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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From Old…

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Seen across a sea of buttercups, the tower house known as Tourin Castle, County Waterford. The building is believed to date from the mid-15th century and was long occupied by members of the Roche family who some 200 years later added a more modern residence at right angles to the older. This e-shaped house with gable-ends and tall chimneys was acquired by Sir Richard Musgrave in 1778 and his descendants continued to live there until c.1840 when they moved to a smart Italianate villa some distance away possibly designed by Waterford architect Abraham Denny. The tower house has remained empty since then.

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With Panoramic Views

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The former Franciscan friary at Kilcrea, County Cork has been discussed here before (see Lo Arthur Leary, November 2nd 2015). Not far away is a five storey tower house completed around 1465 by Cormac Láidir Mór, Lord of Muskerry then-head of the McCarthy clan. As Coyne and Wills wrote in The Scenery and Antiquities of Ireland (1841), ‘The ruins evince it to have been a place of considerable extent and rude magnificence.’ It was also intentionally built within sight of the friary which Cormac Láidir Mór had established around the same time: As the photograph below shows, a perfect view of one from the other can be seen through a window on the uppermost level of the old castle, reached via a stone spiral staircase.

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Behind These Walls…

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Situated to the immediate north of Kinvara, County Galway Dunguaire Castle was built in the early sixteenth century by the O’Hynes clan. Few of the tourists who stop to photograph the picturesque building know of its link with one of the great British society scandals of the last century. In 1918 Christabel Hart had married — against his family’s wishes — John Russell, heir to the second Lord Ampthill. Exceptionally tall and nicknamed ‘Stilts’ Russell enjoyed going to fancy dress balls in drag. Meanwhile his young wife spent the evenings in London dancing with a string of what her husband would refer to as ‘detestable young men.’ In June 1921, following a visit to a clairvoyant, Christabel Russell discovered she was five months pregnant. John Russell denied paternity and at once sued for divorce, claiming that no physical contact whatever had taken place between them and that the marriage had, on her insistence, never been fully consummated. In the resultant court case it transpired the couple had shared a bed for two nights just before Christmas 1920. According to Christabel Russell her husband had taken the opportunity to attempt what was referred to in accounts of the resultant court case as ‘incomplete’ or ‘partial’ intercourse; it seems he had already tried to do the same on several previous occasions, which she described as ‘Hunnish scenes, usually preceded by threats to shoot himself and once to shoot my cat, which often slept on the bed.’ Matters became still more confused when it was discovered that Christabel Russell, despite her pregnancy, showed ‘all the signs of virginity.’ One widespread explanation was that she had taken a bath immediately after her husband and had used the same sponge: even in later life her son Geoffrey (the fourth Lord Ampthill) was popularly known as the ‘sponge baby.’ The Russells eventually divorced in 1937 and Christabel, Lady Ampthill moved to Ireland, settling in County Galway where she enjoyed the hunting. For several decades until her death in 1976 her home was Dunguaire Castle.

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The Past in Need of a Future

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While claims are made of 12th century origins, in its present form Lackeen Castle, County Tipperary is an example of the later Irish tower house. These defensive dwellings were built from the 15th to early 17th centuries, and it would appear that Lackeen was constructed for Brian Ua Cinneide Fionn, chieftain of Ormond, who died in 1588. Cinneide is the Irish word for ‘Helmeted Head’, it being said that the Ua Cinneides were the first people in this country to wear helmets when going into battle against the Vikings. The name was later anglicised to Kennedy and the family remains widespread in this part of north Tipperary. Although Brian Ua Cinneide Fionn’s son Donnchadh further fortified the castle, in 1653 it surrendered to English forces. Nevertheless his descendants regained possession of the property and were in occupation in the 18th century. Lackeen is of particular interest since it forms part of a group of buildings constructed within a bawn wall, considerable parts of which also survive. The tower house is of four storeys, and contains the remains of several chimneypieces as well as two flights of stairs, initially a straight run to the first floor, and then a spiral staircase to the upper levels concluding in a large open space which was once roofed and would have held the main living chambers.

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As mentioned, the original owners of Lackeen had regained possession of the site by the 18th century. In 1735 John O’Kennedy who was then undertaking work on the tower house discovered an ancient manuscript hidden inside one of its walls. Known as the Stowe Missal the work was written in Latin in the late eighth or early ninth century but in the mid-11th century had been annotated and some additional pages written in Irish. By that date the manuscript seems to have come into the safe keeping of a monastery at nearby Lorrha where it would have remained until the dissolution of such establishments in the mid-16th century; most likely the manuscript was then concealed for safekeeping at Lackeen Castle. Following its rediscovery the missal entered the collection of the Irish antiquarian Charles O’Conor, the O’Conor Don. In 1798 his grandson, a Roman Catholic priest also called Charles O’Conor, was invited to become chaplain to the first Marchioness of Buckingham, and to organize and translate a collection of historic material kept at her husband’s house, Stowe in Buckinghamshire. On moving to England, the younger O’Conor brought with him fifty-nine of his grandfather’s manuscripts including the missal found at Lackeen. Along with the others, this remained at Stowe until the entire collection was sold to the fourth Earl of Ashburnham in 1849: in turn his son sold all the manuscripts to the British government which returned Irish-related material to this country. The Stowe missal is now in the possession of the Royal Irish Academy.

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Adjacent to Lackeen Castle and on the edge of the bawn wall is a group of domestic buildings which look to be from the 17th and early 18th centuries: it would seem at least some of this cluster was erected in the aftermath of 1660 when peace, for a time, returned to Ireland. The most striking, and most intact, of the group is a two-storey, five-bay farmhouse, one-room deep, with a single living space on either side of the entrance hall. The latter is interesting because on coming through the front door one faces a pair of panelled doors, that to the left leading to the staircase (now in part collapsed) that to the right being a cupboard. This decorative flourish, together with simple plasterwork on the ceilings of the ground floor rooms suggest aspirations towards gentry status on the part of the earliest occupants, and make Lackeen House all the more important since such buildings are now relatively rare. In the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage, the building’s association with the adjacent tower house is described as being ‘of great importance and illustrates the development of this site for domestic use over several centuries.’ Photographs taken only a few years ago show the house unoccupied but still in reasonable condition. Unfortunately such is no longer the case: there are holes in the roof where slates have slipped, resultant water ingress has led to partial ceiling collapse, a portion of the stairs has given way and the signs are that Lackeen House will soon be just an empty shell. This is a s0-called ‘Protected Structure’ but once again the term is meaningless as no protection is being offered to the house. Time is running out fast here: unless an intervention occurs soon a nationally important collection of historic buildings is set to be lose one of its key elements.

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