Timahoe Co. Laois / South)
Timahoe Tigh Mochua – “House of Mochua”) is a pretty village with a Goose Green on the river Bauteogu in the broad and fertile valley between Fossy Mountain and Cullenagh Mountain. (Photo by Sarah777)
The village takes its name from the foundation of a monastery by Saint Mochua, who died in 657 AD. His or another saint’s relic, called the caimmín (“the little curved one” – probably a crozier), was used to swear solemn oaths. In 1069 Macraith O’More slew Gillamary O’Deevy, chief of Ui Crimthannan, in the doorway of the oratory of Timahoe, shortly after making such an oath. Destroyed by fire in 1142, the monastery was later re-founded by the O’Mores.
After King Henry VIII‘s 1540 Dissolution of the Monasteries, the monastery and lands were granted to Sir Thomas Loftus and later (1609) to Richard Cosby. It was probably one of the Cosby family who transformed what was a medieval church into a castle, only the east wall of which still stands, incorporating a C15th ecclesiastial arch.
Also remaining is a well-preserved C12th Round Tower, standing an impressive 30m / 96ft high. It is unique in that it has a double Romanesque doorway with fine ornamentation including heads with intertwined hair. The third floor also has a Romanesque window. Nearby, Saint Mochua’s Desk was designed and made by sculptor Michael Burke in 2004.
The Battle of Timahoe took place in 1642 during the Confederacy Wars. A party under General Preston advanced to intercept the retreat of Colonel Monck on his return from the relief of Ballinakill, but was repulsed with considerable loss.
The last friars of the monastery were killed in 1650 by Cromwellian soldiers under Colonel Hewson at a spot known locally as “Boher a wurther” – “the murdering road”.
The former Church of Ireland edifice, built in the Gothic Revival style c.1840, is now used as a Library.
The Roman Catholic church, dating from 1831, features an internal gallery.
Nearby is Ballinclough motte and bailey, built by Hugh de Lacy.
Timahoe is on the R426 between Port Laoise on ByRoute 9 and Swan on ByRoute 7.
Ballinakill (Co. Laois / South)
Ballinakill (Baile na Coille – “the town of the woods”) (pop. 800) a rather isolated but exceptionally pretty village with two churches and pleasant colour-washed houses, was originally a typical C17th market town, later rebuilt with an C18th planned street layout.
Ballinakill used to host important fairs and had a brewery, woollen and tanning factories. Visitors had to pay to enter the town at the two toll trees marking the entrance from Abbeyleix.
Ballinakill Castle, never inhabited and long in ruins, was built in the late C17th by the Dunnes on the site of a stronghold destroyed by Cromwellian troops under General Fairfax.
Heywood House was built by in 1773 by Frederick Trench, who also landscaped the grounds; sadly, the mansion was destroyed by fire in 1950.
Heywood Gardens, designed by Sir Edward Lutyens, with probable contributions by Gertrude Jekyll, were commissioned c.1912 by Col. Hutchinson Poe.
Situated on a hillside and set in an elegant C18th walled park with fine trees and lakes, a circular wall shelters a beautiful series of interlinked and terraced ‘secret gardens’, with breathtaking views of the local countryside.
The centrepiece of the gardens is an Italianate fountain pool encircled by bronze turtles. (Photo – www.laois.ie)
The church of All Saints (CoI), erected in 1821 to serve the parish of Dysert Galen, is a handsome edifice with a splendid clock tower and steeple and several interesting interior features, including an oval baptism font and a very old stained glass window dedicated to St Elizabeth of Hungary.
The town square features a large monument to men who died in the 1798 Rebellion, erected in 1898.
Ballinakill is not far from Castlecomer (Co. Kilkenny) on ByRoute 7.
Durrow & Cullahill (Co. Laois / Southwest)
Durrow (Darú) (pop. 1200), an attractive little town, lies on the River Erkina, a tributary of the nearby River Nore. The stone bridge dates from 1788, when it replaced an earlier wooden structure and an early C17th span 500m upriver.
The area, referred to in various Annals as Darmhagh Ua nDuach (“the oak plain in the territory of the Ui Duach tribe”), was the location of a monastery founded by Saint Fintan Moeldubh, of which little is known.
