Familiar to anyone who has driven between Dublin and Cork on the M8, this is Gortmakellis Castle, County Tipperary, a tower house dating from the late 15th or 16th century. Relatively little seems to be known of its history, other than it was once owned by the Stapleton family but around 1650 came into the possession of William Pennefather, an English soldier who settled in this part of the country. His descendants remained in residence until they built a new house Ballyowen (formerly New Park) c.1750 after which Gortmakellis was left to fall into its present roofless condition.
About half way on the train journey between Dublin and Cork, passengers will see a vast ruin close to the line: this is Loughmoe Castle, County Tipperary former seat of the Purcell family. The Purcells were of Norman origin, their name derived from the word Pourcel, meaning Piglet and indicating they were once swineherds. Their circumstances improved when members of the family moved to Ireland in the late 12th century and settled in Counties Tipperary and Kilkenny. At the start of the 13th century Hugh Purcell married a daughter of Theobald FitzWalter, Chief Butler of Ireland and founder of the powerful Butler clan. As part of the marriage agreement, the Purcells were granted territory around Loughmore/Loughmoe, which thereafter became their principal residence. The name Loughmoe derives from the Irish ‘Luach Mhagh’ meaning Field of the Reward. This refers to a legend that Purcell won both his bride and estate by meeting a challenge to rid the area of wild beasts. Whatever the truth, this was the start of a powerful and enduring alliance. In 1328 James Butler, first Earl of Ormonde created his kinsman Richard Purcell Baron of Loughmoe: since the title was not granted by the crown it had no official status but was used by successive generations of the family until the last male heir Colonel Nicholas Purcell died in 1722.
The earliest section of Loughmoe Castle is a tower house on the south side of the site, dating from either the 15th or 16th century. Of five storeys, it has curved corners and, on the ground floor, a typical vaulted chamber measuring 37 by 29 feet. At some point in the late 16th or early 17th century, the family greatly expanded the building to the north, creating an immense fortified manor house. The middle section rises four storeys, but that at the far end matches the original tower house by rising five storeys. The main difference between the two portions is that the newer has mullioned windows of eight, six or twelve panels, ensuring the interiors enjoyed much more light. A number of chimney pieces survive within the castle from this period, one of them bearing the arms of the Purcells and Butlers, further evidence of their close links.
The Purcells were still in residence at Loughmoe Castle in the 17th century, but problems arose owing during two great periods of civil disturbance. In the Confederate Wars James Purcell, whose wife Elizabeth was sister of James Butler, first Duke of Ormonde, supported the Roman Catholic cause, with consequences when this side lost. Matters were made worse by his death in 1652, leaving a widow and young son fighting to hold onto the family’s hereditary lands. Following the restoration of Charles II in 1660, and the appointment of the Duke of Ormonde as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland the following year, the Purcells’ circumstances improved. Nicholas’ son James seems to have lived quietly at Loughmoe until the onset of the Williamite Wars when he supported the Catholic James II from the moment the king arrived in Ireland in May 1689. James Purcell fought at the Battles of the Boyne and Aughrim, and was a signatory of the Treaty of Limerick. Following the defeat of the Jacobite cause, he did not follow the example of others and flee to France but remained in Ireland, living on at Loughmoe where he appears to have retained his property; in 1705 he was one of the limited number of Roman Catholics permitted to carry firearms. He died in 1722, predeceased by his only son, after which Loughmoe passed to one of his daughters, married to a member of the White family; they were the last link of the Purcells with the castle.
The former National School at Sopwell, County Tipperary. Primary education was officially introduced to Ireland in 1831, with schools run by the National Board of Education. This building apparently dates from six years earlier, but stylistically follows the form of such establishments throughout the country, with two large rooms on either side of the entrance, one for boys and the other for girls: children were segregated by gender rather than by age. According to Samuel Lewis, in 1837 the school had no less than 150 pupils. Seemingly it closed in 1925 and looks to have been converted at some later date into a domestic residence but now stands empty and rather forlorn. Nevertheless, while the timber bargeboards are deteriorating, much of the rest of the structure is still in good condition and it could easily be restored: all the pretty mullioned windows are still intact for example. Note how metal flags flying above the façade gables are punched with the letter ‘T’. This refers to the local landed family, the Trenches who lived close by in Sopwell Hall; presumably it was then resident of the house Francis Trench who was responsible for the building’s original construction.
