‘One summer night, when there was peace, a score of Puritan troopers, under the pious Sir Frederick Hamilton, broke through the door of the Abbey of White Friars at Sligo. As the door fell with a crash they saw a little knot of friars gathered about the altar, their white habits glimmering in the steady light of the holy candles. All the monks were kneeling except the abbot, who stood upon the altar steps with a great brass crucifix in his hand. “Shoot them!” cried Sir Frederick Hamilton, but nobody stirred, for all were new converts, and feared the candles and the crucifix. For a little while all were silent, and then five troopers, who were the bodyguard of Sir Frederick Hamilton, lifted their muskets, and shot down five of the friars.’
From The Curse of the Fires and of the Shadows (1897) by W.B. Yeats.
Sir Frederick Hamilton was born in Scotland in the late 16th century, youngest surviving son of Claud Hamilton, first Lord Paisley. As youngest son, he was obliged to make his own way and, like so many of his fellow countrymen, saw opportunities in Ireland. Here in 1620 he married Sidney Vaughan whose father, Sir John Vaughan, was a member of the Privy Council for Ireland and Governor of Londonderry (responsible for commanding the garrison and fortifications of Derry, and of nearby Culmore Fort). Two years later he received a grant of land in County Leitrim, he and his wife gradually building up a holding of some 18,000 acres, much of which had been seized from the O’Rourke family, against whom thereafter he remained almost constantly at war. At the centre of his land, he established a town next to an existing settlement called Clooneen (from the Irish Cluainín Uí Ruairc, meaning O’Rourke’s small meadow). This was given the name Manorhamilton and here in 1634 he built a large fortified house. Come the outbreak of the Confederate Wars in the 1640s Hamilton, who during the previous decade had spent time in the Swedish army, once more found himself under attack from the O’Rourkes. In July 1642, in retaliation for their latest assault, he sacked Sligo and burnt much of the town, including the abbey (an event described above by W.B. Yeats). In 1643, after Manorhamilton was unsuccessfully attacked again, he hanged 58 of his opponents from a scaffold erected outside the castle. Ultimately in 1647 he was forced to return to Scotland, having lost hold of the land he had taken in Ireland. He died soon afterwards in Edinburgh.
Manorhamilton Castle, County Leitrim is one of six late 16th/early 17th century fortified houses considered as a group by Maurice Craig (in The Architecture of Ireland, 1982). The others are Rathfarnham Castle (A Whiter Shade of Pale, August 26th 2013), Kanturk Castle (An Abandoned Project, December 7th 2015), Portumna Castle (Jacobean Sophistication, August 2nd 2017), Raphoe Palace (From Bishops to Bullocks, July 24th 2017) and Burncourt (Burnt Out, July 4th 2016). All six display an awareness of Renaissance architecture while displaying defensive features such as a flanking tower at each corner. Manorhamilton Castle is the least well-preserved of these properties, and it had one of the shortest lifespans. As mentioned, it was built by Frederick Hamilton in 1634, soon after his return from fighting in Germany with the Swedish army of Gustavus Adolphus (one of Hamilton’s sons was named Gustavus and he would later become first Viscount Boyne). Five years after Hamilton had retired to Scotland and died, his mansion at Manorhamilton was attacked and burnt by the army of Ulick Burke, fifth Earl of Clanricarde, Roman Catholic leader of the Royalist army in Ireland. Badly damaged, Manorhamilton Castle never recovered and soon fell into ruin.