Located on a rocky outcrop, Ballinacarriga Castle, County Cork is a particularly fine example of the Irish tower house, thought to have been constructed during the 16th century. Some of the battlements remain, along with square bartizans on the south-east and north-west corners. The building was originally surrounded by a bawn wall with a round flanker tower in each corner, but only a small stretch of the former and a portion of one of the latter remain. The tower house, on the other hand, has survived remarkably well. Seemingly on the third floor, which would have served as the main hall, there are elaborate carvings depicting the Instruments of the Passion, the Crucifixion and panels of decorative leaves, while a window bears the initials of Randal Muirhily and Catherine O’Cullane and the year 1585. During the penal era, this room was used for Catholic worship but now, as with so many such sites, is inaccessible to the public.
Milltown Castle, County Louth is thought to date from the early 15th century when built for the Anglo-Norman Gernon family, who long held land in this part of the country. In many respects it is a typical tower house of the period, but made unusual by having rounded corners and a couple of semi-circular towers. Of four storeys, it underwent the usual alterations across the centuries but remained in use as a residence until relatively recently; a 19th century photograph shows buildings attached on either side, including a two-storey house, but these have since been demolished and today it stands in a farm yard (guarded by a pair of rather aggressive dogs, hence no closer pictures…)
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.
Still in County Kilkenny, and around seven miles west of Newtown Jerpoint (see last Monday) is another Newtown: when it came to naming places in this part of the country, someone wasn’t feeling terribly imaginative. In this instance, the remains include a tower house, officially dating from the 1620s but by general consent probably constructed at least 100 years earlier, perhaps for the Sweetmans who were a dominant family in this part of the country. Rising four storeys, the building is fairly plain (hence the suggestion that it dates from well before the 17th century) and as usual is accessed by a single arched doorcase with a murder hole immediately inside. Not far away lie the ruins of a late-mediaeval church, the surrounding graveyard still in use as is so often the case in Ireland. Dedicated to All Saints, the building’s only surviving feature is a window on the east gable. Internally, much of the ground is covered with the remains of old tombstones.
Buried deep in woodland by the banks of the river Awbeg stand what remains of the aptly-named Castle Curious. Seemingly it was built c.1845 by one Johnny Roche, newly-returned to Ireland after spending some time in the United States. Back home, he decided to design and construct a residence for himself, adjacent to a mill which he also owned; both buildings are now roofless and in a largely ruinous state. Castle Curious rises three storeys with bowed turrets on either side of the breakfront centre section. It remained Roche’s home until his death in 1884 when he hoped to be buried in a tomb mid-river, a plan which did not come to pass. For this site he had prepared his epitaph to read ‘Here lies the body of poor John Roche, he had his faults but don’t reproach; For when alive his hearth was mellow, An artist, genius and comic fellow.’
While the two lodges designed by George Fowler Jones for Castle Oliver, County Limerick are today derelict, the main house itself is in fine condition, having been extensively restored in recent years. Jones was not yet aged 30 when he received this commission, the reason being that his clients – the Misses Mary Isabella and Elizabeth Oliver Gascoigne – had already employed him to design some almshouses near their Yorkshire estate, Parlington Hall. When therefore in the mid-1840s the sisters decided to build a new house at Castle Oliver, the old one having fallen into disrepair, Jones was the obvious candidate for the job. Constructed of local pink sandstone, the house’s Scottish baronial character may be due to Jones having been born in Inverness. The resolutely asymmetrical exterior is notable for its many stepped gables and corbelled oriels.
‘There is not a baronet in the United Kingdom who (with the very essence of good-humour) has afforded a greater opportunity for notes and anecdotes than Sir John Burke of Glinsk Castle and tilt-yard;—and no person ever will, or ever can, relate them so well as himself. Sir John Burke is married to the sister of Mr. Ball, the present proprietor of Oatlands, commonly called the Golden Ball. I witnessed the court ship; negotiated with the brother; read over the skeleton of the marriage settlement, and was present at the departure of the baronet and his new lady for Rome, to kiss the pope’s toe. I also had the pleasure of hailing them on their return, as le Marquis and la Marquise de Bourke of the Holy Roman Empire. Sir John had the promise of a principality from the papal see when he should be prepared to pay his holiness the regulation price for it. At all events, he came back highly freight ed with a papal bull, a nobleman’s patent, holy relics, mock cameos, real lava, wax tapers, Roman paving-stones, &c. &c.; and after having been overset into the Po, and making the fortune of his courier, he returned in a few months to Paris, to ascertain what fortune his wife had ;-a circumstance which his anxiety to be married and kiss the pope’s toe had not given him sufficient time to investigate before. He found it very large, and calculated to bear a good deal of cutting and hacking ere it should quit his service—with no great probability of his ever coaxing it back again. Sir John’s good temper, however, settles that matter with great facility by quoting Dean Swift’s admirable eulogium upon poverty:—“Money’s the devil, and God keeps it from us,” said the dean. If this be orthodox, there will be more gentlemen’s souls saved in Ireland than in any other part of his Britannic Majesty’s dominions.’
