Office of Public Works properties in County Tipperary

I had initially published the County Tipperary OPW sites along with Munster counties of Clare and Limerick but the entry is too long so I am dividing it.

OPW sites in County Tipperary:

1. Cahir Castle, County Tipperary

2. Famine Warhouse 1848, County Tipperary

3. Holycross Abbey, County Tipperary – must prebook for tour

4. The Main Guard, County Tipperary – closed at present

4. Nenagh Castle, County Tipperary

6. Ormond Castle, Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary

7. Rock of Cashel, County Tipperary

8. Roscrea Castle and Damer House, County Tipperary – closed at present

9. Swiss Cottage, County Tipperary

1. Cahir Castle, County Tipperary:

Cahir Castle, photograph from Ireland’s Content pool, by Brian Morrison 2014 for Failte Ireland. [see 1]
Cahir Castle, June 2022. The geese are particularly picturesque! The outer walls are called the Barbican. When breached, the attacking force gains entry to this area and are vulnerable to missiles fired by defenders and it would be difficult to retreat, due to the enclosed nature of the barbican.

General information: 052 744 1011, cahircastle@opw.ie

Stephen and I visited Cahir Castle in June 2022, and I was very impressed. I had no idea that we have such an old castle in Ireland with so much intact.

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

Cahir Castle is one of Ireland’s largest and best-preserved castles. It stands proudly on a rocky island on the River Suir.

The castle was was built in the thirteenth century and served as the stronghold of the powerful Butler family. [The Archiseek website tells us it was built in 1142 by Conor O’Brien, Prince of Thomond] So effective was its design that it was believed to be impregnable, but it finally fell to the earl of Essex in 1599 when heavy artillery was used against it for the first time. During the Irish Confederate Wars it was besieged twice more.

At the time of building, Cahir Castle was at the cutting edge of defensive castle design and much of the original structure remains.

Our tour guide took us through the castle as if we were invaders and showed us all of the protective methods used. We were free then to roam the castle ourselves.

The name derives from the Irish ‘an Chathair Dhun Iascaigh’ meaning stone fort of the earthen fort of the fish.

The information leaflet tells us that the area was owned by the O’Briens of Thomond in 1169 at the time of the Anglo-Norman invasion. The area around Cahir was granted to Phillip of Worcester in 1192 by John, Lord of Ireland, who later became King John. His nephew William was his heir – I’m not sure of his surname! But then his great-granddaughter, Basilia, married Milo (or Meiler) de Bermingham (he died in 1263). They lived in Athenry and their son was the 1st Lord Athenry, Piers Bermingham (died 1307).

Edward III (1312-1377) granted the castle to the James Butler 3rd Earl of Ormond in 1357 and also awarded him the title of Baron of Cahir in recognition of his loyalty. The 3rd Earl of Ormond purchased Kilkenny Castle in c. 1392. Cahir Castle passed to his illegitimate son James Gallda Butler. James Gallda was loyal to his mother’s family, the Desmonds, who were rivals to his father’s family, the Butlers.

In their book The Tipperary Gentry, William Hayes and Art Kavanagh tell us that the rivalry between the Butlers of Ormond and the Fitzgeralds of Desmond turned to enmity when the War of the Roses broke out in England, with the Ormonds supporting the House of Lancaster and the Desmonds the House of York. The enmity found expression in the battle at Pilltown in 1462. The enmity continued for over a century, and the last private battle between the Ormonds and the Desmonds was the Battle of Affane, County Waterford, in 1565. [2]

Thomas Butler (d. 1558) was created the 1st Baron Caher (of the second creation), County Tipperary, in 1543. He married Eleanor Butler, daughter of Piers Butler 8th Earl of Ormond (d. 26 August 1539) and Margaret Fitzgerald, daughter of Gerald FitzGerald, 8th Earl of Kildare (d. 3 September 1513). Their son Edmund became the 2nd Baron Caher (died 1560) but the title died with him and The Peerage website tells us his barony fell into abeyance between his two aunts.

The brother of Thomas 1st Baron Caher, Piers Butler (d. after February 1567/68) had a son Theobald who was then created 1st Baron Caher [Ireland, of the 3rd creation] on 6 May 1583. (see The Peerage website [3])

It was Piers Rua Butler, the 8th Earl of Ormond (c. 1467 – 1539), who brought peace between the warring factions of Fitzgeralds of Desmond and the Butlers of Ormond. He married Margaret Fitzgerald, daughter of Gerald (or Garret) Fitzgerald (1455-1513) 8th Earl of Kildare. His efforts culminated in a treaty called the Composition of Clonmel. It stated that Edmund Butler of Cahir should receive the manor of Cahir on condition that he and all his heirs “shall be in all things faithful to the Earl [of Ormond] and his heirs.” The Barons of Cahir were not allowed to keep their own private army nor to exact forced labour for the building or repair of their castle or houses. (see [2]).

This storyboard tells us that Ireland was dramatically different from Renaissance England in its language, customs, religion, costume and law. It was divided into 90 or so individual “lordships” of which about 60 were ruled by independent Gaelic chieftains. The rest were ruled by Anglo-Irish lords. Queen Elizabeth saw Ireland as a source of much-needed revenue. She did not have sufficient resources nor a strong enough army to conquer Ireland so she encouraged her authorities in Dublin to form alliances between the crown and any local chieftains who would submit to her authority. Many chieftains who submitted did so in order to assist them in their own power struggles against their neighbours. Elizabeth especially needed this support in order to ensure that if Spain invaded Ireland she would be able to quell rebellion.

Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex, travelled to Ireland to subjugate Ulster and Shane O’Neill (“The O’Neill) in 1573. He failed, and had to sell of much of his land in England to pay debts accrued from raising an army. He died in Dublin of typhoid in 1576.

His son, the 2nd Earl of Essex came to Ireland to quell a rebellion which included the rise of Hugh O’Neill, 2nd Earl of Tyrone (1550-1616), cousin of Shane O’Neill.

The storyboard tells us that Hugh O’Neill fought alongside the 1st Earl of Essex in Ulster between 1573 and 1575. He also fought for Queen Elizabeth in 1580 against the rebel Gerald Fitzgerald, 14th Earl of Desmond (circa 1533, d. 11 November 1583), and as thanks he was made Earl of Tyrone. However, he turned against the crown in 1594 and formed an alliance with Red Hugh O’Donnell to fight against the Queen’s troops, in the Nine Years War.

The ties between the Earls of Essex and Queen Elizabeth I are complicated. When Walter Devereux the 1st Earl died in Ireland, his wife, Lettice Knollys, remarried. She and Queen Elizabeth’s favourite, Robert Dudley Earl of Leicester, married secretly, a fact which enraged the disappointed Queen. It was Robert Dudley who introduced his stepson Robert Devereux 2nd Earl of Essex to Elizabeth and he subsequently became her favourite, alongside Walter Raleigh. However, Elizabeth was to be angered again when this next favourite, Devereux, also secretly married, this time to Frances Walsingham, who was the widow of Sir Philip Sidney. We came across her before when we visited Portumna Castle as she later married Richard Bourke 4th Earl of Clanricarde. Philip Sidney was the son of Henry Sidney (or Sydney) who had been Lord Deputy of Ireland.

Lord Deputy Henry Sidney is shown crossing a moat leaving Dublin Castle, setting out on a campaign. Above the gate are a number of severed heads!
The submission of Turlough Luineach O’Neill to Lord Deputy Sir Henry Sidney in 1575.

Robert Devereux the 2nd Earl of Essex sought to re-win courtly favour by going to fight in Ireland, following the footsteps of his father, and persuaded Elizabeth to name him Lord Lieutenant of Ireland.

In May 1599, Essex and his troops besieged Cahir Castle. He arrived with around two to three thousand men, a cannon and a culverin, a smaller and more accurate piece of heavy artillery.

Thomas Butler the 10th Earl of Ormond, who owned the castle in Carrick-on-Suir and was another favourite of the Queen, as he had grown up with her in the English court. However, the storyboards tell us that he at first rebelled, alongside Thomas Butler 2nd Baron Cahir (or Caher – they seem to be spelled interchangeably in historical records) and Edmond Butler, 2nd Viscount Mountgarret (1540-1602), another titled branch of the Butler family.

By the time of the 1599 siege, the Earl of Ormond was fighting alongside Essex, and Cahir Castle was held by rebels, including Thomas Butler’s brother James Gallada Butler (not to be confused with the earlier James Galda Butler who died in 1434). Thomas Butler 2nd Baron Cahir travelled with Essex toward the castle. Baron Cahir sent messengers to ask his brother to surrender the castle but the rebels refused. Thomas Butler 2nd Baron Cahir was suspected of being involved with the rebels. Thomas was convicted of treason but received a full pardon in 1601 and occupied Cahir Castle until his death in 1627. James Gallada Butler claimed that he had been forced by the rebels to fight against Essex. Essex and his men managed to capture the castle.

During the three days of the siege, the castle incurred little damage, mostly because the larger cannot broke down on the first day! Eighty of the defenders of the castle were killed, but James Gallada Butler and a few others escaped by swimming under the water mill. This siege was to be the only time that castle was taken by force. James Gallada recaptured the castle the following year and held it for some months. The Butlers regained possession of the castle in 1601.

Cahir Castle taken by the 2nd Earl of Essex in 1599.

Inside the castle in one room was a wonderful diorama of this siege of Cahir Castle, with terrifically informative information boards.

The Diorama of the 1599 Siege.
The Diorama of the 1599 Siege.
The Diorama of the 1599 Siege. The siege map and diorama show the wall of the barbican extending further than it does now, to the bridge across to the island. The plan also shows a number of buildings in the inner ward that no longer exist. The shape of the islands and riverbanks changed following construction of a weir.
The Diorama of the 1599 Siege.
Someone must have had great fun setting up the little toy soldiers in their fight formations in the diorama.
The Diorama of the 1599 Siege.
The Diorama of the 1599 Siege.
The first entrance gates, to the bawn (walled courtyard or outer enclosure) of Cahir Castle. Above the door on the top of the wall an eagle is perched, symbol of power. Below that is the crest of the Butlers of Cahir.

Failing to win in his battles in Ireland, however, Essex made an unauthorised truce with Hugh O’Neill. This made him a traitor. The Queen did not accept the truce and forbid Essex from returning from Ireland. He summoned the Irish Council in September 1599, put the Earl of Ormond in command of the army, and went to England. He tried to raise followers to oust his enemies at Elizabeth’s court but in doing so, he brought a small army to court and was found guilty of treason and executed.

Cahir Castle was taken again, this time by Murrough O’Brien (1614-1674, 6th Baron Inchiquin and later created 1st Earl of Inchiquin in 1647) in the Confederate War, which followed the rebellion of 1641. O’Brien fought on the side of the Crown – his ancestor Murrough O’Brien was created 1st Baron Inchiquin in 1543 by the Crown in return for converting to Protestantism and pledging allegiance to the King (Henry VIII). Since he took the castle for the crown, it implies that at this time Lord Caher fought against the crown again – and since the information boards tell us that the 1599 siege was the only time it was taken by force, force must not have beeen used at this later time. This must have been the time that Oliver Cromwell in 1650, when the occupants surrendered peacefully.

Cahir Caste, County Tipperary, June 2022.
Once over the surrounding moat and river, and through the outer gate into the inner courtyard or bawn, one has another gate to go through, which is protected by a machicolation above the gate, through which things could be dropped on the invader, such as rocks, boiling water or hot sand.
Cahir Castle, photograph from Ireland’s Content pool, by George Munday 2014 for Failte Ireland. [see 1] Barbican wall, courtyard, and gate with overhead machicolation, and the castle keep.
Round flaking towers are positioned at the outside corners acting as guard towers, accessed by wall walks that surmount the walls surrounding the courtyard.
Inside the barbican walls, Cahir Castle. Cahir Cottage was built by the Butler family in the 19th century.
Once one gets through the second gate, the invader would have to get through the portcullis, pictured here.
The portcullis, from the other side.
The mechanism for working the portcullis.

