Office of Public Works properties in Connaught, Counties Leitrim, Mayo, Roscommon and Sligo

My entry for all of the OPW sites in Connaught was too long, so since it is mainly about Portumna Castle in Galway, I have separated my Galway OPW entry from the other counties in Connaught.

Leitrim:

1. Parke’s Castle, County Leitrim

2. Sean MacDiarmada Cottage, County Leitrim

Mayo:

3. Ceide Fields, County Mayo

Roscommon:

4. Boyle Abbey, County Roscommon

5. Rathcroghan, County Roscommon

Sligo:

6. Ballymote Castle, County Sligo

7. Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery, County Sligo

8. Sligo Abbey, County Sligo

Leitrim:

1. Parkes Castle, Fivemilebourne, County Leitrim:

Parkes Castle, County Leitrim, August 2021.

General information: 071 916 4149, parkescastle@opw.ie

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

Parke’s Castle occupies a striking setting on the northern shores of Lough Gill in County Leitrim.

A restored castle of the early seventeenth century, it was once the home of English planter Robert Parke. There is evidence of an earlier structure on the site, a tower house once owned by Sir Brian O’Rourke, lord of West Breifne [The Kingdom of Breifne, or Breffny, was what is now Leitrim and parts of Cavan and other neighbouring counties]. O’Rourke, whom one English governor described as ‘the proudest man this day living on the earth’, resisted crown rule and fled Ireland, but ended up in the hands of Queen Elizabeth’s forces. He was thrown into the Tower of London, tried and finally hanged at Tyburn.

By the 11th century Breifne was ruled by the O’Rourke or Ua Rairc dynasty. Brian O’Rourke assumed the leadership of Breifne after assassinating his older brothers, apparently! His daughter Mary married The O’Conor Don, Hugh O’Conor (1540-1627) – for more on the O’Conor Don, see my entry about Clonalis, County Roscommon. Sir Brian O’Rourke was indicted in 1591 for sheltering Francisco de Cueller, an officer of the shipwrecked Armada in 1588, who later wrote about his time in Ireland.

The land was then given to Robert or Roger Parke. It passed to his son Robert (1585-1671).

The OPW website continues: “Tragedy struck in 1677, when two of Parke’s children drowned on the lake. The castle then fell into disrepair. Only in the late twentieth century was it restored, using traditional Irish oak and craftsmanship.

Robert Parke’s daughter Anne married Francis Gore of Ardtarmon, County Sligo, a brother of Arthur Gore, ancestor to the Earls of Arran.

Parkes Castle, which was also called Newtown Castle, County Leitrim, August 2021.

The OPW did a terrific job of renovation, as you can see from former photographs – look at 1926!

Parkes Castle, County Leitrim, August 2021.

Unfortunately although we visited during Heritage Week in 2021, the castle was closed due to Covid restrictions. We were able to enter the courtyard and courtyard buildings, and to wander around the castle, but did not get to go inside, which is normally open to the public.

The last member of the Parke family left the castle in 1691.

Parkes Castle, County Leitrim, August 2021.
Parkes Castle, County Leitrim, August 2021.
Parkes Castle, County Leitrim, August 2021.
Parkes Castle, County Leitrim, August 2021.
The Forge, Parkes Castle, County Leitrim, August 2021.
I loved this chart of shoes, for horses and also donkeys.
Stephen entering the Sweathouse, which may date back to the 12th century!
Stephen in the Sweathouse, which may date back to the 12th century!
This tunnel leads down to the water, for a quick escape.

2. Sean MacDiarmada Cottage, County Leitrim:

From the OPW website https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/sean-mac-diarmada-cottage/:

The homestead of the 1916 leader Seán Mac Diarmada in Kiltyclogher, County Leitrim is the jewel in the county’s historic crown.

The cottage is the only original existing homeplace of any of the seven signatories of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic. It offers an unparalleled insight into the origins of a key figure in one of the most explosive episodes of Irish history. It is also an authentic traditional Irish cottage and as such gives us a glimpse of what life was like for ordinary people a hundred years ago.

The cottage has been maintained in its original condition for decades. Regular tours allow visitors to experience the authentic atmosphere of this incredible historical resource.

Mayo:

3. Ceide Fields, Glenurla, Ballycastle, County Mayo:

Ceide Fields, photograph by Alison Crummy, 2015, for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. [1]

General Information: 096 43325, ceidefields@opw.ie

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

Beneath the wild boglands of north Mayo lies a system of fields, dwelling areas and megalithic tombs which together make up the most extensive Stone Age monument in the world.

The stone-walled fields, extending over hundreds of hectares, are the oldest known globally, dating back almost 6,000 years. They are covered by a natural blanket bog with its own unique vegetation and wildlife.

The award-winning visitor centre is set against some of the most dramatic rock formations in Ireland. A viewing platform on the edge of the 110-metre-high cliff will help you make the most of the breathtaking scenery. Come prepared with protective clothing and sturdy footwear, though. The terrain – and the weather – can be challenging.

Day break over the Visitors centre overlooking the Ceide Fields and the Atlantic Coast County Mayo Ireland, photo from Ireland’s Content Pool by Failte Ireland. [see 1]

Roscommon:

4. Boyle Abbey, County Roscommon:

Boyle Abbey, County Roscommon, August 2022.

General information: 071 966 2604, boyleabbey@opw.ie

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

This Cistercian monastery was founded in the twelfth century by monks from Mellifont Abbey under the patronage of the local ruling family, the MacDermotts. It was one of the most powerful of the early Cistercian foundations in Ireland and among the foremost in Connacht.

Cromwellian forces wreaked devastation when they occupied the abbey in 1659. It was further mutilated during the following centuries, when it was used to accommodate a military garrison. Despite all the violence it has suffered over the centuries, Boyle Abbey is well preserved and retains its ability to impress.

A sixteenth/seventeenth-century gatehouse has been restored and turned into an interpretive centre, where you can learn more about the abbey’s gripping history.

Boyle Abbey, County Roscommon, August 2022.
Boyle Abbey, County Roscommon, August 2022.

5. Rathcroghan, Cruachan Ai, Tulsk, Castlerea, County Roscommon:

General information: 071 963 9268, info@rathcroghan.ie

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

Tightly packed into a few square kilometres of the Roscommon landscape at Rathcroghan lie over 240 archaeological sites. These include Stone Age tombs and royal burial mounds, great ringforts and places of ceremonial inauguration.
The legendary Oweynagat (Cave of the Cats), for example, is regarded as the origin-place of the festival of Samhain. Fearful Christian scribes described Oweynagat as Ireland’s Gate to Hell.

