Next weekend marks the centenary of the destruction of Mitchelstown Castle, County Cork, the biggest country house burnt in Ireland during the War of Independence/Civil War. Designed by siblings James and George Pain, the castle was built in the 1820s for George King, third Earl of Kingston who demolished the previous Palladian house on the site; Lord Kingston specifically required that it be bigger than any other such property in the country. Alas, less than 100 years later it was looted and destroyed, and the site then cleared: a milk-processing plant now stands on the site. To commemorate the events of 1922, Doomed Inheritance, a conference on the destruction of Mitchelstown Castle and other such buildings during that troubled period of Irish history will be held in Mitchelstown, at which the Irish Aesthete will be giving a paper ‘The Ruined Big House: Perception and Reality.’ Further information on the conference can be found here: Doomed Inheritance History Conference Tickets, Fri 12 Aug 2022 at 19:00 | Eventbrite
‘This family is originally of Norman extraction and was anciently called De La Montagne. In the reign of King Edward III, its members were styled Hill, alias De La Montagne; but in succeeding ages, they were known by the name of Hill only.
Sir Moyses Hill, Knt. (descended from the family of Hill, of Devonshire, two members of which were judges of England at the beginning of the 15th century, and one lord mayor of London, anno 1484), went over to Ireland as a military officer, with the Earl of Essex, in 1573, to suppress O’Neill’s rebellion; and was subsequently appointed governor of Olderfleet Castle, an important fortress at the period, as it protected the harbour of Larne from the invasion of the Scots. Sir Moyses represented the county of Antrim in the parliament of 1613, and having distinguished himself during a long life, both as a soldier and a magistrate, died in February 1629-30, and was succeeded by his elder son Peter Hill esq but we pass to his younger son Arthur who eventually inherited the estates on the demise of Peter’s only son Francis Hill esq of Hill Hall, without male issue.
The said Arthur Hill esq of Hillsborough, was colonel of a regiment in the service of King Charles I, and he sate in parliament under the usurpation of Cromwell, as well as after the Restoration, when he was sworn of the privy council…’
From A General and Heraldic Dictionary of the Peerage and Baronetage of the British Empire by John Burke, Esq. (1833)
‘Hillsborough: This place, originally called Cromlyn, derived its present name from a castle erected by Sir Arthur Hill in the reign of Chas. I, which at the time of the Restoration, was made a royal fortress by Chas. II, who made Sir Arthur and his heirs hereditary constables, with twenty warders and a well-appointed garrison. The castle if of great strength and is defended by four bastions commanding the road from Dublin to Belfast and Carrickfergus; it is still kept up as a royal garrison under the hereditary constableship of the present Marquess of Downshire, a descendant of the founder, and is also used as an armory for the yeomanry.’
From A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland by Samuel Lewis (1837)
‘Colonel Hill, having built within a few years, at his own charge, and upon his own lands, during the rebellion, for the encouragement of an English plantation and security of the country, a considerable place of strength, called Hillsborough fortified with four bastions, or flankers, commanding the chief roads in the county of Down leading from Dublin to Belfast and Carrickfergus; His Majesty was pleased to consider that the surprise thereof, upon any insurrection, might prove very prejudicial to his service, and how much it would conduce to His Majesty’s service and the safety of the country that a guard should be placed in that fort for the security thereof; he therefore granted a patent at Westminster for erecting it into a royal garrison by the name of Hillsborough Fort, with a Constable and officers to command it, to be called and known by the name of Constable of Hillsborough Fort, and twenty warders to be nominated and chosen by him; the Constable to have an allowance of 3s. 2d. a day and the warders 6d. each; and this office was granted to him, his heirs and assigns, for ever.’
