The Rock of Dunamase, Co. Laois.

Location – E of Portlaoise on the N80.  The castle is easily visible from the road.  OS: S 530 982 (map 55).
Longitude: 7° 12' 35.66" W
Latitude: 53° 1' 54.8" N
GPS: S 53012 98164 (Elevation: 200m - Accuracy: 6m) Reading taken at the barbican gate.

Description and History – The Rock of Dunamase has to sit on the top of the pile when it comes to Laois sites.  Sitting atop of a natural rock the castle can be seen from across the landscape and the ruins look like they too are a part of the natural rock.  The great thing about this site is that it is a popular tourist spot but it has not been over commercialised.  There is no visitors centre, no shops or restaurants, no toilets and no tours.  The site is as is and the only work done has been archaeological and to make the site safer for visitors.  It is always windy on the top of the rock and you always feel as if you are in a wild place.  The site is also a popular location for film crews.  On a recent visit to the site I saw a high cross just next to the path.  I had never seen this before and assumed that it had been hidden in the undergrowth until now. Further up the path I saw at least 5 other crosses.  Unable to believe my eyes I started to hope that these were recently found at the site or that they were being returned after a long time in restoration. I touched one of the crosses and realised that it was fake and made from polystyrene and wood.  They were all fake, and further up there were fake ogham stones and gravestones.  There was even an entirely fake piece of wall made from wood.  By this stage I had started to get angry and thought that maybe these were put here to make the site more interesting to visitors which is ridiculous as the site is fantastic on its own. Luckily a man at the bottom of the hill told us that they were all props for a film.  I was very very relieved.

The age of the site is disputed but the present remains are undoubtedly medieval.  The Greek cartographer Ptolemy mentions a ‘Dunum’ in the area of Dunamase in the 2nd century BC.  There is, however, no archaeological evidence for any sort of fortress or settlement at this early stage but the mention of a place with a similar name in the right location is intriguing.  A fortress was in existence, backed by historical and archaeological evidence, in the 9th century AD and it was plundered by the Vikings in 843-845AD.  The abbot of Terryglass was killed during this attack.  There is little evidence of occupation during the 10th and 11th centuries.  The present castle was built in the 12th century and was built more than likely by the Normans.  The castle became the property of the Norman Marshal family and later the Mortimers.  During the Gaelic resurgence the castle fell out of Normal control into Irish hands.  There is no evidence that the Gaelic lords ever used Dunamase as a stronghold and it seems to have become abandoned by 1350.  After Cromwell’s Irish campaign the castle was blown up to prevent it from being used again.  Some rebuilding was done by Sir John Parnell (the father of Charles Stuart Parnell) in the 18th century who wanted to make the site into a banquet hall.  It is due to his rebuilding that the castle is preserved.  If he had not have acquired the site it may have fallen even further into ruin.  He appears to have stopped the collapsing process and even re-erected portions of wall.  The present remains consist of a large D shaped enclosure on the top of the hill with large banks and fosses surrounded by thick stone walls.  Portions of the great hall survive, although large sections of the wall lay where they landed after being blown up.  The best preserved sections are the two gatehouses (the inner and outer) and the walls around them which form a triangular courtyard.  A large pit at the N end of the site may have been a well.

This is a site that anybody with a love of castles must see before it inevitable becomes more and more sanitized and commercial.  This site should be seen now while it is still wild and rugged.  This site ranks among my favourites and can’t fail to impress any visitor.

Difficulty – This site is easy to find as it can be seen from the road.  There is ample parking and the climb up the path is not too steep.  Be careful on the rock as many rocks are concealed by undergrowth and it is easy to trip.  There are also many sheer drops over the edge of the outcrop so keep an eye on any children as it is windy up there.

View from the South.

The outer gatehouse.

Fallen masonry near the great hall.

Looking S at the defensive walls.

Looking into the great hall from the North.

The outside of the great hall.

*These are not my images and belong to John B. Shelton.  These images were taken on a trip we made to the site long before I ever conceived of a website and I felt that images did the site more justice than any of my own.

Aghade, Bullaun Stone, Co. Carlow.

