OPW sites in Munster: Clare, Limerick and Tipperary

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 Castle, Newcastlewest, County Limerick – castle closed at present, can see outside

6. Lough Gur, County Limerick

Tipperary:

7. Cahir Castle, County Tipperary

8. Famine Warhouse 1848, County Tipperary

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

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

11. Nenagh Castle, County Tipperary

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

13. Rock of Cashel, County Tipperary

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

15. Swiss Cottage, County Tipperary

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:

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:

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:

“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:

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 Castle, Newcastlewest, County Limerick:

General information: 069 77408, desmondhall@opw.ie

From the OPW website:

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.

A castle was built here in the 13th century by the Fitzgeralds, Earls of Desmond. The present structure dates to the 15th century.

6. Lough Gur, County Limerick:

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

From the OPW website:

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]

Tipperary:

7. Cahir Castle, County Tipperary:

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

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

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

From the OPW website:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In their book The Tipperary Gentry, William Hayes and Art Kavanagh tell us that the rivalry between the Butlers of Ormond and the Fitzgeralds of Desmond turned to enmity when the War of the Roses broke out in England, with the Ormonds supporting the House of Lancaster and the Desmonds the House of York. The enmity found expression in the battle at Pilltown in 1462. The enmity continued for over a century, and the last private battle between the Ormonds and the Desmonds was the Battle of Affane, County Waterford, in 1565. [3]

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

The brother of Thomas 1st Baron Caher, Piers Butler (d. after February 1567/68) had a son Theobald who was then created 1st Baron Caher [Ireland, of the 3rd creation] on 6 May 1583. (see The Peerage website [4])

It was Piers Rua Butler, the 8th Earl of Ormond (c. 1467 – 1539), who brought peace between the warring factions of Fitzgeralds of Desmond and the Butlers of Ormond. He married Margaret Fitzgerald, daughter of Gerald (or Garret) Fitzgerald (1455-1513) 8th Earl of Kildare. His efforts culminated in a treaty called the Composition of Clonmel. It stated that Edmund Butler of Cahir should receive the manor of Cahir on condition that he and all his heirs “shall be in all things faithful to the Earl [of Ormond] and his heirs.” The Barons of Cahir were not allowed to keep their own private army nor to exact forced labour for the building or repair of their castle or houses. (see [3]).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The castle layout was changed considerably and enlarged during work to repair some of the damage caused by the battles, but was then left abandoned until 1840 when the partial rebuilding of the Great Hall took place. [5]

The core of the castle is the keep.

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

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

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

A study of the Butler Family in Cahir in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries reveals the rise and fall of one of the minor branches of the House of Ormond. At the end of the fifteenth century, they possessed extensive powers, good territorial possessions and a tenuous link with the main branch of the Butler family. During the sixteenth century, their possession was strengthened by the grant of the title of Baron of Cahir with subsequent further acquisition of land, but they came under closer central government control. A complete reversal in their relations with the Earls of Ormond occurred, strengthened by various marriage alliances. They also participated in political action, both in the Liberty of Tipperary and at National Level. In the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries their position was affected by their adherence to Roman Catholicism, which resulted in their revolt during the Nine Years War, and subsequent exclusion from power by the Central Administration. They formed part of the Old English Group and as such, suffered from the discriminatory politics practiced by the Government. From 1641 they became minor landowners keeping their lands by virtue of the favour of their relative, the Duke of Ormond. In 1647 the Castle was surrendered to Lord Inchiquin for Parliament but re-taken in 1650 by Cromwell himself, whose letter describing acceptable terms of surrender still survives. At the restoration of Charles II, in 1660, George Matthews, (as Warden of Cahir Castle and half-brother to the Duke of Ormond), retained the Cahir lands for the Lord Cahir, then a minor.” [6] George Matthew was married to Eleanor Butler, daughter of Edmond Butler, 3rd/13th Baron Dunboyne. She seems to have married twice: first to Edmond Butler son of 3rd Baron Cahir, then to to George Matthew. Her son was Piers Butler, 4th Baron Cahir, who was just seven when his father died.

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

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

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

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

Prisoners’ tower at Cahir Castle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lady Margaret, although an absentee landlord, resident in London, kept a close watch on her Cahir Estates through two excellent managers, Major Hutchinson and his successor William Rochfort… Her son, Richard Butler Charteris took over her role in 1915 and remained resident in Cahir from 1916 until his death in 1961. In 1962, the House, and circa 750 acre estate core (within the walls of Cahir Park and Kilcommon Demesne) were auctioned…And so ended the direct line of Butler ownership in Cahir, almost 600 years. [6]

The castle became the property of the state after the death of Lord Cahir in 1961; it was classified as a national monument and taken into the care of the Office of Public Works. [5]

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

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

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

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

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

Next we explore the keep building.