From Historical Notices of Old Belfast and its Vicinity; A Selection from the Mss. collected by William Pinkerton, Edited with notes by Robert M Young (1896)
Today it’s difficult to believe that the little County Louth village of Termonfeckin was once the palatial seat of successive Archbishops of Armagh, who in the later Middle Ages preferred to live here rather than in the primatial city further north (think of this as being the Irish equivalent of the Papacy taking up residence in Avignon during the same period). Nothing now survives of that building – what remained was demolished in 1830 – but a second late-medieval castle still stands, a tower house probably built in the 15th century and then repaired in 1641 by the Brabazon family who were then a dominant presence in this part of the country. The castle is three storeys tall and has a projecting tower; a second one has long since gone. The interior boasts a vaulted ceiling on the first floor but alas, on the occasion of a recent visit, the building’s key holder could not be located. Perhaps another time…
Born in County Down in 1766, at the age of 17 Alexander Henry emigrated to America where he established himself as a merchant in Philadelphia. Some years later, his nephew, also called Alexander Henry in turn moved to Philadelphia where he joined his uncle’s business, but then came back across the Atlantic to settle in England in 1804. The following year, in partnership with his elder brother Samuel, he set up a company in Manchester, A & S Henry & Co Ltd, that specialised in the marketing and distribution of cotton. The business was enormously successful, opening branch offices in Bradford, Belfast, Leeds, Huddersfield and Glasgow to act as collecting stations for textile products of all kinds; in consequence, the founding family soon became very wealthy, allowing its members to buy country houses and become Members of Parliament, as Alexander Henry duly did, representing South Lancashire.
Mitchell Henry was born in 1826, second son of Alexander Henry, who some years earlier had married Elizabeth Brush, like him a native of County Down. Mitchell Henry trained to be a doctor, becoming a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons and senior consultant at the Middlesex Hospital, London by the age of 30. However, following his father’s death in 1858, he ceased practising medicine, instead seeking election as an MP. Before then, he had married Margaret Vaughan whose family, once again, came from County Down; the couple would have nine children. Prior to that, and during their honeymoon, they travelled to the west of Ireland and were much taken with the scenery of Connemara. In consequence, after coming into his considerable inheritance, and following the Great Famine when large swathes of the country were offered for sale, Henry was able to buy Kylemore Lodge and some 13,000 acres of land in the west of Ireland from the impoverished Blake family. Here, from 1864 onwards, he embarked on building a new residence. At that date, this part of the country was exceptionally remote. The architect, and keen self-publicist, James Franklin Fuller, who designed the church at Kylemore (built in memory of Margaret Henry, following her unexpected death in 1874), remembered that to get there ‘was no easy matter. The train landed me at Westport the first day, the next meant posting to Leenane, the third was devoted to castle and church, while the fourth dropped me at Westport in time for the night mail; practically it “spoiled” a week.’ Constructing a large castle was something of an act of folly, since it involved considerable amounts of earthworks to clear the chosen site, as well as moving a road to the opposite side of Lake Pollacappul. As if that didn’t involve sufficient expense, instead of using local stone, the client insisted the building be cased in granite from Dalkey, County Dublin, sent by ship from one side of the country to the other. The main architect to work on this job was Galway-based Samuel Ussher Roberts, a great-grandson of the 18th century Waterford architect John Roberts. His design consists, as Mark Bence-Jones noted, of ‘romantic groupings of battlemented and machiolated towers and turrets’, the facade broken up by large and regular groupings of mullioned windows and oriels.’ The castle benefits enormously from its setting, with the mountains rising immediately to the rear and the lake, in which it is often seen reflected, directly in front. The interiors, beginning with the dark-panelled entrance hall, are harder to judge not least because they have been altered by subsequent owners and in addition were damaged by a fire in 1959. Their appearance, however, lacks the Gothic character of the exterior, and instead displays standard mid-Victorian style. The main reception rooms are large and high-ceilinged, with a variety of marbles employed for the chimney pieces, the finest of these being in the drawing room. The staircase hall leads to a first-floor gallery around which were grouped the main bedrooms. There is little here to set the space apart from any other country house of the period. In addition to the main castle, Mitchell Henry was responsible for commissioning the development of an eight-acre walled garden to supply him with all necessary fruit and vegetables: this has been restored in recent years.
