Bantry House & Garden, Bantry, Co. Cork 975 T293

contact: Julie Shelswell-White
Tel: 087- 9811149
Open dates in 2023: Apr 1-Oct 31, 10am-5pm
Fee: adult €14, OAP/student €11.50, child €5, groups over 8-20, €8 and groups of 21
or more €9

Bantry House, overlooking Bantry Bay, from the top of the “Sky Steps” or 100 Steps. June 2022.
Photograph from the National Library of Ireland Creative Commons. This is taken c. 1895, and the conservatory is now gone, as well, unfortunately, as the stork sculptures on the steps!

What we see today at Bantry House started as a more humble abode: a three storey five bay house built for Samuel Hutchinson in around 1690. It was called Blackrock. A wing was added in 1820, and a large further addition in 1845.

In the 1760s it was purchased by Captain Richard White (1700-1776). He was from a Limerick mercantile family and he had settled previously on Whiddy Island, the largest island in Bantry Bay. The Bantry website tells us that he had amassed a fortune from pilchard-fishing, iron-smelting and probably from smuggling, and that through a series of purchases, he acquired most of the land around Bantry including large parts of the Beare Peninsula, from Arthur Annesley, 5th Earl of Anglesey. The house is still occupied by his descendants, the Shelswell-White family.

This looks like the main entrance to the house – we came in the back way.
The Visitors’ entry to the house.

Driving from Castletownshend, we entered the back way and not through the town. From the car park we walked up a path which gave us glimpses of the outbuildings, the west stables, and we walked all around the house to reach the visitors’ entrance. We were lucky that the earlier rain stopped and the sun came out to show off Bantry House at its best. I was excited to see this house, which is one of the most impressive of the Section 482 houses.

We missed the beginning of the tour, so raced up the stairs to join the once-a-day tour in June 2022. Unfortunately I had not been able to find anything about tour times on the website. We will definitely have to go back for the full tour! The house is incredible, and is full of treasures like a museum. I’d also love to stay there – once can book accommodation in one wing.

Captain Richard White married Martha Davies, daughter of Rowland Davies, Dean of Cork and Ross. During his time, Bantry House was called Seafield. They had a son named Simon (1739-1776), who married Frances Hedges-Eyre from Macroom Castle in County Cork. Their daughter Margaret married Richard Longfield, 1st Viscount Longueville.

The house overlooks Bantry Bay which is formative in its history because thanks to its views, Richard’s grandson was elevated to an Earldom.

Frances Jane and Simon had a son, Richard (1767-1851), who saw French ships sail into Bantry Bay in 1796. The British and French were at war from February 1793. It was in gratitude for Richard’s courage and foresight in raising a local militia against the French that Richard was given a title.

There are four guns overlooking the bay. The two smaller ones are from 1780, and the larger one is dated 1796. One is French and dated 1795 and may have been captured from an invading French ship.

United Irishman Theobald Wolfe Tone was on one of the French ships, which were under command of French Louis Lazare Hoche.

Theobald Wolfe Tone (1763–98) (named after his godfather, Theobald Wolfe) had sought French support for an uprising against British rule in Ireland. The United Irishmen sought equal representation of all people in Parliament. Tone wanted more than the Catholic Emancipation which Henry Grattan advocated, and for him, the Catholic Relief Act of 1793 did not go far enough, as it did not give Catholics the right to sit in the Irish House of Commons. Tone was inspired by the French and American Revolutions. The British had specifically passed the Catholic Relief Act in the hope of preventing Catholics from joining with the French.

Theobald Wolf Tone, who was on the ships which Richard White spotted in Bantry Bay carrying the French who were coming to support Irish Independence.

The Dictionary of Irish Biography tells us that

With the outbreak of war with France, Dublin Castle instituted a crackdown on Irish reformers who had professed admiration for the French, and by the end of the year the United Irishmen and the reform movement were in disarray. In quick succession, the Volunteers were proscribed, the holding of elected conventions was banned, and a number of United Irishmen… were hauled before the courts on charges of seditious libel.

Tone went to the U.S. and thought he might have to settle there but with others’ encouragement he continued in his work for liberating Ireland. He went to France for support. As a result 43 ships were sent to France.

In July 1796 Tone was appointed chef de brigade (brigadier-general) in Hoche’s army ... Finally, on 16 December 1796, a French fleet sailed from Brest crammed with 14,450 soldiers. On board one of the sails of the line, the Indomptable, was ‘Citoyen Wolfe Tone, chef de brigade in the service of the republic.’” [1]

Richard White had trained a militia in order to defend the area, and stored munitions in his house. When he saw the ships in the bay he raised defenses. However, it was stormy weather and not his militia that prevented the invasion. Tone wrote of the expedition in his diary, saying that “We were close enough to toss a biscuit ashore”.

The French retreated home to France, but ten French ships were lost in the storm and one, the Surveillante, sank and remained on the bottom of Bantry bay for almost 200 years. 

For his efforts in preparing the local defences against the French, Richard White was created Baron Bantry in 1797 in recognition of his “spirited conduct and important service.” In 1799 he married Margaret Anne Hare (1779-1835), daughter of William the 1st Earl of Listowel in County Kerry, who brought with her a substantial dowry. In 1801 he was made a viscount, and in 1815 he became Viscount Berehaven and Earl of Bantry. He became a very successful lawyer and made an immense fortune.

Bantry House. June 2022. The entrance is under the portico, which is now glassed in. This middle section is the original house. The part on the sea facing side is the part added in 1820. The addition that appears on the left hand side is part of the fourteen bay block added to the rear of the old house in 1845 by the 2nd Earl.
In this view of the house we can see the two copper domes of the stable ranges, either side of the house. The stable blocks were built in 1845 and the National Inventory tells us they are sited to appear as further lateral extensions of the house beyond its wings; when viewed from the bay they might be read as lower flanking wings in the Palladian manner.

