A Man Famous for Wickedness


‘As it is right that these holy and glorious men who attained by their merits the highest praise on earth and eternal happiness in heaven should be celebrated in books and records, so on the other hand the wicked and abandoned men should not be passed over in silence, in order that not only might the living justly condemn them, but also that posterity might execrate their name. And so Miler [Magrath], a man not as exalted in birth as famous for wickedness, entered into religion in which he conducted himself in a very irregular way and with very little of the manner of a religious. Consecrated a priest and endowed by the Pope with no little power and authority, he set out from Rome to Ireland as if he were going to denounce the new dogmatic errors of the English, but, perhaps, thinking otherwise in his mind; for from the time he reached England, I am informed, he used to carry the apostolic letters in a large and beautiful pyx or locket which hung openly from his neck and was obvious to everyone, for no other purpose but that he might betray himself and his calling. Being arrested by the ministers of justice, he was brought, together with the apostolic letters, before Queen Elizabeth or her council, and deserted with little unwillingness the Catholic religion, readily embracing the Queens’ sect and bribes before he performed the least duty. Then made pseudo-bishop of Cashel, he right away in unholy union wedded Anna (Amy) Ni-Meare. She upon a Friday would not eat meat. “Why is it wife,” said Miler, “that you will not eat meat with me?” “It is,” said she, “because I do not wish to commit sin with you.” “Surely,” said he, “you committed a far greater sin in coming to the bed of me a friar.” The same woman asked by Miler why she wept: “Because, “said she “Eugene who was with me to-day assured me by strong proof and many holy testimonies that I would be condemned to hell if I should die in this state of being your wife, and I am frightened and cannot help crying lest this be true.” “Indeed,” said Miler, “if you hope otherwise your hope will lead you much astray, and not for the possibility but for the reality should you fret.” Not long after Anna (Amy) died consumed with grief. This Eugene who then, as at many other times, had endeavoured to bring her back to a good life was (O’Duffy), a Franciscan friar, some of whose rather incisive poems, written in Irish against Miler and other heretics, are extant. Well, the wicked Miler married a second wife, and now lives sinning, not in ignorance but willingly. He does not hunt priests nor endeavour to detach Catholics from the true religion. He is now nearly worn out with age.’
From Philip O’Sullivan Beare’s Catholic History of Ireland, originally written in Latin in 1621 but portions of it published in English in 1903.




‘The foundation of this castle, according to popular tradition, is ascribed to the celebrated Malmurry, or, as he was usually called, Myler Magrath, the first Protestant Bishop of Clogher; and there is every reason to believe this tradition correct. The lands on which the castle is situated anciently constituted the Termon of St. Daveog of Lough Derg, of which the Magraths were hereditarily the termoners or churchwardens; and of this family Myler Magrath was the head; so that these lands properly belonged to him anteriorly to any grant of them derived through his bishopric. He was originally a Franciscan friar, and being a man of distinguished abilities, was advanced by Pope Pius V to the see of Down; but having afterwards having embraced Protestantism, he was placed in the see of Clogher by letter of Queen Elizabeth, dated 18th May 1570, and by grant dated the 18th September, in the same year. He remained, however, but a short time in this see, in which he received but little or nothing of the revenue and in which he was probably surrounded by enemies even among his own kindred, and was translated to the archbishopric of Cashel on the 3d February the year following. He died at Cashel at the age of 100, and was interred in the choir of that ancient cathedral, where a splendid monument to his memory still exists, with a Latin inscription penned by himself.’
From the Irish Penny Journal, December 26th, 1840.





