This Beautiful Pile


‘Immediately approaching Navan, the river [Boyne] makes a bold sweep round the foot of the hill, from which rise up the ruins of Athlumney Castle, the dilapidated towers and tall gables of which shoot above the trees that surround the commanding eminence on which it is placed, while glimpses of its broad, stone-sashed and picturesque windows, of the style of the end of the sixteenth century, are caught through the openings in the plantation which surrounds the height on which it stands. This beautiful pile consists of a large square keep, with stone arched floors and passages rising into a tower, from which a noble view can be obtained on a clear day; and a more modern castellated mansion, with square stone-mullioned windows, tall chimneys and several gables in the side walls.’




‘Of the history of the castle of Athlumney and its adjoining church, there is little known with certainty; but, standing on the left bank of the Boyne, opposite this point, we cannot help recalling the story of the heroism of its last lord, Sir Launcelot Dowdall, who, hearing of the issue of the battle of the Boyne and the fate of the monarch to whose religion and politics his family had been so long attached, and fearing the approach of the victorious English army, declared on the news reaching him, that the Prince of Orange should never rest under his ancestral roof. The threat was carried into execution. Dowdall set fire to his castle at nightfall and, crossing the Boyne, sat down upon its opposite bank, from whence, as tradition reports, he beheld the last timber in his noble mansion blazing and flickering in the calm summer’s night, then crash amidst the smouldering ruins; and when its final eructation of smoke and flame was given forth, and the pale light of morning was stealing over that scene of desolation, with an aching and despairing heart he turned from the once happy scene of his youth and manhood, and, flying to the continent, shortly after his royal master, never returned to this country. All that remained of this castle and estate were forfeited in 1700. Many a gallant Irish soldier lost his life, and many a noble Irish gentleman forfeited his broad lands that day. We wish their cause had been a better one, and the monarch for whom they bled more worthy such an honour.’




‘Tradition gives us another, but by no means so probable story about Athlumney Castle, which refers to an earlier date. It is said that two sisters occupied the ancient castles of Athlumney and Blackcastle, which latter was situated on the opposite bank of the river; and the heroine of the latter, jealous of her rival in Athlumney, took the following means of being revenged…’




‘…She made her enter into an agreement, that to prevent their mansions falling into the hands of Cromwell and his soldiers, they should set fire to them at the same moment, as soon as the news of his approach reached them, and that a fire being lighted upon one was to be the signal for the conflagration of the other. In the mean time, the wily mistress of Blackcastle had a quantity of dry brush-wood placed on one of the towers of the castle which, upon a certain night, she lighted; and the inhabitants of Athlumney perceiving the appointed signal, set fire to their mansion and burned it to the ground. In the morning the deception was manifest. Athlumney was a mass of blackened, smoking ruins; while Blackcastle still reared its proud form above the woods, and still afforded shelter to its haughty mistress.’


Extracts from The Beauties of the Boyne, and its Tributary, The Blackwater by Sir William Wilde (1850)