Moone Abbey House and Tower, Moone, County Kildare

 

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Moone Abbey House

contact: Jenifer Matuschka. Tel: 087-6900138

Listed Opening Dates in 2020 but check due to Covid 19 restrictions: May 1-31, Aug 15-23, Sept 1-30, 12 noon-4pm

Fee: adult €6, OAP/student/child €3

 

We visited Moone Abbey House on Saturday May 11th, 2019.

We had a 3pm appointment with the owner, Jenifer Matuschka. We visited Charleville House in Wicklow earlier in the day. Moone Abbey is at the far end of Kildare, approximately an hour away from Charleville. We arrived nearly an hour early, however, having given ourselves plenty of driving time in case we got lost on the way.

This gave us time to see the Abbey itself. The Abbey predates the house by centuries, so the house is named after the Abbey that was on its lands. Access from the road to the Abbey is a narrow gap in the stone wall. The Abbey contains the impressive Moone Cross, one of the two tallest Celtic Crosses in Ireland, and certainly the tallest that either Stephen or I had ever seen (we think – certainly none made such an impression, since we were able to stand right next to it). The Abbey is a ruin but a roof has been constructed to protect the cross, which originally stood outside the Abbey.

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The High Cross of Moone Abbey, looking inside the Abbey from the front
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inside the Abbey

 

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back of the Abbey

 

According to the Irish Historic Houses website [1]:

Behind the mid-18th century Palladian house are the remains of Moone Abbey, a monastery originally founded in the 6th century by St. Columkille and rebuilt almost 700 years later. The abbey contains the splendid High Cross of Moone, rediscovered amidst the ruins during the nineteenth century, while the house’s mediaeval predecessor stands a little way off; a ‘Ten Pound’ tower house in remarkably fine condition.

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Stephen and the south side of the cross

A panel describes the finding of the cross – and in fact there is a second cross displayed in parts, behind where Stephen stands in the photo above.

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The panel says:

The two remarkable High Crosses displayed here – one complete except for its cap, and the other surviving only in fragments – were probably both carved in the ninth century, and are the earliest surviving testimony to the existence of an early Christian monastery on this site. Yet its old Irish name, Moen or Moin Cholm-cille, the “walled enclosure” or “bog” of St. Colmcille, better known as Columba, suggests that the abbey may have been founded by the great Celtic churchman who lived in the sixth century. His connection with the site is supported by a twelfth century literary source, and a nearby well dedicated to him was a popular place of annual pilgrimage until the last century. The O’Flanagan family certainly provided hereditary abbots during the eleventh century but, by 1225, the archbishop of Dublin was in a position to give the monastery’s lands and mill to St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin.

The Franciscans were said to have had a house in Moone, and this church with its long rectangular shape so typical of Irish medieval friary architecture, may well have been built by them, possibly around 1300, but abandoned when the English king Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries in 1536-40. Outside, to the south-east, there was once a four-story tower in which the friars may have lived, but it was demolished in the early 1800’s, along with a Lady Chapel adjoining the north-east wall of the church.

Before 1850 a mason in search of good building stones discovered the base and head of the tall cross “deeply buried under a heap of fallen masonry” where the tower had once stood, and these were mounted together by the fourth Duke of Leinster and Mr Yeates, the then owner of the adjoining mansion. One Michael O’Shaughnessy later discovered a shaft portion which then lay loose around the churchyard for years until it was inserted between the other two parts in 1893, with assistance from the Kildare Achaeological Society. this helped to raise the height to over seven metres, and thereby made Moone of the two tallest High Crosses in Ireland.

The granite for the cross must originally have been brought from some miles away, and the slightly differing hues of the stones has led to doubts as to whether all three parts belong together, but no evidence to the contrary was found when the cross was temporarily dismantled in 1994, before being brought inside and displayed here in 1996.

 

Further panels explain the carvings on the cross.