Once invaders get through the portcullis they are trapped in a small area, where defenders can fire arrows and stones at them. The walls of this area slope outwards towards the bottom, known as a base batter, so falling rocks bounce off them to hit the invaders.

The Butlers of Ormond also had to forfeit their land in the time of Oliver Cromwell’s Protectorate. Both branches of the Butlers had their lands restored with the restoration of the monarchy with Charles II in 1662.

The castle layout was changed considerably and enlarged during work to repair some of the damage caused by the battles, but was then left abandoned until 1840 when the partial rebuilding of the Great Hall took place. [4]

The core of the castle is the keep.

The square central keep of Cahir Castle, with watch tower, and river as moat, and entrance gate topped by eagle.
The Castle Keep. The door is protected by a machicolation, and through the door you can see a cross shaped gun loop so the defenders can shoot invaders. Inside the door is the spiral staircase.

There’s an excellent history of Cahir on the Cahir Social and Historical Website:

Throughout the reigns of Elizabeth I and Charles I, Cahir Castle appears as a frequent and important scene in the melancholy drama of which Ireland was a stage. The Castle was taken and re-taken, but rarely damaged and through it all remained in the hands of the Roman Catholic Butlers of Cahir. By this time Cahir had become a great centre of learning for poets and musicians. Theobald, Lord Cahir [I assume this was 1st Baron Cahir of second creation who died in 1596] was said by the Four Masters “to be a man of great benevolence and bounty, with the greatest collection of poems of any of the Normans in Ireland”.

A study of the Butler Family in Cahir in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries reveals the rise and fall of one of the minor branches of the House of Ormond. At the end of the fifteenth century, they possessed extensive powers, good territorial possessions and a tenuous link with the main branch of the Butler family. During the sixteenth century, their possession was strengthened by the grant of the title of Baron of Cahir with subsequent further acquisition of land, but they came under closer central government control. A complete reversal in their relations with the Earls of Ormond occurred, strengthened by various marriage alliances. They also participated in political action, both in the Liberty of Tipperary and at National Level. In the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries their position was affected by their adherence to Roman Catholicism, which resulted in their revolt during the Nine Years War, and subsequent exclusion from power by the Central Administration. They formed part of the Old English Group and as such, suffered from the discriminatory politics practiced by the Government. From 1641 they became minor landowners keeping their lands by virtue of the favour of their relative, the Duke of Ormond. In 1647 the Castle was surrendered to Lord Inchiquin for Parliament but re-taken in 1650 by Cromwell himself, whose letter describing acceptable terms of surrender still survives. At the restoration of Charles II, in 1660, George Matthews, (as Warden of Cahir Castle and half-brother to the Duke of Ormond), retained the Cahir lands for the Lord Cahir, then a minor.” [5] George Matthew (or “Mathew,”1645-1735) was married to Eleanor Butler, daughter of Edmond Butler, 3rd/13th Baron Dunboyne. She seems to have married twice: first to Edmond Butler son of 3rd Baron Cahir, then to to George Matthew. Her son was Piers Butler, 4th Baron Cahir, who was just seven when his father died.

Cahir Caste, County Tipperary, June 2022. The view of the castle from the parkland beyond. See how it seems to grow out of the rocks!
Cahir Caste, County Tipperary, June 2022.
Cahir Caste, County Tipperary, June 2022.
Cahir Castle, photograph from Ireland’s Content pool, by Liam Murphy 2016 for Failte Ireland. [see 1] The large square tower in the foreground was built later than the keep, for housing prisoners.

Piers Butler 4th Baron Cahir (1641-1676) married George Mathew’s niece, Elizabeth Mathew (1647-1704). They had no male issue, but two daughters. His daughter Margaret married Theobald Butler, 5th Baron Cahir (d. 1700), great-grandson of the 1st Baron Cahir.

Despite embracing the Jacobite Cause in the Williamite Wars, the Cahir estate remained relatively intact. However, the Butlers never again lived at Cahir Castle but rather at their country manor, Rehill House, where they lived in peace and seclusion from the mid-seventeenth century, when not living abroad in England and France.

By 1700 a sizeable town had grown around the Castle, although hardly any other buildings survive from this period. Agriculture, milling and a wide range of trades would have brought quite a bustle to the muddy precursors of our present streets. At this time, the Castle was quite dilapidated and was let to the Quaker William Fennell, who resided and kept a number of wool combers at work there.” [4]

Prisoners’ tower at Cahir Castle.

Margaret Butler daughter of the 4th Baron Cahir was the 5th Baron Cahir’s second wife. His first wife, Mary Everard, gave birth to his heir, Thomas (1680-1744), 6th Baron Cahir. Thomas had several sons, who became 7th (d. 1786) and 8th Barons Cahir (d. 1788), but they did not have children, so that title went to a cousin, James Butler (d. 1788), who became 9th Baron Cahir.

On the completion of Cahir House [in the town, now Cahir House Hotel] in the later 1770’s, Fennell rented Rehill House from Lord Cahir and lived there over half a century. [The Barons moved to Cahir House.] A strong Roman Catholic middle class emerged. James, 9th Lord Cahir [d. 1788], practiced his religion openly. He maintained strong links with Jacobite France, and paid regular visits to England. While not a permanent resident, he kept his Cahir Estates in impeccable order and was largely responsible for the general layout of the Town of Cahir. Under his patronage, some of the more prominent buildings such as Cahir House, the Market House and the Inn were built during the late 1770s and early 1780s. In addition, the Quakers built the Manor Mills on the Bridge of Cahir, the Suir Mills (Cahir Bakery), and the Cahir Abbey Mills in the period 1775-90.

The son of the 9th Baron Cahir, Richard, became 10th Baron and 1st Earl of Glengall.

… The young Lord Cahir married Miss Emily Jeffereys of Blarney Castle and together they led Cahir through the most colourful period of its development…Richard, Lord Cahir, sat in The House of Lords as one of the Irish Representative Peers, and in 1816 was created Earl of Glengall, a title he enjoyed for just 3 years. He died at Cahir House of typhus in January 1819, at the age of 43 years. Richard, Viscount Caher, (now 2nd Earl of Glengall), had already taken his place in political circles while his mother, Emily, ran the Estate with an iron fist.” [4]

Cahir Castle 1943, photograph from Dublin City Library archives. [see 5]

During the Great Famine (1846-51), Lord and Lady Glengall did much for the relief of the poor and the starving. Lord Glengall’s town improvement plan was shelved in 1847 due to a resulting lack of funds and his wife’s fortune being tied up in a Trust Fund. The Cahir Estates were sold in 1853, the largest portion being purchased by the Trustees of Lady Glengall. This sale came about due to Lord Glengall being declared bankrupt. The Grubbs had by now become the most important Quaker family in the district and bought parts of the Cahir Estate during the 1853 sale...

In the interim, Lady Margaret Butler (elder daughter and heir of Lord Glengall) had married Lieut. Col. Hon. Richard Charteris, 2nd son of the 9th Earl of Wemyss & March. Using a combination of her mother’s Trust and Charteris funds, Cahir Town and Kilcommon Demesne were repurchased.  

Lady Margaret, although an absentee landlord, resident in London, kept a close watch on her Cahir Estates through two excellent managers, Major Hutchinson and his successor William Rochfort… Her son, Richard Butler Charteris took over her role in 1915 and remained resident in Cahir from 1916 until his death in 1961. In 1962, the House, and circa 750 acre estate core (within the walls of Cahir Park and Kilcommon Demesne) were auctioned…And so ended the direct line of Butler ownership in Cahir, almost 600 years. [5]

The castle became the property of the state after the death of Lord Cahir in 1961; it was classified as a national monument and taken into the care of the Office of Public Works. (see [4])

The great hall, and adjoining guest accommodation in the northwest tower. This 13th century building was attached to the keep, but in 1840 it was shortened, leaving the original fireplace in the open outside.
Great Hall and northwest tower of Cahir Castle.
The end of the Great Hall, with its stepped gable. It was originally attached to the keep, pictured on the left.
This is the exposed fireplace, which was in the now foreshortened Great Hall.

Our tour guide took us through the outside of the castle, showing us its defenses. Our tour ended inside the Great Hall, or dining hall.

The Great Hall, with giant Irish elk antlers. The fireplace is not genuine – it is made of papier mache and was installed for the filming of a movie.

The dining hall has a magnificent ceiling. The building would have originally been of two storeys, and taller. The appearance today owes much to restoratation work carried out by William Tinsley in 1840, when the building was converted into a private chapel for the Butler family. The hammer-beam roof and the south and east wall belong to this period. The external wall dates from the 13th century.

Ceiling of the Great Hall, Cahir Castle.
Inside the northwest tower of Cahir Castle.
Upstairs in the northwest tower. It is fitted with fifteenth century windows and has a Tudor fireplace inserted where the original portcullis machinery was housed.
The stairs to the upper level of the northwest tower are spiral.
I love the passageways between the walls of the castle.
Top floor of the northwest tower.

Next we explore the keep building.

One can descend these steps and up again on the other side for a view over the river.

2. Famine Warhouse 1848, Ballingarry, County Tipperary:

General information: 087 908 9972, info@heritageireland.ie

From the OPW website https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/famine-warhouse-1848/:

How did an ordinary farmhouse near Ballingarry, County Tipperary, become the site of a bloody siege and a monument of the Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848?

It was here that rebels, under the leadership of Protestant aristocrat William Smith O’Brien, besieged 47 police officers who had barricaded themselves into the McCormack homestead, taking 5 children hostage. After two of their number were killed, the rebels finally gave in. They were later transported to penal colonies abroad.

The Warhouse, as it became known, is now a museum. Its contents illuminate the history of the Young Irelander Rebellion, the trials of its leaders, their exile in Australia and escape to the USA. The exhibition places the rebellion in the context of the Great Famine and the upheaval that rocked Europe during that turbulent year.

Traditionally it was known as Ballingarry Warhouse or The Widow McCormack’s House.

3. Holycross Abbey, County Tipperary:

Holycross Abbey, photograph from Ireland’s Content pool, by Liam Murphy 2016 for Failte Ireland. [see 1]

From the OPW website https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/holycross-abbey/:

As destination for pilgrims, Holy Cross Abbey, near Thurles, County Tipperary, has a rich history. Pilgrims travelled here for eight centuries to venerate the relic after which the abbey and surrounding villages are named – a piece of the True Cross of Christ’s crucifixion.

Today this working parish church is a peaceful landmark and a place for quiet contemplation and historical discovery. As well as inspecting the relic of the cross, you can marvel at the building’s ornate stonework. The chancel is possibly the finest piece of fifteenth-century architecture in the country. The abbey also houses one of the only surviving medieval wall paintings in Ireland.

4. The Main Guard, Sarsfield Street, Clonmel, County Tipperary:

The Main Guard, or Clonmel Courthouse, County Tipperary. Photograph from National Inventory of Architectural Heritage: five-bay two-storey courthouse and market house, built 1673, with arcaded ground floor to front and north gable, and pediment and cupola to roof. Until restored c.2000, building had been five-bay three-storey with triple public house front to ground floor, and timber sliding sash windows. Now in use as museum. The columns of the arcaded facades were recycled from the ruins of the Cistercian abbey of Inislounaght, to the west of the town and retain some decorative elements that testify to this fact. 

General Information: 052 612 7484, mainguard@opw.ie

From the OPW website https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/the-main-guard/:

In the seventeenth century County Tipperary was a palatinate, ruled by James Butler, duke of Ormond. When the duke decided he needed a new courthouse, he built one in the heart of Clonmel [built in 1673]. Later, when it was used as a barracks, it became known as the Main Guard.

A fine two-storey symmetrical building, some elements of its design were based on works by the famous Sir Christopher Wren.

In the eighteenth century it was the venue for the Clonmel Assizes. The most notable trial it witnessed was that of Father Nicholas Sheehy, the anti-Penal Laws agitator. Sheehy was hanged, drawn and quartered.

In about 1810, the ground floor was converted into shops, but the building has recently undergone an award-winning restoration. The open arcade of sandstone columns is once again an attractive feature of the streetscape, while inside you will find a fantastic exhibition and event space.

