The Big Castle


What survives of Castlemore, County Cork. Standing on a limestone outcrop, this once-substantial building (caisleán mór: big castle) is believed to have been constructed in the 15th century by the McCarthys, then the dominant family in this part of the world. Towards the end of the 16th century it was held for them by the MacSwineys but then passed into the hands of the Ryes whose main seat, Rye Court, lay just a few miles away (see June 1921 II, January 26th 2019). It was subsequently owned, and occupied, by the Travers family but must have been abandoned by them because photographs of the castle taken by Robert French in the late 19th/early 20th show it as a ruin. Still, at least then it was relatively clear of vegetation and also of other properties. Today Castlemore lies in the middle of a quarry and is in very poor condition.

Taking a Defensive Position


Charles Fort outside Kinsale, County Cork has been discussed here before (see On the Defensive, May 29th 2017). Built between 1678-83 it stands on land to the south-east of the harbor. Directly across on a promontory to the south-west is an earlier fortification known as James Fort. Both structures were named after British monarchs, Charles Fort deriving its title from Charles II, James Fort from his grandfather James I. He had succeeded to the English throne in 1603, just over a year after the combined Irish and Spanish forces had been defeated at Kinsale by Charles Blount, Lord Mountjoy. The vulnerability of Ireland’s southern coastline to invasion led the crown authorities to initiate the construction of a fortress from which any approaching ships could be seen and the occupants of which could provide a defence of Kinsale Harbour.




Work began on the construction of James Fort even while James I predecessor, Elizabeth I, was still alive. Its advantageous position meant there had already been an earlier fortification on the site; known as Castle Ny-Parke this had been occupied for a time during the Siege of Kinsale by Spanish troops before they were displaced by Sir Richard Smyth, a brother-in-law of Richard Boyle, the future Earl of Cork. But there was a concern that the Spaniards could return, and in greater numbers, hence the decision to build anew. The fortress’s design came from a military engineer Paul Ive who in 1589 had published a treatise The Practise of Fortification. A few years later Ive was praised by Walter Raleigh for his ‘judgement, invention and industry’ so it is understandable he was given the commission of overseeing the construction of James Fort which cost £675. This is four-sided fortress at the centre of a pentagonal bastion; inside the fort’s walls are various other structures to provide accommodation for troops and so forth. The remains of a hexagonal blockhouse lies close to the water’s edge.




Developments in fortification design, especially the construction of increasingly sophisticated star-shaped bastions following the example of those created by the French Comte de Vauban, meant Ive’s work at James Fort quickly came to look old-fashioned. Hence the decision to build the larger and more modern Charles Fort on the other side of the harbour entrance. Before then James Fort had seen some action in the 1640s during the Confederate Wars but it suffered greater damage in the Williamite Wars towards the end of the 17th century when a gunpowder store exploded. Thereafter the building went into steady decline and by the 19th century was already described as being a ruin: it has remained in this condition to the present day.

June 1921 II




As already mentioned, June 1921 was a particularly bad month for country house burnings in north-west County Cork. One of those then lost was Rye Court, seat of the Tonson Rye family: the Ryes were originally living in Cork city (where one of their number was mayor in 1667 and 1668) but had moved to Ryecourt before the end of the 17th century. There they built a fine house and, at some date in the second half of the 18th century changed their name to Tonson Rye as a result of marriage into another family. Ryecourt looked south over a fine parkland, many trees of which still survive but the building was gutted by fire in 1921 and subsequently demolished (a small house was built inside the adjacent walled garden). Immediately behind the old house stood a courtyard with offices to east and west, and with gates and railings closing its north side: all these survive, albeit in poor condition, as can be seen here.


June 1921 I



During Ireland’s War of Independence, more country houses were burnt in County Cork than in any other part of the country. June 1921 saw a particularly extensive outbreak of arson attacks on such properties in the north-west of the county, one such house being Warren’s Grove. As its name indicates, this belonged to the Warren family whose main residence a few miles away bore the equally imaginative name of Warren’s Court. More is known about the history of the latter than of Warren’s Grove, which seems to date from the early 19th century. In 1837 Samuel Lewis listed the property as belonging to John Borlase Warren, a younger brother of Sir Augustus Warren, third baronet. Following Sir Augustus’ death in 1863 without a direct heir, Warren’s Court – and the baronetcy – was inherited by the now-Sir John Borlase and, following his own death less than eight months later, his eldest son, another Sir Augustus. Accordingly Warren’s Grove became a secondary residence for the family. It was burnt by the IRA in mid-June 1921, along with Warren’s Court (and another Warren property in the same part of the world, Crookstown House). Warren’s Court was subsequently demolished, but the shell of Warren’s Grove still stands, the outbuildings in a courtyard to the rear of the house having been converted of late into holiday accommodation.


The Miniature Fort


Looking like a miniature fort, this is the former gatelodge to Belmount, County Cork which sits across a bridge spanning a tributary of the river Bride. The main part of the building rises three storeys, with two-storey castellated extensions to the rear running along the waterfront. Above the entrance are the remains of an Oriel window, a finial over that bearing the date 1837: sadly now roofless, there are only traces remaining of how the interior once looked.