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

8. Famine Warhouse 1848, Ballingarry, County Tipperary:

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

From the OPW website:

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

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

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

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

9. Holycross Abbey, County Tipperary:

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

From the OPW website:

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

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

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

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

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

From the OPW website:

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

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

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

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

Main Guard, 1948, photograph from Dublin City Library and Archives. [see 5]

11. Nenagh Castle, County Tipperary

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

General information: 067 33850, castlenenagh@gmail.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

General Information: 051 640787, ormondcastle@opw.ie

From the OPW website:

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

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

Ormond Castle, Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary, National Library of Ireland Mason Catalogue.
Ormond Castle, Carrick-on-Suir 1949, photograph from Dublin City Library and Archive. [8]
Ormond Castle, Carrick-on-Suir 1949, photograph from Dublin City Library and Archive. [see 8]

Mark Bence-Jones writes:

The house, which is horseshoe shaped, forming three sides of a small inner court, and the castle the fourth. The house is of 2 storeys with a gabled attic; the towers of the castle rise behind it. The gables are steep, and have finials; there are more finials on little piers of the corners of the building. There are full-sized mullioned windows on the ground floor as well as on the floor above, the lights having the slightly curved heads which were fashionable in late C16. There is a rectangular porch-oriel in the centre of the front, and an oriel of similar form at one end of the left-hand side elevation. The finest room in the house is a long gallery on the first floor, which had two elaborately carved stone chimneypieces – one of which was removed to Kilkenny Castle 1909, but has since been returned – and a ceiling and frieze of Elizabethan plasterwork. The decoration includes busts of Elizabeth I, who was a cousin of “Black Thomas,” Ormonde through her mother, Anne Boleyn, and used to call him her “Black Husband”: she is said to have promised to honour Carrick with a visit. The old castle served as part of the house and not merely as a defensive adjunct to it: containing, among other rooms, a chapel with carved stone angels.” [9]

Detail from National Library of Ireland, Ormond Castle.
Ormond Castle, Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary, May 2018.
Ormond Castle, Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary, May 2018.
Ormond Castle, Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary, May 2018.

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

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

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

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

13. Rock of Cashel, County Tipperary:

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

General Information: 062 61437, rockofcashel@opw.ie

From the OPW website:

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

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

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

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

Rock of Cashel, 1955, from Dublin City Library and Archives [see 3].
Rock of Cashel ca. 1901, photograph from National Library of Ireland Flickr constant commons.

14. Roscrea Castle and Damer House, County Tipperary:

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

General information: 0505 21850, roscreaheritage@opw.ie

From the OPW website:

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

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

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

This was originally the site of a motte and bailey fortification known as King John’s Castle. The original wooden castle was destroyed in the late 13th century and was replaced with a stone structure built in 1274-1295 by John de Lydyard. The castle was originally surrounded by a river to the east and a moat on the other sides. [10] It was granted to the Butlers of Ormond in 1315 who held it until the early 18th Century. The castle as we see it today was built from 1332.

Eoin Roe O’Neill, at the head of 1,200 men, stormed Roscrea in 1646 and reportedly killed every man, woman and child. The only survivor was the governor’s wife, Lady Mary Hamilton (1605-1680), who was a sister to the Earl of Ormond [married to George Hamilton, 1st Baronet of Donalong County Tyrone and of Nenagh, County Tipperary]. She was again forced to play host in the castle to O’Neill three years later which again ended by the guests looting everything in sight. [11]

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

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

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

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

“He walked the streets and wore a threadbare cloak

He dined and supped at charge of other folk

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

He might be thought an object fit for alms.”

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

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

Robert O’Byrne tells us that his son Joseph (1717-1798) inherited the house and castle was later created the Earl of Dorchester. [12] He was an absentee landlord and his brother managed his Irish properties. He built a mansion named Damerville which was very grand, but was demolished in 1775. Their sister Mary married William Henry Dawson, 1st Viscount Carlow, who lived at Emo in Laois. It was her offspring who later inherited the Damer properties.

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

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

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

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

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

Swiss Cottage, June 2022.

From the OPW website:

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

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

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

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

The setting for the cottage is idyllic, over the River Suir.
Swiss Cottage, photograph from the National Library of Ireland.

Every window has a different shape.

Even the wrought iron fencing and gate were made to look natural, like thorny vines.

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

Unfortunately we were not allowed to take photographs inside – I’m not sure why! The furniture is on loan from the National Museum, so perhaps that is why, to deter robbery.

