The ivy-smothered ruins of Bruree Castle, County Limerick. It has been claimed this was originally built by the Knights Templar in the 12th century, but more probably the ‘castle’ is a 15th century tower house erected by the de Lacys, a family of Norman origin which had settled in the area. The building was badly damaged by English forces during the first Desmond Rebellion (1569-73), which seemingly was when its upper storey was lost. How long it will survive is open to conjecture, since sections of the masonry have fallen off in recent years. Sadly, the adjacent, now-disused, Church of Ireland church is likewise in a perilous condition.
Prior to the arrival of the Normans, much of what is now eastern County Offaly was under the control of the O’Conor Faly clan. The invaders pushed them west, their lands granted to the knight Robert de Bermingham who had participated in Henry II’s expedition to Ireland in 1172. However, over the next 100 years the O’Conor Faly’s gradually returned to their former territory and in 1294 they captured Kildare Castle. By then their opponent was de Bermingham’s descendant Piers Mac Feorais, Baron of Tothemoy who in 1289 had been appointed by the crown authorities to guard the much of the frontier in Kildare. Finally in 1306 a truce was reached between him and Mac Feorais agreed to act as god-father to the nephew of Murtough O’Conor Faly, then head of the clan.
On the Feast of the Holy Trinity, 1306 the Berminghams and the O’Conor Falys gathered for the baptismal ceremony at Carrickoris church, and then adjoined for a feast at the adjacent feast. However, as the Annals of the Four Masters later recorded, ‘O’Conor Faly (Murtough), Maelmora, his kinsman, and Calvagh O’Conor, with twenty-nine of the chiefs of his people, were slain by Sir Pierce Mac Feorais Bermingham in Mac Feorais’s own castle, by means of treachery and deceit.’ The little godson meanwhile was thrown off the top of the battlements and so died. Now wonderfully peaceful, this is the site, if not the actual building, where the notorious massacre took place.
The name of Moone, County Kildare is said to derive from the Irish Maen Colmcille, meaning ‘Colmcille’s property’. This is because although the place was converted to Christianity in the fifth century by Palladius (who preceded St Patrick in Ireland), a monastery was founded here 100 years later by St Colmcille. No trace of that establishment remains, the ruins on site being those of a Franciscan friary of c.1300 (although parts of the structure may be earlier). A late 18th century image shows that considerably more then survived, including a Lady Chapel on the north side and a tall, square tower but these were then demolished. The remains of the church are remarkable for holding one of the finest High Crosses in Ireland, of local granite and rising some seven metres. It was only discovered in 1837, buried in ground near the south-east wall of the building; a further missing portion of the base was found in 1875 and restored in 1893. Dating from the ninth century, it is extremely well-preserved, all four sides carved with human and animal figures, many of them representing stories from both the Old and New Testament. The cross sits beneath what was apparently meant to be a temporary cover, but the plastic roof has been there for so long it has probably acquired protected structure status.
Not far away from the remains of the Franciscan friary rises another ancient structure: a 15th century tower house. The original owners are unknown, perhaps the Eustace family who came into possession of this part of the country through inheritance in 1447. They remained in occupation until at least the mid-17th century, but then lost the property during that era’s upheavals. As so often, there is only one point of access, a door on the east side to the south of which are stone steps leading all the way to the top. While the ground floor features the customary high, vaulted space, much of the interior was converted, probably in the 18th century, into a brick-lined dovecote. However the upper storey still holds an old stone chamber with a chimney and windows.
Between monastic ruins and tower house stands the third significant building on this site: a mid-18th century Palladian building known as Moone Abbey House. In the aftermath of the Williamite Wars, the land around here was bought by Thomas Ashe, a Dublin alderman. He died in 1741 and seven years later, Moone was acquired on a 999-year lease by Samuel Yates of Colganstown, County Dublin: he is believed to have commissioned the new house. Colganstown has been attributed to Nathaniel Clements, and his name has also been mentioned in association with Moone Abbey House along with that of Dublin-based architect John Ensor. The building was intended to make a good impression but is less substantial than initially appears to be the case, since the central block is only one-room deep. Among its quirkier features are the convex quadrant walls that in turn lead to rather unusual two-storey, two-bay wings with Dutch gables. An engraving of 1792 by Daniel Grose (see bottom of page) shows that originally the main house was of two storeys and with a Diocletian window at the top. The third storey – and porch – are 19th century additions. Like its immediate neighbours, Moone Abbey House has undergone various vicissitudes over the course of several centuries but thankfully survives. The course of Ireland’s history can be discovered in these three adjacent buildings, all still standing and, in the case of the house, still happily serving as a family home.