Main Guard, 1948, photograph from Dublin City Library and Archives. [6]

5. Nenagh Castle, County Tipperary

Nenagh Castle, photograph by Brian Morrison, 2017, for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. [see 1]

General information: 067 33850, castlenenagh@gmail.com

The OPW doesn’t seem to have a site for this currently, but there is information at a site about Nenagh:

Nenagh Castle was built by Theobald Walter (the first of the Butlers of Ormond) around 1200. To this day the cylindrical keep adorns the town and like most keeps it formed part of the perimeter of the fortress. The walls have now almost disappeared, but fragments remain. 

Built from limestone Nenagh Castle measures fifty-five feet in external diameter at the base and rises to a height of one hundred feet. The Castle features four storeys and thanks to a recent renovation this wonderful landmark now represents the town’s premier tourist attraction.

The building and has stone spiral stairs to the top. There are 101 steps in all to the top.  Access to the tower is through a passageway within the base of the wall.  This has low head room and visitors will need to stoop to avoid hitting the stone above. All children under the age of 18 must be accompanied by an adult. [7]

Nenagh Castle, photograph by Brian Morrison, 2017, for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. [see 1]

6. Ormond Castle, Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary:

Ormond Castle, Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary, May 2018. Maurice Craig tells us in The Architecture of Ireland from the earliest times to 1880 that in style Carrick-on-Suir is like hundreds of buildings in Northamptonshire or the Cotswolds, but like no other in Ireland.

General Information: 051 640787, ormondcastle@opw.ie

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

Joined on to an earlier medieval riverside castle, Ormond Castle Carrick-on-Suir is the finest example of an Elizabethan manor house in Ireland. Thomas, 10th Earl of Ormond [“Black Tom” (1531-1614)], built it in 1565 in honour of his distant cousin Queen Elizabeth. 

The magnificent great hall, which stretches almost the whole length of the building is decorated with some of the finest stucco plasterwork in the country. The plasterwork features portraits of Queen Elizabeth and her brother Edward VI and many motifs and emblems associated with the Tudor monarchy.

Ormond Castle, Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary, National Library of Ireland Mason Catalogue.

The castle has a low and wide-spreading addition to an older castle, which consisted of two massive towers set rather close together. The castle is joined to these towers by a return at each side, making an enclosed courtyard. The facade is of two storeys with three gables and a central porch and oriel. It is only one room thick. It is virtually unfortified, having no basement, and windows only three freet from the ground, and a few shot-holes for defence by hand-guns, Craig points out. The windows on the ground floor may have been widened at some point.

Ormond Castle, Carrick-on-Suir 1949, photograph from Dublin City Library and Archive. [6]
Ormond Castle, Carrick-on-Suir 1949, photograph from Dublin City Library and Archive. [see 6]

Mark Bence-Jones writes:

The house, which is horseshoe shaped, forming three sides of a small inner court, and the castle the fourth. The house is of 2 storeys with a gabled attic; the towers of the castle rise behind it. The gables are steep, and have finials; there are more finials on little piers of the corners of the building. There are full-sized mullioned windows on the ground floor as well as on the floor above, the lights having the slightly curved heads which were fashionable in late C16. There is a rectangular porch-oriel in the centre of the front, and an oriel of similar form at one end of the left-hand side elevation. The finest room in the house is a long gallery on the first floor, which had two elaborately carved stone chimneypieces – one of which was removed to Kilkenny Castle 1909, but has since been returned – and a ceiling and frieze of Elizabethan plasterwork. The decoration includes busts of Elizabeth I, who was a cousin of “Black Thomas,” Ormonde through her mother, Anne Boleyn, and used to call him her “Black Husband”: she is said to have promised to honour Carrick with a visit. The old castle served as part of the house and not merely as a defensive adjunct to it: containing, among other rooms, a chapel with carved stone angels.” [8]

Detail from National Library of Ireland, Ormond Castle.
Carrick Castle, County Tipperary, by the River Suir 1796, photograph courtesy of National Gallery of Ireland.
Ormond Castle, Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary, May 2018.
Ormond Castle, Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary, May 2018.
Ormond Castle, Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary, May 2018.

Thomas Butler (1582-1614) the 10th Earl of Ormond is a fascinating character. He was the eldest son of James Butler, 9th Earl of Ormond, and his wife Joan Fitzgerald, daughter of the 10th Earl of Desmond. Because he was dark-haired, he was known to his contemporaries as “Black Tom”or “Tomas Dubh”. As a young boy, Thomas was fostered with Rory O’More, son of the lord of Laois (his mother was granddaughter of Piers Rua Butler, 8th Earl of Ormond) before being sent to London to be educated with the future Edward VI. He was the first member of the Butler family to be brought up in the protestant faith. In 1546, he inherited the Ormond earldom following the sudden death of his father. He fought against the Fitzgerald Earls of Desmond in the Desmond Rebellions, as he was loyal to the British monarchy. He was made Lord Treasurer of Ireland and a Knight of the Garter.

He was highly regarded by Queen Elizabeth to whom he was related through her mother Anne Boleyn. Anne Boleyn was the granddaughter of the 7th Earl of Ormond making Elizabeth and Thomas cousins. Thomas married three times but left no heir and was succeeded by his nephew Walter Butler 11th Earl of Ormond. He died in 1614 and was buried in St Canice’s cathedral, Kilkenny.

James Butler the 12th Earl of Ormond and 1st Duke of Ormond (1610-1688) spent much of his time here and was the last of the family to reside at the castle. On his death in 1688 the family abandoned the property and it was only handed over to the government in 1947, who then became responsible for its restoration. 

Ormond Castle, Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary, May 2018.
Ormond Castle, Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary, May 2018.
Ormond Castle, Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary, May 2018.

7. Rock of Cashel, County Tipperary:

Rock of Cashel, Co Tipperary photograph from Ireland’s Content pool, by Brian Morrison 2018 for Failte Ireland. [see 1]

General Information: 062 61437, rockofcashel@opw.ie

From the OPW website https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/rock-of-cashel/:

Set on a dramatic outcrop of limestone in the Golden Vale, the Rock of Cashel, iconic in its historic significance, possesses the most impressive cluster of medieval buildings in Ireland. Among the monuments to be found there is a round tower, a high cross, a Romanesque chapel, a Gothic cathedral, an abbey, the Hall of the Vicars Choral and a fifteenth-century Tower House.

Originally the seat of the kings of Munster, according to legend St. Patrick himself came here to convert King Aenghus to Christianity. Brian Boru was crowned High King at Cashel in 978 and made it his capital.

In 1101 the site was granted to the church and Cashel swiftly rose to prominence as one of the most significant centres of ecclesiastical power in the country.

The surviving buildings are remarkable. Cormac’s Chapel, for example, contains the only surviving Romanesque frescoes in Ireland.

Rock of Cashel, 1955, from Dublin City Library and Archives [see 6].
Rock of Cashel ca. 1901, photograph from National Library of Ireland Flickr constant commons.

8. Roscrea Castle and Damer House, County Tipperary:

Roscrea Castle, photograph from Ireland’s Content pool, by Chris Hill 2014 for Failte Ireland. [see 1]

General information: 0505 21850, roscreaheritage@opw.ie

From the OPW website https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/roscrea-heritage-centre-roscrea-castle-and-damer-house/:

In the heart of Roscrea in County Tipperary, one of the oldest towns in Ireland, you will find a magnificent stone motte castle dating from the 1280s. It was used as a barracks from 1798, housing 350 soldiers, and later served as a school, a library and even a sanatorium. 

Sharing the castle grounds is Damer House, named for local merchant John Damer, who came into possession of the castle in the eighteenth century. The house is a handsome example of pre-Palladian architecture. It has nine beautiful bay windows. One of the rooms has been furnished in period style.

The grounds also include an impressive garden with a fountain, which makes Roscrea Castle a very pleasant destination for a day out. There is also a restored mill displaying St Crónán’s high cross and pillar stone.

This was originally the site of a motte and bailey fortification known as King John’s Castle. The original wooden castle was destroyed in the late 13th century and was replaced with a stone structure built in 1274-1295 by John de Lydyard. The castle was originally surrounded by a river to the east and a moat on the other sides. [9] It was granted to the Butlers of Ormond in 1315 who held it until the early 18th Century. The castle as we see it today was built from 1332.

Eoin Roe O’Neill, at the head of 1,200 men, stormed Roscrea in 1646 and reportedly killed every man, woman and child. The only survivor was the governor’s wife, Lady Mary Hamilton (1605-1680), who was a sister to the Earl of Ormond [married to George Hamilton, 1st Baronet of Donalong County Tyrone and of Nenagh, County Tipperary]. She was again forced to play host in the castle to O’Neill three years later which again ended by the guests looting everything in sight. [10]

Damer House, County Tipperary, photograph from National Inventory of Architectural heritage.

Damer House is of three storeys and nine bays and has a scroll pediment doorway and inside, a magnificent carved staircase. The Irish Georgian Society was involved in saving it from demolition in the 1960s.

Roscrea Castle was sold to the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham, by the James Butler, 2nd Duke of Ormond in 1703. It was bought by Joseph and his nephew John Damer (1674-1768) in 1722. The Damer family who built an elegant three-storey pre-Palladian house in the courtyard in c. 1730.

In their book The Tipperary Gentry, Hayes and Kavanagh tell us that Joseph Damer was born in Dorset in England in 1630. The came to Ireland after the restoration of Charles II when land was being sold cheaply by Cromwellian soldiers who were given land instead of pay but did not want to remain in Ireland. He bought land in Tipperary and became a sheep farmer. He also became involved in banking in Dublin. His nephew John acted as his agent in Tipperary. Jonathan Swift wrote a ditty mocking Joseph Damer’s parsimony:

“He walked the streets and wore a threadbare cloak

He dined and supped at charge of other folk

And – by his look – had he held out his palms

He might be thought an object fit for alms.”

He had no children and left his vast fortune when he died in 1720 to his nephews John (1674-1768) and Joseph (1676-1736), sons of his brother George Damer. He was so wealthy that he entered folklore with tales of how he gained his wealth, and he was compared to King Midas, as if everything he touched turned to gold.

The nephew John had no children and his brother Joseph inherited. Joseph became MP for Tipperary in 1735. He died three years later.

Robert O’Byrne tells us that his son Joseph (1717-1798) inherited the house and castle was later created the Earl of Dorchester. [11] He was an absentee landlord and his brother managed his Irish properties. He built a mansion named Damerville which was very grand, but was demolished in 1775. Their sister Mary married William Henry Dawson, 1st Viscount Carlow, who lived at Emo in Laois. It was her offspring who later inherited the Damer properties.

Joseph’s son John (1744-1776) married Ann Seymour, a sculptress. He spent all of his inheritance and killed himself. Subsequently it was his younger brother George who inherited the title to become 2nd Earl of Dorchester. None of Joseph’s offspring had children, however, so the properties passed to the 2nd Earl of Portarlington, a second cousin, who assumed the name Dawson-Damer.

Mary who had married the 1st Viscount Carlow had a son John Dawson (1744-1798) who became 1st Earl of Portarlington, Queen’s County. He married Caroline Stuart, daughter of the 3rd Earl of Bute and his writer wife, Mary Wortley Montagu. He commissioned James Gandon to built Emo Court in Queen’s County (Laois). It was his son John Dawson (1781-1845), 2nd Earl of Portarlington, who inherited the Damer fortune and lands, and added Damer to his surname.

The castle was used as a barracks from 1798, housing 350 soldiers. It was used later as a school, a library, and a tuberculosis sanatorium. Roscrea Castle fell into disrepair in the 19th century, and when the roof collapsed extensive repairs were needed in the 1850s. It was named a national monument in 1892, and is now under the care of the OPW. 

9. Swiss Cottage, Ardfinnan Road, Cahir, County Tipperary:

General Information: 052 744 1144, swisscottage@opw.ie

Swiss Cottage, June 2022.

From the OPW website https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/swiss-cottage/:

The Swiss Cottage, just outside the heritage town of Cahir, is a cottage orné – a fanciful realisation of an idealised countryside cottage used for picnics, small soirees and fishing and hunting parties and was also a peaceful retreat for those who lived in the nearby big house.

