Herewith the surviving fragments of the once-might Morett Castle, County Laois. It was a late-medieval tower house, built by the Fitzgerald family towards the end of the 16th century. During the wars of the 1650s the building came under attack and was then forfeited by the Fitzgeralds, although they were able to regain possession of it during the following decade. Then, in 1690, it was threatened again, this time by the O’Cahills, who claimed ownership of the land on which it stood. The owner at the time, Stephen Fitzgerald, made the mistake of taking a stroll in his garden, and was promptly captured by the attackers, who threatened to kill him unless the castle was surrendered. According to Sir Jonah Barrington (who was her great-nephew), the prisoner’s wife Elizabeth declined the offer, declaring ‘Elizabeth Fitzgerald may get another husband but Elizabeth Fitzgerald may not get another castle; so I’ll keep what I have; and if you don’t get off faster than your legs can readily carry you, my warders will try which is hardest, your skull or a stone bullet.’ She was as good as her word and the castle remained in her possession. The unfortunate Stephen Fitzgerald, on the other hand, was soon seen dangling from a gibbet: his widow did at least have the consideration to wake and bury him. Barrington recounts the sundry other attempts to seize the castle from her, all unsuccessful and ends his tale by informing readers that his great-aunt remained in occupation ‘to a very late period in the reign of George the First.’ The place must have been abandoned not long afterwards because by 1792 Francis Grose could show it in ruins (albeit with more surviving than is now the case).
‘The church to which this doorway belongs stands in a glen at the foot of that part of the mountain of Slieve Mairgre called Knockara, two miles and a half from the town of Carlow, in the parish of Killeshin, barony of Slievemargy, and county of Carlow. The name is derived originally from that in the valley in which it was built, Gleann Uissean, by which title it is mentioned in the Annals and Martyrologies.
The ruin stands not far from a rath on a knoll overlooking a little waterfall, which tumbles over a ledge of rock in the ravine at its foot. The gables and side walls of the church are clothed with ivy and long grass. The ancient pillar-clustered doorway, arch within arch, with its rich adornment of sculptured traceries, mouldings, bas-reliefs and inscriptions appearing in the midst of this framework of leaves, forms a picture of extreme beauty.’
‘The church was remodelled at three different periods. Before the east wall fell, it was 66 ft. long by 25 ft. 8 in. broad internally, but as it stands now it measures 90 ft. from end to end, and the eastern part to the distance of 24 ft. was evidently added at a much later period than that at which the original building was erected. This modern portion may be termed the chancel, and is 1 ft 6 in. narrower than the nave. The walls are 3 ft. 8 in. to 4 ft. thick. The masonry is large, showing little trace of the hammer, with deep granite quoins and pilasters at the west end projecting 9 in., and 3 ft. 2 in. wide. In the modern work, the stones are small and hammered, while the quoins are of limestone. The western gable is partly broken away.
The west door is of four orders…Many of the ornaments are identical with those of the doorway at Timahoe [County Laois] and also resemble some of the later work at Tomgraney [County Clare]. The keystone of the outer order bears a venerable human head carved in relief. The design called the trumpet pattern, or divergent spiral, appears among the other ornaments of this door. The jambs are rounded, but the orders of the arch preserve their square form, and are enriched with surface ornament, while the entablature which runs along the top of the jambs is carved at the salient angles into human heads, the long interlaced hair of each head covering the surface of the stone back to the re-entrant angles. Each order of the doorway has engaged shafts at the angles. The bases have the beautiful feature of leaves connecting the bulbous portions with square plinths at the angles. The following inscriptions run along the abaci at each side, and the beginning of another occurs on the front of the jamb of the second order on the north side which appears to have been continued to the top of the jamb…
…The first inscription may be read:-
Pray for Art…King of Leinster, and for…Steward. Pray for…Iena Ua Mel[lach, Prince of Hy] Duach. Pray for Cellac…
The territory of Hy Duach comes within a mile of this church.’
