Dunamase Castle: The first castle that we went to visit was Dunamase, which is nicely situated on the Rock of Dunamase, near the town of Portlaoise. The castle had a well defended arched entrance gate (the moat in front is long gone) and two wall curtains (one partial, connecting to the main wall). Large sections of the walls were built right on the cliff, making this castle well defended from sieges, with the weakest (gentlest approach) point having the double wall. There are remains of the defensive walks on the southern portion of the wall curtain, and a fine view for many miles in every direction from around the castle! Pieces of the walls that fell down can be seen around, giving an idea of their massive size. The area was actually used as a hillfort for early Christians and in the early 1200s by Strongbow and William Marshal started work on the present walls. The castle was destroyed by Cromwell's army. We also took a hit, from a crossbow bolt and got a flat tire :-(

Lackeen Castle: This was in some ways the most interesting castle that we have visited! This is a Norman style tower house from the mid-1500s, it stands on farmland near Lorrha in the middle of nowhere on a minor sideroad, so we had it all to ourselves to explore. What made this castle so special is that we found a set of stairs in perfect condition leading up all the way to the roof! Inside the walls there were many dark passages around the main halls to the defensive murder holes, and the few windows. It looks like this castle was not modified at later ages like some other ones, which were fitted with larger windows to make them more pleasant to live in, but less well defended. The view from the top was rather scary, but I guess a cow below would make a landing somewhat softer! The spiral staircase was the coolest thing ever, being wide to the 2nd floor but quite narrow to the upper floors and roof. There are also sections of what appears to be the original wall present around the castle. Really cool place, 'out of this time' and forgotten.

Clonmacnoise: Our second day started with a visit to the oldest early monastic site that we would see on our trip. Clonmacnoise has a very long history, dating all the way back to about 548 AD. It was founded by St. Ciaran and since he was buried here, it was a place for pilgrimages. The site also bordered two great ancient Irish kingdoms, Meath to the east and Connacht to the west. The site is situated on the River Shannon (just south of Athlone), and has several buildings, two towers and many old gravestones. The towers were used for saftey during Viking raids, who arrived in Ireland with their big axes at the end of the 8th century. Viking coins have been found on site, but I didn't see any. After the Vikings came the Normans in 1178, who eventually build the castle of which very little remains just to the west of the site - it looks like it fell over! The English finished off the site in 1552 with one final raid. The site has a very nice visitor centre with many original stone items and explanations of the history of the site.

Clontuskert Priory: This was the first real abbey that we have visited, located just south of Ballinasole and very close to the little village of Kellysgrove. It's a great site so it's surprising that it's not mentioned in a couple guide books that I have... The main building is very extensive and there are numerous interesting stone carving decorations, especially above the main entrance (the four figures are St. Michael the Archangels, John the Baptist and the Saints Catherine and Augustine). This Augustinian priory of St. Mary was founded in the 12th century by the King of Connaught, but was destroyed and rebuilt in the early 15th century. The design plan is called claustral, in which the church and domestic buildings of a monastery are arranged arought the central cloister, a design used since the time of St. Benedict in the early 9th century and one that we have encountered in all the other abbeys we visited. Great site to explore!

Isserkelly Cemetery: While driving towards N66 from Athenry on the side roads we came across this old cemetery with a very ruined building, which must have been the church at one time. Only bits of the walls remain and the outlines of a door, but it's nicely overgrown so I snapped a few pictures. The real find however was across the street - as I got out of the car I noticed a great tower in the field not very far away (see the pics below).