Built in the early 1800s [around 1810] by Richard Butler, 1st Earl of Glengall, who, we believe, managed to persuade world-famous Regency architect John Nash to design it [he also designed Buckingham Palace for the Crown]. Originally, simply known as “The Cottage” it appears to have acquired its present name because it was thought to resemble an Alpine cottage.

Inside, there is a graceful spiral staircase and some exquisitely decorated rooms. The wallpaper is partly original and partly the fruit of a 1980s restoration project, in which the renowned fashion designer Sybil Connolly was responsible for the interiors.

We visited the Swiss Cottage in June 2022. The guide told us that the Glengalls probably never even spent a night in their cottage! They used it for entertaining. A Swiss Cottage, or cottage ornee, was the ultimate in impressive entertainment. It was meant to look like it had grown from the ground, and it was designed deliberately off-kilter and asymmetrical with different windows, wavy rooves, oddly shaped rooms. Even the expensive floorboards were painted to look like they were made of a cheaper wood!

The National Inventory describes it:

The building, constructed as an architectural toy, was used as a lodge for entertainment purposes and was designed specifically to blend with nature. The roof pitches and tosses and varies in length while differing window sizes and openings punctuate it. The verandah and balconies, although luxury features, have been fashioned to appear humble with exposed rustic tree trunk pillars. The asymmetrical design of the cottage, although immediately apparent of architectural detailing, is deliberately flawed and distorted to appear unsophisticated. Both the building and its setting right down to its cast-iron rustic fencing maintains a sense of blending with nature as it was originally designed.” [12]

Swiss Cottage, photograph from the National Library of Ireland.
Timber rustic oak posts with triangular arch detailing between posts to verandahs and to bowed bay, having latticework rail to balcony.

Unfortunately we were not allowed to take photographs inside. I took a few photographs looking through the windows. You can see better photographs of the interior on the OPW website.

The timber spiral staircase in the extremely plain front hall. The plainness is deceptive, however, as it has an expensive cobweb patterned parquet floor.

Downstairs has a room off either side of the hallway, the Dufour Room and the Music Room. The Dufour room is so called due to some original Dufour wallpaper, depicting Constantinople, much of which has been reproduced to line the room. Dufour was one of the first Parisian manufacturers creating commercially produced wallpaper. Another door from the central hall leads to a limestone stairway and basement. The first floor interior comprises a landing with rooms leading directly to the west (Small bedroom) and east (Master bedroom) through angular-headed timber panelled doors.

Looking through the windows, to the wonderful wallpaper, a reproduction of the original which pictures Oriental scenes.

Every window has a different shape.

Walking under the balcony one is embraced with the glorious scent of the roses and other flowers.

The setting for the cottage is idyllic, over the River Suir.
Even the wrought iron fencing and gate were made to look natural, like thorny vines.
There is a walkway/cycleway/kayak way along the River Suir, which I’d love to walk.

[1] https://www.irelandscontentpool.com/en

[2] p. 58. Hayes, William and Art Kavanagh, The Tipperary Gentry volume 1 published by Irish Family Names, c/o Eneclann, Unit 1, The Trinity Enterprise Centre, Pearse Street, Dublin 2, 2003.

[3] http://www.thepeerage.com/index.htm

[4] http://www.britainirelandcastles.com/Ireland/County-Tipperary/Cahir-Castle.html

[5] http://www.cahirhistoricalsociety.com/articles/cahirhistory.html

[6] https://repository.dri.ie/

[7] https://www.nenagh.ie/places-of-interest/details/nenagh-castle

[8] 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.

[9] See the blog of Patrick Comerford, http://www.patrickcomerford.com/search/label/castles?updated-max=2019-03-03T14:30:00Z&max-results=20&start=27&by-date=false

[10] https://curiousireland.ie/roscrea-castle-1281-damer-house-1730-rosscrea-co-tipperary/

[11] https://theirishaesthete.com/2013/09/23/bon-anniversaire/ and see my write-up about Emo Court, in OPW properties in Leinster: Laois.

[12] https://www.buildingsofireland.ie/buildings-search/building/22208107/swiss-cottage-kilcommon-more-north-tipperary-south

Office of Public Works properties: Leinster: Laois, Longford, Louth, Meath, Offaly, Westmeath, Wexford, Wicklow

Carlow, Dublin, Kildare, Kilkenny, Laois, Longford, Louth, Meath, Offaly, Westmeath, Wexford and Wicklow are the counties that make up the Leinster region.

I have noticed that an inordinate amount of OPW sites are closed ever since Covid restrictions, if not even before that (as in Emo, which seems to be perpetually closed) [these sites are marked in orange here]. I must write to our Minister for Culture and Heritage to complain.

Laois:

1. Emo Court, County Laois – house closed at present

2. Heywood Gardens, County Laois

Longford:

3. Corlea Trackway Visitor Centre, County Longford

Louth:

4. Carlingford Castle, County Louth

5. Old Mellifont Abbey, County Louth – closed at present

Meath:

6. Battle of the Boyne site, Oldbridge House, County Meath

7. Hill of Tara, County Meath

8. Loughcrew Cairns, County Meath – guides on site from June 16th 2022

9. Newgrange, County Meath

10. Trim Castle, County Meath

Offaly:

11. Clonmacnoise, County Offaly

Westmeath:

12. Fore Abbey in County Westmeath

Wexford:

13. Ballyhack Castle, County Wexford – closed at present

14. Ferns Castle, County Wexford – closed at present

15. John F. Kennedy Arboretum, County Wexford

16. Tintern Abbey, County Wexford

Wicklow:

17. Dwyer McAllister Cottage, County Wicklow – closed at present

18. Glendalough, County Wicklow

19. National Botanic Gardens Kilmacurragh, County Wicklow

Laois:

1. Emo Court, County Laois:

Emo, County Laois, June 2021. Unfortunately the stone lions which flank the front steps, carved by Richard Carter of Cork in 1854, were in boxes on the day we visited. [1]

General enquiries: 057 862 6573, emocourt@opw.ie

From the OPW website https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/emo-court/:

Emo Court is a quintessential neo-classical mansion, set in the midst of the ancient Slieve Bloom Mountains. The famous architect James Gandon, fresh from his work on the Custom House and the Four Courts in Dublin, set to work on Emo Court in 1790. However, the building that stands now was not completed until some 70 years later [with work by Lewis Vulliamy, a fashionable London architect, who had worked on the Dorchester Hotel in London and Arthur & John Williamson, from Dublin, and later, William Caldbeck].

The estate was home to the earls of Portarlington until the War of Independence forced them to abandon Ireland for good. The Jesuits moved in some years later [1920] and, as the Novitiate of the Irish Province, the mansion played host to some 500 of the order’s trainees.

Major Cholmeley-Harrison took over Emo Court in the 1960s and fully restored it [to designs by Sir Albert Richardson]. He opened the beautiful gardens and parkland to the public before finally presenting the entire estate to the people of Ireland in 1994.

You can now enjoy a tour of the house before relaxing in its charming tearoom. The gardens are a model of neo-classical landscape design, with formal lawns, a lake and woodland walks just waiting to be explored.” [2]

The entrance front has seven bay centre with a giant pedimented Ionic portico. Andrew Tierney tells us that the portico was changed in 1822 from Gandon’s Doric order to a pedimented tetrastyle Ionic portico by the Dublin architects Arthur and John Williamson. [see 1]
The view from the front of the house. The 3rd Earl of Portarlington planted the long avenue of Wellingtonia trees.

Mark Bence-Jones tells us that the 1st Earl of Portarlington was interested in architecture and was instrumental in bringing James Gandon to Ireland, in order to build the new Custom House. The name Emo is an Italianised version of the original Irish name of the estate, Imoe. [3]

The Emo Court website tells us of the history:

John Dawson, 1st Earl of Portarlington [1744-1798] commissioned the building of Emo Court in 1790 although the house was not finally completed until 1870, eighty years later. Emo Court is one of only a few private country houses designed by the architect James Gandon. Others were Abbeyville, north Co. Dublin for Sir James Beresford [or is it John Beresford (1738-1805)? later famous for being the home of politician Charles Haughey] and Sandymount Park, Dublin for William Ashford. In addition, Gandon built himself a house at Canonbrook, Lucan, Co. Dublin.” [4]

Many of Gandon’s original drawings, plus those of his successors, are currently on display in the Irish Architectural Archive, 45 Merrion Square, Dublin. [5] The Emo Court website continues:

James Gandon was born in London of Huguenot descent. He studied classics, mathematics and drawing, attending evening classes at Shipley’s Academy in London. At the age of fifteen, James was apprenticed to the architect Sir William Chambers and about eight years later, set up in business on his own. His first connection with Ireland was in 1769 when he won the second prize of £60 in a competition to design the Royal Exchange in Dublin, now the City Hall. He was invited to build in St Petersburg, Russia, by Princess Dashkov, and offered an official post with military rank. However, he chose instead to accept an offer from Sir John Beresford and John Dawson, Lord Carlow, later 1st Earl of Portarlington, to come to Dublin to build a new Custom House. This was begun in 1781. The following year, Gandon was commissioned to make extensions to the Parliament House, originally designed by Sir Edward Lovett Pearce. Here he added a Corinthian portico as entrance to the Lords’ Chamber. After the Act of Union in 1801, the building became the Bank of Ireland. In 1785, Gandon was commissioned to design the new Four Courts. The third of his great Dublin buildings was the King’s Inns, begun in 1795. His few private houses were designed for patrons and friends.” [see 4]

The website continues: “In the early 18th century, Ephraim Dawson [1683-1746], a wealth banker, after whom Dawson Street in Dublin is named, purchased the land of the Emo Estate and other estates in the Queen’s County (Co. Laois). He married Anne Preston, heiress to the Emo Park Estate and fixed his residence in a house known as Dawson Court, which was in close proximity to the present Emo Court. His grandson, John Dawson, was created 1st Earl of Portarlington in 1785. Three years later, he married Lady Caroline Stuart, daughter of the [3rd] Earl of Bute, who was later Prime Minister of England. John Dawson commissioned Gandon to design Emo Court in 1790.

After Gandon died in 1823, to be buried in Drumcondra churchyard, the 2nd Earl of Portarlington, also John Dawson, engaged Lewis Vulliamy, a fashionable London architect, who had worked on the Dorchester Hotel in London and A. & J. Williamson, Dublin architects, to finish the house. In the period, 1824-36, the dining room and garden front portico with giant Ionic columns were built, but on the death of the 2nd Earl in 1845, the house still remained unfinished. It was not until 1860 that the 3rd Earl, Henry Ruben John Dawson [or Dawson-Damer, the son of the 2nd Earl’s brother Henry Dawson-Damer, who had the name Damer added to his name after the family of his grandmother, Mary Damer, who married William Henry Dawson, 1st Viscount Carlow] commissioned William Caldbeck, a Dublin architect, and Thomas Connolly, his contractor, to finish the double height rotunda, drawing room and library.” [see 4] Caldbeck also added a detached bachelor wing, joined to the main block by a curving corridor.

Emo Court, Photograph by Liam Murphy 2016 for Fáilte Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool [6]. The windows in the single bay pavilions are pedimented and set in relieving arches.

Although it was not built during Gandon’s time, most of the house is as it was designed by Gandon, wiht some additions or changes. Mark Bence-Jones describes the house:

Of two storeys over a basement, the sides of the house being surmounted by attics so as to form end towers or pavilions on each of the two principal fronts. The entrance front has seven bay centre with a giant pedimented Ionic portico; the end pavilions being of a single storey, with a pedimented window in an arched recess, behind a blind attic with a panel containing a Coade stone relief of putti; on one side representing the Arts, on the other, a pastoral scene. The roof parapet in the centre, on either side of the portico, is balustraded. The side elevation, which is of three storeys including the attic, is of one bay on either side of a curved central bow.” [see 3]

The end pavilions are a single storey with a blind attic with a panel containing a Coade stone relief of putti; on one side representing the Arts, on the other, a pastoral scene. In the photograph is the Arts side, with an Irish harp and two figures unfurling the plans for the house. [see 1]
The Coade stone relief of putti in a pastoral scene, representing Agriculture.
The side and garden front of the house. The side elevation, which is of three storeys including the attic, is of one bay on either side of a curved central bow.
I love the way these balusters go droopy-bellied to match the angle of the stairs!

