Heritage sites
The monastic site, round tower and plantation castle at Timahoe, Co. Laois

View of the Romanesque style round tower at Timahoe, Co. Laois.

Located along the R426 Portlaoise to Carlow road and about 10.5km from Portlaoise is the site of Timahoe Abbey. The abbey is situated on the western side of the town just beyond the little Timahoe River which is crossed by a footbridge.

The abbey was established by St. Mo Chua in the seventh century in the territory of the Loigis who gave their name to the modern county of Laois. The town of Timahoe now bears St. Mo Chua’s name. All of the buildings of the original abbey have now been removed except for the exceptionally well-preserved round bell tower. The tower stands 29m high and still has its conical roof intact. The tower has the most elaborate Romanesque style decorated doorway of any round tower in Ireland. The doorway has four orders of carving of human heads, interlacing and decorative chevrons and other patterns. It is almost 5m above ground level and would have been reached by a wooden ladder or stair. The main sculptor at Timahoe also appears to have worked on the churches at Killeshin and Baltinglass. There is no access to the doorway or the interior of the tower. There is also a Romanesque style window on the third floor. Romanesque was an architectural style of the twelfth century and the tower most likely dates to that period. The abbey had a turbulent history. According to the Annals of the Four Masters Cuciche Ua Dunlaing, Lord of Laois and his wife and son were killed at Timahoe in 1041 and in 1069 Gillamaire, son of the chief of Crimhthannan sept, was killed by Macraith Ua Mordha in the doorway of the church after swearing an oath. The abbey was then seriously burnt in 1142.

A drawing of the doorway of Timahoe round tower after Crawford 1924.

East of the tower and close to the entrance footbridge are the remains of a fifteenth century church with a blocked choir arch. This is the remains of a later Franciscan Friary, established by the O’Mores in the fifteenth century. This establishment was dissolved in the 1540s. In the mid-sixteenth century during the plantation of Laois the manor of Timahoe was granted to the Loftus Family and in the seventeenth century to the Cosby family and the church was converted to a plantation castle with a tower and bawn. The castle is now only a shell with much of the north and south walls gone. In 1641, during the Irish rebellion, Timahoe castle was captured by the Irish irregulars and garrisoned.

View of the remains of the later Franciscan church and plantation castle at Timahoe, Co. Laois.

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GPS coordinates 52.960221,-7.202568

Further reading
Crawford, H.S. 1924. The Round Tower and Castle of Timahoe. Journal of the Riyal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland 14, 31-45.

The Medieval Augustinian Priory of Clontuskert, Ballinasloe, Co. Galway.

View of the cloister and church of the Medieval Priory of Clontuskert, Co. Galway.

On the R355 road between Ballinasloe and Portumna and 5km from Ballinasloe is Clontuskert Priory. The Site is a National Monument and there is a parking area sign posted on the north side of the road and the Priory is a 350m walk along a straight access path.

Today the Priory is a brooding site situated in isolation near the Cloonascragh River. The original Abbey at Clontuskert was founded by St. Baedan at the end of the eighth century, but there are no surviving remains from that period. The Abbey was situated within the territory of the O’Kelly sept and the hereditary Comharb or head of the Abbey had the privilege of inaugurating the O’Kelly. The standing remains are of the Augustinian Priory of St. Mary, founded in the twelfth century by Turlough O’Conor King of Connacht, in a graveyard surrounded by a stone wall. The original Augustinian Priory was burnt about 1413 and the standing remains are mostly of the fifteenth century reconstruction. The Priory now consists of a nave and chancel church with the remains of the cloister and domestic buildings on the southern side. The Priory was partly excavated in the 1970s and most of the stone traceried east window was recovered which allowed its restoration along with the cloister by the Office of Public Works.

The fifteenth century doorway of Clontuskert Priory, Co. Galway with the pointed arches of the rood gallery visible in the interior

The outstanding surviving feature of the Priory is the west doorway which has an inscription that reads:

Mathev Dei gra eps Clonfertens et Patre oneacdavayn canonie esti domine fi fecert Ano do mcccclxxi

Mathew by the Grace of God, Bishop of Clonfert, and Patrick O’Naughton, canon of this house, caused me to be made in 1471.

The doorway is decorated with vine leaves, and angels and the figures of St. Michael the Archangel, St. John the Baptist, St. Catherine and a Bishop are represented. On the sides are carvings of a pelican, mermaid, deer and a dog. Within the interior of the church the nave and chancel are separated by an arcaded three bay rood gallery with pointed arches that dates from the same period as the doorway. The interior also has a number of interesting carvings and some preserved tomb stones. The Priory was surrendered to King Henry VIII in 1551 and was regranted to the Prior Donat O’Kellie and the monks appear to have remained in the Priory until the end of the seventeenth century.

