Castledermot, County Kildare

A step through a gateway at the southern end of this straggling town takes visitors back 800 years in an instant, into the stillness of a 13th-century Franciscan friary, which was plundered by Robert Bruce in 1317. Later, in 1541, the friary was suppressed, Only the walls of the church remain, attached to a square building known as the Abbey Castle, which possibly dates from the 15th century and was where the monks lived. The ruins are set back from the main road by only two or three feet, which makes it all the more remarkable that they have survived for so long. The solid stonework is well preserved, seeming as secure and strong as the day it was first assembled. lt is a thought-provoking place, worth spending a few moments in, pondering on the life of its original inhabitants. The key is available from the caretaker’s house next door.

A short walk from the friary is a churchyard just off the main road, which goes back even farther in time, to the 12th century and even to the 9th. lt lies on the site of a monastery founded around 800 by the father of St Diarmuid, after which Castledermot takes its name. The monastery was raided by the Vikings in the 9th century, but continued its existence at least until the 12th century.

All that is left today is a splendidly reconstructed Romanesque doorway, which came from a church that has since vanished, a 10th-century Round Tower, 65ft high with a granite base, and two magnificent High Crosses, probably 9th century. Richly carved with depictions of the Crucifixion, Adam and Eve, Daniel in the Lions’ Den, the Sacrifice of Isaac, and the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes, these High Crosses are among the best preserved of the granite crosses in the Barrow valley, The North Cross shows David with his harp, one of the few images from this time of an Irish harp. Also in the churchyard are the foundations of a medieval church and early Christian and medieval grave slabs.

Castledermot is a must see attraction on your tours of Ireland.