Turbulent Past, Tranquil Present

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On two adjacent hills in the north-west corner of County Meath can be found the remains of what was seemingly once a prominent settlement for both clerics and laity. This is Moylagh, its fragmentary ruins testifying to the harsh passage of time, and the inevitability of change and decay. Consensus holds that the nature of the site, with its undulating mounds and deep ditches, indicates early human habitation: the prehistoric passage tombs of Loughcrew are not far away. And there is said to have been a monastic house established here not long after Christianity arrived in Ireland. However, the modern history of Moylagh really begins with the appearance of the Normans in the 12th century. Around that time a motte and bailey was constructed, together with a wooden fort, on the highest point of the taller mound which offers superlative views across many miles of surrounding land.

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At some date in the 15th century the wooden fort was replaced with one of stone: in 1470 Roger Rockford was granted assistance to build a tower ‘near Moylagh Castle’ (perhaps a continuation of the statute issued by the Henry VI in 1429 which offered landowners a grant of £10 towards the construction of such defensive residences). This castle is associated with the Barnwells (often spelled Barnewell), an Anglo-Norman family originally settled in County Dublin, members of which arrived in Meath in the mid-14th century and gradually built up a considerable land holding. One branch became Barons Trimlestown, a title still extant after more than 550 years, while another based elsewhere in the county at Crickstown were created baronets in the 17th century. It was this line which owned Moylagh: according to the Down Survey of 1654-56, Sir Richard Barnwall of Crickstown had held 182 acres at Moylagh in 1640, including ‘a ruinous castle with a bawn, a church with a steeple (tower) and 20 cabins.’ From which one deduces that the castle fell into ruin, or was destroyed, relatively early. Today only the buttressed stump of an east gable survives.

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On the neighbouring mound can be found the more substantial portions of another fortified tower, this one originally attached to a church built around 1470 and supposedly once linked to the nearby Benedictine abbey at Fore (see Fore and After, January 5th 2015). The construction of a fortified tower is explained by the general lawlessness of the period in which religious establishments were often attacked and ransacked by rival, warring families. In any case, the church at Moylagh did not last much longer than the castle and little survives to indicate its presence. The tower, on the other hand, remains in reasonable condition, its religious connections still indicated by a graveyard which was heavily used for the burial of occupants of Oldcastle Workhouse during the years of the Great Famine. Little evidence of that turbulent period, or other earlier ones, can be seen today in what is now a little-visited spot tucked down a remote country road.

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‘Out of Repaire’

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The remains of Cullahill Castle, County Laois as seen through the east window of its adjacent former chapel. The castle, really an exceptionally large tower house within its own bawn wall, was constructed on an outcrop of rock around 1425 and served as a stronghold for the MacGillapatricks of Upper Ossory. Rising five storeys and ninety feet, its impressive scale made the castle a target for attack from rivals even in the years after construction but it was eventually destroyed after being bombarded by cannon during the Cromwellian Wars. Recorded in the Down Survey in 1657 as being ‘out of repaire’ it has remained in this condition ever since. There is a Sheela na Gig high on the east wall of the building but sadly this proved impossible to photograph.

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The Legacy of Máire Rúa

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The last photograph featured below shows the familiar exterior view of Leamaneh Castle, County Clare which originally consisted of a plain five-storey tower house (the portion to the right). This was built around 1480 by Turlogh O’Brien, King of Thomond and is said to derive its name from the Irish ‘Leim an eich’ (The horse’s Leap). In 1543, Turlogh O’Brien’s son, Murrough, surrendered the castle and pledged loyalty to the English crown; as a result he was subsequently created first Earl of Thomond and Baron Inchiquin. In 1648, his descendant Conor O’Brien extended the tower with the addition of a four-storey manor house following his marriage to Máire ní Mahon who on account of her flaming red hair, was commonly known as Máire Rúa (Red Mary).

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Many legends are told of Máire Rúa, most of them apocryphal (such as that which proposes she had twenty-five husbands, after which she was sealed into a hollow tree and left to die). However it is true that when Conor O’Brien was killed by an English soldier, she married a Cromwellian officer, thereby ensuring the family estates were preserved for her son, Sir Donough O’Brien. He was the last of the family to live at Leamaneh, moving instead to live at the larger and more commodious Dromoland Castle. Early in the last century Sir Donough’s descendant, Lucius William O’Brien, 15th Baron Inchiquin organised for the stone gateway (hitherto marking the entrance to Leamaneh) to be removed and re-erected in the grounds of Dromoland where it still remains. Around the same time a stone chimneypiece from the castle was also taken out and installed in the Old Ground Hotel, Ennis where it likewise continues to stand.