Bence-Jones continues: “The house was not completed when the 1st Earl died on campaign during 1798 rebellion; 2nd Earl, who was very short of money, did not do any more to it until 1834-36, when he employed the fashionable English architect, Lewis Vulliamy; who completed the garden front, giving it its portico of four giant Ionic columns with a straight balustraded entablature, and also worked on the interior, being assisted by Dublin architects named Williamson. It was not until ca 1860, in the time of 3rd Earl – after the house had come near to being sold up by the Encumbered Estates Court – that the great rotunda, its copper dome rising from behind the garden front portico and also prominent on the entrance front, was completed; the architect this time being William Caldbeck, of Dublin, who completed the other unfinished parts of the house and added a detached bachelor wing, joined to the main block by a curving corridor.” [see 3]

Photograph from the National Library of Ireland, around 1900-1920, showing the garden front of the house. The 2nd Earl of Portarlington engaged Lewis Vulliamy (who designed the portico) and A. & J. Williamson, Dublin architects (who did the interior), to finish the house. In the period 1824-36 the dining room and garden front portico with giant Ionic columns were built, but on the death of the 2nd Earl in 1845, the house still remained unfinished. The rotunda was only finished in 1860.
The garden front of Emo with its pillared portico by Lewis Vulliamy.
Pillared portico by Lewis Vulliamy.
The garden front portico, probably part of the 1850s work by William Caldbeck, has portico and entablature of grey limestone and doorcase and window surrounds of yellow sandstone. This is set against a cement render. [see 1]
Under the portico in the garden facing facade is a Coade stone frieze of a Dionysian procession. [see 1]

The website continues: “Emo court remained the seat of the Earls of Portarlington until 1920, when the house and its vast demesne of over 4500 ha, (11,150 acres), was sold to the Irish Land Commission. After the Phoenix Park in Dublin, Emo Court was the largest enclosed estate in Ireland. The house remained empty until 1930 when 150 ha., including the garden, pleasure grounds, woodland and lake were sold to the Society of Jesus for a novitiate. The Jesuits made several structural changes to the building to suit their purposes, including the conversion of the rotunda and library as a chapel. The distinguished Jesuit photographer, Fr Frank Browne lived at Emo Court from 1930-57. [7] A notable novitiate was the Irish author, Benedict Kiely.

The Jesuits remained at Emo until 1969 and the property was eventually sold to Major Cholmeley Dering Cholmeley-Harrison. He embarked upon a long and enlightened restoration, commissioning the London architectural firm of Sir Albert Richardson & Partners to effect the restoration.

In 1994, President Mary Robinson officially received Emo Court & Parklands from Major Cholmeley-Harrison on behalf of the Nation.” [see 4]

Unfortunately Emo Park house has been closed to the public for renovation for several years, and was closed on the day we visited in July 2021. I am looking forward to seeing the interior, which from photographs and descriptions I have seen, look spectacular. From the outside we gain little appreciation of the splendid copper dome.

In the meantime, you can read more about Emo and see photographs of its interiors on the wonderful blog of the Irish Aesthete Robert O’Byrne. [8]

There are beautiful grounds to explore, however, on a day out at Emo, including picturesquely placed sculptures, an arboretum, lake, and walled garden. Here is a link to a beautiful short film by poet Pat Boran, about the statues at Emo Park, County Laois. https://bit.ly/35uXPO1

The walled garden at Emo Court.
The walled garden at Emo Court.

2. Heywood Gardens, Ballinakill, County Laois:

Heywood Gardens by Edwin Lutyens, photograph by Chris Hill 2014 for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. [see 6]

General enquiries: 086 810 7916, emocourt@opw.ie

From the OPW website https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/heywood-gardens/:

The entrancing eighteenth-century landscape at Heywood Gardens, near Ballinakill, County Laois, consists of gardens, lakes, woodland and some exciting architectural features. The park is set into a sweeping hillside. The vista to the south-east takes in seven counties.

The architect Sir Edwin Lutyens designed the formal gardens [around 1906], which are the centrepiece of the property. It is likely that renowned designer Gertrude Jekyll landscaped them.

The gardens are composed of elements linked by a terrace that originally ran along the front of the house. (Sadly, the house is no more.) One of the site’s most unusual features is a sunken garden containing an elongated pool, at whose centre stands a grand fountain.

The Heywood experience starts beside the Gate Lodge. Information panels and signage will guide you around the magical Lutyens gardens and the surrounding romantic landscape.

The gardens at Heywood were created by Michael Frederick Trench (1746-1836), at his home, Heywood House, a house which was unfortunately burnt down in 1950 (my father as a young boy was at a musical concert nearby and saw the house burning!). Heywood House was built around 1789, and was captured before it burned down in photographs in Country Life, volume XLV in 1919. The article tells us that after Michael Frederick Trench built the house in the 1770s, he landscaped the area between his house and the village of Ballinakill, moving hills, digging lakes (he made three artificial lakes), planting trees and placing follies. The house was named after his mother-in-law, Mary Heywood (daughter of a Drogheda merchant). He was an amateur architect, and designed the parish church of Swords, as well as an addition to the Rotunda in Dublin. [9] The garden, set within a 250 acre demesne, is, Andrew Tierney claims, the best of its kind in Ireland: a blend of the Arcadian and the Picturesque, above which Edwin Lutyens later erected his walled terraces and enclosures. [10] One of the follies is a window from nearby Aghaboe Abbey (my grandfather had owned this property until the land was bought by compulsory purchase by the Land Commission in 1977).

Looking over the lake towards the exterior of Heywood House, photograph by A.E. Henson, not used, from archive for Country Life, volume XLV, 1919.
The dining room at Heywood House, ceiling probably by Michael Stapleton, photograph by A.E. Henson, from Country Life, volume XLV, 1919.

Heywood House was inherited by the Domvile family in the mid 19th century (Michael Frederick’s daughter Helena married Comptom Pocklington Domvile, 1st Baronet Domvile, of Templeogue and Santry, Dublin), and later enlarged by Lt-Col William Hutchison-Poë, 1st Baronet Hutchison-Poë, in 1875, who had married Helena’s granddaughter Mary Adelaide Domvile. It was then bought by the Salesian Fathers in 1923. It was transferred to State ownership in November 1993 from the Salesian Fathers.

It was only in around 1906 that Lutyens added to the gardens. Sean O’Reilly describes his addition:

Lutyens worked on the gardens from about 1906. He complemented the strong architectural framework with an informal planting style, following the same combination of structure and nature developed at Lambay and made popular with his associate – and Country Life author – Gertrude Jekyll. Laying out the garden in a series of terraces and stepped passageways exploding east and west from the falling southern terraces of the house itself, the architect shaped these spaces with a bewildering variety of retaining walls – vertical and battered, stepped and sheer – screen walls – straight and curved, large and dwarf – columns, steps and architectural artifacts.” [11]

Tierney describes the garden: The gardens stretch from the principal gates for almost a kilometer and a half, incorporating a sequence of three adjoining lakes and a fourth, further east, and areas of rolling parkland skirted by woodlands. Trench named each part of his garden after Alpine scenery. Trench’s Gothic follies include the Abbeyleix gate, an arrangement of octagonal towers joined by a Tudor-arched gateway. The Trench coat of arms is visible to the right of the gateway arch. From this gate the winding drive opens to Trench’s valley. Nearby, marking a split in the road, is the Spire, a shaft raised in memory of Trench’s friend Andrew Caldwell. Further along is a sham castle. High up behind that isa bridge, and a ruin, on the other side, with the Aghaboe windows. Up the pathway is the Gothic Greenhouse, a brick construction with five lancets with hood mouldings. On the east side of the lake is a grotto or bath house. On the east side of the demesne is the Trench mausoleum. [see 10]

The Lutyens garden descends to a sunken garden, with terraced borders leading down to a pool surrounded by bronze tortoises perched on stone balls. On the east side of the pond Luytens created a Pavilion with Portland stone dressings, terracotta tiled roof and saucer-domed interior, containing two Corinthian capitals rescued by Trench from the Parliament House in Dublin, which he was involved in remodelling. The north wall had busts of philosphers in oval niches, now replaced by urns.

The north wall of the pleached alley at Heywood House. Photograph by A.E. Henson,Published originally Country Life 04/01/1919.

For more on the gardens, see the blog of the Irish Aesthete, Robert O’Byrne. [12]

Longford:

3. Corlea Trackway Visitor Centre, Kenagh, County Longford:

Corlea Trackway Visitor Centre, Co. Longford, photograph by Chris Hill 2018 for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. [see 6]
Corlea Trackway Visitor Centre, Co. Longford, photograph by Chris Hill 2018 for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. [see 6]

General enquiries: 043 332 2386, corlea@opw.ie

From the OPW website https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/corlea-trackway-visitor-centre/:

Hidden away in the boglands of Longford, not far from Kenagh village, is an inspiring relic of prehistory: a togher – an Iron Age road – built in 148 BC. Known locally as the Danes’ Road, it is the largest of its kind to have been uncovered in Europe. 

Historians agree that it was part of a routeway of great importance. It may have been a section of a ceremonial highway connecting the Hill of Uisneach, the ritual centre of Ireland, and the royal site of Rathcroghan.

The trackway was built from heavy planks of oak, which sank into the peat after a short time. This made it unusable, of course, but also ensured it remained perfectly preserved in the bog for the next two millennia.

Inside the interpretive centre, an 18-metre stretch of the ancient wooden structure is on permanent display in a hall specially designed to preserve it. Don’t miss this amazing remnant of our ancient past.

Corlea Trackway Visitor Centre, Co. Longford, photograph by Christ Hill 2018 for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. [see 6]
Wooden block wheel excavated in Doogarymore, County Roscommon, now in the National Museum of Ireland, Kildare Street, Dublin. From around 400BC. It may be the type of wheel that was used on the ancient roads!
Information board from the National of Ireland Kildare Street.

Louth:

4. Carlingford Castle, County Louth:

Carlingford Castle, also known as King John’s Castle (not to be confused with the one in Limerick), County Louth, photograph by Brenda Harris 2021 for Fáilte Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. [see 6]

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

Carlingford lies in the shade of Slieve Foye, a mountain that in legend takes its form from the body of the sleeping giant Finn MacCumhaill. The castle dominates the town and overlooks the lough harbour. It was a vital point of defence for the area for centuries.

Carlingford Castle was built around 1190, most likely by the Norman baron Hugh de Lacy. By this time Hugh’s family had grown powerful enough to make King John of England uneasy. John forced them into rebellion and seized their property in 1210. He reputedly stayed in his new castle himself. It is still known as King John’s Castle.

The Jacobites fired on the castle in 1689; William of Orange is said to have accommodated his wounded soldiers there following the Battle of the Boyne.

Carlingford Lough Heritage Trust provides excellent guided tours of this historic Castle from March to October.

By 1778 the building was ruinous. The task of repair and preservation was begun by the Henry Paget the 1st Marquess of Anglesey in the later nineteenth century (he served as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland from 1848, and as Master General of the Ordinance), and has been continued by the OPW. [13]

Carlingford Castle Co Louth NLI by Robert French, Lawrence Photograph Collection.
Henry Paget, 1st Marquess of Anglesey (1768-1854), Viceroy in 1828 and 1830.

5. Old Mellifont Abbey, Tullyallen, Drogheda, County Louth:

Old Mellifont Abbey, photograph by Eilish Tierney, 2020 for Fáilte Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. [see 6]
Mellifont Abbey from National Library of Ireland Lawrence photograph collection, flickr constant commons.

General enquiries: 041 982 6459, mellifontabbey@opw.ie. Mellifont means “fountain of honey.”