Location – S of Tullow in the grounds of All Saint Church (Church of Ireland).  The church is visible from the N81 – take the first left after the sign for the Cloc an Phoill at Aghade.  If you get to the junction with the N80 you have gone too far. The stone is located just inside the church gate to the right underneath the branches of an evergreen tree.  OS: S 852 684.
Longitude: 6° 44' 16.06" W
Latitude: 52° 45' 35.97" N

Description and History
– This bullaun is small and simple and measures about 50cm in diameter with a single basin measuring about 20cm in diameter.  In 1151 a Augustinian Abbey was founded here for nuns by Dermot who was the son of Murchad, the King of Leinster.  The Rectory was still standing in 1549.  All that remains of this earlier church is the bullaun stone and an unnamed holy well that I was unable to locate.

Difficulty – Easy enough to find but the OS map locates the stone on the left of the track to the church as you go in the gate.  It is on the right.

Nearby Sites:

Aghade, holed stone.
Ardristan, church.
Craans, standing stone (forthcoming)

The modern church where the Bullaun is now situated.

Some of the gravemarkers look much older than the church and may belong to the former church.

Aghade, Holed Standing Stone (Cloc an Phoill), Co. Carlow.

Location – On the N81 S of Tullow and is signposted.  OS: S 846 695 (map 61).  There is a gap in the fence opposite the sign.  Go through this and the stone is at the edge of the field with an interpretive board.
Longitude: 6° 43' 11.03" W
Latitude: 52° 46' 10.87" N

Description and History – This standing stone is somewhat unusual and quite perplexing.  Equidistant from the top and sides is a hole, roughly 32cm in diameter, that goes through the stone.  The purpose of this hole is debated and may have been ritual based.  In more recent centuries babies were passed through the hole to cure illness.  There is evidence of a second stone suggesting that the present stone was part of a pair – the second stone is now lost.  However, it may not be in its original location.  The stone is rectangular and 2.4m high and 1.56m wide and 45cm deep.  It is recumbent but propped up by some rough stone walling.

Difficulty – Easy to find and not far from the road.  There is nowhere to park however apart from somebody’s driveway which I wouldn’t recommend.

Nearby sites:
Ardristan, church.
Aghade, bullaun stone
Craans, standing stone (forthcoming)

The walling at the back holding up the stone. This walling looks old itself.

Ardristan, Church, Co. Carlow.

Location – On the N81 just S of Tullow. OS: S 842 711 (map 61). 
Longitude: 6° 45' 6.88" W
Latitude: 52° 47' 3.87" N

Description and History – This ruined church is in a very poor state in one of the worst kept graveyards that I have visited.  This is very unfortunate since some of the graves are still visited and it must be upsetting for the relatives to have to battle the undergrowth to get to the grave of their loved one.  I visited this site in November and it was all but impenetrable so in the height of summer it must be a nightmare.  The church is in a poor condition but there was probably more to see under the brambles.  I couldn’t even get into the church to see. The foundation of W gable is exposed and consists of some massive boulders.  The nave and chancel was divided by a pointed arch which collapsed in the 1940’s – luckily the E gable is still standing to a height of about 4m.  The church would have been about 17m in length and 7m wide. A standing stone can be seen in the field to the N – which I will get to on another visit as the field was too flooded that day.

Difficulty – Easy to find and has a small lay-by for parking.  There is a memorial to people who died in the 1798 rebellion there and steps leading to the graveyard.  Effort, at some point in time, was put into this site but it has clearly not been kept up which is sad.

Nearby sites:
There are two standing stones to the N which I have yet to visit.
Aghade, Cloch an Phoill, holed stone
Aghade, bullaun stone
Craans, standing stone (forthcoming)

The huge foundation stones.

The state of the graveyard even after the growth has died down is appalling.

The church is barely visible underneath the ivy.

Haroldstown, Portal Tomb, Co. Carlow.

Location – You can’t miss this tomb; it is right on the R727 and is clearly visible from the road.

