An Unforgettable Fire

The ruins of Moydrum Castle, County Westmeath. The former seat of the Handcock family, an earlier house here was described in Neale’s Views of Seats (1823) as being ‘nothing more than an ordinary farmhouse, contracted in its dimensions, mean in its external form and inconvenient in its interior arrangements.’ By that date work was already underway to transform and enlarge the building into a neo-Jacobean castle designed by Richard Morrison suitable as a residence for William Handcock, raised to the peerage first as Baron and then Viscount Castlemaine. The completed work was described by Samuel Lewis in 1837 as ‘a solid castellated mansion with square turrets at each angle beautifully situated on the edge of a small lake and surrounded by an extensive and richly wooded demesne.’ This is what remains of the east-facing façade, the entrance resembling an immense gate-tower. Moydrum was burnt by members of the IRA in July 1921 and has remained derelict ever since: in 1984 a photograph of Moydrum by Anton Corbijn was used on the cover of U2’s album The Unforgettable Fire showing members of the band standing in front of the ruins.

6 comments on “An Unforgettable Fire

  1. David Corbett says:

    The IRA was into hate crimes before they became trendy.

  2. Dr John Keane immediate past president of The Old Athlone Society says:

    I made a comment earlier but was cut off before I could give my name etc.

    • Dr John Keane immediate past president of The Old Athlone Society says:

      I made a comment giving the historic setting for the fire are you going to post it?

      • Thank you for getting in touch. The only comment that I have from you says that you were “cut off before I could give my name etc”. If you would like to resend what you wrote I am sure it will appear…

  3. Dr John Keane immediate past president of The Old Athlone Society says:

    The context in which Moydrum Castle was burnt is important.

    The burning took place towards the end of the War of Independence when the British Army suffered its most senior casualty of the war.

    Brig. Gen. Lambert was killed on his way back to the barracks in Athlone, he had been playing tennis in what is now the Glasson golf club. Previously General Sean MacKeon had been captured by the British and there were plans to execute him, The local IRA were ordered to capture Lambert so that he could be held as hostage for MacKeon. The ambush took place the road between the Golf Club and Glasson Village at Benown House also Known as Harmony Hall and went drastically wrong with Lambert shot and dying later of his wounds.

    The Auxiliaries and the Black and Tans went on a rampage of revenge burning the village of Knockcroghery and several houses in the Coosan area (outside of Athlone) and a number of businesses and homes in the town.

    Michael Collins then ordered reprisals for what were considered outrages and so Moydrum Castle was picked for destruction. The Castle was the property of Lord Castlemaine who was a regular attendee of the House of Lords and when at home gave support to the British forces.

    When the IRA arrived at the house and gained entry they found that other than servants Lord Castlemaine was away with Lady Castlemaine and their only daughter in residence. Lady Castlemaine requested time to take her personal effects out of the house and this was granted with the men from the IRA assisting. It was summertime and her personal effects of placed on the lawn.

    Subsequently she declined to give evidence against any of the men who burnt the house and when asked for her thoughts she is reputed to have said that she was upset about it being burnt but that the men who carried out the burning on of the house were gentlemen!

    After the War of Independence Lord Castlemaine and his family departed the area he was generously compensated for the destruction of the house, the lands were sold to the Land Commission and divided among local farmers.

    Some small part of the estate were not sold and remained in the name of Castlemaine, among them was Hare Island which is featured in another entry in this series.

  4. […] the Handcocks became Barons Castlemaine, who lived at Moydrum Castle elsewhere in the county (see An Unforgettable Fire « The Irish Aesthete). But this particular line of the family came to own an estate on which stood a late 15th century […]

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