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Dublin: 6 °C Sunday 8 December, 2019
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4 more off-the-beaten-track places you really should visit

There is no entry fee to any of these sites in Kilkenny, Mayo, Wicklow and Meath – so what are you waiting for?

HOPEFULLY THIS ENDLESS winter will begin to ease off as the long range weather forecast for next week seems to be promising cold but bright days. So why not go for a bracing stroll to one of Ireland’s wonderful heritage sites? I’m currently trying to visit as much of the country as I can and weather permitting, I’ll be visiting sites in Cork next week. If anyone has any suggestions of great heritage sites in your area please do leave a comment.

Here are a few more great sites to visit in Kilkenny, Mayo, Wicklow and Meath:

1. Knockroe Passage Tomb, Co. Kilkenny

Knockroe Passage tomb is located in a picturesque setting on the slopes above the Lingaun River and old slate quarries which were abandoned in the early 1900′s. This passage tomb dates to around 3000 BC and has many similarities to the far more famous examples such as Newgrange and Knowth in the Brú na Bóinne complex in Meath.

Originally Knockroe would have been a similar tomb to Newgrange, albeit on a much smaller scale. It is likely that it too would have had an earthen mound surrounded by large kerbstones. However unlike Newgrange, Knockroe has two burial chambers, located at the eastern and western sides of the feature. These tombs are exposed, and had long ago lost their earthen cover. Many of the stones lining the passageways of these tombs at Knockroe are highly decorated with megalithic art such as spirals, hollowed ‘cup marks’, and zig-zags. You can still find them in their original locations, and when you see them it is impossible not to wonder about the possible meaning of the decorations – was it purely decorative or did it have a deeper symbolism, and what messages may be in that symbolism? You can also still see the quartz which possibly would have formed a wall around the entrance to the passageways.

Also like Newgrange, Knockroe is aligned with the winter solstice. Every year around 21 December, people gather at Knockroe to witness the sun setting in perfect alignment with the length of western tomb.

Knockroe is one of a group of tombs located in this region, all of which are aligned with the large mound on the summit of Slievenamon in County Tipperary. Knockroe is one of those wonderful sites that you can’t help to keep thinking about long after your visit. Without being encumbered with its earthen mound, Knockroe is like the stony skeleton of a Neolithic passage tomb.

To get to Knockroe from Carrick on Suir, take the R697 going north, then take the left hand turn for the R698 and continue down this road until you come to a crossroads. Go left at this crossroads and continue straight on, through another smaller crossroads. After this, take the next left and drive carefully down this road. The site will be located down this lane. The lanes are narrow and you may have to park your car at the top of the lane. The site is fenced off and situated on relatively dry ground but boots or reasonably sturdy footwear is still advised

2. Murrisk Friary, Co. Mayo

Murrisk Friary is beautifully situated in the shadow of Croagh Patrick – the ‘Holy Mountain of Ireland’ – and on the southern shores of Clew Bay in Co. Mayo. The Friary is thought to have been founded in 1456 and was handed over to the Augustinian Friars. According to historical sources, a Sligo friar, Hugh O’ Malley built a monastery on land granted to him by his relatives, the powerful O’Malley family. The O’ Malleys were important land owners in this part of Mayo, and the famous Pirate Queen Gráinne Mhaol (Grace O’Malley) was one of their more illustrious descendants.

The main part of the visible remains today appear to date to the fifteenth century. You can see the remains of the church, with some domestic buildings to the north giving the site a distinctive ‘L’ shape. One of the notable features of the site is the east window, beautifully sculpted in the flamboyant Irish Gothic style.

The crenellations or battlements, crowning the building are thought to be of a later date. There are carved faces on the southern and eastern walls of the friary. It is unknown who these faces represent, but it was quite common in the medieval period to display depictions of wealthy patrons of the church on the walls of the building. The domestic buildings of the monastery would have been situated around the simple church at right angles to it. The remains of the sacristy and the chapter house are all that survives of these buildings today.

The chapter house was one of the most important structures in the Friary as it was the place where the monks met to discuss the day to day running of the abbey and where the Rules of the Order were read to the community of monks working, living and praying in the Friary. There are no above ground traces of other domestic buildings associated with medieval religious houses such as the refectory (kitchen) or the dormitories where the monks would have slept. Early medieval shrines like Shrine of St. Patrick’s Tooth and the Black Bell of St. Patrick may have been stored and venerated at the friary at Murrisk as it is a stopping point on the pilgrimage up the holy mountain.

The site at Murrisk is a very interesting example of a later medieval religious house. The site is made even more spectacular by its incredible setting at the foot of Croagh Patrick and on the shores of Clew Bay. It is well worth a visit if you are over in the west. To get to Murrisk, make your way west from Westport towards Lecanvey and Louisburgh. The site is located down a narrow lane to the right of the main road, on the opposite side of the car park for Croagh Patrick and close to the National Famine Monument.

