Office of Public Works Properties in County Galway, Connaught

Continuing my posts about Office of Public Works sites, we visited several last year. The five counties of Connacht are Galway, Leitrim, Mayo, Roscommon and Sligo.

I will be writing of more Section 482 properties soon! We visited the lovely Ballysallagh House in County Kilkenny last weekend. The 2022 Section 482 list should be out this month, in February, but it is not available yet.

Galway:

1. Athenry Castle, County Galway

2. Aughnanure Castle, County Galway

3. Dun Aonghasa, County Galway

4. Ionad Culturtha an Phiarsaigh (Pearse’s Cottage), County Galway

5. Portumna Castle, County Galway

Galway:

1. Athenry Castle, County Galway:

Athenry Castle 1938, from Dublin City Library and Archives. [1]

General information: 091 844797, athenrycastle@opw.ie

From the OPW website https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/athenry-castle/:

Guarding a strategic ford on the Clarinbridge River is the monumental bulk of Athenry Castle. The imposing three-storey hall-keep survives from the mid-thirteenth century. It is solidly impressive from the outside, although the interior was simply built, containing only a hall at first-floor level and dark storerooms below.

Despite the simplicity of the layout, fine carvings bear witness to the hall’s eminence. The doorway and two of the window openings are decorated with floral motifs in the remarkable local School of the West style. The battlements, through whose tall arrow-loops the castle was defended against various attackers across the centuries, are original.

Visitors come to Athenry Castle to soak up the authentic atmosphere of medieval power that the mighty fortress still exudes”. [2]

The castle Keep was built in 1253 by Meiler de Bermingham [ancestor of the Lords of Athenry] and after an attack in 1316 the large town wall were added [in 1316 Richard “of the Battles” 4th Lord of Athenry defeated Felim O’Connor in the Battle of Athenry]. Not long after the completion of the walls, one of Ireland’s bloodiest battles was fought outside the town between the King of Connaught and the Normans. Until that time the area and castle were of great importance but the story changed after the battle. 

Meiler’s son raised the height of the first floor; he also embellished the entrance with a fine arched door at the south east end of the castle which was reached by a wooden staircase. During the reordering the banqueting hall was also enhanced with narrow trefoil headed windows; very rare in Irish castles. 

In the 15th century the tower was raised by two floors to include an attic and two gable ends and battlements were added. The basement only previously accessible by a trap door and ladder also benefited from having a new entrance. 

In 1596 the castle fell into the hands of the O’Donnell clan and never recovered from the great damage it sustained during the battle for its title and it wasn’t until the late 1980s that the National Monuments branch of the Office of Public Works in Ireland started work on its restoration.” [3]

I found a wonderful history on the website The Standing Stone by Dr. Thomas P. Nelligan:

The area had been conquered by the Normans in the early 13th century and following the death of the King of Connacht, Cathal Crovderg O’Conor, the province was granted to Richard de Burgo by the King of England who invaded and area and subdued it. He, in turn, granted the area around Athenry to Peter de Bermingham. The castle was subsequently built between 1235 and 1240 by Meiler de Bermingham, Peter’s son. It is often called King John’s Castle, despite being built some 20 years after his death. Meiler was granted, in 1244, the right to hold a market at the town, and an annual 8-day fair. He is also responsible for the founding of the nearby Dominican Friary in 1241. As the Connacht region didn’t receive a large influx of Norman settlers at this time, there was resistance to the de Bermingham’s rule. In 1249, an Irish army was defeated by the de Berminghams at Athenry. 

The castle was attacked in 1316 and following this the town walls were constructed. This attack was led by the Irish Felim O’Conor, the Gaelic king of Connacht. He fought the Lord of Connacht, William Liath de Burgo, and the 4th Lord of Athenry, Richard de Bermingham. The Irish king was killed during the battle and thousands of Irish were killed owing their custom of not wearing armor and the Normans heavy use of the bow.  

