Travel theme: Interior

After marvelling at the interior artwork of ancient tombs I went looking for other fascinating interiors I’ve explored on my travels. Hidden behind an unprepossessing exterior in the heart of Washington DC, I found an extraordinary monastery, built to resemble the Hagia Sofia in Istanbul, containing catacombs and crypts and exact replicas of holy sites from all over the world. Here is part of the interior in all its neo-Byzantine glory.

old byzantium monastery catacombs washington dc franciscan

When you visit Seattle’s Central Library you are treated to Tony Oursler’s terrific Braincast video installation on your way up the escalator….

seattle public library, architecture, travel, photography, ailsa prideaux-mooney. Rem Koolhaas, Tony Oursler, video installation, art

…but if you take the right twists and turns along the library’s walkways you may just find yourself inside the installation looking out.

seattle public library, architecture, travel, photography, ailsa prideaux-mooney. Rem Koolhaas, Tony Oursler, art installation, video installation

An ultra modern interior to a tunnel at New Haven train station is in perfect contrast to nearby Yale University which was custom built to look ancient.

yale university tunnel

Are you ready to let me into your own interpretation of this week’s theme? If you would like to join in (everyone’s welcome!) here’s what to do:

  • Create your own post and title it Travel theme: Interior
  • Include a link to this page in your post so others can find it too
  • Get your post in by next Thursday, as the new travel theme comes out on Friday
  • Don’t forget to subscribe to keep up to date on the latest weekly travel themes. Sign up via the email subscription link in the sidebar or RSS!

xxx Ailsa

There is one spectacle grander than the sea, that is the sky; there is one spectacle that is grander than the sky, that is the interior of the soul. – Victor Hugo

Prose is architecture, not interior decoration, and the Baroque is over. – Ernest Hemingway

Posted in Photography, Travel, Weekly Travel Themes | Tagged , , , , , , , | 98 Comments

Death most ancient on Witch Mountain

Northwest of Dublin in the county of Meath there is a strange and mystical string of hills known collectively as Sliabh na Cailli, which translates as Hills of the Witch but more commonly referred to these days as Loughcrew. The three main peaks are Carnbane West, Carnbane East (aka Witch Mountain) and Patrickstown and legend calls them The Witch’s Footsteps, for they were created by a witch and giantess who carried boulders in her apron and created these stone-capped peaks by dropping the rocks she carried. In various versions of the legend she either leaps by her own power or jumps on horseback from peak to peak, but all versions end in tragedy when she stumbles and falls to her death at the final peak of Patrickstown.

This poor, doomed witch goes by many names. She appears in legends across Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man in various incarnations as Mother Earth, the Bringer of Storms, the Moon Goddess and the Goddess of Winter. Her mountains in the northwest of Meath are home to some of Ireland’s most ancient monuments and Stone Age art so it was in this direction I pointed my car one stormy Sunday morning. Loathe as I am to travel by toll roads, I took the scenic route, starting along the M4 west from Dublin instead of the more direct M3, and zigzagged my way northwest along Meath’s back roads. It was plain sailing as far as the castle town of Trim but after that the road quality dropped off and I got to experience the authentic Irish driving ritual of dodging potholes, blind corners and tractor traffic jams through Athboy and on towards Oldcastle. Just shy of Oldcastle I turned up a lane the width of my car and as steep as a cliff face. At the top a small car park with an information sign told me I had reached my destination so I parked and started along a small footpath in search of antiquity.

loughcrew, cairn, burial chamber, passage tomb, megalithic, neolithic, county meath, Sliabh na Caillí, travel, Ireland, travelogue, Ailsa Prideaux-Mooney

The footpath led to a turnstile that opened onto a seemingly endless meadow. An uphill trail was marked by a series of posts and an OPW (Office of Public Works) sign urged visitors to stay on trail. The incline was enough to raise the heartbeat and a sweat so when I crested the hill I was excited to start exploring, but it turned out to be a false summit. Inexplicably, there was a small wooden bench surrounded by a wooden fence that suggested you had reached somewhere of note, but the only noteworthy thing I noted was the bench and the fence in the middle of a wide open field. Perhaps it was simply a place for weary visitors to rest on their way to the destination proper. I loved the unapologetic oddness of it; it felt intrinsically Irish.