‘The castle of Termon Magrath, or Termon as it is more usually called, is situated at the northern extremity of Lough Erne, about half a mile to the west of the pleasant little town of Pettigoe, county of Donegal. Like most of the edifices of the kind erected in the sixteenth century, it consisted of a massive keep, of great strength, with circular towers at two of its angles, and encompassed by outworks. During the Parliamentary Wars it was besieged by Ireton, who planted his batteries on the neighbouring hill, and did it considerable damage. According to popular tradition, its foundation is ascribed to the celebrated Malmurry, or, as he is usually called, Myler Magrath, and Dr. Petrie says there is every reason to believe this tradition correct. The lands on which the castle is situated anciently belonged to the Termon of St. Daveog of Lough Derg, of which the Magraths were the hereditary termoners, or custodians of the church lands. Of this family Myler Magrath was the head. He was a churchman of distinguished abilities, and according to a tradition among the peasantry, was the handsomest man in Ireland of his day. He died at Cashel, of which see he was archbishop, in the year 1622, at the age of 100, and was interred in the choir of that ancient cathedral, where the monument to his memory still exists, with a Latin inscription penned by himself. The scenery in the immediate vicinity of the Castle is very beautiful, the shores of the lake being fringed with the plantations of the glebe of Templecarn, and those of Waterfoot.’
From the Illustrated Dublin Journal, November 9th, 1861.

Plain and Simple


The former St Matthew’s church in Kilcar, County Donegal. Dating from the second half of the 1820s (it was consecrated by William Knox, Bishop of Derry in Sepember 1828) the present building replaced an earlier one erected in the 17th century. As so often, funding was provided by the Board of First Fruits, resulting in what Samuel Lewis in his Topographical Dictionary of Ireland described as ‘a small handsome building.’ The architect is unknown but the church conforms to type, composed of a two-bay hall with a tower at the west end. Closed for services in the 1960s, the building subsequently lost its roof but what remains has recently been cleared of encroaching vegetation.

Another Gratuitous Loss


The castellated entrance into the former Camlin estate, County Donegal. The land here was bought c.1718 from William ‘Speaker’ Conolly by William Tredennick, who had moved to Ireland from Cornwall. The drive led to a large Tudor-Gothic house which, like the entrance was designed around 1838 by John Benjamin Keane and featured a plethora of battlements and turrets draped over what was essentially a symmetrical, classical residence. The Tredennicks remained here for more than two centuries, the last of them leaving the place in 1929. Some twenty years later the main house was blown up by the Electricity Supply Board, then engaged in the Erne Hydro-Electric Scheme. It was thought Camlin would be submerged by the new lake but in fact the water’s edge never came close to the site of the building so its destruction was entirely gratuitous. The entrance is all that now remains to indicate the lost house’s appearance.

From Bishops to Bullocks


In a report compiled for the Ordnance Survey in February 1836, Lt. I.I Wilkinson observed that in Raphoe, County Donegal, ‘The bishop’s palace stands on the eastern side of the town, in a pleasant demesne containing groves, serpentine walks, plantations and every other variety to please the human mind. A little distance to the north east of the palace is the residence of the dean, in the midst of an enclosed demesne full of groves and plantations with grand fields all beautifully round. Both places indicate as if Heaven itself had designed the place and situations for the use of the pious servants of the Lord.’ A year later in his Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, Samuel Lewis wrote of Raphoe, ‘The Episcopal palace, formerly a strong castle, is about a quarter of a mile from the town: it is a handsome and spacious castellated building, pleasantly situated in tastefully disposed grounds…The deanery-house, which is also the glebe-house of the parish, was built in 1739, at an expense of £1680, and has been subsequently enlarged and improved from their own funds by various successive incumbents ; it is pleasantly situated about a mile from the town.’ Of these two buildings, the deanery – otherwise known as Oakfield – still stands and was discussed here a few weeks ago (see Et in Arcadia…, June 26th 2017). The former bishop’s palace, on the other hand, has enjoyed less good fortune.