A two-metre standing stone, meanwhile, is said to mark the grave of King Dathi, the last pagan king of Ireland, who died when he was struck by lightning in the Alps.

Perhaps most impressively, the great warrior Queen Medb ruled all of Connacht from her home at Rathcroghan.
Experience Rathcroghan’s rich archaeology, mythology and history through our interpretive rooms and expertly guided tours. The Rathcroghan Visitor Centre, the home of our museum, is located in the medieval village of Tulsk, Co. Roscommon.
(This is a Communities Involvement Initiative Project, supported by the OPW.)

We went to the Visitor Centre when in County Roscommon during Heritage week 2022, but did not go to the actual site.

I found the timeline in the Visitor’s Centre very helpful for seeing the age of various archaeological sites. Rathcroghan is mainly a bronze age site, and so is from around 1000BCE. Newgrange is Neothilic and therefore over 2000 years before the Bronze Age, created around 3200BCE.

It’s really interesting to see other events on the timeline in relation to archaeological sites in Ireland. Newgrange is older than the pyramids of Egypt which were built in the Chalcolithic age, and both pre-date the Bronze Age and Iron Age.
Before the Iron Age was the Bronze Age, which is where we can chronologically place much of Rathcroghan.
The Visitor Centre in Rathcroghan has some Bronze Age artefacts on loan from the National Museum of Ireland. We can even see a tiny arrow head older than the Bronze Age items, which is from the Neolithic period.
I find it incredible that this Bronze Age bowl, which could be as old as 4500 years, is still intact.

After the Bronze age came the Iron Age, which was around the year zero. The visitor centre has a model dressed in Iron age clothing:

He wears a yellow linen shirt, or leine dyed with saffron. Over this he wears a red tunic or ionar. The cape or brat is trimmed with fur. These Irish items of dress were worn for centuries. This man would have been a warrior of high rank. The sword would have been made of bronze in Ireland but imitates the steel sword of a type made in Grundlingen in Germany. The shield would be made of wood covered in leather with a metal handgrip.

The rath gives the place its name, while the area is called in Irish Cruachan Ai.

Sligo:

6. Ballymote Castle, County Sligo:

Ballymote Castle, County Sligo, August 2021.

The OPW information board at the site tells us that Ballymote, taken from an Irish word meaning “town of the mound,” was built by the Norman Richard de Burgo, the “Red Earl” of Ulster in around 1300. It was probably the strongest castle in Connacht, but was captured by the O’Connor family in 1317 and from then on it changed hands many times. In 1598 it was sold for £400 and 300 cows to Red Hugh O’Donnell (1572-1602) and it was from here that he assembled his army for the Battle of Kinsale (1601). He was beaten in this battle by Charles Blount, 8th Baron Mountjoy (who served as Lord Deputy of Ireland under Queen Elizabeth I and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland under James I), and he left for Spain to seek support from King Philip III, but died abroad in 1602.

Charles Blount (1563-1606), 8th Baron Mountjoy, photograph courtesy of National Gallery of Ireland.

Nearly 100 years later it was surrendered to Lord Granard after an artillery attack, and fell into ruin. The information board also tells us that the Book of Ballymote was partly compiled at the caste in around 1400. It is a manuscript including sections on the invasions of Ireland, the creation of the world and a study of the old Irish Ogham style of writing.

Runic writing on a deer antler from the 11th century! It was found in Fishamble Street, Dublin, and is kept in the National Museum of Ireland on Kildare Street in Dublin. See the key for the ogham alphabet below the antler.
Ballymote Castle, County Sligo, August 2021.

6. Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery, County Sligo:

General information: 071 916 1534, carrowmoretomb@opw.ie

From the OPW website https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/carrowmore-megalithic-cemetery/:

Carrowmore – the largest cemetery of megalithic tombs in Ireland. It lies just south-west of Sligo town, right at the heart of the Cúil Írra Peninsula, an area alive with prehistoric significance.

Packed together at Carrowmore are more than 30 stone tombs, many of which are still visible. Most are passage tombs and boulder circles. There are various forts and standing stones in the area too. The origins of these monuments reach far into prehistory – the most ancient among them is close to 6,000 years old.

A restored cottage houses an exciting new exhibition that will satisfy the curiosity of even the most demanding visitors. Come prepared for a hike across rugged terrain.

Tomb 4 and Listoghil, or number 51, in background.
Listoghil, or number 51, mirrors Ben Bulben mountain in the background. Stephen likes the way that if one stands and turns around 360 degrees, the mountains around Carrowmore seem to hold and enfold one.
The whole area around Carrowmore is called Cuil Irran, which includes Knocknarea, the huge pile of stones on top of a nearby mountain said to be Queen Maebh’s tomb, Carrowmore and Carns Hill.
Tomb 1, where the outer and inner circles remain intact.
Carrowmore megalithic cemetery, Co. Sligo, Photographer/Creator/ Rory O’Donnell for Fáilte Ireland, 2021.
Looking in to Listoghil.
Inside Listoghil.
Inside Listoghil.
Inside Listoghil.
Tomb 4, Stephen’s favourite.
Tomb 4, Stephen’s favourite.
Tomb 4, Stephen’s favourite.
Tomb 7, still on private land.

7. Sligo Abbey, Abbey Street, County Sligo:

Sligo Abbey, Sligo Town, photograph Courtesy Eddie Lee/Ed Lee Photography 2022 for Fáilte Ireland.

General information: 071 914 6406, sligoabbey@opw.ie

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

This Dominican friary has dominated Sligo town centre since the mid-thirteenth century, when it was created by Maurice FitzGerald, the founder of the town itself. Some of the building from that period has survived the next nine centuries of turmoil.

The abbey was partially destroyed by burning in 1414, when it fell foul of an unattended candle, and suffered further mutilation following the Rebellion of 1641. According to legend, worshippers salvaged the abbey’s silver bell at that time and threw it into Lough Gill. You can hear it peal even now – provided, that is, that you are wholly free from sin.

Despite the ravages of history, the abbey contains a great wealth of carvings, including Gothic and Renaissance tomb sculpture, a well-preserved cloister and a sculptured fifteenth-century high altar – the only such altar to survive in an Irish monastic church.

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

Office of Public Work sites in Munster: Counties Clare and Limerick

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

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

Clare:

1. Ennis Friary, County Clare

2. Scattery Island, County Clare

Limerick:

3. Askeaton Castle, County Limerick

4. Desmond Castle, Adare, County Limerick – currently closed

5. Desmond Banqueting Hall, Newcastlewest, County Limerick

6. Lough Gur, County Limerick

Clare:

1. Ennis Friary, Abbey Street, Ennis, County Clare:

Ennis Friary, photograph from Ireland’s Content Pool, Photograph by Eamon Ward 2020 for Failte Ireland. [1]

General Enquiries: 065 682 9100, ennisfriary@opw.ie

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

The O’Briens of Thomond, who once ruled much of north Munster, founded this medieval Franciscan friary. It grew quickly into a huge foundation, with 350 friars and a famed school of 600 pupils by 1375. It was the very last school of Catholic theology to survive the Reformation.