loughcrew, cairn, burial chamber, passage tomb, megalithic, neolithic, county meath, Sliabh na Caillí, travel, Ireland, travelogue, Ailsa Prideaux-Mooney

Just past the fenced bench the hill began again with vigour, renewed and even steeper. The trail markers stretched onward and upward and I steeled myself for another climb.

loughcrew, cairn, burial chamber, passage tomb, megalithic, neolithic, county meath, Sliabh na Caillí, travel, Ireland, travelogue, Ailsa Prideaux-Mooney, mountain of the witch

Judgmental sheep mocked my slow progress. They paused their grazing mid grassy mouthful and raised their heads to enjoy the spectacle of me labouring up the steep slope. When I passed by they returned to their lunch with amused smirks on their woolly faces.

loughcrew, cairn, burial chamber, passage tomb, megalithic, neolithic, county meath, Sliabh na Caillí, travel, Ireland, travelogue, Ailsa Prideaux-Mooney

The climb was more than worth it, for at the end of the second incline lay the true summit, topped by a spectacular megalithic cairn dating back to somewhere around 3,500 BC.

loughcrew, cairn, burial chamber, passage tomb, megalithic, neolithic, county meath, Sliabh na Caillí, travel, Ireland, travelogue, Ailsa Prideaux-Mooney

It doesn’t matter if you’ve seen photos or footage or read about cairns like this before; nothing can quite prepare you for the moment when you first come across one of these ancient structures situated in the middle of nowhere. It stops you in your tracks, fills you with wonder and captures your imagination. You are compelled to draw nearer and long to know more of the people who built it. The main structure is circled by six smaller satellite cairns in varying stages of ruin, although all are clearly circular and contain stones covered in neolithic art carved thousands of years ago by Stone Age men and women.

loughcrew, cairn, burial chamber, passage tomb, megalithic, neolithic, county meath, Sliabh na Caillí, travel, Ireland, travelogue, Ailsa Prideaux-Mooney

As I drew closer to the main structure the air reverberated with the sound of drum beats. Off to my left a small group of people dressed in brightly-coloured wool sweaters were sitting in the centre of one of the stone circles playing bodhráns, their heads bowed low in studied concentration. A Hollywood film composer would have been hard pressed to find a more perfect musical accompaniment for the approach to this ancient tomb. The rich thunks of the drums ricocheted off the stones and quickened my step. Around the corner a lone woman with grey hair blowing in the wind sat gazing out towards distant hills. She was a guide from the OPW who clearly loved her job. “This is my office” she said, gesturing to the cairn and the surrounding countryside. “I feel pretty lucky”. She gave me a flashlight and let me lead the way into the passage tomb, past heavily decorated stones lined up to create a narrow entrance.

loughcrew, cairn, burial chamber, passage tomb, megalithic, neolithic, county meath, Sliabh na Caillí, travel, Ireland, travelogue, Ailsa Prideaux-Mooney

The wealth of ancient art inside the tomb was staggering and the further in I went, the more complex the inscriptions became. Inside the access tunnel I clambered over a waist-high flagstone to reach the inner chamber; a snug cruciform chamber with a corbelled roof and three side recesses, each with its own corbelled roof. The chamber to the west, facing the entrance, was perhaps the most ornate. The roof of the chamber was covered with symbols depicting what looked to me like a representation of the heavens and at the very back of the chamber was a heavily embellished stone referred to as the Equinox Stone.

loughcrew, cairn, burial chamber, passage tomb, megalithic, neolithic, county meath, Sliabh na Caillí, travel, Ireland, travelogue, Ailsa Prideaux-Mooney, equinox stone

The entrance to the tomb is aligned due east and at sunrise on the vernal and autumnal equinoxes the sun’s rays stream along the narrow passageway and bathe the inner chamber in a golden glow. lighting up the Equinox Stone and tracing an arc across its face. Symbols that look like rudimentary depictions of the sun are etched across the stone and trace the exact route of the sun’s rays on the equinox.

loughcrew, cairn, burial chamber, passage tomb, megalithic, neolithic, county meath, Sliabh na Caillí, travel, Ireland, travelogue, Ailsa Prideaux-Mooney

