Fastnet Trails: Rossbrin Loop, Part 2

Start this walk at the Rossbrin boat slip

Start this walk at the Rossbrin boat slip

A joint post by Finola and Robert

In Part 1 of this trail post, we took you around the first leg of the Rossbrin Loop trail, which we have broken into two shorter rambles.

This one is steeper and climbs higher, but it’s full of interest and you can take it as easy as you like. For this walk, you park at the Rossbrin boat slip, at the eastern end of Rossbrin Cove.

Rossbrin trails route revised Export

You won’t need off-road boots and you can take the dog. Give yourself two to three hours, depending on whether you decide to do the detour to see the wedge tomb. This is a nice, rambling pace, with lots of time to stop and chat to anybody you meet, admire the wonderful views, take lots of photographs, and maybe indulge in a picnic along the way. 

The first hill affords lovely views back to Rossbrin Castle

The first hill affords lovely views back to Rossbrin Castle

Set off north and turn right after the boat yard and then left up the hill. As you ascend you will see the remains of old mine workings to your left. The earliest records of mining at Ballycummisk refer to 16 tons of ore raised in 1814 and 42 tons in 1815. In 1838 a shaft was sunk 20 fathoms, mainly through barytes and shale. In 1857, 174 tons of ore were sold, mainly copper. By 1861 the mine was recorded as being ‘one of the best developed and very satisfactorily worked.’ The ‘Lady’s Vein shafts’ are marked on the OS 6” map. The Ballycummisk Mining Company worked the mine from 1872. In 1878 a section down to 228 fathoms was noted, but in the same year the mine was recorded as ‘abandoned’. Nowadays some concrete pillars and the slag heap are the most visible remains of the once thriving mine-site.

Old Mine site

There are extensive views over the countryside beyond the old mines

At the top of the hill, where you will find a sign to the riding stables, turn left and head through the townland of Ballycummisk with pleasant country views to the west. Once you get to the crossroads you may see a little wayside stall selling vegetables on the honour system. If you’ve brought a backpack, this would be a good place to stock up on carrots, potatoes, or yellow tomatoes.

Beware of the bull

Wayside StallAt this point, we recommend a detour to see the Kilbronogue wedge tomb. Turn left and walk until you reach the next crossroads. Go straight through the crossroads and a short distance on you will see a lay-by on the right side of the road. Step over the wire and find your way up the path that has been generously maintained by the landowner. In early summer this path is awash with ox-eye daisies. It meanders up through a birch plantation until you emerge in a small clearing to find the wedge tomb.

Path to wedge tomb, Kilbronogue

Like most wedge tombs, this one is orientated to the west – take a look at our post Wedge Tombs: Last of the Megaliths for lots of information on this class of Bronze Age monuments. This is a lovely example, and we are grateful to Stephen Lynch for ensuring its wellbeing and providing access to it.

Kilbronogue Wedge tomb

Retrace your steps to the second cross roads and turn left up the hill, turning right when your reach a T junction, and then take the left fork at the Y. This is a pleasant country road – farmland stretches on either side, with ruined or abandoned houses dotted here and there among the neat modern farmhouses with their colourful paint and bowery entrances.

In spring and summer the hedgerows are heady with wild flowers of every variety.

Turn right again at the next junction and you will come shortly to the beautiful and atmospheric Stouke burial ground. Although we have read that there are the ruins of an old church in this graveyard, we have never found it. But there are other items of great interest here, the traditional burial place of many island dwellers. In the centre you will find the grave of two priests, Fathers James and John Barry, who were parish priests here during the time of the famine. According to the Historic Graves listing for Stouke  “Sarah Roberts who is buried here in this tomb, died at an early age… worked as a housekeeper for the parish priest… When his sister died and was also buried here, Sarah’s coffin was in perfect condition. She was reburied with the parish priest even though she was not a Catholic. People of the parish come to pray at this tomb on the 24th June at John’s Feast Day.”

