Unsettled Defence


The history of the 17th century Ulster Plantations is as contested as the land onto which settlers from Scotland moved during the same period. Prior to 1600 the northern region of Ireland had been least subject to control by the English government and accordingly most liable to resist efforts by the latter to impose its authority. The Nine Years’ War (1594-1603) which had been largely driven by the Ulster chiefs Hugh O’Neill and Hugh O’Donnell would end with their defeat at the Battle of Kinsale in 1601 and a treaty agreed at Mellifont two years later. Then in 1607 came what is known as the Flight of the Earls when both the O’Neill and O’Donnell chiefs left Ireland for mainland Europe with some of their followers and never returned. A turning point had been reached.
Even before this date, groups of Scottish adventurers, most notably James Hamilton and Sir Hugh Montgomery, had begun arriving in Ulster and settling on lands in Counties Down and Antrim. From 1609 onwards a more formal, government-sponsored settlement of Ulster began. James Stuart, who had assumed the throne of England in 1603 as James I had already long been King of Scotland (as James VI) and needed to reward supporters in his native country now that he was no longer resident there. The simultaneous desire to ensure there would be little or no further trouble in Ulster led to the plantation of Ulster. Unlike the indigenous Irish who were Gaelic-speaking and Roman Catholic, the planters were obliged to speak English and be of the Protestant faith (a large number of the Scots were Presbyterian). It is estimated that over 500,000 acres were officially granted to settlers but the figure was likely much higher. Obviously they were not welcome and many decades of unrest followed as the new arrivals fought to hold onto the land they had either been granted or seized. For this reason, the residences they built were heavily fortified.






Occupying a raised site above the west banks of Lower Lough Erne, Monea Castle, County Fermanagh stands on land previously been owned by the Maguires and confiscated from them by the crown authorities. The castle was built for a Scottish-born cleric, Malcolm Hamilton who first served as Rector of Devenish before being appointed Chancellor of Down in 1612. Eleven years later he was consecrated Archbishop of Cashel where he died and was buried in 1629. Considered the finest surviving settler castle of the period, Monea was begun in 1616 and finished some two years later: a bawn wall was added in 1622. Although essentially a rectangular tower house, the building reflects the Scottish origins of its original owner, with crow-step gables and projecting turrets similar to those found in his country during the same period. As was typical at the time, the ground floor was used for storage and utilitarian purposes, with accommodation on the two upper levels, including a great hall on the first floor. The defensive character of Monea proved necessary because in 1641 during the Confederate Wars the castle was attacked by the Maguires who killed a number of its occupants. It was subsequently returned to the family and in the later 18th century owned by Malcolm Hamilton’s grandson, the Swedish-born soldier Gustav Hamilton who served as Governor of Enniskillen during the Williamite Wars. It was later sold by his heirs and fell victim to fire in the 18th century, remaining a ruin ever since.






Located on the north-west shores of Lower Lough Erne some seven miles from Monea, Tully Castle was built Scottish settler Sir John Hume between 1611 and 1613. According to the survey of Ulster counties conducted by Nicholas Pynnar in 1618/19, Tully was composed of ‘a bawn of lime and stone, 100 ft square, 14 ft high having four flankers for defence’ and inside ‘a fair strong castle, 50 ft long and 21 ft broad.’ As with Monea, the Scottish influence is apparent in Tully’s design, not least in the steep gable ends of the castle. And once more the upper floors were used for accommodation and entertaining, the ground floor for storage and defence. Unfortunately it proved of no avail in 1641 when, like Monea, this castle was attacked by the Maguires. At the time, Sir John’s son George was away so the latter’s wife Mary was left to guard Tully, into which the residents of an adjacent settler village had crowded. Greatly outnumbered, Lady Hume negotiated a surrender that was supposed to include the safe passage of all those inside the building once it, and all arms, had been handed over to the Maguires. In the event, while she and her family were permitted to leave, everyone else (said to have been 15 men, and sixty women and children) was kept inside and massacred, after which the castle was set on fire. Like Monea, it has been a ruin ever since.

Plain and Simple


The former St Matthew’s church in Kilcar, County Donegal. Dating from the second half of the 1820s (it was consecrated by William Knox, Bishop of Derry in Sepember 1828) the present building replaced an earlier one erected in the 17th century. As so often, funding was provided by the Board of First Fruits, resulting in what Samuel Lewis in his Topographical Dictionary of Ireland described as ‘a small handsome building.’ The architect is unknown but the church conforms to type, composed of a two-bay hall with a tower at the west end. Closed for services in the 1960s, the building subsequently lost its roof but what remains has recently been cleared of encroaching vegetation.

