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!

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!

Loughmoe Castle – County Tipperary

Loughmoe Castle (Irish: Caisláin Luach Magh) also known as Loughmore Castle, is situated just outside Loughmoe Village, near Templemore in County Tipperary. The castle was the ancestral home of the Purcell family, the Barons of Loughmoe.

Loughmoe Castle, and the village of Loughmoe nearby, is often referred to as Loughmore (The Big Lake), but the Irish translation of the area is Luach Mhagh, meaning “the field of the reward”, and it alludes to the manner in which the Purcells first gained proprietorship of area.

The oldest part of the castle was originally built in the fifteenth or sixteenth centuries, and consists of a four-storey tower-house. Additions were later made by the Purcell family in the seventeenth century. The Purcell family lived in Loughmoe Castle until around 1760. The castle has since been unoccupied and left to fall into ruin and today is left in derelict, but still impressive state.

There is a wonderful legend around how the Purcell family acquired the castle. It is said that many years ago there lived a king in Loughmoe Castle, and the densely wooded land around it was terrorised by a boar and sow of “gigantic size”, who uprooted crops and killed whoever they came into contact with.

To rid the countryside of these beasts, the king offered their slayer the hand of his daughter, the castle at Loughmoe and the vast lands around it. After many other hunters had tried and failed to get rid of the beasts, a youth by the name of Purcell sought permission to hunt them. According to legend he made his way through the nearby forest by leaping from branch to branch, until he finally reached the spot where the creatures were resting. With his bow he fired arrows at them from above, until at last two of his shots went into the mouths of beasts, who fled in pain and terror. They were later found dead near Thurles, and Purcell claimed his generous prize. The area in which the castle stands is therefor known as “the field of the reward”, referring to the gift Purcell received from the King.

The legend is alluded to in the Purcell family’s coat of arms, which depicts the heads of four boars.

The castle is situated on privately owned farmland, but when I enquired I learned the owners do allow visitors to go view the castle up close, as long as it’s understood that they do so at their own risk, as the building is not safe, due to it’s derelict state. If you would like to go see the ruins up close, look for the big white house nearest the castle and go knock on the door. The lady we spoke to at the house was lovely and happy to tell us about the castle and direct us to it.

Carey’s Castle – County Waterford

Carey’s Castle is situated about 4km from Clonmel off the Dungarvan road (just over the border in Co Waterford). There is a small lawn with picnic site close to the car park, from where there is walk of about 500m through mixed woodland to where the castle is, next to the river.

This area was known as Glenabbey, with the name thought to derive from a small ecclesiastical site positioned here as an offshoot of the Cistercian monastery of Inishlounaght at Clonmel. In the years following the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the lands of Glenabbey were granted to Edward Gough. By the turn of the 19th century, the site became the property of the Carey family, who are thought to have built the little castle that stands here today.

The Careys were wealthy schoolmasters in the Clonmel area, and their love of history is shown in the design of the house, where you can see a number of historical architectural styles represented. The early Irish round tower, a medieval Norman-style hall and both Romanesque and Gothic-style arches present in the ruins.

To the back of the main group of buildings is a stone ice-house. This type of building was used to keep food cold before the modern convenience of home appliances like refrigerators.

The Careys sold their properties including Glenabbey when they emigrated to Australia in around the 1840s. It was purchased by a Colonel Greene, however he became bankrupt soon after and the site became derelict ans stands in ruins today.

There are about 2 km of forest walks around the castle and about 600m of beautiful riverside to walk along. Along the riverside walk there is a profusion of birch, oak, beech and ash with some spruce and larch.

Ferns Castle – County Wexford

The Norman castle at Ferns was constructed on a base of volcanic rock by William Marshall around the year 1220. Marshall was one of the most renowned knights of this period. The Marshalls held control of the castle until it was burnt by the Irish clans in 1346 and was eventually taken by the Kavanaghs who held control over the town of Ferns until 1540, after which the crown regained control and a Governor was installed. The castle was finally blown up in 1641 by Charles Coote, a parliamentarian (though some sources blame Cromwellian forces in 1649).