A date stone on the building advises that Raphoe Palace was begun in May 1636 and finished in August the following year. It was constructed at the behest of the then-Bishop of the diocese, John Leslie. Born in Aberdeenshire in 1571, Leslie spent two decades in Spain before returning to Britain where he became a favourite of James I who made him a privy councillor of Scotland. In 1628 he was appointed Bishop of the Isles, and five years later translated to Raphoe where he found much of the Episcopal lands in lay hands but succeeded in regaining them. Bishop Leslie’s combative nature became more apparent and more necessary after 1641 with the onset of the eleven-year Confederate Wars. Leslie was a staunch royalist, and battled against both the Irish and Cromwell’s Parliamentary army, for this reason becoming known as the ‘Fighting Bishop.’ Despite ultimately being on the losing side, he was permitted to remain in situ during the Commonwealth period. When Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660, Leslie – then aged 90 – is said to have rode from Chester to London in order to pay homage to the king. As a reward for his unstinting loyalty, Charles in return recommended the bishop to the Irish House of Commons which voted him a gift of £2,000. By now transferred to the see of Clogher, he used this money which he used to buy the Glaslough estate in County Monaghan. His descendants live there still because at the age of sixty-seven the bishop finally married, his bride being Catherine Cunningham, teenage daughter of the Dean of Raphoe: the couple had five children. Bishop Leslie died in 1671, aged 100.





Writing in The Architecture of Ireland (1982) Maurice Craig notes the debt owed by Raphoe Palace to Rathfarnham Castle, built on the outskirts of Dublin half a century earlier (see A Whiter Shade of Pale, August 26th 2013). The latter had likewise been built by an Anglican cleric, Adam Loftus, Archbishop of Dublin, and had similarly been intended to withstand assault: as Craig points out in both instances the main block has four flanking spear-shaped towers which provided the occupants with a defensive advantage in the event of attack. This indeed is what happened during the Confederacy Wars, and the building was later plundered by the troops of James II in 1688. The palace as seen today is taller than would originally have been the case: it has been proposed that originally the palace was two storeys over basement, the additional floors being added in the 18th century. But the dimensions of the building remain as they were in Leslie’s day, the central portion being a square measuring forty-six feet each way, and the interiors of the towers being each 12 and a half feet square: the walls throughout are four feet thick. The palace’s architectural history in the post-Leslie period is unclear, although it remained in use as an Episcopal residence for a considerable time. Restoration works are known to have been carried out after John Pooley was appointed Bishop of Raphoe in 1702, and more alterations took place at a later date, the window openings being enlarged to admit additional light. The east front features a fine stone Gibbsian door with coats of arms inserted into the walls of the towers on either side. An attack during the 1798 Rebellion led to further renovations and the last bishop to live here, William Bissett, carried out improvements including the castellations and bartizans around the top floor. Following his death in 1834, the bishopric of Raphoe was amalgamated with that of Derry and the old palace put up for sale. In 1838 it was gutted by fire, and has remained a ruin ever since. Today the ‘pleasant demesne’ noted by Wilkinson has been turned over to pasture, and at its centre bullocks rather than bishops now occupy the palace.

Et in Arcadia…


Closing the fifteenth annual Historic Houses Conference at Dublin Castle last week, Professor Christopher Ridgway urged the importance of ‘moving the narrative beyond the litany of loss and destruction.’ This site might sometimes seem to deal only in the latter currency, to offer a ceaseless round of bad news, of historic properties fallen into disrepair, of estates permitted to slide into ruin. On occasion however, a more cheerful story can be told, one that has nothing to do with loss and destruction. Such is the case this week at Oakfield, County Donegal.




Oakfield is of interest for many reasons, not least its links to one of the loveliest estates in England: Rousham, Oxfordshire. The main house at Oakfield, built in 1739 at a cost of £1,680, was commissioned by William Cotterell, then-Dean of Raphoe. Cotterell was a younger son of Sir Charles Lodowick Cotterell who, like his father before him (and several generations of the same family thereafter) held the court position of Master of Ceremonies. In 1741 Dean Cotterell’s brother, Sir Clement Cotterell who performed the same role in the royal household, inherited the Rousham estate from a cousin. William Kent had already been working on the gardens at Rousham but now also undertook improvements to the house. Clearly the Cotterell brothers were men of taste and this can also be seen at Oakfield even if Kent did not work there. In fact the house’s elevations are stylistically somewhat anachronistic and seem to harp back to the late 17th century. Nevertheless, tit is a handsome building in an admirably chosen setting: on a bluff offering views across to Croaghan Hill some five miles away. 