A little way to the right of this grave is a rock, partially covered by heather, that contains a bullaun stone, known locally as the Bishop’s Head. Once again, according to the Historic Graves entry, “The bishop was confirming children in a nearby church. Red coats came in and beheaded the bishop.”

Amanda photographs the bullaun stone

Amanda photographs the bullaun stone

There are offerings of coins in jars at the bullaun stones, and at the priests’ grave. Leave one too, along with a prayer or wish for a loved one.

Bishops Head bullaun stone, Stouke Graveyard

Bishop’s Head bullaun stone, Stouke Graveyard

From Stouke the road drops down to a cross roads. Go straight through and start to climb again up to Cappaghglass. Ignore the left turn and carry on until you reach a Y junction. Take the right fork, pass all the ripe blackberries (if you’re able) and as you crest the hill the whole of Roaringwater Bay is laid out before you. Few views in the country can equal this one for sheer scope: all the islands in Carbery’s Hundred Isles come into view, The Baltimore Beacon gleams on its rocky outcrop to the east, while the Fastnet Rock sits sturdily on the horizon, and the Mizen Peninsula stretches away to the west.

Roaringwater Bay from Cappaghglass

Descend the steep hill, turning right at the T junction, and meander down to Rossbrin Cove.

Shaft of Sun

Now a peaceful boat harbour, Rossbrin in the 15th Century was the domain of Finghín O’Mahony, the Scholar Prince of Rossbrin, a man who used the riches extracted from taxes paid by Spanish and French fishermen to fund a centre of learning here in Rossbrin where scribes and learned men wrote and translated books which still exist today. The ruined section of the castle still standing gives little evidence of the erudite court that was once respected throughout Europe. A fish ‘palace’ for processing pilchards once provided employment to the people of Rossbrin, but little trace remains of it, or the holy well at the shore that once attracted those seeking cures for their ailments.

Kayaks at Rossbrin Cove

If the weather’s warm and the tide’s in, this is a good spot for a dip. No? Well, a photograph, then. 

We hope you’ve enjoyed the two Rossbrin Loop walks – do let us know how you got on.

Ballycummisk Mine

Ballycummisk Mine

When is a castle..?

Leamcon Castle

Leamcon Castle (Black Castle)

…not a castle?

Answer: When it’s a Tower House. Maybe.

Harold Leask first published his classic Irish Castles in 1941, and it was subsequently revised and reprinted several times. My own copy was bought in the late 60s and accompanied me to Canada and back. Leask’s book was the first comprehensive work on the subject – a work of erudition but thoroughly readable with charming pen-and-ink illustrations. 

Leask insisted on the use of the term tower houses for small simple castles and described them thus:

They are simple oblongs with four walls, subtly battered, rising sheerly from a bold base-batter, to parapets which are crenellated in the Irish fashion. A small turret, at one corner, generally above the staircase, rises to a greater height than the rest of the building, while within the parapets are the two gables of the roof. Very often a small machicolation projects from the parapet and commands the entrance doorway below…

Ardintenant Castle

Ardintenant Castle (White Castle). It sits on top of an earlier ring fort.

In researching for this post the other main source I consulted was a doctoral thesis by Mark Wycliffe Samuel, The Tower Houses of West Cork. More recent (1998), it concentrated on the castles of this area and is packed with detail about the ones we see around us here in Roaringwater Bay and on the Mizen Peninsula, from Baltimore (Dún na Séad) in the east, to Cape Clear Island (Dún an Óir) to the south and Three Castle Head (Dunlough) to the west.

