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Other Ancient Structures
Irish Castles Ardmore, Co. Waterford

Ardmore is situated 100 miles east of Cork. Many Irishmen make a pilgrimage to this little town once a year, on July 24, to celebrate St Declan at the place where he worked and presumably was buried. The legend says he was one of four bishops preaching the Gospels in Ireland in the 5th century, before St Patrick began his mission.

On a hill stands the ruins of a monastery and a cathedral from the 12th century. The cathedral's west gable is decorated with Roman reliefs. Tombstones in the graveyard bears the old "Ogham" letters, the first written Celtic language. Close to the cathedral stands a small stone church, somewhat unnoticed. But if you look closer you'll find that the church was built in the 8th century. It's hard to avoid one moment of silent reverence when you sense the pulse of the centuries.

Irish Castles The Wonderful Barn, Co. Kildare

To mark the eastern vista of Castletown a conical shaped building - The Wonderful Barn - went up in 1743 with the stairs ascending upwards around the exterior of the building. The Wonderful Barn was built by Mrs. William Connolybuilt in Leixlip to give work to the poor during hard times, and located beside the Leixlip By-Pass.

The Barn stands 73 feet high. The exterior winding staircase has 94 steps and goes right up to the top. The building has 5 floors all with a hole in the centre. It is flanked by 2 smaller barns.

A granary, short tower and dovecote have all been put forward as reasons for building the unique structure. In Georgian times it was a custom to use doves as a delicacy when other animal sources of food were not in season. The height of structure would also lend itself to sport shooting, while a central hole through each of the floors would suggest a place to store grain, which were lowered and raised through the holes in the floors.

Irish Castles Grianan of Aileach

On the top of the Greenan mountain, not far from the border of Northern Ireland, lies Grianan of Aileach, one of the finest stone forts in Ireland. From the hill-top there are commanding views over Lough Foyle, Lough Swilly, and Londonderry, about 8km (5 mi) to the East.

The massive stone wall is 3.9m (13ft) thick and encloses an area 23.4m (77ft) in diameter. In the walls are small chambers; a series of stairs at regular intervals inside the walls gave access to the wall-walk. The entrance is very long and lintelled.

Legend says it was built by the ancient gods; the ring fort was known as the Sun Palace and was held sacred. Traces of ancient earthworks, dating to the early Iron Age, surround the fort, enclosing an area of about 5 acres (0.02 km2).

The fort itself was probably built in the early centuries of the Christian era. From the 5th to the 12th century AD it served as the royal seat of the O Neill sept of Aileach; it was destroyed by Murtogh O Brien, king of Munster in 1101. To make the demolition complete, the king ordered each of his soldiers to take away a stone from the fort. Grianan of Aileach was reconstructed by Dr Bernard of Derry in 1870, but archaeologists are doubtful about the inner restoration.

Surrounding the stone fort are three concentric low walls which formed part of the original fortification of the fort.

Irish Castles Charles Fort, Co Cork

The vast star shaped Charles Fort, which was built in 1677, is only a short distance from the town. William Robinson, the original architect, also built the Royal Hospital at Kilmainham in Dublin. Charles Fort has undergone many changes in the last few centuries and it continued to be garrisoned until 1922. It is open to the public from mid-April to mid-October and guided tours are available.

Irish Castles Early Christian Monastic Sites, Co. Kerry

The Dingle Peninsula's isolated location on the edge of the known world was possibly the reason that such a concentration of Early Christian monastic sites were founded there.

Today there are over 30 monastic sites with a variety of remains such as oratories, cross slabs, holy wells, beehive huts, shrines, burials, sun dials, and enclosing features. Some have been excavated, such as Reasc, near Ballyferriter; others, like Oileain tSeanaigh off the coast of Castlegregory, remain practically untouched since they were deserted some time in the 12th century.

It was from such sites of education, from the 6th century on, that Irish monks travelled throughout Europe converting Christians to the monastic life. It is from this period that the finest art works were produced, such as the Book of Kells and the Ardagh Chalice, among others.

The Celtic Church in Ireland during this period is not under the direct rule of Rome, and thus was to retain many of the early pre-Christian influences. Many ring forts still survive from this period and are associated with habitation for both animals and humans. Fine examples are to be seen at D�n Cl�r at Annascaul, Cathair Dearg�in near Ballydavid, and Ballyhea on the Feothanach road.

Irish Castles Grey Abbey Monastry Strangford Lough - Ulster

Grey Abbey monastry, on the Strangford Lough shore of the Ards Peninsula, was founded in 1193 by Affreca, daughter of Godred, Norse King of the Island of Mann, and wife of John de Courcey, the Norman knight who conquered Ulster.

Irish Castles Jerpoint Abbey, Co. Kilkenny

Jerpoint Abbey is an outstanding Cistercian Abbey founded in the latter half of the 12th century. The Abbey flourished until the dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th century, when it passed to the Earl of Ormonde. One of the highlights of Jerpoint i s the sculptured cloister arcade. There are exquisite carvings on the 16th century tombs in the transepts. Romanesque architecture abound within the North nave containing an array of decorated Romanesque capitals.

Irish Castles Kilmainham Gaol Dublin

If for no other reason, Kilmainham Gaol would be remarkable for being the biggest unoccupied gaol in these islands. As such, it gives the visitor a dramatic and realistic insight into what it was like to have been confined in one of these forbidding bastions of punishment and correction between 1796, when it opened, and 1924 when it closed. Leaders of the rebellions of 1798, 1803, 1848, 1867 and 1916 were detained here. The names of Robert Emmet, Thomas Francis Meagher, Charles Stewart Parnell, the leaders of the 1916 Rising, DeValera and a host of other famous names are associated with the Gaol. Touching in so many ways on the people and forces that shaped modern Ireland, Kilmainham Gaol offers a panoramic insight into some of the most profound, disturbing and inspirational themes of modern Irish history. A visit to the Gaol includes a guided tour, an audio?visual presentation and an exhibition.