Heritage sites
St. Catherine’s church, Thomas St., Dublin.
St. Catherine’s is perhaps most famous as the site of the execution of the Clonakilty born Robert Emmet.

View of the facade of St. Catherine's church, Dublin

St. Catherine’s church is situated near the centre of the city of Dublin on the corner of Thomas St. and Thomas Court and just over half a kilometre west of Christ Church Cathedral. The first St. Catherine’s church on the site was built by the Monks of St. Thomas Abbey on the abbey lands in the parish of St. James as a chapel of ease for those who could not attend the main Abbey church. The Medieval church was demolished in the eighteenth century and replaced with the current St. Catherine’s which was designed by John Smith and built between 1760 and 1769. The new St. Catherine’s is a four bay structure built of granite in the classical Tuscan-style with a facade of Doric semi-columns supporting a pediment and two paired pilasters at each corner, and square tower. Internally the building is an eighteenth century style galleried church.

St. Catherine’s is perhaps most famous as the site of the execution of the Clonakilty born Robert Emmet. Emmet was an Irish Republican leader who lead an attempted rebellion against British rule in July 1803. The rebellion was a failure and Emmet was captured the following month. Following his trial for treason on 19 September he was hanged and beheaded in front of St. Catherine’s church on the 20 September 1803. A plaque on the footpath outside the church railings marks the site of the execution.

Google maps image of the location of St. Catherine's church, Dublin.

GPS coordinates 53.343091,-6.281138

The Medieval Augustinian Priory of Athassel, near Cashel, Co. Tipperary

The tower of Athassel priory, Co. Tipperary.

On the N74 Cashel to Tipperary road at the town of Golden on the west side of the town a minor road leads south about 1.8km to Athassel Priory. The Priory is visible on the east side of the in a bend of the River Suir.

The Augustinian Priory of St. Edmund at Athassel, Co. Tipperay was the largest priory built in Medieval Ireland and covered over 4 acres. The Priory was founded at the end of the twelfth century by William de Burgo, who had been granted large landholdings in Ireland by prince John including the cantred Muscraighe Breogain in which Athassel is situated. The priory was patronised by the de Burgo family and Walter de Burgo earl of Ulster was buried there in 1271 and Richard de Burgo, earl of Ulster in 1326. A late thirteenth century alter tomb decorated with the figures of four knights, found in the choir of the church and now on display in the Hall of the Vicars Choral at Cashel, was probably the tomb of Walter de Burgo.

The priory consists of a cruciform church on the northern side built between 1230 and 1280. The church has two transepts, a double aisled nave, a choir at the eastern end, a central square tower and a smaller tower at the north-west. Later additions to the church include the east windows that were added in the fifteenth century. The cloister is on the south side of the church and has the sacristy, chapter house and dormitory on the eastern side and the refrectory on the southern side.

The cloister of Athassel priory, Co. Tipperary.

The priory was surrounded by a high wall which has an outer gate way with portcullis and gatehouse with a stone bridge across a small stream. Outside the walls there was once a Medieval town but this was attacked and burnt twice in the fourteenth century and was deserted leaving no visible trace. The monastery was dissolved by King Henry VIII in 1541 and the priory lands were granted to Thomas earl of Ormond.

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GPS coordinates 52.479853,-7.985687

The Medieval Augustinian Priory of Ballyboggan Co. Meath near Kinnegad, Co. Westmeath

Air photo of Ballyboggan Priory, Co. Meath.

On the R401 road between Kinnegad, Co. Westmeath and Edenderry, Co. Offaly and about 6km from Kinnegad on the northern bank of the River Boyne is Ballyboggan Priory. Ballyboggan is one of the less well known Augustinian Priories of Ireland but was an important pilgrimage shrine. The priory is entered through a sub-rectangular walled graveyard on the west side of the road.

The Augustinian Priory of De Laude Dei was founded at Ballyboggan in the twelfth century by Jordan Comin. The Priory was burnt in 1446 and subsequently rebuilt. The Annals of the Four Masters record that in 1447 the Prior of Ballyboggan was killed by the plague. In 1537 the Priory was suppressed by King Henry VIII and the Abbey and lands of over 5,000 acres were granted to Sir William Bermingham who later became Lord Carberry. Ballyboggan had a wooden cross and was an important pilgrimage shrine in the Medieval period. The Annals of Ulster record that in 1538, following the dissolution of the Priory, the cross of Ballyboggan was burnt along with the image of Mary at Trim.

All that remains of the Abbey today is a long and narrow nave and chancel church with part of the south transept with pointed lancet windows. There is a large gap where the walls have been removed near the east end of the church, so that the church now forms two separate structures. There is a large east window, windows in the north and south walls and doorways in the north and south walls. At the western end of the north wall is a pointed doorway. The west gable, which has been mostly removed, has traces of a large window. A raised rectangular platform to the south of the church may be the remains of the cloister. The priory is surrounded by a large probably contemporary field system.

