Office of Public Works properties in Connaught, Counties Leitrim, Mayo, Roscommon and Sligo

My entry for all of the OPW sites in Connaught was too long, so since it is mainly about Portumna Castle in Galway, I have separated my Galway OPW entry from the other counties in Connaught.

Leitrim:

1. Parke’s Castle, County Leitrim

2. Sean MacDiarmada Cottage, County Leitrim

Mayo:

3. Ceide Fields, County Mayo

Roscommon:

4. Boyle Abbey, County Roscommon

5. Rathcroghan, County Roscommon

Sligo:

6. Ballymote Castle, County Sligo

7. Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery, County Sligo

8. Sligo Abbey, County Sligo

Leitrim:

1. Parkes Castle, Fivemilebourne, County Leitrim:

Parkes Castle, County Leitrim, August 2021.

General information: 071 916 4149, parkescastle@opw.ie

From the OPW website https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/parkes-castle/:

Parke’s Castle occupies a striking setting on the northern shores of Lough Gill in County Leitrim.

A restored castle of the early seventeenth century, it was once the home of English planter Robert Parke. There is evidence of an earlier structure on the site, a tower house once owned by Sir Brian O’Rourke, lord of West Breifne [The Kingdom of Breifne, or Breffny, was what is now Leitrim and parts of Cavan and other neighbouring counties]. O’Rourke, whom one English governor described as ‘the proudest man this day living on the earth’, resisted crown rule and fled Ireland, but ended up in the hands of Queen Elizabeth’s forces. He was thrown into the Tower of London, tried and finally hanged at Tyburn.

By the 11th century Breifne was ruled by the O’Rourke or Ua Rairc dynasty. Brian O’Rourke assumed the leadership of Breifne after assassinating his older brothers, apparently! His daughter Mary married The O’Conor Don, Hugh O’Conor (1540-1627) – for more on the O’Conor Don, see my entry about Clonalis, County Roscommon. Sir Brian O’Rourke was indicted in 1591 for sheltering Francisco de Cueller, an officer of the shipwrecked Armada in 1588, who later wrote about his time in Ireland.

The land was then given to Robert or Roger Parke. It passed to his son Robert (1585-1671).

The OPW website continues: “Tragedy struck in 1677, when two of Parke’s children drowned on the lake. The castle then fell into disrepair. Only in the late twentieth century was it restored, using traditional Irish oak and craftsmanship.

Robert Parke’s daughter Anne married Francis Gore of Ardtarmon, County Sligo, a brother of Arthur Gore, ancestor to the Earls of Arran.

Parkes Castle, which was also called Newtown Castle, County Leitrim, August 2021.

The OPW did a terrific job of renovation, as you can see from former photographs – look at 1926!

Parkes Castle, County Leitrim, August 2021.

Unfortunately although we visited during Heritage Week in 2021, the castle was closed due to Covid restrictions. We were able to enter the courtyard and courtyard buildings, and to wander around the castle, but did not get to go inside, which is normally open to the public.

The last member of the Parke family left the castle in 1691.

Parkes Castle, County Leitrim, August 2021.
Parkes Castle, County Leitrim, August 2021.
Parkes Castle, County Leitrim, August 2021.
Parkes Castle, County Leitrim, August 2021.
The Forge, Parkes Castle, County Leitrim, August 2021.
I loved this chart of shoes, for horses and also donkeys.
Stephen entering the Sweathouse, which may date back to the 12th century!
Stephen in the Sweathouse, which may date back to the 12th century!
This tunnel leads down to the water, for a quick escape.

2. Sean MacDiarmada Cottage, County Leitrim:

From the OPW website https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/sean-mac-diarmada-cottage/:

The homestead of the 1916 leader Seán Mac Diarmada in Kiltyclogher, County Leitrim is the jewel in the county’s historic crown.

The cottage is the only original existing homeplace of any of the seven signatories of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic. It offers an unparalleled insight into the origins of a key figure in one of the most explosive episodes of Irish history. It is also an authentic traditional Irish cottage and as such gives us a glimpse of what life was like for ordinary people a hundred years ago.

The cottage has been maintained in its original condition for decades. Regular tours allow visitors to experience the authentic atmosphere of this incredible historical resource.

