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 County Cork, Munster

Munster’s counties are Clare, Cork, Kerry, Limerick, Tipperary and Waterford.

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).

Cork:

1. Annes Grove, County Cork

2. Barryscourt Castle, County Cork – currently closed (June 2022)

3. Charles Fort, County Cork

4. Desmond Castle, Kinsale, County Cork – currently closed

5. Doneraile Court, County Cork – house currently closed

6. Fota House, Arboretum and Gardens, County Cork

7. Ilnacullin, Garanish Island, County Cork

Cork:

1. Annes Grove, Castletownroche, County Cork:

Annes Grove, County Cork, 1981 from Dublin City Library and Archives. [1]

Tel: 022 26145, annesgrove@eircom.net

https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/annes-grove-gardens/

This is due to be open soon by the OPW. It does not have a website yet. In December 2015 Annes Grove House and Garden were donated to the state by the Annesley family.

Nestled into an eighteenth century ornamental glen, adjacent to the River Awbeg, the demesne of Annes Grove in north County Cork is the setting for the most exquisite Robinsonian-style gardens in Ireland….

The Gardens at Annes Grove were largely the creation of Richard Grove Annesley in the first half of the twentieth century.” [2]

Annes Grove, County Cork, 1981 from Dublin City Library and Archives. [see 1]

The estate was previously known as Ballyhimmock, and it was acquired by William Grove around 1626.

In 1792 it was inherited by Arthur Grove Annesley (1774-1849) from an aunt by marriage, heiress to the Grove family, after which it was renamed by merging the two family names. [3] Arthur Grove Annesley’s uncle Francis Charles Annesley, 1st Earl Annesley of Castlewellan, County Down, married Mary Grove who inherited the estate from her father.

At the centre of the garden is a restored Gothic style summerhouse. The main house is of Queen Anne design, from the 18th century. Pergolas, a lily pond, Victorian stone fernery, a woodland walk and river garden, a rockery and wild water garden create an atmospheric setting.

From “In Harmony with Nature, The Irish Country House Garden 1600-1900” in the Irish Georgian Society, July 2022, curated by Robert O’Byrne.

2. Barryscourt Castle, County Cork:

Barryscourt Castle by Julia Delio, flickr constant commons, August 2009.

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

Barryscourt Castle was the seat of the great Anglo-Norman Barry family and is one of the finest examples of a restored Irish Tower House. Dating from between 1392 and 1420, the Castle has an outer bawn wall and largely intact corner towers. The ground floor of the Tower House contains a dungeon into which prisoners were dropped via the ‘drop-hole’ located on the second floor.

The Barrys supported the Fitzgeralds of Desmond during the Irish rebellions of the late sixteenth century. To prevent it being captured by Sir Walter Raleigh and his army, the Barrys [David Barry, 5th Viscount Barry (1550-1617)] partially destroyed the Castle.

During the Irish Confederate War of the seventeenth century Barryscourt Castle was once again successfully attacked.  Cannon balls lodged in the wall above the Castle entrance bear witness to this conflict. The last head of the Barry family was Lord David Barry.

Barryscourt Castle has been extensively restored. The Main Hall and Great Hall have been completed and fittings and furnishings reinstated. Within the Castle grounds, the herb and knot garden and the charming orchard have been restored to their original sixteenth century design.

After David Barry’s death in 1617 the family made Castlelyons their principal seat (now a ruin). The castle was restored by the OPW and the Barryscourt Trust between 1987-1993, with reproduction furniture made by Victor Chinnery. [4]

An article in the Irish Examiner by Padraig Hoare published 22nd May 2021 tells us that the site is closed and will be for some time:

A reopening date must be established for one of East Cork’s most historic landmarks after languishing in the midst of safety works for five years.

That is according to Cork East TD Séan Sherlock, who said Barryscourt Castle in Carrigtwohill has to be a priority for the Government body in charge of the facility, the Office of Public Works (OPW).