Dunlough Castle, known as Three Castle Head

Dunlough Castle, at Three Castle Head

These simple towers were quite different from the enormous and elaborate military castles that cemented Anglo-Norman power all over Ireland after the invasion of 1169, such as Trim in County Meath, or Cahir in Tipperary. Tower houses were built in what Leask calls a ‘great building revival’ from about 1440 into the 1600s. In what may be the forerunner of the European Grants system, Leask says many of the earliest ones were built as ‘£10 Castles’. A statute of 1429 offered every liege man of our Lord the King…who chooses to build a castle or tower sufficiently embattled or fortified..to wit twenty feet in length sixteen feet in width and forty feet in height or more, that the Commons of the said counties shall pay to the said person to build the said castle or tower ten pounds by way of subsidy. Although this statute seems to have been applicable only in certain counties (mainly around the Pale) it established a pattern for tower building which was adopted, with variations, all over Ireland.

Dunmanus Castle

Dunmanus Castle

The Roaringwater Bay and Mizen towers fit this pattern very well. They were not, however, built by the Anglo-Normans – West Cork was too remote and beyond their reach. They were built by the great Irish chiefs of the O’Mahoney, the McCarthy and the O’Driscoll clans and probably replaced earlier strongholds such as promontory forts (as at Dunlough), large ring forts (Ardintenant) and stone forts/cashels (such as the one at Knockdrum). These chiefs became wealthy through their control of the fisheries, through piracy, and through tribute exacted from those who occupied their traditional territory. At least one of them (Rossbrin) became famous as a centre of learning and scholarship during this time. Of the ones I will describe in this post, all are situated at the sea. or close to it, with commanding views over their territory and sometimes within sight of each other.

Leamcon, known as Black Castle

Leamcon, known as Black Castle. Notice the base-batter in this picture and the first one below.  The lowest level is the widest (battered) with the walls sloping in above this base

The power of these great Irish households lasted until the 1601 battle of Kinsale when the Irish forces under Hugh O’Donnel and Hugh O’Neill (with Spanish help) were defeated and an enormous re-conquest and re-colonisation began under Elizabeth and continued unabated under the Stuarts and, most disastrously, under Cromwell.

Each tower in this area was built in the same manner, which Samuel refers to as the Raised Entrance type of tower. There were two entrances, one on the ground floor and one on the first floor. The ground floor room was for cattle and the doorway was therefore as wide as would admit a cow.

A glimpse inside the raised entrance at Ardintenant

A glimpse inside the raised entrance at Ardintenant

The raised entrance (directly above it, or staggered to the left or right) was only wide enough to admit one person at a time – a defensive feature. This entrance either led into the first floor room or (since the ground floor room could have a lofty ceiling) onto a landing where a staircase led up to this room and then continued up through the wall (usually the thickest wall of the tower) to the upper floors. The first floor room was mainly used for storage and had either no windows or very small slits.

Dunmanus, with its additional turret. The top windows were always the largest.

Dunmanus, with its base-batter and additional turret. The top windows were always the largest

The second floor room was often the principle chamber, where all the main activities of the family took place – living, eating, meeting, administrating, celebrating (music and poetry were highly prized by these chieftains). If there was a third floor it contained the solar, or private chambers for the women of the household.

Barrel vaulted ground floor room at Dunmanus. Note access to stairwell.

Barrel vaulted ground floor room at Dunmanus. Note access to stairwell.

Construction techniques varied – some were superbly constructed of cut stone while others used a lot of rubble to build up the insides of walls. Putlogs, or holes where scaffolding timbers were insert, are clearly visible in several of the towers. The lowest floors were of course the thickest – the base-batter provided a solid foundation and the walls sloped inwards from it. The top of the tower allowed for thinner walls, and therefore also bigger windows (although none were large).

A garderobe (toilet) was a feature of the top two floors, with a chute out to the outer walls. In towers with additional turrets (Kilcoe, Dunmanus, Leamcon) the garderobe and sleeping chambers were sometimes contained in that turret, or the spiral stairs wound up through it. While most towers had stone spiral or straight staircase, some appeared to access each floor by means of ladders – there is no evidence for permanent wooden staircases.

The ground floor room (the byre) was often vaulted and this feature is still clearly visible in the most intact towers. Above that, the floors were of timber, sometimes with trapdoors for lifting up supplies. Presses (cupboards) consisting of niches in the walls may have contained lanterns or have been used to store valuable items.