View of the eastern chancel end of Ballyboggan Priory, Co. Meath.

Google maps image of the location of Ballyboggan Priory, Co. Meath.

GPS coordinates 53.411041,-7.042601

The Medieval monastery and treasure of Derrynaflan, near Cashel, Co, Tipperary

View of the church at Derrynaflan with Killeens bog in the background.

Derrynaflan is a small island of mineral soil in Killeens bog Co. Tipperary. The island is about 4km south-east of the town of Horse and Jockey, which is just off the M8 Dublin to Cork motorway north of Cashel and is reached by a regional road from Horse and Jockey that leads across Killeens bog to the southern part of the island. Access to the site is over a gate and through a field.

The monastery of Derrynaflan was founded by St. Rhuadhan of Lorrha in the sixth century. Derrynaflan was an important monastery in the eighth and ninth centuries and came under the patronage of the King-Bishops of Cashel. After the death in 847 of Feidlimid mac Crimthainn the King-Bishop of Cashel, the monastery went into decline. Nothing of the early monastery remains except the faint outlines of the monastic enclosure. The upstanding church on the site is a later Medieval building which now consists of the east, north and south walls of the chancel with the foundations of the nave visible beneath the sod. Five thirteenth century windows survive in the walls.

The site is best known for the treasure discovered there in 1980, one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of modern times. The treasure hoard consists of a highly decorated ninth century silver chalice, a large eighth century paten and stand, an eighth century liturgical strainer, and an eighth to ninth century bronze basin. The objects in the hoard date to different periods and did not originally constitute a single communion set. The treasure appears to have been buried in the ninth or tenth century to conceal it, probably from Viking raiders. The hoard is on display in the National Museum in Kildare St. Dublin.

The Derrynaflan hoard, now in the National Museum in Dublin.

The discovery of the hoard lead to years of legal action between the finders and the Irish State that went all the way to the Supreme Court. In the course of which the law of Treasure Trove which had operated in Ireland until that time was found to be incompatible with Irish law. This resulted in the 1994 National Monuments Act that vested in the Irish State the ownership of all archaeological objects found in the territory of the State.

A stone slab found on the site and now in the National Museum is inscribed “or doan main dubscull” a prayer for the soul of Dubscuile. The island has other remains including a ring-barrow with cremation burials and a Medieval cemetery that were investigated in the 1980s but to date nothing on the excavation of these sites has been published.

Google maps image of the location of Derrynaflan, Co. Tipperary.

GPS coordinates 52.596062,-7.736864

The Medieval Church and Tower House at Ardcrony, near Nenagh, Co. Tipperary

View of the Tower House at Ardcrony, Co. Tipperary.

Situated on the N52 Nenagh to Borrisokane road about midway between the two towns is the town of Ardcrony with its Church and Tower House. The site can be found just a few hundred metres down the minor road that leads east to Coolderry at the Catholic church in the centre of the town.

Ardcrony is the site of an early Medieval religious site that was patronised by the local O'hOgain (O’Hogan) sept. The O'hOgains were descended from Cosgrach second son of Lorcan King of Thomond who died in 942 AD, and were chiefs of the territory Crioch Cian and had their seat at Ardcrony. At some point in the Medieval period Ardcrony became a manor belonging to the Bishop of Killaloe and the O'hOgain family continued as the hereditary erenachs, or chiefs, of the manor. The erenachs enjoyed semi-clerical status and four members of the family became Bishops of Killaloe, Mathgamin O'hOgain (1268-1281), Mauricius O'hOgain (1282-1298), Tomas O'hOgain (1343-1354) and Richard O’Hogan 1525-38. In 1598 the death of Ogan O’Hogan was recorded in the Annals of the Four Masters:

“Ogan, the son of John, son of Melaghlin O'h-Ogain of Ard-Croine, died in the spring of this year.”

View of the Church and ogee-headed window at Ardcrony, Co. Tipperary.

The churchyard at Ardcrony is unusual as it contains both a Medieval church and a Tower House. The church was originally a single cell, there is a single window in the south wall which probably dates to the twelfth century. It was rebuilt in the sixteenth century and divided into a nave and chancel church with the addition of a chancel arch and an ogee-headed window. The Tower House, which was the home of the O’hOgains, is four storeys high and is connected to the church by a bawn wall. The west wall has collapsed which allows a view of the interior floors of the tower including the spiral staircase and internal vault on the ground floor which was constructed to make the upper floors fireproof. Most of the windows have been removed leaving gaps but some original stonework can be seen in the south and east walls. Above the third floor is a bartizan, a type of projecting turret, supported on corbels one of which has a human head.

