The Real Thing



After last Monday’s fake castle, here is the real thing. Now situated on the north bank of the Grand Canal (which would not have existed at the time of its construction), this is the four-storey Srah Castle, County Offaly which dates from 1588 when built by Andrew Briscoe and his wife Eleanor Kearney. As was typical of tower houses of the period, it has a battered base, machiolation directly above the single, round-headed entrance, a series of gun-loops and a bartizan on the south-west corner (its match on the north-east has since collapsed, leaving a large hole in the structure). To the immediate west are the remains of a large hall, of which little other than one gable end survives. Seemingly the castle was badly damaged during the Confederate Wars and never recovered, the Briscoes moving elsewhere in the county.


Wrapped in Mystery


Despite Ireland being a relatively small country, it can often be difficult to discover information about many of our historic buildings, the precise details of their origin and development lost to local fable. Such is the case with Gortkelly Castle, County Tipperary, about which surprisingly little is known. Samuel Lewis, for example, did not include the place in his Topographical Dictionary of Ireland (1837) nor, more than a century later, does it appear in Mark Bence-Jones’s Guide to Irish country houses (1978), or indeed in any other relevant publication. Yet this is hardly a modest cottage, so the absence of documentation is strange, although by no means unusual. 





It appears that for at least two centuries, Gortkelly was home to a branch of the Ryan family. In 1746 John Ryan received a lease for 31 years of the land on which the house stands. The lease was given by one Daniel Ryan: despite the same surname, the two men are not thought to have been related. Based at Inch, a few miles to the east of Gortkelly, Daniel Ryan was that relatively rare individual in the mid-18th century: a Roman Catholic who had held onto a large estate. Six years before granting the lease, he had employed John Ryan as an agent, to oversee the management of his property, collect rent from other tenants and so forth. Presumably John Ryan had proven competent in the position, and this explains why he was leased several hundred acres at Gortkelly. The lease was renewed in 1781 to Andrew Ryan and then in 1814 to John Ryan. In the 1870s, another Andrew Ryan of Gortkelly Castle, Borrisoleigh, owned 906 acres in County Tipperary. This estate was advertised for sale in December 1877 but the family seems to have remained in residence, since one Patrick Ryan is listed as dying there in 1937. 





As already mentioned, almost no information exists about the building now known as Gortkelly Castle. www.buildingsofireland.ie proposes that the core of the house dates from c.1800 with alterations made to its external appearance some 30 years later. However, given that John Ryan received his lease on the land here in 1746, the original construction date could be earlier. On high ground facing almost due east, the building clearly began as a classical house of five bays and three storeys; an extensive range of outbuildings, presumably from the same period, still stand to the immediate south. From what remains of the interior, it appears there were four reception rooms on the ground floor, with the central space to the rear occupied by a staircase hall lit by a tall arched window on the return. At some subsequent period, the decision was taken to modify the exterior – of rubble limestone – so as to give the house the appearance, if only superficially, of a castle. Accordingly, a crenellated parapet was added to the front and side elevations, slender octagonal towers placed on corners of the facade, and the entrance dressed up with a projecting polygonal tower climbing above the roofline to a belvedere which must have offered wonderful views across the surrounding countryside. These elements are of brick, the whole building then rendered and scored to look as though of dressed stone. These decorative flourishes are so shallow that they must be early 19th century, certainly before the Gothic Revival movement demanded a more authentic historical approach. Whoever was responsible for this work is now unknown. Seemingly Gortkelly Castle was unroofed around 1940 (in other words, a few years after the death of Patrick Ryan) and then left to fall into the striking ruin that can be seen today, another part of Ireland’s architectural history wrapped in mystery.  

A Place of Strength


‘The present town of Cahir owes its rise to the late Earl of Glengall, and has been enlarged and greatly improved by the present earl. Cahir, however, is of remote antiquity, and it appears that a castle was built here prior to the year 1142 by Connor, King of Thomond; and in the reign of John, Geoffry de Camoell founded an abbey of which there are still some remains. The manor was one of those belonging to the Butler family, and in the reign of Elizabeth the castle was besieged by the Earl of Essex, with the whole of his army, when the garrison, encouraged by the hostilities then waged by the Earl of Desmond, held out for ten days, but was compelled to surrender. In 1647, this fortress was invested by Lord Inchiquin, and, notwithstanding its great strength, surrendered in a few hours after some of its outworks had been gained by the assailants.
Cahir Castle, the extensive old seat of the Butlers, is in the town. It is in good preservation and occupying the summit of an isolated rock, which rises over the left bank of the Suir, is a highly interesting and picturesque object.’
From A Handbook for Travellers in Ireland by James Fraser, 1844. 