‘The chancel arch was pulled down upwards of fifty years ago, and a great part of the south wall of the church destroyed. It is said to have contained two round-headed windows widely splayed inside. Two windows of the same character still remain in the north wall. The most perfect is 7 ft. in height by 3 ft. 6 in. internally and is placed at a height of 9 ft. from the ground…About twenty yards to the south-west of the entrance stood the belfry, a round tower of great height and beauty, the doorway of which faced that of the church and was pulled down upwards of a century ago…Molyneaux, writing in the year 1709, thus alludes to the tower:- “Near the foot of the mountain on this road stands the old church of Killeshin, which is a very old building. Here lately stood, over against the Doore of the Church, one of the old round steeples which I am told, was very high, old and well built, so that when the owner of this place had it fallen, it came to the ground in one solid piece, and was not even by the fall against the ground so broke, but that several vast pieces yet remain sticking together, so that you easily discover what this building was. It plainly appears to be of the same building and age with the adjacent church, and this was certainly an Irish building, as appears by two Inscriptions on either side of the door as you enter…”’
The surviving walls of Garron Castle, County Laois. Dating from the late 16th century, it was originally built by the Mac Giolla Phádraig (FitzPatrick) family, possibly in the time of Brían Óg Mac Giolla Phádraig, who in 1541 was created first Baron Upper Ossory, or else his son Barnaby FitzPatrick, second baron, who became a close companion to the boy king Edward VI before returning to Ireland after the latter’s death in 1553. The six-storey tower house remained in the possession of the FitzPatricks until the mid-17th century when it appears to have passed into the possession of the Vicars family. A view painted in 1790 by Austin Cooper shows it still reasonably intact, but in 1863 it was reported that two walls had collapsed, leaving the remains seen here, with a round bartizan on the top of one corner and a corbelled bartizan lower down the wall. Today Garron Castle towers over a farm yard adjacent to the present owners’ bungalow.
Dating from c.1800, here is an exceptionally handsome stableyard at Ballykilcavan, County Laois. The land here was bought by Oliver Walsh in 1639 and through 13 generations has belonged to his descendants, in various incarnations, ever since. Some years ago, the present owner cleverly converted the adjacent farmyard into a brewery, using barley grown on the land and water from the estate’s well, to make a number of fine beers. No doubt in due course a new purpose will be similarly found for the stableyard buildings.
Following last Wednesday’s post on Bellegrove, County Laois (A Landlord’s Legacy), this nearby church in Rathdaire was commissioned after John George Adair’s death in 1885 by his American widow Cornelia. Her rapacious late husband had not been a popular man; every time his grave was dug, dead cats and dogs were flung into it by the deceased’s former tenants as evidence of their hatred. Yet Mrs Adair persisted with creating this memorial to him, designed by James Franklin Fuller in an approximation of the Hiberno-Romanesque style, the Portland stone portal inspired in part by the remains of St Cronan’s church in Roscrea, County Tipperary. There’s an unquestionable incongruity between the peacefulness of this site, and the memory of the man who inspired its construction.
‘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.
The striking remains of Bellegrove, County Laois, which has remained a ruin ever since being accidentally gutted by fire in 1887. The core of the house dates from the early 19th century: in 1814, when owned by Thomas Trench, Dean of Kildare, it was described as ‘newly built in a superior style.’ However, the Italianate villa seen today was created much later, in the early 1870s, its architect thought to be William Caldbeck, although other names (among them James Franklin Fuller and Sir Thomas Newenham Deane) have also bee suggested. By this time Bellegrove was occupied by John George Adair, his mother having been one of the dean’s daughters. Much given to buying up estates and then either raising the rents or ejecting the tenants, Adair was one of the most reviled landlords of the period; when collecting rents in Laois, he had to be given a police escort. Eleswhere in the country, in County Donegal he acquired 28,000 acres and there in the late 1860s built the Scottish Baronial-style Glenveagh Castle on land that had been cleared. By this time, Adair had married a rich American widow, Cornelia Wadsworth Ritchie, and together they profitably invested in a large Texan ranch (the JA Ranch, its initial’s being those of Adair) which grew to over 700,000 acres, thereby further increasing his wealth. Two years after his (unlamented) death in 1885 Bellegrove was, as mentioned, destroyed by fire but not restored by his widow. What remains today is only part of a formerly larger building, since a substantial winter garden (to the right of the house in the photograph below) designed by Sir Thomas Deane & Son in 1865 has since been taken down; some of the columns in its grand arcade – inspired by the cloister of San Giovanni in Laterano in Rome – were rescued and can be seen elsewhere in the county.
Not far from Ballyadams Castle, County Laois (see Monday’s post, Saved by Two Daughters) can be found what remains of the parish’s old church, surrounded by old tombstones. Inside the ruined buildings are two interesting monuments, both badly worn. On the ground in the south-east corner is the recumbent figure of Walter Hartpole, Dean of Leighlin who died in 1597. On the opposite wall is a tablet erected in 1631 to Robert Bowen who had died a decade earlier, having inherited Ballyadams Castle from his father John Thomas Bowen: Robert had been married to Alice Hartpole, a daughter of Walter. The upper portion of this monument features a crest and coat of arms, and text proclaiming as following:
‘An epitaph on the death of Robert Bowen Esquire.