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A Light Touch

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The double return Imperial staircase in Crom Castle, County Fermanagh. The house was designed in the mid-1830s by Edward Blore, a protégé of Sir Walter Scott who specialised in Gothic Revival architecture. Here a mixture of timber and plaster was employed to create a feather-light sequence of soaring arcades in the late Perpendicular style leading up to an octagonal lantern.

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The Ferocious O’Flahertys

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The O’Flaherty family are descended from one Flaithbheartach mac Eimhin who lived in the 10th century. Although originally settled on the eastern side of what is now County Galway, they were later driven further west and came to control much of Connemara. But like many other such tribes, they were almost constantly striving to expand the area under their authority and it is said the mediaeval walls of Galway city carried the inscription ‘From the ferocious O’Flahertys O Lord Deliver Us.’ By this time, one of their strongholds was Bunowen Castle, County Galway strategically located by the Hill of Doon and overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.

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In the sixteenth century, Bunowen and its surrounding lands were controlled by Dónal ‘an Chogaidh’ Ó Flaithbheartaigh (Donal of the Battle) who in 1546 married Gráinne daughter of Eoghan Dubhdara Ó Máille, chief of the Ó Máille clan in neighbouring County Mayo: she is also known as Grace O’Malley, the Pirate Queen. The couple had three children before Dónal was killed in battle in 1560: a few years later Gráinne left Bunowen and settled instead on Clare Island in her own county. But the castle remained in the family’s ownership until the 1650s when it was captured by the Cromwellian army and the O’Flahertys dispossessed. Bunowen was then given to Arthur Geoghegan whose own lands in County Westmeath had been taken from him before he was transplanted to the west of Ireland. The Geoghegans subsequently married into a local family, the Blakes who were one of the Tribes of Galway, and so became integrated into the region.

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In 1808 John David Geoghegan of Bunowen petitioned the British crown for permission to change his surname. The family had long believed itself descended from the prehistoric Irish king Niall of the Nine Hostages and therefore wished to take the name of his descendants. Accordingly they were granted the right to call themselves O’Neill. It is perhaps for this reason that, having assumed control of the Bunowen estate following his father’s death in 1830, John David’s son Augustus John O’Neill embarked on an ambitious building programme to enlarge the house. During the previous four years he had served as an Member of Parliament for the English constituency of Kingston-upon-Hull but had not stood for re-election. There were rumours that one reason for his unwillingness to face the electorate a second time was due to a gambling scandal or unpaid bills, but these allegations were not substantiated. In any case, he did overstretch his resources on Bunowen and, like so many others, in the aftermath of the Great Famine he was obliged to sell his property. In 1853 it passed into the hands of Valentine O’Connor Blake of Towerhill, County Mayo who used Bunowen as a summer residence. The castle was intact a century ago but at some date thereafter abandoned. It now stands a gaunt ruin, still gazing out to the Atlantic as it did when occupied by the ferocious O’Flahertys.

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A Rock and a Hard Place

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Some 150 feet above the plains of County Laois rises an outcrop of limestone called the Rock of Dunamase (from the Irish Dún Másc meaning ‘fort of Másc’). On top of this are the remains of a once-substantial fortress, the origins of which have been discovered by archeological excavation to date back to the 9th century when a hill fort (or dún) was constructed on the site. This cannot have survived very long since Dunamase was attacked and pillaged by Vikings around the year 843-44. According to the Annals of the Four Masters, ‘Dun Masg was plundered by the foreigners, where Aedh, son of Dubdharchrich, Abbot of Tir-da-glas [modern Terryglass, County Tipperary] and Cluain-eidhnach, was taken prisoner; and they carried him into Munster, where he suffered martyrdom for the sake of God; and Ceithearnach, son of Cudinaisg, Prior of Cill-dara, with many others besides, was killed by them during the same plundering expedition.’ It would appear that as a result of this devastation, no further occupation of Dunamase occurred until the 12th century and the arrival of the Normans.