Caherlinny Castle: This castle was discovered by chance. As we were driving from Athenry on side roads to N66 in search of Castledaly, we chanced upon an old cemetery (see above) and while getting out of the car I noticed the tower just down the hill. Since I cannot find any reference to it so far I named it afer a village nearby (it is about 1km south if Isserkelly South). It was easy to find the road that run right beside it. The castle was locked up unfortunately, but after talking to some locals we found that it has a solid staircase and it's possible to get all the way to the top. We did not bring our battering ram with us unfortunately to help us "remove" the metal gate... The castle is most likely from the 15th-16th century given the design, and while a shell, inside it appears to be more or less intact. There are some traces of a moat around it perhaps and something that looks like a wall near ground level very close to the base of the building. Some rocks in front of the main entrance further away could be the left overs of the gate in the wall. We got hungry after this one so we had a bit to eat, and we milked some local cows while at it...

Eskershanore Castle: The actual name of this small castle is not known to me as I did not find it in any book or oneline while researching places to visit, but we were told about it by a couple of ladies while trying the find Castledaly, so I named it using the coolest sounding village name in the vicinity. It is located on a little side road about 300m north of the Kilchreest National School and visible form the highway N66 (I guess it could be called Kilchreest Castle?). It was a great find because it had a partial spiral staircase leading to the first floor (which was missing) and bits and pieces of the stairs going higher. We were debating climbing them, but coming down would have been rather tricky! The fragmented staircase gave a great view of its construction however, something that got me very fasinated on this trip. It looks like the top part of the walls along with its defenses is missing and the castle is located on a tiny hill, with some rocks around near the base, perhaps these belonged to a defensive wall around the tower at one time? We were close to Gort so we spent the night there, walking around town for a few minutes.

Kilmacduagh Monastic Site: When we got to Gort at the end of our second day the weather was cloudy. We checked in and went for a walk around town. Soon into our walk the clouds started to move away and with the warm sun low on the horizon we decided to drive to the next site on our map, Kilmacduagh, hoping to get some nice afternoon shots of the site. It was was only 10 min away and who knew what the weather would be like the next day! We were not dissapointed - the site looked outstanding in the yellow sun hanging over The Burren to the west. The most interesting feature here is of course the very fine round tower, tallest one in the country at 34m. The tower actually leans over a bit - 60cm out of the vertical at the top. Most of the current buildings here date from the 13th-14th century but the monestary was founded by St. Colman MacDuagh in the 7th century and the site was an important center of learning during the medieval times. It was cloudy the next morning when we came back to visit the last set of buildings that we did not get to see the evening before, so it's good that we made the trip the day before!

Leamaneh Castle: This is really a monor house, built in 1648, but the slender fortified tower on the east end was built about 1480 with the rest added on later. Located on our route just north of Corrofin, we stopped here for a quick visit and asked a nearby farmer for permission to go in. The building has a set of stairs that are locked unfortunately, since they appear to be in good condition and one can probably get all the way to the top. The building is very large with many bright windows, but it still has that old feeling to it! The west most corner had a square tower that was very green inside.

Poulnabrone Portal Dolmen: Now, for something different! The first two pictures are from a Bronze Age stone fort just south of the stone - we did not go in as the site did not look interesting enough to pay few minutes visit... Poulnabrone is the first dolmen stone that we have seen (we saw a smaller one later near Cregganbaun north of the Doo Lough Pass), and it's huge! The name interestingly translates to "the hole of the sorrows". Located in a great spot in a field of limestone, it really stands out. There is a trace of stones that surround the monument, and it's possible that that it was covered to some extent (like the cairn burial mounds we visited later, but they had a different sturcture inside, with several burial chambers). Excavations found the bones of 16 individuals here along iwth some polished miniature axeheads, a pendant and a number of flint tools. This was a really different and cool thing to see!

Gregans Castle: We came across this tower house while driving to the coast through The Burren. It was a nice stop becasuse the tower has been restored and gives a great idea of what these looked liked in their prime years. The wooden beams for the floors (for which we have seen the rectangular holes in many other towers and castles), wooden or tile floors, the doors, windows, roof and the paint job is all new, plus some of the stone work. The castle was free, another bonus, with a donation box so I left a coin. We pulled a Da Vinci in this one... (you'd have to be there and seen the movie to get that!).