3. The Pipers Stones – Athgreany Stone Circle, Co. Wicklow

Also known as The Pipers Stones, like the majority of stone circles in Ireland, this stone circle at Athgreany in Wicklow probably dates to the earlier part of the Bronze Age. The true purpose of these sites is unknown and there are a number of theories about their use. It is thought that they could have served as ceremonial centres during religious rites, or perhaps as calenders to mark the sun’s position to inform the people when to sow their crops. A number of stone circles also have burials associated with them, though it is unknown whether any burials are associated with this one at Athgreany. This circle has an internal diameter of approximately 15 metres. Unfortunately it appears that only five of the stones are still in their original positions as somebody in the past tried unsuccessfully to clear the field, the stones still in their original positions vary in height from around 1.3 metres to 2 metres.

Local folklore states the circle was formed when people caught dancing on a Sunday were turned to stone and now are forever frozen mid-dance. The large outlying stone represents the piper who played for the unfortunate dancers. This is a large glacial erratic located about 40 metres from the circle. Large grooves criss-cross the top of this stone and may represent basic megalithic art, probably suggesting that although this large stone is situated outside of the circle, it still formed an important part of the ceremonies of the site.

The site at Athgreany is very easy to find and access, it is located approximately 15km north of Baltinglass on the Dublin Road. It is well signposted, with a small area of hard shoulder to leave the car. Climb over the wooden stile and the stones are on a hilltop after around a 200 metre walk, an information panel at the bottom of the hill describes the site.

4. The Cathedral of St. Peter & Paul and The Priory and Hospital of St. John the Baptist at Newtown in Trim, Co. Meath.

For our final suggestion we have two sites for one as they are so close together. The Cathedral of St. Peter & Paul at Newtown in Trim was founded by the Norman Bishop, Simon de Rochfort in 1206 and was given to the Augustinians.

Although only parts of the nave and chancel survive today, it is easy to get the impression of just how massive this cathedral would have been. You can still see many of the fine decorative flourishes in the stonework, and it has lovely lancet windows. The piscina where the priest used to wash the holy vessels during the mass is also still well preserved.

The site is famous for the remarkable 16th century tomb of Sir Lucas Dillon and his wife, Lady Jayne Bathe. The two stone effigies on the tomb are separated by a sword of state. The tomb is known locally as The Tomb of the Jealous Man and Woman. It is believed that instead of signifying the sword of state, the sword actually represents Sir Lucas’ displeasure at his wife for having an affair, forever separating the two. It is believed that the tomb possesses a cure for warts and skin complaints. Rub your wart on a pin and leave the pin on top of the tomb, as the pin rusts the wart withers and falls off. I cannot speak personally for whether this works, but I did notice a large number of pins on the tomb!

Situated very close to the Cathedral are the remarkable ruins of The Priory and Hospital of St. John the Baptist (pictured). This site sits directly alongside the beautiful River Boyne and it is a superb site to explore. The Priory was founded in the early thirteenth century by Simon de Rochfort for the Order of the Crutched Friars (Fratres Cruciferi). As well as being a monastery and guesthouse for pilgrims, the site also served as a hospital. The Order of the Crutched friars were just one of a number of religious orders that were brought to Ireland by the Normans following their invasion. They also brought the Knights Templar, the Hospitalliers and Trinitarians, as well as strongly supporting the expansion of religious orders like the Augustinians, Benedictines and Cistercians who already had a foothold in Ireland prior to the Norman invasion.

The site was excavated by the archaeologist David Sweetman in 1984, when he discovered the remains of a fifteenth century rood-screen that separated the nave from the choir, and a doorway in the gable end of the nave. He also found the remains of a tower leading to a room over the sacristy and part of the original domestic range to the north-east of the choir. Today you can still find the nave and chancel and a striking three-light window in the eastern wall. The large rectangular three-storey tower is 15th century, and was likely to have been domestic quarters. The priory was dissolved during the Reformation in 1541, and was converted to being a private residence before eventually falling into ruin.

These sites are great to explore, if the weather is fine simply park at the Trim Castle carpark and follow the River Walk alongside the Boyne. The walk in itself takes about 15mins and gives you sensational views of Trim Castle. After you’ve absorbed all the history you can absorb a nice pint in the old pub located directly across the river from The Priory Hospital.

  • You can discover more great sites off the beaten track on Neil’s blog, Time Travel Ireland.
  • Neil Jackman 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 cost just €1.99 each and are available from abartaheritage.ie

All photographs © Neil Jackman/abartaheritage.ie

Read: 5 off-the-beaten track places in Ireland you really should visit >

Read: Here’s what posh Irish toilets looked like 700 years ago >



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