I think it has taken a pandemic to realise what beautiful hidden treasures we have locally or on our doorstep.
We all know the famous buildings the ones that draw in a huge amount of tourists yearly. But what about the lesser known buildings, the ones you may discover when you are out and about or pass by on your way to work or doing the school run.
I have compiled a short blog of my top five lesser known historical buildings.
1. Portumna Castle.
Located on the banks of the River Shannon at the edge of Portumna forest park, lies this beautiful castle. End of visiting season it is now closed, but you can still walk up the drive and around the back of the castle to admire this beast of building. Built in 1618 at a cost of £10,000 for Richard de Burgh, Earl of Clanricarde and accidentally burnt in 1826.
It has two huge forecourts one with a classical gateway, with Tuscan columns. The castle has huge corner towers which were partly defensive and a walled Kitchen garden carefully tended to by a head Gardner and worth a wander around when the Castle opens for tourist season next year.
2. St. Brendan's Cathedral, Clonfert.
This building holds many memories for me, as we would go on a school tour to visit this site when I was in National school and we were always enamoured by the 12th century Hiberno-Romanesque western doorway, with its decorative arches of heads carved into brown sandstone. A monastery was founded here in the mid 6th Century by Saint Brendan the Navigator and inside you will find carvings on the stone pillars of Angels and a Mermaid. It's the little details you will be surprised to find.
It's usually closed when I go visit, but the Caretaker lives next door and is only happy to open it, he told me it used to be open until one day he caught some unsuspecting tourists trying to make off with the pipes from the organ. I don't think they thought that one through!
3. Clontuskert Augustinian Priory.
This place can be easily spotted from the road, if you know where to look, driving through the village of Laurencetown in the direction of Ballinasloe, you will spot this structure nestled at the heart of farmland. There is a small boreen for access but it is best to park in the little parking bay and walk up the lane.
Founded after 1140 by the O'Kellys of Hymany, a fire in 1404 left the property badly damaged. The priory flourished under the O'Kellys and it was transferred to the Earls of Clonricarde after the dissolution. Gifted to the state in the 1970's.
With a beautiful carved west doorway depicting a mermaid, a pelican, dragons and birds and not forgetting the four figures at the top of the doorway. Some gorgeous detailed stonework throughout the building. A very peaceful and quiet location with stunning views of the surrounding countryside, you are guarnanteed to have the place to yourself apart from the nosey cows in the fields next door.
4. Kilconnell Franciscan Friary.
Founded in 1414 by William Mor O'Kelly, located in the small village of Kilconnell, near Ballinasloe, hidden away at the back of the village a stones throw from the National School. It has an fabulous svelte tower which overlooks the surrounding landscape, with three chapels, the middle one dating from 1512.
A number of tombs survive in the majestic ruin, the west tomb has six well crafted carved saints in its base, including St. Louis and St. Denis. In 1649 Archbishop Rinuccini, the Papal Nuncio, stayed in the friary while travelling from Kilkenny to Galway. This building has seen the surrounding landscape change over the centuries many battles fought and won, changed hands numerous times and at one stage during the Irish Confederate Wars from 1641 to 53, a chapter meeting was held. If walls could speak I am sure it could regale us with many stories.
5. Woodlawn House
Not the best of photos with a phone, but didn't want to trigger the intruder alarm by stepping onto the property!. Surrounded by Woodlawn woods which is open to the public, the walk will lead you up towards the back of this house which is partially hidden by trees. Not open to the public, but there are plans in place for a full restoration project in the near future.
It is a three storey palladian style country house originally built around 1760 by Frederick Trench, the first Baron Ashtown. The second Baron Ashtown put his own stamp on the property by giving it a make over in 1860. He was also responsible for the construction of Woodlawn Station, ensuring the railway line passed through his property.
Still standing to this day are several other buildings that Lord Ashtown was responsible for building - A Protestant Church, Gamekeepers Lodge, a family Mausoleum, a Ice House and artisan cottages and of course Woodlawn house itself.
So there you have it, my top five places to explore on my doorstep. Subsribe to my newsletter and I will update you on some more hidden gems. The link is at the top of this page.