The building contains an exceptional wealth of fifteenth- and sixteenth-century sculptures carved in the local hard limestone, including one of St Francis himself displaying the stigmata. An arch between the nave and transept bears a remarkable image of Christ with his hands bound.

Don’t forget to visit the sacristy, an impressive structure with a ribbed, barrel-vaulted ceiling. Take especial note of the beautiful east window, with its five lancets, as it lights up the chancel.” [2]

Ennis Friary, photograph from Ireland’s Content Pool, Photograph by Eamon Ward 2020 for Failte Ireland. [see 1]

2. Scattery Island, County Clare:

Scattery Island, lies just off Kilrush, on the Shannon Estuary, in County Clare. It is the site of an early Christian settlement founded by St Senan, who built his monastery in the early sixth century. A short boat trip from Kilrush will take you to the island, where you can explore its multi-layered, 1,500-year history including its round tower and six ruined churches. Photograph from Ireland’s Content Pool, by Airswing Media for Failte Ireland. [see 1]

General Information: 087 995 8427, scatteryisland@opw.ie

From the OPW website https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/scattery-island-centre/:

Off the northern bank of the Shannon Estuary lies Scattery Island, the site of an early Christian settlement founded by an extraordinary man.

St Senan, who was born in the area, built his monastery in the early sixth century. It included a mighty round tower, which at 36 metres is one of the tallest in Ireland.

There are six ruined churches on the site too. The Church of the Hill stands on a high spot, the very place where, legend has it, an angel placed Senan so that he could find – and then banish – the terrible sea-monster called the Cathach. It is believed that Senan is buried beside another of the medieval churches.

Scattery was invaded many times over the centuries. The Vikings in particular believed that the monastery held many riches and returned several times to ravage it.

A short boat trip will take you to the island, where you can explore its multi-layered, 1,500-year history.

Limerick:

3. Askeaton Castle, County Limerick:

General information: 087 113 9670, askeatoncastle@opw.ie

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

“In the very heart of this County Limerick town stand the impressive remains of a medieval fortress. Askeaton Castle dates from 1199, when William de Burgo built it on a rock in the River Deel.

Over the centuries, the castle proved itself key to the history of Munster. It was the power base of the earls of Desmond after 1348. In 1579 it held out against the English general Sir Nicholas Malby, an incident that helped spark the second Desmond Rebellion.

The banqueting hall is one of the finest medieval secular buildings in Ireland. The tower is partly ruined, but some fine windows and an exquisite medieval fireplace have remained.

The early eighteenth-century building nearby was used as a Hellfire Club. These clubs were rumoured to be dens of excess in which wealthy gentlemen indulged in drink, mock ritual and other nefarious activities.

The Fitzgeralds, Earls of Desmond, held the castle for over 200 years and ruled Munster from it.

4. Desmond Castle, Adare, County Limerick:

General information: 061 396666, info@adareheritagecentre.ie

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

Desmond Castle Adare epitomises the medieval fortified castle in Ireland. It is strategically situated on the banks of the River Maigue, from where its lords could control any traffic heading to or from the Shannon Estuary.

The castle was built for strength and security. A formidable square keep forms its core; the keep stands within a walled ward surrounded by a moat.

Desmond Castle Adare changed hands several times before becoming a key bastion of the earls of Desmond in the sixteenth century. During the Second Desmond Rebellion, however, it fell to the English after a bloody siege. Cromwellian forces laid waste to the building in 1657, although restorers have since helped to recall its former glory.

Guided tours are now available for anyone who wants to walk in the footsteps of the FitzGeralds and experience their courageous spirit.

This castle belonged to the Earls of Kildare for nearly 300 years until the rebellion in 1536, when it was forfeited and granted to the Earls of Desmond who gave the castle its present name.

5. Desmond Banqueting Hall, Newcastlewest, County Limerick:

General information: 069 77408, desmondhall@opw.ie

Desmond Hall, north facade. Most of what we see today dates from the 15th century. The Desmond Hall consists of a two storey hall over a vault, with tower. It fell into disrepair and was renovated in the 19th century.

An inquisition of lands in 1298 describes the manor of Newcastle as containing the New Castle with buildings inside and outside the walls and the mill of Newcastle.

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

Many of Ireland’s surviving medieval halls are in west Limerick. The Desmond Banqueting Hall in Newcastle West is one of the most impressive among them.

It was begun in the thirteenth century by Thomas ‘the Ape’ FitzGerald, so named because of the story that an ape took him from his cradle to the top of Tralee Castle – and delivered him safely back again.

However, most of the spacious, imposing structure was created in the fifteenth century, at the height of the Desmond earls’ power, and used as a venue for frequent and lavish banquets.

The oak gallery, from which musicians would provide a raucous soundtrack for the revelry below, has been fully restored.

The prefix “Fitz” is taken from the Norman-French “fiz” son of. Early members of the family were known by their father’s name, ie. Fitzmaurice or Fitzthomas, but eventually the name settled to be Fitzgerald.

Desmond Hall, south facade.

The Fitzgeralds were Anglo-Norman and came to Ireland at the time of King Henry II in 1169. After the initial colonisation of Ireland in the southwest and east, the Fitzgeralds and some others pushed into the southwest, the information boards tell us.It was only after the death of Donal Mór Ó Brien, King of Thomond, in 1194 that the Fitzgeralds and other Normans took over most of Limerick. By 1215 they held the towns of Cork, Limerick and Waterford and had built a castle in Dungarvan.

An information board at Desmond Hall with a picture of what the Castle would have looked like in about 1450.

The surviving buildings are Desmond Hall and Halla Mór. This is possibly the site of the earliest castle foundations and remnants of the early walls are found underground today. The Desmond hall shows more than one phase of development. Embedded in the exterior of the south wall are vestiges of four early thirteenth century sandstone lancet windows. The fifteenth century development of the hall by the 7th Earl of Desmond introduced many changes including the addition of a projecting tower with small chambers and a stairwell to the Northwest corner.

The Desmond hall shows more than one phase of development. Embedded in the exterior of the south wall are vestiges of four early thirteenth century sandstone lancet windows.

The lower level of the banqueting hall has an excellent display of boards telling us more about the history of the Fitzgerald Earls of Desmond. An old fireplace is set in one wall, it seems to be from 1638.

The visitor centre lies in a building across the courtyard, and another building is being refurbished.

