Blackhall Castle, Calverstown, Kilcullen, Co Kildare
contact: Jeffrey & Naomi White. Tel: 045-485244
listed opening dates in 2020 [but check in advance due to Covid-19 restrictions]:
May 1-31, Aug 15-23, Sept 1-15, Dec 1-20, 2pm-6pm
This is an impressive four storey sixteenth century tower-house ruin. We drove over to see it after visiting Harristown on Thursday 22nd August 2019, during Heritage Week.
Blackhall Castle was constructed by the Eustace family. The Eustaces of Castlemartin, County Kildare, nearby, were a branch of the “old English” FitzEustace family who held the title of Baron Baltinglass. In the online introduction to an article published in 1955, “The Eustace Family & Their Lands in County Kildare,” by Major-General Sir-Eustace F. Tickell with additions by Ronald F. Eustice [Tickell’s article as published in the Journal of the County Kildare Archaeological Society Volume XI1I, No. 6 (1955)], Ronald Eustice describes the Eustace family’s importance in Irish history:
“[The story of the Eustace family]is a story closely linked with Irish history since the fourteenth century, the story of the birth of a great family and of its gradual disappearance from the County in the storms that have passed through Ireland during the last five-hundred years.
“This was a family often divided against itself by deeply- held religious differences and by divergent political loyalties, a family whose important members so often chose the losing side: It was for a time perhaps the most powerful in Kildare (except of course the FitzGeralds), with lands scattered from Confey in the north to beyond the county boundary in the south; from the Dublin and Wicklow mountains in the east to Athy and Newbridge in the west. The triangle containing Naas, Ballymore Eustace and Old Kilcullen was almost one large family estate:
“Criche-Eustace or Cry-Eustace it was called. Their castles, especially those at Ballymore Eustace, Harristown, Castlemartin and Clongowes Wood, guarded the Pale for several centuries, and only fell at last to the guns of Ormonde and Cromwell. It was rare for a jury of county gentlemen to contain no Eustace, and on at least one occasion they formed a majority upon a panel of twelve… The family produced two Lords Deputy, three Lords Chancellor, two Lords Treasurer and the High Sheriff of Kildare on forty-five occasions. With a few notable exceptions they have now almost disappeared from Kildare, and their name has become a rare one in Ireland itself.” 
We drove up the wooded driveway to the castle, which has a later building attached, and is next to a beautiful old country house, now belonging to Jeffrey & Naomi White. The driveway passed the castle and entered a yard bordered by a fine stone wall. From here we were able to approach the back of the castle for a closer look.
We were greeted by a pair of dogs, and Naomi emerged from the house after them. She was very kind and welcoming, and after telling us a little about the ruin, invited us in to her house to tell us a bit more!
When Jeffrey and Naomi purchased the house, many years ago, the ruin still had its four walls. It was when they were away on a trip to Australia in 1999, leaving their property in the hands of a tenant who lived in the small cottage beside the ruin, that half of the castle came crashing to the ground. A severe storm caused a structural subsidence resulting in the complete collapse of the East section and parts of the North and South walls.  A deep loud rumble preceded the fall, and the dogs barked, as if they knew something momentous and disasterous was about to occur. Suddenly, nearly three sides of this huge ancient stone edifice tumbled to the ground, casting its giant rocks into the yard below. Fortunately nobody was injured and the cottage next door, sheltering the terrified tenant, remained unharmed, as did the centuries old farmhouse.
Naomi showed us pictures of the castle before the fall, as it stood when they first acquired the property – see the top photograph in Naomi’s collage:
The castle now existed as a one-sided shell next to an enormous heap of stones and rubble. Fortunately, when the Whites began to clear the rubble, they found the Sheelagh-na-Gig, the ancient fertility symbol which appears lewd to our modern eyes, intact. The figure had been inserted originally above the door frame of the castle. It has now been attached back on to the remains of the castle.
Naomi has an informative poster of Sheelagh-na-gigs in Britain and Ireland, which includes her Sheelagh-na-gig:
The remains of the castle have been made secure, which cost tens of thousands of euro, undertaken by the Whites with the help of a government grant. There is still much work to be done. Clearing the rubble was a massive task. The stone walls around the yard were built by an expert using some of the castle stones.
One can see where the floors of the castle were situated, the thickness of the walls, and the windows and fireplaces. I was particularly thrilled to see the intact round staircase, although we could not climb it, for safety reasons.
