On the banks of the river Barrow, at the point where Counties Carlow and Laois shade into each other, stands this building, known as Clongrennan Lock (also Lanigan’s Lock). Not far away are what remains of Clongrennane Castle, a 15th century construction, with the now-ruined early 19th century residence of the Rochfort family close by. Was this building, with its little turreted towers at each corner, originally part of the same estate? There appears to be no information available about the site: all answers welcome.
‘Whilst there is scarcely an old castle, abbey or ruin of any pretensions throughout the length and breadth of Green Erin, since the introduction of cheap literature, that has not been over and over described till we have naturally began to tire of their repetition, is it not strange that none of these popular writers have as yet attempted a description of the many remnants of antiquity abounding in Clonmore in the County of Carlow, particularly its venerable castle? From Ben-Hadir to Ben-Urris, from Donaghadee to Dingle, there is scarcely a place whose particular beauties have not at some time been duly chronicled; guide books in variety too, have been given to the public of Antrim and Cork, of Wicklow and Kerry, and every picturesque locality round our island; yet amongst them all, poor Clonmore – but a few hours drive (only thirty-five Irish miles) from the metropolis – has been completely unheeded and neglected. None of the Penny Journals published by Folds or Coldwell, Hardy, or Gunn and Cameron have even mentioned its name! Grose, in his Antiquities of Ireland, published in 1791-3, has given two neat views of the castle, which the Author of these pages is happy to say he has a few copies of; but then Dr. Ledwich, who furnished the descriptive portion of that work, on account of Grose’s premature death, has dismissed the subject in a few lines. Lewis’ Topographical Dictionary and Ryan’s History of the County Carlow, both of their accounts of the castle and its antiquities are meagre enough, and incorrect in some particulars, which I intend to point out as I proceed; and, with the exception of these three publications, no recent writer that I could come at has ever favoured us with even a single line on the subject.’
From The Antiquities and History of Cluain-Mor-Maedhoc, Now Clonmore by John MacCall (1862)
Clonmore Castle: The spacious piece of antiquity of this place is situate near Hacketstown, and in the barony of Rathvilly. In shape it is square; one hundred and seventy feet by the same. The castle has towers at each angle, and is surrounded by a fosse, of about twenty feet in depth. The walls are five feet thick; and the narrow, stone-cased windows were obviously furnished with iron bars. One of the side walls has disappeared, but the other three are in good preservation and, if unassailed by the Gothic hands of man, will probably resist the tooth of Time for ages to come. The demolished wall, was no doubt removed in order to procure ingress to two or three cabins and their appurtenances, which classically ornament the interior. Indeed, I have been credibly informed, that part of the window-cases now serve the very ignoble purpose of forming part of the materials of some pig-sties! But such desecration of ancient works of art, by the unthinking and ignorant, is not at all an uncommon circumstance in this country.’
From The History And Antiquities Of The County Of Carlow by John Ryan (1833)
‘Cromwell’s army landed in Dublin in August 1649 and in 1650 the Cromwellian colonels, Hewson and Reynolds, captured the castle and ordered it to be slighted so as to make it indefensible, reducing the castle to the ruins that may be seen today. The fortress was both strong and large, square in plan, with high curtain walls defended with a tower at each corner. Although the Parliamentarians destroyed the gatehouse, extensive ruins indicating various halls and chambers remain. The northeast tower, known as the Six Windows, is still well preserved complete with a gargoyle known as “the pooka’s head.” Patrick Wall was granted the castle of Ballynekill (Clonmore) following the restoration of Charles II, together with 69 acres and 1 rood. In 1697, following the Williamite Settlement, what remained of the castle passed into the hands of Ralph Howard of Dublin. He was created Baron Clonmore in 1776, elevated to Viscount Wicklow in 1785, and his son Robert was made Earl of Wicklow in 1793. Clonmore was still in the hands of the Howard family in 1823, but then, around 1900, it passed to the Stopford family, Earls of Courtown.’