History enthusiasts and families alike were disappointed in the summer of 2020, when it emerged that Barryscourt Castle would remain closed for another 18 months.

The latest update from the OPW given in response to a parliamentary question from Mr Sherlock suggests it may be even longer than the date anticipated a year ago.

The Department of Public Expenditure said restrictions associated with the Covid-19 pandemic “has disrupted the good progress” of works being done to make the facility safe.

It is not possible at this time to give a precise date for reopening to the public,” the department said.

3. Charles Fort, Summer Cove, Kinsale, County Cork:

The Soldiers Quarters, the Hospital ward, the Lighthouse (by Robert Reading) and Magazine of the 17th Century Charles Fort, Kinsale, Co. Cork, Munster, Ireland. Photograph from Ireland’s Content Pool, photograph by Cahir Davitt, 2016, for Failte Ireland. [5]

General Enquiries: 021 477 2263, charlesfort@opw.ie

https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/charles-fort-national-monument/

From the OPW website:

As one of the country’s largest military installations, Charles Fort has been part of some of the most momentous events of Irish history. During the Williamite Wars, for example, it withstood a 13-day siege before it fell. Later, in the Civil War of the early 1920s, anti-Treaty forces on the retreat burned it out.

Charles Fort is a massive star-shaped structure of the late seventeenth century, well preserved despite its history. William Robinson, architect of the Royal Hospital in Kilmainham, Dublin, is credited with designing it. Its dimensions are awe-inspiring – some of the outer defences are 16 metres high.

The view from the ramparts looking out over Kinsale Harbour is spectacular.

The Soldiers Quarters, and Magazine of the 17th Century Charles Fort, Kinsale, Co. Cork, Munster, Ireland. Photograph from Ireland’s Content Pool, photograph by Cahir Davitt, 2016, for Failte Ireland. [see 5]
The seaward Devils Bastion and lighthouse of the 17th Century Charles Fort, with Kinsale boatyard in the background, Kinsale, Co. Cork, Munster, Ireland; Photograph from Ireland’s Content Pool, photograph by Cahir Davitt, 2016, for Failte Ireland. [see 5]

4. Desmond Castle (also known as the French Prison), Kinsale, County Cork:

Desmond Castle Kinsale 1941, photograph from Dublin City Library archives. [see 1]

General Enquiries: 021 477 4855, desmondcastle@opw.ie

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

Desmond Castle in Kinsale dates from around 1500. It is a classic urban tower house, consisting of a three-storey keep with storehouses to the rear.

Maurice Bacach Fitzgerald, the earl of Desmond, originally built the castle as the customs house for the town. [I think this must be the 9th Earl of Desmond – JWB] It served as a prison in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Because it usually held French inmates, as well as Spaniards, Portuguese, Dutch and Americans, it became known locally as the French Prison and carries that name to this day. The building was co-opted as an ordnance store during the momentous Battle of Kinsale (1601) and served as a workhouse during the Great Famine.

Desmond Castle certainly had a colourful history and this continued into the twentieth century. In the early 1900s it was used as a venue to host local Gaelic League meetings. Finally, in the 1930s, a thriving undertaking business operated from within the National Monument.

The National Inventory of Architectural Heritage tells us:

Freestanding three-bay three-storey tower house, commenced c.1500, abutting earthen terrace to rear. Attached cell blocks and exercise yards to rear (north-west) and platform to side (north-east). Historically used as magazine (1600-1601), as prison for foreign prisoners (1601-1790) and as borough jail (1791-1846). Restored in 1938 currently in use as museum.

5. Doneraile Court, County Cork:

Doneraile Court, County Cork, August 2020.
Doneraile Court, County Cork, August 2020. Tooled limestone porch with deep entablature, Ionic pilasters and columns, a heavy balustraded parpapet and swan neck doorcase. Oval heraldic motif to centre of parapet has curvilinear, foliate and wreath-swag decorative surround. Frank Keohane tells us that the porch is probably designed by G. R. Pain, added in the 1820s.