Richard was not Simon White’s only son. Simon’s son Simon became a Colonel and married Sarah Newenham of Maryborough, County Cork. They lived in Glengariff Castle. Young Simon’s sister Helen married a brother of Sarah Newenham, Richard, who inherited Maryborough. Another daughter, Martha, married Michael Goold-Adams of Jamesbrook, County Cork and another daughter, Frances, married General E. Dunne of Brittas, County Laois. Another son, Hamilton, married Lucinda Heaphy.

A wing was added to the house in 1820 in the time of the 1st Earl of Bantry. This wing is the same height as the original block, but of only two storeys, and faces out to the sea. It has a curved bow at the front and back and a six bay elevation at the side. This made space for two large drawing rooms, and more bedrooms upstairs.

The side of the house which faces the bay. This is the six bay elevation with curved bow at front a back (not visible here) which was added to the original house by the 1st Earl of Bantry.
The entrance is under the Corinthian colonnade, which was built later onto the oldest part of the house. The bow in this photograph is part of the house added on during the time of the 1st Earl of Bantry.

The house was greatly enlarged and remodelled in 1845 by the son of the 1st Earl, Richard (1800-1867). The 1st Earl had moved out to live in a hunting lodge in Glengariff. This son Richard was styled as Viscount Berehaven between 1816 and 1851 until his father died, when he then succeeded to become 2nd Earl of Bantry. He married Mary O’Brien, daughter of William, 2nd Marquess of Thomond, in 1836.

The 2nd Earl of Bantry and his wife travelled extensively and purchased many of the treasures in the house. The website tells us he was a passionate art collector who travelled regularly across Europe, visiting Russia, Poland, France and Italy. He brought back shiploads of exotic goods between 1820 and 1840.

To accommodate his new furnishings he built a fourteen bay block on the side of the house opposite to the 1820 addition, consisting of a six-bay centre of two storeys over basement flanked by four-storey bow end wings.

To accommodate his new furnishings, the Viscount built a fourteen bay block to the rear of the old house consisting of a six-bay centre of two storeys over a basement flanked by four-storey bow end wings.

The website tells us:

.”..No doubt inspired by the grand baroque palaces of Germany, he gave the house a sense of architectural unity by lining the walls with giant red brick pilasters with Coade-stone Corinthian capitals, the intervening spaces consisting of grey stucco and the parapet adorned with an attractive stone balustrade.

Bantry House, County Cork.

He also lay out the Italianate gardens, including the magnificent terraces on the hillside behind the house, most of which was undertaken after he had succeeded his father as the second Earl of Bantry in 1851.

After his death in 1867 the property was inherited by his brother William, the third Earl (1801-1884), his grandson William the fourth and last Earl (1854-91), and then passed through the female line to the present owner, Mr. Shelswell-White.

Mark Bence-Jones tells us: “The house is entered through a glazed Corinthian colonnade, built onto the original eighteenth century front in the nineteenth century; there is a similar colonnade on the original garden front.” [2]

The Corinthian colonnade at the entrance to the house.
There is a colonnade similar to that on the front entrance on the other side of the oldest part of the house.
The cafe area to the side of the house.

Unfortunately we were not allowed to take photographs inside. You can see photographs of the incredible interior on the Bantry house website, and on the Irish Aesthete Robert O’Byrne’s blog. [3]

The rooms are magnificent, with their rich furnishings, ceilings and columns. Old black and white photographs show that even the ceilings were at one time covered in tapestries. The Spanish leather wallpaper in the stair hall is particularly impressive.

Mark Bence-Jones continues: “The hall is large but low-ceilinged and of irregular shape, having been formed by throwing together two rooms and the staircase hall of the mid-eighteenth century block; it has early nineteenth century plasterwork and a floor of black and white pavement, incorporating some ancient Roman tiles from Pompeii. From one corner rises the original staircase of eighteenth century joinery.”

Staircase in Bantry House, photograph courtesy of Bantry house website.

The website tells us: “Today the house remains much as the second earl left it, with an important part of his great collection still intact. Nowhere is this more son than the hall where visitors will find an eclectic collection garnered from a grand tour, which includes an Arab chest, a Japanese inlaid chest, a Russian travelling shrine with fifteenth and sixteenth century icons and a Fresian clock. There is also a fine wooden seventeenth century Flemish overmantel and rows of family portraits on the walls. The hall was created by combining two rooms with the staircase hall of the original house and consequently has a rather muddled shape, though crisp black and white Dutch floor tiles lend the room a sense of unity.. Incorporated into this floor are four mosaic panels collected by Viscount Berehaven from Pompeii in 1828 and bearing the inscriptions “Cave Canem” and “Salve.” Other unusual items on show include a mosque lamp from Damascus in the porch and a sixteenth century Spanish marriage chest which can be seen in the lobby.

Bence-Jones continues: “The two large bow-ended drawing rooms which occupy the ground floor of the late eighteenth century wing are hung with Gobelins tapestries; one of them with a particularly beautiful rose-coloured set said to have been made for Marie Antoinette.

The Drawing Room in Bantry House, photograph courtesy of Bantry house website.

The Royal Aubusson tapestries in the Rose drawing room, comprising four panels, are reputed to have been a gift from the Dauphin to his young wife-to-be Marie Antoinette. In the adjoining Gobelin drawing room, one panel of tapestries is said to have belonged to Louis Philippe, Duc D’Orleans, a cousin of Louis XV.

The website tells us: “The most spectacular room is the dining-room, dominated by copies of Allan Ramsay’s full-length portraits of George III and Queen Charlotte, whose elaborate gilt frames are set off by royal blue walls. The ceiling was once decorated with Guardi panels, but these have long since been removed and sold to passing dealers at a fraction of their worth. The differing heights of the room are due to the fact that they are partly incorporated in the original house and in the 1845 extension, their incongruity disguised by a screen of marble columns with gilded Corinthian capitals. Much of the furniture has been here since the second Earl, including the George III dining table, Chippendale chairs, mahogany teapoy, sideboards made for the room, and the enormous painting The Fruit Market by Snyders revealing figures reputedly drawn by Rubens – a wedding present to the first Countess.

The Chippendale chairs and the George III dining table were made for the room.