‘GOLDEN, a village and post town, in the parish of Relickmurry, barony of Clanwilliam, county of Tipperary, and province of’ Munster, 3½ miles (W.) from Cashel (to which it has a sub post-office), and 82 (S.) from Dublin, on the road from Cashel to Tipperary. containing 114 houses and 648 inhabitants. It is a neat and improving village, situated in what is called “the Golden Vale,” and is divided into two parts by the river Suir, over which is a stone bridge. on which King William signed the Charter of Cashel, and near it is an old circular stone tower. Here are flour and oat meal-mills, and constabulary police station fair are held on May 18th, Aug. 26th, Oct. 26th, and Dre. 15th, and petty sessions once a fortnight The parochial church was erected here in 1808, and a tower was added by aid of a loan of £700 from the late Board of First Fruits, in 1812. There is also a large R.C. chapel.’
From Samuel Lewis’ Topographical Dictionary of Ireland (1837)
In the last census (taken April 2016) the village of Golden, County Tipperary had a population of 267, a drop of some 9 per cent on what it had been a quarter of a century earlier, and barely 40 per cent of the figure given by Lewis 180 years ago. The ongoing and seemingly unstoppable decline of Ireland’s rural towns and villages has been the subject of much debate in recent years. At least part of the explanation for this phenomenon lies in the fact that these smaller urban centres now rarely generate much economic activity and employment, Golden appearing typical in this respect. Such was not always the case: the buildings shown here are what remain of a larger mill complex, dating from the early 19th century when a considerable number of these industrial complexes were developed in response to improved agricultural practices, and increased demand for corn and other grains. The majority of these mills closed fifty or more years ago because they were no longer economically viable, but the evidence of their presence – and the important role they once played in the commercial prosperity of a village like Golden – remain, at least for the moment. In the middle of last month, a large and splendid mill complex in the heart of Drogheda, County Louth was gutted by fire. It had been allowed to stand empty and neglected for many years, and accordingly the building’s eventual destruction was entirely predictable. The loss is considerable and unnecessary, and means that part of Drogheda’s history has disappeared. Looking around the detritus in Golden’s old mill, it would seem a similar fate awaits here, even though the building is (like that recently burnt in Drogheda) listed by the relevant local authority as a Protected Structure. When that happens part of the area’s collective memory will be forever lost.
From History of the Irish Hierarchy by Rev. Thomas Walsh (1864):
‘Athassel, in the Barony of Clanwilliam, and on the west side of the river Suir. William Fitz Adelm de Burgo founded this abbey under the evocation of St. Edmund, king and confessor, for canons regular of St. Augustine.
A.D. 1204, the founder was interred here.
A.D. 1309, the prior was sued by Leopold de Mareys and Company, merchants of Lucca, for the sum of five hundred marcs, £2,500 sterling.
A.D. 1319, the town of Athassel was maliciously burned by the Lord John Fitz Thomas.
A.D. 1326, Richard, the Red Earl of Ulster, was interred here.
A.D. 1326, Bryan O’Brien burned Athassel to the ground.
A.D. 1482, David was prior.
A.D. 1524, Edmund Butler was prior, and the last who presided over this venerable establishment. Its property in land consisted of 768 acres, besides twenty messuages, and the income of rectories amounting to £111 16s 8d, or twenty-two marcs, which would in American money exceed $550.
All this property was granted forever to Thomas, earl of Ormond, at the yearly rent of £49 3s 9d. Queen Elizabeth confirmed this grant and remitted the reserved rent.
Athassel is one of the most extensive ruins in the kingdom, and scarcely yielded to any in extent and splendor. The whole work was uniform, regular, and finished in a fine limestone.’
From The Official Illustrated Guide to the Great Southern and Western Railway by George S. Measom (1867):
‘The site was chosen with the usual taste and judgement of “monks of old”; although a few shriveled trees are now all that remains of the woods by which it was formerly encompassed, and of which there is abundant evidence. A gentle, fertilizing and productive river still rolls beside its shattered glories; and the ruins afford ample proof of the vast extent, as well as the singular beauty of the structure, when the “Holy Augustinians” kept state within its walls. To their order may be traced the most elaborate and highly wrought of all the ecclesiastical edifices in Ireland; their abbeys in that country “evincing a style of architectural elegance and grandeur but little inferior to their fabrics in England and on the Continent”.’
