Sunday, 15 November 2015

Lismore & Around with Sceitse

Lismore town centre

McGraths tomb in Lismore cathedral, a 16th century tomb

The oldest part of the Lismore castle, its 16th century gates

Lismore castle from its gardens

One of the Ballysaggartmore gates within the woods

The second of the gates, hidden within these woods a few miles from Lismore
Heading out in lashing rain myself and the sketch group, Sceitse,  teamed up at Lismore to have a wander around the town, its castle and surrounds, and were rewarded for our efforts by the skies clearing, and as always ,an enjoyable day of fun, laughs and sketching

Friday, 13 November 2015

Ballysaggartmore Towers

A sketch of the Ballysaggartmore towers just outside Lismore, its hidden within a lovely forest and is a sort of folly. It along with its sister front gate, were part of a planned huge castle, though the landlord bankrupted himself trying to build it. But not before he evicted a multitude of starving tenants during the famine to make room for more profitable sheep, what a lovely guy

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Abbeystrowry Medieval Church, Liss Ard Estate and its Sky Garden

Abbeystrowry Medeval Church

Entrance to the Sky Gardens at Liss Ard Estate

Sky Garden at Liss Ard estate

Nature showing off at Liss Ard Estate

Just back from a weekend away with the other half to around Skibbereen. Visiting the medieval church in Abbeystrowry graveyard in Skibbereen, Liss Ard estate and its gardens. And the amazing Sky garden, which was built in order to surround your vision as you stare up at the sky,  I love it when modern architecture is so influenced by prehistoric monuments, check out a better view of it here:

Sunday, 25 October 2015

North Cork awandering

Kildorrery Medieval Parish Church

A medieval stoup inside its 15th century limestone entrance

Aghacross medieval church nearby

Inside Athacross church
Mill at Mourneabby
Cloynes medieval parish church and round tower
Some places I visited in north and east Cork recently, mostly visiting medieval sites.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Thurles Sceitse

Holycross Abbey
The amazing windows of Holycross abbey

Even a portion of the True Cross, whether or not you believe in that sort of thing, its beautiful medieval metalwork

Ballynahow castle, one of the few round tower houses in Ireland

A perfectly preserved flagstone floor inside

It was an amazingly intact castle with loads of great features like this mural stairs

One of the two Tower houses in Thurles

Thurles Cathedral, very Italian looking!

The impressive Kilcooley Abbey

The font in Kilcooley Abbey

The intricately detailed Butler Grave

 On Sunday I went sketch exploring around Thurles with sketch group Sceitse ( for a day of great sites and lots of sketching!

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Ballymacdermot Court Tomb

Recently I just finished working with Denise Regan on doing a reconstruction of what the Ballymacdermot Court tomb may have looked like. Ballymacdermot is in couty Armagh on Slieve Gullion. Its a Neolithic tomb type called a court tomb because of its distinctive court at the entrance These are one of the earliest forms of tombs in Ireland and mostly found in the Northern half of the island.

The kern stones (the stones at the ends of the cairn) were no longer evident as it is believed that perhaps they were taken by locals to build their houses. So the kern stones around the edge of the cairn material as well as the cairn material is mostly gone so reconstructed here. Also the roof itself was missing but was believed to have been corbelled like shown.

During excavation they found the site had a definite end, as it had been sealed in the ancient past, so essentially had been closed as part perhaps of some ritual or to stop access to it from people who were still using it, when they werent supposed to. If it had just fallen out of use or people no longer believed in the same spirits or gods, they would have just left it fall apart by itself

Monday, 12 October 2015

Thurles Tower house Sketch

Yesterday I went sketching around Thurles & Holycross with the sketch group Sceitse, here is my favourite from the day, its of one of Thurles towns two tower houses

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Waterfords Reginalds Tower Heritage Signs

The location of the images, right beside reginalds tower and the reconstruction of a Viking boat,, thats them there on the right with the guy beside them
I only did the illustrations in the boards, not the graphic design, so the picture of the people and the boat isnt mine, but the boat prow above it is. In the other one, the two scenes are mine but the map isnt.
The painted the image of the boat prow
The two images of the town wall are mine, with the figures. They show the town wall as it was when it connected to Reginalds tower, the walls are now just in the pub beside, including some of the embrasure.

A few months ago I was hired by Waterford Treasures to do illustrations for heritage signage to go up beside Reginalds tower.They put them up recently!

Friday, 2 October 2015

Referencing a Tower house

Recently I completed an image of a tower house, and I want to do a few posts about the making of the tower house, and perhaps give you a glimpse into the background work that goes into archaeological illustration., One of the harder aspects of archaeological artwork is you cant just make things up, your artwork has to be a combination of various forms of information e,g; archaeological digs, historical documents/books, site visits, contemporary artwork etc (though the combining of such evidence (ie the guessing) is where you get to add the art part), though sometimes you need to fill in the blanks too when there isnt enough evidence or you cant find the evidence.