From The Byrnes and the O’Byrnes, Vol. II by Daniel Byrne-Rothwell (2010)
Staying in Carlow town, across the river Barrow from what remains of the Norman castle is this curious building, likely little noticed on what is now a busy traffic junction. It was erected by one Rowan McCombe in 1867 by one Rowan McCombe, Superintendent of the Barrow Navigation Company, a town councillor and an amateur poet rather in the style of Scotland’s William McGonagall. Many websites also propose that McCombe was responsible for Carlow’s Celtic Cross memorial to the United Irishmen who were killed during an attack on Carlow in May 1798; however, since this was erected to mark the centenary of that event, and he had died in 1877, this seems unlikely. The building shown here was intended to house a printing office as well as provide a home for its owner, but later became an RIC barracks and is now divided into flats. A curious feature are the series of carved stone grotesque masks placed above the upper windows and down the three-storey tower. The latter also incorporates a substantial stone plaque which appears to represent Hercules wrestling with the Nemean Lion and which stylistically looks out of place with the rest of the building: perhaps it came from somewhere else?
‘This lofty and massive building, which rears its high head in solemn grandeur, and seems to look down with fostering protection and watchful guardianship on the town beneath it, was built by Hugh de Lacy, about the year 1140, in the reign of John. Though some difference of opinion exists on this point – some referring it as the work of Eva, daughter of Dermot McMurrough, and others attributing it to Isabel, daughter of Strongbow, and others, to King John, &; but concurrent, circumstantial and historical evidence, fix on de Lacy as the founder. The walls of the tower are of the amazing thickness of seven feet, two inches; the inner diameter of the same ten feet, and the exterior circumference is seventy seven feet. The whole building was amply provided with loop-holes, and with arched and mullioned windows, &, from which to pour, if necessary, on their assailants the sweeping shot of artillery and musketry, or the less destructive missile.’
From the Dublin Penny Journal, Volume III, July 26th 1834
‘The only ancient relic in Carlow is “the Castle.” It is situated on a gentle eminence, overlooking the river; and is said to have been erected by Hugh De Lacy, who was appointed lord-deputy of Ireland in the year 1179. It was built after the Anglo-Norman style of architecture; a square area, surrounded by thick walls, fortified and strengthened at each corner by a large round tower. Until the year 1814, it had bravely withstood the attacks of time and war; but its ruin was effected by the carelessness of a medical doctor, into whose hands it came, and who designed to put it “in order” for the “accommodation” of insane patients. In the progress of his work he applied gunpowder, with some unexplained object, to the foundations, and in a moment completed its destruction, leaving but two of its towers, and the wall between them. Their present height is sixty-five feet, and the length from one tower to the other is one hundred and five feet; as the ruin is but one side of a square, it affords a correct idea of the large space the castle formerly occupied.’
From Ireland: its scenery, character etc. by Mr and Mrs Hall, 1840.
‘The ruins of Ballyloughan Castle, situated in the parish of Dunleckny, and Barony of Idrone East, show it to have been a place of considerable strength and importance. Although at present roofless, the walls are in good preservation. It is of a square form, having two towers in the front; from the outer extremity of one of which to that of the other, being a distance of forty feet. The walls, about five feet thick, are in some places fifty feet high; they are of rude stone work, built of the most permanent manner. Fourteen stone steps conduct to the second floor, which rests on an arch. There are two flights of steps higher up, but they are in a state of dilapidation. An apartment about seven feet in height, with two windows, seems to have been in each of the towers: between the towers was the chief entrance, of arched, cut stone. The appearance of the ground adjacent would indicate that the castle was formerly surrounded by a ditch. At a distance of eighteen yards to the west, stands another ruin, about thirty feet square. It has one stone-cased window, with holes for iron bars. The walls are five feet in thickness, and the structure is about twenty feet in height. Another forty yards from the main building, to the north, is another ruin of small dimensions.’
