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 in County Galway, Connaught

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

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

Galway:

1. Athenry Castle, County Galway

2. Aughnanure Castle, County Galway

3. Dun Aonghasa, County Galway

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

5. Portumna Castle, County Galway

Galway:

1. Athenry Castle, County Galway:

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

General information: 091 844797, athenrycastle@opw.ie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Aughnanure Castle, Oughterard, County Galway:

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

General information: 091 552214, aughnanurecastle@opw.ie

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

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

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

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

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

3. Dun Aonghasa, County Galway:

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

General information: 099 61008, dunaonghasa@opw.ie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

general information: 091 574292, icpconamara@opw.ie

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

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

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

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

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

5. Portumna Castle and Gardens, County Galway: 

Portumna Castle, County Galway, July 2021.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The stables have been renovated into a cafe.

There’s also a walled garden at Portumna Castle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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