Galway Bay: On our way to the west coast around the town of Lisdoonvarna we came across another castle which we could not get close to no matter how hard we tried (there's a story behind that...), but got a few pics from around. It was in a great location, with Cliffs of Moher visible to the south and the ocean to the west. Soon after we hit the ocean and enjoyed some fresh air. The pictures tell it all.

Corcomroe Abbey: This Cistercian abbey was founded in 1194 by the King of Thomond. It is located in the most beautiful spot in a sheltered valley at the end of a 1km side road. Again we had the place to ourselves to explore. There were some very interesting ornamental stone details around the arches and column capitals, and someone was turned to stone and rests there. There are a couple of smaller buildings in the vicinity as well, which are fairly overgrown inside and not visited as much.

Dunguaire Castle: We stopped at this scenic castle in Kinvara for a few minutes to have a look around. Unfortunately it was low tide at the time of our visit, so the castle was not surrounded by water, but it still was a fine view. We walked around the castle walls and within (nothing of interest inside and it's a small wall enclosure). One can pay to go into the tower and to the battlements on the top, which has been restored and altered over the ages, but we skipped out on this for obvious reasons. This tower house was built in 1520 on the site of an older strongold. The box machicolations are found on each of the four walls, for pouring hot oil or dropping rocks on unsuspecting tourists who walk around the castle, like we did.

Abbeyknockmoy Abbey: This Cistercian abbey, also called Knockmoy Abbey, was founded in 1190 by the King of Connacht and is located in a field just north of Abbeyknockomoy village. A nice lane leads up to it. This abbey had some unique stone decorations, some which could only be see through a gate in the part that is closed off. A roof has been restored on a section of the chancel to protect a tomb with one of the very faw late stone inscriptions written in the Irish language and a very rare medieval wall fresco (the chancel is locked up to protect it from Vandals). The fresco shows the martyrdom of St. Sebastian and also three dead kings and three living kings with the inscription "We have been as you are, you will be as we are". In 1483 the abbot was accused of setting fire to the abbey, maybe the fresco got to him!

Maylough Castle: We happened upon this ruin while driving to Roscommon (it's located near the town of Maylough on the N63, north side of the highway). The castle was build around 1230-1250 according to information from a local that we talked to, and had one of it's wall knocked down by cannon fire. It's in a nice setting in a field next to a graveyard. We had great sunlight falling on it which illuminated the inside superbly, at any other hour it would have been much darker inside! The walls are impressively thick, however, nothing but a shell remain here. I think the same cannon might have hit the tree down the hill!

Roscommon Castle: This has to be the most impressive castle from the outside that we have seen! While the castle looks great from the outside, on the inside most of the towers are missing most of their walls and the other ones are locked. There is a large open area in the center of the enclosure. Sections of the walls that fell to the ground give an idea of the strenght of this great castle. First work on the castle begun in the 1260s and the towers originally had a more defensive look but were later fitted with large windows in the Elizabethan era (late 1500s), unfortunately. It was captured by the O'Conors, rulers of Cannacht, in 1341 and may have affected the design of Ballintober Castle nearby which we visited next. There are still horses waiting for the knights to come back and take them to battle...

Ballintober Castle: The last castle for the day, Ballintober is located at the edge of a very small town of Ballintober close to Castlerea (where we stayed at the end of our third day). This a great ruin with impressive polygonal towers at the south and west ends, and was the main stronghold of the O'Conors, rulers of Cannacht, who built it in the early 1300s. The walls are rectangular and the towers, which provided the accomodation for the residents, are polygonal which is a nice departure from square or round towers. The outline is similar to the larger Roscommon Castle that we have visited just before and may have been influnced by Roscommon's design since the O'Conors captured it in 1341. While it is in a much ruined state, the castle was lived in not very long ago, in the 1800s. We only found a bit of the stairs left in the west-most tower that took us to a drop off on the first floor, however, a feature that we have not seen before was a doorway and a set of stairs in the middle of the north wall leading to the ruined wall curtain for some fine views of the sunset! The moat along the north and west walls is still evident.