OS: S 901 779 (map 61).  
Longitude: 6° 39' 45.39" W
Latitude: 52° 50' 40.38" N

Description and History – This portal dolmen has to rank among my favourite sites in Ireland.   I had seen pictures of it before but they do not really prepare you for this site.   It really took my breath away and I can see many return visits to this place.  It is much much smaller than Browne’s Hill and I suspect that the whole tomb of Haroldstown is no bigger than the capstone at Browne’s Hill.  The double capstone forms a long shape which really captures the imagination.  It is possible to spend hours looking at this tomb which looks like some huge prehistoric fossil.  Facing the NNW the upper capstone is 4m in length and 3.2m wide while the lower stone is 3.2m in length and 2.4m wide. The chamber is very well preserved with the two portal stones about 2m in height (the Archaeological Inventory doesn’t give a height and I stupidly forgot my tape measure!) and a closing stone up to full height.  Side stones are mostly in place apart from one which is missing.  I suspect that this stone was removed to give access to the chamber.  It’s nice to go inside (you can easily stand up to full height) but it would be nicer with the missing stone in place.  It is located in a field used for grazing cattle (luckily none the day I was there) and they obviously like to trample around the tomb, which could undermine the structure, but doesn't appear to be doing to at present.

Difficulty – It is very easy to find but there is a complete lack of places to park nearby. There are two field entrances nearby but with the sharp bends this may not be advisable since you can’t get completely off the road.  I parked at a nearby dump in the end. The tomb is, however, on private land so permission is always advisable. 

 Looking out from the chamber.

Kernanstown (Browne’s Hill), Portal Dolmen, Co. Carlow.

Location – OS: S 754 768 just S of the R726 and is visible from the road.
Longitude: 6° 52' 51.64" W
Latitude: 52° 50' 12.93" N
GPS: S 75454 76839 (Elevation: 93m - Accuracy: 6m)

Description and History – Believe it or not the recent visit to this portal dolmen was my first. It has taken me years to finally make the trip to Carlow to see this site and it was worth the wait and if I saw nothing else that day I would have been very happy. From the car park the dolmen is perched just below the horizon and even from a distance you are immediately taken aback by its sheer size. The capstone, reckoned to be the largest in Europe, weighs an estimated 150 tons and is 2m thick, 6.1m long and 4.7m wide. Two portal stones (roughly 2m high – it is possible to stand up underneath the dolmen) and a door stone holds up the massive capstone at one end while a prostrate stone (which was once possible standing) sits at the other. The side stones of the chamber are now missing but a standing stone which flanks the N portal stone may represent the remains of a former façade. No traces of the cairn remain. Although in Kernanstown this tomb is often referred to as Browne’s Hill after the former owners of the land.

Although tempting, I would recommend that you resist the temptation to climb on it. It seems to be a popular pastime to have a picture taken while standing or sat on the capstone. Now while it is impossible to damage this site by climbing on it, it will, nevertheless, along with the thousands of other people who climb on it, erode the stone over time bit by bit. I’m a huge fan of the look but don’t touch philosophy.

Difficulty – Easy to find and even has a car-park. There is a paved path up to the dolmen which makes it very accessible to everybody. There’s no fence hopping here!

For scale.

One of the portal stones and the closing stone.
The east face of the dolmen with the two portal stones and the closing stone in the middle.  A standing stone to the left marks the remains of the façade. 

The 150 ton capstone from the rear.

As seen from the path as you approach.

As seen from the car-park.

Ballintotty, Tower House, Co. Tipperary.

Location – Just off the N7 by the new Nenagh bypass.  You have to leave the N7 on the opposite side of the castle and pass through a tunnel underneath the bypass to get to the site.  OS: R913 783.
Longitude: 8° 7' 45" W
Latitude: 52° 51' 20.19" N

Description and History – This four storey limestone tower house is well preserved and rather picturesque being situated next to a small river.  A building appears to have been built onto the side at some point but this is now missing.  According to the Archaeological Inventory of County Tipperary the first two floors are missing but the third is still intact and is barrel vaulted and can be accessed through spiral stairs.  I was unfortunately refused access to this castle by the owner so I did not get to see the interior but I intend to try again in the future as it is such a beautiful castle and unusually has rounded corners as opposed the more common dressed quoins.