‘The chief historical events connected with the castle were the sieges of it by the Earl of Essex, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, and by Lord Inchiquin, in that of Charles I. The readers of English history are familiar with the unhappy expedition of Essex to Ireland, which was greatly promoted by his powerful enemies at court, as certain to end unfortunately, and thus as certainly to break his influence with the queen. Former viceroys and commanders in Ireland had suffered disaster upon disaster; and by the Battle of the Blackwater, in 1598, the English forces were reduced to the lowest ebb. Essex landed with an army of more than 20,000 men, the largest force, according to the Four Masters, sent to Ireland by the English since the invasion of Strongbow. But Essex was no more successful than his predecessors. His orders were, in the first place, to reduce the rebels in Ulster, and to put strong garrisons into their forts; but, instead of this, he marched into Munster and laid siege to Cahir Castle. He invested it with 7,000 foot and 1,200 horse; but the Earl of Desmond and Redmond Burk came to its relief, and Essex found himself unable to reduce it till he had sent to Waterford for heavy ordnance. On the tenth day of the siege, being the 20th of May, 1599, the castle was surrendered to the Earl of Essex and the Queen. But the surrender of the castle was of no real advantage. He made, indeed, capture of the rebels’ cattle in those parts, and drove the rebels themselves into the woods and mountains; but, as fast as he retired again towards Dublin, these rebels came out from their retreats and followed on his track, harassing his rear, so that his return was rather like a rout than the march of a conqueror. The disasters which befell him on this journey completed his ruin.’
From Ruined Abbeys and Castles of Great Britain and Ireland by William Howitt, 1864. 





‘During the troubles which followed on the rebellion of 1641, Cahir Castle was taken for the Parliament, by surrender, in the beginning of August 1647 by Lord Inchiquin; and it was again taken in February 1650 by Cromwell himself, the garrison receiving honourable conditions. The reputation which the castle had at this period as a place of strength will appear from the account of its surrender as given in the manuscripts of Mr Cliffe, secretary to General Ireton, published by Borlase. After observing that Cromwell did not deem it prudent to attempt the taking of Clonmel till towards summer, he adds that he “drew his army before a very considerable castle called Cahir Castle, not very far from Clonmel, a place then possessed by one Captain Mathews, who was but a little before married to the Lady Cahir, and had in it a considerable number of men to defend it; the general drew his men before it, and for the better terror in the business brought some cannon with him likewise, there being a great report of the strength of the place, and a story told the general, that the Earl of Essex in Queen Elizabeth’s time, lay seven or eight weeks before it and could not take it. He was notwithstanding then resolved to attempt the taking of it, and in order thereunto, sent them this thundering summons:-
“Sir – Having brought my army and my cannon near this place, according to my usual manner in summoning places, I thought fit to offer you terms honourable for soldiers, that you may march away with your baggage, arms and colours, free from injuries or violence; but if I be, notwithstanding, necessitated to bend my cannon upon you, you must expect what is usual in such cases. To avoid blood, this is offered to you by,
Your Servant,
O. Cromwell”
Notwithstanding the strength of the place, and the unseasonableness of the time of the year, this summons struck such a terror in the garrison, that the same day the governor, Captain Mathews, immediately came to the general and agreed to the surrender.’
From The Irish Penny Journal, Volume 1, No.33, February 1841. 

The Properest House



After Monday’s post about Maynooth Castle, here is another property formerly belonging to the FitzGerald family, and – if not still in their hands – at least in better condition. Kilkea Castle, County Kildare. The original building was erected in 1181 by Walter de Riddlesford but before long passed through marriage to Maurice FitzGerald, third Baron Offaly. While his successors never lived there full-time, Kilkea Castle was consistently maintained: in 1545 the Lord Deputy Anthony St Leger described it as being ‘the properest house and the goodliest lordship the King hath in all this realme.’ Following Maynooth Castle being irreparably damaged in 1642, Kilkea Castle became the FitzGeralds’ main residence until the late 1730s when they transferred to Carton. The building was thereafter let to tenants for the next century before being extensively remodelled by William Deane Butler for the third Duke of Leinster; what one sees today incorporates that Victorian work. Since being sold by the FitzGeralds in the 1960s, Kilkea Castle has been an hotel. 


