Wilton Castle, Bree, Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford (and a trip to Johnstown Castle)

contact: Sean Windsor
(Tourist Accommodation Facility)
Tel: 053-9247738
www.wiltoncastleireland.com
Open: all year

Wilton Castle.

We treated ourselves to a stay in Wilton Castle in November in 2021. Having been gutted in a fire in 1923, it stood as a dramatic ruin until the Windsors purchased and began to refurbish it into luxurious accommodation. The current restoration was completed in 2014. So far just half of it has been rebuilt, the rest has been stabilised but remains empty and without a roof. The work which has been done by the Windsors is incredible – it seems to have been rebuilt to a very high standard. I’m not sure if they intend to continue to rebuild the rest of the castle.

Wilton Castle was designed for Harry Alcock (1792-1840) by Daniel Robertson (d. 1849) in 1836-38, subsuming parts of an earlier castle and house.

The area was previously known as Clogh na Kayer (The Castle of the Sheep). Herbert Hore writes in History of the Town and County of Wexford that an ancient Castle of Cloghnakayer was built in the fourteenth century. The De Dene family owned the land until 1354, when an only daughter married Philip Furlong whose descendant, Sir Fulke Furlong, knight, of Horetown, built a castle around 1410. 

The land then passed to the Butlers of Mountgarret. Edward Butler, Baron of Kayer (eldest son of Pierce, second son of Richard 1st Viscount Mountgarret) rebuilt and restored the ancient Castle, and added a mansion house to it in 1599. [1]

The view from our suite.

Edward Butler’s son, Pierce, inherited. Pierce Butler was a Catholic and a supporter of the monarchy and his land was confiscated by the Cromwellian parliament in 1655 and granted to a Cromwellian soldier, Captain Robert Thornhill. Captain Robert’s son sold the estate in 1695 to William Alcock (d. 1705) of Downpatrick, County Down. [2]

Herbert Hore tells us that William Alcock rebuilt the castle, and called it Wilton. It was this castle that was subsumed in Daniel Robertson’s design for Harry Alcock. Herbert Hore writes that “the late Colonel Alcock [Harry, (1821-93)] told me that some of the walls of the ancient Castle of the Butlers are incorporated in the present building.”

Robert O’Byrne writes: “William Alcock built a new residence for himself on the site of an old castle, and this was occupied by his descendants for several generations. A handsome classical doorcase of granite with segmental pediment above fluted pilasters survives on the façade of the former steward’s house at Wilton to indicate the appearance of the original Alcock house, dismissed by Martin Doyle in his 1868 book on the county as being ‘in the dull style of William and Mary.’ ” [3]

A handsome classical doorcase of granite with segmental pediment above fluted pilasters survives on the façade of the former steward’s house at Wilton to indicate the appearance of the original Alcock house.”
The former steward’s house, in the stable yard below Wilton Castle.

A daughter of William and his wife Jane nee Bamber of Bamber Hall of Lancaster, England, married Patrick Lattin and was the mother of the famous Jack Lattin of Morristown Lattin, County Kildare, who danced himself to death!

The estate passed to William Alcock’s son, another William Alcock (1681-1739), then to his son, Col. William Alcock (d. 1779) (Colonel in the Waterford Militia). He married Mary Loftus of Loftus Hall, County Wexford, daughter of Nicholas Loftus, 1st Viscount Loftus of Ely and his wife Anne Ponsonby, daughter of William Ponsonby, 1st Viscount Duncannon.

Loftus Hall, the home of Mary Loftus, wife of William Alcock (d. 1779). Photograph from the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage.

Wilton then passed to his son, Henry Alcock (d. 1811). Henry Alcock married Elizabeth Katherine Ussher, daughter of Beverly Ussher of Kilmeadon, County Waterford, who was a long term MP for County Waterford. Henry Alcock also served as an MP for Waterford. Elizabeth Katherine’s sister Mary also married an MP, John Congreve of Mount Congreve in Waterford (which has beautiful gardens open to the public, although temporarily closed – I wonder if the house is to be opened also?).

The estate then passed to his son, William Congreve Alcock (1771-1812). William competed in the general election of 1807 against John Colclough of Tintern Abbey (son of Vesey Colclough, MP for County Wexford). Unfortunately they decided to settle a dispute by a duel, and William shot and killed John. John had been engaged to a sister of William’s. William was tried for murder but acquitted. He never got over the incident however and it affected his mental health and he died five years later. [4] Thus Wilton Castle passed to his brother, Harry Alcock (1792-1840).

