aliisaacstoryteller

There may be more impressive castles in Ireland than Maynooth Castle, but this is certainly one of the oldest, and arguably, one of the most interesting and historically significant.

Although Ireland is well known for its castles, they’re not an Irish invention. It was the Anglo-Normans in the twelfth century who began building castles in Ireland, and originally they weren’t even made from stone; they were crude but rather effective, motte and bailey constructions.


By Hchc2009 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

A sketch showing what a motte and bailiey would have looked like. Courtesy Wikimedia.


A motte is a raised earthwork upon which a wooden tower, or keep, was constructed. The bailey is a courtyard at the foot of the motte which would have been enclosed within a wooden palisade. These were defensive structures which could be thrown up relatively quickly. In later years, the wooden keeps were replaced with stone, and castles became more elaborate.


PLanning Your Visit to Ireland? Maynooth Castle


The Anglo-Normans came to Ireland in 1169, and Maynooth Castle was established soon after in 1176. The King of Leinster, Diarmait Mac Murchada, had lost a battle in 1166 against the High King, Ruaidrí Ua Conchobair, and  Tigernán Ua Ruairc, who was King of Breffni (where I live). Read More

They are instantly recognizable, and have spawned a whole genre of tourist souvenirs. They are worth seeing, though, and can be found at many early Irish monastic sites. I saw these recently at Clonmacnoise.

the cross of the scriptures

Also known as the West Cross, the Cross of the Scriptures (Cros na Screaptra in Irish) is located directly before the main entrance to the cathedral, or Daimliag. It was erected in 909AD by St Colmán and the King of Tara, Flann Sinna, to commemorate their alliance, and to inaugurate the founding of the Daimliag. On the east face of the cross, there is a panel depicting the two men planting the first post for the church. The detail is fantastic… look at Flann’s long hair and even longer moustache, and Colmán’s finely embroidered robes and tonsured head! Read More

After all, we have plenty of them. Most of our holy wells are nowadays named after famous and beloved Christian saints, mostly Patrick and Bridget, but also some others, too. Personally, I think these were sacred springs long before Christianity came to Ireland, but that’s just my opinion. At the end of the day, your religion is of no consequence; these sites are clearly places of healing energy and spiritual peace regardless of your belief system, and I challenge you to visit one and be unaffected by your experience.

My favourite holy wells are those which lie somewhat off the beaten track. They are harder to get to, and therefore, the reward is greater. You feel you have earned the right to be there. However, these may be least impressive in terms of what you find when you get there… they may be untended by all but the wilderness, but for me that only adds to their charm and authenticity. I am a supporter of the underdog, though, it has to be said. The easier the access, the more commercial these sites tend to be. You have been warned! 😁

Don’t forget to take a personal offering of some kind, and please treat the fairy tree with respect: too many of these special trees are dying because they are poisoned with coins hammered into their trunks, or strangled by items being tied to their branches. Biodegradable offerings are best. Most of all, enjoy your experience. Read More

I‘m not a fan of Halloween: it’s too commercial, too fake, too big. Samhain seems much simpler and more real to me. And whilst I’m not a pagan, (I’m not any religion, actually, just in case you were wondering, but were too polite to ask ☺) the old festivals seem to me to fit perfectly into the cycle of seasons and the passing of the year. And also with the ebb and flow of my blood, or the beating of my heart, or my body clock, whatever you want to call that natural instinctual internal part of oneself. You may try and suppress it, but it’s always still there.

If you feel the same, here are some places in Ireland that are associated with Samhain which you might like to visit: Tlachtga, the Mound of Hostages at Tara; Magh Slecht, and Oweynagat. I have visited the first three, and will be going to Oweynagat next Sunday, so I will let you know how that goes next week. Read More

I love bogs. Not only do they provide us with sweet-smelling turf for burning over the winter, which keeps us so warm and cosy and drowsy, but they hide extraordinary secrets which they allow us to find, now and again.

Such as bog butter…


Bog butter in wooden vessel on display at Cavan County Museum.

Bog butter in wooden vessel on display at Cavan County Museum.


Various spectacular votive offerings…


Gold torcs and bracelets on display at National Museum of Archaeology, Dublin.

Gold torcs and bracelets on display at National Museum of Archaeology, Dublin.


And bog bodies…


Gentle Face of Bog Body. Tollund Man. By Sven Rosborn - Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4330462

Gentle Face of Bog Body. Tollund Man. By Sven Rosborn – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4330462


And then there’s this… Read More

The cairns of Loughcrew are known in Irish as Siliabh na Cailleagh, meaning ‘the Witches/ Hag’s Mountain’, and can be found in two groups spread over the hills of Carnbane West and Carnbane East, overlooking the town of Oldcastle in Co Meath. The Loughcrew cairns are estimated to be around 5200 years old.