The remains of the castle is still quite impressive, though only about half it still stands. It was originally square shaped with four large round towers at each corner, the south eastern tower is still intact and is open to the public by way of a guided tour.

During excavations in 1972-75 a rock-cut ditch was discovered around the castle walls and a drawbridge structure was also found on the south side. The castle was surrounded by the ditch for defence. This was not a moat though, as it did not contain water, but was used instead as a dump for waste food and such. This ditch was eventually filled in but was excavated in the 1970’s by the OPW and most of it reopened although only to about half of its former depth. Painstaking work has been made to restore what could be repaired and this shows through to this day.

A modern visitor centre located on-site features information about the historical site as well as the well-known Ferns Tapestry. Depicting the history of Ferns in stitch work, from the arrival of Saint Aidan in 598 AD to the coming of the Normans in 1169, the Ferns Tapestry remains a valuable historical artefact today.

Visitors can freely walk around the castle and its courtyard, but the only access to the tower and basement is by way of the guided tour which is free of charge.

Opening Times:
Mid May to Mid September – 10.00am to 5.00pm, last admission is at 4.15pm
Admission is Free
October to April – Closed

Living In Ireland – Tips for Immigrants and Visitors

We moved to Ireland 3 years ago with no idea on how, when and where to find the big and small things to start building our new lives here. From big things, like buying a car and securing accommodation, to small things, like internet and phones and which are the best places to shop at for household goods, clothes, groceries, etc. We found loads of information on immigration and the legal aspects, but the actual LIVING here, the practical things, was a steep learning curve. Flying blind as we were, we spent way too much money and learned a few lessons the hard way along the way! For that reason I decided to put together a quick guide on the nitty gritty of living here.

Cars and transport

Let’s start at the start. You will need transport and will most likely buy a car. I’ve written a post about Buying a car and getting insurance in Ireland. Read through that carefully and take your time when choosing and buying a vehicle. Trust me, after losing a few thousand Euros in my efforts to get an insured car I wished I had taken the time to ask questions and do proper research before we came!

If you can’t or prefer not to drive, there is a good bus service covering most towns, villages and all the big cities and is the preferred method of public transport (train travel is expensive and they do not cover a big area or many towns any more) . I use this site to check for bus times: http://getthere.ie Please note that bus times are not always 100% accurate! I’ve missed buses that left earlier than scheduled and waited ages at stops for late buses. Plan to be at the stop at least 20 minutes before you expect your bus to depart, just in case. If you live outside a town, village, or city and on the bus route, I found the smaller bus companies will pick you up and drop you off right outside your gate as they go past.

Schools are well serviced with regional school buses.

Finding somewhere to live

The next step would be finding and securing accommodation. For those in the position to buy a house, I’ve written a post on Buying Property In Ireland with some tips and what to expect when house hunting. Renting a property here is a bit less of an adventure, thankfully, but not a simple process. Choosing where in the country to live goes hand in hand with finding a job, if you are planning to work here as well. And this is where it gets complicated… Finding a job in many areas can be tricky and finding rented accommodation in many areas just as difficult. I’d suggest start by looking at jobs in your chosen area(s) if you do not have a job lined up already. If you fail to find a suitable rental nearby you can always commute until something comes up. Big cities have loads of jobs advertised, but the cost of rented accommodation in the cities are very high, especially in Dublin and surrounds, so renting outside the city and commuting may be a better option for you. If you want to live in a city, look at rentals and jobs in the smaller cities first. Waterford for example is a great place to live and I’ve seen some reasonable rates for rental houses there, compared to other cities.

The website www.daft.ie is a great place to look for rentals, as is www.myhome.ie and www.rent.ie. Take note of the dates the adverts were placed though and move quickly if you see a property you are interested in. There is a huge demand for rented properties in many parts of Ireland, so check the sites daily and if you see something suitable, contact the advertiser to arrange a viewing asap, as they go quickly. Many property agents (called auctioneers here) do rentals as well, some being great and very helpful. They will not do much other than hooking you up with the landlord though, the actual tenancy agreements, etc will be made between you and the landlord.