King George III, a reproduction in Castletown, County Kildare.
Queen Charlotte, wife of King George III, a reproduction in Castletown, County Kildare.

The description on the website continues: “The first flight of the staircase from the hall belongs to the original early eighteenth century house, as does the half-landing with its lugged architraves. This leads into the great library, built around 1845 and the last major addition to the house. The library is over sixty feet long, has screens of marble Corinthian columns, a compartmented ceiling and Dublin-made mantelpieces at each end with overhanging mirrors. The furnishing retains a fine rosewood grand piano by Bluthner of Leipzig, still occasionally used for concerts. The windows of this room once looked into an immense glass conservatory, but this has now been removed and visitors can look out upon restored gardens and the steep sloping terraces behind.

The Library in Bantry House, photograph courtesy of Bantry house website.

The third Earl, William Henry (1801-1884), succeeded his brother, who died in 1868. On 7 September 1840 William Henry’s surname was legally changed to William Henry Hedges-White by Royal Licence, adding Hedges, a name passed down by his paternal grandmother.

His grandmother was Frances Jane Eyre and her father was Richard Hedges Eyre. Richard Hedges of Macroom Castle and Mount Hedges, County Cork, married Mary Eyre. Richard Hedges Eyre was their son. He married Helena Herbert of Muckross, County Kerry. In 1760 their daughter, Frances Jane, married Simon White of Bantry, William Henry’s grandfather. When her brother Robert Hedges Eyre died without heirs in 1840 his estates were divided and William Henry the 3rd Earl of Bantry inherited the Macroom estate. [4] Until his brother’s death in 1868, William Henry Hedges-White had been living in Macroom Castle. [5]

Macroom Castle, photograph taken 2009 by “Shiny Things,” flickr constant commons.
Macroom Castle gate house, photograph taken 2007 by Carole Waller, flickr constant commons.

William Henry Hedges-White married Jane Herbert in 1845, daughter of Charles John Herbert of Muckross Abbey in County Kerry (see my entry about places to visit in County Kerry).

In November 1853, over 33,000 acres of the Bantry estate were offered for sale in the Encumbered Estates Court, and a separate sale disposed of Bere Island. The following year more than 6,000 further acres were sold, again through the Encumbered Estates Court. Nevertheless in the 1870s the third earl still owned 69,500 acres of land in County Cork.

His son, the 4th Earl, died childless in 1891. The title lapsed, and the estate passed to his nephew, Edward Egerton Leigh (1876-1920), the son of the 4th Earl’s oldest sister, Elizabeth Mary, who had married Egerton Leigh of Cheshire, England. This nephew, born Edward Egerton Leigh, added White to his surname upon his inheritance. He was only fifteen years old when he inherited, so his uncle Lord Ardilaun looked after the estate until Edward came of age in 1897. William Henry Hedges-White’s daughter Olivia Charlotte Hedges-White had married Arthur Edward Guinness, 1st and last Baron Ardilaun. Edward Egerton’s mother had died in 1880 when he was only four years old, and his father remarried in 1889.

Bantry House, County Cork, photograph 1989 from the National Library, flickr constant commons.

Edward Egerton married Arethusa Flora Gartside Hawker in 1904. She was a cousin through his father’s second marriage. They had two daughters, Clodagh and Rachel. In March 1916 an offer from the Congested Districts’ Board was accepted by Edward Egerton Leigh White for 61,589 tenanted acres of the estate. [6] Edward Egerton died in 1920.

Patrick Comerford tells us in his blog that during the Irish Civil War in 1922-1923, the Cottage Hospital in Bantry was destroyed by fire. Arethusa Leigh-White offered Bantry House as a hospital to the nuns of the Convent of Mercy, who were running the hospital. Arethusa only made one proviso: that the injured on both sides of the conflict should be cared for. A chapel was set up in the library and the nuns and their patients moved in for five years. [7]

In 1926, Clodagh Leigh-White came of age and assumed responsibility for the estate. Later that year, she travelled to Zanzibar, Africa, where she met and married Geoffrey Shelswell, then the Assistant District Commissioner of Zanzibar. (see [7])

Geoffrey Shelswell added “White” to his surname when in 1926 Clodagh inherited Bantry estate after the death of her father. They had a son, Egerton Shelswell-White (1933-2012), and two daughters, Delia and Oonagh.

During the Second World War, the house and stables were occupied by the Second Cyclist Squadron of the Irish Army, and they brought electricity and the telephone to the estate.

Clodagh opened the house in 1946 to paying visitors with the help of her sister Rachel who lived nearby. Her daughter Oonagh moved with her family into the Stable Yard.

Clodagh remained living in the house after her husband died in 1962, until her death in 1978. Brigittte, wife of Clodagh’s son Egerton, writes:

As far as I know it never occurred to Clodagh to live elsewhere. She thought nothing of having her sitting room downstairs, her kitchen and bedroom upstairs and her bathroom across the landing. No en suite for her! In the winter when the freezing wing howled through the house, she more or less lived in her fur coat, by all accounts cheerful and contented. She loved bridge and held parties, which took place in the Rose Drawing Room, or in the room next to the kitchen, called the Morning Room.

Brigitte also tells of wonderful evenings of music and dance hosted by Clodagh and her friend Ian Montague, who had been a ballet dancer with the Royal Swedish Ballet. Ian put on plays and dancing in period costumes. Members of the audience were taught about eighteenth century dance and were encouraged to join in. I think we should hold such dances in the lovely octagon room of the Irish Georgian Society!

Clodagh’s son Egerton had moved to the United States with his wife Jill, where he taught in a school called Indian Springs. When his mother died he returned to Bantry. The house was in poor repair, the roof leaking and both wings derelict. Jill decided to remain in the United States with their children who were teenagers at the time and settled into their life there.

Bantry House features in Great Irish Houses, which has a foreward by Desmond FitzGerald and Desmond Guinness (IMAGE Publications, 2008). In the book, Egerton is interviewed. He tells us:

p. 68. “The family don’t go into the public rooms very much. We live in the self-contained area. I remember before the war as children we used the dining rooms and the state bedrooms, but after the war my parents moved into this private area of the house. It feels like home and the other rooms are our business. You never think of all that furniture as being your own. You think of it more as the assets of the company.