‘Previous to Sir John’s marriage, Miss Ball understood, or rather had formed a conception, that Glinsk Castle was placed in one of the most cultivated, beautiful, and romantic districts of romantic Ireland, in which happy island she had never been, and I dare say never will be. Burke, who seldom says any thing without laughing heartily at his own remark, was questioned by her pretty closely as to the beauty of the demesne, and the architecture of the castle. “Now, Sir John,” said she, “have you much dressed grounds upon the demesne of Glinsk?” “Dressed, my love?” repeated Sir John, “why, my whole estate has been nearly dressed up these seven years past.”
“That’s very uncommon,” said Miss Ball; “there must have been a great expenditure on it.”
“Oh, very great,” replied the baronet, “very great.”
“The castle,” said her future ladyship, “is, I suppose, in good order?”
“It ought to be,” answered Sir John; “for (searching his pockets) I got a bill from my brother Joe of, I think, two hundred pounds, only for nails, iron cramps, and holdfasts—for a single winter.”’
‘The queries of Miss Ball innocently proceeded, and, I think, the replies were among the pleasantest and most adroit I ever heard. The lady seemed quite delighted, and nearly ex pressed a wish to go down to the castle as soon as possible. “As Sir John’s rents may not come in instantly,” said she, “I have, I fancy, a few thousand pounds in the bank just now, and that may take us down and new-furnish, at least, a wing of the castle !”
This took poor Sir John dreadfully aback. Glinsk was, he told me, actually in a tumbling state. Not a gravel walk within twenty miles of it: and as to timber, “How the devil,” said he, “could I support both my trees and my establishment at the same time? —Now,” he pursued, “Barrington, my good friend, do just tell her what I told you about my aunt Margaret’s ghost, that looks out of the castle window on every anniversary of her own death and birth-day, and on other periodical occasions. She’ll be so frightened (for, thank God! she’s afraid of ghosts), that she’ll no more think of going to Glinsk than to America.” – “Tell her yourself, Sir John,” said I:—“no body understands a romance better; and I’m sure, if this be not a meritorious, it is certainly an innocent one.” In fine, he got his groom to tell her maid all. about the ghost: the maid told the mistress, with frightful exaggerations: Sir John, when appealed to, spoke mysteriously of the matter; and the purchase of Glinsk Castle could not have induced Miss Ball to put her foot in it afterwards. She is a particularly mild and gentlewomanly lady, and, I fancy, would scarcely have survived, a visit to Glinsk, even if the ghost of Madam Margaret had not prevented her making the experiment.’
From Sir Jonah Barrington’s Personal Sketches of his Own Times (3 vols. 1827–32). Until offered for sale through the Encumbered Estates Court in the early 1850s, the land on which Glinsk Castle, County Galway stands had belonged for many centuries to a branch of the Burke family. In 1628 one of them, Ulick Burke, was created first baronet and it was probably around this time, or soon afterwards, that work commenced on the construction of the castle, built as a semi-fortified house. However, it does not seem to have survived very long, being perhaps gutted during the Confederate Wars of the 1640s. Certainly by the time Sir John Burke, tenth baronet, married the wealthy Sydney Ball in October 1816 the building had long been a ruin, hence his desire that she never visit the place.
For a long time based in what is now north County Cork, the O’Keeffe (in Irish Ó Caoimh) family used to claim descent from the Celtic goddess Clíodhna. She and another mythical woman Aibell were in love with the same man Caomh but Clíodhna triumphed by turning her rival into a white cat. Whatever about this legend, it is true that members of the family were Kings of Munster for several centuries but with the arrival of the Anglo-Normans, they were driven from their original territory and obliged to settle a little further west, the senior branch having its seat at Dromagh, just a few miles east of the border with Kerry. Here a castle still stands as evidence of their former presence.