Not a Happy Place


Conna Castle, County Cork, few owners of which appear to have enjoyed happy lives. Situated on a limestone outcrop above the river Bride, work on this tower house began in 1554 and seemingly took ten years to complete for the FitzGeralds, a branch of the Earls of Desmond. Hoping to inherit the title, they did not participate in either of the Desmond Rebellions and following the death of the fifteenth earl in 1583 petitioned Elizabeth I to be recognised as his successor. Unfortunately, they were descended from a marriage between the fourteenth earl and his own grandniece, judged to be outside the acceptable boundaries of consanguinity, thus making offspring from the union illegitimate. James FitzThomas FitzGerald, who had hoped to become the sixteenth earl, on his return to Ireland from London was mockingly known as the the Sugán or ‘Straw’ Earl. In 1598 he joined in the rising initiated by Hugh O’Neill but was defeated and went into hiding, eventually being betrayed to the English forces by a cousin Edmund FitzGibbon, the White Knight: taken to London, FitzGerald died in the Tower of London apparently having become insane. The lands around Conna then passed through a number of hands before becoming part of the territory owned by Richard Boyle, first Earl of Cork. In 1645 during the Confederate Wars it was captured by the third Earl of Castlehaven: five years later the English forces made an unsuccessful attempt to take the castle back. However damage occurred a few years later owing to a fire which also claimed the lives of the steward’s three daughters. Conna has been in state ownership since 1915.

Picturesque Remains


Mallow Castle, County Cork has featured here before (see Unrealised Potential, May 8th 2017) when the later house, and its neglect since being acquired by the local authority in 2010, was discussed. Today provides an opportunity to look at the older house on the same site. In fact that older building replaced an even earlier castle, originally built by the Anglo-Norman de Rupe (otherwise Roche) family. In 1282 the Roches exchanged their land here with the Desmond branch of the FitzGerald dynasty for property in Connacht, and a more substantial castle was constructed. The Desmonds remained here for the next 300 years but following the suppression of the second Desmond Rebellion in the early 1580s and the onset of the Munster Plantation, Mallow was granted by Elizabeth I to Sir Thomas Norreys whose descendants would remain there until 1984.





The Norreys – or Norris – family came from Berkshire, several brothers coming to Ireland to fight in the English army in the last quarter of the 16th century. The most successful of the siblings was Sir John Norreys, a personal friend of the queen (his grandfather, Sir Henry Norreys, had been executed alongside Elizabeth I’s mother Anne Boleyn on trumped-up charges of adultery with her). Sir John initially arrived in this country in 1574, spending time in Ulster before spending almost ten years in the Low Countries supporting Protestant opponents of Spanish rule. He was briefly in Ireland in 1584, when appointed President of Munster, but soon left to fight again on mainland Europe. Eventually he came here a third time in 1595, dying in Mallow two years later, supposedly in the arms of his younger brother Thomas. The latter had arrived in Ireland at the end of 1579 and stayed here for the next twenty years until his own death, again at Mallow. During this time, he was almost constantly at war with the native Irish. Nevertheless, during this time he embarked on building a new residence in Mallow where, in addition to the old castle, he had been granted some 6,000 acres.





As seen today, Mallow Castle incorporates part of the older castle but was designed to be a fortified manor house, similar to those erected during the same period at Donegal (see Oh! Solitary Fort that Standest Yonder, April 17th 2017) and Kanturk (see An Abandoned Project, December 7th 2015). Of four storeys with projecting bays at the centre of each long wall flanked by gables, the building has octagonal turrets at the corners of north- and south-west corners: the roofline was decorated with stepped battlements. Mullioned windows provided light to the interior, a stone wall dividing the house in half, other partitions being of wood. It was here that Sir Thomas Norreys died in 1599, the Mallow estate inherited by his only child Elizabeth who married another English soldier, Major-General Sir John Jephson. Their descendants continued to occupy the castle, which survived being siege and capture during the Confederate Wars of the 1640s. However, in 1689 the castle was burnt, seemingly on the instructions of James II, and rendered uninhabitable. The Jephsons then converted the former stable block into a house, before this was made over in the 1830s to the designs of Edward Blore. The old castle has remained as a picturesque ruin.

A View from Above

Lohort Castle, County Cork featured here over a year ago (see Surrendering to the Elements, June 19th 2017). Recently a follower of the site, James McErlain was in touch and  kindly forwarded some aerial photographs of the site taken a few years ago. These are particularly interesting because they show the outline of an octagonal outer fortification around the perimeter of the castle and ancillary structures. This is not the same as the star-shaped Vaubanesque outerworks depicted in an 18th century engraving (these look to have been approximately where are now a belt of trees around the castle) but indicates a further sequence of defences, perhaps constructed during the Confederate Wars of the 1640s when the place was besieged. 

How to Kill a Street


The former entrance to a house on Lower O’Connell Street, Kinsale, County Cork. One of a terrace testifying to the long-standing prosperity of the town, these handsome residences date from c.1800 and have fine cut-limestone door cases and slate covering their upper storeys. All of them have been incorporated into an hotel which faces the harbour. This means the entrances have all been closed, and insensitive uPVC windows inserted at every level. As a consequence an entire section of Lower O’Connell Street has lost both character and, just as important, public engagement. Shabby and neglected, what ought to be a thoroughfare just as bustling as others in Kinsale has instead become a dead space.

Well Hung


The slate-hung exterior of Drishane, County Cork. Facing due south out to sea (hence the protective slates), the house was built c.1780 for Thomas Somerville and has remained home to successive generations of the same family – including author Edith Somerville – ever since. Drishane will feature in the latest series of Lords & Ladles (in which the Irish Aesthete intermittently has a walk-on – or rather sit down – role) beginning on RTE One television this Sunday, June 10th.