The relatively modest private living quarters were completed in 1985. Sophie Shelswell-White, Egerton’s daughter, says, “When we were younger we shied away from the main house because of the intrusion from the public. Everyone imagines we play hide and seek all day long and we did play it a bit. We also used to run around looking for secret tunnels and passageways. I used to believe one day I’d push something and it would open a secret room, but it never happened.”

Mark Bence-Jones continues his description, moving to the stables: “Flanking the entrance front is an imposing stable range, with a pediment and cupola. The house is surrounded by Italian gardens with balustrades and statues and has a magnificent view over Bantry Bay to the mountains on the far shore. The demesne is entered by a fine archway.” (see [2])

The large stable complex is to one side of the house, the East Stables. This is where the horses and carriages were kept.

The National Inventory tells us about the East Stables:

A classically inspired outbuilding forming part of an architectural set-piece, the formal design of which dates to the middle of the nineteenth century when Richard White, Viscount Berehaven and later second Earl of Bantry, undertook a large remodelling of Bantry House. At this time the house was extended laterally with flanking six-bay wings that overlook the bay. This stable block and the pair to the south-west are sited to appear as further lateral extensions of the house beyond its wings; when viewed from the bay they might be read as lower flanking wings in the Palladian manner. This elaborate architectural scheme exhibits many finely crafted features including a distinguished cupola, playful sculptural detailing as well as cut stone pilasters to the façade. The survival of early materials is visible in a variety of fine timber sliding sash windows, which add to the history of the site.

View of the 1820 wing in foreground and 1845 behind, and behind that, the East Stables.
This impressive arch with pediment topped by urns and birds, which leads toward the east stable yard, as seen behind.
The East Stable yard.
The east stable yard as seen from the garden.

Egerton married Brigitte in 1981. They undertook many of the repairs themselves. They started a tearoom with the help of a friend, Abi Sutton, who also helped with the house. Egerton played the trombone and opened the house to musical events. They continued to open the house for tours. They renovated the went wing and opened it for bed and breakfast guests.

Coffee is served on the terrace, similar to that in the front, but only partly glazed. Unfortunately we arrived too late for a snack. Bantry House is breathtaking and its gardens and location magnify the grandeur. I like that the grandeur, like Curraghmore, is slightly faded: a lady’s fox fur worn down to the leather and shiny in places.

The balustraded area on the side of the house where tea and coffee are served overlooks a garden.

From the garden to one side of the house, you can see another stable complex, the West Stables.

Brigitte and Egerton continued restoration of the house and started to tackle the garden. They repaired the fountain and started work on the Italian parterre. In 1998 they applied for an EEC grant for renovation of the garden. They restored the statues, balustrades, 100 Steps, Parterre, Diana’s Bed and fourteen round beds overlooking the sea.

Looking past the fountain to the 100 Steps.
Bantry House, County Cork, photograph by Chris Hill, 2016 for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. Wisteria adds an extra oomph to the garden.

It is Egerton’s daughter Sophie who now lives in and maintains Bantry House, along with her husband and children.

The family donated their archive of papers to the Boole Library of University College Cork in 1997.

The National Inventory tells us the five-bay two-storey west stables were also built c.1845. They have a pedimented central bay with cupola above, which has a copper dome, finial, plinth and six Tuscan-Corinthian columns. [8] The West Stables were used as a workshop for outdoor maintenance and repairs. They had fallen into disrepair but were repaired to rectify deteriorating elements with the help of the Heritage Council in 2010-11.

These buildings, the West Stables, were used as a workshop for outdoor maintenance and repairs. They have fallen into disrepair but were repaired to rectify deteriorating element with the help of the Heritage Council in 2010-11.


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


[4] and

See also

[5] Shelswell-White, Sophie. Bantry House & Garden, The History of a family home in Ireland. This booklet includes an article by Geoffrey Shelswell-White, “The Story of Bantry House” which had appeared in the Irish Tatler and Sketch, May 1951.




Blarney Castle & Rock Close, Blarney, Co. Cork

contact: C. Colthurst

Tel: 021-4385252

Open dates in 2023: all year except Christmas Eve & Christmas Day, Jan-Feb, Nov-Dec, 9am-4pm,
Mar-Oct, 9am-5pm.
Fee: adult €20, OAP/student €16, child €9

Blarney Castle, County Cork, June 2022.

We visited Blarney Castle on a trip to Cork in June 2022, choosing to visit on a date when we could also visit Blarney House – see my entry (on its way!).

We have all heard that kissing the Blarney stone gives us the “gift of the gab,” but where did the story come from? Randal MacDonnell, in his book, The Lost Houses of Ireland, tells us that Queen Elizabeth I said of Cormac mac Diarmada MacCarthy (1552-1616), Lord of Muskerry, ‘This is all Blarney; what he says he never means!’ so the term was used as far back as Elizabethan times. The Blarney Stone, set high in the castle under the battlements, was said to have been a gift to the MacCarthy family after sending 5,000 soldiers to help Robert the Bruce (who died in 1329) in battle. It was reputedly the stone that gushed water after Moses struck it, or else it is said to be part of the Stone of Scone, on which the Kings of Scotland were inaugurated. It is also said to be the pillow that Jacob slept upon when he dreamed of angels ascending a ladder to heaven, that was brought from the Holy Land after the Crusades. Frank Keohane tells us bluntly in his description of Blarney Castle in Buildings of Ireland, Cork City and County (published 2020) that it is in fact the lintel to the central machicolation on the south side!

An Irish person can be reluctant to visit Blarney castle, thinking it “stage Irish” with its tradition of kissing the Blarney stone but it is really well worth a visit, including queueing to get to the top of the castle (to kiss the stone, which you can of course skip!), because along the way you can see the interior five storeys of the castle with its many rooms and corridors. Each year around 550,000 tourists visit Blarney Castle.

It is also worth visiting just to wander the seventy acres of gardens, which are beautiful. There’s a coffee shop in the stable yard.

