Now in the middle of a busy farmyard but presumably once standing on its own, this is Clara Castle, a five-storey late 15th/early 16th century tower house in County Kilkenny. It was originally constructed for the Shortall family but in the second half of the 17th century passed into the possession of the Byrnes, successive generations occupying the building until 1905. Alas, the building does not seem to be open to visitors at present, as seemingly it has well-preserved interiors on the upper floors, including original oak beams and floorboards, no doubt due to the fact that it remained a residence into the last century.
‘Ballymote Castle – Just near the town of that name is 150 feet square, sixty high, and flanked and quoined by towers six feet broad in the wall, with a strong rampart and parapet all around. The front is very regular, and the whole of this ruin equally handsome and strong.
It was built in the year 1300 by Richard de Bourg, second Earl of Ulster. This castle, and that of Sligo, being in the hands of the Irish, made a considerable stand against the reduction of that part of the country. But Ireton, having joined with Sir Charles Coote, retook them in 1652.’
From Statistical Survey of the County of Sligo by James M’Parlan, 1802.
As M’Parlan noted more than 200 years ago, Ballymote Castle, County Sligo was originally built in 1300 by Richard de Burgh, second Earl of Ulster, often called the Red Earl, a great-grandson of the Anglo-Norman knight, William de Burgh who had arrived in Ireland in 1185 and before his death had already taken the title ‘Lord of Connacht.’ Like his forebear, the second earl was ambitious and combative, and often in opposition to his fellow Norman lords, not least John FitzThomas, first Earl of Kildare. However, his pugnaciousness failed him in 1315 following the invasion of Ulster by Edward Bruce. The latter’s brother, Robert the Bruce, King of Scotland, was married to de Burgh’s daughter Elizabeth (the couple’s son would become David II of Scotland) but that did not stop him attacking the earl and defeating him in battle in County Antrim (Edward Bruce would in turn be defeated and killed three years later at the Battle of Faughart).
It was during the upheaval that followed his defeat by Bruce’s army that the earl lost his recently-built castle in Ballymote, which was then seized by the O’Connor clan. Thereafter no one was able to hold onto it for very long. Just twenty years later the O’Connors lost the castle to the MacDermots who would, in turn lose it to the MacDonaghs in 1381. For the next two centuries, ownership of the castle passed back and forth between these local families. Finally in 1577 it fell to the English. However, Richard Bingham, appointed Governor of Connacht, sacked the place in 1584, and a few years later it was attacked and burnt by an alliance of local families, the O’Connors, O’Hartes and O’Dowds. Next the MacDonaghs regained control of the site, but soon after sold it to the O’Donnells, supposedly for £400 and 300 cattle. Following the defeat of Red Hugh O’Donnell at the Battle of Kinsale (1601), the castle once again passed into English hands. In 1610 it was granted by the crown to Sir William Taaffe whose son John was created Baron of Ballymote in 1628. But during the Confederate Wars it was once more subject to attack and in 1652 was taken by General Ireton. Finally, in the Williamite Wars, the castle was once again taken by the MacDonaghs before being surrendered to Arthur Forbes, Viscount Granard in 1690. Given such a history, it is remarkable that much of the building still stood, but at that point Ballymote Castle was finally abandoned, its moat filled in and the place left to become the ruin that can be seen today.
Tucked away in a corner of the grounds of Kinnitty Castle, County Offaly is this sandstone High Cross, thought originally to have stood not far away on the site of a monastery at Drumcullen. An inscription on the south face of the base records that it was commissioned by Máel Sechnaill, High King of Ireland (846-62) while on the other side the cross is noted as being the work of ‘Colman’. The monument now rises seven feet 10 inches but was originally almost three feet taller, the cross-head being damaged. The north face offers, among other scenes, Eve tempting Adam, the south shows the Crucifixion.
Kinnitty Castle, County Offaly was originally known as Castle Bernard, its name reflecting that of the man responsible for commissioning much of what is seen today, Thomas Bernard, although an earlier house is incorporated to the rear of the building. All cased in crisp limestone, it was designed in the early 1830s by architect siblings James and George Pain, and reflects the period’s fondness for the Tudor-Revival style, although an octagonal tower on the south-west corner harks back to an earlier era. Kinnitty Castle was burnt out in 1922 and subsequently rebuilt, before becoming an agricultural college in the 1950s. A quarter of a century ago it was converted into an hotel, and remains so to the present. Inside the main gates is a pretty Tudoresque lodge (with the most charming ogee-headed doorcase) which is thought to be older than the main house, perhaps dating to the opening years of the 19th century and designed by Samuel Beazley. Alas, despite providing a first impression for guests to the hotel, it stands empty and has been allowed to fall into the present sad condition.