The visitor centre, behind the barn-style doors. This was a coach house and probably built in the time of the tenure by the Courtenay family after 1670s. It was in ruinous condition when it came into care of the state and has been renovated.
Information about the buildings at Newcastle West.
The lower level of the Desmond Hall.
The 1638 Kilmallock fireplace. It has been removed from its original location and placed here in the vaulted chamber.

The first claim to the land of Desmond was obtained by the Fitzgeralds when John Fitzthomas married the co-heiress Margery FitzAnthony and was granted in 1251 a share in her father’s lands described as “all the lands of Decies and Desmond and custody of the castle of Dungarvan.” This land was added to the Fitzgerald landholdings in Limerick and North Kerry. In 1292 King Edward I (d. 1307) granted Thomas Fitzmorice (Fitzgerald) and his wife Margaret Berkeley, who was a cousin of the king, “joint custody of Decies and Desmond.” It’s interesting that the wife was given joint custody, and that daughters could be heirs, which as we know was not always the case.

A leaflet from the castle tells us that by 1298, a strong stone castle stood overlooking the Arra River in Newcastle West. Curtain walls with defensive towers surrounding the main buildings, a variety of simple thatched houses and byres for cattle as well as fishponds. The Normans immediately began to consolidate their position by negotiating with the local Gaelic families, while driving the poorer Gaelic peasants into the mountains. By the time of Maurice Fitzthomas Fitzgerald (abt. 1293-1356), the O’Briens to the north had become firm allies of the Fitzgeralds. In 1329, Maurice was created 1st Earl of Desmond, the term “Desmond” being derived from the Irish Deas mnumhain meaning south Munster. By this time the Fitzgeralds were using the Irish language in their daily lives and had taken on many of the values and habits of the Irish culture.

Information board about the Desmonds in the fourteenth century.

The 1st Earl plotted against the King of England, and allied himself with the Gaelic lords. They pillaged many settlements in the south of Ireland. He is said to have written to the Pope to say that King Edward III of England had no right to the lordship of Ireland. It is also claimed that he wrote to the kings of France and Scotland to form an alliance. During a campaign against him he lost his castles at Askeaton and Castleisland. However, the King pardoned him and made him Chief Justiciar of Ireland in 1355.

Gearóid Iarla (c. 1338-1398) became the 3rd Earl of Desmond in 1356. He was an expert mathematician and apparently, the leaflet tells us, a magician! He was also a poet and introduced the idea of courtly love into Gaelic poetry. He also served as Justiciar. He married Alianore, or Eleanor, Butler, daughter of James 2nd Earl of Ormond.

Information board and the Desmonds versus the Ormonds.

Despite the marriage alliance between the Desmonds and the Ormonds, they still battled. A fifteen day conference at Clonmel in 1384 led to a treaty between the families.

Thomas the 8th Earl of Desmond (c. 1426-1468) was made Lord Deputy of Ireland 1464-67. During his time the Desmonds fought again with the Ormonds, including during the War of the Roses when they took opposing sides. The Ormonds supported the victorious Lancasters.

The 8th Earl was however thought to side with the Irish still and was executed by the next Lord Deputy.

The information boards give us more history about Desmond family. The Earls of Desmond fell out of favour after the 8th Earl was executed in 1468.

After the execution of the 8th Earl of Desmond in 1468, the later Earls withdrew from contact with England. The leaflet from the site tells us that the arrival of new settlers in Munster as well as Catholic mistrust of the Protestant state set off risings by the Earls in 1567-73 and 1579-83. Earl Gerald (15th Earl) was declared an outlaw and Munster was laid waste by Crown forces. The rebellion was a failure and Gerald was captured and killed during a cattle raid. The Desmond lands were taken and distributed to English settlers.

This takes us up to the fifteenth century and the time when the Hall would have been used, as we see it today. The information board tells us that the Hall was where the Lord held court, and that this has two meanings: it was the court of judgement as well as the court of entertainment and dining.

Information board about Halls in Irish castles.
James Fitzgerald the 7th Earl of Desmond is credited with making extensive repairs to the castle complex between 1440 and 1460, including converting what was probably the 13th century chapel into the large and elaborate banqueting hall we see today.

The Banqueting Hall was restored in the early 19th century, the ruined battlements were taken down and a new pitch pine roof was put on. The original hooded stone fireplace had collapsed and a seventeenth century replacement, the one we now see in the lower vault, was installed, taken from a house in Kilmallock. The Banqueting Hall was used as a Masonic lodge and later as a general purpose hall for the community.

The leaflet tells us that when the 17th century fireplace was taken down for repair and cleaning, enough of the original hooded fireplace remained that it could be reconstructed with reasonable accuracy.

There was evidence for a timber screen at the west end of the hall, and this has been replaced by a musician’s gallery made of oak.

The restored oak gallery.

I was surprised to hear that the windows facing the village would have had glass in the fifteenth century. The other side, away from public view, would not have had this expensive luxury.

The Lord would have sat on a raised stage, for viewing and to look impressive.
These are the sorts of eating vessels that would have been used, our guided told us. I love the little decorative head on the jug.
The Halla Mór.
Information board about the Halla Mór.

The later history of Desmond Hall is after the lands of Gerald the 15th Earl of Desmond were seized.

After the Earls of Desmond has lost their land, it was given to some prominent and wealthy Englishmen who would develop the Munster Plantation. These men, called “Undertakers,” would undertake to establish English families on the land they were given. Sir William Courtenay (or Courtney) (1553-1630), 3rd Earl of Devon, was granted 10,000 acres at Newcastle. He was originally from Devon in England, and he was given land on condition that eighty English colonists would be housed on his property.

Newcastle passed to William Courtenay’s son George Courtenay (d. 1644), who in 1621 became 1st Baronet Courtenay of Newcastle, County Limerick. The sign boards tell us that in 1641 English settlers crowded into the protection of the walled castle, but after a long seige it fell to General Purcell of the Confederate forces. The Confederates where an amalgamation of Gaelic Ulster families and Anglo-Norman families who were dissatisfied with assurances given to them by King Charles I about their freedom to practice their Catholic faither, and they feared the militant intolerance of the English Parliament.

The Courteney’s built an mansion to replace the destroyed castle. George’s son Francis inherited, but as he had no offspring, Newcastle passed to his cousin, William Courtenay (1628-1702) 5th Earl of Devon and 1st Baronet Courtenay. The property remained in the family but they did not live there, and finally it was sold in 1910.

In 1777 William 2nd Viscount Courtenay (1742-1788) built a Church of Ireland church between the Banqueting Hall and the main square of the town. It was demolished in 1962 as it had fallen into disrepair. The 2nd Viscount was 8th Earl of Devon and 4th Baronet Courtenay.