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GPS coordinates 52.934569,-8.155289

The Medieval church at Aghowle, Co. Wicklow near Shillelagh, Co. Wicklow

View of the east gable of the Medieval church at Aghowle, Co. Wicklow.

Aghowle church is approximately 2km south of the R725 Tullow to Shillelagh road on a signposted minor regional road to Aghowle Lower and then half a kilometre down a narrow farm track that is also sign-posted, although the sign has now fallen to the base of the pole. The church is situated in a sub-rectangular enclosure with a raised interior surrounded by a greveyard and is overlooked by Boley Mountain directly to the east.

Dunamase Castle, near Portlaoise, Co. Loais

Dunamse Castle appeared to be invulnerabe to any attacker who lacked a large army and adequate siege engines, yet by the mid fourteenth century the castle had been abandoned.

The Late Bronze Age Hillfort at Rathgall, Co. Wicklow, near Tullow, Co. Carlow

Google Earth image of the Late Bronze Age Hillfort at Rathgall, Co. Wicklow.

On the R725 road between Tullow Co. Carlow and Shillelagh, Co. Wicklow and about 5km east of Tullow is the Late Bronze Age hillfort of Rathgall. From the main road a minor road leads to the site either from Knocklow coming from Tullow and then 2km to the site or at Killinure coming from Shillelagh and then 1.5km to the site. The site is a sign-posted National Monument and a roadway leads off the road to a narrow parking area. Although the site is a Hillfort it is actually quite close to the road and easily accessible across a wooden stile or through the gate. The site has been undergoing conservation by the Office of Public Works since 2009. The interior and walls are being cleared of vegetation and there is some reconstruction work.

Rathgall has been only partly excavated but is one of the richest sites known from the Late Bronze Age in terms of artefacts. The Hillfort consists of four ramparts that enclose an area of over 7 hectares. The inner enclosure is a stone wall that encloses an area 45m in diameter. This stone enclosure is very similar to an early Medieval cashel and may date later than the rest of the fort. This is enclosed by two closely spaced stone ramparts which can now be seen cleared of vegetation and there is fourth rampart at a greater distance enclosing an area of 310m. This can be seen next to the access road. These ramparts have not been dated.

Rathgall, Co. Wicklow, view of the central enclosure looking toward the entrance.

Excavations in the 1970s carried out by the late Barry Raftery uncovered the largest Late Bronze Age house known from Ireland which was 15m in diameter with an eastern entrance that was enclosed by a ditch 35m in diameter. There were also a number of hearths and postholes within the enclosure. Large numbers of finds were made in and around the house including coarse pottery, bronze objects, and stone and glass beads. What appears to have been a workshop with a number of postholes was situated outside the ditch to the east of the house. Finds of clay moulds for making bronze swords and spearheads and tools were found as well as jet and lignite bracelets, glass beads, amber, gold and stone objects. This house appears to have come into use after 900 BC and was the home of a significant family, probably the chief famliy of the area.

South of the workshop a ditch enclosed an area 19m in diameter that contained a central pit with a cremated adult enclosed by a U-shaped arrangement of 150 stakeholes. A cremated child was found in another pit and a coarse pot contained a cremated adult and child. A third pit contained a hoard of bronze objects, a chisel, spearhead and sword. On the southern slope of the hill outside the Hillfort a D-shaped hut and a larger circular structure associated with coarse pottery were uncovered and there were pits with pottery, saddle querns and moulds nearby. Rathgall is situated in the Medieval cantred of Ofelmeth, that included most of the baronies of Rathvilly, Co. Carlow and northern Shillelagh, Co. Wicklow, and probably functioned as the Chiefly centre of this area in the Late Bronze Age.

Rathgall, Co. Wicklow excavation plan of the Late Bronze Age house and enclosure.

There is a second hillfort situated directly across the road 300m to the north in Knockeen townland which consists of an earth and stone bank enclosing an area 300m in diameter with a cairn in the centre. This site has not been investigated.

Further reading
Waddell, J. 1998. The Prehistoric Archaeology of Ireland, 270-3.

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GPS coordinates 52.803799,-6.667671

The Neolithic Portal Tomb at Brownshill, near Carlow town, Co. Carlow

View of the front of the Brownshill, Co. Carlow Portal Tomb showing the entrance stones.

The Portal Tomb at Brownshill, Co. Carlow is famous because of its very large granite capstone which has been estimated to weight about 150 tons and is probably the largest in Ireland. The erection of the capstone was a trumph of stone age engineering. The fact that it is still in position after more than 5,000 years is a tribute to its builders.

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