The Eustace family, according to Ronald Eustice, were a junior branch of the Le Poer family, whom I came across in my trip to Waterford, in Curraghmore (and mention of them in Salterbridge, in relation to Powerscourt, another Section 482 property). Four brothers Le Poer, of Norman origin, landed in Ireland with Henry II in 1171, and were granted lands in Ossory (Waterford). The stag with the crucifix between its antlers that tops Curraghmore is related to Saint Eustachius, a Roman centurion of the first century who converted to Christianity when he saw a miraculous stag with a crucifix between its antlers. This saint, Eustace, was probably the Patron Saint of the Le Poers since their family crest is the St. Eustace stag. I did not realise that St. Eustace is also the patron saint of Newbridge College in Kildare, where my father attended school and where for some time in the 1980s and 90s my family attended mass!
The Eustace line of the Le Poer family are descended from Eustace le Poer, Baron of Kells and a Justice Itinerant in 1285. I’m familiar with the term “Justice Itinerant” as a Robert Bagod, whom I hope is my ancestor, also served in this position in 1274. It was a judge who had to travel to courts in various parts of the country. Robert Bagod ended up living in Limerick. According to the article, Eustace le Poer’s son Arnold took the name FitzEustace, which changed to Eustace soon after the introduction of surnames in 1465. [see 1] Ronald Eustice writes of the move of the Eustace ancestors into County Kildare:
“By 1317, Arnold FitzEustace Le Poer certainly owned Castlemartin and the neighbouring townlands of Kilcullen, Brannockstown and Nicholastown, all just south of the Liffey. We also know that a FitzEustace was settled at Castlemartin before 1330; perhaps he was the Robert FitzEustace who was Lord Treasurer of Ireland in l 327.
We can thus assume with a fair degree of certainty that the Eustace estates in County Kildare originated at least as early as the start of the fourteenth century, (they had been granted lands near Naas in 1355) and were based upon the family stronghold of Castlemartin at the great bend in the Liffey, and that this had been built by a member of a junior branch of the powerful Le Poer family from Waterford, who had been granted or had seized lands in Kildare. One of these FitzEustaces founded the Dominican Priory at Naas in 1356, with its church dedicated to St. Eustachius.”
Ronald Eustice continues:
“Calverstown was occupied by the Eustaces at a very early date when they built their Blackhall Castle south of the present village. … In 1484 and again in 1493, a Richard Eustace of Kilgowan (just east of Calverstown) was High Sheriff.
“Both Calverstown and Gormanstown were owned by the Viscounts Baltinglass, and Roland, later the 2nd Viscount, lived at the latter while his father was alive and occupying Harristown. At this time Calverstown was leased to a William Eustace, a juror in 1536. Both Calverstown (which contained “two castles prostrate”) and Gormanstown were forfeited after the Baltinglass rebellion, but Calverstown was re-granted to John ( [Eustace] son of William of Castlemartin), with Harristown and Rochestown, and this grant was confirmed to his son Maurice in l627.”
I like making the connection to Harristown, which we had visited earlier in the day! Ron Eustice tells us that Sir Maurice Eustace gave Calverstown to his daughter Mary, either at the time of her marriage to Sir Richard Dixon, or upon his death. Calverstown passed to their son, Robert Dixon, later Colonel, and M.P. for Harristown from 1703-1713. On his death in 1725 it passed to his brother, Robert Dixon, and then to his sister Elizabeth, who had married Sir Kildare Borrowes, 3rd Bart. of Giltown, M.P. for Harristown in the Irish House of Commons in 1721. Their property, which would have included Blackhall Castle, had to be sold in 1747, however, to pay debts. Eustice notes that nothing remains of the occupation of Eustaces in either of their estates except Blackhall Castle. Wikipedia states that Sir Kildare Borrowes lived in Barretstown Castle, which could be why he was able to sell Blackhall. I’m not sure who owned (and perhaps occupied) Blackhall after that, before the Whites.
Closed due to Covid-19. Section 482 listed open dates in 2020: All year, closed Christmas day and St Stephens day, 9.30am-5.30pm, ballroom and garden rooms Sun, 9.30am-1.30pm
Fee: Mar-Oct, adult €11.50, OAP €9, student €8.50, child €5, family ticket €25, Nov-Dec adult €8.50, OAP €7.50, student €7, child €4, family ticket 2 adults + 3 children €18, children under 5 free
I haven’t revisited Powerscourt Estate this year but I have been there many times, and as the lockdown continues for Covid 19, I will write another entry from previous visits and research. I want to write about Powerscourt in continuation of our Wingfield run!