If possible have references available from previous landlords. Some landlords insist on those and many prefer it. Most would want a deposit equal to a month’s rent and a month’s rent paid upfront, before letting you move in.

For 2-3 bedroom houses, expect to pay in the region of €450-€700 per month for houses in less desirable areas, for example outside cities, rural properties, in smaller towns etc. In cities and bigger towns expect to pay from €800 to €1200 per month, depending on the city, neighborhood, etc. Dublin for example is very expensive to rent in and you can expect to pay €1400+ for a house, while a similar house in Kilkenny city would cost you around €900 per month. Electricity, rubbish removal, etc are paid for separately by the tenants in most cases, so keep that in mind when budgeting.

Most rental properties we looked at came semi-furnished, but won’t have a T.V. set, some won’t have microwave ovens, etc. Soft furnishings, bedding etc is usually not included and you will need to buy those yourself. Which brings me to the next item on the list:

Shopping

If you need electronic equipment for your house Tesco stores are reasonably priced and stock most electronic goods, as does Argos. For soft furnishings, bedding, kitchen ware etc, Guineys, Heatons and Penneys are cheap and has reasonably good quality stock. Most bigger towns and cities will have a branch of both or either. Dunnes stores has lovely goods for sale, but I found their prices a bit steep, so if you are on a budget, or would like to save money, give them a miss.

Hardware stores stock some household goods and kitchen ware as well, but check prices on more expensive items, such as electric equipment.

For grocery shopping you have a few options, Dunnes stores again being more expensive. If you are on a tight budget, or just want to save money where you can, most towns and cities have an Aldi, Lidl and/or Tesco (some all three) and they are by far the cheapest places to do grocery shopping and pick up some household items, (certain pieces of) school uniforms, gardening tools, etc. Centra and Supervalu supermarkets are fair price-wise, but doesn’t compare well with the above mentioned three on many items. Do check though for “any 3 for €10” mix and match offers and discounted offers on goods nearing their best buy dates at your local Centra and Supervalu stores. We picked up some great bargains there on meat, vegetables and fruit, as well as dairy products.

And then there are the Dealz and EuroGiant stores. I absolutely love them as they stock a range of products at VERY good prices. In Dealz stores you will find most of their items prices at €1.50, which in some cases means they sell the same branded product as the supermarket at 1/3 of the supermarket’s price! And it’s not just grocery items, I picked up some small rose bushes and assorted berry canes there for €1.50 a piece and saw similar items at the garden center for €9 to €15 each. Need I say more? I can’t tell you how they do it and how they make a profit, but they do and they are well worth visiting before you head out to the bigger supermarkets for your groceries. They are also great for stocking up on items for birthday parties, Halloween (which is celebrated enthusiastically In Ireland) and Christmas.

I mentioned twice now that Dunnes stores are on the more expensive side, but don’t dismiss them completely. I have found some good priced items of clothing etc there, so they are worth looking into from time to time, but shop around before making purchases there.

Broadband and phones

A very important part of our lives nowadays is internet (broadband) and phones. Let’s start with phones and calls. The main cellphone service providers here are Vodafone and Three. Though there are smaller companies, I’ve dealt with these two and would recommend them from personal experience. For phone calls, especially international calls, go with Vodafone. If you buy prepay credit (called “top up” in Ireland) buy €30 vouchers. This will give you 500MB data and 100 free international minutes. International call rates after that is really cheap and this is interesting: I make a LOT of international calls and they noticed and reduced my call rates over time to less than 20c a minute!