Kylemore Castle was not Mitchell Henry’s only residence: he also owned a large property in London, Stratheden House. Originally designed in the early 1770s by Sir William Chambers, it was bought by Henry in 1863 and transformed into a vast Italianate villa by architect T. H. Wyatt before being filled with the owner’s objects d’art which included an antique bust of Agrippa and The Pompeian Mother, a statue by Giosuè Meli’s depicting a woman and child fleeing from the eruption of Vesuvius: this was displayed in its own Pompeian-style temple within the house. Much of the furniture was modern Italian replicas of originals in the Vatican and the Pitti Palace and among the most remarkable rooms was a library with ebonized woodwork and gold mouldings, green silkhung walls, and an ornate ceiling and frieze in Venetian cinquecento style, embellished with portraits of philosophers and poets. Alas, the extravagance of building and maintaining two such enormous and expensive houses, as well as draining bogland and improving conditions in Connemara, proved to be Henry’s undoing. From being very rich, he became rather poor; at the time of his death in 1910, he had only a few hundred pounds. Ten years earlier, Strathedan House and its contents were sold, and the building soon after pulled down, replaced by a block of apartments. Then in 1903 Kylemore Castle was also sold, to William Montagu, ninth Duke of Manchester and his wife, the American heiress Helena Zimmerman. The duke was a notorious spendthrift, as he proceeded to demonstrate in County Galway where he transformed much of the interior of his new property, taking out large quantities of stained glass from the main staircase window and much Connemara marble from a number of the rooms. Despite the considerable wealth of his wife’s family, he managed to run up an impressive number of debts: by 1918, 66 petitions of bankruptcy had been filed against him in the English courts. Two years later, Kylemore Castle was sold once more, this time to Benedictine nuns from Ypres, Belgian. Now called Kylemore Abbey, the order remains there to the present day. After running a girls’ boarding school on the site for many years, they have now turned it into one of the most successful tourist attractions in this part of Ireland.
Stepping Through the Gate: Inside Ireland’s Walled Gardens, an exhibition curated by the Irish Aesthete and featuring more than fifty specially-commissioned paintings by artists Lesley Fennell, Andrea Jameson, Maria Levinge and Alison Rosse has now opened at Kylemore Abbey where it can be seen until the end of April.
‘A little before dinner I got to Castle Ward. Lord Bangor received me with great cordiality, brought me into his room, and signed the address with great willingness. He also asked me to dine and stay all night. This was the greater compliment as his house was full of company and not quite finished…There was an elegant dinner, stewed trout at the head, chine of the beef at the foot, soup in the middle, a little pie in the middle of each side, and four trifling things in the corners, just as you saw at Mr Adderley’s. This is the style of all the dinners I have seen, and the second course of nine dishes made out much in the same way. The cloth was taken away, and then the fruit – a pine-apple (not good), a small plate of peaches, grapes and figs, (but a few) and the rest pears and apples. No plates or knives given about. We were served in queenware.
Our epergne, candlesticks, service of china, variety of fruit, substantial and well-dressed dinners and dining-room far exceed anything that I have seen since I came abroad, and so it is spoken of, for Miss Murray assured me in the most serious manner that both Sir Patrick and Fortescue had often declared that they never had anywhere in their lives met with so much entertainment, with a more convenient house, or more elegant living than at Castle Caldwell.’