The de Berminghams stopped using the castle as their primary residence in the 15th century and moved elsewhere in the town [Richard de Bermingham who died in 1580 moved to Dunmore, County Galway]. In 1574 the town was burned to the ground by the sons of the Earl of Clanricarde, Ulick and John Burke, who rebelled. The town was rebuilt in 1576 only for it to be attacked again a year later by the Burkes. Further rebuilding works were carried out in 1584, but during the Nine Years’ War the town was captured and burnt by Red Hugh O’Donnel, and the castle fell into his hands.” [4] 

2. Aughnanure Castle, Oughterard, County Galway:

Aughnanure Castle, County Galway, photograph by Brian Morrison, 2014 for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. [5]

General information: 091 552214, aughnanurecastle@opw.ie

It is a 15th century tower house. Aughnanure translates in Irish to “the field of the yews.” The OPW website tells us https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/aughnanure-castle/:

The fearsome O’Flaherty family, whose motto was ‘Fortune favours the strong’, ruled west Connacht for 300 years from this fine six-storey tower on the shores of Lough Corrib.

In 1546 the O’Flahertys joined forces with the Mayo O’Malleys when Donal an Chogaidh O’Flaherty married Grace O’Malley, later known as Granuaile, the formidable pirate queen. The O’Malley motto, ‘Powerful by land and by sea,’ showed the awe in which that family, too, was held.

At Aughanure today you can inspect the remains of a banqueting hall, a watch tower, an unusual double bawn and bastions and a dry harbour. Keep your eyes peeled for glimpses of the three species of bat that now live in the castle.

It was captured in 1572 by Sir Edward Fitton, then president of Connacht, but later reclaimed by the O’Flahertys. In 1618 King James I granted the castle to Hugh O’Flaherty but shortly after it fell into the hands of the Marquis of Clanrickarde who used it as a base against Cromwell’s forces. In 1687 the castle was back in the hands of the O’Flaherty clan for a rent of 76 per annum. In 1719 Bryan O’Flaherty bought the castle with the help of a mortgage of 1,600 which he borrowed from Lord Saint George but was unable to keep up the repayments and so the castle was lost again. [6] The Commissioners of Public Works obtained the castle in 1952 before declaring it a National Monument and undertaking restoration of the parapet, chimney and roof in 1963. 

3. Dun Aonghasa, County Galway:

Dun Aengus, Inishmore, Aran Islands, County Galway, by Gareth McCormack, 2019 for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. [see 5]

General information: 099 61008, dunaonghasa@opw.ie

From the OPW website https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/dun-aonghasa/:

Dún Aonghasa is about 1km from the Visitor Centre and is approached over rising ground. The last section of the path is over rough, natural rock and care is needed, especially when descending. Boots or strong walking shoes are recommended. There is no fence or barrier at the edge of the cliff.

Perilously perched on a sheer sea-cliff, Dún Aonghasa defiantly faces the Atlantic Ocean. It is the largest of the prehistoric stone forts of the Aran Islands.

The fort consists of three massive drystone defence walls. Outside them is a chevaux-de-frise – that is, a dense band of jagged, upright stones, thousands in number. A devastatingly effective way to impede intruders, the chevaux-de-frise surrounds the entire fort from cliff to cliff.

Dún Aonghasa is over 3,000 years old. Excavations have revealed significant evidence of prehistoric metalworking, as well as several houses and burials. The whole complex was refortified in AD 700–800.

The visit involves a short hike over rising ground and rough, natural rock, so come prepared with boots or strong walking shoes. Be careful, too, when walking near the cliff – there is no fence or barrier at the edge of the 87-metre drop.

4. Ionad Culturtha an Phiarsaigh (Pearse’s Cottage), County Galway:

Ionad Culturtha an Phiarsaigh (Pearse’s Cottage), County Galway, photograph by Christian McLeod, 2016 for Failte Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. [see 5]

general information: 091 574292, icpconamara@opw.ie

From the OPW website https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/ionad-culturtha-an-phiarsaigh-connemara-pearse-cottage/:

Ionad Cultúrtha an Phiarsaigh is located in Ros Muc, in the heart of the Connemara Gaeltacht. It was here that Patrick Pearse, leader of the 1916 rebellion against British rule, built a summer cottage for himself.

