This is VERY Local – even for me. This is my tribute to Covid and is specifically in honour of yesterday’s announcement from the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) that the 5km restrictions are continuing for at least another 6 weeks! 6 more weeks!! At Least!!
I’m luckier than most – I’ve the sea in front of me (ignoring the fact that I cannot therefore travel 5km in that direction!) and the foothills of the Dublin Mountains behind me. I can walk the beach or climb a bit of a trail, depending on the mood (rarely in the mood for a climb to be honest!). The following treasures are all well within my boundaries. You’ll recognise some from other posts and challenges but I’m pulling them together as a reminder that things could be worse – even though I see them over and over and over……and will be seeing them over and over and over…… 6 more weeks!
1. Rathmichael Cross
I think this cutie is my favourite, tucked away in bushes along a woodland trail. The 12th century cross is one of a series of crosses – known locally as the Fassaroe Crosses – all believed to be the work of the same stonemason. It’s thought that the crosses might have marked a route between churches in the locality or perhaps marked the site of another church, now long gone. Its an unusual cross in that the crucifixion is depicted on both front and back faces. Note the stones left as offerings by passersby . Its quite safe just tucked in here at the side of the lane – no one will dare move it – a series of misfortunes is said to have befallen a group of men sent to take the cross at the bidding of a local collector of antiquities!
2. Kiltuck Cross
This is another of the Fassaroe Crosses. It stands in the grounds of the local Catholic Church but was originally located in the ruins of an ancient church about 1km away. That church was mentioned in a Papal Bull of 1179 so that’s how the crosses have been dated from around that period. One side has a crucifixion scene while the other has a face – you can make out the eyes, nose and mouth. Luckily the plants are partly concealing the rather ugly plinth!
A Ráth was an earthen ringfort found throughout the less rocky parts of the country. They didn’t exist for military reasons but were used primarily as family dwellings or for housing livestock. They reckon there would have been up to 50,000 such structures on the island dating from the Bronze Age right up to around 1,000AD. Over 40,000 sites are still identified as Ráths. They came in all sizes, with an outer bank or ditch enclosing at least one dwelling and animal enclosures.
The grassy remains of the earthen banks are just about discernible in this local Ráth.
4. Lead Mines
Every Dubliner knows the Lead Mines Chimney. Occupying a beautiful scenic location, it offers amazing views of Dublin Bay and environs. The lead mines were built in 1807 after a vein of lead was found within the hill. Smelting works were constructed in the valley and the chimney was built on top of the hill to offset toxic fumes (unfortunately, many workers still died from lead poisoning, leading to the area being dubbed ‘Death Valley’ by locals).
Smelting was finally discontinued in 1913 but the chimney has survived. Standing about 26 metres tall, old photos show it about a third taller. The top section, along with the lower steps, was removed at some stage for safety
5. Puck’s Castle
Not far from the Lead Mines are the ruins of 16th century Puck’s Castle. It would have been a fortified homestead and there are many similar buildings from that era around the city. Puck is derived from the Irish ‘púca ‘meaning ghost or spirit. I don’t know how the castle got its name – some say it was built using sacred stones from a nearby ráth – but I can tell you that a fairy piper is often seen jumping from rock to rock while playing his pipes!
6. The Rathdown Slabs
Dating back to the 12th century, Old Rathmichael Church was in use until it fell to ruin in the 16th century.
Remember this headstone for later……
Look at this treasure – Grave slabs, known as the Rathdown Slabs, were original grave markers from the Viking era. Attached to the church walls, they are well worn by time and the elements but we can still make out the pattern or motif.
7. The Skull Hole
This is what we locals call The Skull Hole. Its actually the remains of a round tower dating back to at least the 9th century. Located beside Rathmichael Church, its charming name comes from the fact that it was used at one stage to store skulls and bones from nearby graves…
There are a few theories …. one is that the graveyard was being cleared to create extra space and some remains were ‘deposited’ in the hole rather than being re-interred.
Another theory suggests that bones became exposed over time: new coffins weighed more than old ones and so when a grave was opened, the old remains were dug up, the new coffin lowered and then the older coffin put back on top. Gradually, the old coffins disintegrated, exposing their contents to the elements. Those uncovered bones were put into the handiest receptacle available!
It is also said that the hole is actually the entrance to a tunnel going down to the coast. This may be true as there is evidence of an underground passage close to the tower. This would be a Souterrain – a passage built in the Early Christian period as an escape route from invading Vikings.
A piper (not the one up at Puck’s Castle!) was once seen entering the tunnel playing his pipes – but was never seen again!
8. Ballybrack Dolmen
Look at this beauty – just a few minutes away and clearly visible from the main road. A Dolmen is a type of megalithic tomb. with upright stones supporting a large flat capstone or ‘table’. This wonderful example has stood here for about 2500 years!
Although it appears to be in good condition, some of the side stones and a back stone are missing. The capstone measures over 2 metres in length and about 2 metres wide – imagine the weight!
The underside of the capstone is completely flat, looking almost polished.
Surrounded by roads and housing, its brilliant that the Dolmen has survived – hats off to the planners for working around it instead of levelling it. When the nearby houses were being built, a small scale excavation was carried out but no artifacts were uncovered.
9. Old Killiney Church
This old church and graveyard nestles among some very fine houses on the side of Killiney Hill. There has been a religious presence here since the 6th century. Léinín, a local chieftain, and his seven daughters converted to Christianity, and together they went on to found a monastic community on this spot. The oldest part of the church dates from the 11th century with an addition in the 16th century. The earliest gravestone found here dates from 1791.
Killiney was anglicised from Cill Iníon Léinín which translates as Church of the daughters of Léinín ( Cill = church / iníon = daughters / Léinín = the chieftain’s name)
10. Martello Tower
There are many such towers to be seen along stretches of our coastline. There were 26 constructed in Dublin Bay alone. They were built in 1804/05 by the British to warn of any incoming French invasion. They were always built within sight of each other. This particular one – imaginatively named ‘Martello No. 7‘ – is a bit different from the rest because it was actually built about a half kilometre from the sea. But, located up on a hill, it would still have served as a useful lookout post.
While many towers have disappeared due to development, this one has been beautifully restored – it even has a working cannon mounted on the roof! There is also a coach house, an artillery store, a tool shed, a gunner’s cottage and a gunpowder store. The tower is now privately owned but is sometimes open to the public (I’ve yet to get inside).
Remember the headstone back in Rathmichael Church?
So there you have it – from Neolithic tombs through to early Christian symbols and signs of Viking settlement, on to medieval strongholds and British occupation – and not forgetting 19th century industry – Ireland’s history is truly encapsulated in my little corner of the world!
Stay Safe y’all