The ‘Witches Throne/ Chair’ is located on Canbane East at the base of Cairn T, which is a short, steep climb up from the car park.



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Are you brave enough to spend the night in a haunted castle?

Ross Castle lies on the shores of Lough Sheelin, along the border of Co Meath and Co Cavan, not far from Oldcastle. It is said to be one of the most haunted castles in Ireland.

There are many reports of ghostly experiences at Ross Castle. It is said to be haunted by Sabina, daughter of the cruel Black Baron.

Sabina and her father were of English descent, and locked in battle with the Gaelic native Irish. However, Sabina fell in love with Orwin, son of an Irish Chieftain. When they tried to elope across Lough Sheelin to freedom, their little boat capsized, and Orwin was drowned. Although Sabina was saved, she was so grief-stricken at the death of her lover, that she refused to eat or drink. She fell into a coma and died, but it is said her spirit haunts the castle still, searching for her lost love, Orwin. (You can read her sad story in full here.)

The castle was built in 1553 by Richard Nugent, 12th Baron of Delvin, also known as the Black Baron, in defence against the native Irish of Cavan. Read More

St Féichín’s Way is a 3km loop walk around the ancient monastic settlement at Fore. It takes in a selection of the historic sites associated with the monastery, such as the holy well known as St Féichín’s Bath, thought to be the remains of an ancient cist burial; the Columbarium; the Gate House; Gallows Hill, and the Rejected Stone, and a motte and bailey site, as well as areas of natural beauty, like the buzzard habitat, the 300 year old beech tree, the oak plantation, and the daffodil walk.

Fore comes from the Irish Fhobhair, meaning ‘the town of the water springs’. The monastery was founded there by St Féichín in 630AD, where it is said  there were as many as three hundred monks and two thousand students in residence at any one time, so it was quite a busy and thriving community in its heyday. Read More

If you like all things literary and historic, then you will love this unique little museum. It has no fancy gizmos and gimmicks, like most modern museums; it relies purely on great content in glass cases, just like traditional museums used to be. There is one modern convenience, though: we have the benefit of audio headphones, which makes for a more immersive experience, although you don’t really need them to enjoy the museum.

Established in 1991 as a celebration of Irish writing of the last three hundred years or so, the collection is housed in one of the great eighteenth century houses on Parnell Square in Dublin, so it’s very easy to get to.

It features authors who are considered to have greatly contributed to Ireland’s literary heritage, and to have impacted significantly on the literary world in general, such as  James Joyce, George Bernard Shaw, William Butler Yeats, Oscar Wilde, Bram Stoker and Samuel Beckett to mention but a few. Read More

Most of you will no doubt be aware by now that I have returned to full-time education. Well, I’m about to start my second year, but you can imagine how my ears pricked up during last year’s induction when someone mentioned Maynooth University boasts the oldest tree in Ireland within its grounds.

Trees feature quite a lot on my blog… I love them. So naturally, I immediately set about looking for this special one. Which wasn’t as easy as you’d think. Most people, including staff, had no idea what I was talking about and looked at me as if I was slightly mad. Eventually, a librarian tracked down a member of security who was able to point me in the right direction.  There I was, causing havoc already and I hadn’t even started my studies yet. ☺ Read More

I‘ve been to the Hill of Tara many times, and I’m lucky enough to live within easy driving distance of it. I drive past it twice a day on my way to uni and back, but I rarely have time to stop, as I’m always hurrying to class, or hurrying home again. Despite the familiarity, it’s a place I feel drawn to and love going back to, whenever I can.

My visits are usually lonely events, though, but there are times when that feels right, and other times when I feel the need to share the wonder with someone who feels the same way. So one day I decided to join Treasa on one of her Walking Tours of Tara, and I can honestly say I’m so glad that I did. Read More

Are you planning a visit to Ireland? Over the coming weeks, I’ll be featuring places in Ireland that I love, and which are, I think, well worth a visit. Some will be familiar to you, others will get you off that beaten tourist track, and make your visit to Ireland a more memorable and unique one.



Newbridge Silverware is famous around the world for its beautiful silver jewelry, but did you know you can visit its showrooms on site in Kildare where its exquisite silverware ranges are actually crafted?

The showrooms are beautiful and spacious and feature everything from cutlery, to Christmas tree ornaments, to earrings and necklaces and so much more. Including this, which is on display, but not for sale… Read More