In the state-of-the-art visitor centre you can explore the things that drew Pearse to Connemara – the area’s unique landscape and the ancient Gaelic culture and language which is still alive today. You will get a warm welcome from our local guides, who are steeped in the local culture and take great pride in it.

A short stroll across the bog will take you to the cottage itself. You will find it just as it was when Pearse left for the last time in 1915.

Ionad Culturtha an Phiarsaigh (Pearse’s Cottage), County Galway, photograph by Stephen Duffy, 2019 for Failte Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. [see 5]

5. Portumna Castle and Gardens, County Galway: 

Portumna Castle, County Galway, July 2021.

General information: 090 974 1658, portumnacastle@opw.ie

From the OPW website https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/portumna-castle-and-gardens/:

Built by [Richard Bourke 1572-1635] the fourth earl of Clanricarde, Portumna Castle was the de Burgo family power base for centuries.

The castle is a unique example of the transitional Irish architecture of the early 1600s. Its bold design combines elements of medieval and Renaissance style that complement each other perfectly.

A major fire in 1826 left the castle a roofless shell, but the state began to bring it back from ruin in the 1960s. Restoration work continues to this day.

The dramatic walk up to the building includes charming formal gardens, which create an enchanting sense of the original seventeenth-century setting. The walled kitchen garden is particularly memorable.

The castle enjoys a sensational view of Lough Derg. The ground floor is open to the public and houses an exhibition that brings the story of the castle and the de Burgo family to life. It is right beside the River Shannon and Portumna Forest Park, which makes it a great choice for a delightful day out.

Ashlar limestone Morrison, or Gothic Entrance gates, Portumna Castle. They are attributed to Richard Morrison, built about 1805, flanked by “octagonal piers with reeded colonettes on moulded plinths, with moulded bands and cornices, carved crocketed reeded pyramidal capstones with fleur-de-lys finials, vegetal detail to friezes, and supporting decorative cast-iron double-leaf and single-leaf gates.” [7]
A gate lodge, probably designed by Richard Morrison.
The castle is a three-storey semi-fortified Jacobean house with raised basement and dormer attic, built c.1618, facing north and comprising rectangular block having four-bay long sides and three-bay short sides, flanked by square-plan projecting corner towers with one-bay sides. The machicolation over the main entrance has an oculus opening and pedestals with ball finials, and is supported on stone corbels. There are paired ashlar limestone chimneystacks to the middle of the roof which have a plan of five stacks by three parallel to axis. I thought these chimneystacks look rather modern and am not sure they look as they would have back in the 1600s and 1700s. The windows have stone mullioned windows with leaded glazing. Dormer windows have pitched slate roofs and two-light timber casement windows.

Richard Bourke 4th Earl of Clanricarde was brought up and educated in England. He fought on the side of the English against Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone, and was knighted on the field at the battle of Kinsale. He was a protege of Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, and married Frances Walsingham, who was the widow of the poet Philip Sydney (1554-1586) and of Robert Devereux, the 2nd Earl of Essex (1566-1601), favourite of Queen Elizabeth I.

Portrait of Frances Walsingham, along with her husband Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, and in the small picture, Sir Philip Sydney.

The castle was built around 1616 and is a mixture of defensive Elizabethan/Jacobean building and a manor house, marking the transition in building styles. In this is it similar to Rathfarnham Castle in Dublin, which was built around 1583. It retains defensive structures such as machicolations (floor openings in the battlements, through which stones, or other objects, could be dropped on attackers), shot holes, and strong corner towers, and surrounding walls with gunloops and crenellated towers.

Georgian Gothic gateways lead to the avenue up to the house. The seventeenth century Tuscan gateway, contemporaneous with the castle, is one of the earliest examples of the use of classical orders in the country and is the superb work of a skilled craftsman. Its decorative scheme reflects the details of the castle.
Doorway entrance with round headed door opening in a carved limestone doorcase with side pilasters and and a scroll keystone, framed in square recess surmounted by moulded cornice on corbels, having scroll brackets to each end and supporting obelisks flanked by strapwork to each side of glazed elliptical oculus with carved finial. [8] Entrance is up limestone steps with carved balustrade.

