Unrealised Potential


In the mid-1830s, Charles Denham Jephson, who a few years later would be made a baronet and assume the additional surname of Norreys, decided to improve the family seat of Mallow Castle, County Cork. In fact, the original castle – a fortified mansion dating from the 1590s – had been abandoned by the end of the 17
th century when the Jephsons converted a stable block to the immediate north into a residence. It was to this building that Jephson turned his attention, with some help from the English architect Edward Blore who during the same period was designing Crom Castle, County Fermanagh: certainly in 1837 Blore proposed the addition of a tower to the house at Mallow. However, it seems likely that despite looking for advice elsewhere Jephson mostly acted as his own architect, using the opportunity to evoke the era when his forebear Sir Thomas Norreys had first settled in the area. Described by Mark Bence-Jones as ‘a remarkably convincing reproduction of vernacular late C16 or early C17 architecture; with none of the pretentious “Baronial” or “Elizabethan” features which most early-Victorians could not resist,’ Mallow Castle’s garden front is a long, two-storied block relieved by a succession of projecting gable bays and mullioned windows, above which rises the tower proposed by Blore. In the mid-1950s, a later Jephson added an entrance front to the immediate right of this building, the stone for which had been cut in the 1830s but not used, thereby completing the scheme. 





The Jephsons remained at Mallow until 1984 when the property was sold to an American couple who after twenty years’ ownership put the place on the market. In late 2010 it was announced that Cork County Council had bought the castle and surrounding thirty acres for
€1.7 million. This was rightly regarded as something of a coup, since when the property had first been offered for sale in 2005, the asking price had been €7.5 million. So the local authority had done well to secure this important part of its architectural heritage, located in the centre of the town. Since then a further sum in the region of €400,000 has been spent on repair of existing landscaping, the installation of new external lighting, and repair of garden structures.  At the time of the initial purchase, one local councillor declared that ‘if properly developed and managed, the castle would be more than capable of paying for itself – and the potential spin-off benefits could transform Mallow.’ Note the use of the conditional ‘if’. here…





Cork County Council has declared that the work carried out in grounds of Mallow Castle is the first part of a three-phase development programme for the site and in February it was announced that a
masterplan tender brief for the property is currently being prepared. In the meantime, that conditional ‘if’ must remain in place. On a recent weekend visit to Mallow Castle, a group of French tourists looked somewhat stunned as they entered the site to discover it heavily littered and the house firmly shut. In fact it is somewhat surprising that they managed to find their way to the place, since what is supposed to be a major tourist attraction appears un-signposted, with access located up a minor lane. But evidently local carousers know the spot well, and have no problem entering it even when the gates are closed: hence the abundant litter.
As the owner of any historic property could advise Cork County Council, looking after such a house is perforce a time-consuming and expensive business – but not looking after it will ultimately prove to be even more time-consuming and expensive. The installation of better security around the site would help deter unwanted visitors, and their litter (sundry notices advise the presence of CCTV, but there is precious little evidence of it). A few bins would not go amiss either. Furthermore it seems that the house has sat empty and unoccupied since being purchased by the council. An obvious way to discourage nocturnal trespassers would be to have people living onsite: get a tenant, or better yet several, into the house. This would be beneficial for the building which at present is visibly suffering from neglect (thereby increasing the cost of its eventual refurbishment, a cost to be borne – as ever – by the nation’s tax payers). Shutters are closed and curtains drawn across windows, the frames of which are rotting (leaving them more vulnerable to being broken and illegal access being gained to the building). Doors are likewise in poor condition and in at least one place roof tiles have slipped. What, one wonders, must be the state of the interior? What sort of example is Cork County Council setting to other owners of historic buildings by displaying so little interest in the welfare of one under its care? Can it really expect anybody else to act as guardian of our heritage when it manifestly fails to do so? Houses need to be occupied and used, otherwise they risk falling into decline. Such is the case here: what’s required now is more of the flair and imagination displayed by the authority when it made the decision to acquire the property. Reports and action plans can wait: a house cannot.
At the time of that purchase, another local politician announced, ‘This is a very significant development in unlocking the future potential of Mallow Castle as a tourism and heritage resource for all the people of Cork.’ For the moment that potential remains unrealised.

A Tale of Two Towers


Lining the northern banks of the river Suir in County Tipperary are a series of tower houses built in the 15th and 16th centuries. That above is Dove Hill (or Duff Hill), originally built on land under the control of the O’Mores. In 1542 it was garrisoned by Sir Thomas Butler of Cahir, but a century later was noted in the Civil Survey as being ‘a small castle wanting repaire’. The description remains apposite. A few miles to the west stands Poulakerry, another building once associated with the Butlers. Unlike Dove Hill, it has been restored and is now occupied.

