Particularly Commodious


In 1680 two sisters from County Offaly, Elizabeth and Jane Hamilton, were married on the same day. While Elizabeth married Sir Thomas Crosbie, Jane married Sir Thomas’s eldest son (from an earlier marriage), David. Thus the latter’s heir Maurice, future first Baron Branden, was both nephew and cousin of Sir Thomas and Elizabeth Crosbie’s eldest son, also called Thomas. While David inherited the family’s main estate at Ardfert, County Kerry (see An Incomplete Story « The Irish Aesthete), Thomas Crosbie was left another estate further north in the same county at Ballyheigue. The ancient family formerly in occupation here were the Cantillons who supposedly occupied some kind of fortified building; they were displaced in the 17th century by the Crosbies (who, in turn, had been moved by the English government from their own traditional lands in Offaly). The younger Thomas died in late 1730, supposedly after he suffered from exposure and fatigue involved in rescuing the crew and cargo of a Danish vessel, the Golden Lion, which had become stranded on the local coast: the cargo happened to include 12 chests of silver valued at £20,000. A complex drama involving the disappearance of at least some of this silver, and the possible involvement of Thomas’s widow, Lady Margaret Barry (a daughter of the second Earl of Barrymore) then followed; what exactly happened and who benefitted from the theft has never been clearly established. In any case, a new residence was built at Ballyheigue c.1758 by Colonel James Crosbie, heir to the younger Thomas. Seemingly this was a long, low thatched property, by then somewhat old-fashioned in style, and surrounded by an orchard, gardens and bowling green. It was his grandson, another colonel also called James and an MP, first of the Irish Parliament and then, after the 1800 Act of Union, of the Westminster Parliament, who gave the house, renamed Ballyheigue Castle, its present – albeit now semi-ruinous – appearance. 





Two early 19th century engravings exist showing Ballyheigue Castle. The first, engraved by W. Radclyffe and published in 1819, depicts the battlemented building dramatically towering over the edge of a cliff with a precipitous drop straight to the sea. Six years later, James and Henry Storer produced an engraving for J.N. Brewer’s Beauties of Ireland (1826) which shows the castle standing so close to the seashore that waves almost lap the entrance. Both images were highly fanciful, testament to the era’s fondness for romantic settings. In truth, the building is located on ground that gently slopes down to a beach with expansive views across Tralee Bay. As already mentioned, the house was given a comprehensive overhaul shortly before either engraving appeared. Like so many other estate owners of the period, Colonel James Crosbie turned to one of the period’s most hard-working architects in Ireland, Richard Morrison. Around 1809, the latter invited his talented son William Vitruvius Morrison – then aged barely 15 – to come up with a suitable design for the building; responding to the challenge and ‘to the astonishment of his father, he, in the course of a few days, produced the noble design subsequently erected.’ How true this tale, or how much – like those early images – it is just an entertaining fancy, remains unknown. In any case, when the first engraving was published, an accompanying text in J.P. Neale’s Views of Seats reported that the intention of the architect(s) was to give an impression that the castle had been constructed in two different periods, neither of them the early 19th century. Instead, ‘the entrance front exhibiting the rich and ornamental style of the early part of the reign of Henry VIII; the flank elevation towards the sea has the character and appearance of the castellated mansions of King Henry VI.’ Inside, the same document observed, ‘the apartments are elegant, and are arranged upon a plan particularly commodious.’ Both the text and the engraving were heavily reliant upon material provided by Richard Morrison. 





Text here…Colonel Crosbie died in 1836 and four years later, when Ballyheigue Castle was occupied by his heir Pierce, it suffered a terrible fire during which, according to a contemporary report, the entire interior at the front ‘was consumed from the roof to the ground.’ However, most of the contents were saved and the place was soon rebuilt, presumably with the same ‘elegant’ apartments. The last of the Crosbies to live in the house was Pierce’s grandson, Brigadier-General James Dayrolles Crosbie. In 1912 he decided to sell the property for £7,700 to his eldest sister Kathleen who wished to keep Ballyheigue in the family. However, with the onset of the War of Independence and the Civil War, she in turn opted to dispose of the place: it was bought by a local man, Jeremiah Leen, for £4,000. He did not have long to enjoy possession of the building. During the War of Independence, Ballyheigue Castle had been occupied for a period by Crown forces and perhaps for that reason, in May 1921 the house was torched on the instructions of the IRA. Although Leen received some compensation for his loss, the castle was not rebuilt, the main block left a shell, although the service wing to the east, which presumably survived, remained in use. In the 1970s, the western section of the house was converted into a series of apartments but the most important portion, that once containing those elegant apartments, remains a ruin. Meanwhile, in the mid-1990s the surrounding demesne land was converted into a nine-hole golf course, with a club house built behind the castle. Accordingly, a restoration appears unlikely.

2 comments on “Particularly Commodious

  1. Deborah T. Sena says:

    I have to admit, the thought of ‘restoring’ this shell of a house in today’s costs would seem rather extravagant, particularly in the style of its builders. At least the golf course keeps it from being a folly surround by new housing. Are you aware of the ‘ghost-treasure’ stories involving the castle? Appropriate to share with the holiday coming up; https://www.mysteriousbritain.co.uk/hauntings/ballyheigue-castle/

  2. Dougal Paver says:

    After losing their castle the Cantillons didn’t sit and sulk, being an industrious bunch. Richard Cantillon, then resident down the road in Tralee, is widely considered the father of modern economics and coined the word ‘entrepreneur’. Oh, and the father of actor Jack O’Connell, currently starring in the BBC’s wildly popular ‘SAS Rogue Heroes’ romp, was from Ballyheigue, emigrating to Britain to work on the railways.

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