Map of the extensive estate and gardens.
The Stables and Coach Yard have a coffee shop.
This sign board tells us that the castle we see today is the third structure that was erected on the site. In the tenth century there was a wooden hunting lodge. Around 1210 this was replaced by a stone structure, which was demolished for the foundations of the third, current, castle, built by Cormac MacCarthy in 1446.

The castle we see today is the third structure that was erected on the site. In the tenth century there was a wooden hunting lodge. Around 1210 this was replaced by a stone structure, which was demolished for the foundations of the third, current, castle, built by Cormac Laidir (‘the strong’) MacCarthy in 1446. To put it into chronological perspective, this is around the same time that Richard III deposed King Edward V and nearly fifty years before Christopher Columbus “discovered” the “New world” in 1492 (see the terrific chronology outlined in James Lyttelton’s Blarney Castle, An Irish Towerhouse). He built a slender self-contained four storey tower house, which is now called the northwest tower.

The MacCarthy clan had vast estates, and were recognised as Kings of Munster by the lesser Irish chiefs, the sign boards at Blarney tell us. They trace their ancestry back to a chieftain who was converted to Christianity by St. Patrick. Cormac MacCarthy built Cormac’s Chapel on the Rock of Cashel, 1127-1134, before the Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland in 1169.

The second, larger, five storey tower was built in the early to mid 16th century.

In 1628 King Charles I created Cormac (Charles) MacCarthy (1564-1640/41) Viscount Muskerry. His father was the 16th Lord of Muskerry – the family gained the title from the English crown in 1353 – and his mother was Mary Butler, daughter of the 1st Baron Caher (of second creation), Theobald, of Cahir Castle in County Tipperary. Viscount Muskerry inherited Blarney in 1616 and undertook alterations, perhaps adding the tall machicolated parapets, and enlarging windows, fitting them with hooded twin and triple light mullioned windows. He married Margaret O’Brien, a daughter of the 4th Earl of Thomond, and secondly, Ellen, widow of Donall MacCarthy Reagh, and daughter of David, seventh Viscount Fermoy. [1]

Viscount Muskerry died in 1640/41, passing the title 2nd Viscount to his son Donnchadh (or Donough). Donough MacCarthy based himself in Macroom, County Cork, and Dublin. Donough and his father were Members of Parliament and sat in the House of Lords in Dublin. He was loyal to the crown in 1641 during the rebellion but afterwards supported the Catholics who sought to be able to keep their lands. The Duke of Ormond sought negotiation between the Confederate Catholics and the crown, and 2nd Viscount Muskerry played an active role in these negotiations. [2] Negotiations were complicated because the lines of disagreement were unclear and as time progressed and more negotiators became involved, goals changed. For some, it was about Catholics being able to own land, for others, to be able to practice their religion freely. Factions fought amongst themselves.

Donough MacCarthy (1594-1665), 2nd Viscount Muskerry and 1st Earl Clancarty, Painted portrait (oil on canvas) at the Hunt Museum, Limerick, Accession number HCP 004. The portrait is part of the original collection donated by antiquarian John Durell Hunt and wife Gertrude Hunt. Other sources suggest it is Donough MacCarthy the 4th Earl Clancarty. I will have to check this!

Further complications arose as Parliament in England was unhappy with the reign of Charles I. Viscount Muskerry was firmly Royalist, along with his brother-in-law the Duke of Ormond. It was at this time that Donough MacCarthy the 2nd Viscount married Eleanor Butler, twin sister of the 1st Duke of Ormond. In 1649, Lord Broghill (Roger Boyle, later created 1st Earl of Orrery) persuaded the towns of Cork, Youghal, Bandon, and Kinsale to declare for Parliament. The division was no longer between Catholics and English rule, but between Royalists and Parliament supporters.

Blarney Castle was taken by Cromwell’s army under Lord Broghill in 1646 and again in 1649 by Oliver Cromwell. The inhabitants and defenders fled via the passageways below the castle and escaped.

It is said that the inhabitants of the castle escaped Cromwell’s army by these routes under the castle.

The 2nd Viscount became the 1st Earl of Clancarty in 1658, raised to the title by the exiled son of King Charles I, who in 1660 became King Charles II. MacCarthy’s property was restored to him by the King.

Charles 3rd Viscount died in the same year as his father (1665), having joined first the French army when in exile from Ireland, and later, the regiment of the Duke of York (who later became King James II). It was therefore his son, Charles James MacCarthy, who became 2nd Earl of Clancarty. The 2nd Earl’s mother was Margaret de Burgh, or Bourke, daughter of the 1st Marquess Clanricarde. The 2nd Earl died in the following year, so the 1st Earl’s second son, Callaghan (1635-1676) became 3rd Earl of Clancarty in 1666. Callaghan converted to Protestantism. He married Elizabeth FitzGerald, daughter of the 16th Earl of Kildare. His younger brother, Justin, was given the title of Viscount Mountcashel.

Jane Ohlmeyer writes of the MacCarthys of Muskerry in her book Making Ireland English:

p. 108: “[the MacCarthys of Muskerry] The family thus enjoyed a formidable range of kinship ties that included the Butlers, of Ormond and Cahir, and the houses of Thomond, Fermoy, Buttevant, Courcy of Kinsale and Kerry. Like Viscount Roche, Muskerry enjoyed a close friendship with the earl of Cork and stood as godfather to one of his youngest children. …Blarney Castle..was the family’s principal residence…. They also resided at Macroom castle in mid-Cork…Though Muskerry retained the traditional customs associated with Gaelic lordship, he also acted as an anglicizing speculator, loaning money and securing lands through mortgages, and as an improving landlord who encouraged English settlers to his estates and especially his main town of Macroom, in mid-Cork.” [see 1]

We saw many means of defense illustrated on our tour of Cahir Castle recently during Heritage Week 2022, and many of these were utilised at Blarney. [see my entry on Cahir Castle in ] One can see the heavy machicolation, a series of openings in the floor of projecting parapets in castles and tower-houses through which offensive or injurious substances can be dropped on the enemy below.