Oakfield remained in use as a deanery until the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland in 1869 when it was sold to Thomas Butler Stoney, another younger son (this time of James Stoney of Rossyvera, County Mayo). A Captain in the Donegal Artillery Militia, Stoney also occupied all the other positions expected of someone in his position: County High Sheriff, Deputy Lieutenant of the county, Justice of the Peace. Following his death in 1912 Oakfield was inherited by his only son, Cecil Robert Vesey Stoney, a keen ornithologist who eventually moved to England in the early 1930s. The house and surrounding lands thereafter passed through several hands before being bought twenty-one years ago by businessman Gerry Robinson who together with his wife Heather has since undertaken an extensive restoration of the property. 




Over the past two decades, not only have the Robinsons restored the residence at the centre of Oakfield, but they have created a 100-acre parkland around it. Some of this is based in the old walled gardens immediately adjacent to the house but the rest is spread over two areas bisected by a road. This division applies also to the spirit of the two sections, the upper garden having a more classical aspect thanks to elements such as a Nymphaeum on one side of the lake. The lower garden’s principal architectural feature is a newly-created castellated tower house overlooking another stretch of water. Between this pair of substantial structures are other, smaller buildings to engage a visitor’s interest. Oakfield is an admirable demonstration of what imaginative vision allied with sound taste can achieve. Walking around the grounds, it is hard to believe this is County Donegal. But that is what sets Oakfield apart: like Rousham on the other side of the Irish Sea, once inside the gates one is temporarily transported to Arcadia.


For more on Oakfield, see: http://www.oakfieldpark.com

Oh! Solitary Fort that Standest Yonder

‘Oh! solitary fort, that standest yonder,
What desolation dost thou not reveal!
How tarnished is the beauty of thine aspect,
Thou mansion of the chaste and gentle melodies!

Demolished lie thy towering battlements –
The dark loam of the earth has risen up
Over the whiteness of thy polished stones;
And solitude and ruin gird thee round.

Thy end is come, fair fortress, thou art fallen –
Thy magical prestige has been stripped off –
Thy well-shaped corner-stones have been displaced
And cast forth to the outside of thy ramparts.’





‘Thy doorways are, alas! filled up,
Thou fortress of the once bright doors!
The limestones of thy top lie at thy base,
On all the sides of thy fair walls.

Over the mouldings of thy shattered windows,
The music that to-day breaks forth
Is the wild music of the birds and winds,
The voices of the stormy elements!

O, many-gated Court of Donegal,
What spell of slumber overcame thee,
Thou mansion of the board of flowing goblets,
To make thee undergo this rueful change?’




‘The reason that he left thee as thou art
Was lest the black ferocious strangers
Should dare to dwell within thy walls,
Thou fair-proportioned, speckled mansion!

Lest we should ever call thee theirs,
Should call thee in good earnest Dun-na-gall,
This was the reason, Fortress of the Gaels,
That thy fair turrets were o’erthrown.

Now that our kings have all been exiled hence
To dwell among the reptiles of strange lands,
It is a woe for us to see thy towers,
O, bright fort of the glossy walls!’

Extracts from  George Petrie’s 1840 translation of an Irish-language poem Address to the Ruins of Donegal Castle written in 1601 after the building’s intentional mutilation (to prevent it falling into English hands) by then-owner Red Hugh O’Donnell.

Suffered by Neglect to Fall into Ruin



A stone on the central archway of the former barracks in Ballyshannon, County Donegal carries the date 1700 but the person responsible for the building’s design remains unclear. Rolf Loeber proposes William Robinson who until that year acted as Surveyor General in Ireland. However, Alistair Rowan and others have put forward the name of Thomas Burgh who succeeded to that position in 1700. Either way the property is, as Donegal County Council’s own Area Plan states ‘of national importance’ and therefore its present condition of neglect must be regretted. In 1760 an official report drawn up on the state of barracks around the country noted that this one ‘hath been suffered by Neglect to fall into Ruin, insomuch, that excepting the outside Walls of the Building, the Whole will require and entire Repair.’ Over two and a half centuries later, little seems to have changed.