For mobile broadband Three is the cheapest and most reliable. Buy a €20 top up once a month and they will give you uncapped (unlimited) broadband for approximately a month every time. Though they’ve been threatening to change that for a year now, I found it’s still the case at the moment and is great for home use. If you can get adequate signal/coverage at your home, buy a small modem at the Three store, get a sim card in there, get it activated and remember to top up once a month to keep you online. Those little modems provide a generous WiFi signal from which you can run 2-3 devices without too much trouble. I found my modem “goes to sleep” at times, or the internet speed goes way down, especially after a period of inactivity. Simply turn the modem off and on to get it going properly again. Vodafone offers similar modems, but I found Three to be much faster and they have better coverage in most areas.

Which brings me to cell phone network coverage. Surprisingly cellphone network coverage in parts of Ireland is spotty and in places non-existant on most networks, though the government is working on that. If you find yourself in a spot with no signal, for example in your house, walk around, go upstairs, or downstairs, or out to the street and see what happens. You may find yourself connected there. In my house for example, I almost never have signal in my kitchen, on-off in the front rooms downstairs and perfectly adequate signal upstairs in the bedrooms. And 4G broadband coverage (on my phone) in the backyard.

Landline or fibre broadband is increasing in popularity and the market is competitive with nearly all the providers claiming to have the fastest broadband on offer. If you read the fine print though, you will see it depends on where you live. Some areas have better coverage than others. The best way to determine your best option for fibre broadband at home would be to ask around locally where you live. The Irish are generally very kind and helpful and would happily tell you which service they use and if they’d recommend it.

Banks and banking

Banking in Ireland is pretty straightforward and opening a bank account very simple. Go into your bank of choice and let them know you would like to open an account. You’ll need to take two documents with you: one valid form of photo ID and a document to prove your address. Your passport, driving licence or national identity card (if you’re an EU citizen) are all accepted forms of photo ID. They will want prove that you live where you say you live before you can get your bank card or do much with the account though. I struggled for a long time to get my card from Bank of Ireland, because I could not provide the perfect piece of paper that they deemed acceptable as proof of residence. I believe they have changed that recently though and now post you something that you need to send back to them. Check with the bank what is required when you open your account. Also get them to help you set up online banking and run you through it all. Most banks here now prefer you do most of your banking this way.

A note on proof of residence: An insurance document mailed (for your car for example) is accepted, as is a utility bill, or any other official document mailed to you. See if you can get ESB (Ireland’s electricity provider) to mail you something to your new address asap, so you can use that as prove of residence. You will be amazed how often you will need it! Also make sure ESB addresses the document correctly! I’ve had them get my gender wrong twice already and that makes the bills “unacceptable” for the banks as prove of where I live. Without that proof of residence you may have difficulty getting some things in order, such your drivers licence, banking, etc. So get something asap. A tenancy agreement is NOT accepted. It has to be a more “official” document.

Your Personal Public Service Number

Along with proof of residence you will often need a PPS number, which is your personal identity number and will go on record for everything you do from applying for a driver’s licence, to attending school. See here for more info: http://www.welfare.ie/en/Pages/Personal-Public-Service-Number-How-to-Apply.aspx (Note they will need proof of residence when you apply. If I remember correctly we showed them our tenancy agreement)

Settling into your new community

Once you have secured a place to live and moved in, you will want and need to settle into your new community and let them get to know you, especially if you live in a smaller town or village. The easiest way to do this would be to go to the local pubs, or the church. Nearly all the churches I have seen around are Catholic, but they do not mind at all if you attend as non-Catholic (and in my case, completely clueless about the Catholic church), as long as you attend.

The pubs are the places where you network, introduce yourself to the community and start getting to know people. The reason for this being not because the Irish drink a lot, but because it is a popular social get together place where a lot of networking, wheeling, dealing, gossiping, etc is going on. Go in and have a pint, chat a bit with the bar tender and answer his or her questions, go back a few times and you’ll see the regulars starting to warm up to you. Ask any questions you have about the village, area, ask for recommendations, answer everyone’s questions and let them suss you out. The Irish are wonderful, friendly, helpful people, but they are a bit reserved around strangers and they will need a bit of time before completely welcoming you into their community and homes. But once they do, you will know you are in the best community anyone can ask for!