Back outside my guide suggested I take a moment to sit on the Witch’s Throne, a great kerbstone where the witch, sometimes known as Garavogue, was rumoured to sit and gaze out at the stars and the surrounding countryside. It is said she will grant you a single wish if you make the wish while seated upon her throne and then walk clockwise around the cairn.

loughcrew, cairn, burial chamber, passage tomb, megalithic, neolithic, county meath, Sliabh na Caillí, travel, Ireland, travelogue, Ailsa Prideaux-Mooney, wtich's throne

The top of the throne is marked with a deeply etched cross; a much later addition, perhaps dating back to penal times when the rock was used for mass. The stark incisions looked quite brutal in comparison with the neolithic swirls and curlicues from inside the chamber.

loughcrew, cairn, burial chamber, passage tomb, megalithic, neolithic, county meath, Sliabh na Caillí, travel, Ireland, travelogue, Ailsa Prideaux-Mooney

Christianity left its mark literally and figuratively on this ancient site. The patriarchal society that Christianity ushered in is also the reason the witch Garavogue was downgraded from female deity to frail old hag in post-Christian folklore. I made my wish to a once fierce and powerful sacred feminine, then circumnavigated the summit. The views are genuinely breathtaking; I defy you to find a better panorama in all of Ireland; on a clear day you can see 18 counties from here.

loughcrew, cairn, burial chamber, passage tomb, megalithic, neolithic, county meath, Sliabh na Caillí, travel, Ireland, travelogue, Ailsa Prideaux-Mooney

Here’s a short video of my visit to Loughcrew. I hope you enjoy it, and I hope you get to visit for yourself sometime.

xxx Ailsa

Posted in Europe, Ireland, Photography, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , | 37 Comments

Travel theme: Bountiful

Fresh from revelling in the bounty of Ireland’s autumnal hedgerows, I decided to take a look at some other bountiful moments on my travels.

Soft swaying fronds of sugar cane fields in Guatemala promised a bumper crop and bountiful harvest.

sugar cane, sugar, sugarcane, guatemala, central america, travel, ailsa prideaux-mooney, travel photography

Tulips were bountiful in Skagit Valley

skagit valley, tulip festival, tulips, flowers, nature, travel, photography, ailsa prideaux-mooney, washington tulip festival

…as were the wads of chewing gum stuck on the Gum Wall in Seattle’s Pike Place Market.

seattle, pike place market, lower post alley, market theatre, gum wall, travel, travelogue, ailsa prideaux-mooney

Are you ready to get bountiful, abundant, ample, plentiful and rich? If you would like to join in this week’s travel theme with your own interpretation (everyone’s welcome!) here’s what to do:

  • Create your own post and title it Travel theme: Bountiful
  • Include a link to this page in your post so others can find it too
  • Get your post in by next Thursday, as the new travel theme comes out on Friday
  • Don’t forget to subscribe to keep up to date on the latest weekly travel themes. Sign up via the email subscription link in the sidebar or RSS!

xxx Ailsa

Every moment of your life is infinitely creative and the universe is endlessly bountiful. Just put forth a clear enough request, and everything your heart desires must come to you. – Mahatma Gandhi

Take rest; a field that has rested gives a bountiful crop. – Ovid

Posted in Photography, Travel, Weekly Travel Themes | Tagged , , , , , , | 120 Comments

Hedgerow Harvest

I can’t help but be filled with glee around this time of year when the autumnal equinox arrives in the Northern Hemisphere and like magic, hedgerows everywhere dress themselves in jewel-toned berries, hips and haws. John Keats encapsulated the season in six little words, my favourite description of this time of year: Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness.

foraging, wild food, wild fruit, berries, ireland, hedgerow, autumn, travel, travelogue, ailsa prideaux-mooney

One of the ways I like to welcome in the season is to spend an afternoon bumbling along hedgerows looking for wild fruit. It’s easier in the countryside but even in the most built up areas there are places where wild things grow. I’ve been blackberrying in Seattle‘s Discovery Park and London‘s Hampstead Heath. There are year round foraging tours through many of New York’s parks which make for a fascinating way to spend an afternoon. Central Park is home to a wealth of wild greens, nuts, berries, mushrooms, even an occasional persimmon tree. In Manhattan, however, I find myself more inclined to look but not pick. I figure Gotham wildlife have a hard enough time surviving without us humans trying to pinch their food. A more exciting approach to harvesting in urban areas comes from the UK’s charity The Urban Orchard Project. Around the country they are rejuvenating neglected orchards and planting new community orchards. In urban areas, apart from planting new orchards, they identify existing fruit trees where fruit would normally go to waste and organize groups to harvest and redistribute the fruit throughout the community.

