A Tour of Some of the Antiquities of North Dublin
The purpose of this tour was to explore some of the antiquities in North County Dublin, the area now known as Fingal County Council. As with all tours I kept my eyes open for any structures of interest along the route to the main area. The first site was at Seaton Place, Dundalk, Co Louth (J057075).
This is an eight-storey windmill-tower, built about 1800. It is circular in plan and tapers towards the top. It is rubble stone built with some red brick at the window and door openings. These openings form vertical stacks at E and W. At the fourth floor level there is a series of holes in the outer wall which may indicate the former presence of a walkway. Access to this was by doorways in the E and N. The tower stands behind a high wall and is surrounded by other buildings. This makes it difficult to examine closely and access to the interior is not possible. Being possibly the tallest building in the area it acts as a local landmark. When you consider that the vertical arrangement of the window openings creates a weakness it the structure, it is remarkable that it has survived for 200 years, especially since it was probably derelict for a large portion of that time.
The area around Slane is rich in antiquities, including castles and ecclesiastical remains. Within the town there are many interesting buildings and along the north bank of the River Boyne there are several mills. However all that was just noted in passing on this occasion. High on the south bank of the river is the building usually called Fennor Castle (N965732).
Most of the building can be seen from the roadside. Close inspection was not possible on this occasion due to a high wall and the lack of a convenient gateway. It is a two-storey six-bay house with attic and basement. The projection from the centre of the north wall may have held the staircase and incorporates a late tower-house. There are fireplaces in the E and W walls at each level. Just beside the castle is the ruin of a small nave-and-chancel church within a graveyard.
When approaching Swords from Ashbourne the first building which tends to capture the eye is Swords Castle (O182470). This stands at the end of Main Street and was originally built about 1200 as the Archbishop’s Manorial Castle. It was modified during the later 13th century and again in the 15th century. It has an irregular pentagonal wall enclosing an area of about 0.6 hectares. In the middle of the south wall is a three-storey gatehouse. To the left is a ruined three-storey building which may have been the constable’s lodging. To the right is the chapel which is undergoing restoration, which is almost complete. Along the western wall is a small rectangular tower, and at the north-western corner is a large tower known as the Constable’s Tower. This part of the castle has been fully restored and is the only part normally open to the public. There are three latrine-chute exits at the base of the west wall. Unfortunately none of the interior of the castle was accessible to me at 11 a.m. Sunday morning.
A short distance SW of the castle, in the grounds of the Church of Ireland building, is a Round Tower (O179468). St Columba is said to have founded a monastery on this site in 512. Reports on the many Viking raids during the 10th and 11th centuries make no mention of the tower. The cross on top of the tower is said to have been placed there by Rev Henry Scardeville who was vicar there and the beginning of the 18th century. Austin Cooper reported that repairs were carried out in 1775. The tower is about 24m high with a trabeate E doorway less than 1m above present ground level. Examination of the nearby old church tower shows that the original ground level was about 1.6m below present level. The Round Tower has a large square-headed window at second floor level on the east side. At the top there are four large windows facing the cardinal points. They appear to have being roughly repaired and include some red bricks. Perhaps these are the repairs referred to by Cooper. A short distance to the southeast is a large square belfry known as St Columba's Norman Tower. It may have been built in the 14th century. There are two entrances. The larger doorway leads to the ground floor which is below the present ground level of the churchyard. The smaller doorway leads to the spiral stairway which is housed partly within a projecting corner turret. This gives access to the upper levels of the tower. It houses a small exhibition at the lower levels and the clock and bells at the higher levels. At the top there are curved battlements. The tower was not accessible during this visit.
About 4km NE of Swords lies Newbridge House (O215501). The house and demesne are owned by Fingal County Council and the grounds are now a public park, with camping and picnic facilities, and a children’s play area. The house has a six-bay entrance front with a basement and dormered attic. It may have been designed by Richard Castle. There is a pedimented tripartite doorcase, which is approached by a flight of granite steps. There is a solid roof parapet with urns and eagles at the corners. It was built in 1737 for Dr Charles Cobbe, who became Archbishop of Dublin. An extensive wing was added at the rear in 1767. At the rear of the house is a very fine cobbled stableyard with a working water pump and horse trough. There is a good collection here of old farm machinery including varieties of seed drills. There are two fire engines. One of them is a hand pump. The other is a petrol driven pump made by Konrad Rosenbaur of Linz, Austria. Both machines are horse-drawn.