In 1922 the main building, then known as Devon Castle, burnt, and was replaced by a house nearby. The Desmond Hall was sold to the Nash family, and finally the Land Commisson took over the land. Desmond Hall was used for town social events and the Halla Mór as a cinema. The Hall became a National Monument in 1981. Restoration began in 1989.

6. Lough Gur, County Limerick:

Lough Gur, photograph from Ireland’s Content pool, by Ken Williams 2021 for Failte Ireland. [see 1]

The Irish Homes and Gardens website tells us that Ireland’s first settlers arrived around 8000BC. The introduction of farming in 4000BC saw a move to a more settled lifestyle and the building of farmsteads, with both circular and rectangular house styles being used. The first rectangular house and the largest concentration of Neolithic structures were found in Lough Gur dating back to 3500BC.

Although none of these houses remain, the lasting legacy from this period on the Irish landscape is the megalithic tomb: the Dolmen or Portal tomb with its huge capstone or lintel, balanced on smaller stones and the Passage tombs, with their dry-stone passages leading to corbelled ceilings (circular layers of flattish stones closed with a single stone at the top). [ https://www.irishhomesandgardens.ie/irish-architecture-history-part-1/ ]

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

Lough Gur is a site of international significance due to the area’s rich archaeology and environment. It is home to Ireland’s oldest and largest stone circle and the only natural lake of significance in South East Limerick. Lough Gur also has an abundance of ancient monuments in State care with a reported 2,000 archaeological monuments in a 5km radius. Visitors to Lough Gur Lakeshore Park will find a hillside visitor centre where you can take part in a guided or self guided tour of the exhibition. There is also an option to take a full outdoor guided tour of the archaeological monuments. Tours are tailor made and can range from 30 minutes to 3 hours. The Lakeshore Park and tours are run by Lough Gur Development Group.

Lough Gur Visitor Centre, photograph from Ireland’s Content pool, by Keith Wiseman 2013 for Failte Ireland. [see 1]
Lough Gur Visitor Centre, photograph from Ireland’s Content pool, by Keith Wiseman 2013 for Failte Ireland. [see 1]

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

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

Office of Public Works Properties: Ulster

The province contains counties Antrim, Armagh, Cavan, Donegal, Down, Fermanagh, Derry, Monaghan and Tyrone. Since the OPW operates in the Republic of Ireland, the Ulster counties in the OPW are Cavan, Donegal and Monaghan. Only Donegal contains OPW properties, and so far, I have only visited one of them.

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

Donegal:

1. Doe Castle, County Donegal – grounds only open.

2. Donegal Castle, County Donegal

3. Glebe Art Museum, County Donegal

4. Newmills Corn and Flax Mills, County Donegal – site closed at present

A Castle which seems to be maintained by the National Parks service is Glenveagh Castle, which is also open to the public. See my write-up in my entry https://irishhistorichouses.com/2022/03/27/places-to-visit-and-stay-in-ulster-counties-armagh-cavan-derry-donegal-and-down/

Donegal:

1. Doe Castle, County Donegal:

Doe Castle, Donegal, photograph from Ireland’s Content Pool, photograph by Gardiner Mitchell, 2014, for Tourism Ireland. [1]

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

Nestled in an inlet of Sheephaven Bay in County Donegal, skirting the wild waters of the Atlantic, stands Doe Castle – the medieval stronghold of the MacSweeneys.

The fortress was built in the 1420s. For almost 200 years it served as home, refuge and bastion for at least 13 MacSweeney chiefs – some of whom were party and witness to the most seismic events of Irish history.

For example, MacSweeney chief Eoghan Og II gave shelter to survivors of the 1588 Spanish Armada fleet at Doe. The last chief of the castle, Maolmhuire an Bhata Bhui, marched out with Red Hugh O’Donnell, lord of Tyrconnell, to the Battle of Kinsale in 1601.

An exquisite carved and ornamented Mac Sweeney grave-slab, dating from 1544, is on show inside the tower house. Display panels onsite chronicle the castle’s history in fascinating detail.” [2]

Doe Castle, Donegal, photograph from Ireland’s Content Pool, photograph by Chris Hill, 2017, for Tourism Ireland.

The MacSweeneys were originally Gallowglasses or mercenaries, from Scotland. The castle tower is believed to have been built in the 1420s; the bawn walls and two storey hall beside the tower in the 1620s. In the 1790s, the castle came into the possession of Retired General, George Vaughan Hart, who raised the bawn walls and built the new entrance beside the tower where his initials can still be seen. Doe was later purchased by a neighbouring landlord, Stewart of Ards, and was occupied until the 1890s. It came under government control in the 1930s. The deeply carved and highly ornamented Mac Sweeney grave-slab from the nearby Ballymacsweeney graveyard, now inside the tower house, dates  from 1544. [3]

In 1761 the Court of Chancery confirmed George Vaughan of Buncrana to be the owner of Doe Castle. Towards the end of the 18th century General George Vaughan Hart (grandson of George Vaughan) acquired the castle and began to renovate it. He repaired the bawn wall and placed on the seaward section a number of cannon captured at Seringapatam, India. He erected a ground floor annex and a staircase against the southern wall of the keep and altered the interior of the keep by inserting arched recesses and fireplaces. The barbican across the trench at the western entrance is a nineteenth century Hart addition.

I found in the Dictionary of National Biography a George Vaughan Hart (1752-1832) who was fifth in descent from General Henry Hart, military governor of Londonderry and Culmore forts in the seventeenth century. He fought in the American War, West Indies and India. He represented Donegal county in parliament from 23 October 1812 till the dissolution of 1831. Hart died at his seat at Kilderry, Donegal, 14 June 1832. He married Charlotte, daughter of John Ellerker of Ellerker, in 1792, and by her had five sons and three daughters. [4]

General Hart’s descendants owned Doe Castle until 1864 when William Edward Hart sold Doe Castle in the Landed Estate Courts and the Stewart family of nearby Ards purchased it. From then on Doe Castle was rented to tenants. In 1932 Doe Castle was sold to the Irish Land Commission and is now a National Monument.

2. Donegal Castle, County Donegal:

Donegal Castle, Feb 2014.

General Enquiries: 074 972 2405, donegalcastle@opw.ie

The OPW website states:

In the very heart of the county town, towering over the River Eske, stands Donegal Castle. Red Hugh O’Donnell [Lord of Tyrconnell, died in 1602] himself built it as his personal fortress in the fifteenth century. It is said that, leaving to seek succour in Spain in the wake of the Battle of Kinsale [in the Flight of the Earls], Hugh determined to make sure his castle would never ever fall into English hands – by setting it on fire.

