Near the monastery of Clonmacnoise are the ruins of the “Nuns’ Church” completed by Dervorgilla in 1167. Dervorgilla was the daughter of Murchad Maelseaclainn (Ua Máelsechnaill), king of Meath (Mide), which was the fifth and richest province of Ireland, stretching from the sea at Drogheda to the Shannon and including the modern counties of Meath and Westmeath together with parts of Kildare, Offaly and Laois. She was the wife of Tiernan O’Rourke (Ua Ruairc), prince of Breffni (Bréifne). One day in 1152 Tiernan O’Rourke returned from a pilgrimage to the holy island of St Patrick on Lough Derg and realised that Dervorgilla was gone. He learned from the servants that a small group of horsemen had taken Dervorgilla, her cattle and her furniture. From their description, he realised that the leader of the group was his enemy, the King of Leinster Diarmait McMurrough. Tiernan O’Rourke sought the help of the High King, Turlough O’Connor (Ua Conchobhair). O’Rourke explained that McMurrough had abducted his wife and taken her to his stronghold at Ferns. Turlough O’Connor and Tiernan O’Rourke raised an army, invaded Leinster and recovered Dervorgilla. McMurrough was banished and fled to Bristol. He would later return with the Anglo Normans to recover his kingdom.
It has never been clear whether Dervorgilla was really abducted (it seems unlikely that a kidnapping would include her cattle and furniture) or whether she willingly ran away with a person who was believed to have been her lover for many years. What is certain is that the apparent abduction of Dervorgilla triggered a series of events that had a significant impact on Irish history. The most important of these was the Anglo Norman invasion of Ireland.
Dervorgilla died at Mellifont on 25 January 1193. She was 85 years old and had outlived all the participants in the events of 1152 by many years.
The medieval monastery of Clonmacnoise (Cluain Mhic Nóis in Irish, meaning “Meadow of the Sons of Nós”) was founded by St Ciaran between 545 and 548 by the river Shannon and at the crossroads of several medieval routes linking all parts of Ireland. The monastery thrived between the 7th and the 12th centuries. However, it was plundered by the Vikings, the native Irish and Anglo-Normans over the centuries. It finally fell to English in 1552. The site includes the ruins of a cathedral, seven churches dating from the 10th to the 13th centuries, two round towers, three high crosses and what is believed to be the largest collection of Early Christian grave-slabs in Western Europe. The monastery is the burial place of many kings of Tara and Connacht.
There are also the ruins of a Norman castle beside the monastery, however, these are not open to the public. Nevertheless, you can have a good look at them from the jetty on the river Shannon.
The abandoned medieval town of Rindoon is located on the peninsula of St. John’s Point on the western shore of Lough Ree in Co. Roscommon. The remains of the town, including a castle, church, hospital, town walls and mill, are unique in Ireland. The town was built in the first half of the 13th century by Anglo-Normans. However, the name of the place Rindoon (Rinn Dúin), “the fort of the promontory” would indicate a pre-Norman occupation.
Rindoon was first occupied by the Anglo-Normans around 1227 when Toirdelbach
Ó Conchobhair and Geoffrey Marisco erected a castle on the peninsula. Its convenient location on the river Shannon provided Rindoon with opportunity of being a trading centre between the Norman controlled towns and the native Irish. It is believed that hides and dairy products were exported from Rindoon, whereas cloth, corn and wine were imported through the town.
In the late 13th and early 14th centuries the town was often attacked by the native Irish. In 1343 the town finally fell.
Contrary to similar Anglo-Norman settlements Rindoon has remained abandoned and largely untouched since the 14th century (except for a period of a few years during the Elizabethan period when the castle was garrisoned) and that makes the place especially interesting and special.
During my recent one day tour around Co Westmeath I managed to visit Kilbeggan Distillery. I’d previously visited the Jameson Distillery in Dublin and found it nice but not too exciting. I didn’t know what to expect this time but the weather wasn’t great and it was a bonus to do something inside. Also, Kilbeggan is the only whiskey that I like (or to be precise the only whiskey I can drink without having my mouth twisted out), so I thought I should go there.
The tour turned out to be much better than the one at the Jameson Distillery for two reasons. First, Kilbeggan is still a working distillery (although it distils whiskey for only a few months in every year), whereas the Jameson Distillery in Dublin ceased production many years ago and it’s purely a museum now. Secondly, Kilbeggan distillery is much smaller and therefore the tour was a much more interesting experience.
Interesting facts about Irish whiskey:
– Irish whiskey has to mature in wooden barrels that have been used before, they cannot be brand new barrels – this is done to give whiskey a proper flavour;
– it has to mature for at least 3 years and 1 day – yes, 1 day can be very important;
– it can be maximum 94.8% alcohol by volume – otherwise, it’s a spirit.
Belvedere House is a hunting lodge beautifully located beside Lough Ennell, 5km south of Mullingar, Co Westmeath. It was built for Robert Rochfort, Lord Belfield in 1740 from a design by Richard Cassels. The house was supposed to be a holiday retreat or villa, however, due to unexpected events that preceded its construction, it actually became a country house. In 1736 Robert Rochfort married Mary Molesworth. The couple were thought to be a great match and they had four children – three sons and a daughter. However, in 1743 Robert was informed of an alleged affair between Mary and his younger brother Arthur. At that point he moved from the family home at Gaulstown to the newly completed house of Belvedere, leaving his wife confined under house arrest at Gaulstown. He also pursued his brother Arthur forcing him to flee the country. George, the younger brother of Robert who made the initial allegation of the affair, later built much larger Tudenham mansion close to Belvedere House. This resulted in Robert building the Jealous Wall in 1760, so that he would not have to look at Tudenham mansion.