See the machicolation at the top of Blarney Castle.

The castle rises formidably from the bedrock of solid limestone. Its height gives a view all around for defense.

The castle is built on a bedrock of solid limestone.
Ground level openings.
The ground level entrance we see was a gatehouse that defended the tower. Below the castle is a labyrinth of underground passages and chambers. One chamber may have been used as a prison. Another housed a well.

A bawn surrounded the tower house: a defensive area of about eight acres surrounded by a wall. Maurice Craig tells us in his book The Architecture of Ireland from the Earliest Times to 1880 that the word bawn comes from the Irish name “bádhún” meaning an enclosure for cattle. Animals and people took shelter within the bawn in times of danger. The castle was self-sufficient and the bawn would have been a hive of activity with tanners, blacksmiths, masons, woodcutters, carpenters, livestock keepers, horses, cows, pigs, poultry, butchers, cooks, gardeners and attendants. Part of the bawn wall remains.

View of the bawn wall from the castle.
Defense measures include an Oubliette for unwanted guests, and a murder hole if you gain entry to the tower house.
The tower house rising from the limestone bedrock.
The impressively intact casement oriel window we can see here was the Earl of Clancarty’s bedchamber, probably added in 1616 when Cormac (Charles) MacCarthy (1564-1640/41) Viscount Muskerry inherited and undertook major alterations. Further up, there is a two-light window, which was not made to be glazed so is therefore very old.

Blarney was a typical tower house with four or five storeys, with one or two main chambers and some smaller rooms on each floor. A vaulted stone ceiling served to keep the thin tower structurally sound by tying the walls together and also acted as a firebreak. Blarney was constructed as two towers, one built later (by about 100 years) than the other. At the bottom the walls are about 18 feet thick. When it was first built it would have been covered in plaster and whitewashed to protect it from rainy weather.

The MacCarthys retained Blarney Castle until forced to leave it in the years following the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. They were Jacobites, supporters of King James II, and not supporters of King William III, who was crowned King of England, along with his wife Mary, James II’s daughter, in 1689. Mark Bence-Jones tells us that the castle was fortified by Donogh MacCarthy (c. 1668-1734), 4th Earl of Clancarty, who fought for James II in the Williamite War. [3]

The Dictionary of Irish Biography tells us that Donogh MacCarthy the 4th Earl held the office of Lord of the Bedchamber to King James II in Ireland in 1689. MacCarthy fought in the Siege of Cork in 1690, where he was captured, and he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. He escaped and fled to France in May 1694. In 1698 he secretly returned to England but was betrayed by his brother-in-law, Charles Spencer, 3rd Earl of Sunderland, and was again imprisoned in the Tower. The Dictionary tells us that Lady Russell obtained a pardon for him, on condition he stayed permanently abroad. Lady Rachel Russell, nee Wriothesley, had previously petitioned unsuccessfully for the freedom of her husband, William Lord Russell, who had been arrested as part of the Rye House Plot to kill King Charles II and his brother James.

In exile in France in 1707, Donogh MacCarthy was Lord of the Bedchamber to the titular King James III (so called by the Jacobites who continued to support the Stuarts for the monarchy after William III and Mary had taken the throne). [4] This means he would have known John Baggot of County Cork and Baggotstown, County Limerick, whom I hope was an ancestor of mine (I haven’t been able to trace my family tree back that far). John Baggot married Eleanor Gould, daughter of Ignatius Gould, and fought at the Battle of Aughrim, where he lost an eye. The exiled monarchy recognised his sacrifice and in gratitude, made him groom of the bedchamber to the titular King James III in France also. Those that left Ireland at this time were called the Wild Geese. His son John Baggot subsequently fought in the French army and the other son, Ignatius, in the Spanish army.

There is a terrific summary in plaques in the ground in Limerick city around the Treaty of Limerick stone, on which the Treaty of Limerick was signed in 1691, that tells of the series of battles fought between the troops supporting King James II and the troops supporting King William. One plaque tells us:

Sept 1690 King William returned to England leaving Baron de Ginkel in charge. Cork and Kinsale surrendered to William’s army. Sarsfield rejects Ginkel’s offer of peace. More French help arrives in Limerick as well as a new French leader, the Marquis St. Ruth. Avoiding Limerick, Ginkel attacked Athlone, which guarded the main route into Connaght. 30th June 1691, Athlone surrendered. St. Ruth withdrew to Aughrim. 12th July 1691 The Battle of Aughrim. The bloodiest battle ever fought on Irish soil. The Jacobites were heading for victory when St. Ruth was killed by a cannonball. Without leadership the resistance collapsed and by nightfall, the Williamites had won, with heavy losses on both sides. Most of the Jacobites withdrew to Limerick.

Plaques in the ground of Limerick City around the Treaty of Limerick Stone, about the War of two Kings.
There are many additions to the castle as well as the main keep. This round tower was part of a Gothic mansion built on to the side of the castle by James Jefferyes in 1739.

After the MacCarthys were forced to leave Blarney Castle, it was occupied by the Hollow Sword Blade Company from London. The Historic Houses of Ireland website tells us that this company was a forerunner of the disastrously speculative South Sea Company that was attempting to break the Bank of England’s monopoly over Government loans. [5] The Landed Estates database tells us:

The Hollow Sword Blades Company was set up in England in 1691 to make sword blades. In 1703 the company purchased some of the Irish estates forfeited under the Williamite settlement in counties Mayo, Sligo, Galway, and Roscommon. They also bought the forfeited estates of the Earl of Clancarty in counties Cork and Kerry and of Sir Patrick Trant in counties Kerry, Limerick, Kildare, Dublin, King and Queen’s counties (Offaly and Laois). Further lands in counties Limerick, Tipperary, Cork and other counties, formerly the estate of James II were also purchased, also part of the estate of Lord Cahir in county Tipperary. In June 1703 the company bought a large estate in county Cork, confiscated from a number of attainted persons and other lands in counties Waterford and Clare. However within about 10 years the company had sold most of its Irish estates. Francis Edwards, a London merchant, was one of the main purchasers.” [6]

In 1702 the castle was sold to Sir Richard Pyne, Lord Chief Justice of Ireland, who sold it the following year, in 1703, to the Governor of Cork, Sir James Jeffereyes (alternatively spelled “Jefferyes”). Richard Pyne also purchased land at Ballyvolane in County Cork, another section 482 property which we have yet to visit!