Mayo:

3. Ceide Fields, Glenurla, Ballycastle, County Mayo:

Ceide Fields, photograph by Alison Crummy, 2015, for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. [1]

General Information: 096 43325, ceidefields@opw.ie

From the OPW website https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/ceide-fields/:

Beneath the wild boglands of north Mayo lies a system of fields, dwelling areas and megalithic tombs which together make up the most extensive Stone Age monument in the world.

The stone-walled fields, extending over hundreds of hectares, are the oldest known globally, dating back almost 6,000 years. They are covered by a natural blanket bog with its own unique vegetation and wildlife.

The award-winning visitor centre is set against some of the most dramatic rock formations in Ireland. A viewing platform on the edge of the 110-metre-high cliff will help you make the most of the breathtaking scenery. Come prepared with protective clothing and sturdy footwear, though. The terrain – and the weather – can be challenging.

Day break over the Visitors centre overlooking the Ceide Fields and the Atlantic Coast County Mayo Ireland, photo from Ireland’s Content Pool by Failte Ireland. [see 1]

Roscommon:

4. Boyle Abbey, County Roscommon:

Boyle Abbey, County Roscommon, August 2022.

General information: 071 966 2604, boyleabbey@opw.ie

From the OPW website https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/boyle-abbey/:

This Cistercian monastery was founded in the twelfth century by monks from Mellifont Abbey under the patronage of the local ruling family, the MacDermotts. It was one of the most powerful of the early Cistercian foundations in Ireland and among the foremost in Connacht.

Cromwellian forces wreaked devastation when they occupied the abbey in 1659. It was further mutilated during the following centuries, when it was used to accommodate a military garrison. Despite all the violence it has suffered over the centuries, Boyle Abbey is well preserved and retains its ability to impress.

A sixteenth/seventeenth-century gatehouse has been restored and turned into an interpretive centre, where you can learn more about the abbey’s gripping history.

Boyle Abbey, County Roscommon, August 2022.
Boyle Abbey, County Roscommon, August 2022.

5. Rathcroghan, Cruachan Ai, Tulsk, Castlerea, County Roscommon:

General information: 071 963 9268, info@rathcroghan.ie

From the OPW website https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/rathcroghan/:

Tightly packed into a few square kilometres of the Roscommon landscape at Rathcroghan lie over 240 archaeological sites. These include Stone Age tombs and royal burial mounds, great ringforts and places of ceremonial inauguration.
The legendary Oweynagat (Cave of the Cats), for example, is regarded as the origin-place of the festival of Samhain. Fearful Christian scribes described Oweynagat as Ireland’s Gate to Hell.

A two-metre standing stone, meanwhile, is said to mark the grave of King Dathi, the last pagan king of Ireland, who died when he was struck by lightning in the Alps.

Perhaps most impressively, the great warrior Queen Medb ruled all of Connacht from her home at Rathcroghan.
Experience Rathcroghan’s rich archaeology, mythology and history through our interpretive rooms and expertly guided tours. The Rathcroghan Visitor Centre, the home of our museum, is located in the medieval village of Tulsk, Co. Roscommon.
(This is a Communities Involvement Initiative Project, supported by the OPW.)

We went to the Visitor Centre when in County Roscommon during Heritage week 2022, but did not go to the actual site.

I found the timeline in the Visitor’s Centre very helpful for seeing the age of various archaeological sites. Rathcroghan is mainly a bronze age site, and so is from around 1000BCE. Newgrange is Neothilic and therefore over 2000 years before the Bronze Age, created around 3200BCE.

It’s really interesting to see other events on the timeline in relation to archaeological sites in Ireland. Newgrange is older than the pyramids of Egypt which were built in the Chalcolithic age, and both pre-date the Bronze Age and Iron Age.
Before the Iron Age was the Bronze Age, which is where we can chronologically place much of Rathcroghan.
The Visitor Centre in Rathcroghan has some Bronze Age artefacts on loan from the National Museum of Ireland. We can even see a tiny arrow head older than the Bronze Age items, which is from the Neolithic period.
I find it incredible that this Bronze Age bowl, which could be as old as 4500 years, is still intact.

After the Bronze age came the Iron Age, which was around the year zero. The visitor centre has a model dressed in Iron age clothing:

He wears a yellow linen shirt, or leine dyed with saffron. Over this he wears a red tunic or ionar. The cape or brat is trimmed with fur. These Irish items of dress were worn for centuries. This man would have been a warrior of high rank. The sword would have been made of bronze in Ireland but imitates the steel sword of a type made in Grundlingen in Germany. The shield would be made of wood covered in leather with a metal handgrip.