When writing about Ireland’s ruined country houses, the reason given for their destruction can sometimes be official indifference but rarely official action. However, the fate of Drum Manor, County Tyrone demonstrates that sometimes the latter happens. The origins of the property lie with Alexander Richardson, member of a family of Edinburgh burgesses who in 1617 bought the land on which it stands and constructed a house called Manor Richardson. His descendants remained there for the next two centuries and then in 1829 Drum Manor underwent a complete transformation.
In 1829 Major William Stewart Richardson-Brady remodelled Drum Manor to the designs of an unknown architect, and given the new name of Oaklands. The house became a two-storey, three-bay villa dressed up with Tudor-Revival dressings, such as crenellations along the roofline, along with buttresses on the facade, a gabled single-storey entrance porch flanked by projecting bays with mullioned windows. The major’s only child, Augusta Le Vicomte, first married another Major, Hugh Massy, but following his death less than two years later, she married Henry James Stuart-Richardson, future fifth Earl Castle Stewart of Stuart Castle, elsewhere in County Tyrone (also since lost).
In 1869 Augusta and Henry James Stuart-Richardson aggrandised Oaklands, which now became Drum Manor, at the cost of some £10,000. The architect in this instance was William Hastings of Belfast, most of whose commissions were in neighbouring County Antrim. He was responsible for giving the house its most dominant features, not least a four-storey square tower with castellated and machiolated parapet. Inside, the building’s principal reception rooms radiated off a double-height central hall with a gallery running around the first floor. Elaborate works were also undertaken in the surrounding demesne, much of which survives in better condition than the main building. This survived until 1964 when the estate was acquired by the Northern Ireland Forestry Service; just over a decade later, that organisation demolished much of Drum Manor, seemingly in order to avoid incurring further rates liability. Today, just the shell survives.
Across the road from the old tower house in Ardmayle, County Tipperary stands this handsome church dedicated to St John the Baptist, reputedly standing in a place of worship since the 12th century. In its present form, only the tower at the west end is part of the original building, although a window inserted into this looks late-medieval. According to Lewis, writing in 1837, the rest of the building was reconstructed 22 years earlier, thanks to a gift of £800 and a loan of a further £150 by the Board of First Fruits. Until 1987, St John’s was used for Church of Ireland services but was subsequently restored by the local heritage society and is now used for a variety of purposes.
What remains of an old tower house in Ardmayle, County Tipperary. Some four storeys high and likely dating from the 15th century, it is one of two ‘castles’ close to each other, the other being a later fortified manor, also now in ruins. Around 1225 the lands here were acquired by Richard Mór de Burgh, 1st Lord of Connaught (c. 1194 – 1242), Justicar of Ireland, following his marriage to Egidia de Lacy, daughter of Walter de Lacy, and Margaret de Braose. Later they passed into the ownership of the Butlers and finally the Cootes before it appears the place was abandoned. Today is home only to cattle who can take shelter from the elements under a fine vaulted roof.
‘The Abbey of Killagha [County Kerry] was erected on the site of the abbey of St. Coleman by Geoffrey de Marisco for Canons Regular of St. Augustine, and dedicated to our Blessed Lady. Hervey de Marisco, one of the first Norman knights who came to Ireland, acquired large tracts of land in Tipperary, Wexford and Kerry. He died without descendants, and his large estates passed to his brother, Geoffrey. The latter is mentioned as Judiciary of Ireland in 1215. Smith, in his “History of Kerry”, says Killagha was erected in the reign of Henry III, which would be some time after 1216. Geoffrey de Marisco founded also a house for Knights Hospitallers in Awney in Limerick, and built the castle of Castleisland.
It is to be regretted that the records of the Augustinian order in Ireland are of the most meagre character. The Canons Regular aimed at a contemplative rather than a missionary life. They sought to realise the spirit of an à Kempis rather than a Dominic. Hence they were not bound up in such close relations with the people among whom they lived as were, for example, the Dominicans or Franciscans. When the ties were broken in the sixteenth century that bound the Canons Regular to their abbeys, they did not look back with the same wistful longing as did the members of these two orders, to recover their lost homes and renew old relations. As a consequence, we see the Dominicans and Franciscans dwelling once more beside their old monasteries, while hardly an instance occurs of the Canons Regular returning to the place that they left.’