The Largest and Richest Earl’s House in Ireland


‘Maynooth Castle was the original residence of the Kildare family. The manor of Maynooth in 1176 was granted by Strongbow to Maurice Fitz-Gerald, who erected the castle for protection against the incursions of the natives. His son Gerald, first Baron of Offaly, obtained from John, Lord of Ireland, son of Henry II, a new grant of sundry lordships. Thomas, second Earl, was married to a daughter of the Red Earl of Ulster, and sister to Ellen, the wife of Robert Bruce, King of Scotland. During the latter half of the fourteenth century, Maynooth was one of the border fortresses of the Pale, or English possessions, in the defence of which Maurice, fourth Earl of Kildare, distinguished himself. John, the sixth Earl, enlarged the castle (1426) and it was then said to be “the largest and richest earl’s house in Ireland”.’
From an article on Carton in The Journal of Horticulture and Cottage Gardener, Vol.22, May 16, 1872. 





‘In March 1535 the new Earl of Kildare had with him 120 horse, 240 gallowglasses and 500 kerns. Leaving Maynooth Castle strongly fortified in the hands of his foster brother and confidante Christopher Pareses, he went into Offaly to raise additional adherents for the summer campaign. Skeffington [Sir William Skeffington, then Lord Deputy of Ireland] invested Maynooth Castle of the 14th March, and on the 23rd Parese, consenting to betray his trust, permitted the outer defences to be taken without resistance, after which the keep was carried by assault. A park of heavy artillery, brought up to the siege by the English, and for which the Anglo-Irish were quite unprepared, had no small effect in compelling such a speedy surrender of a place the Earl of Kildare regarded as almost impregnable. Of the garrison, twenty-five were beheaded and one hanged, as it was thought dangerous to spare skilled soldiers. “Great and rich was the spoile, such store of beddes, so many goodly hangings, so rich a wardrobe, such brave furniture, as truly it was accounted, for household stuffe and utensils, one of the richest earl his houses under the crown of England.” Pareses, to increase the estimation in which his treachery should be regarded, dwelt on the trust and confidence bestowed on him; and Stanihurst tells us how his treachery was rewarded; “The Deputy gave his officers to deliver Parese the sum of money that was promised, and after to choppe off his head”.’
From an account of the Rebellion of Silken Thomas and the Siege of Maynooth given in A Compendium of Irish Biography by Alfred Webb, Dublin, 1878.





‘On the 7th January, 1642 a party of Catholics seized and pillaged Maynooth Castle, carrying off the furniture and the library, which was of great value; all the stock, including thirty-nine English cows and oxen, thirty horses worth £270, household goods worth at least £200, and corn and hay worth £300; they also deprived him of rents amounting to at least £600 a year. The castle was soon retaken, but in 1646 was occupied by a detachment sent for that purpose by the Catholic general, Preston [Thomas Preston, first Viscount Tara], when he was advancing against Dublin, and on his retreat it was dismantled, and has never since been inhabited.’
From The Earls of Kildare and Their Ancestors from 1057 to 1773 by the Marquis of Kildare (future fourth Duke of Leinster), Dublin, 1858.

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.

Crumbling is not an Instant’s Act

Crumbling is not an instant’s Act
A fundamental pause
Dilapidation’s processes
Are organized Decays —




‘Tis first a Cobweb on the Soul
A Cuticle of Dust
A Borer in the Axis

An Elemental Rust —




Ruin is formal — Devil’s work
Consecutive and slow —
Fail in an instant, no man did
Slipping — is Crash’s law.


Crumbling is not an Instant’s Act, by Emily Dickinson
Photographs of Rappa Castle, County Mayo

 

Holding Court


The Coppinger family has been mentioned here before, in relation to Glenville Park, County Cork (see A Life’s Work in Ireland « The Irish Aesthete). They are believed to have been of Viking origin, but long settled in Cork city where in 1319 one Stephen Coppinger was Mayor. Several of his descendants would hold the same position, as well as becoming bailiffs and sheriffs, thereby cementing their position in the area. However, none of this proved sufficient for Walter Coppinger, who emerged in the late 16th century and is always referred to as ‘Sir Walter’ although when he received a knighthood or baronetcy appears unknown. As Mark Samuel has noted, ‘He seems to have been a man of extraordinary vigour and despatch who, alongside a straightforward lust for power and wealth, also had a burning desire to develop his estates, boost productivity and indirectly modernise the whole of south-west Cork.’ In order to achieve these ambitions, Sir Walter, who may have trained as a lawyer, spent much of his time engaged in complex litigation. 