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This picture explains the south side of the cross, from top to bottom:

human figure
human figure
human figure turned to left
angel
heart-shaped feature (enclosing human head?)
roaring lion
long eared animal sniffing the ground
Saints Paul and Anthony breaking bread in the desert – the hermit saints, seated on their high backed chairs in the middle of the desert, break the bread which the rather plump raven above them had brought for their nourishment.
The Temptation of (probably) St. Anthony the Hermit. A central figure, probably St. Anthony, tempted by the devil who, half human and half animal, appears in the guise of a goat and cock.
Six headed monster. There is a head at each end of this six-legged monster, from whose twin body-spirals four fabulous animals uncoil themselves, two with their heads in profile and the other pair with a head seen from above. The significance of this curious beast is uncertain (apocalyptic?).

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The Temptation of St. Anthony, Anthony in the middle with a goat on one side and cock on the other, representing the devil. Below is the six-headed monster.

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The Twelve Apostles. I had an apostle like this made of old bog turf – it was my mother’s, a gift from me or my sister, I’m not sure.
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my Moone Abbey Apostle. I never realised until I saw the cross at Moone that this statue’s design was based on the Cross of Moone. Statue is made by Owen Crafts, Ballyshannon, Ireland.

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Above, the west face: Adam and Eve being tempted by the snake, Adam about to sacrifice his son Isaac (with the ram in the thicket nearby which the Lord tells him to offer instead of his son), and below, Daniel in the lions’ den (he is saved by an angel). You can see the North side in this picture also, just about. This is Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace, to the side of Adam and Eve. King Nebuchadnezzar had thrown them in the furnace for refusing to worship a golden image he had set up, but they did not burn. I used to know a song about this, that I was taught along with my classmates in Australia by Mrs. Firth. It went “Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, lived in Judah a long time ago, they had funny names and they lived far away but they knew what was right and they knew what to say. This is a story that you ought to know about Shadrach, what kind of name is that? Meshach, who had a name like that? Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego-ooooh!” Below them on the cross is the Flight into Egypt of Mary and Jesus on the donkey and Joseph alongside, as they’d been warned of the Slaughter of the Innocents by Herod. The final picture, on bottom, is the miracle of the loaves and the fishes.

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The west face of the cross: Jesus, with an animal above, and below, two human heads each in the claws of two serpents

We were still early when we drove up to the house. Someone passed by in jodphurs and said Jenny, the owner, would be out to us in a minute.

Jenny greeted us warmly. She told us first about the impressive tower. It is a “ten pound tower” – landowners were paid ten pounds in the 1400s to build a fortified tower for protection of the inhabitants to defend from Irish marauders: in this area, the O’Tooles were the marauders. (In Irish Castles and Historic Houses by Brendan O’Neill, he writes “In the early fifteenth century, government subsidies were offered to those able to construct castles or towers in the counties of Dublin, Kildare, Louth and Meath, but these “ten-pound” castles were fairly basic.”). 

The Irish Historic Houses website adds: “In return for building a defensive castle or tower, 20’ long, 16’ wide and at least 40’ high, dimensions that were smaller than those of a typical Irish tower house, landowners received a subsidy of £10 to help defray their expenses, perhaps the earliest instance of that much-loved Irish institution, the building grant.”

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The website also states that “the monastery was duly suppressed and dissolved in the sixteenth century, and its lands ultimately passed to the Jacobite O’Dempsey family who lived in the nearby tower house.”

The Jacobites were supporters of King James II. However, when James II fled from Ireland to France, and William of Orange was crowned king, Jacobites in Ireland lost their land. The estate was granted to a Cromwellian soldier, Thomas Ashe, who was buried in the nearby Rath of Moone. The Irish Aesthete writes in his blog entry on 30th Sept 2019 that Thomas Ashe was a Dublin alderman, who died in 1741. [2]

The property was subsequently leased for 999 years to Samuel Yates (or Yeats, the spellings have been used interchangeably), who built the current house in about 1750. Yates, according to the Irish Aesthete, was from Colganstown, in County Dublin, another property listed in Section 482! Colganstown is said to have been designed by Nathanial Clements, so Moone Abbey House may also have been designed by Clements although it is not known. Robert O’Byrne the Irish Aesthete also mentions the Dublin-based architect John Ensor as the possible architect of Moone Abbey House.