If tears prevent not every readers eye may well perceive that in this tomb doth lie
Friends hope foes dread whose thrice victorious hand gained love, wrought peace within this joyful land
Whose worth doth mount itself on angels wings
Whose great descent was first from Royal Kings
Whose never dying virtues live for why
Whose fame’s eterniz’d he can never dy’
Formerly the upper section of the chest tomb was decorated with the figure of the deceased in full armour, with his wife by his side, but these were destroyed in the 19th century. All that remains are the figures below of the couple’s four children.
Like so many other similar buildings in Ireland, the history of Ballyadams Castle, County Laois is often unclear, although its name appears to derive from one Adam O’More who lived here in the late 15th century. At least part of the castle, however, may be some 200 years older, since – as Andrew Tierney has pointed out in his admirable guide to Central Leinster (part of the Buildings of Ireland series) – the two upper storeys of the central B-plan block are a later addition to what was already there, and the earlier section looks not dissimilar to the Norman gatehouses of Welsh castles from the late 13th/early 14th centuries. Tierney therefore speculates that this section of the building may be the remnants of the castle of ‘Kilmokedy’ recorded as being in the possession of the de la Poers in 1346.
Whatever about its earlier history, certainly by the start of the 16th century Ballyadams Castle was in the possession of the O’Mores, then the dominant family in this part of the country. During the upheavals which then followed, in 1551 it was granted by the Earl of Desmond to the Welsh-born John Thomas Bowen, known as ‘John of the Pike’ since he always carried one of these weapons (and, according to legend, did not hesitate to use it). The Bowens remained in occupation thereafter, although this was threatened in 1643 during the Confederate Wars, as the third Earl of Castlehaven would record in his memoirs: ‘While this place was putting in order, I went with a party of horse to Ballyadams, a Castle about a mile distant belonging to Sir John Bowen, Provost Marshal an old soldier, and my long acquaintance. I went to speak with him and after some kind expressions, told him I must put a garrison into his Castle. He flatly denied me and calling for his wife and two very fair daughters, he had desired only one favour, that in case I was resolved to use violence, I would show him where I intended to plant my guns and make my breach. I satisfied his curiosity and asked him what he meant by this question. Because saith he swearing with some warmth, I will cover that, or any other your Lordship shoots at, by hanging out both my daughters in chairs. ’tis true the place was not of much importance, however this conceit saved it.’ So, thanks to this act of bravado, Ballyadams continued to be home to further generations of the same family, and it may have been Sir John’s son William who added a large, two-storey house to the rear and one side of the house, indicating that the Bowen’s now felt secure in their property. At the start of the 18th century Katherine Bowen, William Bowen’s only surviving child and heiress to the place, married Pierce Butler from County Tipperary. In 1759 their grandson sold Ballyadams to Garret Fitz David Butler. Members of the same family own the place still.
In 1837 Samuel Lewis recorded the castle as being ‘the residence of Capt. Butler.’ However, back in August 1782 the antiquary Austin Cooper had visited Ballyadams and came away with quite a different impression of the building. He noted that ‘the front consists of two large round towers between which is an entrance, and over it a wall is carried in a line with the exterior limits of these towers, so as to form a machicolation over the door. Adjoining these towers on each side are two large modem wings, one of which is kept in repair as a lodge by Mr Butler, the present propriotor; the other was never finished. The inside of the castle exhibits a scene sufficient to excite compassion from every lover of ancient grandeur – the boarded floors all torn up, the plastered wall and ceilings threatening the observer with destruction and to complete this grand scene of desolation, the great state room still remains hung with elegant tapestrys now left to rot away.’ Similarly, in 1826 James Norris Brewer described how ‘the ruins of the embattled walls, projecting towers, and elevated keep of this antient edifice, produce an interesting and highly picturesque effect.’ Therefore it would seem that the castle had already begun to fall into disrepair before the end of the 18th century and has been a ruin for more than 200 years, still highly picturesque. Unfortunately, it has been prey to more recent assault than that threatened by Lord Castlehaven in 1643: until three years ago, a pair of iron-studded wooden doors that formerly hung at the entrance to the old castle were stolen. Believed to date from the 17th century, and so perhaps installed when the house to the rear was being erected, the doors were each about eight feet high, three feet wide and over three inches thick. Alas, they have not been seen since.
This week’s ruined church can be found at Skirk, County Laois on a high site with wonderful views across the surrounding countryside. There seems to be some uncertainty about when it was constructed, since some writers propose a mid-18th century date. However, the usually reliable Samuel Lewis in his Topographical Dictionary of Ireland (1837) says it was built in 1831 thanks to a loan of £500 from the Board of First Fruits. The latter option makes more sense since to the immediate south are the remains of an older, late medieval church, a section of which seemingly collapsed in the 1830s so that now only the east gable and a portion of one wall survive: it appears that this was used as a mausoleum, the blocked entrance to which can still be seen.