Killeedy, County Limerick was originally called Cluain Chreadháil, meaning ‘the meadow with a good depth of soil.’ However, its name changed after this part of the country became associated with Saint Íte (otherwise Ita), said to have embodied the six virtues of Irish womanhood: wisdom, purity, beauty, musical ability, gentle speech and needle skills. Interesting to see the last of these judged a virtue. Although born in County Waterford, at the age of sixteen Íte is supposed to have been led by a series of heavenly lights to Cluain Chreadháil where she founded a convent and there spent the rest of her life As a result, the place came to be called Cill Íde (the Church of Ita), anglicised to Killeedy.
Thought to stand on the site of an older building dating from the 10th century, Glenquin Castle in Killeedy was built by the O’Hallinan family (their name deriving from the Irish Ó hAilgheanáin, meaning mild or noble). When the castle was built seems unclear; both the mid-15th and mid-16th centuries are proposed. Regardless, it is typical of tower houses being constructed at the time right around the country. Of limestone and rectangular in shape, it measures 10×15 metres and rises six storeys and some 20 metres high, to a crenellated roofline. Each floor is reached via a spiral staircase located to the left of the entrance doorcase (which has a murder hole directly above it). Two of the six storeys hold substantial barrel vaulted rooms, and some of the rooms have paired arched windows.
In typical behaviour of the time, the O’Hallinans appear to have been dispossessed of Glenquin Castle by the O’Briens, but then fell into the hands of the Geraldines during the course of the Desmond Rebellions before being confiscated by the English crown in 1571. Granted to Sir Walter Raleigh, who supposedly demolished part of the structure, the castle was then granted to Sir William Courtenay, who received large tracts of former Desmond land, amounting to some 85,000 acres in this part of the country. In the 1840s the castle was restored by Alfred Furlong, agent to the tenth Earl of Devon (a descendant of Sir William Courtenay). Further work on the site was undertaken in more recent times by the Office of Public Works, hence its surprisingly tidy present appearance.
I greatly enjoy your emails and love to learn about the history of Ireland. Could you please tell me what is a murder hole? Thank you.
A murder hole is an opening immediately inside and above the entrance to a tower house through which the occupants could pour something – boiling water or oil – or else fire arrows, directly onto the heads of unwelcome intruders…
Thank you! I thought it might be something like this, but had never heard the term before.
I have often wondered about the use of boiling oil, what type of oil was it and what advantage it conferred over boiling water unless it was to be set alight but I have never come across any reference to that being done. Also oil I assume would be more expensive to use.
Of course rocks and stones would be good to drop down on attackers and easily gathered in advance from the surrounding countryside.
Perhaps 8500 acres ?
No indeed, it really was 85,000 acres…
Robert, lovely article on Glenquin castle Killeedy. My mother’s people the Curtins come from nearby. Mention of the Earl of Devon brings to mind the Devon Commission led by the 10th Earl which was established under the Peel government in 1843. Although the report was completed too late to have an impact on the Great Famine, it was a forerunner to the land reforms of the later 1800s. The road between Newcastle West and Abbeyfeale is known as the Devon road and has a fine roadside hotel, the Devon Inn Hotel, between the two towns.
We can thank the Courtenay family for this fine survival. Powderham Castle, their seat in Devon, is well worth visiting.