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Yates’s new house consisted of a central block, five bays wide and two of storeys over a basement, with wings on either side joined to the central block by curved walls. The stretch of the house, with the wings, make it “Palladian” style. Originally there was a single bay central breakfront surmounted by a pediment with a Diocletian window (a Diocletian or thermal window, according to Maurice Craig and Desmond Guinness in Ireland Observed, A Handbook to the Buildings and Antiquities, is a large semi-circular window with two vertical mullions dividing it into three. This styles derives from Roman baths!) [3]  After a fire in around 1800, the central block was rebuilt and given an extra storey, and the Diocletian window seems to have disappeared.

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the curved two storey wall, concealing a courtyard, that join the wings of the house to the main house

The National Inventory of Architectural Heritage Buildings of Ireland website describes the frontal aspect of the house [4]:

The ‘modern’ house is a fine example of a pseudo Palladian structure that is composed of a central residential block, linked by curved walls or wings to attendant ‘outbuildings’ and at Moone this arrangement has been little altered since first constructed. The house is composed of graceful Classical proportions and is without superfluous detailing – the porch to centre of the main (south-east) front, the bow to the rear (north-west), the curved walls and Dutch-style gables are all subtle features that enliven the composition. Furthermore, the regular distribution of openings adds a rhythmic quality to the piece. The house retains an early aspect and early materials, including fenestration and a slate roof...

There is a bay in the back which we didn’t see but one can see it in pictures on the National Inventory website. The wings of the house are two storey two bay blocks with Dutch gables.

Inside, Jenny pointed out to us that the house itself is surprisingly narrow from front to back, just one room “deep” plus the front hallway. The two wings are attached by concave walls which front courtyards rather than more rooms, so they make the house look bigger than it actually is. One of these attached wings has been used for stables in the past and is now to be renovated for accommodation, while the other is a guest-house.

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a statue in a niche in the concave wall between a wing and the main house
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The second curved wall that is between house and the wing, and the two storey, two bay wing, with its Dutch gable. This is now a guest house. Beyond lie the farm buildings.

The single storey projecting porch was added later in the 19th century.

The Irish Historic Houses website goes on to expand on the previous occupiers of the house:

Members of the Yates family were no strangers to drama. One was piked to death by the Ballytore rebels in 1798, suspected of alerting the authorities to their activities. Another was prosecuted for abusing his position as High Sheriff to seduce a young woman from Castledermot, while the 1800s fire was allegedly the result of a family feud that got out of hand. Eventually, their unconventional behaviour took its toll on the family finances and in the 1840s they were forced to sell under the Encumbered Estates Act after a tenure of almost a hundred years.

The purchasers were the O’Carroll family, who themselves sold out to the Bolands in 1910 while the estate was bought by a member of the princely German family of Hohenlohe in 1960 and their descendants still live at Moone today. Nearby is the famous castellated flour mill of the Shackleton family, ancestors of Sir Ernest the polar explorer, while the whole complex is approached from Moone village through a pair of splendid piers that originally formed one of the entrances to Belan, the long demolished great house of the famous collector, connoisseur and patron, Lord Aldborough.

After a brief tour of the house, Jenny then brought us out to the garden, including the walled garden. She then allowed us to climb up into the tower, at our own risk! We were thrilled to be allowed such access. It’s amazing to climb the original stairs in such a tower.