Lanestown Castle (O210497) stands near the entrance to the demesne. It is about four storeys high, with some traces of crenellations. The building seems to have undergone many modifications. At one time there seems to have been an addition at the east side. Gable marks indicate that both one-storey and two-storey additions existed here. At the north wall another gable mark indicates a missing single-storey structure. There is also a blocked pointed doorway in this wall. The castle has small flanking towers at the NE and SW corners. There are good squinches between these towers and the main building, starting at first floor level. At the south wall there are two large Gothick window openings which are lined with red brick. There is a chimney in the north wall. The interior of the castle is not accessible.
About 2km ESE of Donabate is Balcarrick Martello Tower (O252492). This structure, in common with most of the martello towers of Ireland, was built about 1805 in response to the threat of Napoleonic invasion. It is a circular tower built of coarse rubble stone, tapering slightly as it rises. The roof has a stone parapet and a raised circular extension. The doorway is at first floor level. It is protected by a large machicolation supported by stone corbels. There are several small square window openings. The walls have been rendered but most of the rendering has now fallen off.
Donabate Railway Station (O228500) stands just north of the railway bridge. The main buildings are on the UP platform (No.1) and consist of an eight-bay single-storey red brick building dating from about 1860, with central gable-fronted projecting porch. There is a single-bay single-storey red brick public convenience to north. To the south is a two-storey two-bay station master’s house built about 1890. The extensions to the rear of this are modern. Near the north end of the platform is a cast-iron pedestrian bridge. there are several single-storey buildings on the east (DOWN) platform. At the north end of this platform is the signal-cabin, now no longer in use.
About 4km NNW of Donabate is Lusk. St Macculin is said to have founded a monastery here about 500, although the site is also associated with St Maurus. It was destroyed and pillaged several times during the 9th century and again in the 11th and 12th centuries. The only trace of an early monastic foundation is the Round Tower (O215545).
The earliest known reference to it is by Austin Cooper in 1783 when it was described as being in good condition but lacking internal floor and ladders. It was repaired and re-roofed in the 1860s. It now forms the fourth corner of a large church belfry. The other three corners are slightly less substantial round towers with crenellations. The church was built in 1847 but many scholars believe that the belfry may be as early as 1500. thee are other indications that it is much later. The Round Tower is over 26m high and the trabeate doorway is less that 1m above present ground level. The Tower has nine storeys including the basement.
About 7km NNW of Lusk is Balrothery (O198612). Although there is little evidence, the style of building suggests that the old church tower here may date to the early 16th century.
At its NW corner there is a round turret and at first glance it appears to be a Round Tower, similar to that at Lusk. However closer examination shows that the turret is an integral part of the square belfry. It houses the spiral stairway. The upper portion is of smaller diameter than the lower portion. The top storey of the main tower has a two-light window at each face and the east face has a bell-cote. Lower down in the west wall is a two-light window with ogee heads and a square moulding with one mask. On the east wall just below the window is another mask. The present church was built in the 19th century. It is no longer in use. The churchyard has mainly 20th century memorials but there some very fine 18th century stones. A lengthy memorial on the outer north wall of the belfry is to the Hamilton Family from Finnebrogue, Tyrella and other Co Down locations. The small castle to the south of the church is about four storeys high. However it is now completely overgrown and totally inaccessible. The following notes were made in 1987 “The top incorporates a lot of brick and the original doorway in the south wall is now blocked. Above this are some small windows including one with a round head. There is a fine window in the north wall. In the south wall, about first floor level, there is a slop stone. The large openings in this wall apparently led to another building which is now totally removed.”
