Only a Matter of Time

Without question the most significant domestic dwelling in the village of Killeagh, County Cork – and accordingly, the most neglected. This five-bay, two-storey house dates from c.1770 and, at least on the exterior, still retains many of its original features. But for how much longer? Planting trees and adding street furniture cannot disguise the fact that this is a building at risk of being permanently lost in the near future.

Three for One

A thousand years ago the O’Mahonys were a powerful sept occupying a swathe of territory running from where now stands Cork city to the south-west of the region. However, following the Norman invasion in the second half of the 12th century the O’Mahonys were gradually pushed ever closer to the region’s Atlantic extremities, ultimately settling on the peninsulas that jut into the ocean. Here, according to the medieval Annals of Inisfallen, they built themselves a fortified settlement in a place now known as Dunlough Castle. It is easy to understand why the location was chosen. To the east lies a lake, Dun Lough which would have provided fish for the building’s occupants. To north and south the land rises making it possible to anticipate any potential attack, since those responsible would have been visible on the horizon. Meanwhile immediately to the west are cliffs dropping precipitately to the Atlantic. As Peter Somerville-Large, who formerly lived in this area, wrote more than thirty years ago: ‘To an invading army, the cliff edge, the defensive wall, the lake and the sternly inaccessible approach would have made the castle appear impregnable.’

In this sheltered spot Donagh na Aimrice O’Mahoney (Donagh the Migratory) erected a castle on what is believed to have been the site of an Iron Age fort. What we see here today, however, are the remains of a 15th century development. This gives Dunlough its popular alternative name of Three Castles since the structure comprises three fortified towers joined by a wall some twenty feet high and almost 1,000 feet long running from cliff face to lakeshore. All three towers are rectangular and of three storeys, the most substantial being that furthest to the west. Rising almost fifty feet and over fifty square feet inside, the building would have served as residence for the owners. It has entrances on both the ground and first floors, the latter presumably accessed by means of a ladder, to provide additional protection for occupants in the event of an attack. Internally the first floor was of wood and is therefore long gone but the second floor, of stone, survives: the space above would have been used for dining and large gatherings. The roof of towers from this period was typically of wood and so no longer extant.

The middle tower at Dunlough was probably used for storage and that closest to the lake provided ingress to the whole site. The construction technique used throughout was dry stone masonry, unusual for the period when wet mortar and sand were used in building; dry stone masonry had been common at an earlier date meaning Dunlough was somewhat anachronistic, the reason perhaps being its remote location. The stone used – indigenous schist-slate rock – was quarried from local pits. The nature of its construction left the building vulnerable to decay, since it appears Dunlough was never subject to serious attack. The O’Mahonys remained there until the 1620s when their lands were confiscated: the last occupants are believed to have been members of the O’Donohue family, all of whom apparently died by murder or suicide: according to legend a drop of blood falls every day in the tower closest to the lake. Whether true or not – the building today looks clear of all bloodstains – the story adds to Dunlough’s inherently romantic character.

Taking a Leap

The name of Leamcon Castle, County Cork derives from the Irish ‘Leim Con’ meaning a leap or chasm and hound (also a hero or champion). The reason is that the castle, actually a late 15th century tower house, stands on an island separated from the mainland by a narrow channel through which, at this time of year, churn the waters of the Atlantic: a narrow bridge now links the two. Originally built by a branch of the O’Mahony family, in the early 17th century Leamcon passed into the ownership of Devon-born Sir William Hull, appointed Vice-Admiral for the province of Munster with responsibility for dealing with piracy which was then rampant along the south-western coast of Ireland. In fact, Hull proved to be a gamekeeper-turned-poacher and became known as a friend and ally, rather than foe, of the pirates.