From the OPW website https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/old-mellifont-abbey/:

Mellifont Abbey was the first Cistercian monastery in Ireland. St Malachy of Armagh created it in 1142 with the help of a small number of monks sent by St Bernard from Clairvaux [and with the aid of Donough O’Carroll, King of Oriel – see 14]. The monks did not take well to Ireland and soon returned to France, but the abbey was completed anyway and duly consecrated with great pomp.

It has several extraordinary architectural features, the foremost of which is the two-storey octagonal lavabo [the monk’s washroom]

The monks at Mellifont hosted a critical synod in 1152. The abbey was central to the history of later centuries, too, even though it was in private hands by then. The Treaty of Mellifont, which ended the Nine Years War, was signed here in 1603, and William of Orange used the abbey as his headquarters during the momentous Battle of the Boyne.

Mellifont Abbey ruins, the octagonal lavabo, built in around 1200, photograph by Brian Harte, 2015 for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. [see 6]

The ruins contain the medieval gatehouse, parish church, chapter house and lavabo. The octagonal lavabo was designed as a freestanding structure of two storeys, with an octagonal cistern to supply the water located at the upper level over the wash room. Wash basins were arranged around a central pier, now gone, which supported the weight of the water above. [14] The entire monastery was surrounded by a defensive wall. After the dissolution of the monasteries, Mellifont was acquired in 1540 by William Brabazon (died 1552), Vice Treasurer of Ireland, and passed later to Edward Moore (Brabazon’s wife Elizabeth Clifford remarried three times after Brabazon’s death, and one of her husbands was Edward Moore), who established a fortified house within the ruins around 1560. His descendents (Viscounts of Drogheda) lived there until 1727 (until the time of Edward Moore, 5th Earl of Drogheda), after which the house, like the abbey, fell into disrepair.

Garret Moore, 1st Viscount of Drogheda, hosted the negotiations which led to the Treaty of Mellifont in 1603.

Mellifont Abbey ruins, photograph by Chris Hill, 2014 for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. [see 6]

Meath:

6. Battle of the Boyne site and visitor centre, Oldbridge House, County Meath.

Oldbridge House, County Meath, October 2019.

General Enquiries: 041 980 9950, battleoftheboyne@opw.ie

The Battle of the Boyne museum is housed in Oldbridge Hall, which is built on the site where the Battle of the Boyne took place.

From the website:

Oldbridge House was built in the 1740’s by either John Coddington or his nephew Dixie Coddington. [John Coddington purchased the land in 1724 from Henry Moore the 4th Earl of Drogheda.]

It is believed to have been designed by George Darley, a local mason architect who also designed the renovated Dunboyne Castle, Dowth House and The Tholsel in Drogheda, Co. Louth.

To the left of the house there is a cobble stone stable yard with fine cut stable block. This originally contained coach houses, stables, tack and feed rooms.

To the right of the house is a small enclosed courtyard which contains the former butler’s house which is not open to the public.” [15]

Oldbridge House was purchased by the state in 2000, and renovation began.

Oldbridge House is a three storey house with a plain ashlar frontage of seven bays, with the centre three widely spaced and set somewhat advanced from the rest of the facade. Quadrant walls link the house to its park, with rusticated doors. The house is of two dates. Originally, in around 1750 it was a three bay, three storey block with low single-storey wings, and in around 1832, two floors were added to each wing, said to be by Frederick Darley. Similarity to nearby Dowth Hall suggests the involvement of the earlier and related George Darley in the original design. [16] It has a centrally located tripartite doorcase with pilasters surmounted by a closed pediment, which holds a canonball from the fields of the Battle of the Boyne. It has a string course between ground and first floors and sill course to first floor, and three central windows on first floor with stone architraves. [17]

Oldbridge House, County Meath, October 2019. The inset canonball was recovered from the field from the Battle of the Boyne.

An ancestor of Stephen’s, Elizabeth Coddington (1774-1857), grew up in Oldbridge House! She married Edward Winder (1775-1829). The son of John Coddington who purchased the land predeceased his father so John’s nephew, Dixie (1725-1794), son of his brother Nicholas, inherited. Dixie in turn had no sons, so the estate passed to his brother Henry. Dixie is also associated with Tankardstown House, a section 482 property. Henry Coddington (1734-1816) was father to Stephen’s ancestor Elizabeth. Henry was a barrister, and served as MP for Dunleer, County Louth, and he married Elizabeth Blacker from Ratheskar, County Louth.

Battle of the Boyne painted by Jan Wyck, in the National Gallery of Ireland. The point of view is that of the Williamites who were based on high ground north of the River Boyne, looking southwards towards Donore Hill where James II and his troops were based.

The Battle of the Boyne was just one of several battles that took place in Ireland when the rule of King James II was challenged by his son-in-law, a Dutch Protestant Prince, William of Orange. James II was Catholic, and he attempted to introduce freedom of religion, but this threatened families who had made gains under the reformed Protestant church. When James’s wife gave birth to a male heir in 1688, many feared a permanent return to Catholic monarchy and government. In November 1688, seven English lords invited William of Orange to challenge the monarchy of James II. William landed in England at the head of an army and King James feld to France and then to Ireland. William followed him over to Ireland in June 1690.

On 1 July 1690 (Old Style), King William III clashed with his father-in-law, King James II, on the River Boyne at Oldbridge, County Meath. 

Both kings commanded their armies in person. There were 36,000 men on the Williamite side and 25,000 on the Jacobite side. It was the largest number of troops ever deployed on an Irish battlefield. English, Scottish, Dutch, Danes and Huguenots (French Protestants) made up William’s army (Williamites), while James’ men (Jacobites) were mainly Irish Catholics, reinforced by 6,500 French troops sent by King Louis XIV. At stake were the British throne, French Dominance in Europe and religious power in Ireland.

William’s camp was on the north side of the river. James’s was on the south side with the two armies facing each other. William’s battle plan was to trap the Jacobite army in a pincer movement. He sent 10,000 men towards Slane which drew the bulk of the Jacobities upstream in response. With 1,300 Jacobites posted in Drogheda, only 6,000 were left at Oldbridge to confront 26,000 Williamites. All the fighting took place on the south side of the river, as the vastly outnumbered Jacobites defended their position against the advancing Williamites. William himself crossed at Drybridge with 3,500 mounted troops.

The pincer movement failed. King James’s army retreated across the River Nanny at Duleek and regrouped west of the Shannon to carry on the war.

Approximately 1,500 soldiers were killed at the Boyne.” [15]

After winning the battle, William gained control of Dublin and the east of Ireland. However, the war continued until the Battle of Aughrim in July 1691, which led to the surrender at Limerick the following autumn. The surrender terms promised limited guarantees to Irish Catholics and allowed the soldiers to return home or to go to France. The Irish Parliament however then enacted the Penal Laws, which ran contrary to the treaty of Limerick and which William first resisted, as he had no wish to offend his European Catholic allies.

Many phrases can be traced back to the Battle of the Boyne, such as those written on the wall in the museum.
Oldbridge, County Meath, October 2019.

The gardens of Oldbridge House have been resotred, with an unusual sunken octagonal garden, peach house, orchard and herbaceous borders, with a tearoom in the old stable block. Throughout the year outdoor theatre, workshops and events such a cavalry displays and musket demonstrations help to recreate a sense of what it might have been like on that day in July 1690.

Oldbridge, County Meath, October 2019.

7. Loughcrew Cairns, Corstown, Oldcastle, County Meath:

Loughcrew cairns, photograph by Macmillan media, 2015 for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. [see 6]

general enquiries: 087 052 4975, info@heritageireland.ie

From the OPW website https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/loughcrew-cairns/:

The Loughcrew cairns, also known as the Hills of the Witch, are a group of Neolithic passage tombs near Oldcastle in County Meath. Spread over four undulating peaks, the tombs are of great antiquity, dating to 3000 BC. 

Cairn T is one of the largest tombs in the complex. Inside it lies a cruciform chamber, a corbelled roof and some of the most beautiful examples of Neolithic art in Ireland. The cairn is aligned to sunrise at the spring and autumn equinoxes and at these times people gather there to greet the first rays of the sun.

Loughcrew cairns, photograph by Macmillan media, 2015 for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. [see 6]
Carved stone from Loughcrew, in the National Museum of Ireland, Kildare Street, Dublin.

8. Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre, Newgrange and Knowth, County Meath.

Newgrange, seen from the top of another nearby tumulus, Dowth. Newgrange is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and dates to some 5,000 years ago…Photograph by Dave Walsh, 2004 for Tourism Ireland. [see 6]

General Information: 041 988 0300, brunaboinne@opw.ie

From the website https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/bru-na-boinne-visitor-centre-newgrange-and-knowth/:

The World Heritage Site of Brú na Bóinne is Ireland’s richest archaeological landscape and is situated within a bend in the River Boyne. Brú na Bóinne is famous for the spectacular prehistoric passage tombs of Knowth, Newgrange and Dowth which were built circa 3200BC. These ceremonial structures are among the most important Neolithic sites in the world and contain the largest collection of megalithic art in Western Europe.

Newgrange, County Meath, December 2013.
Newgrange, County Meath, December 2013.
Newgrange, Co Meath, Ireland, photograph by Brian Morrison, 2018 for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. [see 6]
Newgrange, Co Meath , Ireland, photograph by Brian Morrison, 2018 for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. [see 6]
Winter Solstice, Newgrange, Co Meath , Ireland, photograph by Brian Morrison, 2018 for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. [see 6]

37. Hill of Tara, Navan, County Meath:

Hill of Tara, County Meath, photograph by macmillan media 2015 for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. [see 6]
Diorama of Tara in the National Museum of Ireland, Kildare Street, Dublin, 2022. Key: 2. Rath/Fort of the Kings, a hilltop enclosure; 3: Royal Seat, a barrow; 4. Cormac’s House, a ringfort; 5. Stone of Destiny, Liah Fail, a standing stone; 6. Mound of the Hostages, a passage tomb; 7. Rath of the Synods, an enclosure; 8. Banqueting Hall, a linear earthwork.

General information: 046 902 5903, hilloftara@opw.ie

From the OPW website:

The Hill of Tara has been important since the late Stone Age, when a passage tomb was built there. However, the site became truly significant in the Iron Age (600 BC to 400 AD) and into the Early Christian Period when it rose to supreme prominence – as the seat of the high kings of Ireland. All old Irish roads lead to this critical site.

St Patrick himself went there in the fifth century. As Christianity achieved dominance over the following centuries, Tara’s importance became symbolic. Its halls and palaces have now disappeared and only earthworks remain. 

There are still remarkable sights to be seen, however. Just one example is the Lia Fáil – the great coronation stone and one of the four legendary treasures of the Tuatha Dé Danann – which stands proudly on the monument known as An Forradh.

Guided tours of the site will help you understand the regal history of this exceptional place and imagine its former splendour.

Article about the 1956 excavation of the portal tomb passage grave on the Mound of the Hostages, in the National Museum of Ireland, Kildare Street.
Information boards from the exhibition in the National Gallery of Ireland Kildare Street, January 2022.
Information boards from the exhibition in the National Gallery of Ireland Kildare Street, January 2022.
Items excavated at Tara, in the National Museum of Ireland Kildare Street.
Information boards from the exhibition in the National Gallery of Ireland Kildare Street, January 2022.
Information boards from the exhibition in the National Gallery of Ireland Kildare Street, January 2022.
Information boards from the exhibition in the National Gallery of Ireland Kildare Street, January 2022.

9. Trim Castle, County Meath:

Trim Castle and the River Boyne, photograph by Brian Morrison, 2015 for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. [see 6]
Trim Castle and the River Boyne, photograph by macmillan media, 2015 for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. [see 6]

General information: 046 943 8619, trimcastle@opw.ie

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

Few places in Ireland contain more medieval buildings than the heritage town of Trim. Trim Castle is foremost among those buildings.

In fact, the castle is the largest Anglo-Norman fortification in Ireland. Hugh de Lacy and his successors took 30 years to build it.

The central fortification is a monumental three-storey keep. This massive 20-sided tower, which is cruciform in shape, was all but impregnable in its day. It was protected by a ditch, curtain wall and water-filled moat.

