What a find! Kids of Ireland, do you know how lucky you are?! I grew up in the Las Vegas desert where a decent chunk of my outdoor time was spent with friends building hideouts in massive tumbleweed thickets and illicitly running through forbidden drainage culverts (very dangerous – not wise!). It was barren, dusty and prickly but it was ours and we could make forts and chase each other through dark tunnels so it was cool. But not as cool as this, not by a longshot. Kid here can explore woods with wild abandon then storm a bridge or sneak along a path to attack castles with towers and battlements and rooms with moss-covered stone walls. Hidden in the woods as they are, these ruins have a fairy-tale quality that practically beg you to play make-believe.
The Ballysaggartmore Towers only exist due to one couple’s petty jealousies. As the story goes, Arthur Kiely-Ussher inherited an estate at Ballysaggartmore when his father died. Arthur had a brother John, and the two brothers married two sisters, Elizabeth and Margaret. Arthur and Elizabeth were envious of Strancally Castle, John and Margaret’s palatial residence, so Arthur set out to one-up him. He was only able to build two entrances (The Grand Lodge and The Towers) and the Servant’s Tunnel before running out of money.
To make matters worse, the country was in the grips of the Great Famine and while many landlords reduced rent, Arthur evicted tenants who couldn’t pay rent and then knocked their houses down. He was so disliked, a group tried (unsuccessfully) to assassinate him. Arthur eventually died in 1862 and would probably loathe the fact that his “folly” is available for anyone and everyone to enjoy!
The structures in the woods aren’t castles of course, but elaborate entrance gates. To reach them, follow The Towers Loop Trail, a wide, flat trail just 2 km long. The path follows a gentle grade up to the Towers and Grand Lodge, and has a few strategically placed benches along the way.
The trail is a 5-minute drive from Lismore, a lovely Tidy Town winner. We didn’t spend much time in town, but had lunch, saw Lismore Castle (the garden is open to the public but not the castle itself) and St. Carthage’s Cathedral. To cap off the day, we took a breathtaking drive on 668 north through the “Vee Gap” in the Knockmealdown Mountains. I felt guilty that Chris (who was driving) couldn’t take in more of the spectacular views!
Location: 3.5 km northwest of Lismore, County Waterford; GPS: 52.14685, –7.9673.
Hours: Access is not controlled; hike whenever you like
Mileage: 2 km (1.2 miles)