One of the most significant historic sites in the Western Isles, Howmore is a complex of churches, chapels, and a burial ground, on a site that may have been used in pre-Christian times. The main chapel dates to at least the 8th century, and may stand on a prehistoric site levelled to make way for the new buildings. Much of the site is enclosed within a short wall of 19th century provenance.There is some suggestion that the first Christian presence at Howmore dates as far back as the 6th century; evidence for this suggestion comes from an early cross-marked grave slab found amid the ruins.
Amid the ruins are the old parish church, Teampull Mor/Mhoire, now nothing more than a section of the east gable pierced by two 13th century windows. To the east is a section of a second church, Caibeal Dhiarmid, again represented by a single gable end.
Just outside the enclosed graveyard stands the roofless ruin of Caibeal Dubhghaill (Dugall's Chapel), and to the north east is Chlann 'ic Ailein (Clanranald's chapel), probably 16th century, but incorporating bits of medieval stone which may suggest that it was an earlier medieval structure modified for use by Clanranald. This is likely the burial aisle recorded as erected by John MacDonald of Clanranald (d.1574).
The most celebrated historical artefact found at Howmore is the so-called Clanranald Stone, a stone panel carved with the Clanranald arms. For many years the panel lay against a wall of the in the decaying graveyard. Carved of granite brought from Carsaig, on Mull, the stone dates to the late 16th or early 17th century. It is about 75cm x 80cm and weighs a hefty 160kg. Note the weight and then consider the determination necessary to carry the stone away unnoticed. Yet that is exactly what happened; in 1990 the Clanranald Stone disappeared from the Howmore site without a trace.
To get to the chapel site, follow signs for the Youth Hostel, which is located immediately uphill of the chapel site.References:
The Château de Foix dominates the town of Foix. An important tourist site, it is known as a centre of the Cathars. Built on an older 7th-century fortification, the castle is known from 987. In 1002, it was mentioned in the will of Roger I, Count of Carcassonne, who bequeathed the fortress to his youngest child, Bernard. In effect, the family ruling over the region were installed here which allowed them to control access to the upper Ariège valley and to keep surveillance from this strategic point over the lower land, protected behind impregnable walls.
In 1034, the castle became capital of the County of Foix and played a decisive role in medieval military history. During the two following centuries, the castle was home to Counts with shining personalities who became the soul of the Occitan resistance during the crusade against the Albigensians. The county became a privileged refuge for persecuted Cathars.
The castle, often besieged (notably by Simon de Montfort in 1211 and 1212), resisted assault and was only taken once, in 1486, thanks to treachery during the war between two branches of the Foix family.
From the 14th century, the Counts of Foix spent less and less time in the uncomfortable castle, preferring the Governors' Palace. From 1479, the Counts of Foix became Kings of Navarre and the last of them, made Henri IV of France, annexed his Pyrrenean lands to France.
As seat of the Governor of the Foix region from the 15th century, the castle continued to ensure the defence of the area, notably during the Wars of Religion. Alone of all the castles in the region, it was exempted from the destruction orders of Richelieu (1632-1638).
Until the Revolution, the fortress remained a garrison. Its life was brightened with grand receptions for its governors, including the Count of Tréville, captain of musketeers under Louis XIII and Marshal Philippe Henri de Ségur, one of Louis XVI's ministers. The Round Tower, built in the 15th century, is the most recent, the two square towers having been built before the 11th century. They served as a political and civil prison for four centuries until 1862.
Since 1930, the castle has housed the collections of the Ariège départemental museum. Sections on prehistory, Gallo-Roman and mediaeval archaeology tell the history of Ariège from ancient times. Currently, the museum is rearranging exhibits to concentrate on the history of the castle site so as to recreate the life of Foix at the time of the Counts.