This year I’ve been watching autumn progress along the winding lanes of the Irish countryside. Hedgerows are dripping with rosehips, elderberries and blackberries, and tree branches are groaning under the weight of sour, crunchy crab apples just begging to be made into jelly.

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Yesterday I stole an hour to gather together some wild berries and apples for a hedgerow jelly, some rose hips for a batch of rose hip syrup (the sexiest way to get your daily dose of vitamin C) and a bunch of elderberries for a ye olde worlde (and super tasty) Elderberry Rob (syrup) to guard against flu.

foraging, wild food, wild fruit, berries, ireland, hedgerow, autumn, travel, travelogue, ailsa prideaux-mooney

I also spotted a clump of blackthorn trees sporting the elusive sloe berry and made a mental note to return after the first frosts have readied the sloes for a batch of sloe gin….

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…took time out to make friends with the locals…

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… then cooked up a batch of rose hip syrup.

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Not a bad way to spend an autumn evening.

xxx Ailsa

 

Posted in Europe, Ireland, Photography, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , | 30 Comments

Travel theme: Inviting

Up here in the northern hemisphere the nights are closing in and there’s a slight chill to the air. I usually spend a large part of my travel days on the go, exploring new places, but on days like these, cosy coffee shops like Rome‘s Caffè Greco start to look inviting.

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Also around this time of year, the smell of roasted chestnuts starts to waft through city streets, inviting you to follow your nose and purchase a bag of sweet floury treats.

chestnut vendor, dublin, christmas market, ireland, travel, travel photography, travelogue, ailsa prideaux-mooney

The melodic sound of harp strings being played on a bustling Dublin street invites passers by to take a few moments out of their busy lives and relax.

rhythm, ireland, dublin, harp player, instrument, busker, travel, photography, ailsa prideaux-mooney

On a sweltering hot summer’s day along California’s Lost Coast, the ocean almost calls your name, inviting you to jump headfirst into the cool, clear surf.

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What do you find  inviting? If you would like to join in this week’s travel theme with your own interpretation (everyone’s welcome!) here’s what to do:

  • Create your own post and title it Travel theme: Inviting
  • Include a link to this page in your post so others can find it too
  • Get your post in by next Thursday, as the new travel theme comes out on Friday
  • Don’t forget to subscribe to keep up to date on the latest weekly travel themes. Sign up via the email subscription link in the sidebar or RSS!

xxx Ailsa

Autumn in New York; why does it seem so inviting? – Vernon Duke

When you’re writing, you’re conjuring. It’s a ritual and you need to be brave and respectful and sometimes get out of the way of whatever it is that you’re inviting into the room. – Tom Waits

Posted in Photography, Travel, Weekly Travel Themes | Tagged , , , , , , , | 101 Comments

Travel theme: Strong

Inspired by my travels through Strongbow’s old stomping grounds in Ireland, I looked around for a few photos that might represent the theme strong. First up, an awe-inspiring man sauntered past me in Guatemala as if he were just out for a daily constitutional. Now that’s what I call endurance.

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A strongly-coloured red cardinal cutting quite a dash in a snowy Central Park, New York.

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A ‘strong’ I can’t live without – seriously strong, dark, fully leaded coffee. Mmmm.

coffee, caffe latte, italian coffee, Rome, Italy, photography, travel, travelogue, Ailsa Prideaux-Mooney

So what do you feel strongly about? If you would like to join in this week’s travel theme with your own interpretation (everyone’s welcome!) here’s what to do:

  • Create your own post and title it Travel theme: Strong
  • Include a link to this page in your post so others can find it too
  • Get your post in by next Thursday, as the new travel theme comes out on Friday
  • Don’t forget to subscribe to keep up to date on the latest weekly travel themes. Sign up via the email subscription link in the sidebar or RSS!

xxx Ailsa

The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places. – Ernest Hemingway

Promise me you’ll always remember: You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. – A.A. Milne

Posted in Photography, Travel, Weekly Travel Themes | Tagged , , , , , , | 110 Comments

By Hook or by Crook

Down on the southernmost tip of Ireland‘s Hook Peninsula lies the world’s oldest, intact, operational lighthouse, Hook Lighthouse; a flashy (pun intended) black and white striped Norman structure dating back to the 13th century.