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GPS coordinates 53.279174,-8.2164

Further reading
Egan, P.K. 1946. The Augustinian Priory of St. Mary Clontuskert O Many. Journal of the Galway Archaeological and Historical Society 22, 1-14.

The Prehistoric Longstone at Punchestown, Naas, Co. Kildare
The famous Punchestown Longstone stands in a field to the west of a Woolpack Road to the south-west of Naas that runs from Rathcoole to Punchestown and six hundered metres north of the main entrance to Punchestown racecourse.

View of the Punchestown Longstone, Co. Kildare silhouetted against a steel-grey sky.

The site is sign-posted but there is limited parking on the grass verge. The Punchestown Longstone is a National Monument in the ownership of the State, however, there isn’t currently (2011) any direct access across the overgrown hedge and fence with electric wire to the monument. But the monument can be viewed from the roadside by squeezing through a narrow gap between the hedge and a hoarding which allows access to the field fenceline.

The Rath Turtle Ringwork near Blessington, Co. Wicklow
On a high ridge in Glen Ding Wood overlooking the town of Blessington and the road to Naas is a large Medieval Ringwork castle known as Rath Turtle Moat.

Aerial view of Rath Turtle Moat, Co. Wicklow. Originally published in The Archaeological Inventory of County Wicklow. Government of Ireland 1997.

The site is accessed from a small parking area on the R410 Blessington to Naas Road on the northern side of the ridge. From here a paved forest track leads around to the southern end of the ridge. Follow this path for 400m and Rath Turtle Moat is a steep climb to a clearing in the forestry on the top of the ridge. The ascent is steep and the ground slippery so climbing to the top is only recommended for hardy visitors with the correct footwear. The site is becoming overgrown with ferns and thorn bushes which makes gaining access to the interior a little difficult.

The Ringwork is oval 49 x 36m in internal diameter and consists of a raised central area enclosed by a high earthen bank an external fosse or ditch and an external bank. The site entrance is on the southern side and has a causeway across the ditch. The site has a spectacular view of Blessington and the Blessington Lake.

Ringwork castles were built by the Anglo-Normans in the earlier phases of their conquest of Ireland. They usually had a wooden gate tower, with stone-lined causewayed entrance and stone-lined banks which were topped by a wooden palisade.

It’s not certain who built Rath Turtle Moat. The name Rath Turtle preserves the name of the Mac Torcaill dynasty of twelfth century Dublin. Ascall Mac Torcaill was the last Viking King of Dublin deposed by the Anglo-Normans in 1171. The name suggests that the site may have been an eleventh or twelfth century outpost of the Dublin Vikings that was modified for use by the Anglo-Normans.

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GPS coordinates of Rath Turtle Moat 53.179395,-6.557808

The Pipers Stones at Athgreany, Hollywood, Co. Wicklow

On a low hillock overlooking the N81 Blessington to Tullow and 2km south of Hollywood is a Bronze Age Stone Circle called "The Pipers Stones".

View of "The Pipers Stones", Prehistoric Stone Circle at Athgreany, Co. Wicklow. looking east.

The site, which is a National Monument, is sign-posted and parking is on the hard-shoulder of the road. Access is across a wooden style over barbed-wire or over a locked gate, so only the sure-footed should visit the site with appropriate footwear. Over the style the Stone Circle is 200m up to the top of the low hill. Keep right after the Monuments Service information display and ascend the hill.

The name "The Pipers Stones" derives from the folklore tradition that people caught dancing on a Sunday were turned to stone. The outlying stone at north-east represented the piper. At some time in the past someone tried, unsuccessfully, to remove the circle and in the process displaced most of the stones.

The circle is sited on the end of a low ridge which is enclosed by high ground all around at a distance, giving the circle the feeling of being enclosed. The monument survives as a circle of 16 granite boulders, of which only five are still in their original positions, that defines an area 23m in diameter. There may originally have been 29 stones. The entrance to the circle is probably marked by a pair of stones at the north-east which face an outlying boulder 40m to the north-east called the Piper. The site has not been archaeologically investigated so its construction date is unknown but similar examples excavated elsewhere in Ireland have tended to date to the later part of the Bronze Age.

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GPS coordinates 53.072165,-6.612053

Further reading

Eoin Grogan and Annabah Kilfeather 1997. Archaeological Inventory of County Wicklow. Dublin, 30-31.

The Church of St. Mary at Gowran, Co. Kilkenny
Travelling through east Kilkenny on the R702 Thomastown to Paulstown road you pass through the town of Gowran. Here situated prominently in the northern side of the town just east of the road is the late thirteenth century church of St. Mary the Virgin.