But he was to be disappointed. English captain Sir Basil Brooke became the castle’s new lord in 1616. As part of a massive programme of improvements, Brooke built a handsome manor house beside the tower. He also commissioned the magnificent chimney-piece, finely decorated with carved fruit and his own imperious coat of arms.

The building complex fell into ruin in the twentieth century, but was brought back to its former glory in the 1990s. Currently, a suite of information panels illuminates the chequered history of the castle and its disparate owners.

Donegal Castle, Feb 2014.
In Donegal Castle grounds, Feb 2014.
Donegal Castle, Feb 2014.
Donegal Castle, Feb 2014.
Donegal Castle, Feb 2014.

The Brooke family had the castle until the 1670s, when they moved to Brookeborough, County Fermanagh, and sold it to the Gore family, who later became Earl of Arran. In 1898 the 5th Earl of Arran gave it to the state, and the OPW has partially restored it.

Donegal Castle, Feb 2014.
Photograph from the National Library of Ireland, Donegal Castle fireplace 1895. The fireplace was installed by Basil Brooke and contains his coat of arms.
Stephen in Donegal Castle 2014.
In Donegal Castle, Feb 2014.
In Donegal Castle, Feb 2014.

3. Glebe Art Museum, Churchill, Letterkenny, County Donegal:

Grounds open : Daily 11:00 – 18:30.

Glebe House and Gallery open 16- 24 April, 28 May – 06 November 2022

General Enquiry: (074) 913 7071

glebegallery@opw.ie

From the OPW website: https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/glebe-house-and-gallery/

This elegant Regency house, dating from 1828, is set in woodland gardens near the town of Letterkenny in County Donegal. The celebrated painter Derek Hill lived and worked here from the 1950s until the 1980s, when he presented the house to the Irish state – along with an extraordinary collection of art.

Hill was a man of exquisite taste. The house itself, is as he left it – beautifully decorated with William Morris textiles and furniture of oriental design. His collection includes hundreds of works by some of the leading lights of the art world, such as Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Louis le Brocquy and Auguste Renoir. There are also choice pieces from further afield, including Japan and the Islamic world.

Hill’s studio, which adjoins the house, has been transformed into a modern and stylish gallery, which now plays host to changing exhibitions.

The Glebe House was originally known as St. Columb’s. The OPW website tells us:

It was built in the Regency style in 1828 as the rectory to St Columba’s (Church of Ireland), Churchill, in the Parish of Gartan. The first Rector lived in the house for less than three years to be succeeded, in 1831, by the Rev. Henry Maturin.

In 1861, Reverend Maturin was closely involved in the event that brought the names of Gartan and Church Hill to national prominence. John George Adair, owner of the Glenveagh Estate, believed that his tenants were stealing his sheep, had killed his steward, John Murray, and were even threatening his own life. Consequently, he was determined to evict them. Maturin acted as mediator and joined with Father Kerr, the Catholic Parish Priest, in sending an open letter to Adair appealing for clemency for the tenants. Their appeal fell on deaf ears and in April 1861, 244 people from 46 families were evicted. For his ecumenical action Reverend Maturin was censured by the Dublin Protestant press.

Reverend Maturin died in 1880. Following this, the Glebe, now too large and expensive for the Church to keep up, was leased to tenants for some years before eventually being sold. After renovations, it opened in 1898 as St Columb’s Hotel, taking guests for the salmon and trout fishing in spring and summer and for the shooting in the autumn. Apart from the years 1916-1922, when the hotel was taken over for a short while by the IRA and later by the Royal Irish Constabulary, the hotel was open every year until the death of its Owner, Mrs Kitty Johnstone in 1950. It was then run by her daughter until it was acquired by Derek Hill.” [5]

4. Newmills Corn and Flax Mills, Churchill Road, Letterkenny, County Donegal:

Newmills Corn and Flax Mills, County Donegal, April 2022. Unfortunately when I visited the Mills were closed – as I am afraid I am finding every OPW property I visit! Would a complaint do any good, to make them open, since after all, they belong to the Irish people, and no other business is still enforcing Covid restrictions?

General Enquiries: 074 912 5115, newmills@opw.ie

From the OPW website:

Take a short trip out of Letterkenny for a first-hand look at the technology that powered the Industrial Revolution.

The oldest surviving building at Newmills is 400 years old and there have been mills at Newmills since the early nineteenth century. In Victorian times a flax mill lay at the core of the complex, providing crucial supplies to the linen industry, the backbone of Ulster’s economy at the time. A corn mill ground barley, oats and imported maize.

Newmills steadily expanded to include a public house, a scutcher’s cottage and a forge. By the early 1900s Newmills was also exporting food – the earliest supplies of butter, bacon and eggs for Sir Thomas Lipton’s nascent grocery empire in Glasgow came from there.

The waterwheel that drove the corn mill can still be seen in action. It is one of the largest working waterwheels in the country.

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

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

[3] http://www.heritageireland.ie/en/north-west/doecastle/

[4] https://www.buildingsofireland.ie/buildings-search/building/40821009/kilderry-house-ardmore-muff-donegal

[5] https://glebegallery.ie/glebe-house/

Huntington Castle, County Carlow

In the past, in August 2016, I visited Huntington Castle in Clonegal, County Carlow.

Contact person: Alexander Durdin Robertson,
Tel: 086-0282266
www.huntingtoncastle.com
Open dates in 2022: Feb 5-6, 12-13, 19-20, 26-27, Mar 5-6, 12-13, 19-20, 26-27, Apr 2-3, 9-10,16- -18, 23-24, May 1-31, June 1-30, July 1-31, Aug 1-31, Sept 1-30, Oct 1-2, 8-9, 15-16, 22-31, Nov 5-6, 12-13, 19-20, 26-27, Dec 3-4, 10-11, 17-18, 11am-5pm
Fee: house/garden, adult €12, garden €6, OAP/student, house/garden €10, garden €5, child house/garden €6, garden €3, group and family discounts available

Huntington Castle, County Carlow, 2016.

It’s magical! And note that you can stay at this castle – see their website! [1]

Huntington Castle stands in the valley of the River Derry, a tributary of the River Slaney, on the borders of Counties Carlow and Wexford, near the village of Clonegal. Built in 1625, it is the ancient seat of the Esmonde family, and is presently lived in by the Durdin-Robertsons. It passed into the Durdin family from the Esmonde family by marriage in the nineteenth century, so actually still belongs to the original family. It was built as a garrison on the strategically important Dublin-Wexford route, on the site of a 14th century stronghold and abbey, to protect a pass in the Blackstairs Mountains. After fifty years, the soldiers moved out and the family began to convert it into a family home. [2]

The fourteenth century abbey at Huntington Castle.