The Dublin Penny Journal, Vol.III, No.136, February 7th 1835
‘Ballyloughan, an old castle, formerly a place of considerable strength and importance, in the parish of Dunleckny, barony of East Idrone, Co. Carlow, Leinster. Though the roof has disappeared, the walls are in good preservation. The castle is square, and has at the front angles two large round towers. The walls are about 5 feet thick, and in some places 50 feet high; and they consist of rude but stable masonry. The second floor rests on an arch, and is reached by a flight of 14 stone steps. The chief entrance was of arched cut stone, midway between the towers; and an apartment was in each of the towers, 7 feet high with two windows. The edifice seems to have been surrounded by a ditch; and in its immediate vicinity are two small strong ruins, one of them about 30 feet square. Ballyloughan-castle formerly belonged to the Kavanaghs; and, at the end of the 16th century, was occupied by Donagh Kavanagh, second son of Murragh Ballagh, styled king of Leinster. It soon afterwards became property of the Bagenal family, and is now in the possession of Henry Bruen, Esq.’
The Parliamentary Gazeteer of Ireland, 1846 (note how the text freely synopsises that published in the Dublin Penny Journal eleven years earlier).
‘Ballyloughan Castle is the remains of a fine baronial residence, in some respects similar to the Desmond castles in Kilmallock, County Limerick, etc… Ballyloughan has the ruins of an oratory and offices, now detached, and well repays a visit. The writer was so fortunate as to interest the late Colonel Bruen, M.P. some years since in the preservation of it, as it stands on his estate.
From Ierne, Or, Anecdotes and Incidents During a Life Chiefly in Ireland. With Notices of People and Places, By a Retired Civil Enginer, 1861
In August 1189 William Marshall married Isabel de Clare, heiress of Richard de Clare, otherwise known as Strongbow, and through his wife came to be one of the greatest Anglo-Norman landowners in Ireland. The couple would have ten children, five of them sons, which would seem to have secured the family’s future, except for a bishop’s curse. At some date between 1207 and 1213, Marshall, by then Earl of Pembroke, seized two manors belonging to Albin O’Molloy (Ailbe Ua Maíl Mhuaidh) and refused to return them. For this slight, O’Molloy excommunicated him and, in the aftermath of Marshall’s death, when his children still held onto the manors, the bishop is supposed to have laid a curse on them, declaring that none of the sons would have heirs and that the great Marshall estates would be scattered. And so it came to pass: although each of the five brothers became Earl of Pembroke, they all died without legitimate children and eventually their father’s property was divided between their sisters and the latters’ children, leading to the break-up of the great Marshall estate, just as the Bishop of Ferns had declared.
Around 1207 Maud, eldest daughter of William Marshall and Isabel de Clare, married Hugh Bigod, third Earl of Norfolk: incidentally, it was through this marriage that the position of Earl Marshall of England would come to be held by the Dukes of Norfolk. Furthermore, as a result of the marriage, the Bigods came to own large areas of land in what is now County Carlow and when Roger, fifth Earl of Norfolk visited Ireland in 1279, it is thought that he embarked on constructing a large stronghold for himself, now known as Ballymoon Castle, the remains of which can be seen here. In his book on the Bigods during the 13th century, Marc Morris proposes that the building’s purpose was not intended to be defensive. ‘Built on a scale which presupposes a patron in need of extensive accommodation and with considerable resources at his disposal,’ Ballymoon was ‘intended to function as a residence more than a fortress.’ Morris points out that there is no ditch around the site and no projecting towers; the only breakfronts on the walls contained latrines. A cousin of the MacMurroughs, with whom he seems to have been on good terms, Roger Bigod did not face militant opposition on Carlow, hence there was no need for a protective citadel.