As mentioned, Walter Coppinger was very keen both to increase his power and his land holdings. In consequence, he became involved in a long-running legal dispute with several individuals, much of it based around the settlement at Baltimore, County Cork. The lands here had belonged to Sir Fineen O’Driscoll, whose daughter Eileen was married to Coppinger’s brother Richard. However, in 1600 Sir Fineed had leased this part of his property to Northamptonshire-born adventurer Thomas Crooke: the latter then founded the port town of Baltimore as a colony for English settlers. It soon became the centre for a lucrative trade in both pilchards and wine, as well as a base for piracy along the coast: famously, in 1631 Baltimore was attacked by a group of Barbary pirates who carried off a large part of the population, both settlers and native Irish, into slavery. From the start, Coppinger was opposed to this development. In part, this may have been because he was a fervent Roman Catholic and therefore disliked the idea of English Protestants settling in this part of the country. But no doubt the success of Crooke’s venture also irked him, and therefore led Coppinger to embark on a series of lawsuits against the settlers over ownership of their lands, claiming he had acquired rights over them due to a mortgage provided by him to Sir Fineen O’Driscoll’s son Donogh. In 1610 the three men – Coppinger, Crooke and O’Driscoll appear to have reached an agreement whereby they jointly granted a lease to the settlers for 21 years, but litigation continued and was still ongoing at the time of Crooke’s death in 1630. The sack of Baltimore the following year was a blow from which the town never fully recovered, not least because it lost the greater part of its population. This event also seems to have damaged Coppinger’s own financial circumstances: in 1636 he leased Baltimore to one Thomas Bennet of Bandon Bridge and retired to the country where he died three years later. 





In 1621 Coppinger embarked on building himself a new residence on a site west of Rosscarbery, County Cork. Like so many other properties constructed during the same period, this was a semi-fortified manor house. Coppinger’s Court, as it is commonly called, was supposed to have a chimney for every week, a door for every month and a window for every day of the year; whether this is true or not, it was certainly intended to display Coppinger’s wealth and authority. The house is Y-shaped, with the main entrance on the north side which is flanked by wings to west and east that project forward in order to create a forecourt. Behind these lies the main body of the building – it would appear the ground floor here was originally divided into a dining chamber and great hall – and then to the south projects an extension that once held the main staircase. Rising four storeys, Coppinger’s Court has gable ends and chimney stacks on every side, together with multiple windows arranged either in pairs or threes, thereby providing more light to the interior than was the case with tower houses built the previous century. The building speaks not only of wealth but also confidence. However, the latter was misplaced because in 1641, just two years after Walter Coppinger’s death and soon after the onset of the Confederate Wars, the house was ransacked and burnt, perhaps by some of those English settlers who had been subject to endless lawsuits from its late owner. Initially forfeited to the Commonwealth, in 1652 the property was returned to James Coppinger (thought to have been Walter’s nephew) after he had been deemed ‘an innocent Papist.’ The restitution was confirmed by Charles II but then in 1690, the family, still Roman Catholic, backed James II and as a result their estate was once more forfeited and this time not returned. Coppinger’s Court seems never to have recovered from the attack in 1641, and thereafter was plundered for stone so that by the mid-18th century, it had fallen into the ruinous state seen today. 

Perched High



Familiar to anyone approaching Wexford town from points north, this is Ferrycarrig Castle, actually a tower house built by the Roche family in the 15th century. Perched atop an outcrop of rock, it had the specific purpose of guarding a ferry which for many centuries was the only way to cross the river Slaney at this point and thus gain access to the south bank where stood the nearby town; a wooden bridge was only constructed in 1794. Rectangular in shape and of four storeys, it appears to have remained in the possession of the Roches until the aftermath of the Confederate Wars.


Doomed Inheritance


Next weekend marks the centenary of the destruction of Mitchelstown Castle, County Cork, the biggest country house burnt in Ireland during the War of Independence/Civil War. Designed by siblings James and George Pain, the castle was built in the 1820s for George King, third Earl of Kingston who demolished the previous Palladian house on the site; Lord Kingston specifically required that it be bigger than any other such property in the country. Alas, less than 100 years later it was looted and destroyed, and the site then cleared: a milk-processing plant now stands on the site. To commemorate the events of 1922, Doomed Inheritance, a conference on the destruction of Mitchelstown Castle and other such buildings during that troubled period of Irish history will be held in Mitchelstown, at which the Irish Aesthete will be giving a paper ‘The Ruined Big House: Perception and Reality.’ Further information on the conference can be found here: Doomed Inheritance History Conference Tickets, Fri 12 Aug 2022 at 19:00 | Eventbrite