Sir James Caldwell, writing to his wife, Monday, 12th October, 1772
‘August 11th, 1776. Reached Castle Caldwell at night, where Sir James Caldwell received me with a politeness and cordiality that will make me long remember it with pleasure…Nothing can be more beautiful than the approach to Castle Caldwell; the promontories of thick wood which shoot into Lough Erne, under the shade of a great ridge of mountains, have the finest effect imaginable; as soon as you are through the gates, turn to the left, about 200 yards to the edge of the hill, where the whole domain lies beneath the point of view. It is a promontory three miles long, projecting into the lake, a beautiful assemblage of wood and lawn, one end a thick shade, the other grass, scattered with trees and finished with wood…the house, almost obscured among the trees, seems a fit retreat from every care and anxiety of the world; a little beyond it the lawn, which is in front, shews its lively green among the deeper shades and over the neck of land, which joins it to the promontory of wood called Ross a goul, the lake seems to form a beautiful wood-locked bason, stretching its silver surface behind the stems of the single trees; beyond the whole, the mountainy rocks of Turaw give a magnificent finishing…Take my leave of Castle Caldwell, and with colours flying and his band of music playing, go on board his six-oared barge for Inniskilling; the heavens were favourable, and a clear sky and bright sun gave me the beauties of the lake in all their splendour.’
From Arthur Young’s Tour of Ireland 1776-1779.
‘I travelled four hundred miles de suite without going to an inn. Amongst those who were most desirous of my calling upon them was Sir James Caldwell, of Castle Caldwell, on Lough Erne. One anecdote will give some idea of his character. The Marquis of Lansdowne, then Earl of Shelburne, being in Ireland, and intending to call on Sir James, he, with an hospitality truly Irish, thought of nothing night or day but how to devise some amusement to entertain his noble guest, and came home to breakfast one morning with prodigious eagerness to communicate a new idea to Lady Caldwell. This was to summon together the hundred labourers he employed, and choose fifty that would best represent New Zealand savages, in order that he might form two fleets of boats on the Lough, one to represent Captain Cook and his men, the other a New Zealand chief at the head of his party in canoes, and consulted her how it would be possible to get them dressed in an appropriate manner in time for Lord Shelburne’s arrival. Lady C, who had much more prudence than Sir James, reminded him that he had 200 acres of hay down, and the preparations he mentioned would occupy so much time that the whole would now stand a chance of being spoiled. All remonstrances were in vain. Tailors were pressed into his service from the surrounding country to vamp up, as well as time would permit, the crews of men and fleets. The prediction was fulfilled: the hay was spoiled, and what hurt Sir James much more, he received a letter from Lord S. to put off his coming till his return from Kilkenny, and that uncertain.’
From The Autobiography of Arthur Young (published 1898)
In the second volume of his magisterial life of W.B. Yeats, Roy Foster records a visit made by the poet to Markree Castle, County Sligo in late summer 1929. The house was then owned by Bryan Cooper, sometime poet and playwright, and for the previous six years a T.D. in Dáil Éireann. According to Foster, the visit was not altogether a success. Peter Cooper, one of his host’s sons, remembered it as ‘a great nuisance…he was deposited by his long-suffering wife, with instructions not to let him go out in the wet grass in his slippers, and she then disappeared off to Galway with the children.’ Bryan Cooper’s daughter Ursula was, it appears, equally not impressed when Yeats read her a poem he had just written. On the other hand, Bryan Cooper’s wife Lillian was delighted to hear from the poet that he had ‘realised the ambition of my life…as we have always looked on the Coopers and Markree Castle as greater than the Royal Family and Buckingham Palace.’