Modern walkways now allow you to look down over the interior of the keep – a chance to appreciate the sheer size and thickness of the mighty castle walls.

The castle is often called King John’s Castle although when he visited the town he preferred to stay in his tent on the other side of the river. Richard II visited Trim in 1399 and left Prince Hal later Henry V as a prisoner in the castle.” I never knew we had such a link to King Henry V and Shakespeare’s play, Henry IV!

Trim Castle and the River Boyne, photograph by Brian Morrison, 2006 for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. [see 6]

Patrick Comerford gives an excellent history of Trim Castle in his blog. [18] The castle stands within a three acre bailey, surrounded by a defensive perimeter wall. The curtain wall of the castle is fortified by a series of semicircular open-back towers. There were two entrances to Trim Castle, one, beside the car park, is flanked by a gatehouse, and the second is a barbican gate and tower. [19]

We visited in May 2022, after visiting St. Mary’s Abbey (also called Talbot’s Castle) – more on that soon. We were late entering so the entry to inside the castle was closed, unfortunately – we shall have to visit again!

Trim Castle, May 2022.
The view of Trim Castle from St. Mary’s Abbey, over the Boyne River, May 2022.
Trim Castle and the River Boyne, photograph by Brian Morrison, 2015 for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. [see 6]
Trim Castle, Co. Meath, 1938, photograph from National Library of Ireland, flickr constant commons.
The entrance to Trim Castle, May 2022.
The information board tells us that the Trim Gate was built around 1180, on the site of an earlier timber gatehouse. A forward tower or pier would have received a bridge over the moat. The gatehouse was rebuilt early in the 13th century when the passageway was vaulted. The vaulted floor housed the lifting mechanism for the portcullis and above this were the porters’ lodgings. The chambers to the north side of the passage were added to provide guard accommodation with a prison below.
The other side of the gate through which we entered.
The Keep, Trim Castle, May 2022.
Inside the walls of Trim Castle, with a view of St. Mary’s Abbey house and the remaining tower of St. Mary’s Abbey.

The information board tells us that in 1182 when Hugh de Lacy was granted the Liberty of Meath, he occupied this site bounded by the River Boyne to the north and marshy ground to the south. By 1175 his original wooden fortification had been replaced by this unusual keep, later surrounded by curtain walls with a simple gate to the north and a bridge across the moat. The south curtain wall with its D shaped buildings was completed by 1200, when new siege tactics forced a change in the design of castles. Later, the forebuildings and plinth were built, protecting the entrance and base of the keep.

Sometime before 1180, Hugh de Lacy replaced the timber palisade fence enclosing the keep with a stone enclosure. The fore-court enclosed stables and stores and protected the stairway and door to the keep. The new entrance was on the north side of the enclosure and had a drawbridge over the deepened ditch.

With the development of the curtain walls, the inner enclosure became obsolete.

The ditch was filled and three defensive towers – two survive – were built on its site. The drawbridge was replaced by a stone causeway leading to an arched gate and entrance stairway. A reception hall was built to accommodate visitors before they entered the Keep.

As the town and approach roads developed, the barbican gate provided a new entrance from the south. After the siege of 1224, the north curtain walls, towers and Trim gate required major repairs. During a period of prosperity in the second half of the 13th century, the great hall and solar were constructed on the site of the north curtain wall and tower. Trim and its abbeys and the Cathedral and borough of Newtown developed in the security of the castle.

The Boyne was used for transport of goods to the river gate. Stores, workshops and kitchens were built in the castle yard.

Though the castle buildings were often adapted to suit changing military and domestic needs, much of the fabric of Trim Castle has remained unchanged since the height of Anglo-Norman power in Ireland.

The Keep, Trim Castle, May 2022.
The area that was the Great Hall, Trim Castle, May 2022.

The information board tells us that courts, parliaments, feasts and all issues relating to the management of the Lordship were discussed at meetings in the Great Hall. After 1250, the great public rooms in the Keep were considered unsuitable for such gatherings, so this hall was built, lit by large windows with a view of the harbour and the Abbey of St. Mary’s across the river. The hall had a high seat at the west end, with kitchens and undercroft cellars to the east. Ornate oak columns rising from stone bases supported the great span of the roof.

The hall was heated from a central hearth and vented by a lantern-like louvre in the roof.

I’m not sure what this is, at Trim Castle.
See the “scratches” or marks on the ceiling of this vaulted space – we see similar marks in the basement of St. Mary’s Abbey house.
I think this is the River Gate, at Trim Castle.
The information board tells us that the River Gate allowed for the delivery os stores from boats on the river. The gate was made in the curtain wall to the east of the Great Hall. Short stretches of canal allowed boats to bring supplies to teh castle to avoid the many weirs and protruding rocks on the river. A section of the canal was cut below the riverside curtain wall. Inside the River Gate, a passage was cut through the bedrock to the door of the cellar of the Great Hall. Boats could be moored in the wide harbour with its pier and stairway to the apartments in the Solar.
The Barbican Gate, Trim Castle.
Inside the Barbican Gate, Trim Castle.

Early in the 13th century the weirs were completed on the Boyne, allowing the moat to be flooded, and the Leper River was channelled along the south curtain wall. A new gate was constructed guarding the southern approaches to the castle. This gatehouse, of a rare design, was built as a single cylindrical tower with a “barbican,” defences of a forward tower adn bridge. An elaborate system of lifting bridges, gates and overhead traps gave the garrison great control over those entering the castle. The arrangement of plunging loops demonstrates the builders’ knowledge of the military requirements of defending archers.

By the middle of the 13th century, the design of castle gates was further developed and a twin tower gatehouse with a passage between the two towers became standard.

Offaly:

10. Clonmacnoise, County Offaly:

Clonmacnoise, May 2018.

General information: 090 9674195, clonmacnoise@opw.ie

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

St Ciarán founded his monastery on the banks of the River Shannon in the 6th Century. The monastery flourished and became a great seat of learning, a University of its time with students from all over Europe.

The ruins include a Cathedral, two round Towers, three high crosses, nine Churches and over 700 Early Christian graveslabs.

The original high crosses, including the magnificent 10th century Cross of the Scriptures area on display in a purpose built visitor centre adjacent the monastic enclosure.

An audiovisual presentation will give you an insight into the history of this hallowed space.

Clonmacnoise, May 2018. O’Rourke’s Tower. The Annals of the Four Masters record that it was completed in 1124 under the patronage of Toirrdelbach O Conchobhair, King of Connacht. In 1135 its top was struck off by lightning. The eight square headed windos at the top belong to a late medieval arrangement.
Clonmacnoise, May 2018.
Clonmacnoise, May 2018.
Clonmacnoise, May 2018.
Clonmacnoise, May 2018. Temple Finghin, a twelfth century church with integrated round tower.
Clonmacnoise, May 2018.

Westmeath:

11. Fore Abbey in County Westmeath:

Fore Abbey, County Westmeath, August 2021.

“Fore” comes from the Irish “fobhar” meaning well or spring.

From the OPW website https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/fore-abbey/:

In a tranquil valley in the village of Fore, about a 30-minute drive from Mullingar in County Westmeath, you can visit the spot where St Feichin founded a Christian monastery in the seventh century AD.

It is believed that, before Feichin’s death, 300 monks lived in the community. Among the remains on the site is a church built around AD 900. There are also the 18 Fore crosses, which are spread out over 10 kilometres on roadways and in fields.

Seven particular features of the site – the so-called ‘Seven Wonders of Fore’ – have acquired legendary status. They include: the monastery built on a bog; the mill without a race (the saint is said to have thrust his crozier into the ground and caused water to flow); and the lintel stone raised by St Feichin’s prayers.

St Feichin’s Way, a looped walk around the site, provides an excellent base from which to explore these fabled places.

The Benedictine Priory was founded around 1180 by Hugh de Lacy, the first Viceroy of Ireland. Before this there was a monastery in Fore, founded by Feichin in the seventh century. The Benedictines had a link with France and its first monks came from France. The Priory sufffered plundering attacks so needed defensive towers and fortification. It was built around a Cloister or courtyard.

The cloister is remarkably well-preserved.

The “columbarium” mentioned in the diagram is a house for keeping pigeons – we saw one previously at Moone Abbey tower, and there is one at Fore.

The Columbarium or Pigeon house at Fore.

The monastery founded at Fore in the seventh century by St Feichin, a Sligo-born holy man who travelled widely in Ireland, was large and prosperous but was superceded by Fore Abbey, the nearby Benedictive abbey founded by the Norman deLacys. The remaining building of St Feichins is the church, which was built in the tenth century. A new chancel was added around 1200, and the arch leading to this was re-erected in 1934. The east window was inserted in the 15th century.

St Feichin’s Church, with Fore Abbey in background on far left.
St. Feichin’s Church, built in the 10th century with later additions.

The Anchorite’s Cell is a small tower with attached chapel. The tower had two storeys and on the top floor lived a number of Anchorites, or hermits. The chapel has a vault below, the crypt of the Nugent family of nearby Castle Delvin and Clonyn Castle, Earls of Westmeath. Delvin, or Castletown-Delvin, was granted by Hugh de Lacy to his son-in-law Gilbert de Nugent. The 1st Earl of Westmeath was Richard Nugent (1583-1642). His father was Christopher Nugent, 5th Baron Delvin.

The Anchorite’s Cell.
Front of the Anchorite Cell Chapel with the Nugent coat of arms.

County Wexford:

12. Ballyhack Castle, Arthurstown, County Wexford

Ballyhack Castle, photograph by Brian Morrison, 2015 for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. [see 6]

General enquiries: 051 398 468, breda.lynch@opw.ie

from the OPW website https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/ballyhack-castle/:

Ballyhack Castle commands an imperious position on a steep-sided valley overlooking Waterford Estuary. It is thought that the Knights Hospitallers of St John, one of the two mighty military orders founded at the time of the Crusades, built this sturdy tower house around 1450.

The tower is five stories tall and the walls survive complete to the wall walk. Built into the north-east wall of the second floor is a small chapel complete with a piscina, aumbry and altar. The entrance to the castle is protected externally by a machicolation and internally by a murder hole – that is, an opening through which defenders could throw rocks or pour boiling water, hot sand or boiling oil, on anyone foolish enough to attack.

Currently on display at Ballyhack Castle are assorted items of replica armour relating to the Crusades and the Normans –  guaranteed to ignite the imagination!

Ballyhack Castle, photograph by Brian Morrison, 2015 for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. [see 6]

13. Ferns Castle, County Wexford:

Ferns Castle, photograph by Brian Morrison, 2015 for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. [see 6]

General information: 053 9366411, fernscastle@opw.ie

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

Before the coming of the Normans, Ferns was the political base of Diarmait Mac Murchada, king of Leinster. William, Earl Marshall built the castle around 1200. Since then it has had many owners, of diverse political and military colours.

Originally, the castle formed a square, with large corner towers. Only half of the castle now stands, although what remains is most impressive. The most complete tower contains a beautiful circular chapel, several original fireplaces and a vaulted basement. There is a magnificent view from the top.

There is an extraordinary artefact to be seen in the visitor centre. The Ferns Tapestry showcases the pre-Norman history of the town via the thousand-year-old art of crewel wool embroidery. Stitched by members of the local community, the 15-metre-long tapestry comprises 25 panels of remarkable accomplishment and beauty.

Ferns Castle, photograph by Chris Hill, 2014 for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. [see 6]

14. John F. Kennedy Arboretum, County Wexford:

General Information: 046 9423490, jfkarboretum@opw.ie

When John F. Kennedy died, a number of Irish-American societies expressed the wish to establish a tribute to him in Ireland. The Irish government suggested a national arboretum, and secured 192 acres surrounding Ballysop House, just six kilometres from the Kennedy ancestral home at Dunganstown, County Wexford. The arborterum is planted in two interwoven botanical circuits: one of broadleaves and the other of conifers. The Arboretum was formally opened on 29th May 1968.