The back is similar to the front, except for the addition in around 1797 of a curved porch of Jacobean style in the middle of the garden front (probably in the time of the 12th Earl of Clanricarde who died in December 1797 and was elevated to be a Marquess). I loved the curving steps up to this round door entrance.

The National Inventory describes the addition: “Curved porch to south elevation added c.1797 and having roughcast rendered walls with moulded string course to battlements, latter having carved ball finial to middle, square-headed two-light window openings having chamfered limestone surrounds, window to basement having chamfered mullion and that to ground floor having mullion and transom. Glazed elliptical oculus over ground floor window. Pointed arch door openings to east and west faces, with chamfered limestone surrounds, moulded cornices and timber doors, accessed by flights of limestone steps.”
This board tells us that William de Burgo (d. 1205) came to Ireland with Prince John in 1185, and was granted lands stretching from Cashel to Limerick. In 1193 he married the daughter of Donal Mor O’Brien, King of Thomond, thus securing a good relationship with the native rulers. His son Richard (d. 1241) suceeded him and was known as Lord of Connaught. Richard began the feudalisation of Connaught after military conquest. Richard was suceeded by his son Richard (d. 1248) and then Walter, who was created 1st Earl of Ulster.

Before building Portumna Castle, the principal seat of the Earls of Clanricarde was a castle in Loughrea. As well as building Portumna, the 4th Earl refurbished the castles at Aughnanure and Athenry, amongst others. The Clanricarde earls also owned Clarecastle, Oranmore and Kilcolgan castles.

The descendents of William de Burgo adopted Irish customs and clothing. Ulick Burke of Clanricarde (d. 1544) became Earl of Clanricarde and Baron of Dunkellin, and was one of the earliest Irish Chiefs to accept Henry VIII’s policy of “surrender and regrant,” accepting Henry VIII as his sovereign.

Ulick’s son Richard, 2nd Earl of Clanricarde, fought the Irish for the British crown.

The castle passed to the 4th Earl’s son Ulick and then to a cousin, Richard, who became 6th Earl of Clanricarde.

Portrait of Ulick, 5th Earl of Clanricarde (d. 1657). He was created Marquess of Clanricarde. He was Lord Deputy and Commander in Chief of Royalist forces against Cromwell in 1649. His Irish estates were lost but then recovered by his widow after the restoration of Charles II to the throne.

The 6th Earl only had daughters so the title passed to his brother William, 7th Earl of Clanricarde.

The 7th Earl’s son Richard the 8th Earl (died 1708) succeeded his father and despite marrying several times had no male heirs, so was succeeded by his brother John, 9th Earl (d. 1722). John was created Baron Burke of Bophin, County Galway, by King James II. He fought on the Jacobite side and was taken prisoner at the Battle of Aughrim in 1691. He was declared an outlaw and the Clanricarde estates were forfeited to the King, but the outlawry was reversed twelve years later on the payment of a whopping £25,000. His son Michael the 10th Earl succeeded him (d. 1726) and fortunately he married well, to Anne Smith daughter of John Smith, Chancellor of the Exchequer, widow of Hugh Parker of Meldford Hall, Sussex, whose income helped to restore the family fortunes.

The 11th Earl, John Smith de Burgh (1720-1782) changed his surname from Bourke to De Burgh.

Henry De Burgh (1743-1797), 1st Marquess (and 12th Earl) of Clanricarde (2nd creation), as a Knight of St Patrick Date after 1789 by Engraver William Sedgwick, English, 1748 – 1800 After Robert Hunter, Irish, 1715/1720-c.1803. Photograph courtesy of the National Gallery of Ireland.

The 13th Earl, John Thomas De Burgh (1744-1808), brother of the 12th Earl, was created 1st Earl of Clanricarde, an Irish Peer, on 29 December 1800, with special remainder to his daughters, if he had no male heir. One daughter, Hester, married Howe Peter Browne, 2nd Marquess of Sligo, and the other, Emily, married Thomas St Lawrence, 3rd Earl of Howth.

John Thomas De Burgh (1744-1808) 13th Earl of Clanricarde was created 1st Earl of Clanricarde, co. Galway.