The first of the Coopers to live in Ireland is said to have been an English soldier who married the famous Máire Rua O’Brien after her second husband Conor O’Brien of Leamaneh Castle, County Clare was killed in 1651. Eight years later, Charles II granted Cooper land in County Sligo which had previously belonged to the McDonagh clan; it was based around a fort guarding a pass on the river Unsin, and this remains the site of Markree Castle. At some point in the 18th century, a classical house was constructed here, of three storeys with a five-bay entrance front (with three-bay breakfront) and the garden side with a single bay on either side of a curved bow. However, in 1802 Joshua Cooper commissioned Francis Johnston to transform the building into a castle. At that time Markree was also greatly enlarged, what had been the main facade extended to more than twice its original length and centred on a curved and battlemented tower; this now become – as it remains – the garden front. The entrance was now moved to an adjacent side, to which Johnston added a porch, while elsewhere an office wing was constructed, joined to the rest by a canted link. Further changes were made by Joshua Cooper’s nephew and heir, Edward Joshua Cooper, a keen astronomer who built an observatory in the demesne. Inside the castle, London architect Joseph Gwilt transformed the office wing into a private gothic chapel. Gwilt was also responsible for redecorating the interiors of the rooms overlooking the garden, in what Mark Bence-Jones described as ‘an ornate Louis Quatorze style; with much gilding and well-fed putti in high relief supporting cartouches and trailing swags of flowers and fruits.’ (These spaces are now used as dining rooms). In the mid-1860s, the next generation to live here, Colonel Edward Henry Cooper, initiated further changes, this time employing James Maitland Wardrop who gave the exterior its present heavily fortified appearance. The entrance was moved once more with the construction of a vast porte – cochère (with billiard room directly above). Inside, a baronial stone staircase leads up to the reception rooms and here a second Imperial staircase in oak, lit by a great arched window filled with heraldic stained glass with portraits of members of the Cooper family and monarchs, leads to a top-lit gallery off which open the main bedrooms. Francis Johnston’s former entrance was turned into a long gallery divided by pairs of marble Ionic columns.
The history of Markree Castle for much of the last century was one of seemingly irreversible decline, personified by the fact that in 1988 it was used for the filming of a television series based on J.G. Farrell’s novel Troubles, and that same year its staircase hall featured on the cover of Vanishing Country Houses of Ireland. Until the last quarter of the 19th century, the castle had stood at the centre of an estate running to more than 42,000 acres, but most of this was sold by Bryan Cooper under the new land acts after he inherited the property from his grandfather in 1902. He then spent much of his time in Dublin, especially in later years so that Markree became only occupied during the summer months. When Bryan Cooper died in 1930, his eldest son Edward Francis Patrick Cooper was left the place; he and his family lived there until 1952 when it became impossible for them to maintain such a large house. As a result, many of the original contents were auctioned, and the Coopers moved into the old service wing, leaving the rest of the building empty. In the early 1980s, Markree was passed to the next generation but the eldest son, Edward, did not wish to live in the house, and eventually it was taken over by his younger brother Charles who had trained in hotel management and therefore decided to turn the castle, by now in very bad condition, into an hotel. He and his wife Mary embarked on a programme of restoration and ran the business until 2014 when, wishing to retire, they put Markree Castle on the market. The following year it was bought by the Corscadden family who already owned a number of other hotels located in historic properties and, after further refurbishment, the castle has been open to guests ever since.
‘Castle-Caulfield owes its erection to Sir Toby Caulfield, afterwards Lord Charlemont – a distinguished English soldier who had fought in Spain and the Low Countries in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, and commanded a company of one hundred and fifty men in Ireland in the war with O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone, at the close of her reign. For these services he was rewarded by the Queen with a grant of part of Tyrone’s estate, and other lands in the province of Ulster; and on King James’s accession to the British crown, was honoured with knighthood and made governor of the fort of Charlemont, and of the counties of Tyrone and Armagh. At the plantation of Ulster he received further grants of lands, and among them a thousand acres called Ballydonnelly, or O’Donnelly’s town, in the barony of Dungannon, on which, in 1614, he commenced the erection of the mansion subsequently called Castle-Caulfield. This mansion is described by Pynnar in his Survey of Ulster in 1618-19, in the following words…’
‘…“Sir Toby Caulfield hath one thousand acres called Ballydonnell (recte Ballydonnelly), whereunto is added beside what was certified by Sir Josias Bodley, a fair house or castle, the front whereof is eighty feet in length and twenty-eight feet in breadth from outside to outside, two cross ends fifty feet in length and twenty-eight feet in breadth; the walls are five feet thick at the bottom, and four at the top, very good cellars under ground and all the windows are of hewn stone. Between the two cross ends there goeth a wall, which is eighteen feet high and maketh a small court within the building. This work at this time is but thirteen feet high, and a number of men at work for the sudden finishing of it. There is also a stone bridge over the river, which is of lime and stone, with strong buttresses for the supporting of it. And to this is joined a good water-mill for corn, all built of lime and stone. This is at this time the fairest building I have seen. Near unto this Bawne is built a town, in which there is fifteen English families, who are able to make twenty men with arms.”