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When you get inside it feels more like a tall, skinny castle than a lighthouse, with its walls anywhere from nine to thirteen feet thick.

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There’s a good reason for the castle-like construction. It was built by castle-builder extraordinaire, 1st Earl of Pembroke and Lord of Leinster William Marshal. Marshal was an intriguing character, having risen from relative obscurity to become one of the greatest knights who ever lived. After a stint as a Knight Templar in Jerusalem, where he probably learned many of his castle-building techniques, he served as military adviser and ambassador to a succession of kings: Henry II, Richard I, John and Henry III, amassing lands in England, Wales, Normandy and Ireland along the way, building a string of castles across Wales, England and Ireland.

Marshal inherited the lands in southeastern Ireland and the lordship of Leinster through his marriage to Strongbow’s daughter, Isabella de Clare. Around the year 1207 he ordered the construction of the tower on a part of the headland where the Welsh monks of Rinn Dubháin had been lighting beacons since the 5th century, to warn passing ships of treacherous rocks.

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Local lore has it that the phrase ‘by hook or by crook’ originated in this part of the world. Depending upon who is telling the story, it was either Cromwell or Strongbow who first coined the phrase to mean ‘by any means necessary’. I’m partial to the Strongbow version, as I believe the phrase was already in use before Cromwell came storming through Ireland. As the story goes, Strongbow had his sights set on the town of Waterford and when he sailed into Waterford Harbour during the Norman invasions of 1170 he saw Hook Head on his right and the village and church of Crook on his left and declared “We will take this town by Hook or by Crook”.

Admission to the lighthouse is by guided tour only but it’s a great insight into the lives of the lighthouse keepers and you get to climb all the way to the top, stopping at each level along the way to view ye olde worlde pantries…

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…and giant fireplaces…

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…and plenty of opportunities to peer through age-old windows at the treacherous rocks below that were the undoing of many a poor sailor.

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Outside there are some great walking trails, but wander them at your own peril, as there are dangerous waves and blowholes galore lurking with intent to whisk you away. Tread with care.

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Of course, such an ancient structure must have its fair share of ghosts, and the story I have for you reaches far back into the annals of time, back to an era when asymetric hairdos and flamboyant clothing were all the rage… the 1980s, when boys struck New Romantic poses in ruffled shirts, lip gloss and eyeliner, girls sported scary perms, donned shoulder pads and dreamed of being Molly Ringwald, Reagan was in the White House, people still thought Tom Cruise was cool and everyone wanted to belong to the Breakfast Club.

Around this time, a group of Japanese tourists descended upon Hook Lighthouse with very little English. There was no point in them taking a tour as they wouldn’t understand any of the content, so instead, they were given permission to wander inside to explore the lighthouse. They had only been in the tower a few minutes before they all came streaming back out again, visibly shaken and freaking out. The staff on duty tried to calm them down and find out what had happened, but they couldn’t communicate through the spoken word so one of the boys grabbed a pen and paper and started drawing. This is what he drew.

hook lighthouse, hook peninsula, ireland, wexford, strongbow, haunted, monks, travel, travelogue, ailsa prideaux-mooney

Is it just me or do those two look like a couple of ghostly lighthouse monks?

Posted in Europe, Ireland, Photography, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , | 42 Comments

Travel theme: : Noise

I’ve been relishing the relative quiet of the countryside recently but even the quietest of corners on the planet have some identifiable noises, from the sounds of chirping crickets or birdsong to planes far overhead. Here are a few noises-filled photos.

Brass bands marching down 5th Avenue in Manhattan on St Patrick’s Day.