In 1739 James Jeffereyes built a four storey Gothic style mansion on to the side of the castle, which he called “The Court,” demolishing a former house the MacCarthys had added to the castle. Frank Keohane tells us that the architect may have been Christopher Myers, who had previously rebuilt Glenarm Castle in County Antrim. We can see glimpses of its appearance from the round towers and ruins to one side of the castle, which are the remnants of this grand mansion. The Jefferyes family also laid out a landscape garden at Blarney known as Rock Close, with great stones arranged to look as though they had been put there in prehistoric times. There is a stone over the “wishing steps” inscribed “G. Jefferyes 1759” which commemorates the date of birth of James Jefferyes’s heir. It was a popular tourist destination as early as the 1770s.

Blarney Castle, County Cork 1796 After Thomas Sautelle Roberts, Irish, 1760-1826, photograph courtesy of National Gallery of Ireland.
Pictures of the Gothic house that was built on the side of the castle, on a noticeboard at Blarney.
Ruins of “the Court,” the Gothic house added to the side of the castle by the Jeffereyes. You can see the plaster decoration of a horse over the door. This must have been put up by later owners of the castle as the horse, or colt, is a symbol of the Colthurst family.

We joined the queue to go up the tower. The ground floor is a large vaulted space. We saw the same sort of vaulting in Oranmore Castle in County Galway, which we visited later that week during Heritage Week 2022.

Ground floor of the Castle, a vaulted space.

This room would have been the cellar chamber when first built, and would have had a wooden floor above, supported by still-present stone supports in the walls. The room on the upper wooden floor was the Great Hall. Originally, an information board tells us, the lower storey probably housed servants or junior members of the household. By the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries it had become a wine cellar, as evidenced by some brick-lined shelves.

Ground floor of Blarney Castle.

We can see the arched vaulted ceiling from the ground floor, with indentations left from wickerwork mats that were used, on which the bed of mortar for the roof was set. We saw similar indentations at Trim Castle and the nearby house of St. Mary’s Abbey in Trim, in the basement [see ]. The walls would have been covered in tapestries, which were put on the floor at some stage, becoming carpets. The arched ceiling tied the walls of the tower together.

See the remnants of the wickerwork on the vaulted ceiling, and an impressive fireplace remains in what would have been the Great Hall.

Next to the Great Hall was the Earl’s bedroom.

From here we have a good view of the remnants of the Gothic house remnants:

Remnants of the Gothic styled house which had been built onto the castle.

We climbed a stone spiral staircase inside the tower to see the upper chambers. As usual in tower houses, the narrow spiral staircase was built partly for defense.

We next reached the “Young Ladies’ Bedroom.” The noticeboard tells us that three daughters of Cormac Teige MacCarthy (d. 1583), 14th Lord, grew up here.

The room above the Great Hall in the tower would have been the family room.

Remaining plasterwork on the wall in the family room.
One end of the Family Room has a large fireplace, and the Banqueting Hall was on the storey above. The floor of the Banqueting Hall no longer exists, but you can see the fireplace of this room on the right hand side of the photograph.
Continuing our climb up to the top of Blarney Castle, looking down.

The floors of the banqueting hall, above the family room, and the chapel which would have been on the floor above the banqueting hall, are gone, so when you reach the top of the castle, you can look down inside.

Looking down from the battlements at what would have been the chapel (with the arched windows) and the Banqueting Hall below.

In the Chapel, mass would have been said in Latin, and the chaplain acted as tutor to the children also. The builder of Blarney Castle, Cormac Laidir MacCarthy, was a generous patron of the church and he built five churches, including Kilcrea Abbey where he was buried, which became the traditional burial place for the lords of Blarney.

I love how well-preserved the stone door and window frames remain.

The information boards tell us that feasting was part of the way of life at the time and a meal was combined with a night’s entertainment as part of the social life of the Castle. A series of courses would be served, with fish eggs, fowl and roast meat, all highly spiced to keep them fresh. Alcohol served included mead, beer, wine and whiskey. The high ranks sat near the Lord at the top of the table “above the salt” and others sat “below the salt.” As the meal progressed the Chieftain’s Bard would play his harp and sing songs celebrating the prowess of the MacCarthy clan.

The bell-tower, midway along the top of the eastern battlements. The north pilaster supporting the arch is built on top of a chimneystack that served the fireplaces in the Great Hall and the Banqueting Hall.

The Historic Houses of Ireland website tells us that in former times visitors were lowered over the parapet to kiss ‘The Stone’ while gripped firmly by the ankles. The process has become easier and safer today though one still has to lean very far back to kiss the stone, head dangling downward. It has been a popular tourist destination since the days of Queen Victoria. The keep and Blarney stone remains, “despite the osculatory attrition of the eponymous stone by thousands of tourists every year” as Burke’s Peerage tells us with verve! (107th Edition (2003) page 865)

Photograph dated around 1897, National Library of Ireland Creative Commons on flickr.
photo by Chris Hill, 2015, Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool.
Winston Churchill at Blarney Stone, 1912.
Photograph from National Library of Ireland Creative Commons.

One can see from the window embrasures how thick the castle walls are. There are passageways within the walls.

Passageways within the thick walls of the castle.

Some passageways lead to ancilliary rooms, sometimes to a garderobe or “bathroom.”

James St. John Jeffereyes (1734-1780) inherited Blarney estate at the age of six. St. John Jeffereyes was an “improving” landlord who sought to aid the welfare of his tenants and maximise profits from his estates. He took an interest in the linen trade developing in County Cork, which processed locally grown flax into linen. St. John Jeffereyes created a village near Blarney Castle in 1765 with a linen mill, bleach mill, weavers’ cottages and a bleach green. The River Martin powered the mills. The rise of cotton, however, proved the downfall of the production of linen. In 1824, Martin Mahon moved his woollen manufacturing business to a former cotton mill in Blarney, to develop Blarney Woollen Mills. James St. John also, with three other landed gentlemen, established the Tonson Warren bank in Cork city (1768). It was a prominent institution in Cork until its failure in 1784, after Jeffereyes’s death.