A History of the house and its residents

The castle website tells us that the Esmondes (note that I have found the name spelled as both ‘Esmond’ and ‘Edmonde’) moved to Ireland in 1192 and were involved in building other castles such as Duncannon Fort in Wexford and Johnstown Castle in Wexford (see my entry for places to visit in County Wexford). Laurence Esmonde (about 1570-1646) was a convert to Anglicanism and served in the armies of British Queen Elizabeth I and then James I. He fought in the Dutch Wars against Spain, and later, in 1599, he commanded 150 foot soldiers in the Nine Years War, the battle led by an Irish alliance led mainly by Hugh O’Neill and Tyrconnell (Hugh Roe O’Donnell) against the British rule in Ireland. In reward for his services, he was raised to the peerage in 1622 as Baron of Limerick (I was confused about this, but there is a Limerick, or Limbrick, in County Wexford, and it is now called Killinierin), and it seems that a few years after receiving this honour he built the core of the present Huntington Castle: a three-storey fortified tower house, which forms the front facing down the avenue, according to Mark Bence-Jones in A Guide to Irish Country Houses. [3]

Huntington Castle, Clonegal, County Carlow, the view when one enters the courtyard from the avenue. There is an irregular two storey range with castellated battlements and a curved bow and battlemented gable, and the earlier building, the fortress, rises above them.
photograph by Kevin Loftus, 2017, Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool [4].

This original tower-house is made of rough-hewn granite. The first alterations and additions to that core were made around 1680 by the grandson of Laurence, also a Sir Laurence Esmonde. In her discussion of marriage in Making Ireland English, Jane Ohlmeyer writes that for the Irish, legitimacy of children didn’t determine inheritance, and so attitudes toward marriage, including cohabitation and desertion, were very different than in England. She writes that the first Baron Esmonde behaved in a way reminiscent of medieval Gaelic practices when he repudiated his first wife and remarried without a formal divorce. Laurence met Ailish, the sister of Morrough O’Flaherty (note that Turtle Bunbury tells us that she was a granddaughter of the pirate queen Grace O’Malley!) on one of his expeditions to Ulster, and married her. However, after the birth of their son, Thomas, she returned to her family, fearing that her son would be raised as a Protestant. Esmonde went on to marry Elizabeth Butler, a granddaughter of the ninth earl of Ormond (daughter of Walter Butler, and she was already twice widowed). He had no children by his second marriage and despite acknowledging Thomas to be his son, he did not admit that his first marriage was lawful and consequently had no official heir and his title Baron of Limerick became extinct after his death. Although his son did not inherit his title, he did inherit his property. [5] Baron Esmonde governed the fort of Duncannon from 1606-1646 when he died after a siege of the fort by General Thomas Preston, 1st Viscount Tara, of the Confederates, who considered Esmonde a defender of the Parliamentarians (i.e. Oliver Cromwell’s men, the “roundheads”). [6]

The bow was probably added by the descendent Manning Durdin-Robertson.
Huntington Castle, photograph by Daniel O’Connor, 2021 for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. (see [4])

Thomas Esmonde did not inherit his father’s title but was himself awarded a Baronetcy, and became Baronet Esmonde in 1629. He married well, and twice: first to a daughter of the Lord of Decies, and second to a daughter of the 11th Earl of Ormond.

It was the 2nd Baronet, Laurence, who made the first additions to Huntington Castle around 1680, and who named it “Huntington” after the Esmonde’s “ancestral pile” in England [7]. A wing was constructed by the latter’s grandson (yet another Sir Laurence, 4th Baronet) around forty years later in 1720. The castle, as you can see, is very higgeldy piggedly, reflecting the history of its additions. The 4th Baronet had no heir so his brother John became the 5th Baronet. He had a daughter, Helen, who married Richard Durdin of Shanagarry, County Cork. The went out to the United States and founded Huntington, Pennsylvania. He had no sons, and died before his brother, Walter, who became the 6th Baronet. Walter had no sons, only daughters.

Brendan O’Neill tells us in his book Irish Castles and Historic Houses that the property was inherited by Alexander Durdin (1821-1892) in 1849, whose grand-uncle had married the two daughters and co-heirs of Baronets Esmonde, as his two successive wives. This is how the house passed from Esmondes to Durdins. [8]

According to the Irish Historic Houses website, the Durdin family were long established in County Cork, where they had acquired the estates of William Penn (founder of Pennsylvania) [see 2]. In 1880, Helen, the Durdin heiress who inherited the castle, married Herbert Robertson, Baron Strathloch (a Scots feudal barony) and MP for a London borough. Together they made a number of late Victorian additions at the rear of the castle while their professional architect son, Manning Durdin-Robertson, an early devotee of concrete, carried out yet further alterations in the 1920s.

Manning Durdin-Robertson married Nora Kathleen Parsons, from Birr Castle. She wrote The Crowned Harp. Memories of the Last Years of the Crown in Ireland, an important memorial of the last years of English rule in Ireland [9]. I ordered a copy of the book from my local library! It’s a lovely book and an enjoyable rather “chatty” read. She writes a bit about her heritage, which you can see in my entry on another section 482 castle, Birr Castle. She tells us about life at the time, which seems to have been very sociable! She writes a great description of social rank:

The hierarchy of Irish social order was not defined, it did not need to be, it was deeply implicit. In England the nobility were fewer and markedly more important than over here and they were seated in the mansions considered appropriate….
The top social rows were then too well-known and accepted to be written down but, because a new generation may be interested and amused, I will have a shot at defining an order so unreal and preposterous as to be like theatricals in fancy dress. Although breeding was essential it still had to be buttressed by money.

Row A: peers who were Lord or Deputy Lieutenants, High Sheriffs and Knights of St. Patrick. If married adequately their entrenchment was secure and their sons joined the Guards, the 10th Hussars or the R.N. [Royal Navy, I assume]
Row B: Other peers with smaller seats, ditto baronets, solvent country gentry and young sons of Row A, (sons Green Jackets, Highland regiments, certain cavalry, gunners and R.N.).
Row A used them for marrying their younger children.
Row C: Less solvent country gentry, who could only allow their sons about £100 a year. These joined the Irish Regiments which were cheap; or transferred to the Indian army. They were recognised and respected by A and B and belonged to the Kildare Street Club.
Row D: Loyal professional people, gentlemen professional farmers, trade, large retail or small wholesale, they could often afford more expensive Regiments than Row C managed. Such rarely cohabited with Rows A and B but formed useful cannon fodder at Protestant Bazaars and could, if they were really liked, achieve Kildare Street.

Absurd and irritating as it may seem today, this social hierarchy dominated our acceptances.