Oh! Solitary Fort that Standest Yonder

‘Oh! solitary fort, that standest yonder,
What desolation dost thou not reveal!
How tarnished is the beauty of thine aspect,
Thou mansion of the chaste and gentle melodies!

Demolished lie thy towering battlements –
The dark loam of the earth has risen up
Over the whiteness of thy polished stones;
And solitude and ruin gird thee round.

Thy end is come, fair fortress, thou art fallen –
Thy magical prestige has been stripped off –
Thy well-shaped corner-stones have been displaced
And cast forth to the outside of thy ramparts.’





‘Thy doorways are, alas! filled up,
Thou fortress of the once bright doors!
The limestones of thy top lie at thy base,
On all the sides of thy fair walls.

Over the mouldings of thy shattered windows,
The music that to-day breaks forth
Is the wild music of the birds and winds,
The voices of the stormy elements!

O, many-gated Court of Donegal,
What spell of slumber overcame thee,
Thou mansion of the board of flowing goblets,
To make thee undergo this rueful change?’




‘The reason that he left thee as thou art
Was lest the black ferocious strangers
Should dare to dwell within thy walls,
Thou fair-proportioned, speckled mansion!

Lest we should ever call thee theirs,
Should call thee in good earnest Dun-na-gall,
This was the reason, Fortress of the Gaels,
That thy fair turrets were o’erthrown.

Now that our kings have all been exiled hence
To dwell among the reptiles of strange lands,
It is a woe for us to see thy towers,
O, bright fort of the glossy walls!’

Extracts from  George Petrie’s 1840 translation of an Irish-language poem Address to the Ruins of Donegal Castle written in 1601 after the building’s intentional mutilation (to prevent it falling into English hands) by then-owner Red Hugh O’Donnell.

Still Inhabited


Donamon Castle, County Roscommon is said to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited buildings in Ireland. It is believed that originally there was a fort here (whence the name Dún Iomáin, fort of Iomán), but the first recorded reference to the place occurs in the Annals of the Four Masters for the year 1154. In 1232, the Anglo-Norman Adam de Staunton further fortified the site but his works were captured and demolished by the O’Connors a year later. After passing back and forth between different hands, the castle was occupied from the early 14th century onwards by a branch of the Burkes who remained here until in 1688 it passed to the Caulfeilds (the main branch of which became Earls of Charlemont). In the last century, like many other estates Donamon was broken up by the Irish Land Commission, the castle being acquired in 1939 by the Divine Word Missionaries, members of which community remain there to the present time. Although much altered and extended in the 18th and 19th century, the core of the old castle resembles that at Bunratty, County Clare, both front and rear featuring a tall arched recess between square towers.

Stable or Unstable?

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To the immediate north-west of the castle at Charleville Forest, County Offaly stands an equally substantial block that once served as stables for the property. Like the main house, this was designed by Francis Johnston in 1798 for Charles Bury, Lord Tullamore (later created Earl of Charleville) and is in the same solid Gothic style. Unfortunately whereas the greater part of the castle is still in use, the same is not true of the stable block which as a consequence is now in a poor state of repair.

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A Grand and Noble Appearance

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It is easy to miss Roscommon Castle: despite the building’s immensity, it scarcely seems to impinge on the horizon. Such was obviously not the case when the castle was first constructed, since there would have been nothing of similar scale anywhere in the area. Work was initiated here in 1269 on the instructions of the Anglo-Norman knight Roger de Ufford, who served as Justiciar, or chief governor, of Ireland for Henry III. There were constant setbacks due to attacks on the site by Aedh O’Conor, King of Connacht; it appears the greater part of the castle was erected only in the years following his death in 1274. Originally much of this area was a lake, Lough Nea, and the castle stood on raised ground to the immediate south-east, surrounded by a moat fed by the lake’s waters. A stone wall stood immediately inside this ditch but the main structure was set further back and featured substantial three-storey D-shaped towers at each corner. The main entrance on the eastern side was flanked by three-storey gate houses, and there was a secondary point of access on the western front. Despite impressive fortifications, Roscommon Castle continued to be subject to attack from the native population and by the mid-14th century had passed into the hands of the O’Conors who remained in occupancy there for the next two hundred years.

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In 1569 the then-O’Conor Don Diarmaid mac Cairbre surrendered Roscommon Castle to Sir Henry Sidney, Lord Deputy of Ireland. Eight years later the building and 17,000 acres were granted by the English government to Sir Nicholas Malby, who was Governor (later Lord President) of Connacht. Malby fundamentally altered the appearance of the castle by transforming it into a Renaissance fortified mansion. The northern side, which had never been of stone, was made into a three-storey domestic dwelling linked to the eastern range to form an L-shaped block: large stone mullion windows were inserted into the upper floors of the latter to admit more light than had hitherto been the case. Within the outer walls a new garden was created. On the northern side, for example, the ditch was turned into a long fish pond while formal geometric parterres were planted to the east and a grand tree-lined avenue to the south. None of these features survive.