I have hardly any pictures of the house, as it used to be that one went to the estate to see the gardens, since the house was gutted by fire in November, 1974, and remained closed for many years. Since then, it has been gradually renovated. Nowadays inside is a shopping mecca and lovely Avoca cafe, with a growing exhibition about Powerscourt estate itself. My family has been visiting Powerscourt estate since I was a child. The ultimate in romantic, with terraces, groves of trees, stone sculptures, nooks, the mossy labyrinth in the Japanese gardens, the “secret” boat house with its view onto the surface of the lake, and the Versailles-like Neptune fountain, the memory of its purple and grey dampness havs been an aesthetic touchstone for me when I have lived in hot, dry, bright, Perth and California.
The estate is named after previous owners of the land, the Powers, or Le Poers. The site was a strategic military position for the Anglo-Normans in the 12th century, and by 1300 the Le Poers had built a castle there. In 1609 the land was granted to Richard Wingfield, Marshall of Ireland. Richard Wingfield appealed to James I for the land in order to secure the district from the incursions of native Irish lords and the families who had previously occupied the land, such as the O’Tooles. 
The later Richard Wingfield, who became Viscount Powerscourt of the 3rd Creation, incorporated some of the old building in a new residence he had built in 1728. According to Sean O’Reilly in Irish Houses and Gardens. From the Archives of Country Life, the 1974 fire exposed the fabric of the history of the house. He writes:
“The original structure consisted of a low range incorporated in the two bays to the left of the entrance. This appears to have been a long, two-storey, rectangular block, raised to a third storey in later development, and retaining, in one corner, a cross-shaped angle-loop. The vaulted room on the ground floor in this range survived into later remodellings. This earliest block, which dates from no later than the fifteenth century, was extended by a connecting block now incorporated in the garden front and, finally, by a third rectangular range fronted by the two bays on the right of the entrance, creating a U-plan.” 
In 1961 the estate was sold by the 9th Viscount, Mervyn Patrick Wingfield, to Mr. Ralph Slazenger, and the Slazenger family still own it.  Coincidentally, my Dad used to play tennis with one of the Slazengers, who must have been a daughter of Ralph, when she was a girl. The same family owned Durrow Abbey near Tullamore in County Offaly (which they purchased in 1950, but it now belongs to the OPW). 
The Wicklow house built for Richard Wingfield, who was a Member of Parliament and whose descendent had Powerscourt Townhouse in Dublin built, was designed by Richard Castle (or Cassels), who had worked with Edward Lovett Pearce. Both Lovett Pearce and Cassels favoured the Palladian style, and Cassels took over all of Lovett Pearce’s commissions after his untimely death aged just 34. Cassels worked on Carton, designed Russborough House (another section 482 house which I will write about) and Leinster House. Powerscourt consists of a three storey centre block (see photograph above) joined by single-storey links to two storey wings, in the Palladian style. Borrowing from Mark Bence Jones’s description in his Irish Country Houses, the centre block has nine bays  and the entrance front is made of granite. There is a five bay breakfront in the centre of the middle block front facade, with a pediment of six Ionic pilasters (Ionic pillars have scrolls) standing on the bottom storey, which is, according to Bence-Jones, treated as a basement, and rusticated (rustication is the use of stone blocks with recessed joints and often with rough or specially treated faces, which is generally confined to the basement or lower part of a building).  One can see a good photograph of the front facade pediment, and the attic level above it, which ends in long scrolls, on the website of the National Inventory of Buildings :
Bence-Jones continues in his description: between the pilasters on the breakfront are “rondels” containing busts of Roman emperors. The four bay links as well as the central block have balustraded parapets. The wings have four bays, “and the facade is prolonged beyond them by quadrant walls, each interrupted by a pedimented Doric arch and ending in an obelisk carrying an eagle, the Wingfield crest” (see the photograph below). 
The garden front, pictured above, has seven bays between two bows on either end, and the bows are topped with copper domes. One side has a two storey wing. The garden slopes down to a lake in a magnificent series of terraces. Powerscourt was built with sixty-eight rooms!
From 1842 onwards, the 6th Viscount of Powerscourt employed Daniel Robertson of Kilkenny to improve the gardens. Robertson created Italian gardens on the terraces, with broad steps and inlaid pavement, balustrades and statues. In the fountain below the “perron” of the main terrace, Mark Bence-Jones tells us, there is a pair of bronze figures of Eolus, “which came from the Palais Royale in Paris, having been sold by Prince Napolean 1872 to the 7th Viscount [Mervyn Edward Wingfield], who completed the garden.” 