Dunmore Castle: It was a short but nice morning stop on our fourth day to this little Anglo-Norman tower as it was on our way from Castlerea to Ross Errilly. The tower borders a very pretty forest and has quite impressive walls, with remains of the defensive outer walls found in the adjacent forest. The current structure dates from around 1325, with the larger windowns put in later. The arched doorways were fun to walk though; they are very rough and thick.

Ross Errilly: This was a perfect morning to explore the beautiful friary, which happens to be the largest Franciscan friary in Ireland. It was founded relatively late, in 1498, contributing to it's good state of preservation no doubt. This place is massive and a couple of times we got separated and could not find each other! The tower is unfortunately locked up, but there are bits of stairs in few places, one that gives access to the second floor for some good views and wall hopping, getting one close to a very interesting carving of Jesus on a cross at the base of what appeared to be a set of stairs. This friary also has a smaller second cloister, which is unusual as all the others always have one. Looking to the west from one of the walls I could see our next destination, mountains, in the distance!

Lough Mask, Nafooey, Doo Lough Pass & The Atlantic: Next in store we had a bit of driving. From Ross Errilly we headed through Cong and got into some beautiful hills. We took the more scenic (and narrow!) road around the west bay of Lake Mask which went through Cloghbrack to Drishaghaun (south of the bay) and then back to Finny, rather than going directly from Clonbur to Finny. This was a much more enjoyable drive! The road around Lough Nafooey which came next was breathtaking - very few houses or fences around here, just a narrow road and some sheep! We pulled over by the side and climbed the side of a hill for some better views. Then we drove around Killary Harbour and headed for the magnificent Doo Lough Pass. The taller mountains here were shrouded in clouds, mist and fog (take your pick!). The road follows the shoreline of Doo Lough for a while. It's interesting how abruptly these mountains begin and end. Just north of the pass we headed west off the R335 on R378 (there is a cool dolmen stone on the right side of the road close to the interesection) to check out some less frequented beaches south of the Silver Strand area. We basically went to the end of the road in the Dadreen area!

Old Church in Devlin South: While driving to the beach (above) I noticed an old church at the base of the hill. We decided to stop by for a visit and to take a few pictures on the way back. It's located across from Devlin South community and there is a house right beside it. It's a fine setting looking at it from the road, with the hills behind, and a great view from the church itself on the ocean! All that remains are the walls of the small church, a couple of little side rooms and the tower, which is in very good condition but it looked very basic and didn't have any stairs - maybe it was just a bell tower? The holy water is also still there! The local stones that were used to built the church look very nice though, and while they were covered by plaster when it was in its prime a few hundred years ago, it must have been a peaceful place to worship.

Achill Island and NW Ireland: Near the end of our 4th day in the afternoon we landed on Achill Island. First we stopped at Keel beach, then drove down to Keem beach and then back to Dooagh for the night at a great B&B at the west end of town. It was nice to see a nice car in such a place! It was fairly cloudy in the afternoon and the next morning and we decided to do a morning hike around the lakes at the base of Croaghaun, one of the tallest peaks on the island (667m). With strong winds and clouds blowing us around we knew that we were in the right place! The views were great, the weather cleared up enough at times that we did see a bit of the sun, the north side of the island and even a rainbow. With no one around the two hour hike was a great adventure. After a quick shower at the B&B we headed for Silvermore, saw the abondoned village at its base and stopped at the beaches in Doogort (wow!). Then we got off the island and headed north on the N59 to Bangor - this was a GREAT section of the road to drive on.