In 1818 Harry Alcock married Margaret Elinor Savage, daughter of James Savage of Kilgibbon, County Wexford (this house is now a ruin). He then engaged Daniel Robertson in 1837 to renovate Wilton House, which became Wilton Castle. The newer house was built in front of the older Wilton House.

The older Wilton House, covered in weather-slating, is visible at the back of Wilton Castle.

The details of Daniel Robertson’s training are not known. He struggled with bankruptcy for a large part of his life and moved from working in Oxford in England to Ireland, at the urging of his father-in-law. The Dictionary of Irish Architects tells us:

From the early 1830s he did no further work in Britain but received a series of commissions in Ireland, mainly for country house work in the south eastern counties. Most of these houses or additions were in the Tudor style, which, he asserted in a letter to a client, Henry Faulkner, of Castletown, Co. Carlow, was ‘still so new and so little understood in Ireland’. For some of them he used Martin Day as his executant architect. In spite of his success in attracting commissions, when he was working at Powerscourt in the early 1840s he was, in the words of Lord Powerscourt, ‘always in debt and…used to hide in the domes of the roof of the house’ to escape the Sheriff’s officers who pursued him. By then he was crippled with gout and in an advanced state of alcoholism; at Powerscourt he ‘used to be wheeled out on the terrace in a wheelbarrow with a bottle of sherry, and as long as that lasted he was able to design and direct the workmen, but when the sherry was finished he collapsed and was incapable of working till the drunken fit had evaporated.’ In at least two instances – at Powerscourt and at Lisnavagh – he lived on the premises while work was in progress, and it seems that from the 1830s until the year of his death his wife and family never settled for any time in Ireland… Robertson was overseeing the completion of Lisnavagh, Co. Carlow, where he had been living intermittently since the start of building in 1846, when he fell seriously ill in the spring of 1849” and died in September of that year. [5]

Ballydarton House, County Carlow, also designed by Daniel Robertson, in 1830. Photograph from the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage.
Dunleckney Manor, County Carlow, by Daniel Robertson, 1835. Photograph from the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage.

Daniel Robertson also designed the nearby Johnstown Castle in County Wexford. We visited Johnstown Castle also but unfortunately it was closed the only day we were in Wexford, as they were taking down Hallowe’en decorations from a special event! Such a pity we weren’t able to see the inside of the castle yet, but we shall certainly visit again.

Johnstown Castle is described in the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage: “the construction in a blue-green rubble stone offset by glimmering Mount Leinster granite dressings not only demonstrating good quality workmanship, but also producing a sober two-tone palette.” [6] Wilton Castle also has Mount Leinster granite dressings. It was covered however in white lime plaster – which has been reinstated on the renovated part of the castle.

The lakeside facade of Johnstown Castle, County Wexford, built 1836-72 for Hamilton Knox Grogan Morgan (1808-54), MP, also by Daniel Robertson – it has remarkable similarities to Wilton Castle. It envelops a seventeenth-century house (perhaps by Thomas Hopper) [7] remodelled (1810-4) by James Pain (1779-1877) of Limerick.
Johnstown Castle overlooks a beautiful lake.

Harry’s daughter Henrietta married William Russell Farmar who also had a house built by Daniel Robertson: Bloomfield in County Wexford.

Bloomfield, a country house erected for William Russell Farmar JP (1802-71) to a design by Daniel Robertson. Photograph from National Inventory of Architectural Heritage.

Another daughter, Sarah, married Thomas John Fetherston, 5th Baronet, of Ardagh, County Longford (the house is now in use as training college, St. Brigid’s Training College, by the Sisters of Mercy).

Harry’s son, another Harry Alcock (1821-93), inherited Wilton Castle and the estate. He served as High Sheriff of Wexford in 1846 and was Lt-Col. of the Wexford Militia.  He continued the building work, which finished in 1844, adding the large square four storey tower with its elaborate balconies. He also improved the surrounding estate. He increased the plantation of trees and implemented a programme of road construction, fence building and draining of land which was carried out as Famine relief work. [8]

Wilton Castle, when designed by Daniel Robertson, consisted of a three-storey main block and two-storey wing, all dominated by a tall square tower at one end and a tall polygonal tower and turret at the other, and it is heavily machicolated and battlemented. It is the two storey wing which has been renovated for accommodation.

The tall square tower is at one end of Wilton Castle, on the three storey section.

