A flying visit to Ballymore Eustace

Last weekend I paid a visit to  a number of sites located along the  Wicklow/ Kildare border.  I began my mini road trip,  which was cut short by the rain, with a visit to Ballymore Eustace. This is a small village located  in Co Kildare.

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Ballymore Eustace village

During the medieval period Ballymore was  part of a manor under the control of  the Archbishop of Dublin and the land around the eastern edge of the village is still known as Bishop’s land.  Historical sources record that a castle was built here in the 12th century.  In the 14th century  Thomas FitzEustace was appointed by the then archbishop as the constable of the castle.  This position was held by a number of his descendant and so  began the areas association with the family.   Ballymore was no backwater and was situated in a strategic location linking Kildare and the Wicklow mountains.  A  parliament was held here in the year 1389.  The castle no longer survives but evidence for an early medieval monastic settlement and later medieval church, is found  on the eastern outskirts of the village, at the site of the  modern Church of Ireland church, dedicated to St John. The earliest historical reference to a church at Ballymore dates to  1192.  Historical sources indicate this medieval church was  dedicated to the Blessed Virgin.  The presence of two high crosses and a number of early medieval grave slabs indicate that there was an important religious settlement  located at this site  from a much earlier  date.

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25″ OS Map of St John’s Church of Ireland church at Ballymore Eustace

Today the site consists of a 19th century church built in 1820  surrounded by a  historic graveyard and mature trees.  This  is a very picturesque site and I would love to come back here on a sunny day.

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St John’s church at Ballymore Eustace

The early medieval remains are scattered around the graveyard.   The most spectacular is a large granite high cross over 2m in height, located on the north side of the 19th century church.   The cross  has a narrow  shaft that  holds up  a solid ring and short arms and  it sits in a large undecorated rectangular base.

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West face of high cross located on north side of church

The west face of the cross  has a central boss located at the centre of the  ring  of the cross head and a second boss at the top of the shaft.   A secondary inscription was inscribed onto the head of the cross and reads (anticlockwise) AMEN/NO (r) THE 9 ERECTED in 16/89/ BY/ AM WALL/ IHS.  The inscription  commemorates the crosses re-erection in 1689.

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Inscription on west face of intact high cross

The east face of the cross  is plain with a boss at the top of the shaft  and moulding around the circle of the cross head.

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A second  smaller high cross is located to the southeast  of the modern church.  This plain cross is also made of granite  but is not in as good repair as the larger cross.  The head of the cross was broken in the past and all that remains today is  the rectangular   shaft  which sits in a triangular base.

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High cross at SE of graveyard at Ballymore Eustace

Traces of the medieval church  mentioned above still survive with  the footing of a wall in the south and a fragment of part of a window opening in the east wall still visible.  The  church was described as  being in good repair in the accounts of the Royal  Visitation of 1615 but it deteriorated greatly over the centuries.

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Partial remains of a window in of the east wall of medieval church. Fragments of the window mounding found beside wall.

Along with the high crosses and the church there are  seven  early medieval grave slabs located around the graveyard.  The stones are very similar to those found    in the nearby graveyard of St Kevin’s Church of Ireland church and date to  around the 12th century.  One of the nicest examples is found close to the west wall of the modern church.

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Early medieval cross slab at Ballymore Eustace

Apart from the  early medieval remains there are many interesting 18th and 19th century graves stones scattered around  the graveyard including the burial place of  the uncle of the Irish revolutionary Theobald Wolfe Tone  (1763 –1798).

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The grave of Wolf Tone’s uncle at Ballymore Eustace

There are also  a number of  distinctive granite crosses  dating to the early 19th century.  I have seen similar  examples at other graveyards in the area.

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19th century grave marker made of granite

Finally at the east end of the graveyard there  is a small stone,  located beside a large table top tomb,which looks like the base of a cross.  The water  from the stone   was used by local people as a folk cure to cure warts   (pers comm CJ Darby).

1-DSCF6151Unfortunately my  time here was brief but I look forward to returning again and spending more time looking  around . According to an information plaque at the site within the 19th century church there are additional medieval features  such as  a medieval font  which came from Coughlanstown and a  16th century effigy of a FitzEustace knight  brought here  from Old Kilcullen.  Unfortunately the church was not open on my visit but I hope to arrange a visit another day.

References

Corlett, C. 2003, The Hollywood Slabs – some late medieval grave slabs from west Wicklow and neighbouring Counties, Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, 133, 86-110.Corlett, C. 2003, The Hollywood Slabs – some late medieval grave slabs from west Wicklow and neighbouring Counties, Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, 133, 86-110.

Grogan, E & Kilfeather, A. 1997. Archaeological Inventory of County Wicklow. Dublin: The Stationery Office.

 

 

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4 comments on “A flying visit to Ballymore Eustace

  1. Finola says:

    Lovely post. You find the most amazing places!

  2. limewindow says:

    Great post. That big cross is a beauty.

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