This 19th century domed greenhouse closes a vista inside the walled garden of Malahide Castle, County Dublin. The building is not original to the site: seemingly it came from a convent in south County Dublin and was installed here in recent years by Malahide Castle’s owners, Fingall County Council. It is a handsome addition to the walled garden, but the state of some of the roof timbers suggests insufficient maintenance.
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.
With a backdrop of the McGillycuddy Reeks, evening light shines on what remains of Castle Corr (Cáisleán an Chórraig, the castle of the Marsh), County Kerry. This tower house was built in the middle of the 15th century by the McGillycuddys and, despite the family remaining Roman Catholic and backing James II in the Williamite Wars, they managed to retain the property. Badly damaged during the Confederate Wars of the 1640s, the building was subsequently restored and continued to serve as a residence until the mid-18th century when nearby Churchtown was built. It is said that the latter’s basement storey was constructed of stone taken from Castle Corr, which has long lost its southern side. What survives today stands somewhat incongruously in the middle of a golf course.
Located in north-east County Cork, the village of Glanworth takes its name from the Irish Gleannúir (meaning Valley of the Yews). It was evidently the site of an ancient settlement that included a monastery, since it is believed that in the ninth century this was subjected to attacks by the Vikings, who sailed up the river Funcheon (a tributary of the Blackwater). One of Glanworth’s most distinctive features is its 13-arch limestone bridge crossing the Funcheon. Dating from the first quarter of the 17th century, it is said to be among the oldest and narrowest bridges still in daily use in Ireland. A now-abandoned mill built c.1780 lies beside the bridge, and on a high ridge above both of them are the remains of what was once a mighty castle.
Glanworth Castle was originally built by the Condon family in the late 12th century but by 1300 it had passed into the possession of the Roches, who were styled Lords of Fermoy. The castle remained in their hands until the Confederate Wars of the mid-17th century when it seems to have been badly damaged and likely abandoned. It has stood a ruin ever since. The remains seen today date from four different periods, with the earliest section being the rectangular hall-keep, surrounded by a protective wall nearly six feet thick, with round towers at each corner and a gatehouse on the western side. Not long afterwards, the gatehouse was enlarged and converted into a domestic residence (which the hall-keep had originally been). Then in the 15th century the gatehouse grew up to become a typical tower house. Finally, a separate kitchen building was constructed inside the old walls.
To the immediate north of Glanworth Castle stand two ruined churches, one being the former place of worship of the Church of Ireland which dates from c.1810 and the other being the only surviving remains of a Dominican Friary dedicated to the Holy Cross. It was founded in 1475 by the Roche family who lived adjacent in the castle, but the Dominicans can hardly have been there for very long, since the friary was closed down (as part of the Dissolution of the Monasteries) in 1541. At that time the site included a cloister, dormitory, hall ‘and other buildings’ but none of these remain. The church’s finest feature is the east window; in the 19th century this had been moved to the Church of Ireland church but has since been restored to its original location.
The name Athclare derives from the Irish Áth Cláir, meaning Ford on level land, and here in County Louth stands a mid-16th century tower house originally built for the Barnewell family, who were then prominent landowners in this part of the country. The building is of four storeys and, as was usual for such structures, has just an arched entrance on the ground floor, the sole point of access. A stone spiral staircase in the south-east corner leads to the upper levels, with a large hall on the first floor. Here can be found an enormous limestone chimneypiece, the border of which is decorated with fantastical animals amid trailing floral garlands.
Athclare Castle subsequently passed into the possession of the Taafe family who may have added the substantial wing to the east of the original building. The house was then acquired by London merchant Erasmus Smith who supplied provisions to Oliver Cromwell’s army and used the funds received to buy various parcels of land until eventually he owned over 46,000 acres. On his death, he left a trust arising from ‘the great and ardent desire which he hath that the children inhabiting upon any part of his lands in Ireland should be brought up in the fear of God and good literature and to speak the English tongue.’ The Erasmus Smith Trust went on to establish five grammar schools in Dublin, Tipperary, Ennis, Galway and Drogheda.