Killaghy Castle, County Tipperary

Situated less than 300m from Mullinahone Village, Co Tipperary, Killaghy Castle is a historic Norman castle that dates back to 1206. The St. Aulyus lived there for 8 years and then erected a stone castle to take the place of the moat and Bailey (a man-made hill of earth with a fortified wooden house on top).  The Baily was usually a raised platform of earth adjoining the mound and enclosed by a wooden stockade.

Later in the 15th and 16th century, a tower house was built. The tower house was a tall slender castle of stone, and was built primarily for defence. During Tudor times in the 16th century, a long house was added. The 18th century then saw the construction of two further buildings forming the structure of Killaghy Castle as we know it today.


Killaghy castle had numerous owners over the years. The original owners were Cromwellian planters by the name of Greene who in turn, through marriage, passed ownership to Despards and then in turn to Wright. The castle has also been owned by Watson, Fox, Naughton, Bradshaw, and Sherwood.

The castle has undergone extensive restoration over recent years, preserving the historic atmosphere with the sensitive integration of modern comforts. Stone buildings at the back of the castle date as far back as 1400 and have been tastefully restored and converted into self-catering units.

Today, the castle serves as a four-star self-catering accommodation available for holiday home hire, group bookings, parties, activity weekends and more. For more information and bookings see here:

Email: killaghycastle@gmail.com

Web: http://killaghycastle.com/

Phone: +353 (0)52 53112

Nenagh Castle – County Tipperary

The castle is the town of Nenagh’s oldest building, dating back to the 13th Century when Theobald FitzWalter, whose successors would become Earls and Dukes of Ormond, built the castle. Upon its completion c.1220 it served as the main seat of the Butler family. The castle was at one time surrounded by walls, along which were placed a gate house and two defensive towers. Though after renovations the castle is in a good state of repair, very little remains today of the gatehouse and one of the small towers.

It was at Nenagh Castle, in 1336, that a peace treaty was signed between James, the 1st Earl of Ormond, and a representative of the O’Kennedy family. The treaty included terms of peace and grants of lands for the Gaelic clan, but the agreement is more noteworthy because of what became of it over 600 years later. The treaty was presented as a gift to John F. Kennedy during his state visit to Ireland in 1963, and it is now housed in the J.F.K Library in Massachusetts. As for the O’Kennedy’s adherence to the treaty, they would go on to break its terms in spectacular fashion in 1347-8, when they unsuccessfully attacked the Castle and burnt the town. In this endeavour they were assisted by the O’Briens and O’Carrolls.

During the course of the Confederate and Cromwellian Wars the castle was seized on three separate occasions, until it was finally granted to Col. Daniel Abbot, along with extensive lands, in lieu of pay from Cromwell. The Butlers regained it after the Restoration in 1660. During the Jacobite War Anthony O’Carroll took the Castle from James, the 2nd Duke, who supported William, but it was retaken in August 1690, by Ginkel. Two years later William ordered its demolition so that it would be “rendered indefensible in ill hands”. The castle however was only partly damaged. Further destruction was wrought in 1750, when a farmer called Newsome attempted to demolish the Castle, as the sparrows it housed were destroying his barley crop nearby.

The battlements on top of the keep were rebuilt in 1861 and further conservation was undertaken in 1929. In 1985 the field around the Castle was developed as a small town park. The Office of Public works currently maintains the building. The castle is open to the public during the summer months, details below.

Opening Times Summer 2017:
Tuesday – Saturday 10.00 – 13.00 and 14.00 – 16.30
Last admission: 15.45
Admission: Free

Amazing Places in Ireland – Kilcooley Abbey, County Tipperary

Kilcooley Abbey is a Cistercian abbey situated close to the village of Gortnahoe in Tipperary, Ireland. The now derelict abbey is located within the grounds of the Kilcooley Estate, the main house of which is privately owned and occupied, though the abbey itself is open to and accessible by the public.