In 1235 the Bishop of Ossory, Geoffrey de Turville, was granted the right to hold a weekly market and an annual fair in the Norman borough of “Deverald”. Long an Episcopal Manor,the land was annexed to County Kilkenny in 1670 by James Butler, Duke of Ormonde, and was not returned to the then Queen’s County until 1837.
A classic C18th and C19th planned estate village, Durrow owes its appearance to the Flower family headed by successive Lords Ashbrook, who dominated it for over 200 years; although exacting in their building regulations, they are recalled as reasonably benevolent landlords and employers. (It has recently come to light that in 1847, at the height of the Great Famine, while their “gentlemen” friends were required to pay for the privilege of playing with the Ashbrook Cricket Club, locals were paid to participate, an unusual form of relief work that made them the first professional sportsmen apart from jockeys and boxers in Ireland’s history).
Castle Durrow was completed in 1716 by Colonel William Flower (1685 – 1746), MP and High Sherriff of County Kilkenny, ennobled as Baron Castle Durrow in 1733 (and buried in Finglas, County Dublin). His son, Captain Henry Flower, became Viscount Ashbrook in 1751, and his descendants retained ownership of the estate until 1922, when the banks foreclosed their mortgages on the property.
One of the last large pre-Palladian houses to be built in Ireland, with ornate interiors and beautiful formal gardens, it is widely considered the finest country house in County Laois.
The mansion was transformed into St Fintan’s College & Convent in 1929. In 1998 the property was purchased by Peter & Shelley Stokes and redeveloped as the luxurious Castle Durrow Hotel, now a leading wedding venue due to its extravagant furnishings and beautiful gardens.
Durrow’s finest feature is the suite of buildings around the Green under the gates and battlemented wall of the castle. The village has several other attractive Georgian and Victorian buildings and a couple of excellent pubs.
St Fintan’s church (CoI) dates from 1798, when it replaced a church built in 1731 on the site of a parish church erected in 1155, of which no trace remains. Its magnificent pipe organ, made in England by S Green in 1797 and presented by King George III to Trinity College, Dublin, was transported to Durrow in 1842 by William Telford at the behest of the then Lord Ashbrook. The church hosts a Flower Festival every August Bank Holiday weekend.
The church of the Holy Trinity (RC) is a handsome early Gothic Revival edifice built in 1839; the four spires were added in 1904. It stands on landscaped grounds with an adjoining graveyard; the land, on the then outskirts of the town, was granted by the 4th Lord Ashbrook in 1836.
The Castle Arms Hotel on the Green, run by the Murphy family, has good accommodation and dining facilities.
The Ashbrook Arms, purpose built as a coaching inn by the then Lord Ashbrook in 1777 and restored by the Murphy family in 2005, is a pleasant Guesthouse & Restaurant.
Durrow is surrounded by fine woods, forested hills and a maze of rivers, an area that once sheltered the notorious highwayman Jeremiah Grant, hanged in Maryborough in August 1816. The splendid Durrow Leafy Loop Walk comprises 17km of cleverly looped short, medium and long trails.
The Durrow Arts Festival is held at the end of April every year.
Durrow’s annual “Howya!” Festival at the end of July includes the National Scarecrow Championships.
For real time weather information from Durrow, click here.
Attanagh, a quaint village just south of Durrow on the River Ouveg, is home to Walter Phelan‘s intriguing Irish Fly Fishing & Game Shooting Museum.
Cullahill (also spelt Cullohill) (An Culchoill – “the hill-backside wood”) is a small village in Durrow parish.
Cullahill Castle, an impressive early C15th Tower House, was once the principal stronghold of the MacGillapatricks of Upper Ossory. It is noted for its medieval church and an interesting Sheela-na-Gig.
There are other Tower Houses nearby, at Gortnaclea, Kilbreedy and Aghmacart.
Cullahill has several signposted walks, ranging from leisurely countryside rambles to challenging treks up the nearby hills.
Canon William Carrigan, the great historian of Ossory, was parish priest of Durrow from 1911 until his death in 1924. His account of the area’s recorded past can be read here.