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 involvement of Irish families in the Caribbean slave trade was discussed here some weeks ago when considering Monasterboice House, County Louth (see Dirty Money, March 11th 2019). The same source of revenue appears to have played a part in funding extensive work in the early 19th century at Kilwaughter Castle, County Antrim. The original house here is believed to date from 1622, a fortified dwelling built by Sir Patrick Agnew who around that time had purchased the land on which it stands from Sir Randall MacDonnell, first Earl of Antrim. Successive generations lived here until William Agnew died in 1776, leaving the property to his grandson Edward Jones, then still a boy, with the proviso that the latter take the surname Agnew. He was a younger son of Valentine Jones, who was extensively involved in slave trading in the West Indies, as was his eldest son (another Valentine) who lived in the Caribbean for some 33 years and, two years before Edward inherited Kilwaughter, was elected a member of the House of Assembly in Barbados. Unfortunately the next generation of Valentine Jones disgraced the family by misappropriating funds and colouring rum to give it the appearance of age: in 1809 he was found guilty of fraud and peculation, and sentenced to three years in Newgate Prison.
Edward Jones Agnew was only a child when he inherited Kilwaughter, and for the next 12 years the estate was administered by agents while he attended Harrow and then Trinity College Dublin. It was only in the late 1780s that he came to County Antrim and took responsibility for Kilwaughter, accompanied by his younger sister Margaret. Seemingly they arrived to find the house almost entirely stripped of its contents: ‘there was not so much as a tablecloth, or a spoon or a knife or fork for them to take their dinner with.’ By this date the old building was neglected, and out-of-date, so its young proprietor decided to embark on a an extensive programme of refurbishment and enlargement. The architect chosen for this task was John Nash, who from 1801 onwards was engaged in designing Killymoon Castle, County Antrim for the Stewart family, cousins of the Agnews. Beginning in 1806, Nash transformed Kilwaugher into an elaborate castle, adding a vast wing to the immediate east of the original fortified house. The focal point of his design is a castellated tower in the south-east corner, its sandstone window sills carved with elaborate abstract decorations. From here, a range of reception rooms ran northwards to a narrower but taller polygonal tower, with views over the parkland towards a newly created lake covering more than five acres. While his land holdings were substantial and could have borne much of the expense involved (Killymoon Castle is supposed to have cost £80,000), might Edward Jones Agnew have benefitted from the estate of his slave-trading father Valentine Jones who died in 1805, just a year before work began at Kilwaughter? The enquiry seems not unreasonable to make.
The later history of Kilwaughter is not especially happy. Edward Jones Agnew never married (nor did his sister Margaret with whom he lived) but had several children with the daughter of a tenant farmer: she and other members of her family were later sent to Baltimore, Maryland with the promise of an annual stipend. When Agnew died in 1834, the estate was inherited by his illegitimate son William who, together with his sister, were then cared for by their aunt Margaret. However, following her death and William Agnew becoming an adult, he moved to Paris and spent most of the next 40 years there, dying unmarried in 1891 and, it seems, leaving sundry debts for the payment of which a mortgage of £30,000 had to be raised. A niece, Mary Maria Augusta Simon (daughter of his sister) next inherited the estate but by this time she was married to an Italian count Ugo Balzani, and living between his family home near Bologna and Oxford. For some thirty years Kilwaughter was rented to John Galt Smith, an Irish linen exporter and distant relative of the Agnews, and his socially ambitious American wife Bessie who modernised the building and entertained extensively; he died in 1899 but she remained there until 1922 before returning to her native country. By now, the castle was surrounded by very little land and when the Second World War broke out it was seized by the government as ‘alien’ property (the Balzani family being Italian and therefore deemed to be enemies of the state). For a period it was occupied by American troops but then stood empty before being sold by the Northern Irish government to a Belfast scrap metal company which stripped off the lead, thereby leading to the roof giving way. What remained was handed back to the Balzani family, and understandably they decided to sell the property: this finally occurred in 1982. Since then efforts have been made to ensure the security of the building, and ideally its restoration: some of the walls are literally in need of support. The present owners, and a number of local people are valiantly battling to save Kilwaughter from total ruin (a task not helped by the presence of lime quarries in the immediate vicinity). As these photographs make plain, those involved in the project face a substantial challenge and deserve all possible assistance.
Much of the information here came from a most interesting article, The Agnews of Kilwaughter by Jacqueline Haugseng-Agnew in Familia: Ulster Genealogical Review, No.32, 2016.
For more on Kilwaughter Castle and work being undertaken to secure its future, please see https://www.kilwaughtercastle.com