General enquiries: 046 942 3175, donerailecourt@opw.ie

https://doneraileestate.ie/

From the website https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/doneraile-wildlife-park/:

Doneraile Court towers majestically over the glorious Doneraile Park, a 160-hectare landscaped parkland and wildlife estate.

The house was built by the St Leger family around 1645 on the site of a ruined castle. By the time it was refurbished in the mid-eighteenth century it had become an outstanding example of Georgian architecture. Its associations range from links to the famous St Leger Stakes in horse racing and literature, with famous Irish writers such as Elizabeth Bowen. [A horse race took place in 1742 in which Edmund Burke and Cornelius O’Callaghan met a bet as to whose horse could cover the distance fastest between the church steeples of Buttevant and Doneraile. This gave rise to the term “steeplechasing.”]

Thirteen generations of the St Leger family lived at Doneraile over three centuries. The family had some extraordinary members. For example, Elizabeth St Leger made history when she became the first woman Freemason in the world in 1712.

Elizabeth (1695-1772) was the daughter of Arthur, 1st Viscount Doneraile. He was an active Freemason and sometimes hosted lodge meetings at his home. The story has it that Elizabeth fell asleep in the library, and woke to hear a secret Masonic ceremony taking place. When the Freemasons discovered that she had heard their secret, she had to be sworn in as a member in order to protect their privacy! She remained a member, as can be seen wearing Masonic symbols in portraits. She married Colonel Richard Aldworth, High Sheriff of County Cork.

The fine parklands are designed in the naturalistic style of the famous Capability Brown. They include many beautiful water features, plus a parterre walled garden and gardeners’ cottages. There are numerous pathways and graded walks. Lucky visitors might just spot some of the red deer, fallow deer, sika deer and Kerry cattle that live on the estate.” [6]

The house remained in the hands of the St. Leger family until 1969. Following decades of care by the Irish Georgian Society, it passed to the OPW in 1994.

Doneraile Court, County Cork, August 2020.
Doneraile Court, County Cork, August 2020.
Doneraile Court, County Cork, August 2020.
Doneraile Court, County Cork, August 2020.

From the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage:

“Detached three-storey over half basement country house, built c. 1730, containing fabric of earlier house, built c. 1645. Possibly also incorporating fabric of medieval castle. Extended 1805, conservatory added 1825, extended 1869, and also incorporating other nineteenth-century additions.”

The 1730s work on the house was carried out for Arthur St. Leger, 2nd Viscount Doneraile (1694-1734). Mark Bence-Jones suggests that it was the work of architect Isaac Rothery, but Frank Keohane suggests it could have been Benjamin Crawley. [7] The bow-ended block on the left of the garden front was added 1756-58, payment was made for this to architect Thomas Roberts.

National Inventory Appraisal: “The artist who created the ornate plaster work to the interior is unknown, but was clearly highly skilled. Doneraile Park is associated with Edmund Spenser the poet, who refers to the River Awbeg which flows through the park as the ‘gentle mulla’. The lands were bought by William St Ledger from the Spensers [William St. Leger (1586-1642), Privy Counsellor, Lord President of Munster, 1627, MP for Cork County, 1634, who was appointed, in that year, Sergeant-Major-General in the Army, employed to fight against the rebels in Ireland – JWB].

The timber panelled room to the interior is original to the earliest incarnation of the house. It is thought that it was here that Elizabeth St Ledger [1695-1772] was initiated as one of only three female members of freemasons in history after eavesdropping on a meeting. Added to this association with important historical characters, Doneraile Court represents more than three hundred years of construction and alteration, with different architectural features representing each phase.”

The bow ends on the front facade were built when improvements were made by the Hayes St. Leger 2nd Viscount of the second creation (1755-1819), between 1804-1808. At this time a new kitchen was added to the back of the house along with a now-lost Gothic conservatory.

The Hall was remodelled in the 1820s, when it was extended into the new porch. It has a screen of paired Ionic pillars, a frieze decorated with rosettes and an acanthus ceiling rose.