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By the second half of the 12th century, Dunamase was evidently in the possession of Diarmait Mac Murchada, King of Leinster since it was given as part of his daughter Aoife’s dowry when she married Richard de Clare (‘Strongbow’) in 1171. Thereafter the site continued to pass through the female line for several generations: Aoife and Richard de Clare having no adult sons, their lands went to an only daughter Isabel de Clare who married William Marshall. None of their five sons outliving them, the lands were divided between five daughters, one of whom – Eva Marshall – married the Welsh March lord William de Braose. Once more this couple only had daughters, the second of whom Maud married Roger Mortimer; in the mid-1320s their grandson, another Roger, the first Earl of March, became the lover of Queen Isabella (the She-Wolf of France) and led the revolt against her husband Edward II. When the king’s son, Edward III, had Mortimer executed for treason in 1330, the family lost their Irish property and although it was later restored to them, by that stage Dunamase seems to have come under the control of the local O’Mores. In any case, by the middle of the 14th century it had begun to fall into a state of disrepair and although there are stories that Dunamase was destroyed by Cromwellian troops (as there are about almost every other dilapidated fortress in Ireland), it seems that by the time the latter came to Ireland in the mid-17th century the site had long since become uninhabitable. Some restoration work was undertaken towards the close of the 18th century by Sir John Parnell, Chancellor of the Irish Exchequer and Lord of the Treasury (also great-grandfather of Charles Stewart Parnell): he incorporated stone door and window cases from other local antiquarian sites into the upper portion of the old castle with the intention of creating a banqueting hall but the work remained incomplete and was abandoned after his death in 1801.

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After more than six centuries of neglect in an exposed position, it is understandable not a lot of the Rock of Dunamase’s Norman castle survives. Sometimes utilising the natural rock formation for defensive purposes, a series of walls had been constructed, the interior portion of the site accessed by an outer and inner barbican, the second of these incorporating a ditch and a drawbridge. The upper part of the rock was further protected by a curtain wall with its own gatehouse, and at the very top was a large hall or keep. This part of the structure was most modified by Sir John Parnell but it is likely he also undertook remedial work elsewhere on the rock and thereby secured what has survived to the present day since otherwise even more might have been lost. Now a visitor to Dunamase needs to bring along imagination in order to conceive how the place once looked. On the other hand, the views from the top remain superlative, stretching in every direction for many miles and only occasionally spoilt by injudicious development (made even more apparent from such high ground). It is easy to understand why the Rock of Dunamase was chosen as a place of defence but also, given the site’s relative inaccessibility, why it was subsequently abandoned.

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Burnt Out

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Although the Everard family is said to have come to Ireland around 1177, only from the fifteenth century onwards does it come to prominence as effective owner of the town of Fethard, County Tipperary, and of the surrounding territory. In 1578 John Everard entered the Inner Temple and twelve years later was called to the Bar, being appointed justice of the  Court of King’s Bench (Ireland)  in 1602 and subsequently knighted. As evidence of his authority in this part of the country, in 1608 he secured the new charter for Fethard from the English crown, according to the terms of which the town’s Corporation was renewed and enlarged, ‘and was endowed with such liberties and privileges as were needed to draw more people to the town and to increase its trade and commerce.’ The previous year Sir John had surrendered all his property to the English authorities, and then received it back again, evidence of the esteem in which he was held. What makes this notable is that the Everards were, and remained, adherents of the Roman Catholic faith. As a judge he was expected to take the Oath of Allegiance to the crown but, his conscience making this impossible, he resigned the position. Ultimately the Everards’ loyalty to the old religion would lead to tragedy, but first came farce. In 1613 the only Irish Parliament  held during the reign of James I was called, to which Sir Jhn was returned as member of the House of Commons for Tipperary.  He was the Catholic choice for the position of Speaker of the House of Commons, but they were iin a minority, the government’s choice being Sir John Davies, Attorney General for Ireland. When the vote was taken, Sir John Everard installed himself in the Speaker’s chair and refused to move. According to a contemporary source, ‘Sir Thomas Ridgway, Sir Richard Wingfield, Sir Oliver St John and others, brought Sir John Davies to the chair, and lifted him into Sir John Everard’s lap; the Knights perceiving Sir John Everard would not give place to their speaker, they lifted Sir John Everard out of the chair, and some of Sir John Everard’s part holding him by the collar of the gown to keep him in the chair…’ Ultimately this undignified incident ended in Everard’s defeat, not least because Sir John Davies was a much heavier man who literally crushed his opponent by sitting on top of him.