As it now exists, Dromagh Castle is thought to date from around the late 16th century when constructed by Art Ó Caoimh who in 1582 received a re-grant of his lands from the English authorities (a common device during this period, which not only ensures the loyalty of Irish chiefs to the crown, but also changed the nature of land ownership from collective to individual). The family seems to have stayed out of the conflict until the time of the Confederate Wars of the 1640s onwards, when Dromagh was until the control of Donal Ó Caoimh. The last great battle of this conflict took place a few miles away at Knocknaclashy in July 1651 and it is said that the leader of the Catholic Confederate forces, Donough MacCarthy, Viscount Muskerry, marched out of Dromagh to face General Roger Boyle, Lord Broghill, head of the Cromwellian forces. The latter’s victory on this occasion signalled the imminent end of Roman Catholic opposition to the English government. It appears that Dromagh Castle may have suffered some damage at this time, and was also taken from Ó Caoimh but following the Restoration of Charles II in 1660, the property was returned to the family. Its history thereafter seems unclear but the original owners may have supported the cause of James II at the end of the 1680s, after which they lost their lands for good. When next mentioned in the second quarter of the 18th century, Dromagh Castle was owned, or at least occupied, by a William Philpot whose daughter Christabelle married Henry Leader in 1741. The Leaders had arrived in Ireland in the middle of the previous century and acquired land in this part of the country, their seat being the now-ruined Mount Leader a few miles to the south-west. Through judicious marriage, the Leaders acquired not just Dromagh Castle but also other estates in the vicinity, and in the early 19th century established a number of profitable collieries. In the early 19th century, Nicholas Philpot Leader was a keen supporter of Daniel O’Connell and the cause of Catholic Emancipation, and as an MP criticized the lack of government measures to relieve the ‘mass of misery, distress and destitution’ in Ireland.
Given that they owned other houses not far away, the Leader family did not live in Dromagh Castle but instead farmed the land. They fitted out the interior courtyard with offfices and other buildings along the two longer walls, as well as a certain amount of accommodation in the circular corner towers. Much of what can be seen today is due to their work on the site. It is likely that here, as elsewhere, the centre of the space would have been occupied by a tower but this has long since vanished. The Leaders added battlements to the outer bawn walls and then raised the height of the corner towers, making them five storeys to the front and and three to the rear. The join between original and later sections can clearly be seen on the outside of the building. Battlements were again added, as they were to the small square towers flanking the main entrance fore and aft. The upper portions of the corner towers have thinner walls – and larger window openings – than the original lower parts, showing their purpose was more decorative than defensive. It had become, in effect, a pasteboard castle. Unfortunately this lack of substance has meant the towers are vulnerable if not maintained. Indeed a section of that in the south-east corner has already fallen down, and a large crack down the front of what still stands suggests more could soon follow suit. Dromagh Castle remained in use until the War of Independence when members of the IRA set fire to the property in March 1921. While some of the lower buildings inside the walls were subsequently used, in more recent years it has stood empty and gradually falling into decay. Perhaps some wealthy descendants of the original O’Keeffes might like to consider rescuing their former family seat?
As has been mentioned on this site more than once, Ireland is a country replete with ruins; indeed, scarcely a week or month seems to pass without additions to their number. It is perhaps the sheer quantity of decay and dereliction that has made us, if not indifferent then certainly unsurprised to the fact that so many buildings across the country are in various stages of decline. Nevertheless, it is still possible to be startled by an example of neglect, such as that found in Liscarton, County Meath, where a range of structures are seemingly of interest today only to the livestock grazing on the adjacent land.
It appears there was a church at Liscarton at least by the beginning of the 14th century, since in 1305 there is a reference to the building in the ecclesiastical taxation register of Pope Nicholas IV. Seemingly dedicated to St Nicholas, the church may then have been reconstructed in the following century but little is heard of it until 1622 when James Ussher, created Bishop of Meath the previous year, described it as being in reasonable repair. A further report some 60 years later confirms that it was still standing and evidently in the 18th century alterations were undertaken, since large, round-headed windows were then inserted on both the north and south sides. When it fell out of use and into disrepair is unclear, but this was evidently the case by the time Sir William Wilde came to write The Beauties of the Boyne, and its tributary, the Blackwater (1849) in which he notes ‘the church is remarkable for the extreme beauty of its eastern and western windows, each of which consists of one great light, divided by a shaft branching off on a level with the spring of the arch into two members, which join the arch-head about the centre of the curve. An exquisite variety of tracery, in the decorated style of gothic architecture, fills the head of both windows, and the mouldings are deep and well executed. Upon the exterior face may be observed well carved human heads projecting from the dripstone.’ The carved heads, of a king, a queen and a bishop, can still be seen decorating the hood of the western window, but its equivalent at the east end is threatened by ivy and other vegetation, and the entire site risks falling ever-further into ruin.