Carrowkeel Tombs: This was a pretty neat place. No people around, strong winds and rain again, and some Neolithic tombs. The weather was decent when we started the walk from the car, but got pretty bad once we arrived at the tombs; cold, windy and of course rainy. Luckily, we hid inside one of the tombs which as very quiet and much warmer (and dry!). We have seen five tombs around but only got into one. The 2nd one was impossible to get into (maybe I would have tried harder if buckets of water weren't being thrown at me), the 3rd one we didn't want to go to given the weather conditions, one was collapsed and the last one is on a opposite ridge which would reqire quite a hike (this one looks large though and probably gets very few visitors). It was really amazing to be inside this tomb, not what I we expected - a very unique feeling (guess like being inside a grave!). Huge rocks on the side support a very large slab for the roof and the tombs were closed off by large rocks it seems, two of which were not there. It's kine of a like a stone circle inside. There is also a roof box, similar to the huge Newgrange tomb, and a slit in the lower rock for the sun. No carvings were noticable on the rocks, other than modern grafitti. The tombs are on a high ridge, with a great views around.

Ballymote Castle: We passed through the town of Ballymote and made a quick stop at this castle. The castle dates back to 1300 and was built by the Red Earl of Ulster (Richard de Burgo). It's locked up unfortunately, so we did a quick run around. The castle looks very impressive with a number of large circular defensive towers. Most are 'trimmed' to the wall height but were originally higher, as can be seen in some. For some reason the front towers are all but missing! There were two large towers guarding the entrance of which only the back walls survive and a bit on the right side of the right tower. The other towers look great from the outside however.

Trim Castle : Trim is the largest Anglo-Norman castle in Ireland with well fortified curtain walls. The castle was built in the 1170s and begun as a one storey keep which was made taller in 1196. The castle was build by De Lacy on lands given to him by King Henry II and was later imporoved on the orders of Edward III. Richard II also contributed to improvements. The River Boyne flows along the north-west side and the castle had a river gate here. The keep is unsual as it is not a simple square/rectangular design but more complicated. The castle was not occupied after 1649. It was fun walking around the walls, some of which are totally missing, but most are intact. The view down from and along the wall curtain gives an idea of the strength of the castle, and bits of the moat around the keep can still be seen. We skipped the 'guided keep tour' as I'm sure they would not let us jump around as we did in other castles! What made this visit also special was that this was the castle that was used in the movie Braveheart - the English king threw out his son's lover from one of the windowns in the keep (we looked for the bloody stain but the rains must have washed it off).

Bective Abbery: This is one of the first Cistercian abbeys in Ireland. It was founded in 1147, before the Norman invasion. Most of the abbey as survives is from the 1400s, but some of the original stonework survives. This abbey is interesting for several reasons; it has a well fortified tower (which almost looks like a Norman keep), it has beautiful cloisters with the roofs intact, unlike all the other abbeys that we have seen on this trip. Like Trim castle above, this abbey was also used in the movie Braveheart - there is a scene where the Frenach Princess is talking in to her maid about William Wallace and love in one of the cloister passages. I didn't see the Princess, but I found a cool carving of a cleric carrying a crozier.

Slane Friary: The church is from a Franciscan friary founded in 1512. This is a smaller friary but it has a narrow tower that we climbed (with parts of the wall missing!) with about 60 steps in all! The next site that we went to, Newgrange, is visible from the top. There is a nice electric fence around it as well, to keep visitors away from the cows...

Knowth & Newgrange Passage Tombs: These are very fascinating sites on the River Boyne. Built during the Neolothic period, c. 3000 BC, the large tomb at Knowth was the largest building in the world at its time. The place is known as Bru na Boinne, The Palace of the Boyne. These tombs were used to store the remains of the ancient people who lived here. There are the large tombs and a collection of about 40 smaller satellite tombs. Knowth has 127 massive kerbstones surrounding the great tomb, most with interesting engravings - this is actually the largest collection of Neolithic art in Europe. Newgrange has 97 stones with a decorated entrance stone and a few decorated ones at the back. It also has a 'roof box' through which the sun's rays came in at mid-winter for a few minutes (if it wasn't cloudy in the morning, so almost never!). We didn't have time to visit Dowth (next time!). It was great to be able to go inside such an ancient structure and walk around the site. We spent the last night in the town of Swords.