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Hidden Ireland: Celtic crosses, follies and historic pubs

Website Curious Ireland examines the country’s building history.

IRELAND IS ONE of the richest places in the world, per square mile, for ancient monument and is among the most diverse in terms of architecture.

So much so that history enthusiast and amateur photographer Emmet McLaughlin’s attempts to run in the Dublin Mountain’s were curtailed by interesting sights (and sites).

“I kept finding national monuments,” he told TheJournal.ie. “I started taking photographs, then decided to make a calendar and that eventually developed into a website.”

The Inishowen native launched the Curious Ireland website in December 2011 but believes it is still in its “teething stage”.

Despite his protestations, the site already offers a fairly comprehensive tour of Ireland’s historical monuments, from ancient stones to modern-day structures.

Categorised  in chronological order, location and type, McLaughlin offers an easily-navigable look at Ireland’s architectural history. Each post comes with a 200 to 250 word explanation, photograph, map and directions.

The former sales, marketing and advertising man wants to expand the website further and offer users the opportunity to search their DNA past and heritage, as well as find their family crests and other interesting facts.

Ancient (4000 bc – 500 ad)

The Temple of Deen, Culdaff, county Donegal (2500bc – 1500bc)

This wedge tomb dates from between circa 2500bc – 1500bc and is probably the remains of the central chamber of a large monument. Prominently located on a hill overlooking Trabrega Bay and the Atlantic, it is popularly known as the Temple of Deen as Deen is a subdivision of the larger townland of Larahirrel. It was marked on the original Ordnance Maps as a Druid’s Altar as this site is linked to pagan ceremonies lead by the Druids. In the 19th century – due to the revival and interest in all things Celtic – many ancient monuments were re-visited. The United Irish League held meetings at the Temple of Deen on Sunday afternoons to demand land reform. The meetings were attended by tenant farmers in east Inishowen and prominent speakers from Dublin addressed them. Those who attended derived inspiration from pagan spiritual sites such as this court tomb.

Early Churches (400-1100 ad)

St Kevin’s Church, Glendalough (12th century)

This is described as a nave and chancel church. The roof is entirely made of stone and the round tower (which was added at a later date) acted as a belfry. It is also known as ‘St Kevin’s Kitchen’ as the round tower projects upwards like a chimney. St Kevin was of royal ancestry and came here around 550 ad from what is present-day Tallaght to find solitude and prayer.

Celtic Crosses (700 -1100 ad)

Cloncha Cross, Culdaff, county Donegal (circa 10th century)

At four metres tall, this national monument stands near one of the most important early-Christian sites in Inishowen. It’s carvings are a hybrid of the Christian Celt. It has geometric patterns on both sides along with depictions of the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes, as well as carvings of two men with folded arms which could be St Paul and Anthony in the desert.

Round Towers (900 – 1100 ad)

Clondalkin Round Tower, Clondalkin Village, Dublin (8th century)

This tower is built on the site of a monastery founded by St Mochua in the seventh century. It is one of only four remaining round towers in county Dublin. The other three can be found in Swords, Lusk and Rathmichael. This one stands at more than 90-foot tall and is thought to be an early round tower as the granite on the lintels is flat.

Norman (1170 – 1320 ad)

Trim Castle, county Meath (1176 ad)

Trim Castle is not only the earliest stone castle to be built in Ireland but it is also the largest Norman Castle in Europe. It was built in 1176 by Hugh de Lacy and his son Walter, taking more than 30 years to complete.

Monastic Houses (1100 – 1500 ad)

Jerpoint Abbey, Thomastown, county Kilkenny (1180)

The Cistercian Abbey was founded in 1180 on an earlier Benedictine monastery by the King of Osraige. It was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin. Jerpoint is notable for its imposing central tower and it’s magnificently sculpted cloister arcades which can be see in the image. The stone carvings, many of which are oddly humorous, depict knights, ladies, bishops, dragons and a man with a stomach ache.

Castles (1350 – 1850 ad)

Kileen Castle, Dunsany, county Meath (1820)

The history of Killeen Castle dates back over eight hundred years to 1181, when it was built by Hugh de Lacy as part of the strategic castle defence system for north Leinster. From 1403 until the 1950’s, the castle acted as the seat of the Plunkett family, Earls of Fingall, and their five and a half centuries of unbroken connection with Killeen Castle is exceptional by most standards.