Mark Bence-Jones writes in his A Guide to Irish Country Houses:

“…On the other side of the house, a wing containing a new dining room was added 1869 by 4th Viscount Doneraile of the later creation. At the back of the hall is an oval late-Georgian staircase hall in which a staircase with slender wooden balusters rises gracefully to the top of the house beneath of ceiling of Adamesque plasterwork. To  the right of the staircase hall is one of the rooms of the original house, with a corner fireplace and fielded panelling; it was possibly in here that, ca 1713, Elizabeth St Leger was initiated as one of the only three women Freemasons in history, after she had been caught spying on a Lodge meeting held by her father. Behind this room was the vast and splendid dining room of 1869 which formerly had an immense mahogany sideboard in a mirrored alcove confronting a full-length portrait of the 4th Viscount with his favourite hunter. He was one of the greatest Victorian hunting men; ironically, he died of rabies through being bitten by a pet fox.  The three drawing rooms on the other side of the house are early C19 in character and probably date from the reconstruction after the fire; they have simple but elegant friezes, overdoors with volutes and windows going right down to the floor.  The long connection of the St Legers with Doneraile ended when Mary, Viscountess Doneraile died 1975. The garden, which boasts of a Lime Walk and a long “fishpond” or canal surviving from the original C18 layout, is now maintained by the Dept of Lands; as is the park, in which there is still a herd of red deer. The house, after standing empty for several years and becoming almost derelict, is in the process of being restored by the Irish Georgian Society, with a view to finding someone who would be willing to take it on. The 1869 dining room wing has been demolished.” [8]

From the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage: “Floating elliptical winder staircase with curved newel post and turned timber banisters. Timber treads with carved timber panels to side. Decorative render roses under stair. Ornate Adam-style ceiling with central ceiling rose and decorative fluted surround to stair ceiling.”

The staircase hall is lit by a tall round-arched window above an elliptical window.
The ceiling of Adamesque plasterwork, over the elliptical floating staircase (ie. Neoclassical interior design like the work of Scottish architect William Adams and his sons, most famous of whom are Robert and James).
Memorial to Lady Elizabeth St Leger, Viscountess Doneraile (d. 1761), in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, wife of Hayes St Leger, 4th Viscount Doneraile (1702-1767), daughter of Joseph Dean, Lord Chief Baron of the Court of Exchequer and of Margaret Boyle, daughter of Roger Boyle of Castlemartyr in County Cork.
The landscape of Doneraile is laid out in “Capability” Brown style, which is characterized by a natural flowing appearance rather than more formally patterned gardens.

6. Fota Arboretum and Gardens, Carrigtwohill, County Cork

General enquiries: (021) 481 5543 https://fotahouse.com/

fota.arboretum@opw.ie

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

Fota House was designed by 19th century architects Richard and William Morrison. From the beautifully proportioned rooms with exquisite plasterwork, to the preserved service wing and kitchens, Fota House offers visitors an intimate look at how life was lived in the past, for the cooks, butlers, footmen and maids who supported the lavish lifestyle of the gentry. Our painting collection is considered to be one of the finest collections of landscape painting outside the National Gallery of Ireland and includes works by William Ashford PRHA, Robert Carver, Jonathan Fisher and Thomas Roberts.” [9]

Front porch of Fota House. Fluted baseless Green Doric columns support a weighty entablature in which wreaths alternate wiht the Barry crest in the metopes.

Mark Bence-Jones writes in his A Guide to Irish Country Houses:

(Smith-Barry (now Villiers)/IFR) After Barry’s Court had been abandoned by the Barrymores, a hunting box was built on the nearby Fota Island, in Cork Harbour, by Hon John Smith-Barry [1725-1784], a younger son of 4th Earl of Barrymore, to whom Fota and some of the other Barrymore estates were given 1714. This house, of three storeys and seven bays, was greatly enlarged ca 1820 by John Smith-Barry [d.1837, grandson of his earlier namesake] to the design of Sir Richard Morrison, so that it became a wide-spreading Regency mansion of stucco with stone dressings. The original house, given a single-storey Doric portico with fluted columns and acroteria beneath a pedimented Wyatt window, remained the centre of the composition; flanked by two storey projecting wings with pedimented ends on the entrance front and curved bows on the garden front. A long two storey service range was added at one side. In 1856, a billiard room wing, in the same style as the Morrison wings but of one storey only, was added on the entrance front, projecting from the end of the service range. The space between this and the main building was filled in ca 1900 by Arthur Smith-Barry, 1st (and last) Lord Barrymore of a new creation [(1843-1925), grandson of John Smith-Barry], with a single-storey range containing a long gallery.” [10]

Frank Keohane tells us that the later John Smith-Barry settled here after his marriage to Eliza Courtenay of Ballyedmond, Midleton, County Cork. He was illegitimate, so perhaps he built the home to establish his reputation. [11] Smith-Barry hired John and William Vitruvius Morrison to enlarge the hunting lodge which had been built by his grandfather. He also built sea walls around the island and re-routed the public road to form a deer park and carriage drives around the shore.

Fota House facing onto the Pleasure Garden, photo by George Munday, 2014, Ireland’s Content Pool. [12]
Arthur Hugh Smith-Barry (1843-1925), 1st Baron Barrymore.

Bence-Jones continues:“The exterior simplicity of Fota is a foil to the splendours within; for the interior has that richness which Sir Richard Morrison and his son, William Vitruvius, were so well able to create. The hall, which runs the entire length of the front of the original house, is divided by screens of paired Ionic columns with yellow scagliola.” The long gallery was designed by William H. Hill.

Fota House, County Cork, August 2020. The hall, which runs the entire length of the front of the original house, is divided by screens of paired Ionic columns with yellow scagliola. The floor is paved with Portland stone with inset iron grilles that served the old central-heating system. The entablatures of plasterwork have the repeating pattern of wreaths and Smith-Barry crests the same as on the porch.
The central compartment of ceiling plasterwork has heavy swagged laurel garlands and lyres.
The ceiling rose in the long hall, with oak leaf wreath entwined with snakes.

To the right of the long hall are the Drawing Room and Library. The Drawing Room is entered via a small ante-room.

The ante-room at Fota.
The ante-room at Fota, with stencilwork by Sibthorpe & Son of Dublin.

The Drawing Room Ceiling has deep borders with floral wreaths containing doves, alternating with lozenges of bay leaf containing Apollonian trophies of musical and hunting instruments. The drawing room and ante-room ceilings were added to in the 1890s with stencilwork and gilding by Sibthorpe & Son of Dublin.

The Drawing Room, Fota.
The Drawing Room, Fota. The fireplaces throughout Fota are of Neoclassical statuary marble, with Ionic columns and friezes enriched with wreaths and garlands.
The Drawing Room, Fota. The ceiling of the drawing room, which entends into one of the bows on the garden front, has a surrounding of foliage, birds and trophies in high relief, similar to that in the library, and late C19 stencilled decoration and panels of pictorial paper in the centre.
The Drawing Room, Fota.
The ceiling of the drawing room, which entends into one of the bows on the garden front, has a surrounding of foliage, birds and trophies in high relief, similar to that in the library, and late C19 stencilled decoration and panels of pictorial paper in the centre.
The Drawing Room, Fota.
The library, Fota.

To the left of the hall is the Dining Room. It has a screen of grey scagliola Corinthian columns at the sideboard end, and rich plasterwork with a ceiling border of vines on a trellis ground and a frieze of bucrania draped with garlands.

There are elaborate plasterwork ceilings in the library and dining room, which are in the Morrison wings, at either end of the hall; the dining room has a screen of grey marble Corinthian columns.
The chimneypiece in the dining room is garlanded with vines and flowers.

