Holding Court


The Coppinger family has been mentioned here before, in relation to Glenville Park, County Cork (see A Life’s Work in Ireland « The Irish Aesthete). They are believed to have been of Viking origin, but long settled in Cork city where in 1319 one Stephen Coppinger was Mayor. Several of his descendants would hold the same position, as well as becoming bailiffs and sheriffs, thereby cementing their position in the area. However, none of this proved sufficient for Walter Coppinger, who emerged in the late 16th century and is always referred to as ‘Sir Walter’ although when he received a knighthood or baronetcy appears unknown. As Mark Samuel has noted, ‘He seems to have been a man of extraordinary vigour and despatch who, alongside a straightforward lust for power and wealth, also had a burning desire to develop his estates, boost productivity and indirectly modernise the whole of south-west Cork.’ In order to achieve these ambitions, Sir Walter, who may have trained as a lawyer, spent much of his time engaged in complex litigation. 





As mentioned, Walter Coppinger was very keen both to increase his power and his land holdings. In consequence, he became involved in a long-running legal dispute with several individuals, much of it based around the settlement at Baltimore, County Cork. The lands here had belonged to Sir Fineen O’Driscoll, whose daughter Eileen was married to Coppinger’s brother Richard. However, in 1600 Sir Fineed had leased this part of his property to Northamptonshire-born adventurer Thomas Crooke: the latter then founded the port town of Baltimore as a colony for English settlers. It soon became the centre for a lucrative trade in both pilchards and wine, as well as a base for piracy along the coast: famously, in 1631 Baltimore was attacked by a group of Barbary pirates who carried off a large part of the population, both settlers and native Irish, into slavery. From the start, Coppinger was opposed to this development. In part, this may have been because he was a fervent Roman Catholic and therefore disliked the idea of English Protestants settling in this part of the country. But no doubt the success of Crooke’s venture also irked him, and therefore led Coppinger to embark on a series of lawsuits against the settlers over ownership of their lands, claiming he had acquired rights over them due to a mortgage provided by him to Sir Fineen O’Driscoll’s son Donogh. In 1610 the three men – Coppinger, Crooke and O’Driscoll appear to have reached an agreement whereby they jointly granted a lease to the settlers for 21 years, but litigation continued and was still ongoing at the time of Crooke’s death in 1630. The sack of Baltimore the following year was a blow from which the town never fully recovered, not least because it lost the greater part of its population. This event also seems to have damaged Coppinger’s own financial circumstances: in 1636 he leased Baltimore to one Thomas Bennet of Bandon Bridge and retired to the country where he died three years later. 





In 1621 Coppinger embarked on building himself a new residence on a site west of Rosscarbery, County Cork. Like so many other properties constructed during the same period, this was a semi-fortified manor house. Coppinger’s Court, as it is commonly called, was supposed to have a chimney for every week, a door for every month and a window for every day of the year; whether this is true or not, it was certainly intended to display Coppinger’s wealth and authority. The house is Y-shaped, with the main entrance on the north side which is flanked by wings to west and east that project forward in order to create a forecourt. Behind these lies the main body of the building – it would appear the ground floor here was originally divided into a dining chamber and great hall – and then to the south projects an extension that once held the main staircase. Rising four storeys, Coppinger’s Court has gable ends and chimney stacks on every side, together with multiple windows arranged either in pairs or threes, thereby providing more light to the interior than was the case with tower houses built the previous century. The building speaks not only of wealth but also confidence. However, the latter was misplaced because in 1641, just two years after Walter Coppinger’s death and soon after the onset of the Confederate Wars, the house was ransacked and burnt, perhaps by some of those English settlers who had been subject to endless lawsuits from its late owner. Initially forfeited to the Commonwealth, in 1652 the property was returned to James Coppinger (thought to have been Walter’s nephew) after he had been deemed ‘an innocent Papist.’ The restitution was confirmed by Charles II but then in 1690, the family, still Roman Catholic, backed James II and as a result their estate was once more forfeited and this time not returned. Coppinger’s Court seems never to have recovered from the attack in 1641, and thereafter was plundered for stone so that by the mid-18th century, it had fallen into the ruinous state seen today. 