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inside the Tower House
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Stephen climbs the stairs in the tower

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the ceiling has been carefully made of overlapping slates
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ceiling slates, a corbelled roof. There is such a corbelled roof also inside Newgrange.
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a fireplace in an upstairs room in the tower, and window

The tower has been converted into a pigeon loft. The book Did you know…? 100 Quirky Facts about County Offaly by Amanda Pedlow (published by Offaly County Council, Nov 2013) contains an entry on pigeon houses. They were used to raise pigeons for food. Several tiers of small nest-holes are placed high above the ground to make it more difficult for rodents to kill the young pigeons. Nest holes are square shaped but in the tower in Offaly and perhaps the one in Moone, inside the walls the holes turn at a right angle to make an L shape. Inside this dark space the pigeons raise their young, called “squabs.” These were a valuable source of food. The birds were considered to be domestic fowl rather than wild game and belonged to the neighbouring house. The presence of a pigeon house was evidence of the high status of the owners.

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the pigeon boxes built into the tower

I was able to take aerial photos from the top, of the house and its surroundings.

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From the front of the house, and top of the tower,  we could see a beautiful single-span cast-iron footbridge over the Buggawn, or Griese, River. We headed down to see it after climbing the tower.

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The house is beautifully situated near the river, with a lovely view toward another stone bridge in the other direction.

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view from the river back toward the house and tower. The Abbey lies behind the house.

The house is a working farm, and Jenny and her husband, whose parents bought the house in 1960, also hosts bed and breakfast guests. The guesthouse is advertised on the airbnb website [5]. I’d love to return and stay!

 

[1]  http://www.ihh.ie/index.cfm/houses/house/name/Moone%20Abbey

[2] https://theirishaesthete.com/2019/09/30/moone-abbey/

[3] Maurice Craig and Desmond Guinness Knight of Glin, Ireland Observed, A Handbook to the Buildings and Antiquities.Mercier Press, Dublin and Cork, 1970.

[4] http://www.buildingsofireland.ie/niah/search.jsp?type=record&county=kd&regno=11903614

[5] https://www.airbnb.ie/rooms/11415715?guests=1&adults=1&sl_alternate_dates_exclusion=true&source_impression_id=p3_1559472574_rN9y32sa2JklBBRL 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dardistown Castle, County Meath

On Sunday July 14th Stephen and I went to see Dardistown Castle, in County Meath. I contacted the owners beforehand, Ken and Lizanne Allen, 086 277 4271.

dardistowncastle.ie

Open in 2020: Jan 9-11, 13-18, 20-24, 27-31, Aug 15-31, Sept 1-5, 7-12, 14-19, 21-26, 10am-2pm

Fee: adult €6, child €3, student/OAP free, all proceeds to Irish Cancer Society.

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It has some links to our most recent visit, to Dunsany Castle, as it was enlarged by Dame Jenet Sarsfield, who was the widow of Robert Plunkett, the 5thBaron of Dunsany.

She is worth writing about, but first let me backtrack.

During the Hundred Years War, 1337-1453 (that’s more than one hundred!), in which the English fought the French for the right to rule France, the English military were mostly withdrawn from Ireland. To compensate for their military absence, a limited number of government grants of £10 each were made available to landowners in the “The Pale” for the building of fortified houses. John Cornwalsh (or Thomas? Drogheda Museum blog writes that it was built by Thomas Cornwalsh, and that Thomas Cornwalsh was related to the Talbot family of Malahide Castle by marriage, which explains how the castle came into the Talbot family later [1]) obtained a £10 grant in 1465 for the building of Dardistown Castle. According to wikipedia, John Cornwalsh was Chief Baron of the Irish Exchequer.

Driving up the driveway, one cannot see the tower. We drove up in front of the house, which has a lovely square trellis outside.

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Ken was sitting outside waiting for visitors. He took us around to the back of the house. We went around the side, and only then saw the impressive tower.

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It’s a four storey medieval tower, extended with the addition of a Victorian frontage. The tower is square with sides about 44 feet long and a square turrret at each corner. The turrets are of different sizes.  The main arched entrance to the tower is now blocked and the main entrance is now on the south side. The tower is fifty feet high.