There were no fireplaces in these towers. Fires were lit on flagstones laid on the wooden floors and the smoke rose to the tall ceilings and escaped out the small windows. In addition to this level of discomfort there is a contemporary account (quoted by Leask) which describe the primitive living arrangements in some of the towers: They have little furniture, and cover their rooms with rushes, of which they make their beds in summer and straw in winter. They put rushes a foot deep on their floors and on their windows [embrasure floors?], and many of them ornament their ceilings with branches.

But not all chieftains lived in a primitive way. Samuel uses the available evidence to construct a picture of life at Togher, one of the towers he studied, and it’s not hard to picture Fineen O’Mahoney, Scholar Prince of Rossbrin, in such a setting.

We can form a picture of the principal chamber in use: Tadhg an dúna or Togher’s principal chamber was probably furnished with imported furniture, pewter plate and cutlery and was panelled with ornately carved timber. His family, his bard, …clerk, lawyer, priest and physician, as well as members of the derbfine [extended clan] such as cavalrymen could eat there. They could sit with the chieftain to one side of the principal salt cellar, while others sat ‘below’ it… Servants prepared food out of sight ‘below stairs’. Bardic musicians, soothsayers, gamblers and others would be admitted as honoured guests, but the household ward and servants ate in the kitchen/ward room.

Although its name means Fort of Gold, today Dún an Óir on Cape Clear Island looks remote and forbidding

Although its name means Fort of Gold, today Dún an Óir on Cape Clear Island looks remote and forbidding

Similarly, Dún na Séad (Fort of the Jewels) Castle in Baltimore, seat of the wealthy O’Driscolls (they also had Dún an Óir (Fort of Gold) on Cape Clear Island), was

a centre of administration for trading activities and collection of taxes from foreign traders frequenting the port. In the middle and later-middle ages therefore, the O’Driscolls enjoyed a prosperous lifestyle. Lavish gatherings took place in the ‘great hall’ of Dún na Séad castle and a well-documented feast in 1413 is said to be one of the earliest records of people dancing in Ireland. This documentary evidence is supported by archaeological finds from recent excavations of the Dún na Séad site, which reveal the presence of late twelfth to fourteenth century pottery from the Saintonge region of France, and reflect the lucrative trade links between Baltimore and Europe at this time.

Dún na Séad Castle, Baltimore

Dún na Séad Castle, Baltimore. Note corner machicolation.

Defensive features were built into all the towers. Besides raised and restricted doorways and hard-to-manoeuvre narrow or spiral staircases, all had a roof ‘wall walk’. Three of the towers (Dún an Oir, Kilcoe and Leamcon) are either inaccessible or accessible by a bridge and there is evidence that connecting ground was deliberately demolished to accomplish this. Windows were small and could be boarded up. Projecting machicolations, especially above entrances or at corners were used, as can be seen at Dún na Séad Castle in Baltimore. Crenellations (notched or serrated ramparts) look like our traditional ideas of battlements. At Kilcoe they may have helped that castle withstand over a year of attack and siege after the Battle of Kinsale.

Kilcoe Castle. Note crenellated battlements and pitched roof.

Kilcoe Castle. Note crenellated battlements and pitched roof

So, should we call them Tower House, or Castles? How about £10 Castles? Archaeologists and historians prefer the more exact phrase tower houses, but castles they are on the maps and in our everyday speech. And if, like us, you are lucky enough to have one in your view, castles they are in our hearts and minds.

