Four Masters

following the Flight of the Earls at the beginning of the seventeenth century, a group of monks in Donegal grew increasingly worried about the preservation of Irish heritage, language, and history. the lead author of the compilation was Mícheál Ó Cléirigh and was assisted by three other men. the group is now often referred to as the Four Masters, an Anglicanization of the original Four Friars used to refer to the men, although only O Cleirigh was a Franciscan. they started the work at the abbey in Donegal town seen here. there are several manuscript copies of the complete annals in existance, held by Trinity College, the Royal Irish Academy and University College Dublin. the ruins of the abbey sit on the bay, a short way down the river from the Castle. because of its proximity to the stronghold of the O’Connell clan, located so far from English power in Ireland in the still remote land region of Donegal, the abbey suffered from the seiges and mortar attacks visited upon the clan. the monestary was abandoned not long after the Flight of the Earls and left to ruin. the graveyard is packed, indicating that the site was used as a burial ground even after the monastery was abandoned. you can still distinguish the cloisters and transept in the ruins, and, in many respects, it resembles all the other ruined monastic sites I visited in my travels. the one thing I found most intriguing about this location (which I didn’t think to take a photo of), was a set of stairs leading up from the hole in the wall next to the arch in the photo. narrow, and headed to who knows where, tucked into the wall as one heads out from the cloister walk.

Dunbeg ring fort

the first place that we stopped to stretch our legs on our Dingle peninsula driving tour was at the Dunbeg Fort. it’s a promontory fort built on the side of a cliff during the Iron Age, which ran from approximately 500 BC to 500 AD in Ireland.

this, and other promontory forts that remin, is a series of defensive ditches and ramparts protecting a central structure or clochan (the entrance to which is seen in the photo). the one at Dunbeg has four lines of defensive banks (which raise one metre above the old ground level and are 3 metres wide in some places), five fosses (between one and one and a half metres deep and up to 12 metres wide) and an inner drystone rampart (which is up to more than 6 metres thick and 12 metres wide). drystone is a technique in which no mortar was used, the stones were simply stacked together to create the structure. much of the western portion of the rampart has fallen off the cliff and into the sea.

there’s evidence of habitation at Dunbeg dating back to the 8th or 9th century AD, and again in the 10th or 11th century. the earliest feature uncovered during excavations, however, indicate that the site was used for some purpose around 580 BC, or the late Bronze Age. my favorite feature was a little nook built into the inside wall of the beehive just to the right of the doorway (when standing on the inside of the arch seen here). it wasn’t big enough for people to hide in, but you could put all your important stuff inside and then close it up and it looked the same as the other wall — you’d never know there was a hiding nook behind it.

the other fun thing about Dunbeg, mentioned in a previous post: the donkeys! this was the only place that I saw donkeys grazing so close to a touirst attraction, and they were certainly friendly.

different wall markings

another interesting tidbit our guide shared with us about Trim Castle.

being a Middle Ages construction, the Castle lacked the lavatory amenaties we’ve come to enjoy in the twenty first century. chamber pots were emptied into a pit in the southwest corner of the Castle. one man had the responsibility of agitating the refuse, too prompt the release of gases and encourage decomposition. the gases, strong with ammonia, were handy for killing off parasitic infestations in clothing, which were hung over lavatory holes in bedchambers of an evening to cleanse them.

our guide explained an additional use for the solid waste, and offered one suggestion as to the rationale for the practice. periodically, the solid waste was spread on the exterior of the castle so that it might be seen from great distances. one reason for this, our guide suggested, was to demonstrate the richness in diet — and thus healthiness — of the castle’s inhabitants.  the darker the marks on the exterior of the castle, the richer the diet and the greater the health of those living inside.

graffiti at Trim Castle

as mentioned, Trim Castle was more or less entirely abandoned during the 17th century and fell into disrepair. that didn’t mean, however, that it ceased to be a destination of interest to some. nearly a century later, visiting historical locations became fasionable as a tourist venture. without the watchful eye of OPW guides or the militant defense of historically significant locations, people felt free to leave their mark. sure, you see that kind of stuff all the time at places like Alcatraz or the Statue of Liberty — names and dates scrawled in pencil or Sharpie. on some level, it’s interesting to think about how future historians might look back on the marks that we leave in such places. at Trim, there are marks — graffiti scratched into stone — from people who visited over two hundred years ago. this one, that our guide pointed out, was the clearest to come out in a photograph, but there were marks like this all over the walls. it reads “Campbell 1743” (the marks were about two inches tall).

Trim Castle

there are many, many things to see in the Boyne River valley. Tara, Slane, Newgrange, Knowth, Dowth, Trim, Battle of the Boyne … and as with much of the rest of Ireland, the area is drenched in history spanning thousands of years.

the Castle at Trim was one of the few places where I decided to take the OPW tour, partly because it was the only way to get inside the keep, partly because it was departing the moment I arrived, and partly because I was quite interested in learning more about the site. the Castle was built primarily by Hugh de Lacey, who took possession in 1172 from Henry II, who was interested in stifling the expansionist ideas of Strongbow. it’s on a raised bit of land at a fording point right on the River Boyne. consequently, even though it’s some 25 miles from the Irish Sea, it was still rather accessible by water. initially, it had twenty corners, which made it exceedingly defendable (one of the towers disappeared after the Castle was neglected and left to ruin). the construction of the entrances and staircases, our guide mentioned, was such that it gave patent advantage to a (right-handed) defender. any (right-handed) attacker attempting to overtake the keep would be at a disadvantage because their right side would be open to attack while climbing narrow, circular stairs.

officially, the Castle is “John’s Castle,” after the King of England. fearing that de Lacey was getting to powerful, John showed up with some 5,000 armed men as a reminder of where power rightly lay. de Lacey, suitably cowed by the show of force, offered the Castle up to John, who shortly left and never thought about the place again.

also, during the Middle Ages, the Castle was the northernmost boundary of British control in Ireland–the Pale. to venture beyond Trim was to enter into territory defended and held by Irish clans; not a good idea for an Englishman.

in the 16th century, the last of the family holding the Castle died and it fell into disrepair. after changing hands several more times, including some interesting Cromwellian machinations, the Castle was abandoned and left alone until restoration/excavation work began in the 1990s.

Barbican gate

in addition to the very well-preserved Trim Castle (the top of which this photo was taken), there is a very well-preserved Barbican gate. each side of the gate served as a different location during the filming of Braveheart. one side was York, and I forget the name of the other location.
Barbican gates were designed to give archers an advantage over advancing troops and this one had two drawbridges.


the town of Cong straddles the Counties of Mayo and Galway, and is nestled between the Lough Corrib and Lough Mask. apparently it is known for the underground streams that connect the two, as well as for its fishing. the Abbey, the ruins of which are seen in the first photo, is reputed to be where Rory O’Connor, the last High King of Ireland, died.

nearby, squatting over the river, is the Monk’s Fishing Hut, seen in the second photo. there’s a gap in the floor, through which the monks could drop a net to snag some fish. it was built sometime inte 15th or 16th century.

there’s a stone bridge over the River Cong (just to the right of the hut), and above archways on either end are stone carvings, one of which is of Rory O’Connor.

on the western side of the river is a park with walking trails. very green and not unlike hiking trails you’d find along rivers in the back woods of Wisconsin. there were some interesting natural features, too, like the sink hole in the last picture. it went down about 10 feet, though i decided to keep my pants dry and not investigate. there were also ruins along the path — buildings of various sizes left to the ivy and other elements.