Deerpark Castle, County Galway might be considered the Weight Watchers of Irish tower houses: has all the vertical substance of a regular one, but only half the width. Erected on a natural outcrop of rock, the building is believed to date from the 16th century when this part of the country would have been under the control of the de Burgos, or Burkes a branch of which later became Earls (and eventually Marquesses) of Clanricarde. There are protruding stones on one side of the structure, suggesting an intention – probably not realised – to enlarge it, which may explain the tower’s unusual slimness. Its present name presumably derives from a later date, perhaps the 17th or 18th century, when the surrounding land was enclosed to serve as a deer park for the Burkes; its conversion into use as a dovecote most likely also occurred at this time.
Gort, County Galway is another Irish town absolutely bursting with unrealised – but realisable – potential for improvement. The streets are lined with tall, sturdy, solid houses fronted in local limestone, and everywhere one turns there is another part of the area’s history waiting to be discovered, and recovered. Here is a former army barracks block which dates from c.1820 when many such buildings were being erected across the country. According to Samuel Lewis in 1837, ‘Barracks have existed at Gort for a very long period, and £7000 have been lately expended in building houses for officers and store-rooms; they will now accommodate 8 officers, 88 men, and 116 horses.’ The ten-bay, three-storey property is at present serving as warehouse space for a local antique dealer, so at least it is being maintained, unlike many other former military sites around the country.
Lovely even in the rain: the facade of Castlegar, County Galway. This elegant villa was designed in the early 1800s by Richard Morrison for Ross Mahon, later created first baronet. The south front with its two-storey bow was originally conceived as entrance to the building, but this was later moved to the north side. Originally the tripartite windows on either side of the bow were set within segmental arches, as was the two-bay breakfront of the east side. However, at the end of the 19th century, alterations and additions were made to the house (not least a large extension to the west) and the whole given cement render.
‘There is not a baronet in the United Kingdom who (with the very essence of good-humour) has afforded a greater opportunity for notes and anecdotes than Sir John Burke of Glinsk Castle and tilt-yard;—and no person ever will, or ever can, relate them so well as himself. Sir John Burke is married to the sister of Mr. Ball, the present proprietor of Oatlands, commonly called the Golden Ball. I witnessed the court ship; negotiated with the brother; read over the skeleton of the marriage settlement, and was present at the departure of the baronet and his new lady for Rome, to kiss the pope’s toe. I also had the pleasure of hailing them on their return, as le Marquis and la Marquise de Bourke of the Holy Roman Empire. Sir John had the promise of a principality from the papal see when he should be prepared to pay his holiness the regulation price for it. At all events, he came back highly freight ed with a papal bull, a nobleman’s patent, holy relics, mock cameos, real lava, wax tapers, Roman paving-stones, &c. &c.; and after having been overset into the Po, and making the fortune of his courier, he returned in a few months to Paris, to ascertain what fortune his wife had ;-a circumstance which his anxiety to be married and kiss the pope’s toe had not given him sufficient time to investigate before. He found it very large, and calculated to bear a good deal of cutting and hacking ere it should quit his service—with no great probability of his ever coaxing it back again. Sir John’s good temper, however, settles that matter with great facility by quoting Dean Swift’s admirable eulogium upon poverty:—“Money’s the devil, and God keeps it from us,” said the dean. If this be orthodox, there will be more gentlemen’s souls saved in Ireland than in any other part of his Britannic Majesty’s dominions.’
‘Previous to Sir John’s marriage, Miss Ball understood, or rather had formed a conception, that Glinsk Castle was placed in one of the most cultivated, beautiful, and romantic districts of romantic Ireland, in which happy island she had never been, and I dare say never will be. Burke, who seldom says any thing without laughing heartily at his own remark, was questioned by her pretty closely as to the beauty of the demesne, and the architecture of the castle. “Now, Sir John,” said she, “have you much dressed grounds upon the demesne of Glinsk?” “Dressed, my love?” repeated Sir John, “why, my whole estate has been nearly dressed up these seven years past.”
“That’s very uncommon,” said Miss Ball; “there must have been a great expenditure on it.”
“Oh, very great,” replied the baronet, “very great.”
“The castle,” said her future ladyship, “is, I suppose, in good order?”
“It ought to be,” answered Sir John; “for (searching his pockets) I got a bill from my brother Joe of, I think, two hundred pounds, only for nails, iron cramps, and holdfasts—for a single winter.”’
‘The queries of Miss Ball innocently proceeded, and, I think, the replies were among the pleasantest and most adroit I ever heard. The lady seemed quite delighted, and nearly ex pressed a wish to go down to the castle as soon as possible. “As Sir John’s rents may not come in instantly,” said she, “I have, I fancy, a few thousand pounds in the bank just now, and that may take us down and new-furnish, at least, a wing of the castle !”