Natural Artifice


The rustic grotto in the grounds of Tullynally, County Westmeath. This little pavilion was one of the additions made to the castle’s gardens in the 1780s by Edward Pakenham, second Baron Longford and his heiress wife Elizabeth Cuffe: at that time the estate’s formally designed grounds were swept away in favour of something more ‘natural’ and romantic. Situated on a high site the grotto looks south-west towards Lough Derravaragh whence came the limestone from which its facade is constructed. The octagonal interior has a brick-lined roof which, like the walls beneath would originally have been rendered: the gothic seating is a recent addition.

In Limbo


The house at Durrow Abbey, County Offaly has a long and frequently unhappy history. As its name implies, this was originally a religious settlement (for more on which, see On the Plain of Oaks, February 2nd 2015). However in the 16th century and following the dissolution of the monasteries, the lands on which it stood were leased to Nicholas Herbert at a rent of £10 per annum payable to the Crown and military service when required. Herbert was granted a second lease in 1574 on condition that he built two stone fortresses on the site within four years. The Herberts remained in residence here until the death without male heirs of Sir George Herbert, third baronet, in 1712. The estate was then inherited by Sir George’s sister Frances, married to a Major Patrick Fox: it was Mrs Fox who rebuilt the old adjacent church that remains today. The Foxes having no direct heirs, Durrow was then inherited by Philip Rawson Stepney and eventually by Herbert Rawson Stepney who, three years before his death in 1818 sold the estate to John Toler, first Lord Norbury. It would appear that during the time of the Stepneys that a new residence was built at Durrow: a surviving drawing made by architect William Murray in September 1829 shows the building – then called Durrow Park – to have been a plain classical structure of three storeys and seven bays, centred on a groundfloor doorcase with portico. Already at that date plans were being made for something more distinctive to be constructed on the site, but ultimately it was Norbury’s son who embarked on this enterprise. here…




Politician and lawyer, John Toler enjoyed a highly successful career at the bar despite being almost universally reviled for his ability to combine corruption with incompetence. He served as Chief Justice of the Irish Common Pleas for twenty-seven years (1800-1827) during which time he became known as the ‘Hanging Judge’ such was his propensity to prescribe the death sentence and only resigned at the age of 82 when offered an earldom and an annual pension of more than £3,000. Dying in 1831 he was succeeded by his son Hector John Graham-Toler, second Earl of Norbury who some years later decided to embark of a comprehensive redevelopment of the house: Samuel Lewis’ Topographical Dictionary of Ireland (1837) mentions that ‘his lordship is erecting a spacious mansion in the ancient style.’ Two years later, in January 1839, Lord Norbury was shot dead by an unknown assailant while out riding: no one was ever brought to court (despite a reward being offered of £5,000 and 100 acres) but it seems likely the person responsible was a tenant recently evicted from a holding on the estate.
The widowed Lady Norbury pressed on with her late husband’s plans to rebuild Durrow and work continued there until 1843 when a fire broke out. A contemporary account in The Nation recorded that ‘The new building which was not completed, joined the old one, which it was intended to adopt as a wing by facing it with stone; in this portion all the valuable furniture was stored and this part of the extensive building is totally destroyed.’ At some later date the new building was completed, and thereafter owned by successive generations of the Graham-Toler family until the 1940s.




Completed around 1860, Durrow Abbey House’s architect is unknown. Designed in the popular Jacobean Revival style, the building was originally of three storeys over a sunken basement with high gable-end windows, raised chimney stacks and corner turrets, the whole in cut limestone. Behind the main block runs a long service wing opening onto a sunken courtyard. At one stage, a large porte-cochere stood in front of the main entrance. This survived until May 1923 when the house was burnt during the Civil War. It was subsequently rebuilt three years later with the top storey and porte-cochere removed, and with simplified Arts and Crafts interiors designed by Dublin architect Ralph Henry Byrne. Following the sale of the property by the Graham-Tolers, Durrow was owned first by the Slazenger family (who later became owners of Powerscourt, County Wicklow) and then the Williams family (who owned the local whiskey distillery). Subsequent owners proposed to change use of the property from private residence to hotel and golf resort as part of a €170 million scheme that would also have included several hundred houses and apartments. This plan was comprehensively rejected by the planning authorities, not least because of the importance of the immediately adjacent medieval site. Durrow languished in uncertainty until 2003 when the Irish State paid in the region of €3.5 million to acquire the place and surrounding 80-odd acres.