Harry Alcock died unmarried in 1893 and the estate (some 7,000 acres in the 1870s) passed to his nephew, Philip Clayton Alcock (1861-1949), son of Harry’s brother Philip Savage Alcock (1828-86) of Park House on the Wilton estate and his wife Katherine Annette Browne-Clayton of Carrickbyrne Lodge in County Wexford. Philip Clayton Alcock was a Captain in the Gloucestershire Regiment, and in 1900 High Sheriff of Wexford, but by 1922 he felt it was too dangerous to remain at Wilton and moved to England. In 1923 his fears about his Irish property were justified when Wilton Castle was burned by arsonists. [9]

A contemporary account in the Irish Times, 7 March 1923 tells us about the burning: “Wilton Castle, the residence of Captain P.C. Alcock, about three miles from Enniscorthy, was burned by armed men on Monday night. Nothing remains of the beautiful building but smoke-begrimed, roofless walls, broken windows, and a heap of smouldering debris. The Castle was occupied by a caretaker – Mr. James Stynes – the owner, with his wife and family, having gone to England about a year ago. Shortly after 9 o’clock on Monday night the caretaker was at the Steward’s residence…when he was approached by armed men, who demanded the keys to the Castle. When he asked why they wanted the keys, one of the armed men said: “We have come to burn the place. We are sorry”. The raiders told the caretaker that he could remove his personal belongings from the part of the Castle that he occupied, but they would not allow him to remove the furniture. Fearing that the Castle might be burned, however, Captain Alcock had removed the most valuable portion of his furniture some weeks ago, but a good many rooms were left furnished. When the caretaker had removed his property he was ordered back to the Steward’s house. Soon the noise of breaking glass was heard. It appears that the armed men broke all the windows on the ground floor, and having sprinkled the floors with petrol, set them alight. They did not hurry over their work of destruction, and they did not leave the Castle until near 12 o’clock, when the building was enveloped in flames. About thirty men took part in the raid. After the raiders left, the caretaker and Steward, with what help they could procure, tried to extinguish the flames, but their effort was hopeless”. [10]

Photograph from the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage of Wilton Castle before renovation.
The tall polygonal tower and telescoping turret at the other end of Wilton Castle, on the two storey section of the castle, which has been renovated and faced in a creamy white lime plaster to distinguish it from the section which remains a ruin.

Wilton Castle was built on a moated platform surrounded by parapet walls and sham fortifications.

The moated area, in front of the castle.
One of the little fortification towers along the moat in front of the castle.
Area in front of the castle, with another of the fortification towers and the moated area (not filled with water) lies on the far side of the low wall.
The windows of Wilton Castle are arched and paired and have hood mouldings; the roof has crenellations.
The side of Wilton Castle. Note the fine stone chimneys. The octagonal turret on the south west corner of Wilton Castle is built entirely of Mount Leinster granite and contains 182 cubic ft of stone or approx 13.5 ton in weight. [11]

In the three storey section of the castle, there is a beautiful carved doorcase, and an oriel window over it with delicate stone tracery and crenellations on top of the windowframe. Mark Bence-Jones defines an oriel window as “a large projecting window in Gothic, Tudor, Gothic-Revival and Tudor-Revival architecture; sometimes rising through two or more storeys, sometimes in an upper storey only and carried on corbelling.” [12] There is a similar oriel window at Johnstown Castle, which is only one storey high.

The beautifully carved Tudor-style doorcase at Wilton Castle.
The carved doorcase and oriel window of Wilton Castle.

At Wilton Castle there are double sets of sidelight windows either side of the doorcase, with arched carved window frames.

The Oriel window at Johnstown Castle, similar to that at Wilton Castle though the one at Wilton Castle is double-height.

I was most excited to discover that we could explore the ruined part of the castle as it has been stabilised securely. It was wonderful to explore the detail.

The tower of the ruined part of Wilton Castle. It has wonderful balconies on heavy stone corbels with Gothic tracery windows.
The oriel window and doorcase as seen from inside Wilton Castle.

We kept discovering more. Pictures from the front of the castle do not do it justice. The land drops down behind the castle to the River Boro, to reveal beautiful pastoral views from the back windows of the castle.

The view over the river from inside the ruin of Wilton Castle.
The River Boro running along the back of Wilton Castle.
There are lots of stone corbels.
The spiral staircase inside the round tower at the back of the castle which joins the older Wilton House to the rest of the Castle.
The view from the interior spiral staircase inside the ruin, of the river side of the castle and down toward the steward’s house.

One can walk down to the river and more of the detail of the castle is revealed from behind. We found a warren of tunnels to one side on a level below the castle.

The tunnel from the castle level down to the farmyard.
In this photograph you can see the side of the castle, and the path below. The river lies below that.
The tunnels to the side of Wilton Castle, at the lower level.