Richard Cassels, the architect who designed Belvedere House, was one of the greatest architects working in Ireland in the 18th century. The other famous buildings he designed are, among others, Russborough House in Co Wicklow, Powerscourt House in Co Wicklow, Westport House in Co Mayo, the Rotunda Hospital and Leinster House in Dublin.
The last destination of our trip was Inis Mór – the largest of Aran Islands in Galway Bay. The area of 31 km2 makes it the largest island off the Irish coast with no bridge or causeway to the mainland.
These images were taken in the south part of the island. Although the north part of the island appears to be more popular among the tourists, I prefer the quieter south part.
On the way from Achill Island to Connemara we made a short stop in Murrisk. Although we didn’t climb Croagh Patrick at that time, it was nice to wander around the Murrisk Abbey and take a few pictures.
Croagh Patrick (764 m) is the third highest mountain in County Mayo (after Mweelrea and Nephin). It is 8 kilometres from Westport, above the villages of Murrisk and Lecanvey. It forms the southern part of a U-shaped valley created by a gacier flowing into Clew Bay in the last Ice Age.
Croagh Patrick (its name come from Irish Cruach Phádraig, meaning “(Saint) Patrick’s Stack”) is an important site of pilgrimage and it is climbed by pilgrims on Reek Sunday (the last Sunday in July) every year.
Achill Island in County Mayo is the largest island off the coast of Ireland. Its area is 148 km2 and it is attached to the mainland by Michael Davitt bridge between the villages of Achill Sound and Polranny.
Slievemore (672m) is the highest mountain in Achill. Four Megalithic Tombs (built between 4000 and 3000 B.C.) are located on the southern slope of Slievemore. They were used for collective burials.
At the base of Slievemore lies the Deserted Village consisting of approximately 80 ruined houses. The houses were built of unmortared stone. That means that no cement or mortar was used to hold the stones together. Each house consisted of just one room and this room was used as a kitchen, living room, bedroom and even a stable. People lived in the village for many years, however, when in 1845 the Great Famine struck in Achill, as it did in the rest of Ireland, most of the families moved to the nearby village of Dooagh while some others emigrated.
One of my friends claims that County Westmeath is the most boring county in Ireland – no hills to hike and no historical places to visit. Well, it’s true that the county is flat as a pancake but there are places in Westmeath that may be worth a short visit.
Delvin Castle (or Nugent Castle) was built around 1181 by Hugh de Lacy, Lord of Meath for his brother-in-law, Gilbert de Nugent. Originally the castle consisted of a rectangular block containing the main residential area, with cylindrical towers to protect its corners. This design may have been copied from some castles in western France, an area under Norman control.
A Norman church, St. Mary’s church, was built beside the castle to facilitate the worship of the castle’s inhabitants around the 13th century.
Gormanston Castle is situated near the mouth of the River Delvin, close to the border of County Meath and County Dublin, about 15km south of Drogheda and about 30 km north of Dublin. And, well… about 4km from my doorstep but it took me over 2 years to finally make my way there.
Gormanston Castle was the seat of the Preston family (the Viscount Gormanston) from the 14th century until it was sold to the Franciscan Order of Friars in the late 1940s. The Franciscans established a boarding school for boys, known as Gormanston College, on the grounds in 1950s.
The castle in the photograph was built on the site of an earlier castle around 1786.
Bielsko-Biała is a city in Southern Poland at the foot of the Beskids, upon the Biała river separating Silesia from Lesser Poland. It is said that for many people it is just a city they go through when travelling to Slovakia, Hungary and Czech Republic or Austria, whereas for others (especially for people from Upper Silesia) it’s a place they pass on their way to the Beskids. And it’s how I remember it – as a place we always drove through when we were going to ski in the Beskids. That’s probably why I was in Bielsko-Biała many times, but it was only last summer when I actually had a chance to properly visit it. Well… I believe I’ve actually seen only a little part of what is worth to see in the city and around it. But I’m sure I’ll definitely go there again.
Ross Erilly was founded in 1351 and enlarged in 1498 becoming the one of the largest Franciscan monasteries in Ireland. Although the monks were expelled several times from the cloister, for example by Cromwell’s soldiers in 1656, they kept returning. The friary was finally abandoned in 1753 and the buildings fell into ruin. Nevertheless, it remains one of the best preserved Franciscan foundations in Ireland.
Besides the beautiful abbey that I mentioned in my previous post, Cong is also known for its dry canal. The construction of the Cong Canal commenced in 1848. The canal was supposed to join Lough Corrib to Lough Mask (and Lough Carra, which is already linked to Lough Mask) to to allow steamer traffic to come from Galway. However, due to the porous nature of the limestone the project turned out to be an engineering disaster and was finally dropped in 1854. The bed of the Canal proved to be too porous to retain water. Nevertheless, the project provided work for local people at the time of the Great Famine in Ireland.
Cong is also where Rory O’Connor the last High King of Ireland died and was reportedly briefly buried in the abbey before being exhumed and re-interred at Clonmacnoise.
Cong was also the filming location for John Ford’s 1952 Oscar-winning film “The Quiet Man” featuring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara and its connection with the film makes it a tourist attraction.