The garden work was continued by F.C. Penrose when Daniel Robertson died in 1849 while working on the gardens at Lisvanagh, County Carlow. Apparently Robertson was often the worse for wear during his work, as he was fond of the sherry. He took to directing from a wheelbarrow, as he had gout and difficulty walking – maybe not just due to the gout! The 7th Lord Powerscourt sought to create gardens similar to those he had seen in the Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna and at the Palace of Versailles. His task took twenty years, completed in 1880.
There are many more elements of the garden to explore, such as the Japanese gardens, the pet cemetery, the pepperpot tower, and the walled gardens. I only recently discovered the pepperpot tower! When I visited the gardens with my parents, we must have always been too tired as a family, after exploring the rest, to walk up from the Japanese gardens to the pepperpot tower!
I have always loved the Japanese gardens, which remind me of the Japanese tea gardens in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. I have a lovely memory of having a cup of tea and a fortune cookie in San Francisco’s Japanese gardens, and the cookie contained the fortune I’d seen photographed earlier that day in a large photograph on display in a museum: “You will have many interesting and artistic people to your home.” It seemed too much to me at the time to be a coincidence – and it would be, I thought, at the age of about twenty, a dream come true. I sellotaped the fortune onto a small bookshelf on my desk, hoping it would come true. And indeed it has!
Bence-Jones writes of an incident about Powerscourt Waterfall, which is further out on the estate:
“the waterfall, the highest in the British Isles, which, when George IV came to Powerscourt 1821, was dammed up in order that the monarch might have an even more exciting spectacle; the idea being to open the sluice while the Royal party watched from a specially-constructed bridge. The King took too long over his dinner and never got to the waterfall, which was fortunate; for when eventually the water was released, the bridge was swept away.”
The collection of statues, and the wrought iron gates, are beautiful.
The Irish Aesthete tells us that the Bamberg Gate:
“was originally constructed in Vienna in 1770 and installed in Bamberg Cathedral, Northern Bavaria. Probably in the late 1820s, when all Baroque additions were stripped from the building, the gate was removed and sold: around 1870 Mervyn Wingfield, 7th Viscount Powerscourt bought it from a London dealer and placed it in the present position. On the opposite side of the walled garden is the so-called Chorus Gate, the design supposedly based on a 17th century original (although this has not been found) and likewise purchased in London. Its intricate ironwork features myriad winged seraphim blowing trumpets. Both gates have recently been cleaned and re-gilded.” 
The National Inventory has two good pictures of the interior of the house, which is gradually being restored since the 1974 fire:
The interior of Powerscourt before the fire was magnificently sumptuous and slightly crazy! Fortunately photographs exist, and some are in the National Library archives:
I have never seen shells on a ceiling decoration such as these, although I know the famous letter writer Mary Delaney made similar decoration on a fireplace as well as filling an outdoor shell house, similar to the one at Curraghmore. The Wingfields must have prided themselves on their military connection, with their display of armour and guns, and their hunting prowess, with all the deer head and antler trophies and the skin rugs. There is even an antler chandelier, which Sean O’Reilly tells us is called an Austrian “Lusterweiblen.” Some of the antlers were made of papier-mache! O’Reilly published other old photographs of the interior in Irish Houses and Gardens, including of the saloon, which he explains is more in the Roman Renaissance than Palladian style, which is reflected somewhat in the rest of the house. (see )
I wrote about the history of the Wingfield family briefly in my entry for Powerscourt Townhouse.  As I noted there, the title of Viscount Powerscourt did not descend directly from the 1st Viscount, and the Richard Wingfield who had the house at Powerscourt built much as we now know it was the 1st Viscount of the 3rd creation of the title. He married, first, Anne Usher, daughter of Christopher Usher of Usher’s Quay, but they had no children. He married secondly Dorothy, daughter of Hercules Rowley of Summerville, County Meath. Their son, Edward, became the 2nd Viscount. When he died in 1764, Richard, his brother, became 3rd Viscount. Seven years after inheriting the title, Richard 3rd Viscount began the building of Powerscourt Townhouse, so that he had a grand Palladian home in Dublin for residing and entertaining, when not living in his estate in Wicklow. He married Amelia Stratford, daughter of John Stratford, the 1st Earl of Aldborough. For the rest of the Wingfield successors, see  and also the Powerscourt website.