Perched High



Familiar to anyone approaching Wexford town from points north, this is Ferrycarrig Castle, actually a tower house built by the Roche family in the 15th century. Perched atop an outcrop of rock, it had the specific purpose of guarding a ferry which for many centuries was the only way to cross the river Slaney at this point and thus gain access to the south bank where stood the nearby town; a wooden bridge was only constructed in 1794. Rectangular in shape and of four storeys, it appears to have remained in the possession of the Roches until the aftermath of the Confederate Wars.


Decline and Fall


When writing here last month about Fota, County Cork (see Saved for the Nation « The Irish Aesthete), mention was made of the Barrys, Earls of Barrymore. For many centuries, their main residence lay much further north, in Castlelyons. Although subject to dispute, this village’s name (Caisleán Ó Liatháin) is said to derive from having been an important centre in the ancient kingdom of Uí Liatháin. However, in the last quarter of the 12th century, the land in this part of the country came into the hands of the Anglo-Norman knight Philip de Barry; his son William’s ownership of this property was confirmed by King John in 1207. Some time thereafter, the family constructed a castle on a limestone outcrop at Castlelyons and this became one of their most important bases. A settlement grew up around the base of the castle, with a Carmelite priory established to the immediate north in the early 14th century. 





David de Barry is thought to have become first Lord Barry in 1261, beginning the family’s ascent through the ranks of the peerage and indicating its increasing importance. In 1541 his descendant John fitz John Barry was created first Viscount Buttevant, and then in 1628 David Barry became the first Earl of Barrymore. He was indirectly responsible for the construction of what can now be seen of the former castle at Castlelyons. The earl had been born in 1605, some months after the death of his father, so that he was raised by his grandfather, the fifth viscount who died in 1617. Young David then became a ward of the powerful Richard Boyle, the Great Earl of Cork. Seeing an opportunity to ally himself with a long-established dynasty in the region, the latter duly arranged a marriage in 1621 between his young charge and his eldest daughter Alice: the bride was aged 14, the groom 16. In the mid-1630s Boyle also decided to rebuild his son-in-law’s residence at Castlelyons, since the Barrys were already heavily in debt (the canny Great Earl had earlier taken on the Barry wardship in exchange for the redemption of substantial mortgages left by the fifth Viscount). A vast new house was erected on the site of the old one, but the Earl of Barrymore had little opportunity to enjoy it, since he died in September 1642, probably as a result of wounds received at the Battle of Liscarroll a couple of weeks’ earlier. His heir, once again a minor, became the second earl. Successive generations then followed, but increasingly the family spent their time in England and it appears that by the mid-18th century the great castle at Castlelyons was falling into disrepair. This probably explains why, in 1771, repair work was undertaken on the building’s roof. Unfortunately, careless workmen left a soldering iron against wooden beams and the place caught fire. The sixth earl – who would die two years later – was as debt-ridden as his forebears and so made no effort to repair the damage. Instead, the castle was abandoned, along with its surrounding gardens, and left to fall into the state of ruin that can be seen today. 





Understanding the original layout of Castlelyons Castle can be challenging today, since what would have been the building’s central courtyard has long since been quarried away. In addition (and perhaps as a result of the quarrying), both the west and east ranges have disappeared, leaving just exposed sections of those to the south and north. What still stands on the south-west corner is considered to be the oldest part of the property, perhaps part of the original 13th century construction, with walls in some places 3.4 metres thick. Across what is today a deep ravine rises the north range, dating from the 17th century and dominated by three rectangular chimney stacks that rise above the three-storey block (with a basement at the east end). Beyond the exposed rubble walls, nothing survives of the interior and one must imagine what the house looked like when first built as it then included a great gallery, some 90 feet long and two storeys high, although it appears this may never have been finished (presumably due to the death of the first Earl of Barrymore and the chaos of the Confederate War). The castle was once surrounded by equally splendid grounds, with a large terrace to the immediate north and a series of enclosed gardens to the west and south, of which scant traces remain, serving as witness to the decline and fall of the once-might Barry family. 