Thankfully because of Sceitse (a sketch group I run) I have visited many, many tower houses over the years (and sketched them) so I have no shortage of the site visit type of reference. At the same time I often visit these kind of places on my own if they are near a place that Im travelling to or when the fancy comes to me. But while there are many fine examples, the one that is the best that I have visited is Kilcrea castle

I have visited Kilcrea castle twice, once just to see it and the second time because I knew I was going to try and remake it. One of the best aspects of the work I do is I get to spend a day in a place like this, really really getting to know it, inside and out, I love hanging out in ruins and trying to reimagine them. The tower house itself in the image is nearly entirely based off Kilcrea, both internally and externally . The idea of the image was to make a tower house that represented tower houses as a whole (or atleast a representational amount), which Kilcrea fit the bill well, while it didnt have all the normal features it was modest in size and grandeur, middle of the road.  Especially the array of windows it had, it seemed to have nearly every window type found in tower houses.

Besides Kilcrea, I made a few other additions,  majorly in the wall walk area (the top), as most of that was gone from Kilcrea and it is usually there that tower houses have the most bling. From Blarney Castle, I got the Irish form of Machicolation(an extended battlement which allowed defenders to drop stuff on attackers) and also from Blarney is the Bawn battlements. Most of the Bawn walls design are from Barryscourt castle, including the slight Batter at the bases of the towers (an extension at the base of towers to defend against battering rams) the irish form of Battlement is also from Barryscourt as well, with the aid of satellite imagery,  I based the overall layout of the Bawn on Barryscourt, with alterations. Outside of that, Ballynacarriga castles Sheela-na-gig is on the wall and Dunlough castles bawn tower also influenced one bawn tower.

While site visits are paramount as its reading and researching another great reference is actual reference from the time. These have their pitfalls too, as the artists at the time could have been just winging it at times or biased or had an agenda of their own but they are the best evidence for the physical look for aspects that dont survive archaeologically

The images on the left I believe are from Barletts Map, these were early English Maps from the early 17th century, they mostly helped design the cobwalled houses in the image. I even used this map for reference of the bridge, such things rarely survive archaeologically The bottom right is a 17th century map of Carrigfergus, note the Creats, a type of late medieval Irish circular/oval house of just thatch and wattle, you cant see it well in the image but there is one in the bawn of my illustrated tower house the last house in the yard before the horizontally situated bawn house. Not just Irish illustration evidence was used though, the right top two were examples of medieval from other European countries Medieval manuscripts.

Alot of the houses are actually based off or influenced by archaeological excavations and historical documents/books as well as the contemporary illustrations shown here. But thats a post for another day.... perhaps.... hopefully ill be able to show the various ways I went about making the image in the coming weeks/months.

Pet Portraits Commission


Recently I was hired to do a pet portrait, I have many pets over the years, which I have been close to, I always hated that word though, 'pet', doesnt really describe the relationship in my eyes. One of the things I miss the most about living in apartment is the lack of having pets, they are the best of company really. So when I was commissioned to do a pet portrait I was delighted to give it a go.

The first is a portrait of my dead pet, named Fritz, I took a run at him as a form of practice but also to remember what it was like to lose a pet and how much it means. The second is the actual commissioned portrait of Shelbie,  

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Coumshingaun Sceitse

The mountains the surround the cirque/corrie or coum which gives Coumshingaun its name

Walking up to the loch

Galty beg 2

The views were spectacular

The Corrie from above

Wondering in mist

We came out a few kilometres west than we were supposed to  but was more an adventure that way

The verticals we wondered down on the way down
For the 41st Sceitse on Sunday passed, we headed to Coumshinguan, a glacial lake surrounded by jagged mountains in the Comeragh mountains with commanding views of the rolling hills and flats of Western Waterford

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Tower House Illustration

Tower houses are a type of late medieval Irish castle, believed to have originated around 1300, or sometime within the 14th century, but most are probably from the 15th to the 17th centuries.  They are found quite commonly around Ireland, an estimate on the number built ranges from 3,500 by some sources, to 7,000 by others, even today, most of Ireland remaining 3,000 castles are tower houses.  By the 17th century, this would have made Ireland the most heavily castelllated part of the British Isles. The tower house signifies changes in Ireland, in one hand it shows a resurgence in Gaelic power in the west after years of decline following the coming of the Normans in from the 12th century. On the flip side it is a sign of the collapse of centralised power in the form of the English monarchy and a rise in decentralisation. This decentralisation of power was to continue in Ireland from the 14th century to the early 17th century with the final (and the first complete) conquest of Ireland by Queen Elizabeth.

Tower houses can be found elsewhere too, across the water in Scotland and Northumbria and on the continent in France also, some have even suggested at times these areas are the origin of the tower house in Ireland but most now believe the origin lies in a native progression, starting in the Anglo Norman areas and spreading West. It was in the West and south though, that they can be found in most abundance and also in the most evolved and elaborate forms. Tower houses were actually built by various parts of Irish society, while the major lords kept building large enclosure castles or extending them, some also built smaller tower houses, but it was mostly the lesser tenants who were building them,  and it spread further down the chain to even priests and rich merchants building them in the towns. In fact some argue that the proliferation of tower houses was a sign of a new class rising and making itself heard.