Also on display in the main reception rooms is a fine collection of art work described as the most significant of its type outside the National Gallery of Ireland.  Masterpieces of the eighteenth-century Irish Landscape School include works by William Ashford (1746-1824); George Barret (1730-84); Robert Carver (c.1730-91); and Thomas Roberts (1748-78).  Nineteenth-century art is represented by Daniel Maclise (1806-70); Erskine Nicol (1825-1904); and James Arthur O’Connor (1792-1841).  An entire room is dedicated to Irish watercolours and features the work of Mildred Anne Butler (1858-1941); Hugh Douglas Hamilton (c.1740-1808); and George Petrie (1790-1866).” [13]

At the back of the house is the study, which extends into one of the bows. It has a simple frieze of wreaths.

The Study, Fota.

Bence-Jones continues: “A doorway opposite the entrance door leads into the staircase hall, which is of modest size, being the staircase hall of the original house; but it has been greatly enriched with plasterwork. The ceiling is domed, with wreaths on the pendentives and eagles in the lunettes; there is a frieze of wreaths and at the head of the stairs two fluted Tower of Winds columns frame an enchanting vista to a second and smaller staircase, leading up to the top storey.” The stairs are of cantilevered Portland stone, with brass balusters and a mahogany handrail.

The staircase hall, which is of modest size, being the staircase hall of the original house; but it has been greatly enriched with plasterwork. The ceiling is domed, with wreaths on the pendentives and eagles in the lunettes; there is a frieze of wreaths and at the head of the stairs two fluted Tower of Winds columns frame an enchanting vista to a second and smaller staircase, leading up to the top storey. 

At the top of the stairs is a small recess, leading up to the secondary stair, with a pair of shell-headed niches, a Greek-key border and a pair of Tower of the Winds columns. A cross-corridor gives access to the bedrooms, the differing levels resulting in various little lobbies and landings.

The principal bedroom suite is placed over the Dining Room and communicates directly with nurseries in the service wing. The suite contains a boudoir with barrel-vaulted ceiling and a half-dome decorated with doves trailing garlands. Plaster drapery fills the lunette to the vault with a little top-lit skylight at the apex of the dome with amber and blue coloured glazing.

The Boudoir.
The Boudoir.
The Boudoir.

Fota passed to John Smith-Barry’s great-granddaughter Mrs Dorothy Bell (1894-1975), the last of the clan to live on the Barry estates. It was sold to University College Cork and in 1983, Richard Wood took a lease of the house and restored it with John O’Connell as architect, to display his collection of Irish art to the public. It was then sold and the pictures removed, and in 1991 the house and arboretum passed to the Fota Trust and in 1999 extensive conservation work was carried out under the direction of John Cahill of the Office of Public Works. [14]

The Nursery.
The servant’s bedroom.
The game store larder.
The Kitchen.
The back stairs in Fota.

Bence-Jones writes: In mid-C19, James Hugh Smith-Barry laid out formal gardens behind the house, with lawns and hedges, wrought-iron gates and rusticated piers, a temple and an orangery. He also began to plant the arboretum, which has since become world-famous. The planting was continued for more than a century after his death by his son, [Arthur Hugh Smith-Barry (1843-1925)] Lord Barrymore [1st Baron Barrymore], and by Lord Barrymore’s son-in-law and daughter, Major [William Bertram] and Hon Mrs [Dorothy] Bell; in the mild climate of Fota many rare and tender species flourish. The demesne of Fota extends over the entire island, which is skirted by the road and railway from Cork to Cobh; there are impressive Classical entrance gates by Morrison similar to those at Ballyfin, Co Laois and Killruddery, Co Wicklow. On the point of the island is an early C19 castellated turret, by John Hargrave of Cork. Fota was sold 1975 to University College Cork.” 

The OPW website tells us:

The arboretum and gardens on Fota Island, just 16 kilometres from Cork city centre, are an essential destination for any one of a horticultural bent.

The arboretum extends over 11 hectares and contains one of the finest collections of rare, tender trees and shrubs grown outdoors in Europe. The unique conditions at Fota – its warm soil and sheltered location – enable many excellent examples of exotics from the southern hemisphere to flourish.