A Considerable Place of Strength


‘This family is originally of Norman extraction and was anciently called De La Montagne. In the reign of King Edward III, its members were styled Hill, alias De La Montagne; but in succeeding ages, they were known by the name of Hill only.
Sir Moyses Hill, Knt. (descended from the family of Hill, of Devonshire, two members of which were judges of England at the beginning of the 15th century, and one lord mayor of London, anno 1484), went over to Ireland as a military officer, with the Earl of Essex, in 1573, to suppress O’Neill’s rebellion; and was subsequently appointed governor of Olderfleet Castle, an important fortress at the period, as it protected the harbour of Larne from the invasion of the Scots. Sir Moyses represented the county of Antrim in the parliament of 1613, and having distinguished himself during a long life, both as a soldier and a magistrate, died in February 1629-30, and was succeeded by his elder son Peter Hill esq but we pass to his younger son Arthur who eventually inherited the estates on the demise of Peter’s only son Francis Hill esq of Hill Hall, without male issue.
The said Arthur Hill esq of Hillsborough, was colonel of a regiment in the service of King Charles I, and he sate in parliament under the usurpation of Cromwell, as well as after the Restoration, when he was sworn of the privy council…’
From A General and Heraldic Dictionary of the Peerage and Baronetage of the British Empire by John Burke, Esq. (1833)





‘Hillsborough: This place, originally called Cromlyn, derived its present name from a castle erected by Sir Arthur Hill in the reign of Chas. I, which at the time of the Restoration, was made a royal fortress by Chas. II, who made Sir Arthur and his heirs hereditary constables, with twenty warders and a well-appointed garrison. The castle if of great strength and is defended by four bastions commanding the road from Dublin to Belfast and Carrickfergus; it is still kept up as a royal garrison under the hereditary constableship of the present Marquess of Downshire, a descendant of the founder, and is also used as an armory for the yeomanry.’
From A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland by Samuel Lewis (1837) 





‘Colonel Hill, having built within a few years, at his own charge, and upon his own lands, during the rebellion, for the encouragement of an English plantation and security of the country, a considerable place of strength, called Hillsborough fortified with four bastions, or flankers, commanding the chief roads in the county of Down leading from Dublin to Belfast and Carrickfergus; His Majesty was pleased to consider that the surprise thereof, upon any insurrection, might prove very prejudicial to his service, and how much it would conduce to His Majesty’s service and the safety of the country that a guard should be placed in that fort for the security thereof; he therefore granted a patent at Westminster for erecting it into a royal garrison by the name of Hillsborough Fort, with a Constable and officers to command it, to be called and known by the name of Constable of Hillsborough Fort, and twenty warders to be nominated and chosen by him; the Constable to have an allowance of 3s. 2d. a day and the warders 6d. each; and this office was granted to him, his heirs and assigns, for ever.’
From Historical Notices of Old Belfast and its Vicinity; A Selection from the Mss. collected by William Pinkerton, Edited with notes by Robert M Young (1896)

A Towering Presence



Today it’s difficult to believe that the little County Louth village of Termonfeckin was once the palatial seat of successive Archbishops of Armagh, who in the later Middle Ages preferred to live here rather than in the primatial city further north (think of this as being the Irish equivalent of the Papacy taking up residence in Avignon during the same period). Nothing now survives of that building – what remained was demolished in 1830 – but a second late-medieval castle still stands, a tower house probably built in the 15th century and then repaired in 1641 by the Brabazon family who were then a dominant presence in this part of the country. The castle is three storeys tall and has a projecting tower; a second one has long since gone. The interior boasts a vaulted ceiling on the first floor but alas, on the occasion of a recent visit, the building’s key holder could not be located. Perhaps another time…


Cornered



Located beside an early 19th century church, this is Haynestown Castle, County Louth. Believed to date from the 16th century, it is a square, three-storey tower house made distinctive by having a massive turret at each corner. These have slit windows on the two upper floors but otherwise the building has few openings, its entrance on the west front long since blocked up. The central sections of this and the east side are notable for being finished with large arches.


