Shrouded in Mystery

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As has been noted here more than once, sometimes even the largest houses in this country can have elusive histories. Such is the case with Kilmanahan Castle, County Waterford. Despite the scale of the property and a prominent location perched high over the river Suir, not to mention its evident age, there appears to be relatively little information available about the place. At its core is an mediaeval castle erected by the FitzGeralds, perhaps the round tower on the south-east of the site: there are a number of similarly circular castles in this part of the country, not least at Moorstown with which Kilmanahan would be linked by family connections. In 1586 the land on which it stood was acquired (as part of a parcel of some 11,500 acres) by Sir Edward Fitton whose father had come to this country and risen to be Lord President of Connaught and Vice-Treasurer of Ireland. However Fitton seems to have over-extended himself and this may explain why in the early years of the 17th century Kilmanahan was bought by Sir James Gough, whose family were wealthy merchants in Waterford city. It next changed hands in 1678 when granted to Godfrey Greene, son of another English-born planter. A Captain in the what was called the King’s Irish Protestant Army, Godfrey had remained loyal to the crown during the Cromwellian interregnum and thus benefitted from the return of the monarchy in 1660. Among the other properties he acquired was the aforementioned Moorstown Castle a few miles away in County Tipperary.

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The Greenes remained at Kilmanahan until the mid-19th century. Moorstown was left by Godfrey Greene to his eldest son, Kilmanahan being left to a younger son Rodolphus, as also happened in the next generation (it appears the marriages of Rodolphus’ first two sons displeased their father). The last of the line to spend his lifetime at Kilmanahan was Lieutenant-Colonel Nuttall Greene, born in 1769 and only dying in 1847. It would appear that he and his wife Charlotte Ann Parsons were responsible for greatly extending the castle to the north and west, thereby over-extending themselves with the result that in the aftermath of the Great Famine, Kilmanahan was sold through the Encumbered Estates Court (by a twist of fate, the other branch at Moorstown also lost their estate during the same period). It probably also didn’t help that the couple had a very large number of children, five sons and nine daughters, for whom provision would have had to be made. In any case, although inherited by their heir William Greene the place was sold in 1852; its purchaser resold Kilmanahan just three years later to Thomas Wright Watson who, like several previous owners, had been born in England. By the start of the last century, Kilmanahan had changed hands again, passing into the ownership of the Hely-Hutchinsons, Earls of Donoughmore whose main estate, Knocklofty lay to the immediate south on the other side of the Suir. The Donoughmores sold up and left Ireland more than thirty years ago.

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Kilmanahan manifests evidence of having been developed over several distinct periods. The earliest section, as already mentioned, seems to be in the castle in the south-east corner. To the east of this is what looks to have been a projecting three-storey gate house which was then linked to the castle, also subsequently extended in the other direction; the latter portion’s window openings suggest this development took place in the late 16th or early 17th centuries, when the building was occupied by the Fittons and Goughs. The next major building development looks to have happened in the 18th century when a seven-bay, two-storey block was constructed to the immediate north of the old castle. This then became the main entrance front and would have contained the main reception rooms, with a corresponding wing incorporating central canted bow erected west directly above the river. The latter was in turn further extended south with the addition of a slightly smaller service wing, linking to a taller, single-bay block that terminated the river facade. The result of these additions was the creation of a large internal courtyard, accessed through an arch on the south side: inside can be seen the remains of a handsome classical stable block centred on a pedimented, breakfront coach house. At some later date, perhaps during the time of Nuttall and Charlotte Greene, the entire structure was given a gothic carapace, with the addition of abundant castellations, Tudor hood mouldings over the (otherwise classical sash) windows, an elaborate arched moulding over the principal entrance and so forth. The north-east corner of the entrance front was then made into a round tower, to match that already to the south-east (the original castle). A door at the north-western corner carries the Donoughmore coat of arms and the date 1909, indicating this was when the family took over the place, but images in the National Library of Ireland’s Lawrence Photograph Collection show the work of gothicisation had taken place by then. And as can be seen here, there are further, extensive outbuildings lying to the immediate south, further evidence this was once the centre of a substantial estate. Today, although some planting has been done in the surrounding parkland, Kilmanahan Castle is in poor condition. Since the building is heavily boarded up, investigation of its interior (and the possibility of better understanding the building’s evolution) is not possible. The site’s architectural history retains many secrets, especially when seen – as on the occasion of a recent visit – in winter fog. The weather conspired to shroud Kilmanahan Castle still further in mystery.