The abbey dates from 1182 when Donal Mor O’Brien granted lands to the Cistercians, to build an abbey here. The abbey, which is a sister house to both Jerpoint Abbey and Holy Cross Abbey, is considered to be a hidden gem, not well known, tucked away as it is in this remote corner of Co. Tipperary, inside a private walled estate.

After the Reformation, Kilcooley passed into the possession of the Earl of Ormond. It was granted to the English-born judge Sir Jerome Alexander in the 1630s and through his daughter, Elizabeth, it passed by marriage to the Barker baronets of Bocking Hall, the last of whom died in 1818.

The Cloisters of the abbey are long gone with only one column still remaining. The path of the cloisters though still remains with a pebbled walkway around the grass square.

The main part of the abbey consists of the Entrance Chamber, the Church, the Tower and the Sacristy. The Entrance Chamber has a well carved baptismal font on its south wall. The nave of the church is still roofed, but the rest of it is out in the open. The church has two large carved windows on its east and west side. The chancel contains two stone tombs and a stone altar.

One of these tombs is that of the knight Piers Fitz Oge Butler. His tomb records his death as taking place in 1526 and has some carvings of 10 apostles on the side of it carved by Rory O Tunney, who is also noted for his work in Jerpoint Abbey.

On top of the Butler tomb there is the effigy of a knight with a dog curled up at his feet.

The Sacristy is entered through a carved archway that has many carvings, such as a scene depicting the crucifixion and a mermaid holding a mirror, which was meant to depict vanity. Roger Stalley suspects this screen wall may represent the entrance to a private Butler chapel, as two Butler shields are depicted. The east end of the nave is notable, because seats for the officiating clergy have been carved into the crossing piers.

Outside the abbey there is also a beehive shaped ruin. It is not known whether this was used as a Columbarium to store ashes or a dove-cote for pigeons. But most probably it was a dove-cote since there is a 3-foot (0.91 m) wide hole in the ceiling from which they would have entered and left. Also outside the abbey is the Infirmary which is still in a fairly good condition although access to the roof of it is blocked.

Beside the Cloisters the Parlour and Chapter House are still there. Also the Calefactory (Warming room) still remains but without a roof. And on the south side of the Cloisters the Monks Dining Hall still stands. Although the dining hall has no roof, it still has a spiral staircase, but this has been barred up along with all the second floor rooms such as the Monks Dorms and the Main Tower, the Parlour, Chapter House, and Calefactory.

Much of the abbey however is open and accessible and well worth a visit.

Burnchurch Castle – County Kilkenny

Burnchurch Castle is a well-preserved 15th century Norman tower house with a round gate tower, situated 6.5 km (4.0 miles) south west of Kilkenny city, off the Clonmel Road. It is 6 km from Ballybur, near Cuffesgrange, the town of Callan, as well as Kells Priory. It is located in Burnchurch parish and was in the barony of Shillelogher.

It is said to have been built and owned by the Fitzgeralds of the house of Desmond in 15th century and continued to be occupied until 1817.

Of the original accompanying structures,  only the 12.5m high circular turret still remains, though a walled courtyard was originally attached to the castle. The castle itself is six storeys high and has an unusually large number of passages and chambers inside the walls. A great hall was formerly attached to the tower’s outside wall, but this has now vanished, as has most a bawn with a 41 foot tall tower at one corner. Old drawings of a date unknown, show remnants of buildings originally found on the site.

Many tower houses have mural chambers and passages hidden away within their walls, though few have the number and complexity of those found in Burnchurch Castle, which include numerous narrow rooms in the walls, including a “secret room” on the fourth floor. There used to be great hall attached to an outside wall of the tower, but that is now gone. There is a vault under the castle above which is the main chamber, with access to the upper three floors via an outside staircase. Notable features of the castle include mullioned windows, a fine carved fireplace and a round chimney which may have been a later addition.

It is known for being one of several Irish towers with the slightly narrower sides of the castle extending up an additional floor, creating in essence a pair of tower wide turrets.

Burnchurch Castle and tower, along with the Church of Ireland church, and the lime trees became a National Monument in 1993 and is accessible to the public.