This took poor Sir John dreadfully aback. Glinsk was, he told me, actually in a tumbling state. Not a gravel walk within twenty miles of it: and as to timber, “How the devil,” said he, “could I support both my trees and my establishment at the same time? —Now,” he pursued, “Barrington, my good friend, do just tell her what I told you about my aunt Margaret’s ghost, that looks out of the castle window on every anniversary of her own death and birth-day, and on other periodical occasions. She’ll be so frightened (for, thank God! she’s afraid of ghosts), that she’ll no more think of going to Glinsk than to America.” – “Tell her yourself, Sir John,” said I:—“no body understands a romance better; and I’m sure, if this be not a meritorious, it is certainly an innocent one.” In fine, he got his groom to tell her maid all. about the ghost: the maid told the mistress, with frightful exaggerations: Sir John, when appealed to, spoke mysteriously of the matter; and the purchase of Glinsk Castle could not have induced Miss Ball to put her foot in it afterwards. She is a particularly mild and gentlewomanly lady, and, I fancy, would scarcely have survived, a visit to Glinsk, even if the ghost of Madam Margaret had not prevented her making the experiment.’
From Sir Jonah Barrington’s Personal Sketches of his Own Times (3 vols. 1827–32). Until offered for sale through the Encumbered Estates Court in the early 1850s, the land on which Glinsk Castle, County Galway stands had belonged for many centuries to a branch of the Burke family. In 1628 one of them, Ulick Burke, was created first baronet and it was probably around this time, or soon afterwards, that work commenced on the construction of the castle, built as a semi-fortified house. However, it does not seem to have survived very long, being perhaps gutted during the Confederate Wars of the 1640s. Certainly by the time Sir John Burke, tenth baronet, married the wealthy Sydney Ball in October 1816 the building had long been a ruin, hence his desire that she never visit the place.
From The Tuam Herald of Saturday, September 4th 1920: ‘A correspondent gives some interesting but sad details of the malicious burning of Tyrone House [County Galway]. It was in the late Georgian style and the finest house in Ireland. The ceilings were all painted by Italian masters and were regular works of art. The mantle pieces were all of rare Italian marble and very costly. In the hall was a fine full sized marble statue of Baron St George the founder of that once great family. It was the work of an Italian artist. The head was broken off the night of the raid deliberately it must be said. All the ceilings are now ruined and the mantle pieces also, and the entire structure an empty shell and ruin. There was no grounds for the report that the military or police intended or were to occupy the house, and agrarian motives are believed to have inspired and instigated this most foul and reprehensible act of purely wanton destruction. Of late years the place was freely allowed to be used by pleasure parties who came out from Loughrea and other places to have a dance which cost them nothing and to enjoy themselves, and who were never prevented from having their pleasure and a dance on the spacious floor of the dining room, and they can now no longer do so, and where in olden days the finest balls in the Co. Galway took place.’
This month marks the sad centenary of the burning of Tyrone House. For further information on the building and its former owners, the St George family, see https://theirishaesthete.com/2017/09/18/tyrone-house/ or watch on the Irish Aesthete’s YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=irish+aesthete
Clontuskert Priory, County Galway is a little-known religious site which yields ample pleasures for the traveller who troubles to find it. The present ruins date from the 15th century, but it is claimed that originally a monastic settlement was founded here around 800AD by Saint Baedán. If this were the case, no trace of that establishment survives. Later, probably towards the close of the 12th century, the prominent Ó Ceallaigh (O’Kelly) family invited members of the Arrouasian order – a particularly austere division of the Augustinian canons – to found a house here, the Priory of St Mary. The Ó Ceallaighs remained closely associated with this establishment, which became one of the richest in this part of the country. Members of the family were consistently appointed to the position of Prior, even though, on a number of occasions, they were illegitimate (in the medieval church, illegitimacy was a barrier to holy orders or the holding of a benefice, so papal dispensation had to be sought). In 1444 Eoghan O’Kelly, then-Prior of Clontuskert was slain in a battle with a rival family, the McCoughlans. There were several instances when corruption seems to have been rampant: in 1463, for example, Thady O’Kelly, a canon in the priory, reported to Rome that the Prior, John O’Kelly was guilty of immorality, perjury and simony. Thady O’Kelly then in turn became Prior, after which another canon, Donatus O’Kelly accused him of killing a layman. Donatus next became Prior, after which he was accused by another canon Donald O’Kelly, of scattering the priory’s goods, keeping a concubine and committing homicide. And so it went on.
In 1404 Clontuskert Priory was struck by lightning and set alight, destroying the buildings and their contents. A Papal order was subsequently issued offering ten-year indulgences for those who contributed to the cost of its rebuilding. So what we see on the site today are the remains of a 15th century priory. The O’Kellys seem to have continued to be associated with the Priory up to the time of the Reformation in the 1540s, a number of them holding benefices under the control of the house. In the mid-16th century the lands hitherto owned by Clontuskert passed into the hands of the de Burgos, Earls of Clanricarde, in 1570 the second earl receiving a grant from the government of the priory. However, the family remained Catholic and the Augustinian canons remained on site, even though they had lost their possessions. A keystone inserted into the doorway leading from nave to choir is dated 1633 indicates they were still there then. But by the end of the 17th century the de Burgos had converted to the Established Church and it would appear that thereafter Clontuskert Priory was abandoned and left to fall into ruin.