Ballymoon Castle consists of a single square courtyard about 80 feet long on each side, the rough-hewn granite outer walls being some eight feet thick at the base and climbing 20 feet, although their uneven appearance indicates they were once higher and perhaps finished with crenellations and walks. The big, empty courtyard has the remains of buildings on each of its four sides, some of which indicate where doors or chimneypieces were once placed. The western wall has an arched gateway with portcullis grooves visible, and there are quite a few cross-shaped openings around the other walls. It may be that work here was never finished: by the autumn of 1280 Roger Bigod was back in England. And two years later, his cousins, Art and Muchertach MacMurrough, were murdered in Arklow on the instructions of the Justiciar of Ireland, Stephen de Fulbourn. When Roger Bigod died in 1306, despite two marriages, like his Marshall forebears he had no heirs, so the direct line ended, his lands were escheated to the crown and eventually bestowed on Thomas of Brotherton, Earl of Norfolk, a younger son of Edward I. Little is known thereafter of Ballymoon Castle’s history, but, having little defensive potential, it would appear to have been abandoned and left to fall into its present condition.
On high ground offering superlative views over the surrounding countryside, this is St Osnadh’s church, Kellistown, County Carlow. It dates from 1810 when built with assistance from the Board of First Fruits, replacing a mediaeval church, the remains of which stand behind the present structure. St Osnadh’s is small and plain, with no windows on the north or west sides and it seems never to have been supported by many parishioners; as early as 1891 an observer noted that it was ‘no longer alas used for Divine Service, and apparently since the demise of its Rector, Rev. Garret, has been more or less closed.’ (This is presumably a reference to the Rev James Perkins Garrett, who died in 1879). Meanwhile, by the same date ‘the burial-ground is being quietly grazed by two goats; a donkey, and occasionally a pig, is allowed to stretch its limbs in a wild chase.’ The grounds today are no longer home to sundry livestock, but the church is a roofless shell.
The ruins of Duckett’s Grove, County Carlow featured here some years ago (see Duckett’s Grove « The Irish Aesthete). Now lurking beneath a web of telegraph wires, here is one of the former entrances to the estate which, like the house is today a mere shadow of its former self. Dating from 1853-55, the architect responsible was John McDuff Derick, seemingly a friend of Augustus Welby Pugin and other members of the Gothic Revival movement. For his client, John Dawson Duckett, he produced this quite fantastical structure in local granite, replete with castellations, towers, turrets, bartizans and buttresses, together with a wealth of narrow arched windows. Some 240 feet long, the building is composed of two parts, that on the left (now a public road) intended to provide access to the tenants, that on the right being reserved for members of the Duckett family. The latter’s coats of arms, originally coloured and gilded, are elaborately carved over two of the entrances: one proclaims Spectemur Agendo (Let us be judged by our actions), the other Je Veux le Droit (I will have my Right). At one time, efforts were made to run the family entrance as a pub, but this venture failed and the entire structure now sits in decay, testament to the decline and fall of a landed family.
The Black Castle in Leighlinbridge, County Carlow. The first fortification here was constructed in 1181 on the orders of Anglo-Norman knight Hugh de Lacy to defend a crucial crossing point on the river Barrow (the first bridge followed in the early 14th century). When the Carmelite order came to Ireland in the 1270s, a friary was established adjacent to the castle and it survived until the suppression of all such religious houses in 1540s when the property passed into the hands of Sir Edward Bellingham, Lord Deputy of Ireland. It appears he was responsible for building what stands today, a 16th century three-storey tower house. Badly damaged during the Confederate Wars of the 1640s/50s, the Black Castle thereafter fell into ruin, the south-west corner tumbling down in the late 19th century.
A little classical gem: a lodge at the entrance to St Patrick’s College, Carlow. The English-born architect Thomas Alfred Cobden, who designed the main buildings on the site (and who for a couple of decades received an astonishing number of commissions in this part of the country), is thought to have been also responsible for the lodge which dates from around 1820. It has a beautifully austere facade, the pedimented portico supported by a pair of Doric columns, these features made of the local granite. The interior has an entrance hall and two rooms, but alas at the moment is empty and – inevitably – falling into neglect: surely some use can be found for the place?