I had the benefit of always meeting a social cross section by playing a good deal of match tennis…. The top Rows rarely joined clubs and their play suffered….There were perhaps a dozen (also very loyal) Roman Catholic families who qualified for the first two Rows; many more, equally loyal but less distinguished, moved freely with the last two.

Amongst these “Row A” Roman Catholics were the Kenmares, living in a long gracious house at Killarney. Like Bantry House, in an equally lovely situation.

photograph by Chris Hill, 2015, Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool (see [4])

We were not allowed to take photos inside, except for in the basement, but you can see some pictures on the official website [1] and also on the wonderful blog of the Irish Aesthete [10].

There were wonderful old treasures in the house including armour chest protections in the hallway along the stairs, which was one of the first things to catch my attention as we entered. We went up a narrow stairway linked as Bence-Jones describes “with wainscot or half-timbered studding.”

There are some noteable structures inside the building, as Robert O’Byrne notes. “The drawing room has 18th century classical plaster panelled walls beneath a 19th century Perpendicular-Gothic ceiling. Some passages on the ground floor retain their original oak panelling, a number of bedrooms above being panelled in painted pine. The dining room has an immense granite chimneypiece bearing the date 1625, while those in other rooms are clearly from a century later.” [10]

photograph by Chris Hill, 2015, Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool (see [4])

Another drawing room is hung with tapestry, which would have kept the residents a bit warmer in winter. There are beautiful stuccoed ceilings, which you can see on the website.

The Tapestry Room, Huntington Castle, photograph courtesy of Huntington Castle website.

O’Neill adds that Huntington was one of the first country houses in Ireland to have electricity, and in order to satisfy local interest a light was kept burning on the front lawn so that the curious could come up and inspect it.

I loved the light and plant filled conservatory area, with a childlike drawing on one wall. The glass ceiling is draped in grape vines.

Huntington Castle, photograph courtesy of Huntington Castle website.

We were allowed to take photos in the basement, which used to house dungeons, and now holds the “Temple of Isis.” It also contains a well, which was the reason the castle was situated on this spot. In the 1970s two of the four children of Manning Durdin-Robertson, the writer and mystic Olivia Durdin-Robertson, who was a friend of W.B. Yeats and A.E. Moore, and her brother Laurence (nicknamed Derry), and his wife Bobby, converted the undercroft into a temple to the Egyptian Goddess Isis, founding a new religion. In 1976 the temple became the foundation centre for the Fellowship of Isis [11]. I love the notion of a religion that celebrates the earthy aspects of womanhood, and I purchased a copy of Olivia Durdin-Robertson’s book in the coffee shop. The religion takes symbols from Egyptian religion, as you can see in my photos of this marvellous space:

Temple of Isis in Huntington Castle.
Our tour guide.
DSC_1394
There is a well here.

Turtle Bunbury has a video of the Fellowship of Isis on his website [7]! You can get a flavour of what their rituals were like initially. Perhaps they are similar today. The religion celebrates the Divine Feminine.

After a tour of the castle, we then went to the back garden. According to its website,

The Gardens were mainly laid out in the 1680’s by the Esmondes. They feature impressive formal plantings and layouts including the Italian style ‘Parterre’ or formal gardens, as well the French lime Avenue (planted in 1680). The world famous yew walk is a significant feature which is thought to date to over 500 years old and should not be missed.

Later plantings resulted in Huntington gaining a number of Champion trees including more than ten National Champions. The gardens also feature early water features such as stew ponds and an ornamental lake as well as plenty to see in the greenhouse and lots of unusual and exotic plants and shrubs.

photograph by Chris Hill, 2015, Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool (see [4])
photograph by Chris Hill, 2015, Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool (see [4])

The Irish Aesthete also discusses this garden in another blog entry [12]. He tells us that the yew walk, which stretches 130 yards, dates from the time of the Franciscan friary in the Middle Ages! The “stew ponds” would have held fish that could be caught for dinner.

500 year old yew walk.
DSC_1369
photograph by Chris Hill, 2015, Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool (see [4])

After the garden, we needed a rest in the Cafe.

I loved the arrangement of plates on the walls of the cafe!

I was also thrilled by the hens who roamed the yard and even tried to enter the cafe:

There is space next to the cafe that can be rented out for events:

A few plants were for sale in the yard. A shop off the cafe sells local made craft, pottery, and books. The stables and farmyard buildings are kept in good condition and buzzed with with the business of upkeep of the house and gardens.

what is this tall flower?

[1] https://www.huntingtoncastle.com/

[2] The website http://www.ihh.ie/index.cfm/houses/house/name/Huntington%20Castle says it was built on the site of a 14th century stronghold and abbey, whereas the Irish Aesthete says it was built on the site of a 13th century Franciscan monastery.

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

[5] p. 171, Ohlmeyer, Jane. Making Ireland English. The Irish Aristocracy in the Seventeenth Century. Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2012. See also pages 43, 273, 444 and 451.

[6] Dunlop, Robert. ‘Edmonde, Laurence.’ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online edition volume 18, accessed February 2020. https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Esmonde,_Laurence_(DNB00)

[7] http://www.turtlebunbury.com/history/history_houses/hist_hse_huntington.html

[8] The line of inheritance looks very convoluted. I have consulted Burke’s Peerage. John Durdin migrated from England to Cork in around 1639. His descendant Alexander Durdin, born in 1712, of Shanagarry, County Cork, married four times! His second wife, Mary Duncan of Kilmoon House, County Meath, died shortly after giving birth to her son Richard, born in 1747. Richard married Helen Esmonde, daughter of the 4th Baronet, according to Burke’s Peerage. Their son Alexander predeceased his father. Richard then married Frances Esmonde, daughter of the 7th Baronet.

The Alexander who married four times then married Anne née Vaux, widow of the grandson of William Penn the founder of Pennsylvania. Finally, he married Barbara St. Leger, with whom he had seven more sons and several daughters. It would seem that Richard (b. 1747) who married the two daughters of Baronets Esmonde, inherited Huntington Castle. However, he had no children so the estate seems to have passed to a brother, William Leader Durdin (1778-1849). He married Mary Anne Drury of Ballinderry, County Wicklow. Their son Alexander (1821-1892) inherited Huntington. It was his daughter Helen who inherited Huntington, and married Herbert Robertson.

[9] Robertson, Nora. The Crowned Harp. Memories of the Last Years of the Crown in Ireland. published by Allen Figgis & Co. Ltd., Dublin, 1960.

[10] https://theirishaesthete.com/2017/01/23/huntington/

[11] http://www.fellowshipofisis.com/

[12] https://theirishaesthete.com/2016/11/14/light-and-shade/

Irish Historic Homes