Ken led us in to the ground floor, which was originally the basement. This room is quite empty, and has been used for parties and gatherings so has a bar installed. It is described on the website as a games room. It is surprisingly large – this is by far the largest most spacious tower I have seen. There are vaulted smaller rooms in three of the four turrets off the main ground floor room. One turret would have been the toilet, where everything dropped down to the ground. There is a fireplace in the west wall of each main room on every level.

This room has the remains of a very unusual looking ceiling, “barrel vaulted.” [2] We can still see the sticks, in what looks like a wattle and daub type construction. I had never seen anything like it in a tower, but it is part of the original tower! The website states:

“Following a native Irish technique, woven wicker mats resting on timber beams were used to support the vaults during their construction and at Dardistown bits of the wickerwork may still be seen embedded in the undersides of the vaults.”

We went up the original stone staircase in the southwest turret, unusual because it spirals to the left, or anticlockwise, rather than the right – Stephen is fascinated how the direction in most towers was determined to give the advantage to the owner, so that on descent, he (it was usually a male, I presume, wielding the sword, although surely not always!) could more easily wield his sword than an intruding coming up the stairs. Perhaps the person who designed these stairs was left-handed, Stephen speculated.

The rooms above are furnished beautifully, in a style to fit the medieval origins but with all the comforts of a modern home. They have wooden ceilings. It is tasteful and elegant and I would love to stay there! The Allens rent the rooms for accommodation. The first floor above is the dining room, furnished with a large heavy table. A chandelier graces the room, and many pieces of antique furniture, plus comfortable couches and armchairs in front of the wood-burning stove in the fireplace. The original stone walls are exposed and have been repointed.

A fully outfitted kitchen has been installed in one turret. It is modern and luxurious.

The third turret has a large bathroom, which contains a lovely free-standing bath. At all levels above the ground floor the southeast turret contains a small chamber with an even smaller garderobe chamber opening off it.

The fourth turret on the first level contains a second, wooden, staircase, for fire escape safety. We looked up to see the top of the turret, which has a ceiling of overlapping flagstones, much like the tower ceiling which we saw in the Moone Abbey ten pound tower, and also in Newgrange.

The two upper floors of the turret have been decorated as luxurious bedrooms. There is a corridor off the third floor that leads into the main house, and which has been converted with two more beautiful bedrooms that can be hired for accommodation, plus bathroom.

I would love to stay! There is more accommodation in the yard.

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The Granary, which can be rented [3]
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There is more accommodation for rental called “the Stables” [4]
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There is a walled garden, which now is the back garden of the Allen family, and contains a tennis court. After our tour, we wandered into the lovely garden.

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According to the website, fifty years after the castle was built, the Castle and lands were rented for £4 a year by John and Thomas Talbot, who supplied three armed horsemen for the royal army.

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The Talbot family remained in Dardistown Castle until 1690, when they lost possession of the Castle and lands at Dardistown after the Battle of the Boyne. The castle became the residence of the Osborne family, who remained there until 1970. Francis Osborne of Dardistown was M. P. for Navan Borough in 1692 and 1695, and the Osborne family continued to occupy Dardistown until the death of the last member of the family. Henry Osborne (died May 10, 1828) also owned Cooperhill Brickworks. The castle passed via Samuel Henry Osborne to Henry St. George Osborne, who died in 1899, and then to his son Henry Ralph Osborne, who died in the 1970’s.

It was then taken over by the Armstrong family until 1987, and then the Allen family, who are from the Drogheda area, and it was Ken Allen who showed us around. He has restored the castle tower beautifully.

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The tower was a ruin when the Allens acquired the castle and attached house.

The first extension to the Castle, forming part of the present house, was built before 1582, when Dame Genet (or Jenet) Sarsfield came to reside here, and made a new entrance doorway and built a further addition (commemorated by two stone tablets on the house).

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back of the house, where you can see the house extended from the castle

The house was further added to in around 1770, and an extension built in 1800, with an upper storey added around 1860.