Pious Liberality

The funerary monument of John Evans-Freke, sixth Baron Carbery, located inside the cathedral church of St Fachtna, Rosscarbery, Co. Cork . The monument is in two parts, one being this life-size marble statue of the deceased dressed in doublet and hose. Carved by Belgian sculptor Guillaume Geefs, the figure is complemented by a wall monument featuring an angel ready with his trumpet to summon the peer (whose coat of arms can also be seen) at Last Judgement. Below a long encomium assures readers that Lord Carbery’s ‘active usefulness and pious liberality are attested by this church which was built through his exertions.’ The church in question is that at Rathbarry, formerly part of the Castlefreke estate. Now a ruin, it closed in 1927, at which date the monument was moved to its present site.

Decidedly Odd

Today’s building is decidedly odd. Heathfield, County Cork dates from c.1780 and as far as the interior is concerned, follows the period’s standard design and layout. Its exterior, on the other hand, is distinctly non-conformist. The entrance front, although facing east, is a blank rubble wall except for one small door placed off-centre. A wing, now ruinous, stands on the north-east corner: might there once have been another on the other side of the façade, thereby creating a miniature Palladian house? Meanwhile the weather-slated rear elevation likewise has just a single point of entry – at basement level – and only two windows (one now blocked) placed on the upper floor. Of the two other sides, that facing north likewise features a basement door as well as a large arched window to light the return on the staircase, while that looking south has pairs of substantial six-over-six sash windows on all three floors. What can be the explanation for such an odd arrangement which must have made the rooms inside rather dark? Did the original builder fear civil disturbance, and therefore minimise points of access to the building? At a time when increased fenestration was becoming the norm, it is hard to explain why, other than for reasons of defence, such limited access to natural light would have been deemed acceptable.

Heathfield is thought to have been built by a branch of the Lane family who lived not far away in a house called Arlinstown. It has also been proposed that the property’s name derives from George Augustus Eliott, created Baron Heathfield in 1787, a career soldier who briefly served as Commander-in-Chief in Ireland in 1774-5 but this seems rather unlikely. A more probable explanation is that Heathfield is a variant of Heathview, the name of a house near Kanturk owned by the Bastable family. By 1818 Heathfield was occupied by one Henry Bastable who appears to have lived there with his family for at least the next twenty years during which time he served as a magistrate in Kinsale and on the Cork Grand Jury, as well as being a member of the local Board of Guardians.

Heathfield’s defensive character would serve it well in the mid-1830s when County Cork experienced considerable disturbance during the Tithe Wars. The campaign against paying money to the Church of Ireland led to the re-emergence of rural secret societies, members of which roved through the countryside at night, attacking houses and demanding the surrender of food, arms and money. In March 1834 Henry Bastable was woken by a large group of men surrounding Heathfield and calling on him to hand over any weapons he might have. From his bedroom window he advised there was only one gun in the house, which they insisted he hand over. Going downstairs to a lower window he duly proffered the gun, but muzzle first: the men outside, fearing he might fire on them as they approached to take the weapon, obliged him to pass over the gun handle first. Next they wanted money, initially seeking a sum of £5. After some negotiation, 50 shillings was agreed upon and given to them. The group then departed, but returned a short time later to give back the gun: Henry Bastable believed this was because it was a new kind of device, the operating mechanism unfamiliar – and therefore of no use – to his nocturnal visitors.

From the mid-19th century onwards, Heathfield was occupied by a succession of different tenants and owners. In 1850 the house was briefly let to a Michael Buck who in turn sublet it to one William Dixon. Subsequently the property was taken by the English-born William Sillifant, who undertook improvements on the land, having bought Heathfield from the Bastables in 1878 for £1,350. In 1890 it was reported that significant malicious damage had been done to the pillars and gates at the entrance to Heathfield. While the Cork Constitution, a staunchly Unionist newspaper, proposed this was because Sillifant was English, a more likely explanation is that he had incurred the wrath of many neighbours by taking them to court for minor offences such as lifestock straying onto his land. As a result, he was unpopular locally.
Heathfield was sold by William Sillifant’s widow in 1905 and changed hands a further three times in the last century before being bought by the family of the present owners. The house was occupied until the 1970s but has since fallen into a poor condition. The dining room floor has completely collapsed and other parts of the building are vulnerable but enough survives to show it was evidently built for a gentleman farmer who wished to emulate the style of living enjoyed by wealthier members of society. In its design, however, Heathfield is decidedly odd.