About 5km W of Balrothery is Skerries. This seaside town has many points of interest including two martello towers. The main antiquity is Skerries Mills (O252599) which is signposted from many places around the town. The main item here is the water-mill which was built about 1840. It is comprised of a series of two-storey rubble stone buildings with a mill pond, race, sluice gates and waterwheel. It was closed in 1931 but a bakery which was started within the mill in 1846 continued to work until 1986. Within the building are two ovens associated with the bakery. The larger oven as supplied by T Devlin & Sons, Glasgow. It is known as a Scotch oven. The smaller oven was built by Tonge & Taggart, Dublin. The mill was completely restored in the late 1990s. It has three pairs of mill-stones including two French burr. Although the mill is in working order it does not seem to be operated commercially. However the waterwheel can be operated and some of the internal workings can be seen to move. Within the buildings there are many devices associated with milling which are capable of being driven by water power. These include threshing machines, seed-dressing machines and mechanical hoists. There is also an auxiliary Diesel engine which can operate some of the machinery. The mill also contains a corn-kiln and the drying-floor may be inspected. The waterwheel was donated by a mill in Dunleer. It was originally an overshot wheel but this did not suit the design of Skerries Mill. It tended to drive everything in reverse. It was dismantled and rebuilt as a pitchback wheel.
The next building is the Small Windmill. There are indications that a windmill stood on this site in 1525. Whether or not this is the original is open to speculation. It is a cylindrical building with a thatched conical roof and four canvas sails. It is about 12.5m high and the diameter of the sails is about 16.25m. It drives a single pair of millstones. The thatched cap rests on hardwood bearings and was lufted i.e. turned to the wind from inside the mill. This operation was originally carried out by hand using a series of removable levers. When the windmill was restored in 1995 the bearings were modified and a windlass and chain was installed to make lufting easier and faster. Before using the mill the canvas sail cloths have to be interlaced and lashed to the sail framework. They can then be adjusted to be fully or partially opened to catch the best wind. This building stands on high ground a short distance from the water-mill.
On a similar small hill to the north of the water-mill is the Great Windmill. This has a conical tower with a mansard roof. It is about 15m high and has five spring sails. It was built about 1750 and restored in 1995. The arrangement of five sails is very unusual. The advantage is that it collects the wind more efficiently. The disadvantage is that when a sail breaks the mill has to be stopped until the broken sail has been replaced. If this is not done the sails will be unbalanced and if operated may cause the mill to hake itself apart. With an even number of sails a broken sail can be removed, along with its opposite unbroken partner and the mill can continue to operate on reduced power. The spring sail was invented in 1772 by a Scottish millwright called Andrew Meikle. The spring sail consists of a series of hinged shutters of wood or canvas on a light wooden frame. Using a long bar the shutters can be closed to present a flat surface to catch the maximum wind. Intermediate settings are possible to make the most efficient use of the available wind. When the mill is out of use the shutters are fully opened. The sails are turned into the wind using a long tail pole. On smaller mills this operation could be carried out by the miller and his assistant. For the larger mills animal power is necessary. Today at Skerries Great Windmill a tractor is used. About 12km W of Skerries is the little village of Naul. The old church here (O133610) is a simple rectangular structure. It was erected in 1710 by Edward Hussey and his wife, Mabel alias Barnewell. It has a very fine west doorway with barley-sugar twist moulding and pecked dressing. There is similar dressing on the fragment of the south window opening. There is a two light east window with a transom and some decoration in the spandrels. The north wall is missing. The memorials in the graveyard are mainly 19th century and modern, although there are several older stones. One memorial of 1758 bears the tools of a blacksmith: hammer, pincers and horseshoe.
About 2km WNW of Naul Old Church is Fourknocks Passage Tomb, Co Meath (O110621) It appears as a round grassy mound now closed by a strong iron door. The estimated diameter of the mound is 18m. A long stone lying near the entrance may have been part of the kerb. It is about 1.5m long by less than 50cm wide. A short passage about 3.5m long by 1.5m high and 1m wide leads to a large circular chamber about 7m diameter. Archaeologists consider that such a large central chamber could never have supported a corbelled roof like those at Newgrange and Knowth. It is possible that the tomb originally had a wooden roof supported by a central pole. The tomb is covered by a modern roof which allows some illumination of the decorated stones by natural light. There are three niches. Above two of these (S & W) are good carved lintels, with chevron and lozenge decoration.. The inner end of the passage at roof level is flanked by a richly carved lintel on the west and a large carved stone on the east. This lintel has chevron decoration. At least one of the orthostats to the east has faint carving. Another stone is now set upright to the west of the entrance and has good carving on two faces. A short distance to the east of the tomb is a small overgrown and mutilated mound about 15m diameter which may be the remains of another passage tomb.