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Despite his embarrassing setback over occupation of the Speaker’s chair in the House of Commons – after which he was temporarily imprisoned in the Tower of London – Sir John Everard continued to flourish, to remain in possession of his lands, and of a judicial pension, and to practice as a Roman Catholic until his death in 1624. He had three sons, the most prominent being the middle child Richard who even while his father was still alive was created a baronet. Like his father Sir Richard remained resolutely Roman Catholic, and as before this brought him into difficulties with the English authorities, especially after the Confederate War began in Ireland in 1641. It seems that initially Sir Richard ‘kept aloof from both parties; but for not joining with them, the “old” Irish took away from him “160 cows, 33 stud mares, and 2,000 sheep.” The tenants on his Estate were subject to similar treatment: the richest of whom with their flocks and goods Sir Richard conveyed to “safe quarters”.’ This account continues, ‘Later on, when the object of the Catholic Confederation was clearly known and defined, Sir Richard readily joined the popular movement, and in 1646 was one of the Confederate Catholics who sat in what might be designated the “Irish Parliament at Kilkenny”.’ Following Oliver Cromwell’s arrival in this country in 1649, Sir Richard was one of the leaders of the opposing Confederate army. He was involved in defending Limerick against the Cromwellian forces but following the city’s surrender was one of those hanged by Henry Ireton.

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Before strife once again overwhelmed Ireland, Sir Richard embarked on building a new residence in the midst of a fertile plain lying between the Galtee Mountains and the small town of Clogheen, County Tipperary. Commonly called Everard’s Castle, this has at its centre a substantial four-bay, three-storey over basement rectangular block with square flanking towers of four storeys (again over basement) at each of the corners. This is the last of a group of such semi-fortified houses, beginning with Rathfarnham Castle, County Dublin built for Archbishop Adam Loftus in the late 1580s (see A Whiter Shade of Pale, August 26th 2013) and taking in others like Kanturk Castle, County Cork (see An Abandoned Project, December 7th 2015), Leamaneagh Castle, County Clare and Portumna Castle, County Galway. However, whereas many of these were castellated, Everard’s Castle is notable for its gables, all twenty six of them: it would also have had seven chimney stacks. It is, therefore, closer to the English model of manor house than the familiar Irish tower house, and suggests Sir Richard was expecting years of peace, not war, to follow. On the other hand, deep corbels above the first-floor windows were intended to carry a defensive wooden gallery, so he must have reckoned with the possibility that his new property would be subject to attack. The front has a low door placed asymmetrically which again suggests certain caution on the part of the original builder. However one of the other sides of the house features a finer and larger cut stone doorcase with hood mould and carved decoration. And there are many two- and three-mullioned windows throughout the structure, which would have made it much lighter and airier than was the norm in this country at the time.

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A stone formerly over the entrance but now elsewhere on the site carries the date 1641, presumably the year in which work on Everard’s Castle was completed. The family was not to enjoy occupation for long. After a couple of years Sir Richard became embroiled in the Confederate Wars and, as has been mentioned, was hanged by Ireton in 1651. The year before, as Cromwell’s army advanced south Lady Everard set the house on fire, rather than allow it fall into enemy hands: it has stood a ruin ever since, and became known as Burncourt (or sometimes Burntcourt). Legend has it the building took seven years to build, was occupied for seven years and took seven days to burn. As for the family, following Sir Richard’s death they forfeited their lands but these were restored to his eldest son Sir Redmond Everard following the restoration of Charles II in 1660. In turn his son, Sir John Everard, was attainted for supporting James II, and although some of the family property was subsequently returned, their baronetcy and presence in this part of Ireland ended with the death of another Sir Redmond Everard around 1740. In 1751 the Fethard territories were sold to wealthy Bordeaux wine merchant Thomas Barton, while the area around Burncourt was acquired by a Dublin lawyer, Cornelius O’Callaghan. His great-grandson, another Cornelius O’Callaghan who was created first Viscount Lismore, was responsible for building another immense castle nearby: Shanbally designed by John Nash. Notoriously this was blown up by the Irish Land Commission in 1960. So while Shanbally is gone, Burncourt remains, thereby providing a partial memory of Tipperary’s architectural heritage.

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