Introduction: Hand-Book of Irish Antiquities

From A Hand-book of Irish Antiquities by William F. Wakeman

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Letter T.jpg HE antiquarian student, upon arriving in Dublin, the metropolis of a country more remarkable, perhaps, than any other of the West of Europe for the number, the variety, and, it may be said, the nationality of its ancient remains, is referred by the guide-books, to our two Cathedrals, the Castle, and perhaps one or two other structures in the city, or its immediate vicinity, for the exercise of his favourite study. In the subjects alluded to (the Castle, which is but a name, excepted), he finds only tolerable examples of a style of architecture which is by no means characteristic of Irish remains generally; and which appears never in this country to have attained the same degree of magnificence for which, in England and elsewhere, it is so remarkable. At the same time, we have, within easy access from Dublin, examples, many of them in a fine state of preservation, of almost every object of antiquarian interest to be met with in any part of the kingdom. Sepulchral tumuli,—several of which, in point of rude magnificence, are perhaps unrivalled in Europe,—stone circles, cromlechs, pillar stones, and other remains of the earliest period of society in Ireland, lie within a journey of less than two hours from our metropolis.*

The cromlechs of Kilternan, Shanganagh, Howth, Mount Venus, and of the Druid's Glen, may be reached almost in a morning's walk from Dublin; and a railway journey of seventy minutes, from the Dublin Terminus of the Drogheda Railway, with a drive of about four miles, will give the student of Irish antiquities an opportunity of viewing at Monasterboice, among other remains, two crosses, the most grand and beautiful, not only in this country, but, perhaps, in Christendom. So numerous are the monuments, even of a period antecedent to the first Danish invasion of Ireland, lying within a few hours' journey of the metropolis, that it would be tedious and unnecessary to notice them all; a judicious selection will answer every purpose of the student. In order to make the subject more clearly understood, we shall classify the various remains under three heads, viz.: I. Pagan, embracing those which, upon the best authority, are presumed to have been erected previous to, or within a limited period after the introduction of Christianity in the fifth century; II. The Early Christian, including the Round Towers; and III., the Anglo-Irish.

Under the head of Anglo-Irish we shall class such structures as were erected during a limited period subsequent to the English invasion, and which, though often of Irish foundation, appear generally to have been built upon Anglo-Norman or English models. The remains which may be considered of the Pagan era consist of cromlechs, stone circles, tumuli, forts, raths, &c. &c. They are found in considerable numbers, particularly in the more remote parts of the kingdom, where, from the thinness of the population, and the absence of any modern "improvement" they have been suffered to remain unmolested, save by the hand of time. The immediate neighbourhood of Dublin, for obvious reasons, is less rich in antiquities of this class than of the others; but the railways afford ready access to several most interesting specimens. Of monuments of early Christian architecture we have numerous examples, no fewer than five Round Towers lying within a short distance of the city. Of the early churches of Ireland, churches of a period when "the Scotish (Irish) monkes in Ireland and Britaine highly excelled for their holinesse and learning, yea sent forth whole flockes of most devout men into all parts of Europe"—see Camden's Hibernia, p. 67,—there are specimens in a state of preservation sufficient to give a good idea of architecture, in what may be considered its second stage in Ireland. The remains which we shall notice under the head Anglo-Irish consist of castles, abbeys, town-gates, &c. &c.

The great lords who, in the time of Henry the Second or of his immediate successors, received grants of land from the Crown, would necessarily erect fortresses of considerable strength and extent, the more securely to preserve their possessions from the inroads of the native Irish, with whom they were usually at war. The castles of Trim, Malahide, Howth, Carlow, and a host of others, are silent witnesses to the fact, that the early invaders of Ireland were occasionally obliged to place some faith in the efficacy of strong walls and towers, to resist the advances of their restless neighbours, who, for many centuries subsequent to the invasion, were rather the levellers than the builders of castles. Of the massive square keep, so common in every part of the kingdom, our neighbourhood furnishes several examples. As, except in some minor details, they usually bear a great resemblance to each other, an inspection of one or two will afford a just idea of all. They were generally used as the residence of a petty chief, or as an out-post dependent upon some larger fortress in the neighbourhood. Many appear to have been erected by English settlers, and they are usually furnished with a bawn, or enclosure, into which the cattle were driven at night, a precaution very significant of the times. Our abbeys, though frequently of considerable extent and magnificence, are in general more remarkable for the simple grandeur of their proportions. The finest exhibit many characteristics of what in England is called the "transition style;" but early pointed is also found, and in great purity. There are in Ireland but few notable examples of the succeeding styles. Decoration, indeed, was not so great a desideratum as strength and security; and we do not want the evidence of annals, to shew that our abbeys had occasionally to stand upon their defence, as bartizans surmount the doorways of several.

Having now introduced our readers to the subject generally, we propose to give an illustration of several of the more remarkable specimens of each class, pointing out their various characteristics, and in every case referring the reader to the original.

The greatest degree of care has been exercised, in order to give faithful representations of the various remains, and of their details: with very few exceptions, the original sketches have been made upon the spot by the author, and afterwards transferred to wood by him, and the greater portion of the subjects were never before engraved.



* We are happy to direct the stranger's attention to what must prove to him a very interesting little volume, entitled "Dublin and its Environs," published by James McGlashan, 21, D'Olier-street, and containing notices of many remains lying within a short distance from the City. It appeared after the above had been written.

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