Dame Jenet Sarsfield was the not only the widow of Robert Plunkett. She was also the widow of Sir John Plunket of Dunsoghly Castle in Dublin (that one is not on the Section 482 list so I will not be visiting it this year!). She was married six times! She was the daughter of a merchant, John Sarsfield, of Sarsfieldstown in County Meath. She was born in around 1528. Her brother William was an alderman of Dublin. She must therefore have mixed in rather elite circles, as she married Robert Shilyngford (or Shillingford), who became Lord Mayor of Dublin in 1534 for the usual one year term. They had one daughter who survived to adulthood – the only offspring of Jenet who lived into adulthood, according to Wikipedia [5]  . Jenet was also reputed to be the tallest lady living in Ireland in the 1500s, as testified by the tall door built at Dardistown! (it must be this pale green door under the balcony). [6]

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After Robert’s death, Jenet married James Luttrell. He was also prominent in Dublin administration as he was the High Sheriff of County Dublin in 1556. He died in 1557.

It was after James Luttrell’s death that Jenet married Robert Plunkett, 5thBaron of Dunsany. She was his second wife. He died only two years after her previous husband died! After that marriage, she continued to be referred to as the Dowager Lady Dunsany. She next married Sir Thomas Cusack of Cushinstown. He had previously been Lord Chancellor of Ireland. He was about thirty years older than her. She was his third wife (!), although he refused to acknowledge his first wife. His second wife was reputed to have murdered her first husband, but she had a happy marriage to Thomas Cusack. Jenet had around eleven years as Thomas Cusack’s wife before he died.

Jenet inherited most of Cusack’s personal property, which was unusual at that time. Normally the firstborn son would be the heir. Sir Robert had acquired the Abbey of Lismullen after the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Sir Robert’s son Edward pursued litigation to obtain his father’s property. Lady Dunsany married Sir John Plunket then, who was an influential judge and Privy Councillor. She eventually vacated Lismullen but Edward the stepson complained that she had removed most of the valuables. Lady Dunsany lived with her husband Sir John Plunket in Dunsoghly Castle. He died in 1582.

Her sixth and final marriage was to John Bellew, and she lived for her last years in Dardistown Castle. She died in 1598 and chose not to be buried with any of her husbands, but in a tomb of her own, in Moorchurch in County Meath. Her last husband outlived her. Dardistown Castle passed to her son-in-law Thomas Talbot after her death. Her daughter Katherine Shillingford married Thomas Talbot, who lived in Dardistown Castle. Jenet Sarsfield/Lady Dunsany was John Bellew’s third wife. John Bellew (1522-1600) was of Bellewstown and Castletown. Dardistown Castle came into the family due to Katherine’s marriage to Thomas Talbot. [6]

The historic battle of Julianstown of 1641 is said to have taken place on the front lawn of Dardistown, though at that time it was separated from the House by the road [in1800 the road (main Drogheda – Dublin road at that time) was moved so that, instead of passing the front door, it now curved several hundred yards from the Castle, enclosing the area which is now picturesque parkland.] Richard Talbot was then in occupation of the Castle. The battle was fought by insurgents led by Sir Phelim O’Neill, against an English garrison on their way to Drogheda. Three new rooms were added to the Castle about this time.

In the main house, the drawing room and dining room date from around 1750. The upper floors were added in two stages, the back about 1800 and the front in 1860. We did not get to see inside the main house, as the Allen family live there.

http://www.britainirelandcastles.com/Ireland/County-Meath/Dardistown-Castle.html

 

[1] see http://droghedamuseum.blogspot.com/2014/09/dardistown-castle.html

[2] architectural definitions

[3] https://www.airbnb.ie/rooms/15112511?source_impression_id=p3_1563534784_c%2Fw0vavEzHNtvJih

[4] https://www.airbnb.ie/rooms/15113245?source_impression_id=p3_1563534911_%2BZqpeapdtE%2BY8LOT

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jenet_Sarsfield

[6] https://www.pressreader.com

[7] https://www.independent.ie/regionals/argus/localnotes/bellew-clan-keep-tradition-alive-in-julianstown-31409763.html