The rath gives the place its name, while the area is called in Irish Cruachan Ai.

Sligo:

6. Ballymote Castle, County Sligo:

Ballymote Castle, County Sligo, August 2021.

The OPW information board at the site tells us that Ballymote, taken from an Irish word meaning “town of the mound,” was built by the Norman Richard de Burgo, the “Red Earl” of Ulster in around 1300. It was probably the strongest castle in Connacht, but was captured by the O’Connor family in 1317 and from then on it changed hands many times. In 1598 it was sold for £400 and 300 cows to Red Hugh O’Donnell (1572-1602) and it was from here that he assembled his army for the Battle of Kinsale (1601). He was beaten in this battle by Charles Blount, 8th Baron Mountjoy (who served as Lord Deputy of Ireland under Queen Elizabeth I and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland under James I), and he left for Spain to seek support from King Philip III, but died abroad in 1602.

Charles Blount (1563-1606), 8th Baron Mountjoy, photograph courtesy of National Gallery of Ireland.

Nearly 100 years later it was surrendered to Lord Granard after an artillery attack, and fell into ruin. The information board also tells us that the Book of Ballymote was partly compiled at the caste in around 1400. It is a manuscript including sections on the invasions of Ireland, the creation of the world and a study of the old Irish Ogham style of writing.

Runic writing on a deer antler from the 11th century! It was found in Fishamble Street, Dublin, and is kept in the National Museum of Ireland on Kildare Street in Dublin. See the key for the ogham alphabet below the antler.
Ballymote Castle, County Sligo, August 2021.

6. Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery, County Sligo:

General information: 071 916 1534, carrowmoretomb@opw.ie

From the OPW website https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/carrowmore-megalithic-cemetery/:

Carrowmore – the largest cemetery of megalithic tombs in Ireland. It lies just south-west of Sligo town, right at the heart of the Cúil Írra Peninsula, an area alive with prehistoric significance.

Packed together at Carrowmore are more than 30 stone tombs, many of which are still visible. Most are passage tombs and boulder circles. There are various forts and standing stones in the area too. The origins of these monuments reach far into prehistory – the most ancient among them is close to 6,000 years old.

A restored cottage houses an exciting new exhibition that will satisfy the curiosity of even the most demanding visitors. Come prepared for a hike across rugged terrain.

Tomb 4 and Listoghil, or number 51, in background.
Listoghil, or number 51, mirrors Ben Bulben mountain in the background. Stephen likes the way that if one stands and turns around 360 degrees, the mountains around Carrowmore seem to hold and enfold one.
The whole area around Carrowmore is called Cuil Irran, which includes Knocknarea, the huge pile of stones on top of a nearby mountain said to be Queen Maebh’s tomb, Carrowmore and Carns Hill.
Tomb 1, where the outer and inner circles remain intact.
Carrowmore megalithic cemetery, Co. Sligo, Photographer/Creator/ Rory O’Donnell for Fáilte Ireland, 2021.
Looking in to Listoghil.
Inside Listoghil.
Inside Listoghil.
Inside Listoghil.
Tomb 4, Stephen’s favourite.
Tomb 4, Stephen’s favourite.
Tomb 4, Stephen’s favourite.
Tomb 7, still on private land.

7. Sligo Abbey, Abbey Street, County Sligo:

Sligo Abbey, Sligo Town, photograph Courtesy Eddie Lee/Ed Lee Photography 2022 for Fáilte Ireland.

General information: 071 914 6406, sligoabbey@opw.ie

From the OPW website https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/sligo-abbey/:

This Dominican friary has dominated Sligo town centre since the mid-thirteenth century, when it was created by Maurice FitzGerald, the founder of the town itself. Some of the building from that period has survived the next nine centuries of turmoil.

The abbey was partially destroyed by burning in 1414, when it fell foul of an unattended candle, and suffered further mutilation following the Rebellion of 1641. According to legend, worshippers salvaged the abbey’s silver bell at that time and threw it into Lough Gill. You can hear it peal even now – provided, that is, that you are wholly free from sin.

Despite the ravages of history, the abbey contains a great wealth of carvings, including Gothic and Renaissance tomb sculpture, a well-preserved cloister and a sculptured fifteenth-century high altar – the only such altar to survive in an Irish monastic church.

[1] https://www.irelandscontentpool.com

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