From the OPW website https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/the-john-f-kennedy-arboretum/:

Dedicated to the memory of John F. Kennedy, whose great-grandfather, Patrick, was born in the nearby village of Dunganstown, this arboretum near New Ross, County Wexford, contains a plant collection of presidential proportions.

It covers a massive 252 hectares on the summit and southern slopes of Slieve Coillte and contains 4,500 types of trees and shrubs from all temperate regions of the world. There are 200 forest plots grouped by continent. Of special note is an ericaceous garden with 500 different rhododendrons and many varieties of azalea and heather, dwarf conifers and climbing plants.

The lake is perhaps the most picturesque part of the arboretum and is a haven for waterfowl. There are amazing panoramic views from the summit of the hill, 271 metres above sea level. A visitor centre houses engaging exhibitions on JFK and on the Arboretum itself.

Along the northern perimeter of the site are some 200 forest plots. Each covers an area of one acre and comprises a single species of forestry tree. These provide information on the performance of different types of plantation species in the Irish climate.

Through the garden are a number of trails, and a miniature train runs during the summer, and there is a cafe.

15. Tintern Abbey, County Wexford:

Tintern Abbey, photograph by Brian Morrison, 2015 for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. [see 6]

General information: 051 562650, tinternabbey@opw.ie

From the OPW website https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/tintern-abbey/:

This Cistercian monastery was founded c. 1200 by William, Earl Marshal on lands held through his marriage to the Irish heiress, Isabella de Clare [daughter of Strongbow]. This abbey, founded as a daughter-house of Tintern Major in Wales is often referred to as Tintern de Voto.

The nave, chancel, tower, chapel and cloister still stand. In the 16th century the old abbey was granted to the Colclough family [Anthony Colclough (d. 1584) was a soldier and the land was granted to him after the dissolution of the monasteries] and soon after the church was partly converted into living quarters and further adapted over the centuries. The Colcloughs occupied the abbey from the sixteenth century until the mid-twentieth.”

The Colclough (pronounced Coakley) family lived there until 1958, when it was presented to the state by Lucy Biddulph-Colclough. Anthony’s son Thomas married Martha Loftus, daughter of Adam Loftus, Lord Archbishop of Dublin, who built Rathfarnham Castle in Dublin. Their son Adam Colclough became 1st Baronet of Tintern Abbey, County Wexford. The 3rd Baronet had no heir so the title expired and the lands passed to his sister Margaret. She married firstly, in 1673, Robert Leigh, of Rosegarland, who thereupon assumed the surname of Colclough; and secondly, in 1696, John Pigott, of Kilfinney, County Limerick, who also assumed the surname of Colclough. She was succeeded by a relative, Caesar Colclough (1696-1766), eldest son of Dudley Colclough, of Duffrey Hall. The property passed through generations until it was donated to the state.

The website continues: “Conservation works have included special measures to protect the local bat colonies. The abbey is set in a special area of conservation and is surrounded by woodland within which are walking trails. Not to be missed is the restored Colclough Walled Garden situated within the old estate.

Tintern Abbey, photograph by Brian Morrison, 2017 for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. [see 6]
Tintern Abbey, photograph by Brian Morrison, 2017 for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. [see 6]
Tintern Abbey, photograph by Brian Morrison, 2015 for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. [see 6]
Colclough Walled garden, Tintern Abbey, photograph by Brian Morrison, 2017 for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. [see 6]

Following the donation of Tintern Abbey to the Irish State in 1959 the walled garden was abandoned to nature and became overgrown.  The gradual restoration of the walled garden by a team of volunteers began in 2010 and the 1830s layout shown on the Ordnance Survey was reinstated. The restored garden, which opened to the public in 2012, is divided into two sections: the Ornamental Garden and the Kitchen Garden. 

Garden at Tintern Abbey, photograph by Brian Morrison, 2017 for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. [see 6]
Tintern Abbey, photograph by Celtic Routes, 2019 for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. [see 6]

Wicklow:

16. Dwyer McAllister Cottage, County Wicklow:

From the OPW website https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/dwyer-mcallister-cottage/:

This thatched and whitewashed cottage nestles in the shade of Keadeen Mountain off the Donard to Rathdangan road in County Wicklow.

Today, it seems like an unlikely site of conflict. However, in the winter of 1799 it was a different story. It was from this cottage that the famed rebel Michael Dwyer fought the encircling British. One of Dwyer’s compatriots, Samuel McAllister, drew fire upon himself and was killed. This allowed Dwyer to make good his escape over the snow-covered mountains.

The cottage was later destroyed by fire and lay in ruins for almost 150 years. It was restored to its original form in the twentieth century. Now, it contains various items of the period – both those that characterised everyday life, such a roasting spit and a churn, and those that only appeared in the throes of combat, such as deadly pikes.

17. Glendalough, County Wicklow:

Glendalough, County Wicklow, July 2017.

General information: 0404 45352, george.mcclafferty@opw.ie

From the OPW website https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/glendalough-visitor-centre/:

In a stunning glaciated valley in County Wicklow, in the sixth century, one of Ireland’s most revered saints founded a monastery. The foundation of St Kevin at Glendalough became one of the most famous religious centres in Europe.

The remains of this ‘Monastic City’, which are dotted across the glen, include a superb round tower, numerous medieval stone churches and some decorated crosses. Of particular note is St Kevin’s Bed, a small man-made cave in the cliff face above the Upper Lake. It is said that St Kevin lived and prayed there, but it may actually be a prehistoric burial place that far predates him.

Gilt wooden statue dating from the 15th or 16th century, found at Lugduff, County Wicklow, in a ruined building near the upper lake at Glendalough. It is a carved statue of yew wood and depicts an unknown figure, probably a saint; now in the National Museum of Ireland, Kildare Street, Dublin.
Information board from National Museum of Ireland, Kildare Street.
Silver penny of Sitric Rex Dublin, found at Sevenchurches or Camaderry, Glendalough County Wicklow. It represents the earliest Irish coinage, showing Sitric, King of Dublin, and was minted in AD995. It is now in the National Museum of Ireland, Kildare Street, Dublin.
Glendalough, Co. Wicklow, photograph by Chris Hill 2018 for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. [see 6]

18. National Botanic Gardens Kilmacurragh, County Wicklow:

General Information: 0404 48844, botanicgardens@opw.ie

Kilmacurragh House was home to seven generations of the Acton family. It was built in 1697 by Thomas Acton, whose father came to Ireland as part of Oliver Cromwell’s army, for which he was granted the lands surrounding the ruined abbey of St. Mochorog. The five bay Queen Anne house is thought to be the work of Sir William Robinson, who is better known today for his work at Marsh’s Library in Dublin, the Royal Hospital Kilmainham, Dublin Castle and Charles Fort, Kinsale, County Kerry. [20]

Kilmacurragh House, photograph from the National Inventory of Architectural History.

From the OPW website https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/national-botanic-gardens-kilmacurragh/:

There was a monastery at Kilmacurragh, in this tranquil corner of County Wicklow, in the seventh century, and a religious foundation remained right up until the dissolution of the monasteries. After Cromwell invaded the land passed to the Acton family.

By the time the estate came to Thomas Acton in 1854, an unprecedented period of botanical and geographical exploration was afoot. In collaboration with the curators of the National Botanic Gardens, Acton built a new and pioneering garden.

In 1996, a 21-hectare portion of the old demesne officially became part of the National Botanic Gardens of Ireland. The following ten years were spent giving the estate’s rare and beautiful plants a new lease of life.

Kilmacurragh is now part of the National Botanic Gardens, providing a complementary collection of plants to its parent garden at Glasnevin. Arrive in spring to witness the transformation of the walks, as fallen rhododendron blossoms form a stunning magenta carpet.

and

The Gardens lies within an estate developed extensively during the nineteeth century by Thomas Acton in conjunction with David Moore and his son Sir Frederick Moore, Curators of the National Botanic Gardens at that time. It was a period of great botanical and geographical explorations with numerous plant species from around the world being introduced to Ireland for the first time. The different soil and climatic conditions at Kilmacurragh resulted in many of these specimens succeeding there while struggling or failing at Glasnevin. Kilmacurragh is particularly famous for its conifer and rhododendron collections.” [21]

Thomas Acton’s son William married Jane Parsons of Birr Castle. Their son Thomas Acton inherited, then his son Lt Col William and then his son Thomas (1826-1908). Along with his sister Janet, he had a passion for collecting plants. They travelled to the Americas and Asia in search of plants, and established one of the finest arboreta in Ireland, and formed a friendship with David Moore, curator of the National Botanic Gardens in Dublin. Thomas died unmarried in 1908 and Kilmacurragh was inhierted by his nephew, Captain Charles Annesley Acton, who had been born in Peshawar. However, he was killed fighting in World War I as was his brother Reginald. Thus in eight years, three consecutive owners of Kilmacurragh had died, inflicting death duties amounting to 120% of the value of the property. The Actons were forced to sell the estate. The house fell into ruin and the arboretum became overgrown. The state acquired Kilmacurragh in 1996 and have restored the arboretum, making it part of the National Botanic Gardens.

[1] p. 336. Tierney, Andrew. The Buildings of Ireland: Central Leinster: Kildare, Laois and Offaly. Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2019.

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

[3] p. 119. 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.

[4] https://emocourt.ie/history/

For information on Gandon’s house in Lucan, see https://www.buildingsofireland.ie/buildings-search/building/11201034/canonbrook-house-lucan-newlands-road-lucan-and-pettycanon-lucan-dublin

Canonbrook, Lucan: “Detached multiple-bay two-storey over basement house, c.1800, on an L-plan. A handsome, substantial rural Georgian house which, though altered, retains its imposing form and feel, and is situated in mature grounds. Historically important as the former home of James Gandon.” Gandon is also said to have designed Primrose Hill House in Lucan, which is a section 482 property.

[5] https://theirishaesthete.com/2019/02/27/emo-court/

[6] https://www.irelandscontentpool.com/en/media-assets/media/81101

[7] http://www.fatherbrowne.com

[8] https://theirishaesthete.com/2016/03/14/of-changes-in-taste/

and https://theirishaesthete.com/2016/02/01/seen-in-the-round/

For photographs of the stuccowork, see https://theirishaesthete.com/2016/03/21/forgotten-virtuosi/

[9] p. 96. Sadleir, Thomas U. and Page L. Dickinson. Georgian Mansions in Ireland with some account of the evolution af Georgian Architecture and Decoration. Dublin University Press, 1915. 

[10] p. 356. Tierney, Andrew. The Buildings of Ireland: Central Leinster: Kildare, Laois and Offaly. Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2019.

[11] p. 61. O’Reilly, Sean. Irish Houses and Gardens. From the Archives of  Country Life. Aurum Press Ltd, London, 1998. 

[12] https://theirishaesthete.com/2018/08/27/heywood/

and https://theirishaesthete.com/2014/05/12/to-smooth-the-lawn-to-decorate-the-dale/

[13] p. 175, Casey, Christine and Alistair Rowan. The Buildings of Ireland: North Leinster: the counties of Longford, Louth, Meath and Westmeath. Penguin Books, London, 1993.

[14] p. 387, Casey, Christine and Alistair Rowan. The Buildings of Ireland: North Leinster: the counties of Longford, Louth, Meath and Westmeath. Penguin Books, London, 1993.

and see also my entry on Killineer, County Louth.

[15] https://battleoftheboyne.ie/battle-beyond/

[16] p. 446-7. Tierney, Andrew. The Buildings of Ireland: Central Leinster: Kildare, Laois and Offaly. Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2019.

[17] https://www.buildingsofireland.ie/buildings-search/building/14402016/oldbridge-house-oldbridge-sheephouse-co-meath

[18] http://www.patrickcomerford.com/2016/10/trim-castle-is-strong-symbol-in-stone.html

[19] p. 511, Casey, Christine and Alistair Rowan. The Buildings of Ireland: North Leinster: the counties of Longford, Louth, Meath and Westmeath. Penguin Books, London, 1993.

[20] p. 160. Living Legacies: Ireland’s National Historic Properties in the Care of the OPW. Government Publications, Dublin 2, 2018.

[21] https://botanicgardens.ie/kilmacurragh/