The ruins of this celebrated mansion seem to justify the the opinion expressed by Pynnar, that it was the fairest building he had seen, that is, in the counties of the Plantation, for there are no existing remains of any house erected by the English or Scottish undertakers equal to it in architectural style. It received, however, from the second Lord Charlemont, the addition of a large gate-house with towers, and also of a strong keep or donjon…’
‘…That Ballydonnelly was truly, as we have stated, the ancient name of the place, and that it was the patrimonial residence of the chief of that ancient family, previously to the plantation of Ulster, must be sufficiently indicated by the authorities we have already adduced; but if any doubt on this fact could exist, it would be removed by the following passage in an unpublished Irish MS. Journal of the Rebellion of 1641 in our own possession, from which it appears that, as usual with the representatives of the dispossessed Irish families on the breaking out of that unhappy conflict, the chief of the O’Donnellys seized upon the Castle-Caufield mansion as of right his own:-
“October 1641. Lord Caulfield’s castle in Ballydonnelly (Baile I Donghoile) was taken by Patrick Moder (the gloomy) O’Donnelly.”
The Lord Charlemont, with his family, was at that time absent from his home in command of the garrison of Charlemont, and it was not his fate ever to see it afterwards; he was treacherously captured in his fortress about the same period by the cruel Sir Phelim O’Neill, and was barbarously murdered while under his protection, if not, as seems the fact, by his direction, on the 1st of March following. Nor was this costly and fairest house of its kind in “the north” ever after inhabited by any of his family: it was burned in those unhappy “troubles” and left the melancholy, though picturesque memorial of sad events which we now see it.’
Extracts from The Irish Penny Journal, Saturday, January 9, 1841, Number 28, Volume 1
What remains of Sweetman’s Castle, standing on the western side of the river Nore in Thomastown, County Kilkenny. The building is often described as a tower house, but given that it is listed as dating from c.1350 this surely cannot be correct, as tower houses were only constructed from the early 1400s onwards. It clearly was some kind of fortified structure, with a name derived from the Sweetmans who were a dominant family in this part of the country at the time. A number of ancillary agricultural structures were added to it around the middle of the 18th century and these also survive. Sadly, the castle is in poor condition and has been left to deteriorate even further in recent years: an regrettable, but not uncommon, phenomenon in Ireland. What makes the state of the building particularly unfortunate in this instance is that its location means shabby, run-down Sweetman’s Castle, adjacent to a bridge over the Nore, is highly visible to anyone entering or leaving the town.
‘In the year 1791, George Hartpole, of Shrewl Castle, Queen’s County, Ireland, had just come of age. He was the last surviving male of that name, which belonged to a popular family, highly respectable, and long established in the county. Few private gentlemen commenced life with better promise, and none better merited esteem and happiness. He was my relative by blood; and though considerably younger, the most intimate and dearest friend I had.
His father, Robert, had married a sister of the late and present Earls of Aldborough. She was the mother of George; and through this connexion originated my intercourse with that eccentric nobleman and his family.
A singular fatality had attended the Hartpole family from time immemorial. The fathers seldom survived the attainment of the age of 23 years by their elder sons, which circumstance gave rise to numerous traditionary tales of sprites and warnings.