Difficulty – Easy enough to find apart from having to exit the N7 on the opposite side.  This is on private land and permission is essential.  Unfortunately I was refused permission.  This is the only time I have ever been refused permission to a site.  I am going to go back to try again as it may have just been an inconvenient time for the owner.

Nearby Sites:
Lisbunny, standing stone.
Lisbunny, hall house.
Lisbunny, church.
Nenagh, friary. (forthcoming)
Nenagh, castle. (forthcoming)
Rathurles, rath.
Rathurles, rath and church.

These pictures are not great but I could not get close enough to the castle.

Rathurles, Rath, Co. Tipperary.

Location – Just off the R491 near Nenagh. OS: R 905 798 (map 59).
Longitude: 8° 8' 27.92" W
Latitude: 52° 52' 8.67" N

Description and History – Listed as a possible ringfort in the ‘Archaeological Inventory for County Tipperary’ this certainly does looks like this is a rath. There is evidence of a bank but no fosse and is roughly 28m in diameter. The proximity to other ringforts in the area also suggests that this is a rath. I will let you judge for yourselves about this one. I didn't set out to see this site but passed it on the way to another rath with a church built inside which is only about half a mile away.

Difficulty – Located in a field off the R491 this site is in a well drained cattle field.

Nearby sites:

Nenagh Friary (forthcoming)
Nenagh castle (forthcoming)
Ballintotty tower house (forthcoming)

Cloneen, Wedge Tomb, Co. Tipperary.

Location – OS: S135 875 (map 60) on the road parallel to the N62.  The tomb is in the front garden of a house overlooking the valley below.
Longitude: 7° 47' 57.07" W
Latitude: 52° 56' 17.47" N

Description and history – Little remains of this wedge tomb but is still worth a look and it must have been a sizeable monument judging by the size of the remaining stones.   The largest of the stones is about 1.6m long and 70cm high.  This was possibly the closing stone of the tomb.  A second stone sits at a right angle to the main stone and is possible a side stone to the main chamber.  The tomb appeared to have an E-W alignment.  Two fallen stones would have also been part of the tomb.  A tree has grown through the middle of the tomb pushing these two fallen stones out of position.  Somebody has recently places a kerb of small stones around the tree.

Difficulty – This site is easy to find and navigate. It is, however, in a private dwelling and therefore permission is necessary.

Nearby sites:
Cloneen castle (forthcoming)
Ballynakill, fortified house.
Roscrea castle (forthcoming)
Roscrea church (forthcoming)
Roscrea friary (forthcoming)
Roscrea pillar (forthcoming)
Roscrea round tower (forthcoming)
Monaincha abbey and high cross.
Corbally church (forthcoming)

Lisbunny, Church, Co. Tipperary.

Location – On the R445 as you approach Nenagh from the E, located in a large graveyard.  
OS: R 890 792 (map 59)
GPS: R 89022 79257 (Accuracy - 2m)
Longitude: 8° 9' 42.71" W
Latitude: 52° 51' 52.4" N

Description and History – Located about 100m S of the Ollatrim river and within sight of a nearby hall house this church is in a very ruinous state.  It was listed in the ecclesiastical taxation of the Diocese of Killaloe in 1302 and was later listed as a ruin during the Royal Visitation of 1615.  The S wall of the nave had been completely destroyed and a modern concrete monument seems to be holding up the NE corner of the present ruins.  The W gable end is near collapse and has been fenced off and classed as dangerous.  A small ridge is all the remains of the dividing wall between the nave and chancel.  The church would have been quite impressive in its day and is 25m in length and 9m wide.  The hole for the piscina still survives in the remaining portion of the S chancel wall.  From the remaining ruins it is hard to determine when this church was built.  From the remaining window spaces it appears to be a 15th or 16th century medieval church but more than likely built on the site of an earlier Romanesque church.

I drove by this site again a few years after this original post and saw that much of the ivy has been cleared away. I intend to return to the site to get updated pictures. 

Difficulty – This site is easy to find and can be accessed through the modern graveyard.  

For more ecclesiastical sites, click here.
For more sites in Co. Tipperary, click here.

Some of the remaining structure just shows up as wall-footings in the grass.