A short distance to the east of the church stand what remains of a pair of adjacent towers; just 40-odd feet apart, at one time they were linked by a great hall. Believed to date from the 15th century, the property is recorded in 1633 as having been held by Sir William Talbot (owner of what is now the Carton estate in County Kildare) and, in the following decade by his elder son Robert: Sir William’s youngest son Richard Talbot, was one of the most ardent supporters of James II, who created him Lord Deputy of Ireland and Duke of Tyrconnell. In the second half of the 17th century, the lands and castle of Liscarton passed into the possession of the Cadogan family: it is supposed to have been the birthplace of General William Cadogan, first Earl Cadogan, second only to the Duke of Marlborough during the War of the Spanish Succession. The Cadogans appear to have remained at Liscarton until at least the middle of the 18th century (Richard Pococke refers to it being in their hands in 1752) but at some date thereafter it was occupied by the Gerrard family, whose main estate was not far away at Gibbstown, of which more in the coming weeks. In 1841 the Gerrards gave a lease for the lands of Liscarton, including a ‘dwelling house, corn mill, kilns, water courses and stores’ to three brothers, James, Michael and Thomas Cullen. Incidentally, another of the siblings was Paul Cullen, Archbishop of Armagh and the first Irish cardinal, a key figure in the country during the mid-19th century. It is known that he spent time at Liscarton Castle, since its address appears on a number of his letters. By this time the larger of the two towers, rising three storeys, had fallen into picturesque ruin but the smaller, two-storey building and adjacent hall remained sound and, as can be seen in an old postcard, were attractively thatched. A large collection of yard buildings and stables were built, probably in the 18th century, behind the larger tower and some of these remain in various states of repair. However, like so many other old buildings, the castle site was abandoned in the last century and left to decay. It seems extraordinary that there should be so little interest in or concern for a site connected with successive aspects of Irish history, whether the Duke of Tyrconnell or Cardinal Cullen. But seemingly not. This looks like another part of the country’s collective heritage – and memory – destined to be lost forever.
The 17th century historian Geoffrey Keating (in Irish Seathrún Céitinn) was mentioned here earlier this year, since he is believed to be buried in the graveyard at Tubrid, County Tipperary (see https://theirishaesthete.com/2020/01/13/tubrid-church). Likewise, although it cannot be verified, the proposal has been made that he was born some 12 miles away at Moorstown Castle, since he is believed to have been the third son of James FitzEdmund Keating who then owned the property. The Keatings were of Welsh origin, and one of the families who settled in Ireland at the time of the Anglo-Norman invasion. Originally they held land further south at Shanrahan, but by the 16th century they had acquired more in this part of Tipperary and had become supporters of the dominant Butler family, Earls of Ormond. Dating buildings such as this is extremely difficult, as they often follow a standard model that persisted from the 15th to early 17th centuries. In this instance, James FitzEdmund Keating may have been responsible for Moorstown’s construction since he is described in 1652 as being of Ballynamona (the place’s name in Irish).
Moorstown belongs to a small group of cylindrical tower houses, the great majority of them found in County Tipperary. It is likely the surrounding bawn wall was built first, so as to offer protection to the Keatings and their supporters, and to provide space for lifestock (as remains the case here). Access to the bawn’s interior is through a gabled gateway on the east side of the bawn, a substantial building in its own right, which may be later than the main tower house. The arched entrance leads to a narrow passageway, with an doorcase to the upper floors on one side, at the end of which another arch opens into the bawn courtyard, the tower house directly in front. On the south-west and north-east corners of the bawn wall are smaller defensive towers, which allowed the occupants to see anyone approaching the site. Single storey ranges run along some of the interior walls. The tower house is of four storeys, at the top of which are graceful curved gables on the west and east sides; to the left and below each is a garderobe. The lower two floors have small windows, but they are then larger, indicating these were the main living quarters. There are spiral steps inside but the upper portion of these is missing; it appears that during the War of Independence, a local unit of the IRA flew a tricolour flag from the parapet and in order to ensure it could not be removed, they took out the steps.
The Keatings only remained at Moorstown until the mid-17th century. Having borrowed money from Robert Cox of County Limerick, after being unable to repay the debt they were obliged to hand over the property. Robert Cox’s daughter Frances married Captain Godfrey Greene in 1645 and through her came into possession of Moorstown. Son of an English-born planter and a Captain in the what was called the King’s Irish Protestant Army, Greene had remained loyal to the crown during the Cromwellian interregnum and thus benefitted from the return of the monarchy in 1660. His ownership of the Moorstown was confirmed by government in 1678, as was that of another castle elsewhere in Tipperary, Kilmanahan, which has been discussed here before (see https://theirishaesthete.com/tag/kilmanahan-castle). In both instances, his descendants remained in occupation until after the Great Famine, when Moorstown and Kilmanahan were sold to pay debts through the Encumbered Estates Court. But whereas the latter remained in use as a residence until relatively recently, Moorstown seems not to have served this purpose thereafter, hence its present condition.