Our view to Rossbrin Castle

Our view to Rossbrin Castle

A Moment in Time

Beautiful Rossbrin Cove

Beautiful Rossbrin Cove

It happens so suddenly. One day you will go down to the Cove and the sounds of summer will be in the air: childrens’ voices and laughter from gardens and beach, excited dogs, perhaps a clop of ponies from the riding stable, the flap of sails getting under way and the whirr of outboards on ribs. Then, the end of August comes, and it’s as if a shutter drops mechanically. Gates are shut and blinds are drawn at the many holiday houses along the water; there’s a chill in the morning air and a haze hangs over everything. An ever so slight feeling of melancholy accompanies the Oystercatchers pieu-ing as they glide in.

fuschia

But there’s abundance all around: fat, luscious berries and hips dominate the hedgerows and wild fuschias are as rampant as ever. Bees are constantly in evidence. The sun still comes uninterrupted every day in this record-breaking year while, in the evening, the biggest moon of the season rises magnificently in the east, bringing with it a huge tidal variation: low water empties the Cove almost completely, providing a feasting ground for the little waders, while the Swans are compelled to sit on their single legs forlorn on a mud-bank, or to sail off out to the open water beyond the castle.

haze

On a day last week we perambulated the full rim of the Cove, pausing by Julian’s house at the very end, just before reaching the landmark of Finghin O’Mahony’s ruined tower. Like us, Julian is a year-round resident: there are just a few others. There is activity in the boatyard at the end: they are preparing to receive, over the coming month, all the sailing craft that are currently moored to buoys in the mouth of the inlet: upwards of thirty. Yacht insurance generally runs out at the end of October. Last winter – the stormiest in living memory – saw a single boat ride it all out undamaged on the water, while high and dry in the boatyard several fine yachts were toppled and broken by westerly gales. For some reason (perhaps its because of the now sleeping houses) the birds’ chattering and serenading seems to be louder and more insistent.

When I first came through Rossbrin Cove – many years ago – it didn’t make a positive impression on me. It seemed a bit of a scrappy place, with its huge, muddy slipway at the far end and rusting trailers and discarded dinghies growing in to the encroaching sedges. The shoreline itself, edged with home-hewn jetties and concrete landing places, seemed a little urban: I passed on, looking for a bit more in the way of West Cork scenery and character. Now, the Cove is our daily garden path: with familiarity it has elbowed its way into our hearts and we appreciate every detail. At low tides the rocks are a hunting ground for Mussels (although we have to wait for Good Friday), and sunlit pools are inhabited by scurrying crabs and bewildering varieties of seaweed.

misty

Before the haze burns off, sky and water merge and the islands drift in and out of view. The sea itself is a frontier of the untameable Atlantic but, here in this land of inlets, coastal hills and castles it mirrors the sunlight from its barely rippled surface, and our summer will never end.

Enjoying Rossbrin

Enjoying Rossbrin

Nead an Iolair  - the view to RoaringwaterNead an Iolair – the view to Roaringwater

Midsummer Maunderings…

Beautiful Cappaghglass

Beautiful Cappaghglass

…or Life Seen Through a Lens… Things found, places visited, mainly in the environs of West Cork, often just a few steps from Nead an Iolair, although one or two are from further afield. We have been away in Tipperary this week, so these posts are ‘ones we have prepared earlier’.

A reminder of Megaloceros - the extinct Irish Elk

A reminder of Megaloceros – the extinct Irish Elk, at Ballymaloe

curraghs

Currachs at Baltimore

Shelly Beach - our local secret

Shelly Beach – our local secret

Hugo helps himself!

Hugo helps himself!

guiness

Maestros Matt Cranitch and Jackie Daly playing in Ballydehob

Maestros Matt Cranitch and Jackie Daly playing in Rosie’s

An ordinary day in Ballydehob - with seanchaí Eddie Lenihan

An ordinary day in Ballydehob – with Seanchaí Eddie Lenihan

Ferdia - our garden companion

Ferdia – our garden companion

Dawn Moon over Rossbrin Castle

Dawn Moon over Rossbrin Castle

***

By the way… Dictionary definition of Maunder: to move or act in a dreamy, idle or thoughtful manner. Synonyms: wander, drift, meander, amble, dawdle, potter, straggle… Finola has only ever heard the word used in Ireland.

thady's

Thady’s window on the World