With gale force winds continuing on the west coast and one camera down, there wasn’t a whole lot available to do along the coast. My route took me away from the coast today which greatly helped cut down the wind to manageable levels. After a couple castles and a really poor attempt at being mugged I tried locating the Abbey of the Black Hag.
The Cliffs of Moher are apparently one of the busiest attractions in Ireland, yet I saw one person the previous night and no one this morning. I had the whole place to myself! Although that wasn’t any benefit as I could barely stand up straight. The rain took a short break around sunrise which got my hopes up but it quickly disappeared as the heavens opened up and it started coming down very heavy.
Completely soaked, my camera basically said it had enough. The shutter got stuck permanently on and needed to take a bit of a time out. Since the humidity was so high and there really wasn’t dry place to let it sit for a while the next best thing was to take it apart a little. I left the parts in the back window hoping some of the sun rays would help dry it out. Always have a backup camera!
Heading inland, I came up to Bunratty Castle. Bunratty is a large 15th century tower house. At low tide the little boats are parked in the flood planes that run alongside the river. The current castle that stands on these grounds is actually the fourth castle built which was erected by the MacNamara family around 1425.
The castle itself is very well restored and kept up. A pleasant mixture of grand halls and very tiny half stairs litter the castle. There are also plenty of ground keepers dressed up to answer any questions you might have.
It’s a dungeon! Creepy! Not a place you would want to end up in the 15th century. The floor is also about 6 feet or more below the entrance so you’re typically just looking at darkness the entire time you are there.
You are able to tour basically everywhere through the castle, even up to the roof for a great view of the Shannon Estuary.
On the Bunratty Castle grounds is also a small petting zoo of sorts. Mostly farm animals you can go up to and touch. They are not shy and will basically run up to you if you crouch down.
So this is an odd story. I arrive in Limerick to photograph King John’s Castle and start walking along the river to find a pleasant angle. I’m in a rather quiet area and kind of tucked in under the bridge so it’s out of the bustle of pedestrians above and on the street. A guy comes up next to me and as I have my camera down I feel a bit of a tug on it.
Thankfully I keep a tripod collar on my 70-200L with 1.4x extender and turn it so you can’t actually push the button and pop the lens off. The collar is in the way and prevents the full rotation. The camera is also on a leash that is attached to my wrist so the whole thing is rather noticeable.
Now I’m on holidays and in a rather chatty mood so instead of flipping out at the guy I try to strike up a conversation with him and sure enough they aren’t all that bad guys. For those who carry white lenses or lenses that look of value, apparently it’s popular for people not to bother stealing your camera, but the lens. This way when you camera is hanging down they can simply press the lens release and bugger off while you still feel like your camera is hanging on your neck/shoulder/wherever and buys them time to get away.
They filled me in on more of their tricks and we spent a good half hour chatting under the bridge. Decent chaps at the end of the day!
The castle was built on the boundary of the River Shannon in order to protect the city from the Gaelic kingdoms to the west and from any rebellion by Norman lords to the east and south. Limerick blossomed as both a port and a trading center. This was mostly due to the castle acting as a guard for any cargo passing through to the port of Limerick.
The walls of the castle were severely damaged in the 1642 Siege of Limerick, the first of five sieges of the city in the 17th century.
Done with Limerick, it was off to find the Abbey of the Black Hag. I absolutely loved these roads, they were a thrill to drive on.
I spent a bunch of time driving around and couldn’t find the Abbey. Upon speaking to a nice lady out for a jog she knew of my destination and sent me to a house down the road about a km away. Apparently it is on their property in a corner somewhere.
I used her farmer directions and end up at a rather large house on a massive property and cautiously drive up, unsure of what to actually expect. Now, I was planning to get sunset photos of these ruins to ‘set the mood’ as they say, so it was rather late to start ringing door bells.
As I approach the home I can hear people and cutlery on plates, basically dinner time…. I ponder it for a minute and knock on the door… no answer. I wait a few minutes unsure if they heard me or are ignoring me due to it being dinner time. I reluctantly knock again.
I hear the cutlery being put down, a little commotion and then footsteps coming closer to the door. To my surprise, and relief, a very pleasant lady came to the door and asked if I was okay. I initially asked if I was at the Old Abbey as the ruins are called the Old Abbey of the Black Hag. She said yes, and I asked if she would have any objection to me photographing it. She paused… looked at me strangely and said that this entire area was the Old Abbey! Hmm… Alright so I progressed to explain what I was actually looking for and she explained it was on the next property over.
We spoke briefly and she said that there are rumors of a tunnel which led directly from the castle that used to be on the hill to the Old Abbey which the Countess used. There was also recent visitors that were apparently related to the original family and she thought I was one of them initially.
Now the tricky part was I saw this property on the way in. There are about a dozen “Danger: do not approach” signs and other warnings throughout…. So he doesn’t seem like the warmest of chaps. According to her, he was a nice man. So I got this far I might as well dodge some buck shot as well.
"DANGER: DO NOT APPROACH"
The Abbey of the Black Hag is the remains of a medieval nunnery. According to local lore, a Prioress began to torment the town by practicing black magic and sexual practices in a room to the south of the church. The room is now called The Black Hag’s Cell due to the color of the witches face after she was killed.
During one of the many battles between the Geraldines and the Butlers, the countess was gravely wounded by an arrow as she attempted to escape with the Earl. Believed to be dead, the countess was buried beneath the altar in the main chapel.
While badly wounded, the countess was still alive and upon waking, she found herself buried alive. It’s said that her screams still echo through the ruins.
The driveway was surrounded by electric fences and with the sun setting, there wasn’t anyone in sight. I walk up to the little home perched in the center of the property and knock…. Hm, no reply. Knock again…. Still nothing. I roamed around a little to see if I could spot anyone on the property but alas… did not.
I walked around to the back of the home and like clockwork… there’s a black cat. Now I’m not overly superstitious but it seems every cemetery and old ruin dealing with some sort of black magic has a black cat hanging around. Not brown, white, spotted, leopard, always black.
Towards the back of the property I could see the start of the ruins. I didn’t go further as it would be a rude move if the guy came home. I snapped a picture and headed out of the creepy place. The ruins are considered by some as the most haunted place in Ireland.
For those wondering how they keep the hedges on the side of the road trimmed… No its not with your mirrors as you zip by and hit them, they actually have large tractor hedge trimmers that sloooowly make their way down the roads.
You might have to detour for half hour back if you are unfortunate to come across these on one of the one lane roads.
Continuing from the Abbey, it was off to see what was left of the former castle perched up on the hill. Shanid castle is a 13th century tower castle. It sits perched up on a hill with a motte over 35 feet deep.
The circular walls of the castle are 10 feet thick making it a very impressive structure. Shanid Castle was occupied until 1641 when it was ultimately burned down and destroyed.
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