View of the thirteenth century church of St. Mary at Gowran, Co. Kilkenny.

The church was served by a college of clerics, rather than monks, who lived in a house beside the church. The church consists of a nave with an aisle and a long chancel. The tower was added in the fourteenth or fifteenth centuries along with the battlements. In the seventeenth century a mortuary chapel was built on the south side of the western aisle by the Keally family. In the nineteenth century the chancel with the tower was converted into the parish church of Gowran.

There are a number of carved effigies and tombstones form the church preserved in the tower. Two fourteenth century effigies of a man and wife probably represent James Butler, the first Earl of Ormond who was buried in Gowran church in 1382 and Lady Eleanor de Bohun. There is also the thirteenth century effigy of a priest and a sixteenth century altar tomb of the Butlers as well as a Cross-inscribed ogham stone and an effigy of Sabh MacMurrough-Kavanagh, daughter of Domhnall mac Gerald MacMurrough-Kavanagh, King of Leinster and wife of Sir James Butler of Paulstown.

The fourteenth century burial effigy of James Butler first Earl of Ormond

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GPS coordinates 52.629312,-7.065067

The Dominican Friary of Roscommon Town, Co. Roscommon

View of the south wall of the thirteenth century Dominican Friary at Roscommon.

Roscommon Friary is located in the southern part of Roscommon town, in the area known as Abbey Town. On the N63 Galway road, behind the Abbey Hotel, a pathway leads to the field in which the Friary is situated.

Roscommon Abbey was founded by St. Comman in the eigth century. That monastery survived as a house of Augustinian Canons into the fifteenth century but nothing of it survives today. The Dominican Friary was founded by Fedhlim O'Conchobhair, King of Connacht, in 1253 on a new site. The Annals of Loch Ce record in 1257 that “The monastery of Mary, in Ros-Comain, was consecrated by (Bishop) Tomaltach O'Conchobhair for the Friars Preachers.” The church consisted of a single long aisle with nave and choir, the northern transept was added in the fifteenth century. The church had a central tower which, along with the cloister, has been removed. The original lancet windows in the east and west walls were replaced with traceried windows in the fifteenth century. The Friary was dissolved at the end of the sixteenth century during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.

View of the thirteenth century tomb effigy of Fedhlim O'Conchobhair, King of Connacht.

On his death in 1265 Fedhlim O'Conchobhair was interred in the abbey and his tomb was covered by an effigial slab which can still be seen in a niche in the north-east corner of the church. The effigy was carved between 1290 and 1300 and is one of only two Irish royal effigies surviving from this period. The effigy is now supported by a later fifteenth century tomb carved with the figures of 8 soldiers in mail armour with swords and a gallowglass axe.

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GPS coordinates 53.62479,-8.191853

Further reading
Walter Fitz Gerald, 1990. The Effigy of King Felim O'Conor in Roscommon Abbey, and the Altar-Tomb It Rests on. The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland. Fifth Series, Vol. 10, No. 4, pp. 364-367

The Romanesque church at Killeshin, Co. Laois, near Carlow

The church at Killeshin has one of the finest decorated Romanesque doorways preserved in Ireland.
Baltinglass Abbey, Co. Wicklow

View of the south aisle of the Cistercian Abbey at Baltinglass, Co. Wicklow.

Travelling along the N81 road between Blessington, Co. Wicklow and Tullow, Co. Carlow the road passes part of the way through the valley of the River Slaney and through the town of Baltinglass with its bridge across the river. It was here in 1148 that Diarmait Mac Murchada, King of Leinster, founded a Cistercian Abbey with monks brought from the Abbey at Mellifont. The Abbey was completed by 1170, the year before Mac Murchada's death and the assumption of the Lordship of Leinster by the Anglo-Norman Richard de Clare, Earl of Pembroke. Mac Murchada also built the Romanesque church at Killeshin, Co. Laois. The Abbey is situated on the east side of the river and is at the end of a cul-de-sac reached via a left turn from Blessington Main St. At its dissolution in 1537 Baltinglass was one of the richest Abbeys in Ireland and had lands throughout the region.

The Abbey now consists of a nave and chancel church with two transepts. The oldest part, built in the 1150s, is the east end of the church which has a square presbytery and a pair of transepts from which small chapels project. The church nave was built in the 1160s. The east windows and tower were built in the nineteenth century. The south aisle of the church is joined to the choir by a twelfth century doorway. Part of the original cloister, to the south of the church, has been rebuilt. The church also has thirteenth and fifteenth century additions. The church is considered to be a good example of Irish Romanesque architecture. The church has carved human and animals figures and the church nave has alternating cylindrical and square piers and the bases are decorated with a range of Irish Romanesque designs.

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GPS coordinates 52.943673,-6.710243


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