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Sir Nicholas Malby died in 1584, seemingly a disappointed man since he felt slighted by Elizabeth I who had listened to charges of corruption and violence presented by his political opponents. His estate was inherited by a son who is reported as having been slain in a battle against the Irish at Aughrim in January 1603. But even before that date Roscommon Castle had once more been subject to attack, besieged by Hugh O’Donnell for three months in 1596 and again assaulted in 1599. It changed hands on a couple of occasions during the Confederate Wars of the 1640s before being taken by a Cromwellian force in 1652. In the aftermath of this event, some of the defensive features may have been removed but further damage was apparently done to the structure during the Williamite Wars of the early 1690s. Since then it has stood in a state of decay, and today the castle’s appearance is not much different from that described almost 200 years ago by Isaac Weld in his Statistical Survey of the County of Roscommon (1832): ‘It remains merely to say a few words of the general effect of the ruins in a picturesque point of view. From several positions they make a grand and noble appearance, more particularly on the eastern side, where the towers of the portal range in a commanding line with those at the angles…In the evening, when the gleams of the setting sun are seen darting through the ruined casements and narrow loop holes, whilst the main body of the ruins remains involved in deep shade, the effect of the scene is more than usually impressive.’

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In a Commanding Position

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Some readers might not be aware that the Wellesley family, of which the most famous line is that descended from the first Duke of Wellington, used to spell their name Wesley. More importantly, their original name was Colley: in 1728, on inheriting the estates of Dangan and Mornington in County Meath from a cousin called Garret Wesley, Richard Colley legally adopted the latter’s surname. The grandfather of the Iron Duke, Richard Wesley was eventually created first Baron of Mornington (his son, called Garret Wesley in memory of the man who had bequeathed them his estates, would become first Earl of Mornington in 1760). All this is by way of explaining an oft-mentioned but rarely understood link between the Duke of Wellington and Carbury Castle, County Kildare. …

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Carbury Castle stands at the top of a hill believed to have been at the heart of an ancient territory known as Cairbre Uí Chiardha, associated with a sept of the Uí Néill clan, Lords of Carbury first mentioned in the Annals of the Four Masters. From this clan was supposed to have been descended Niall of the Nine Hostages, a fourth century king. The name Carbury derives from Cairbre (or Coirpre), one of Niall’s sons. However the origins of the castle lie with the Norman Meiler Fitzhenry who constructed a motte on the site. The land then passed into the possession of the de Berminghams. During the confused wars of the 15th century Castle Carbury, as it was then called, was attacked and plundered on several occasions, passing in and out of diverse hands. By then titular ownership lay with the Prestons: in the second half of the 14th century, Robert Preston, first Baron Gormanston had married Margaret, daughter and heiress of Walter de Bermingham, Lord of Carbury.

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In the early part of the reign of Elizabeth I, the lands of Carbury were bestowed by the crown on Henry Colley, an English soldier who rose to become an Irish Privy Counsellor and was invested as a Knight in 1574. He was succeeded by his son, another Henry who made an advantageous marriage to Anne, eldest daughter of Adam Loftus, the great Archbishop of Dublin who also acted as Lord Chancellor of Ireland and first Provost of Trinity College Dublin, which he was instrumental in founding. Several more generations of Colleys followed, until another Henry inherited Carbury in the late 17th century: it was his younger son Richard who, on inheriting estates in County Meath changed his surname to Wesley. Richard’s elder brother, yet another Henry Colley, only had one child, a daughter Mary who married Arthur Pomeroy, created first Viscount Pomeroy in 1791. It was during this couple’s lifetime that Carbury Castle was abandoned, since in the 1760s the Pomeroys built themselves a new residence nearby, the Palladian Newberry Hall.

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What remains today of Carbury Castle is primarily a late 16th/early 17th century fortified manor house, presumably erected on much earlier foundations. Its most striking feature are the tall chimney stacks but inside the building one also finds the remnants of the stone window mullions and large fireplaces. The internal floors have almost gone, as have room divisions so it is difficult to gain any sense of the original layout. No doubt soil levels have altered over the centuries, making such an assessment even harder but since the site naturally slopes quite steeply it is likely there were more storeys on one side of the building than on the other, one portion holding a barrel-vaulted cellar. A little further down the hill lies an ancient graveyard, with the remains of a chapel’s west gable, and the Colley mausoleum which looks to be of early 18th century origin. It is not hard to see why a castle was built and maintained here, since it commands views of the surrounding flat Kildare countryside for many miles around, ensuring the occupants were well warned of any threat of attack. Today the scale and location of Carbury Castle ensure that even as a ruin it still exudes authority.

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