In May 2007 a 99-year lease on the main house was agreed by Dick Roche, then-Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and a charitable organisation called Arts for Peace Foundation. Incorporated in August 2004, Arts for Peace ‘provides therapeutic peace education programmes for children affected by conflict.’ Paying an annual peppercorn rent of €10, the organisation used the house as a respite centre for groups of young people from diverse places around the world. Meanwhile the Office of Public Works carried out necessary work on the old church and moved a mid-ninth century High Cross moved indoors. All seemed well for the future of the entire site until five years ago when Arts for Peace stopped using the main house for its projects. In December 2016 The Times reported that a month before the charity and its founder Elizabeth Garrahy had filed a High Court action against the Office of Public Works and the Irish State seeking damages for alleged breach of contract. The charity alleged the OPW had committed to providing €500,000 and then €250,000 for repair work, but then failed to provide the funding. The OPW in turn accused the charity of failing to carry out necessary repairs and maintenance of the property according to the terms of its lease. It transpires this is why the building has not been occupied or used since 2013: for the past five years the OPQ and Arts for Peace have been at war. Although this matter ought to be of widespread interest (not least because of the potential financial implications for the Irish taxpayer), it seems the only public representative to express concern has been Carlow-Kilkenny TD John McGuinness. He has regularly raised the question of Durrow Abbey in Dáil Éireann, and elsewhere. The last time Deputy McGuinness did so was two months ago on February 15th at a meeting of the Select Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform (of which Mr McGuinness is chair) attended by Kevin Moran, current Minister of State for the Office of Public Works and Flood Relief. In the course of a discussion on the unresolved problems at Durrow Abbey, Mr McGuinness stated, ‘I firmly believe that with an effort, with both sides sitting down without being tied by legal process and without prejudice, they could reach a resolution, rather than spend unnecessary funds and scarce resources on a case when in my opinion the Arts for Peace Foundation has a good case. Going to court is a step beyond common sense in my opinion in this instance.’
The state, which is to say the Irish citizenry, has spent a considerable amount of money acquiring and restoring portions of the historic Durrow Abbey site and, as was announced at the end of last year, the state intends to spend more in the near future making the property more accessible to visitors. However at the same time a substantial group of buildings sits empty and neglected: tellingly, in May/June 2016, despite the ongoing dispute, the OPW undertook emergency remedial works to prevent water ingress to the house). This argument is surely capable of resolution, but the longer it takes to find agreement, the greater the cost. A speedy settlement is obviously advantageous. Until this happens the house at the centre of the estate and of the legal wrangle remains in a state of limbo. This is a situation that benefits no one.

Outstanding in its Field


The tower house at Donore, County Meath. This is believed to date from the early 15th century after Henry VI had offered to grant £10 to anyone prepared to build a defensive tower to protect the Pale. Donore conforms to type, measuring 24 by 20 and a half feet at its base and rising some 39 feet over three storeys. An interesting feature is that the corners are all rounded and one has a small projecting round tower. An illustration from 1785 shows the building with a pitched thatched roof but over a century earlier, in 1650, it had been the scene of a bloody denouement after the English commander Sir John Reynolds captured Donore and killed over forty members of the McGeoghegan family.

Due East


The east window of the old church in Dromiskin, County Louth. This was the site of a monastery founded in the late 5th/early 6th century by Lughaidh, son of the first Christian King of Munster and a disciple of St Patrick. In the mid-7th century it came under the authority of St Ronan who died of the plague in 664: in 801 his relics were placed in a richly decorated shrine. But inevitably the monastery’s wealth made it vulnerable to attack, and during the 10th and 11th centuries Dromiskin was plundered by both Irish and Viking forces. Eventually the monastery was abandoned and fell into ruin, although the church continued to be used for services (this window is 15th century) until replaced by another in the early 19th century (now also no longer in use). Looking west through the window, one can see the stump of a 9th century Round Tower (the cap on it was added in 1879).

A Ruined House


‘Those who lived here are gone
Or dead or desolate with grief;





Of all their life here
Nothing remains
Except their trampled, dirty clothes





Among the dusty bricks,
Their marriage bed, dusty and bent,
Thrown down aside as useless;
And a broken toy left by their child…’


A Ruined House by Richard Aldington
Photographs of Lakeview House, County Cork.