I visited Leap castle curious about the castle itself as much as its reputation of being the “most haunted castle in the world”. I was pleasantly surprised from the moment I was greeted at the door by its current owner, Sean Ryan, who  graciously shared with me some of the history of the castle, his efforts in sympathetically restoring it and of course his experiences with the spirits that is said to haunt the ancient building.

After equipping me with a flashlight, instructions on where to find light switches and a request to close doors upstairs, he left me to explore the castle unaccompanied.

The first thing I noticed about the castle, which Sean also pointed out, is that the atmosphere in the building, in spite of the activity and its reputation, is very “friendly”, for lack of better term. I at no point felt unease and the first sign of anything amiss was when I photographed the famous “bloody chapel”, which is situated on the third floor.

One of the gruesome murders to take place in the castle occurred in 1532 in this room. Aiming my camera at a window, I was surprised to find after numerous attempts, I failed to capture a clear shot, my camera instead capturing blurry, out of focus, images, which is unusual, as it’s set to automatically find and focus on subjects and has always been very good at doing so. A little surprised, I turned and took a picture of the smaller doorway leading out of the room, when I noticed a small blue light on my camera’s viewfinder, the moment I took the pic. Suspecting a rogue light beam or reflection on my camera’s lens to cause this, I took a few more shots and found the same round, blue “orb”(?) appearing each time. (To my disappointment it did not appear on any of the photos I’ve taken.)

Heading down the narrow passageway sans camera, I found a nest of juvenile rooks and when attempting to take a photo of them, found my cell phone camera unwilling to cooperate. I headed back to the chapel after a minute and walked across the room to take more photos with my camera, this time seeing the same blue “orb” appear again, close to the opening, but this time on the wall. When querying Sean later about all of the above, he said “it happens all the time”.

According to history Leap castle is thought to have been built around 1250 over an existing site previously occupied by druids, who used the property for initiation ceremonies. Leap Castle was originally named Leim Ui Bhanain which means “Leap of the O’Bannons” which leads to the origin of its name.

The castle was the principal seat of the fearsome Ely O’Carroll clan. Following the death of the chieftain Mulrooney O’Carroll in 1532 a bitter dispute arose between his sons over the leadership of the clan. A dispute which was brought to an end by a brutal murder in the now aptly named “Bloody chapel”. ‘One-eyed Teige O’Carroll’ who as mass was being celebrated in the room, stormed in chanting holy rites, before driving a sword into the back of the priest, who was also his older brother, Thaddeus. The fatally wounded priest fell onto the altar in front of his family and breathed his last.

The priest’s spirit is said to have haunted the Bloody Chapel since. Even centuries later, when the castle laid in a state of ruin, passers-by have seen the window of the room light up suddenly late at night and his spirit is said to have been seen in the chapel and the staircase below.

In 1922 workmen at Leap Castle found an oubliette in a secret dungeon hidden behind a wall in a corner of the Bloody Chapel. When they explored the sinister dark hole further they made a horrific discovery: a large number of human skeletons amassed on top of wooden spikes. The remains took 3 cart loads to remove them all. Prisoners, or unfortunate “guests” of the O’Carrolls would have been dropped down through the hidden trap door above the oubliette, before being punctured by the wooden spikes below. There they would be left to die a horrific death, within earshot of the merry making of their hosts and other, perhaps more welcome, guests  in the hall below.

Another infamous and most treacherous killing that took place at Leap Castle was when about 40 members of the northern McMahon clan had been hired by the O’Carrolls to train them in new methods of warfare. The McMahon men attended a feast at the castle in celebration of a victory over a rival clan of the O’Carrolls. However, their ruthless employers had poisoned their food so as to avoid having foot the bill. The ghosts of the unfortunate McMahon clan are said to haunt Leap Castle to this day.

In the 1600s the ownership of Leap Castle passed to the Darby family, when the daughter of the O’Carroll chieftain fell in love with an English Captain Darby. Their son, Jonathan Darby, hid vast treasures in the grounds of the castle during the English Civil War. The two servants who helped him hide his riches were later murdered to guarantee their silence. Darby however was later imprisoned for treason and when released years later, the turmoil of his time in captivity was such that he was unable to locate his treasure. It is said that the riches remain undiscovered to this day.

During the 18th century Jonathan’s great grandson, also named Jonathan Darby, had the castle remodelled to give it a Gothic appearance.

It was one of the Darbys, Mildred, who is believed to have brought the most infamous and evil spirit to Leap Castle. In the early nineteen hundreds the occult was a fashionable pastime for the gentry and Mildred begun dabbling in the black arts in Leap with terrifying results. She is credited with unleashing an Elemental spirit into the castle, a type of primitive ghost that attaches itself to a particular place. It can be malevolent, terrifying and unpredictable.

This Elemental made its presence felt within the castle with a ferocious intensity for much of following century.

Leap was burnt out and destroyed in 1922 by the IRA while the Darbys were living in England. It was briefly occupied by a friend of the Darby family, before being left to lay dormant until it was purchased in the 70s by an Australian historian, Peter Bartlett, who was actually an ancestor of the founders of Leap Castle, the O’Bannons. Bartlett did extensive restorative work for fifteen years and claims to have witnessed poltergeist activity through much of it. His renovation efforts were tragically cut short when he died in 1989. In 1991, musician Sean Ryan and his wife Anne purchased Leap Castle and resumed its restoration, which is still ongoing.

What is it like to live in such a haunted home? For most I think the experience would be unnerving, but Sean told me they leave each other in peace. They (he and his wife, Anne, who I did not get to meet) live peacefully along their predecessors and “don’t bother each other”. When asked about his experiences in the castle he told me they see and hear things near daily. Voices coming from the next room, which seem to move away on investigation, he said “you cannot get to it”, doors opening and closing, which “are not our doors”, footsteps and apparitions, as clear as a living person, seen on many occasions.

I really enjoyed my visit and time spent at this wonderful castle and would highly recommend it to visitors, not just for the ghosts!