Pallas Life

There are over twenty place names in Ireland incorporating the word ‘Pallas.’ Seemingly this derives from a Norman term, paleis, meaning boundary fence (hence the word palisade which clearly comes from the same source). One such spot is Pallas, County Galway found at the end of a boreen (from the Irish word bóithrín, meaning ‘a little road’). Here can be found, if not quite a palace, certainly the remains of a very substantial tower house and ancillary buildings. Pallas Castle as it is known, is believed to date from c.1500 when it was built by a branch of the Burke family, descendants of the Norman de Burghs, the first of whom William de Burgh had seized territory in this part of the country and in 1203 called himself Lord of Connacht. Rising five storeys, the tower stands within a bawn wall access to which is through an east-facing two-storey gatehouse flanked by similarly propotioned turrets. Immediately adjacent to the tower house on the west side are portions of a 17th century house, its gable end built into the bawn wall, through which separate entrance was created. The walls on either side retain their internal parapets, reached via flights of stone steps.

The Burkes remained in possession of Pallas until the mid-17th century when, like many other families who had risen against the Cromwellian forces, they were dispossessed of their lands and moved further west. The same fate befell another ancient family of Norman origins, the Nugents, formerly Barons Delvin but since 1621 Earls of Westmeath. They too were required to depart their original property and move west, being given part of the former Burke land including Pallas. Following the restoration of Charles II in 1660, the second Earl of Westmeath was allowed to return to his ancestral lands and those in County Galway bestowed on his second son, the Hon Thomas Nugent, created Baron Nugent of Riverston by James II in 1689. As a Roman Catholic and Jacobite he went into exile, dying in 1715 but his sons conformed to the established church and so were able to retain both the family title and estates. Their descendants remained at Pallas until the 1930s, having some thirty years earlier become Earls of Westmeath when the main line of the family died out. Ultimately the Land Commission took over the Pallas estate and divided it up, thereby ending the Nugent link. What remains of Pallas Castle is today a National Monument.

So this is what is left at Pallas, but another very substantial building in the immediate vicinity has since disappeared. In 1797 the amateur architect William Leeson, now best known for laying out the town of Westport, County Mayo, was commissioned by the fourth Lord Nugent of Riverston to design offices and, it seems, a new residence. This building was considerably enlarged by the tenth Earl of Westmeath after he inherited the title and estate on the death of his father in 1879. Surviving photographs show a house typical of the period, with an abundance of plate glass, parapets and balustrades, cement-rendered pilasters and quoins, together with a three-bay extension to one side. Further improvements were carried out on the property in the years immediately before the outbreak of the First World War  with the addition of a new library and smoking room, but in the aftermath of the war circumstances were very different. The Nugents left the area for good soon after the death of the 11th Earl in 1933 when the title passed to his younger brother. A sale of the contents took place and then in 1945 the house itself was demolished, followed by an auction of its fixtures and fittings, including no less than 150 interior and exterior doors and a similar number of windows, marble chimney pieces, library shelving and so forth. Despite  the building’s scale, today there is no obvious trace of it on the landscape and only the older structures survive at Pallas.

10 comments on “Pallas Life

  1. Ken m says:

    I never realised the (now obvious) link between pallas and palisade. That explain the now demolished Agar Pallas on the old “Pale” road near summerhill meath. The Pale been the most famous palisade in Ireland. Also my wife’s ancestral home Carlanstown House, used to be Carlanstown Pallas and had a more magnificent house standing there at one time. That house was also owned by the nugents and I believe there is a verb “to nugentise” which means to marry into money several times that comes from the owners marrying habits.

  2. Rory S says:

    There are two photos of Pallas House in the Clonbrock Collection in the National Library of Ireland (though they are misidentified):

    There is also a photo of Pallas Castle in the same collection, though this is also misidentified:

  3. lawrieweed says:


  4. Deborah Sena says:

    What irony you have posted this today. I have been searching records for my family from the Castlepollard area of Westmeath and came upon today the 1659 census and, of course, came across Nugents as landholders. I then started researching the Nugents and Earls of Westmeath. My gr grandfather was a shepherd on the land associated with Streamstown House- Faughalstown, which also of luck, is a surveyed house that still exists. Better yet, it has an apartment for self catering which I am using late Sept. while I visit Ireland. Does anyone know if you can find/is anything left of the monk chapel and holy well on Knockeyon? If it was an ancient pilgrimage site for centuries, you’d think the remnants of the path would exist.

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