James St. John Jeffereyes first married Elizabeth Cosby (1721-1788). We came across her when we visited Stradbally in County Laois, which is still owned by the Cosby family. Her father was William Cosby (1690-1736), who was Governor of New York. She had been previously married to Augustus Fitzroy, 2nd Duke of Grafton, who died in 1741. James St. John and Elizabeth’s daughter Lucia served as Maid of Honour to Queen Charlotte, wife of King George III.

James St. John Jeffereyes married secondly Arabella Fitzgibbon, sister of the 1st Earl of Clare, John Fitzgibbon (1748-1802) (who, by the way, married the daughter of Richard Chapell Whaley, who had the house on St. Stephen’s Green built which now houses the Museum of Literature Ireland (MOLI) – see my entry for MOLI on He was the Lord Chancellor of Ireland who forced the Act of Union through parliament). With Arabella, James had a son and heir, George Jeffereyes (1768-1841).

James’s son George Jeffereyes (1768-1841) married Anne, daughter of the Right Hon. David la Touche of Marlay, the richest man in Ireland and head of the banking dynasty. George’s sisters also married well: Marianne married George Frederick Nugent, 7th Earl of Westmeath; Albinia married Colonel Stephen Francis William Fremantle; and Emilia married Richard Butler, 1st Earl of Glengall.

The Court was destroyed by fire in 1820. Instead of rebuilding, George Jeffereyes and his family moved to Inishera House in West Cork. [7] George and Anne’s son St. John Jeffereyes (1798-1862) inherited Blarney. He had a son, also St. John, who lived in Paris and died in 1898. The estate passed to St. John’s sister Louisa, who married George Colthurst (1824-1878), 5th Baronet Colthurst, of Ardum, Co. Cork. He was a man of property, with another large estate at Ballyvourney near the border with County Kerry, along with Lucan House in County Dublin (currently the Italian ambassador’s residence in Ireland). Blarney remains in the hands of the Colthurst family. Blarney House was built for Louisa and George Colthurst, in 1874.

Blarney House, built for George Colthurst (1824-1878), 5th Baronet Colthurst and his wife Louisa Jeffereyes in 1874, as seen from the top of Blarney Castle.

George Colthurst’s maternal grandmother was Emily La Touche, daughter of David La Touche and Elizabeth Marlay, and paternal grandmother was Emily La Touche’s sister Harriet. Their sister Anne had married George Charles Jeffereyes, Louisa’s grandmother, so Louisa and George were second cousins.

Randall MacDonald tells us in his book The Lost Houses of Ireland. A chronicle of great houses and the families who lived in them:

p. 29 “The Colthursts had arrived in Ireland from Yorkshire towards the end of Elizabeth I’s reign and settled in Cork. Christopher Colthurst was murdered by the rebels in 1641 near Macroom in County Cork. By the 1730s, they were High Sheriffs of County Cork, and in 1744 John Colthurst, who had married the daughter of the 1st Earl of Kerry, Lady Charlotte Fitzmaurice, was created a baronet. It would be uncharitable to suggest that it was his father-in-law’s influence that procured him this advancement. He was Member of Parliament for Doneraile from 1751 (and afterwards for Youghal and Castle Martyr). His son Sir John Colthurst, the 2nd Baronet, was killed in a duel with Dominick Trant in 1787 and the title passed to his brother (MP for Johnstown, Co Longford and then for Castle Martyr until 1795), who married Harriet, daughter of the Right Hon. David la Touche. Sir Nicholas Colthurst, the 4th Baronet, was the MP for the city of Cork from 1812-1829.

It was his son, Sir George Colthurst, the 5th Baronet, who married Louisa Jefferyes of Blarney Castle in 1846.” [8]

The 9th Baronet Colthurst, Richard La Touche Colthurst (1928-2003) married Janet Georgina Wilson Wright, from Coolcarrigan in County Kildare, another section 482 property [ ]. Their son is the current owner of Blarney Castle and House.

We headed for the coffee shop after our perusal of the Castle. In the yard they have beautiful barrell vaulted wagons, and in the cafe, lovely old travel advertisements.

Individual stables have been made into “snugs” for snacks.

The seventy acres of gardens offer various landscapes. The bawn contains a Poison Garden, or medicinal garden, where various medicinal plants are grown, including poisons such as wolfsbane, ricin, mandrake, opium and cannabis.

The bawn wall and poison garden.

The Rock Close is the garden that was developed by the Jefferyes in the 1750s and echoes Ireland’s ancient past with giant rock formations and hints of Druidic culture. Water running through adds to the beauty, with a lovely waterfall.

We were impressed by the bamboo maze.

My favourite area is the Fern Garden, which feels prehistoric and is extremely picturesque, with raised wooden walkways. We headed to Blarney House, which will be my next entry!

The Fern Garden, which includes lovely wooden walkways.

[1] p. 108. Ohlmeyer, Jane. Making Ireland English: The Irish Aristocracy in the 17th Century.

[2] See Ó Siochrú, Micheál’s entry in the Dictionary of Irish Biography:

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

[4] G.E. Cokayne; with Vicary Gibbs, H.A. Doubleday, Geoffrey H. White, Duncan Warrand and Lord Howard de Walden, editors, The Complete Peerage of England, Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain and the United Kingdom, Extant, Extinct or Dormant, new ed., 13 volumes in 14 (1910-1959; reprint in 6 volumes, Gloucester, U.K.: Alan Sutton Publishing, 2000), volume III, page 216. Quoted on the website The See also



[7] see the timeline in James Lyttelton’s Blarney Castle, An Irish Towerhouse.

[8] MacDonnell, Randal. The Lost Houses of Ireland. A chronicle of great houses and the families who lived in them. Weidenfeld and Nicolson. London, 2002.