It has been found in some surveys in certain areas, that 1 tower house in 5 has a Bawn wall in Ireland, a Bawn is the external wall you see attached to the castle shown here. The bawn here is based on a combination of evidence, including; Barryscourt, Dunlough, Kilcrea castles, among others. The actual design of the tower house itself though is nearly entirely based on Kilcrea tower house, in Cork, my favourite tower house and one which I have visited a few times and read extensively on. The only changes to the overall design of Kilcrea was the inclusion of a second chimney for the kitchen room inside, and the machicolation (the spikes you see that come down off the top floor, which had gaps in the floor to drop objects on attackers, based off Blarneys), I added these elements so the castle would be more representative of Tower houses as a whole. Also the crenellation (the regular gaps in the walls at the roof & bawn, which provided cover for archers) in the castle are a style specific to late medieval Ireland, the bawn crenellation are based off Blarney castle.

Notice as well how white the tower house is? This is probably how most tower houses would have looked, as they were coated with a substance called Harling, a mixture of limewash and crushed pebbles. Because of this, commentators at the time often mention the white gleaming castles of the Irish, as you can imagine these would have been visible for miles around and been quite a symbol of power and prestige. You may also see the little figure on the dark side wall of the tower house, these were Sheela-na-gigs, a type of sculpture common in Ireland at the time, this one is based off the one in Ballynacarriga castle. Tower houses are believed to have been surrounded by mixed farming, some cereal with animal husbandry too as shown in the illustration. Often they are found associated with churches and friaries, some were even built attached to churches, and some probably werent too far from some sort of clustered settlement. The natural landscape around the castle is actually inspired by the Lee valley basin around Kilcrea castle.Note as well the dry moat, not all tower houses had moats, but some did, like Kilcrea, so I included it here.

Notice also the slight batter (where the wall comes outwards at the bottom to defend against a battering ram), also in the bawn towers, which is based on Kilcrea & Barryscourt.  As you can see though, the real bling in the tower house is the top of it, this is where most showing off happened with turrets, crenellations, chimneys, gabled/pitched roofs and machicolations, as shown here. Another place they showed off was the ashlar(fine finished masonry) windows, the top floor in Kilcrea was believed to be the hall with the floor directly below the lords chambers, hence why they have the nicest windows, especially the hall floor, which had 4 large windows like shown. Also notice the variety of windows, some were narrow slits just for archers to fire from inside, others have the addition of a cross slit, which could be used by crossbows too and then there were others with either triangular or circular holes, these were for later fire arms, some windows even had all three as shown here in the 1st floor window in the dark side of the tower house, the one closest to the light. All these windows, except for the decorative ones on the top floors, would have been splayed inwards allowing maximum cover for archers.

Apologies that I haven't mentioned much about the interior of the tower house, but I designed this illustration so I could also do the interior of it, which I will work on next in a cutaway illustration.
Here is a link to the tower house image so far in large if you want to see it in more detail:


1. Castles and Fortified Cities of Medieval Europe An Illustrated History
2. Castles- DK Eyewitness
4. The evolution of the Irish tower-house as a domestic space- Rory Sherlock- Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy. Section C: Archaeology, Celtic Studies, History, Linguistics, Literature, Vol. 111C, Special Issue: Domestic life in Ireland (2011)
5. Cross-Cultural Occurrences of Mutations in Tower House Architecture- Evidence for Cultural Homogeneity in Late Medieval Ireland?- Rory Sherlock- The Journal of Irish Archaeology, Vol. 15 (2006)
6. Tower-Houses and Associated Farming Systems- Muiris O'Sullivan and Liam Downey- Archaeology Ireland, Vol. 23, No. 2 (Summer, 2009)
7. Home Security: How Strong Was a Tower-House Door?- Duncan Berryman- Archaeology Ireland, Vol. 23, No. 2 (Summer, 2009)
8. Evidence for the Use of Timber in Mediaeval Irish Tower Houses: A Regional Study in Lecale and Tipperary- Marie Esther McKenna- Ulster Journal of Archaeology, Third Series, Vol. 47 (1984)
9. Dating Irish Castles- David Sweetman- Archaeology Ireland, Vol. 6, No. 4 (Winter, 1992)
10. The Origins of Tower Houses- T. E. McNeill- Archaeology Ireland, Vol. 6, No. 1 (Spring, 1992)
11. Tower House Origins-David Sweetman- Archaeology Ireland, Vol. 6, No. 2 (Summer, 1992)
12. Frowning Ruins: The Tower Houses of Medieval Ireland- Colm J. Donnelly- History Ireland, Vol. 4, No. 1 (Spring, 1996), pp. 11-16
13. The archaeology of Medieval Ireland- TB Barry
14. Medieval Ireland- Tadhg O'Keeffe
15. Castles in Ireland- Tom McNeill

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Illustrating the Past Book Available

The 'Illustrating the Past' book, which has some of my illustrations within, along with great archaeological reconstruction illustrations of a few others, all of Irish archaeological sites, is now available online to buy!