While portions of Clontuskert Priory’s cloister survive, the main interest of the site lies in the church. Here the east wall, with its beautiful traceried window, collapsed in 1918 but the pieces were saved, allowing for reconstruction in the early 1970s. Much further restoration work was undertaken on the site in the previous decade. The north and south walls of the choir feature a number of fine tombs. The choir itself is accessed via a substantial arcaded stone rood screen, one of the features reconstructed some decades ago. Originally there would have been no end wall, so that the arches would have offered a view through to the choir where services were taking place. However, a wall was built at the east end of the rood screen (when the aforementioned door with the date 1633 was inserted) thereby fundamentally changing the appearance of the space. But the most attractive aspect of Clontuskert Priory is its west doorway, which carries the following inscription: ‘Matheu : Dei: gra : eps : Clonfertens : et : Patre’ oneacdavayn : canonie’ esti : domine : fi’ fecert : Ano : do : mcccclxxi’ (Matthew by the grace of God, Bishop of Clonfert and Patrick O’Naughton, canon of this house, caused me to be made. Anno Domini 1471). The exterior of the doorway is covered with carvings, including the figures of the Archangel Michael carrying a sword and scales (for weighing souls), Saints John the Baptist, Catherine of Alexandria and, it is thought, Augustine of Hippo; they are flanked by smiling angels each holding a shield. Stones on either side are carved with the likes of a pelican feeding her young, a pair of mythical beasts, two ibexes with intertwined necks, and a mermaid holding a comb and mirror. Just inside the door is a water stoup, again bearing two figures believed to be, again, Saints Catherine of Alexandria and Augustine of Hippo. Largely bereft of visitors, Clontuskert Priory is something of a hidden gem, but one definitely worth discovering.
The former St Mary’s Church stands close to the market cross in Athenry, County Galway (see last Wednesday, …). It was built on the site of a chancel of a medieval church. This is thought to have been first constructed around 1240 when Meyler de Bermingham first established a presence in this area by ordering the erection of a castle nearby. It was made a collegiate church in the mid-1480s and most of what remains dates from this period or later. The church survived until 1574 when destroyed by the sons of the Earl of Clanrickard (despite their mother being buried in the building). It was never rebuilt, but in 1828 a new Church of Ireland was built here, with assistance from the Board of First Fruits. The building closed for services at the end of the last century and was converted into a local heritage centre.
*New video on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LwylDFQjmEc&t=188s
What remains of one of Ireland’s last surviving market crosses stands in the centre of Athenry, County Galway. Believed to date from c.1475, originally it would have been part of a much larger, and taller, monument; it was placed on the present plinth at the start of the 19th century. The south face carries a depiction of the Crucifixion, while on the other side can be seen (just about) a crowned Madonna and Child. The cross is badly weathered, its condition not helped by being in the middle of a busy traffic junction. Although this is now the only market cross in Ireland still in situ, perhaps the time has come to move it to another, less environmentally damaging location?
*New post on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f2cvPCjwXwU&t=11s
Another roofless church, this one in County Galway where the village of Shanaglish derives its name from the Irish ‘Sean Eaglais’ meaning ‘old church’. This is the building in question, at a spot called Beagh. It appears there was already a church here in the ninth century, and that this was subject to attack by marauding Vikings. Then in 1441 the Franciscan order established a friary which survived until the 1580s. The building was used, and extended, by the Church of Ireland in the 17th century at least until 1685 when the parish of Beagh was amalgamated with another nearby. This is all that remains today on the site.
From Samuel Lewis’ Topographical Dictionary of Ireland (1837)
‘BEAGH or ST. ANNE’S, a parish, in the barony of KILTARTAN, county of GALWAY, and province of CONNAUGHT, containing, with part of the post-town of Gort, 5343 inhabitants. This parish is situated on the confines of the county of Clare, and on the road from Galway and Loughrea to Ennis. A monastery of the third order of Franciscans was founded here about the year 1441, but by whom is unknown: in an inquisition of the 28th of Elizabeth it is denominated a cell or chapel, and its possessions appear to have consisted of half a quarter of land, with its appurtenances and tithes, which had been long under concealment. The parish comprises 12,331 statute acres, as applotted under the tithe act, and there is some bog; agriculture is improved, and there is good limestone.’
From Fahey, J., D.D., V.G. The History and Antiquities of the Diocese of Kilmacduagh (1893)
‘On the island of Lough Cutra lake there are also some interesting ruins- a church and castle amongst others, on the history of which no light has yet been cast. We find, from an “Inquisition” taken before John Crofton, Esq., at Athenry, on the 1st of October 1584, that Richard, second Earl of Clanricarde, was then seized of “Beagh and 4 qrts of land, and the ruined castle of Lough Cutra, with an island in the Loug aforesaid.” It may be desirable to add that the Beagh referred to is the old ruined church on the Gort river, about two miles east of town, which had been long previously the parish church of Beagh. There can be little doubt that the lands referred to were its confiscated property.’