From The Parliamentary Gazetteer of Ireland (1846):
‘The ruins of the edifice are still extensive, and indicate its former magnitude and splendor. The choir measured 44 feet by 26; the nave, of the same breadth as the choir and supported by lateral aisles, was externally 117 feet in length; the tower was square and lofty; and the cloisters were extensive. A tolerable view of the ruins from the north-west, and exhibiting the dilapidated tower, the roofless nave, the cloisters and a roofless chapel in the south-west corner, is given by Dr. Ledwich in his Antiquaries of Ireland. “We cannot,” says that antiquary, “behold the numerous arches, walls, windows, and heaps of masonry promiscuously mixed in one common ruin, without saying with Ovid: Omnia sunt hominum tenui pendentia filo: Et subito casu, quæ valuere, ruunt.’ [All things human hang by a slender thread: that which seemed to stand strong, suddenly falls into ruin]
A gentleman farmer’s residence in south County Tipperary. Once part of the Green estate, the house is believed to date from c.1830 and is of three bays and two storeys over basement. To the rear a series of outbuildings forms an attractive courtyard, although many of them have fallen into neglect. The house’s most significant feature is the limestone doorcase reached via a short flight of steps: note how the lintel is carved with a frieze of flowers.
The western gable of old St Cronan’s church in Roscrea, County Tipperary. Cronan was a seventh century monk who founded a religious house, originally a short distance from Roscrea but in too remote a spot for pilgrims to find. So the monastery was re-established here and flourished for many years: the eighth century Book of Dimma, an illuminated set of the gospels now in the collection of Trinity College Dublin, was written here. Post-reformation the monastic site was used by the Church of Ireland until the early 19th century when the old church was demolished and replaced by the present building incorporating much stone from its predecessor. But the 12th century Romanesque gable was retained and for the past 200 years has served as an entrance to the churchyard.
Down a narrow lane in North County Tipperary can be found Dorrha Church of Ireland church, which dates from the early 1830s and was built with help from the Board of First Fruits. Next to it are the remains of a much older building, now fallen into ruin. On the north wall is set a large carved tablet commemorating Lord Bernard (died February 1705) together with his wife Eleanor and ‘my beloved son James Kennedy, a young man of good character, died 9 Jan. 1704…’
There are a number of fine tombstones in the surrounding graveyard, such as that above dating from 1778, and also on the east wall of the old church the remains of a blocked-up arched window (it looks as though a tablet immediately below has been removed), above which is a badly weathered carved head.
The fine limestone doorcase of Lissanisky, County Tipperary where a recent contents sale was held. Its name derived from ‘Lios an Uisce’ (meaning Fort of the Water), the house is believed to date from the 1770s and is typical of gentry residences in this part of the country, being tall and narrow, of five bays and three storeys over raised basement: the breakfront centre bay rises to a shallow pediment. In the mid-19th century it was the residence of the Hon Otway Fortescue Graham-Toler, son of the second Earl of Norbury whose murder in 1839 was mentioned here recently (see In Limbo, April 23rd 2018). Whoever now acquires Lissanisky will need to undertake some restoration since, despite being listed, the building has undergone unsympathetic alterations, not least rampant insertion of uPVC windows.
I send you inclosed a sketch of Hore Abbey, in the county of Tipperary (fig.4). As I am often in the country, and fond of sketching, I shall now and then send you a sketch of some old castle or abbey in this kingdom, which you may think worth a place in your Magazine…
…Formerly there was an abbey of Benedictines or black monks, near St Patrick’s cathedral, at Cashell; but in the year 1272, David MacCarwill, who was then archbishop, having dreamed that the said monks intended cutting off his head, with the advice of his mother, turned them out of their abbey and despoiled them of all its revenues.
Having taken on himself the habit of the Cistercian order the same year, he founded Hore abbey, which was supplied with monks of the same order from Mellifont, in the county of Louth, and endowed it with the possession of the Benedictines, for which, for such an absurd reason, he had so cruelly and unjustly deprived them.
At the general suppression of the monasteries, Patrick Stackboll, who was then abbot, surrendered it the 6th of April, 1541.
Queen Elizabeth granted it to Sir Henry Radcliffe, with all its appurtenances on the 27th of January 1561; since which it has often changed its masters…
…It is situated on a flat, about five hundred yards from the rock of Cashell. The steeple, which is almost perfect, and about 20 feet square, is supported by a number of ogives, springing from each angle, some meeting in an octagon in the centre, and others at the keystone of the arches on which the structure is supported. The choir is about 29 feet in length and 24 in breadth; the east window small and plain. The nave is about 63 feet long and 23 broad.
It is said by the common people there is a subterraneous passge from the cathedral on the rock of Cashell to this abbey, but I could not find the remains of such place.’
From The Gentleman’s Magazine, November 1796