Sometimes, the best way to explore a new area is to hop on the sneaker express and wander about until you find yourself somewhere completely new.
That is what I felt inspired to do on a recent afternoon.
With overcast skies and a nice cool breeze it was the perfect temperature to throw on some running shoes and beat feet around campus for a little while. There is a dirt walking path that disappears into the woods right at the end of my apartment village that I pass consistently. One can only pass such a path so many times before succumbing to the irresistible urge to see just where it leads. So down it I went.
It turned out that the path follows the Shannon River along the northern edge of campus and winds its way eastward along the border of County Clare. It is quintessential Ireland. Old, gnarled trees with the kind of trunks personified by wrestlers' arms line either side and cast deep shadows over the dirt with their interlocking branches. The thick forest gives way to thickets of vibrant wildflowers and some kind of stinging nettle that is a real pain to run through, which is followed by wide open pastures and Ireland's famous fifty shades of green.
Suffice to say I was totally caught up in the incredible scenery and was not, at all, prepared to come around a bend and be standing in the shadow of the sixty-plus foot, crumbling remains of a castle.
I stopped dead in my tracks. One does not simply run by the ruins of a castle in the woods.
Moving just a little further around the bend the rest of the structure came into view; that is what was left of the structure. I was in awe. The northern and eastern walls of the castle were still largely in tact. A few very sizable holes here and there but otherwise, for what I was guessing was a five hundred year old castle, it still looked pretty sound. The southern and western on the other hand were nowhere to be seen. Crumbled from age, destroyed long ago, I don't know but without those two walls I was able to see an incredible cross-section of the structure. A quick hop over an already very trampled “DO NOT ENTER” sign and I found myself within the castle walls, and looking up at hundreds and hundreds of years of preserved history.
The centuries of war this castle had obviously endured had left their marks, as had the recent decades of student partying. Graffiti covered the walls almost as much as vines, and you could barely take a step without treading on a broken bottle, tin can, or trash of some kind. But, as sad as it was to see the waste, it was neat in it’s own way to have art spray painted by someone of the twenty first century right next to an arrow slit that had been guarded by someone of the twelfth century.
I noticed an opening in the eastern wall on the ground level and walked toward it. Passing through the stone layer, my guess was I was standing in what was once a large hallway that navigated its way along all four walls. It now only lead in one direction -- to the southeastern tower that still remained standing and the only one that I could see was accessible. Many of the bottom steps had been eroded away, so it was a bit of a jump onto stable footing. But the rest of the staircase was still in-tact and stable, spiraling its way upward.
For about the next twenty minutes, I explored wherever stable footing would allow me to go. I poked my head through holes, ran my fingers along stone that had been smoothed over by centuries of use, and sat on the edge of demolished floors looking down into
the castle forty feet below. There was a sense of eeriness throughout. Not a “yep, this place is definitely haunted” eeriness, but one that stemmed from the fact that this castle had remained largely untouched. I had noticed some very twenty-first century looking concrete that had been built up in what looked like structurally strategic areas. But it hadn’t been turned into a museum, and it hadn’t rebuilt to look nice for the public. The castle stood how and where it had been built. I was sitting right where many people, hundreds of years ago, once sat. I was looking over the same countryside that was once looked over by guarded soldiers.
I was reminded too of a famous country song by Jamey Johnson -- "In Color". The song itself is about a grandfather describing a series of black and white photographs to his grandson, the tag line being "You should have seen it in color." Many times when thinking historically I think we picture things in black and white, or at least it is hard to picture events or places in color. But seeing ruins like this provides that opportunity. Sans a few walls, floors, and a roof, this castle is what it would have looked like in color.
(Picture above: Though that hole made a nice window, I'm pretty sure that is the result of a medieval canon blast. That must have hurt.)
It wasn’t until after I had made it back from my little excursion that I read about the fact that the castle is apparently haunted. A neighboring chieftain snuck into the castle one night to steal away the daughter of his enemy for a bride. Roused by the noise, the father came to the rescue and killed the would-be kidnapper. But, in the struggle, one of the soldiers killed the daughter as well. Fisherman who have been on the Shannon River at night say that her screams still come from the castle. A full history of the castle (Castle Troy as I found out) can be found here. I highly recommend the read (there is a twenty five percent chance I was in the tower that the story mentions!!!). But maybe a night time trip back to the castle should be planned to see for myself!