The tunnels provided quick access for servants to different parts of the castle, stable yard and grounds. There were cellars for wine and storage areas for food. Cast iron grilles let natural light and air into the tunnels. [13]

The entrances to the tunnels are in this stone wall.
Entrances to the tunnels, in the stone wall.
The riverside facade of Wilton Castle. The three storey section in the back – which is part of the older Alcock house – is covered in weather-slating tiles. The round tower contains the spiral staircase which I climbed inside the ruin.
It was only when we explored around the river side of Wilton Castle that we realised the extent of its size and the beauty of its surroundings.
The older section of Wilton Castle, formerly Wilton House.
From the path along the river side of the castle, one can climb back up these stairs, to discover a picnic area!
The picnic area.
From the picnic area, you can see the full height of the square tower.
More wonderful balconies and tracery windows in the square tower, seen from the river side.

After the fire, the Alcocks were unable to rebuild as the house had not been insured. The lands were redistributed by the Irish Lands Commission, and the castle and land was purchased by local farmer, Sean Windsor.

When we arrived we were welcomed and brought inside the renovated section of the castle. It opens into a nicely tiled hallway.

The accommodation consists of four suites, one of which has a large entertaining space. Two suites are upstairs and two downstairs, with the large one being downstairs. Our accommodation was upstairs.

The upstairs hallway.

Our accommodation was a suite, with sitting room, fully stocked kitchen, bathroom with walk-in shower, and bedroom. The sitting room and bedroom have beautiful wallpaper.

Our bedroom had a lovely Chinese style wallpaper.

Our bathroom was in the round tower of the castle!

While our suite had a walk-in shower, the suite in the floor below has a bath.

Our host showed us the larger suite downstairs that has room for a party. The double doors in the room open up to the view of the river below, onto a fine sweep of steps.

The double doors from the entertainment suite.
The larger entertainment suite.

The accommodation is more pricey than we can usually afford but for a romantic getaway it is hard to beat! It’s very quiet. There seemed to be one other suite occupied when we were there, but we never saw or heard the inhabitants. The Windsors live in a house next door. We chose to have breakfast provided, which was brought to us on a tray in the morning. We used the kitchen facilities one evening to make our dinner, and the next night, ordered a delivery from nearby Enniscorthy, which was delivered to the castle!

[1] p.560-561, Hore, Herbert. History of the Town and County of Wexford, Volume 6, ed. Philip Hore, pub. 1901-1911. Reference from http://butlerancestryireland.blogspot.com/2012/11/butlers-co-wexford-ch1-richard-1stviscount-mountgarrett.html

There is also an excellent history of the early days of the area on the Bree Heritage website, https://breeheritage.com/2015/02/27/the-early-history-of-wilton-castle-bree-co-wexford/

[2] https://landedfamilies.blogspot.com/search/label/Wexford

[3] https://theirishaesthete.com/2018/05/21/wilton-castle/

[4] For more on this, see the chapter in The Wexford Gentry by Art Kavanagh and Rory Murphy. Published by Irish Family Names, Bunclody, Co Wexford, Ireland, 1994.

[5] https://www.dia.ie/architects/view/4570/ROBERTSON%2C+DANIEL#tab_biography

[6] https://www.buildingsofireland.ie/buildings-search/building/15704226/johnstown-castle-johnstown-fo-by-co-wexford

[7] https://www.archiseek.com/2014/johnstown-castle-county-wexford/

[8] p. 130, Hicks, David. Irish Country Houses: A Chronicle of Change. The Collins Press, Cork, 2012.

[9] https://landedfamilies.blogspot.com/search/label/Wexford

[10] https://www.archiseek.com/2015/1838-wilton-castle-co-wexford/

[11] Note taken from the Wilton Castle facebook page, where you can see the progress of restoration that took place. https://www.facebook.com/WiltonCastleIreland

[12] Bence-Jones, Mark. A Guide to Irish Country Houses (originally published as Burke’s Guide to Country Houses volume 1 Ireland by Burke’s Peerage Ltd. 1978); Revised edition 1988, Constable and Company Ltd, London.

[13] p. 130, Hicks, David. Irish Country Houses: A Chronicle of Change. The Collins Press, Cork, 2012.

Here are more photographs from our visit to Johnstown Castle, also designed by Daniel Robertson.

The clock tower side of Johnstown Castle.
The front entrance of Johnstown Castle – clock tower side on the right.
Inside the front arch of Johnstown Castle.
The front entrance of Johnstown Castle.
Spectacular doorway arch to one side of Johnstown Castle.
The doorway arch at Johnstown Castle features a border of carved stone heads.
Carved stone heads at Johnstown Castle.
Window surround detail and tracery at Johnstown Castle.
A workman at Johnstown Castle.