Many thanks to Fergal Browne for his kind help with the history of Heathfield.

In Loving Memory

Inside Christ Church, Ballymartle, County Cork dates from 1866 when it replaced an earlier building, the ruins of which can be seen close by. Several funerary monuments were moved from the latter, including this touching memorial to William Meade erected by his parents, Sir John Meade and his wife the Hon Elizabeth Butler, a daughter of the second Viscount Ikerrin: their grandson, also called John, would be created first Earl of Clanwilliam in 1776. But William had long since departed this world since, as the inscription notes, having been born in 1689 he died in 1702, less than a fortnight before what would have been his thirteenth birthday.

Brief Lives

Once prominent in the East Muskerry region of County Cork, the Long family is believed to be descended from a branch of the Ui Eachach. By the late Mediaeval period, their base was at Canovee, otherwise called Cannaway, and often referred to as an island since so much of the area is surrounded by water, with the river Lee to the immediate north, north-east and north-west, the river Kame and one of its tributaries to the east and another stream to the west. The Civil Survey of the Barony of Muskerry conducted in 1656 lists a great deal of the land around here as having belonged to ‘John Long of Mount Long, Irish Papist (deceased).’ This John Long was the son of Dr Thomas Long, a doctor of civil and canon law who had evidently prospered since he was able to acquire land elsewhere in County Cork, specifically to the south overlooking Oysterhaven Creek. Here in 1631 John Long embarked on building himself a new residence, named Mount Long. 

At the time of its construction Mount Long’s design would have embodied contemporary architectural trends. By this date, Irish domestic dwellings were no longer being built as tower houses but, in misplaced expectation of future peace, as fortified manors. As Stephen Byrne writes, the building ‘exemplifies the new style. Its proportions and detailing, including large mullioned windows, mark the transition from dimly-lit towerhouses with an overt defensive capability to properties boasting comfortable well-lit rooms and a modicum of fortification.’ Of three storeys and three bays on every side, Mount Long features a near-square flanker tower at each of its four corners, a feature borrowed from English architecture and intended to increase both the amount of accommodation and the quantity of light, aided by those aforementioned abundant mullioned windows. Obviously these left the building more vulnerable to attack and the presence of gun loops on the exterior walls indicates this was still deemed a threat. The elevations are notable for their then-fashionable gables: originally twenty in number, today just twelve survive. The present state of the building makes it difficult to understand how the interior looked, or the layout of rooms, not even a chimneypiece remaining. As late as 1907 architect James Franklin Fuller could write that cornices survived ‘with figures representing scriptural subjects and fieldsports’ but these can no longer be seen. 

John Long only enjoyed his smart new residence for a very short time. 1641 saw the start of what would become known as the Confederate Wars, in which Long and his two sons took the side of the Roman Catholic forces. They established a camp not far away near Belgooly but the following spring were defeated close to Bandon. Taken prisoner, Long was convicted of treason and hanged. It is said that, knowing his fate, he sent a message to his daughter at Mount Long in 1643 telling her to burn the house in order to stop it falling into enemy hands. Whether true or not, the building was certainly consumed by fire at some date: extant lintels over doors and windows still show evidence of scorch marks. Despite post-Restoration efforts by John Long’s heirs to regain their property, Mount Long was granted to the Busteed family who built another house on higher ground close by. Mount Long fell into dereliction and is now a ruin. The west wall has entirely collapsed, along with most of the towers on either end, but the other three sides still stand, albeit in a somewhat precarious state. With just twelve years between its construction and destruction Mount Long reminds us that owing to changed circumstances buildings can sometimes have very brief lives. 

Mount Long is the October Building of the Month on http://www.buildingsofireland with an accompanying text written by Stephen Byrne.