Robert, as usual with the gentlemen of his day, was the dupe of agents, and the victim of indolence and hospitality. He had deposited his consort in the tomb of her fathers, and had continued merrily enjoying the convivialities of the world (principally in the night-time) till his son George had passed his 22nd year, and then punctually made way for the succession, leaving George inheritor of a large territory, a moderate income, a tattered mansion, an embarrassed rent-roll, and a profound ignorance (without the consciousness of it) of business in all departments.
George, though not at all handsome, had completely the mien and manners of a gentleman. His features accorded well with his address, bespeaking the cordiality of a friend and the ardour of an Irishman. His disposition was mild—his nature brave, generous, and sincere: on some occasions he was obstinate and peevish; on others, somewhat sullen and suspicious; but in his friendships, George Hartpole was immutable.
His stature was of the middle height, and his figure exhibited no appearance either of personal strength or constitutional vigour: his slender form and the languid fire of his eye indicated excitation without energy; yet his spirits were moderately good, and the most careless observer might feel convinced that he had sprung from no ordinary parentage—a circumstance which then had due influence in Ireland, where agents, artisans, and attorneys had not as yet supplanted the ancient nobility and gentry of the country.’
‘Shrewl Castle, the hereditary residence of the Hartpoles, was in no way distinguishable from the numerous other castellated edifices now in a state of dilapidation throughout the whole island—ruins which invariably excite a retrospect of happier times, when the resident landlord, reverenced and beloved, and the cheerful tenant, fostered and protected, felt the natural advantages of their reciprocal attachment; a reflection which leads us to a sad comparison with modern usages, when the absent lord and the mercenary agent have no consideration but the rents, no solicitude but for their collection; when the deserted tenantry keep pace in decline with the deserted mansion; when the ragged cottager has no master to employ, no guardian to protect him!—pining, and sunk in the lowest state of want and wretchedness,—sans work, sans food, sans covering, sans everything,—he rushes forlorn and desperate into the arms of destruction, which in all its various shapes stands ready to receive him. The reflection is miserable, but true:—such is Ireland since the year 1800.
Hartpole’s family residence, picturesquely seated on a verdant bank of the smooth and beautiful Barrow, had, during the revolutions of time, entirely lost the character of a fortress: patched and pieced after all the numberless orders of village architecture, it had long resigned the dignity of a castle without acquiring the comforts of a mansion: yet its gradual descent, from the stronghold of powerful chieftains to the rude dwelling of an embarrassed gentleman, could be traced even by a superficial observer. Its half-levelled battlements, its solitary and decrepit tower, and its rough, dingy walls, (giving it the appearance of a sort of habitable buttress,) combined to portray the downfall of an ancient family.’
‘George had received but a moderate education, far inadequate to his rank and expectations; and the country life of his careless father had afforded him too few conveniences for cultivating his capacity. His near alliance, however, and intercourse with the Aldborough family, gave him considerable opportunities to counteract, in a better class of society, that tendency to rustic dissipation to which his situation had exposed him, and which, at first seductive, soon becomes habitual, and ruinous in every way to youthful morals…Hartpole’s fortune on the death of his father was not large; but its increase would be great and certain, and this rendered his adoption of any money-making profession or employment unnecessary. He accordingly purchased a commission in the army, and commenced his entré into a military life and general society with all the advantages of birth, property, manners, and character.
A cursory observation of the world must convince us of one painful and inexplicable truth;—that there are some men (and frequently the best) who, even from their earliest youth, appear born to be the victims of undeviating misfortune; whom Providence seems to have gifted with free-agency only to lead them to unhappiness and ruin. Ever disappointed in his most ardent hopes—frustrated in his dearest objects—his best intentions overthrown—his purest motives calumniated and abused,—no rank or station suffices to shelter such an unfortunate:—ennui creeps upon his hopeless mind, communicates a listless languor to a sinking constitution, and at length he almost joyfully surrenders an existence which he finds too burdensome to be supported.
Such nearly was the lot of the last of the Hartpoles. He had scarcely commenced a flattering entrance into public life, when one false and fatal step, to which he was led first by a dreadful accident, and subsequently by his own benevolent disposition, worked on by the chicanery of others, laid the foundation of all his future miseries.