His son, Ulick, became the 1st Marquess Clanricarde (of the 3rd creation), and also Baron of Somerhill, Kent. It was during his tenure that the fire occurred. He married Harriet Canning, daughter of Prime Minister George Canning. Ulick was described as being immensely rich.

Ulick John De Burgh, 14th Earl and 1st Marquess of Clanricarde (1802-1874).
Harriet Canning, Countess of Clanricarde (1804-1876), married to Ulick John De Burgh, 14th Earl and 1st Marquess of Clanricarde (1802-1874).

Amazing work has been done to reconstruct the castle after the fire. The Commissioners of Public Works acquired the castle in 1968 for preservation as a national monument.

Portumna Castle 1946, photograph from Dublin City Archives and Library. [see 1]

After the fire the family built a Ruskinian Gothic mansion by Sir Thomas Newenham Deane at the opposite end of the park. Mark Bence-Jones tells us that the new house was not much lived in by the family, for 2nd and last Marquess of Clanricarde, who succeeded 1874, was “the notorious miser and eccentric who spent his life in squalid rooms in London and dressed like a tramp.” The 2nd Marquess, Hubert George De Burgh-Canning, who died 1916, left Portumna to his great-nephew, Viscount Henry George Charles Lascelles, afterwards 6th Earl of Harewood and husband of Princess Mary (daughter of King George V), because it was said that he was the only member of his family who ever went to see him. The 1862 house was burnt 1922; after which Lord Harewood, when he came here, occupied a small house on the place. Portumna was sold when he died in 1947. [9]

The 2nd Marquess, Hubert George De Burgh-Canning, “the notorious miser and eccentric who spent his life in squalid rooms in London and dressed like a tramp.”
Elizabeth de Burgh, who married Henry Thynne Lascelles, 4th Earl of Harewood. She was the sister of the 2nd Marquess, Hubert George De Burgh-Canning.
Pictured, the marriage of Princess Mary to Viscount Lascelles.

The castle had a long gallery on the second storey, similar to that in the Ormond Castle in Carrick-on-Suir. Long galleries originated in Italy and France and became fashionable in England after 1550. They were often sparsely furnished and were used for indoor exercise.

The view from the front of the castle towards the gates.
Inside Portumna Castle, so far the ground floor has been restored and it houses an informative exhibition about the castle.

The exhibition tells us about various positions of servants in a castle. I was amused by the description of the job of a footman. We are told that they were kept largely for “ornamental” purposes and had to be fairly tall and good-looking, and their wages even rose with their height! Some padded their silk stockings to make their calves look more shapely!

Work is still being carried out on the castle, as you can see from the scaffolding on the side.

The side has a round-arched door and a small oculus window above.

The stables have been renovated into a cafe.

There’s also a walled garden at Portumna Castle.

[1] https://repository.dri.ie/catalog?f%5Broot_collection_id_ssi%5D%5B%5D=pk02rr951&mode=objects&search_field=all_fields&view=grid

[2] https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/

[3] http://www.britainirelandcastles.com/Ireland/County-Galway/Athenry-Castle.html

[4] http://www.thestandingstone.ie/2021/02/athenry-castle-co-galway.html

See also Mohr, Paul. The De Berminghams, Barons Of Athenry: A Suggested Outline Lineage, From First To Last. Journal of the Galway Archaeological and Historical Society. Vol. 63 (2011), pp. 43-56, on jstor. https://www.jstor.org/stable/41429931?read-now=1&seq=8#page_scan_tab_contents

[5] https://www.irelandscontentpool.com

[6] http://www.britainirelandcastles.com/Ireland/County-Galway/Aughanure-Castle.html

[7] https://www.buildingsofireland.ie/buildings-search/building/30343036/portumna-castle-portumna-portumna-demesne-portumna-co-galway

[8] p. 233, Bence-Jones, Mark.

[9] https://www.buildingsofireland.ie/buildings-search/building/30343048/portumna-castle-portumna-demesne-portumna-co-galway

6 thoughts on “Office of Public Works Properties in County Galway, Connaught

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