What Survives



What survives of Ballug Castle, on the Cooley Peninsula, County Louth. This is thought to be a 15th or early 16th century tower house to which a gable-ended dwelling was added, probably in the late 17th century. Originally the tower would have had a barrel-vaulted ceiling but this has since collapsed, along with a spiral staircase occupying a turret in the south-east corner.


An Idea of Good Taste, and Even Refinement


‘Clifden is situated at the head of one of the most picturesque of the many bays of Connemara. It is about four miles from the ocean, but vessels of large tonnage can be brought up within a short distance of the town. The town is protected from the westerly gales by a range of lofty hills. It has been laid out in broad streets, and with some degree of regularity. It is favourably situated for drainage, and has from its situations various other local advantages.
It is mainly to the late John D’Arcy, Esq., of Clifden Castle, that Clifden is indebted for its existence. By granting liberal leases, frequently upon lives renewable forever on payment of small fines, that gentleman induced individuals to lay out their money in buildings of a decent class to such an extent as to form a town. The place now contains nearly 250 dwelling-houses, among which are several tolerable shops. There are also two inns, a large catholic chapel, a protestant church, a dispensary, a corn-store and several flour-mills. Antecedent to the famine, there was a growing export grain trade from this place; and as much as a thousand tons of oats have been shipped here in one year. From the mode in which Clifden was originally let, the amount of rental to its proprietor in no degree represents the value of the town. It produces, under existing leases, little more than £200 per annum. This, however, may be regarded in the light of a ground rent, and the whole of it under every state of circumstances is necessarily well secured.’ 






‘The D’Arcys of Clifden, who have been referred to as the proprietors of this town, are one of the most ancient and honourable families in Ireland. As their name indicates, they are of Norman extraction. There are said to be more peerages in abeyance in this family, than in any other in the empire. They boast of two baronies in abeyance, of a third forfeited, of three others extinct, and of an earldom, that of Holdernesse, which also expired by want of direct descendants. The first D’Arcy who settled in Ireland, came to the country in 1330. James D’Arcy was Vice-President in the time of Queen Elizabeth, and his son was one of the most distinguished members of the Catholic Convention in Ireland, in 1641. The original lands of the D’Arcys were lost by forfeiture; this, their latest wild possession, was obtained, it is stated, by a female of the family, as a reward of an act of generous heroism in protecting the lives of some English soldiers.’ 






‘The Clifden estate comprises, in addition to the town, the mansion and demesne of Clifden Castle, numerous islands in the bays and on the coast, and a large extent of territory on the peninsula, on which a reference to the map will show the reader that the town of Clifden stands. Clifden Castle itself is about two miles westward from the town. It stands at the head of a little bay of its own, protected by a semicircle of hills from the winds and storms which sometimes devastate the coast. There are plantations of twenty or thirty years’ growth about the house, which also minister to its protection. The edifice itself is a castellated villa. There is nothing about it which is at all magnificent; but its appearance from all points affords an idea of good taste, and even of refinement. The views from Clifden Castle extend to the ocean, over an expanse of bay, studded with rocky islands, and protected both upon the north and south by a long projecting range of headland. The aspect is wild and varied, and to the lover of marine scenery most striking. The shores are bold and rocky, though not generally lofty. Happy would it be were they more generally visited!’


Text from The Encumbered Estates of Ireland by W.T.H., 1850.
Dating from 1815, as mentioned above, Clifden Castle was built by John D’Arcy who a few years earlier had founded the nearby town of the same name: the architect responsible is unknown. In the aftermath of the Great Famine, his son was obliged to sell house and estate, its new owners – the Eyre family from Bath – buying both for £21, 245. They remained in possession of the place until 1917 when it was controversially sold to a local butcher. A few years later the castle and adjacent land was acquired by a cooperative and in the mid-1930s the building was stripped of all saleable materials and left the ruin still seen today. 