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12 comments on “Shrouded in Mystery

  1. David H Davison says:

    What a pitiful site your pictures present of a fine building which was the subject of a prize winning photograph by Dr WD Hemphill, exhibited in 1865. In this superb picture Kilmanahan Castle looks magnificent.

    • Thank you and yes, it is a rather pitiful place now. Might you have a copy of the Hemphill picture (is it in the book produced, as I recall, a year or two by the OPW?: I have a copy somewhere…). It would be most interesting to see.

      • David Davison says:

        No it is not in the book but I have the picture. There are several known copies including the one in the Amateur Phographers Association album for 1865 in the RPS collection in Bradford. I have prepared a thumbnail image which I would send if I knew how. Sorry for the bad spelling, predictive text on my phone struck again.

      • Thanks. I will now send you an email, and with that you will have my email address and accordingly send me the thumbnail when convenient, that would be most kind.

  2. Nicholas Jacob says:

    Hi I am a bit confused here. Godfrey Greene was my 8th Great Grandfather and in about 1968 with my parents we went on a family holdiday to Ireland. We visited the Earl of Donoughmore at Knocklofty House to see if we could visit Kilmanahan Castle. He was very friendly and led us in his old landrover down farm tracks and over the river to an old castle tower surrounded by farm buildings. (See http://www.geograph.ie/photo/3038263) this does not appear to be the same building that you are listing as Kilmanahan. He told us that it had fallen to Cromwells forces in the civil war. From the view we had it was being used as a farm storage with no roof or floors. Although looking on Google Earth it does appear to be a more extensive building. I am sure that the one listed on the geograph web site is the one we were taken to, is it the same building that you are listing?

    • Thank you for getting in touch. The building to which you refer is the same one as discussed: if you look at the fifth photograph I provided, it shows much the same view as that you offer from geograph – the later buildings are all behind this…

      • Nicholas Jacob says:

        Hi Thank you for your response, it looks as though we missed a lot of the building when we visited back in 1968. I want to try to get another look in 2018.
        Best Regards
        nick Jacob

  3. sdkljklsdjaf says:

    The pictures are not accurate.

    The 3rd last picture and last picture are taken from the farmer’s farmyard next door to castle.

  4. momoftenplus says:

    I have photographs of the interior of Kilmanahan Castle from 1984. It was very overgrown and it was indeed across the river from Knocklofty. But that is not Waterford; was it not Tipperary, near Clonmel? My maiden name is Greene. The crest above the door was a stag or deer head, same as on my family’s coat of arms. Some of your photos look different, but it has been 30-some years, and they have cleaned off the ivy. Without the internet in 1984 it was quite a feat to find it, and gain permission to enter. I would love it if you could email me, and I’ll send those photos to you. If the email is not provided to you automatically, I will post it. I look forward to your reply.
    Suzy

    • Thank you for getting in touch. I shall email you shortly about the photographs, but just to advise that Kilmanahan is in County Waterford: the river Suir here acts as a boundary between Waterford and Tipperary (Knocklofty on the other side is indeed in Tipperary).

      • momoftenplus says:

        Of course you are correct. I looked at the map, afterward (sheepish smile). I will email photos.

        Someday, I would love to go back. What a fantastic trip it was for a backpacking college student from the U.S.

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