The castle from which Castlemartyr takes its name was likely built in the middle of the 15th century when the lands in this part of the country passed into the control of the FitzGeralds of Imokilly. For more than 100 years from 1580 it was subject to successive sieges and assaults; in 1581, for example, Thomas Butler, Earl of Ormond captured the building and hanged the ancient mother of John Fitzedmund FitzGerald from its walls. Castlemartyr became part of Sir Walter Raleigh’s estate which he then sold to Richard Boyle, first Earl of Cork in 1602. It is likely that the Boyles built the two-storey manor with tall gable-ended chimney stacks that runs behind the older castle. But the property had to withstand attack again during the Confederate Wars of the 1640s and once more in 1690, after which it was finally abandoned to become a picturesque ruin while a new residence went up on a site to the immediate west.
Was the ancient mother the ‘martyr’ or was that an earlier saint?
I am not sure of the derivation of the ‘martyr’ part of the name: it may be a corruption of an Irish word? Perhaps some wiser reader can enlighten us both…
The original name of the village was Baile na Martra – some suggest it was a reference to the relics of St Ceallachan the founder of the ruined medieval church of Ballyoughtera located in woodland to the south of the castle. The name Ballyoughtera (southern town)suggests that the original village stood near the church but was later moved (whether by the Fitzgeralds or the Boyles is unknown). The unusually long church at Ballyoughtera was replaced by the more conveniently located St Anne’s Church in Castlemartyr in the first quarter of the eighteenth century.
Thank you for this information: I have explored the remains of the older church behind the castle, and took some photographs of it a couple of years ago. It is likely the Boyles (or their agents) moved the town when the present house was built and the parkland landscaped (I must look again at the book of Finola O’Kane in which Castlemartyr figures so prominently: perhaps you know it already?)
Tony Harpur may be correct but another version is that Castlemartyr was also known as “Leperstown” in post-Norman invasion Ireland because of a Leper House or medieval equivalent of a hospital that is said to have existed near Ballyoughtera. An old Irish term for a leper was ‘Martar’ which may also be the source of the locality name – Castlemartyr certainly sounds a great deal more marketable than Castle-leper.