While quartered with his regiment at Galway, in Ireland, his gun, on a shooting party, burst in his hand, which was so shattered, that it was long before his surgeon could decide that amputation might be dispensed with.’
Today’s text is taken from Personal Sketches of His Own Times by Sir Jonah Barrington (1830), and the pictures show Shrule Castle, County Laois, ancestral home of Sir Jonah’s friend George Hartpole. Alas, following his shooting accident in Galway, Hartpole’s circumstances deteriorated rapidly; he managed to contract two marriages, the first with the daughter of a local innkeeper and then with the daughter of a neighbouring landowner, both of which soon ended unhappily, as did his own life since after just a few years, his health declined and he died, still a young man. Shrule Castle subsequently passed to the Lecky family and either they, or Hartpole added a large house to one side of the old castle. This, however, was badly damaged by fire in 1940 and its remains then demolished. Some years ago, the current owners embarked on an ambitious restoration of the old building but following an intervention by the local authority the work came to a halt, leaving the castle as it can be seen today.
‘Ballymote Castle – Just near the town of that name is 150 feet square, sixty high, and flanked and quoined by towers six feet broad in the wall, with a strong rampart and parapet all around. The front is very regular, and the whole of this ruin equally handsome and strong.
It was built in the year 1300 by Richard de Bourg, second Earl of Ulster. This castle, and that of Sligo, being in the hands of the Irish, made a considerable stand against the reduction of that part of the country. But Ireton, having joined with Sir Charles Coote, retook them in 1652.’
From Statistical Survey of the County of Sligo by James M’Parlan, 1802.
As M’Parlan noted more than 200 years ago, Ballymote Castle, County Sligo was originally built in 1300 by Richard de Burgh, second Earl of Ulster, often called the Red Earl, a great-grandson of the Anglo-Norman knight, William de Burgh who had arrived in Ireland in 1185 and before his death had already taken the title ‘Lord of Connacht.’ Like his forebear, the second earl was ambitious and combative, and often in opposition to his fellow Norman lords, not least John FitzThomas, first Earl of Kildare. However, his pugnaciousness failed him in 1315 following the invasion of Ulster by Edward Bruce. The latter’s brother, Robert the Bruce, King of Scotland, was married to de Burgh’s daughter Elizabeth (the couple’s son would become David II of Scotland) but that did not stop him attacking the earl and defeating him in battle in County Antrim (Edward Bruce would in turn be defeated and killed three years later at the Battle of Faughart).
It was during the upheaval that followed his defeat by Bruce’s army that the earl lost his recently-built castle in Ballymote, which was then seized by the O’Connor clan. Thereafter no one was able to hold onto it for very long. Just twenty years later the O’Connors lost the castle to the MacDermots who would, in turn lose it to the MacDonaghs in 1381. For the next two centuries, ownership of the castle passed back and forth between these local families. Finally in 1577 it fell to the English. However, Richard Bingham, appointed Governor of Connacht, sacked the place in 1584, and a few years later it was attacked and burnt by an alliance of local families, the O’Connors, O’Hartes and O’Dowds. Next the MacDonaghs regained control of the site, but soon after sold it to the O’Donnells, supposedly for £400 and 300 cattle. Following the defeat of Red Hugh O’Donnell at the Battle of Kinsale (1601), the castle once again passed into English hands. In 1610 it was granted by the crown to Sir William Taaffe whose son John was created Baron of Ballymote in 1628. But during the Confederate Wars it was once more subject to attack and in 1652 was taken by General Ireton. Finally, in the Williamite Wars, the castle was once again taken by the MacDonaghs before being surrendered to Arthur Forbes, Viscount Granard in 1690. Given such a history, it is remarkable that much of the building still stood, but at that point Ballymote Castle was finally abandoned, its moat filled in and the place left to become the ruin that can be seen today.