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The fizz whizz bang of fireworks always brings out my inner child. This was taken at Seattle’s Space Needle one New Year’s Eve.

seattle washington space needle fireworks new years eve 2013

The refreshing splash of the fountain in London’s Trafalgar Square on a hot summer’s eve.

trafalgar square, london, travel, engladn, uk, travelogue, ailsa prideaux-mooney

Are you ready to make a noise about this week’s travel theme? If you would like to join in with your own interpretation (everyone’s welcome!) here’s what to do:

  • Create your own post and title it Travel theme: Noise
  • Include a link to this page in your post so others can find it too
  • Get your post in by next Thursday, as the new travel theme comes out on Friday
  • Don’t forget to subscribe to keep up to date on the latest weekly travel themes. Sign up via the email subscription link in the sidebar or RSS!

xxx Ailsa

The less a man knows, the bigger the noise he makes and the higher the salary he commands. – Mark Twain

Nowadays most men lead lives of noisy desperation. – James Thurber

 

 

Posted in Photography, Travel, Weekly Travel Themes | Tagged , , , , , , , | 92 Comments

Travel theme: Merchandise

As September rolls in and summer waves farewell, back to school and Labour Day sales hit the stores and merchandise has been flying off shelves everywhere. I’ve never been one for sales – there is no discount deep enough to tempt me to face bargain-hungry crowds – but I do love wandering through markets, corner shops and stalls when the crowds die down, with camera in tow. Here are a few merchandise-themed photos I’ve taken on my travels.  Some gorgeous south-western pottery in Santa Fe.

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A London flower stall at night.

street market flowerstall london embankment

Charcuterie in Rome.

roman-butcher

Hot sauces with spicy names in a Montana novelty shop.

montana-sauces

Tea, herb and spice mixes at a New York farmers’ market.

street market spices

An added bonus of taking my camera shopping with me is that I usually get so wrapped up in photographing objects that I forget to buy anything. It saves me a fortune! So embrace your inner shopaholic and join in with your own interpretation of this week’s theme (everyone’s welcome!) Here’s what to do:

  • Create your own post and title it Travel theme: Merchandise
  • Include a link to this page in your post so others can find it too
  • Get your post in by next Thursday, as the new travel theme comes out on Friday
  • Don’t forget to subscribe to keep up to date on the latest weekly travel themes. Sign up via the email subscription link in the sidebar or RSS!

xxx Ailsa

You know the value of every article of merchandise, but if you don’t know the value of your own soul, it’s all foolishness. – Rumi

Junk is the ideal product… the ultimate merchandise. – William S. Burroughs

Posted in Photography, Travel, Weekly Travel Themes | Tagged , , , , , , | 116 Comments

Do the knight thing

On the western side of Ireland’s Hook Peninsula lies a diminutive village by the name of Templetown. The area is steeped in history for the land around here was held for many years by the Knights Templar after their return from the Crusades. When King Philip IV of France found himself deeply in debt to the Templars, he spearheaded the arrest, incarceration and torture of knights all over France, seizing the Templar assets for himself. The attacks took place at dawn, Friday 13th, 1307 and just over a month later Pope Clement V put out the call to monarchs across the rest of Europe to do the same.

The Templars in Ireland were rounded up on the 10th of January 1308 and imprisoned in Dublin Castle, charged with the same crimes as their European counterparts. No evidence of wrongdoing could be produced and the knights denied all charges. In France, torture led to many knights confessing to ‘crimes’ but in Ireland the knights were given penance, absolved and sent to monasteries to repent their sins. Despite never being proven guilty of anything, they were dispossessed of all possessions and lands, which the Pope then granted to their rivals, the Hospitallers.

I went looking for traces of the legendary knights on a recent visit to the Hook Peninsula on the south coast of Ireland. The cannily named Templars Inn helped me find what I was looking for – it is located right across the road from the Templar ruins.

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The ruins in Templetown are a muddle of different eras, medieval remains probably constructed by the Hospitallers, an impressive castellated tower that was probably added on later to fend off attackers and the shell of a 19th century church.

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 Wander through the gravestones that are scattered around the ruins and you might spot a trace of the Knights Templar who once called this place home. On one of the gravestones there is a sword carved down the length of the stone and at its base, weather worn but still discernible, the figure of a little lamb. The Templars were here.

knights templar, templetown, wexford, hook peninsula, templetown church ruins, templar graves, gravestone, ireland, hospitaller knights, travel, travelogue, photography, history, ailsa prideaux-mooney

 

Posted in Europe, Ireland, Photography, Travel | Tagged , , , , , | 33 Comments