 

Palatial


Today a dormitory town sprawling adjacent to Dublin airport, Swords is thought to have originated as a monastic settlement founded by Saint Colmcille in the sixth century. Today the most prominent feature of its pre-modern existence is a medieval castle which, having been left in ruins for hundreds of years, was restored by the local authorities in the late 1990s. The castle is thought to have been constructed around 1200 by John Comyn, a Benedictine monk and former chaplain to Henry II on whose recommendation he was appointed Archbishop of Dublin in 1181 (although he did not arrive in Ireland until some years later). Comyn’s principal residence was St Sepulchre’s Palace in the centre of Dublin, but he had also been granted lands to the north of the city, hence his construction of a castle in Swords. Following Comyn’s death in 1212, it remained a manorial residence for successive Archbishops of Dublin until c.1324 when the then-holder of the office, Alexander de Bicknor, erected a new  archiepiscopal palace to the west of Dublin in Tallaght. Swords Castle’s primary function was never defensive (which meant it was vulnerable to attack), and accordingly it lacks the sturdy features of other such Anglo-Norman buildings. Roughly in the shape of a pentagon, the curtain wall, its height varying between three and ten metres, encloses an area of more than an acre, with the gatehouse (and adjacent chapel) to the south and a large, four-storey building known as the Constable’s Tower, to the north: the latter was likely added in the mid-15th century by which time the castle was occupied by the archbishop’s Chief Constable. Other structures inside the enclosure, such as a Great Hall along the east side, have since disappeared. 





Although Swords Castle no longer served as a residence for the Archbishops of Dublin after the 1320s, it continued to be an archiepiscopal property, or at least placed by the government at their disposal, and, as mentioned, appears to have been occupied by holders of the office of Chief Constable. Even before being displaced by the palace in Tallaght, the buildings here may have been damaged during the military campaign waged by Edward Bruce in Ireland from 1315-18, and this would have discouraged residency. Already by the 16th century, the place was in poor repair, described in 1583 as ‘the quite spoiled old castle’. In 1641 during the Confederate Wars it briefly served as a meeting place for old Catholic families before they were put to flight by Sir Charles Coote. Thereafter the castle looks to have been abandoned, until, following the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland in 1870, it was sold to the Cobbe family of Newbridge. For much of the last century, the castle was leased to a local shopkeeper who used the site as an orchard. In the 1930s it came under the care of the Office of Public Works before finally being sold in 1985 to the county council. 





As already noted, Swords Castle was extensively restored by the local authority in 1996-98. The chapel, for example, had its walls reconstructed and a new oak-beamed roof constructed. Inside, a tiled floor was laid, its design based on remnants found during an earlier archaeological excavation. The windows on the north and south side of the chapel feature the four Evangelists, while that at the east end depicts the Tree of Jesse, inspired by the famous window in Chartres Cathedral. Similarly, considerable work was undertaken on the mid-15th century Constable’s Tower, which once again was given a new timber and slate roof, internal oak floors and new glass in all the windows.
Eight years ago, the local authority, Fingal County Council, commissioned a plan to create what is called the Swords Cultural Quarter adjacent to the old castle; indeed, part of it will be developed on a cleared site running along the eastern side of the ancient structure. The ‘cultural quarter’ will incorporate a library, performance space and arts venue. According to the authority’s own documentation, this scheme ‘is intended to be the town’s centre of knowledge, arts and culture with a strong focus on people and experiences which, through the delivery of a modern, dynamic, inspirational and educational programme of events and activities, will become a destination and a focal point for the local community and visitors.’ Last July, it was announced that the architectural practice O’Donnell + Tuomey would lead the design team, although actual construction work, taken two years, is not expected to begin until autumn 2023. In the interim, there is plenty of time to visit Swords Castle, which is open to the public without charge, in its present guise. 

