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hidden history

Heritage Ireland: Who is this man with the frightfully fancy tomb?

Archaeologist Neil Jackman brings us on a round tower with a view and a fantastically flamboyant neo-gothic mansion.

THIS WEEK, LET’S pay a trip to three more wonderful historic places to visit in Ireland; an ancient churchyard and round tower with a beautiful view in County Waterford, an atmospheric medieval church in County Cork, and a fantastically flamboyant neo-gothic mansion in County Carlow.

Ardmore Round Tower and Cathedral, Co Waterford

Ardmore has to be one of the most picturesque heritage sites in Ireland. The name Ardmore comes from Ard Mór meaning The Great Height, as the site is beautifully positioned overlooking the Irish Sea.

The site was originally said to have been founded by St Declan some time in the fifth century, though there is little that dates to that early period visible on site. The earliest structure is probably the small building called St Declan’s Oratory that may date to the eighth century. It is said that the building houses the grave of St Declan.

The round tower at Ardmore is one of the best preserved, but most unusual, examples in Ireland, as it has three distinct external rings that add to the dramatic tapering effect of the building. The rings make it look a little like an old-fashioned folding telescope.

The largest building on site is the remains of the cathedral, which dates to the mid–late twelfth century. It consists of a long nave and chancel, with a fine chancel arch and a number of typically Romanesque features like the rounded doorways and windows are visible. Inside the cathedral you can find two Ogham stones which provide more evidence of the early medieval period at Ardmore.

An inscription on one of the Ogham stones has been translated to read ‘the stone of Lugaid, grandson of Nia-Segmon’. You can also see a number of medieval graveslabs. One of the most unusual and striking features of the cathedral is the wonderful series of early medieval sculpture set within Romanesque arcading that you can see on the exterior face of the western gable end of the cathedral. These sculptures are visual depictions of some of the key stories from the Bible.

The cathedral was extensively modified in the seventeenth century, when large buttresses were added and the chancel was enlarged.

Ardmore truly is a lovely place to visit, with spectacular views over the sea. The site is extremely easy to find, as it is well signposted (and highly visible) from the town, which is located in Co Waterford, around 15km east of Youghal just off the N25.

St Mary’s Collegiate Church, Youghal, Co Cork

Youghal 1

Just a short drive from Ardmore you can enjoy the wonderful historic town of Youghal in Co Cork. There’s lots to see in the town itself, but the real highlight for me was St Mary’s Collegiate Church. The Church is one of Ireland’s best-preserved medieval parish churches. It is believed to have been founded in the thirteenth century, on the site of an earlier church that was destroyed by a storm in 1192.

The church is built in a cruciform-shape, and it was altered and added to a number of times throughout its history, thanks to patronage by some of Ireland’s most powerful and wealthy families.

One of the most prominent of these families were the Boyles. Richard Boyle was born in Canterbury, England, in 1566. He arrived in Ireland in June 1588 with just £27 in his pocket. Thanks to his intelligence and charm, he rose through the ranks of society to become one of the wealthiest men in Ireland. Boyle purchased all of Sir Walter Raleigh’s estates in Ireland, amounting to over 42,000 acres in Counties Cork, Waterford and Tipperary for the bargain price of £1,000 (roughly equating to about £300,000 today).

He was a progressive and forward-thinking man, and he set up a number of industries and mines, and invested in building roads and bridges to connect his newly developing towns. In 1620 he became the First Earl of Cork, and later became the Lord High Treasurer of Ireland. Richard Boyle’s son, Robert Boyle, was a highly respected scientist who became known as the father of modern chemistry.

The Boyles are commemorated in the church by a remarkably ostentatious 17th century burial monument. The monument depicts Richard Boyle reclining with his two wives (his first wife died young) praying at either end. Above him his mother-in-law reclines with a number of his children also depicted.

Directly across from the Boyle tomb is the remarkable medieval tomb effigy of Richard Benet and his wife Ellis Barry. The tomb depicts the couple lying side by side, with a number of rather eerie stone skulls at their heads. More fascinating tombs dating from the medieval period to the nineteenth century can be discovered throughout the church, and it is easy to spend hours in the church just reading the epitaphs; short biographies that try to convey the multitude of stories of those interred and commemorated in the church.

They range from the extravagant, like Richard Boyle’s seventeenth century tomb, to the poignantly simple like the memorial plaque of Henry Digby Wallis, a 29 year old who was killed in action during the First World War at St Julien in Belgium in 1914. It simply states, “He died as he lived, a very gallant gentleman.”

After visiting the wonderfully atmospheric church, do spend a little time around Youghal where you can find a wealth of medieval and historic buildings and features. The community, with the support of the Heritage Council, have created a really easy to follow and well interpreted trail that makes for a rewarding and fun day.

I must also highly recommend the great ice-cream parlour on the main street near the iconic clock-tower called Fantastic Flavours and its friendly and welcoming owner Miceál O Hurley. The pistachio cone really hit the spot after all the historical nerdery!

Duckett’s Grove, Co Carlow

Duckett’s Grove in County Carlow is an absolutely stunning example of Gothic-revival architecture.

The building dates back to the eighteenth century, and it was the home of the Duckett family. They owned over 12,000 acres of land in Co Carlow, and were one of the wealthiest and most pre-eminent families in the region.

They had the building constructed in this flamboyant style as an expression of their wealth and taste. The building was expanded and altered regularly throughout the eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The Ducketts were a popular family in the region, and enjoyed a long-standing reputation for generosity towards their estate workers.

The last Duckett to live in Duckett’s Grove was Mrs Maria Duckett, she abandoned the property in around 1916. The vast estates that surrounded the house were broken up by the Land Acts, and distributed to a number of farmers. The building changed hands a number of times, before it was destroyed in a fire in 1933. Today the site is a picturesque spot to visit and well worth a trip.

Some of the gardens have been restored, and you can enjoy a tour of the site. To find it if you’re travelling from Carlow, take the R726 Hacketstown Road for around 10km to Killerig Crossroads.

Turn left at this junction onto the R418 for 2.5 km, turn left again at the signed junction. For opening times and more information please click here.

  • In the next edition I’ll be suggesting three more great places to visit from around the island of Ireland. I’d love to hear your suggestions; if you have a favourite heritage site please leave a comment below.

You can discover more great heritage sites and places on Neil’s blog, Time Travel Ireland.

Neil has also produced an acclaimed series of audioguides to Ireland’s heritage sites, they are packed with original music and sound effects and a really fun and immersive way of exploring Ireland’s past. They are available from

If you’d like to receive daily updates about great heritage sites then please consider following us on FacebookTwitter and Google+.

All photographs © Neil Jackman /

Have you seen these giant tombs?>

Read more in our Hidden Ireland series>

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