Georgian (1720 – 1840 ad)

Newbridge House, Donabate, county Dublin

This house was built in 1736 for the Archbishop Charles Cobb. It was designed by George Semple (1700-1782) and the Scottish Architect James Gibbs (1682-1754). It remained in the Cobbe family until 1985 when it was sold to the Fingal County Council in a unique agreement which allowed them to remain there part-time. The house and grounds can now be explored with tours to see the beautiful period furniture, artwork, a 29-acre fully working farm and courtyard, which includes a working carpentry and forge.

Neoclassical (1730 – 1900 ad)

Castletown House, Celbridge, county Kildare (1722 -1729)

Castletown is Ireland’s largest and earliest Palladian-style house and is significant in terms of European architectural heritage. It was built between 1722 and 1729 for William Connolly, Speaker of the Irish House of Commons who became the wealthiest commoner in Ireland (he owned more than 100,000 acres of land).

Follies (1741 – 1850 ad)

Connolly’s Folly, Celbridge, county Kildare (1740)

This strange looking structure is ‘Conolly’s Folly’, built by Katherine Conolly, the philanthropic widow of Speaker William Conolly, to provide employment for hundreds of the poor of Celbridge when the famine of 1740-41 was at its worst. It is sometimes called ‘The Obelisk’ and can be seen from the main Castletown House some 2.5 miles away.

Churches (after 1600 ad)

St Aengus’s Church, Burt, county Donegal (1967)

Designed by local, award-winning architects Frank Corr and Liam McCormick, the church takes its pagan inspiration from the Grainan of Aileach ringfort which is located on the nearby hilltop.

Military Structures (after 1800)

Millmount Martello Tower, Drogheda, county Louth (1808)

Millmount Fort is the most dominant feature of Drogheda. A legend regarding its origin says that it was the burial place of Amhairghin, a mythical Celtic poet. It has also been suggested that it was a large passage grave similar to Newgrange.

The Victorian Era (1840 – 1910)

Scrabo Tower, Newtownards, county Down (1857)

Scrabo Tower is one of Northern Ireland’s most famous landmarks and is built on a site 540 feet above sea level and is 125 feet high. This was originally the site of a great megalithic cairn which would suggest that a powerful Gaelic clan once lived in this area.

Modern (1930 – Present)

The Samuel Beckett Bridge, Dublin City (2009)

This is Santiago Calatrava’s second bridge in Dublin as the Spanish architect also designed the James Joyce Bridge further upstream. It can rotate 90 degrees to allow ships to pass through.


Fairy Castle, Two Rock Mountain, county Dublin (2,500 bc)

This ‘cairn’ is a collapsed passage tomb and is often referred to as ‘Fairy Castle’. It sits on top Two Rock Mountain in South Dublin beside this Trig point.

The Curiosity Shop, Malin Head, county Donegal

Bar far, the country’s most northerly shop. It is covered wall-to-wall in every type of bric-a-brac you can imagine, including pictures or Arthur Guinness, unusual wine bottle openers, old posters, old coins, plates and other souvenirs. Owner Peter McAvenue told McLaughlin that RTÉpersonalities Mike Murphy, Gay Byrne and Mary Kennedy have all popped in and had a look around, as did Gerry Adams and Ian Paisley Junior (although not together!). Peter also acts as an unofficial tour guide for Inishowen Tourism and stocks all sorts of brochures for things to see and do across the Peninsula.


Shrove Lighthouse, Shrove, county Donegal (1837)

Shrove Lighthouse is located on a beautiful beach where Lough Foyle meets the wild Atlantic. This shipping lane was used extensively by oceanliners carrying immigrants to America and Australia.

Historic Pubs

Sean’s Bar, Athlone, county Westmeath (900 ad)

This bar dates from 900 ad and is not only the oldest bar in Ireland, but also in Europe and possibly the World. This was officially certified by The Guinness Book of World Records through archaeological evidence taken from the the wattle and daub walls.

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