The gardens include such stunning features as the ornamental pond, formal pleasure gardens, orangery and sun temple. James Hugh Smith-Barry laid them out in the first half of the nineteenth century. Fota House, the Smith-Barrys’ ancestral home, still stands. The house, arboretum and gardens share the island with a hotel and golf resort and a wildlife park. [15]

7. Ilnacullin, Garanish Island, Glengarriff, Bantry, County Cork:

https://garinishisland.ie/plan-a-visit/

Italian garden, Garnish Island, Glengarriff, Beara, Co. Cork, Photograph by Chris Hill 2014, Ireland’s Content Pool. [see 5]

general enquiries: (027) 63040

garanishisland@opw.ie

Ilnacullin is an island in the coastal harbour at Glengariff in Bantry Bay. It has an almost sub-tropical climate with mild winters and high levels of rainfall and humidity. These conditions favour the growth of exotic plants. The gardens were set out in the Arts and Crafts style and contain Italianate pavilions and follies, framed against a backdrop of beautiful views.

From the OPW website https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/ilnacullin-garinish-island/:

Ilnacullin is an island garden of diminutive size and rare beauty. Nestled in the sheltered coastal harbour at Glengarriff in Bantry Bay, the gardens display a wealth of unique horticultural and architectural gems. Bryce House is a fitting memorial to the visionary creators of this unique place. 

The gardens of Ilnacullin owe their existence to the early twentieth-century creative partnership of John Annan and Violet Bryce, the island’s owners, and Harold Peto, an architect and garden designer. The area enjoys a mild and humid micro-climate that makes for spectacular and flourishing plant life all year round.

Small ferry boats and 60-seater waterbuses take visitors to Ilnacullin regularly. The short crossing usually includes an extra treat – a visit to the nearby seal colony and an opportunity to glimpse majestic sea eagles.

The Island was bequeathed to the Irish people by the Bryce’s son, Roland, in 1953 and is cared for by the OPW. Bryce House contains material from the Bryces’s lives, including John Annan Bryce’s collection of Burmese statues, Chinese ceramics, Japanese woodblock prints, metal works and rare exotic objects. There are also Old Master drawings by Salvator Rosa, Mauro Antonio Tesi and Giambattista Tiepolo. Over the years the Bryces hosted prominent cultural figures such as George (AE) Russell, George Bernard Shaw and Agatha Christie. [16] You can see a tour of the house and gardens on the website.

From “In Harmony with Nature, The Irish Country House Garden 1600-1900” in the Irish Georgian Society, July 2022, curated by Robert O’Byrne.
From “In Harmony with Nature, The Irish Country House Garden 1600-1900” in the Irish Georgian Society, July 2022, curated by Robert O’Byrne.

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

[2] p. 12, Living Legacies: Ireland’s National Historic Properties in the care of the OPW, Government Publications, Dublin, 2018.

[3] p. 310, Keohane, Frank. The Buildings of Ireland. Cork City and County. Yale University Press: New Haven and London. 2020.

[4] p. 261, Keohane, Frank. Buildings of Ireland: Cork City and County, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2020.

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

[6] See also https://doneraileestate.ie

[7] p. 377. Keohane, Frank. Buildings of Ireland: Cork City and County, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2020.

Another work Keohane identifies as being by Benjamin Crawley is Castle Bernard, now a ruin in County Cork:

Castle Bernard, County Cork, photograph from National Inventory of Architectural Heritage.

[8] p. 105. 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] fotahouse.com

[10] p. 127. 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.

[11] p. 412. Keohane, Frank. Buildings of Ireland: Cork City and County, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2020.

[12] https://www.irelandscontentpool.com/en/media-assets/media/44873

[13] http://www.buildingsofireland.ie/PlacesToSee/Cork/

[14] p. 412. Keohane, Frank. Buildings of Ireland: Cork City and County, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2020.

[15] https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/fota-arboretum-and-gardens/

[16]https://garinishisland.ie/the-house-and-gardens/