The house was occupied by the Slazenger family in 1974 when the fire broke out on the top floor, leaving the main building completely destroyed. They had purchased the house complete with all of its contents. Fortunately, nobody was injured. The house was left abandoned for twenty years, but they opened the gardens to the public. In 1996 the family started the renovation process with a new roof and restoration of the windows.  (Surely not) coincidentally, Ralph Slazenger’s daughter Wendy (Ann Pauline) Slazenger married Mervyn Niall Wingfield, the 10th Viscount Powerscourt, in 1962. They divorced, however, the same year as the fire, in 1974.
Christies held a sale of the rescued contents of Powerscourt in 1984. Many of the belongings were purchased by Ken Rohan, owner of nearby Charleville House. When I visited Charleville, another section 482 house, the tour guide pointed out the grand decorative curtain pelments purchased in the Powerscourt sale.
Finally, there is a Bagot connection to the Wingfields, albeit indirectly, and I haven’t found any connection (yet!) of my family with this Irish Bagot family. Christopher Neville Bagot (1821-1877) married Alice Emily Verner. When Christopher died, he left a large estate. His son was born less than nine months after he married, and his brother contested the will, claiming that the son, William Hugh Neville Bagot (1875-1960) was not really Christopher Bagot’s son. Alice Emily and her son won the trial to the extent that her son inherited Christopher’s money, but Christopher’s brother inherited the land. Alice Emily came from a well-connected family. Her mother was a Pakenham. Her grandmother was Harriet Wingfield (1801-1877), a daughter of Edward Wingfield (1772-1859), who was the son of Richard Wingfield, 3rd Viscount Powerscourt – the one who built Powerscourt Townhouse!
 O’Reilly, Sean. Irish Houses and Gardens. From the Archives of Country Life. Arurum Press Limited, London, published 1998, paperback edition 2008.
 Mark Bence-Jones. 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.
The Wingfields married well. The 3rd Viscount’s son inherited the title and estate: Richard Wingfield, 4th Viscount (1762-1809).
He married firstly, in 1789, Catherine, second daughter of John Meade, 1st Earl of Clanwilliam, by whom he had his successor, Richard.
RICHARD, 5th Viscount (1790-1823), married Frances Theodosia, eldest daughter of Robert Jocelyn, 2nd Earl of Roden, and their son, Richard, became his successor.
RICHARD, 6th Viscount (1815-44), who married, in 1836, his cousin, the Lady Elizabeth Frances Charlotte Jocelyn, daughter of Robert Jocelyn, 3rd Earl of Roden. He was succeeded by his son, Mervyn Edward Wingfield.
MERVYN EDWARD, 7th Viscount (1836-1904), KP, Privy Counsellor, who wedded, in 1864, the Lady Julia Coke, daughter of Thomas William Coke, 2nd Earl of Leicester (of the seventh creation!). According to Turtle Bunbury , Mervyn published two books: “Wingfield Memorials” (1894) and “A History of Powerscourt” (1903). He was elected president of the Royal Dublin Society and was also a member of the Royal Irish Academy of Science. He was made a Knight of the Order of St. Patrick in 1871. He was later appointed to the Privy Council of Ireland, acting as one of the Lord Justices of Ireland in 1902.
Mervyn Edward and Julia’s son, Mervyn Wingfield (1880-1947), become the 8th Viscount and succeeded to Powerscourt. The 8th Viscount was the last Lord-Lieutenant of County Wicklow, from 1910 until 1922. After Irish Independence, he was elected by W.T. Cosgrave to serve as a Senator in 1921. His son, Mervyn Patrick Wingfield (1905–73) became the 9th Viscount.
The 9th Viscount followed in the family’s military tradition and served in WWII and was captured and became a prisoner of war. According to wikipedia , he suffered from shell shock. His wife and children moved to Bermuda during the war and returned to Powerscourt afterwards but their marriage fell apart, and Mervyn Patrick sold Powerscourt.
According to Turtle Bunbury, Richard Wingfield 1st Viscount had a daughter, Isabella, who in 1722 married Sir Henry King, MP for Boyle and Roscommon, who built King House in County Roscommon, another section 482 property. 
Turtle Bunbury also tells us that the 6th Viscount Powerscourt purchased Luggala, also in County Wicklow, in 1840, from the “financially challenged” La Touche family. We will come across the La Touch family when I write about Harristown, another Section 482 property.