Then & Now


‘A little before dinner I got to Castle Ward. Lord Bangor received me with great cordiality, brought me into his room, and signed the address with great willingness. He also asked me to dine and stay all night. This was the greater compliment as his house was full of company and not quite finished…There was an elegant dinner, stewed trout at the head, chine of the beef at the foot, soup in the middle, a little pie in the middle of each side, and four trifling things in the corners, just as you saw at Mr Adderley’s. This is the style of all the dinners I have seen, and the second course of nine dishes made out much in the same way. The cloth was taken away, and then the fruit – a pine-apple (not good), a small plate of peaches, grapes and figs, (but a few) and the rest pears and apples. No plates or knives given about. We were served in queenware.
Our epergne, candlesticks, service of china, variety of fruit, substantial and well-dressed dinners and dining-room far exceed anything that I have seen since I came abroad, and so it is spoken of, for Miss Murray assured me in the most serious manner that both Sir Patrick and Fortescue had often declared that they never had anywhere in their lives met with so much entertainment, with a more convenient house, or more elegant living than at Castle Caldwell.’
Sir James Caldwell, writing to his wife, Monday, 12th October, 1772





‘August 11th, 1776. Reached Castle Caldwell at night, where Sir James Caldwell received me with a politeness and cordiality that will make me long remember it with pleasure…Nothing can be more beautiful than the approach to Castle Caldwell; the promontories of thick wood which shoot into Lough Erne, under the shade of a great ridge of mountains, have the finest effect imaginable; as soon as you are through the gates, turn to the left, about 200 yards to the edge of the hill, where the whole domain lies beneath the point of view. It is a promontory three miles long, projecting into the lake, a beautiful assemblage of wood and lawn, one end a thick shade, the other grass, scattered with trees and finished with wood…the house, almost obscured among the trees, seems a fit retreat from every care and anxiety of the world; a little beyond it the lawn, which is in front, shews its lively green among the deeper shades and over the neck of land, which joins it to the promontory of wood called Ross a goul, the lake seems to form a beautiful wood-locked bason, stretching its silver surface behind the stems of the single trees; beyond the whole, the mountainy rocks of Turaw give a magnificent finishing…Take my leave of Castle Caldwell, and with colours flying and his band of music playing, go on board his six-oared barge for Inniskilling; the heavens were favourable, and a clear sky and bright sun gave me the beauties of the lake in all their splendour.’
From Arthur Young’s Tour of Ireland 1776-1779





‘I travelled four hundred miles de suite without going to an inn. Amongst those who were most desirous of my calling upon them was Sir James Caldwell, of Castle Caldwell, on Lough Erne. One anecdote will give some idea of his character. The Marquis of Lansdowne, then Earl of Shelburne, being in Ireland, and intending to call on Sir James, he, with an hospitality truly Irish, thought of nothing night or day but how to devise some amusement to entertain his noble guest, and came home to breakfast one morning with prodigious eagerness to communicate a new idea to Lady  Caldwell. This was to summon together the hundred labourers he employed, and choose fifty that would best represent New Zealand savages, in order that he might form two fleets of boats on the Lough, one to represent Captain Cook and his men, the other a New Zealand chief at the head of his party in  canoes, and consulted her how it would be possible to get them dressed in an appropriate manner in time for Lord Shelburne’s arrival. Lady C, who had much more prudence than Sir James, reminded him that he had 200 acres of hay down, and the preparations he mentioned would occupy so much time that the whole would now stand a chance of being spoiled. All remonstrances were in vain. Tailors were pressed into his service from the surrounding country to vamp up, as well as time would permit, the crews of men and fleets. The prediction was fulfilled: the hay was spoiled, and what hurt Sir James much more, he received a letter from Lord S. to put off his coming till  his return from Kilkenny, and that uncertain.’
From The Autobiography of Arthur Young (published 1898)


Today’s photographs show the now-scant remains of Castle Caldwell, County Fermanagh.