I had a feeling that we might not be allowed to take photographs inside and so before the tour I took a few photographs looking through the windows.

The spiral staircase in the extremely plain front hall.
Looking through the windows, to the wonderful wallpaper, a reproduction of the original which pictures Oriental scenes.
There is a walkway/cycleway/kayak way along the River Suir, which I’d love to walk.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Office of Public Works Properties: Connacht

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

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

Galway:

1. Athenry Castle, County Galway

2. Aughnanure Castle, County Galway

3. Dun Aonghasa, County Galway

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

5. Portumna Castle, County Galway

Leitrim:

6. Parke’s Castle, County Leitrim

7. Sean MacDiarmada Cottage, County Leitrim

Mayo:

8. Ceide Fields, County Mayo

Roscommon:

9. Boyle Abbey, County Roscommon

10. Rathcroghan, County Roscommon

Sligo:

11. Ballymote Castle, County Sligo

12. Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery, County Sligo

13. Sligo Abbey, County Sligo

Galway:

1. Athenry Castle, County Galway:

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

General information: 091 844797, athenrycastle@opw.ie

From the OPW website:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Aughnanure Castle, Oughterard, County Galway:

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

General information: 091 552214, aughnanurecastle@opw.ie

It is a 15th century tower house. Aughnanure translates in Irish to “the field of the yews.” The OPW website tells us:

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

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

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

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

3. Dun Aonghasa, County Galway:

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

General information: 099 61008, dunaonghasa@opw.ie

From the OPW website:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

general information: 091 574292, icpconamara@opw.ie

From the OPW website:

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

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

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

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

5. Portumna Castle and Gardens, County Galway: 

Portumna Castle, County Galway, July 2021.

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

From the OPW website:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 11th Earl, John Smith de Burgh changed his surname from Bourke to De Burgh. The 13th Earl, John Thomas De Burgh (1744-1808) was created 1st Earl of Clanricarde, an Irish Peer, on 29 December 1800, with special remainder to his daughters, if he had no male heir. One daughter, Hester, married Howe Peter Browne, 2nd Marquess of Sligo, and the other, Emily, married Thomas St Lawrence, 3rd Earl of Howth. His son, Ulick, became the 1st Marquess Clanricarde (of the 3rd creation), and also Baron of Somerhill, Kent. It was during his tenure that the fire occurred. He married Harriet Canning, daughter of Prime Minister George Canning. Ulick was described as being immensely rich.

John Thomas De Burgh (1744-1808) 13th Earl of Clanricarde was created 1st Earl of Clanricarde, co. Galway.
Ulick John De Burgh, 14th Earl and 1st Marquess of Clanricarde (1802-1874).
Harriet Canning, Countess of Clanricarde (1804-1876), married to Ulick John De Burgh, 14th Earl and 1st Marquess of Clanricarde (1802-1874).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The stables have been renovated into a cafe.

There’s also a walled garden at Portumna Castle.

Leitrim:

6. Parkes Castle, Fivemilebourne, County Leitrim:

Parkes Castle, County Leitrim, August 2021.

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

From the OPW website:

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. 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.

Sir Brian O’Rourke was indicted and hanged at Tyburn, London, in 1591 for sheltering Francsico de Cueller, an officer of the shipwrecked Armada in 1588, who later wrote about his time in Ireland. The Kingdom of Breifne, or Breffny, was what is now Leitrim and parts of Cavan and other neighbouring counties. Brian O’Rourke assumed the leadership of Breifne after assassinating his older brothers, apparently! By the 11th century it was ruled by the O’Rourke or Ua Rairc dynasty. The land was then given to Robert or Roger Parke. It passed to his son Robert.

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.

7. Sean MacDiarmada Cottage, County Leitrim:

From the OPW website:

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:

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

Ceide Fields, photograph by Alison Crummy, 2015, for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. [see 5]

General Information: 096 43325, ceidefields@opw.ie

From the OPW website:

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 5]

Roscommon:

9. Boyle Abbey, County Roscommon:

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

From the OPW website:

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.

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

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

From the OPW website:

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.)

Sligo:

11. 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.

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.

12. Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery, County Sligo:

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

From the OPW website:

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.

13. Sligo Abbey, Abbey Street, County Sligo:

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

From the OPW website:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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) [these sites are marked in orange here]. 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. https://www.glenveaghnationalpark.ie/explore-experience/article-castle-history/

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]

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 Waterford and Johnstown Castle in Wexford. Laurence Esmonde 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, according to wikipedia, 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 Preston 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. 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.

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

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 [8]. 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 [9].

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.” [9]

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.

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.

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 [10]. 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:

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

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

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

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

Irish Historic Homes