‘The Abbey of Our Lady grew into importance soon after the Canons Regular had taken possession of it. It received large tracts of land in different parts of the county. Tithes and glebes were added, and the abbey became very wealthy. The Canons Regular happily united industrious habits of life with contemplation, and probably spent part of their time in manual labour. Lands were tilled and woods planted, and the surroundings of Our Lady’s Abbey became quickly changed. The place came to be recognised as one of unusual beauty, and the abbey henceforth to be known as Killagha, or the Abbey of Our Lady de Bello Loco…
…I have very little to record of Killagha during the intervening years down to the sixteenth century. Some improvements were made in the church, most probably in the fifteenth century. The beautiful east window was put in, also a handsome double-lancet window at the south side of the chancel, an aumbry within the sanctuary, two Gothic doors leading to the church from the south side, and a square window of three lights in the western gable. The insertion of these windows and doors has led Archdall to conclude that the foundation of the abbey is of more recent date than that assigned to it. “The architecture,” he says, “which is of a dark marble, bespeaks the structure to be much more modern than the time before mentioned.” The windows and doors that I have named are, indeed, more modern, but the other parts of the building, which are altogether different in character from the insertions, date most probably from the time of Henry III.’
‘The church is the only portion of the abbey buildings that at present remains; a few feet of masonry attaching to the south side of the chancel are all that we now see of what was once the abbey of Killagha. I am inclined to think that the materials of the abbey were removed soon after it was destroyed in 1649, as Smith and Archdall make particular reference to the church, but make no reference to the abbey structure…
The church is of rubble masonry, and though of plain workmanship, is solidly constructed. Though still in a fair state of preservation, there are evidences of approaching decay. Rents appear in the western gable, and the southern wall; and the joints are becoming much open in the east window. The church, rectangular and without aisles, lies east and west, and very long for its width; length 128 feet five inches, and breadth 23 inches five inches. The walls are very massive, those at the sides 4 feet 8 inches, and in parts 5 feet, eastern gable 4 feet 4 inches, western 4 feet 7 inches. It was divided, at intersection of chancel and nave by a steeple, or bell tower.’
Extracts from The Abbey of Killagha, Parish of Kilcoleman, Co. Kerry by the Rev. James Carmody in The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland , Series 5, Vol. XVI, 1906.
Born in Killough, County Down, during the first half of the 19th century Charles Shiel became a highly successful merchant based in Liverpool until he retired to Ireland ten years before his death in 1861. He and his wife had no children, so he established a charity to provide accommodation in almshouses, specifying that ‘the inmates are, from time to time as vacancies occur, to be chosen without reference to religious creed from among the most deserving of such applicants.’ There are five groups of Shiels’ Almshouses around the country, with 126 of them in total, all still serving their original purpose. Those shown here are in Dungannon, County Tyrone. designed in 1867 in a loosely Gothic idiom by the firm of Lanyon, Lynn & Lanyon, constructed of local sandstone rubble with red sandstone for detailing, and green slate bands. Very well maintained, each of the houses is two storey and has a small yard to the rear, with the whole group set in landscaped grounds. Understandably, there is high demand for these residences.
Not far from Ballyadams Castle, County Laois (see Monday’s post, Saved by Two Daughters) can be found what remains of the parish’s old church, surrounded by old tombstones. Inside the ruined buildings are two interesting monuments, both badly worn. On the ground in the south-east corner is the recumbent figure of Walter Hartpole, Dean of Leighlin who died in 1597. On the opposite wall is a tablet erected in 1631 to Robert Bowen who had died a decade earlier, having inherited Ballyadams Castle from his father John Thomas Bowen: Robert had been married to Alice Hartpole, a daughter of Walter. The upper portion of this monument features a crest and coat of arms, and text proclaiming as following:
‘An epitaph on the death of Robert Bowen Esquire.
If tears prevent not every readers eye may well perceive that in this tomb doth lie
Friends hope foes dread whose thrice victorious hand gained love, wrought peace within this joyful land
Whose worth doth mount itself on angels wings
Whose great descent was first from Royal Kings
Whose never dying virtues live for why
Whose fame’s eterniz’d he can never dy’
Formerly the upper section of the chest tomb was decorated with the figure of the deceased in full armour, with his wife by his side, but these were destroyed in the 19th century. All that remains are the figures below of the couple’s four children.