With Advantageous Views


On the banks of Lough Ree, the remains of Rindoon Castle, County Roscommon built by Geoffrey de Marisco, Justiciar (or head of government) in Ireland from 1227-35. Located on a peninsula jutting out into the lake, the castle commanded views both north and south, and was a key feature of an Anglo-Norman settlement established immediately outside its walls.



Within decades of being completed, Rindoon Castle had been attacked by the native Irish who seized control of the entire site before the middle of the 14th century. Around this time the adjacent town was also abandoned, although sections of its walls remain standing. Some 200 years later the castle was rebuilt as part of the Elizabethan conquest of Ireland but later once more abandoned and it has remained a ruin ever since.

The Other Boleyn Girls


In Donizetti’s 1830 opera Anna Bolena, the unhappy queen tells her erstwhile admirer Henry Percy, future sixth Earl of Northumberland, ‘Ambiziosa, un serto io volli’ e un serto ebb’io di spine’ (Ambitious, I wanted a crown, and got a crown of thorns). She came from an ambitious family. Originally of East Anglian yeoman stock, the Boleyns gradually improved their economic and social circumstances during the 15th century: Anne’s great-grandfather Sir Geoffrey Boleyn had been a London merchant who prospered to such an extent that he was elected Lord Mayor of the city, received a knighthood and bought Hever Castle in Kent. His son William married Lady Margaret Butler, a daughter and co-heiress of the seventh Earl of Ormond: this is the origin of the Boleyns’ links with Ireland. Sir William and Lady Margaret’s eldest son Sir Thomas Boleyn further scaled the social ladder by marrying Lady Elizabeth Howard, a daughter of the second Duke of Norfolk. A skilled diplomat and courtier, Sir Thomas lay claim to the Butler title following the death without male heirs of his grandfather, the Earl of Ormond in 1515. This was disputed by an Irish claimant, Piers Butler but once Henry VIII became enamoured of Anne Boleyn, he persuaded Butler to renounce the Ormond title (he was created Earl of Ossory instead). Accordingly in 1529 Sir Thomas Boleyn became not just Earl of Ormond, but also Earl of Wiltshire, his claim to the latter also coming through familial ties with the Butler family. Meanwhile his only surviving son George received the courtesy title Viscount Rochford. Following the downfall and execution of both Anne and her brother in 1536, their ambitious father lost his position at court and retired to the country. The year before his death, the Ormond title was restored to Piers Butler: his grandson, Thomas Butler the tenth earl, was a cousin of Anne’s daughter Elizabeth I who is said to have called him her ‘black husband’ and certainly made him Lord Treasurer of Ireland.




In 1803, a limestone slab measuring eight by four feet is said to have been discovered close to Clonony Castle, County Offaly. This is recorded as bearing the following inscription: ‘Here under leys Elisabeth and Mary Bullyn, daughters of Thomas Bullyn, son of George Bullyn the son of George Bullyn Viscount Rochford son of Sir Thomas Bullyn Erle of Ormond and Willsheere.’ Understandably there has been much popular speculation about the stone and its words. George Boleyn, as mentioned, was Anne’s only brother: he was executed two days before her in May 1536 on a trumped-up charge of incest. George was as ambitious for advancement as the rest of his family: he had been introduced to the English court at the age of ten and not long afterwards became one of the king’s pageboys. From the mid-1520s onwards, as his sister’s star rose, he became a favourite of Henry VIII receiving a series of ever-more significant grants and offices from the crown. Around this time he married Jane Parker, daughter of the wealthy and well-connected tenth Lord Morley. Following her husband’s disgrace and death in 1536 she retired temporarily from court but then returned and served Henry VIII’s successive wives until February 1542 when, because of her links with Catherine Howard, she too was beheaded. Although they were married for more than a decade, there is no record of George and Jane Boleyn having had any children, either male or female, and no heirs for the couple are known. This is why the stone found at Clonony so curious: it claims his two great-granddaughters were buried there. But since he had no offspring, the matter is open to conjecture.




Clonony Castle is a tower house, probably built at the start of the 16th century by the MacCoghlan family who were hereditary chieftains in this part of the country. They remained in situ until the aftermath of the Nine Years War when dispossessed of much of their land. At the start of the 17th century Clonony had been acquired by an English official Roger Downton and in 1612 he sold it to Matthew de Renzi. The latter was a German-born cloth merchant who, having run up substantial debts in London, moved to Ireland in 1606. The funds to buy Clonony and 100 surrounding acres probably came from his first wife’s dowry. De Renzi is a fascinating character, not least because, a keen linguist who already spoke six languages, he learnt to write and speak both colloquial and classical Irish and composed an Irish grammar. The intention was to help him as he struggled to establish his presence in the Midlands, fiercely resisted by the MacCoghlans whose head, Sir John Óg MacCoghlan, told everyone in the locality to neither buy from nor sell to de Renzi (except at excessive rates), and to ignore the boundaries of his territory. Soon he faced such intimidation that he thought it best to spend the winter at the County Roscommon home of his second wife, a daughter of Sir Oliver St John, writing ‘I have thought good to spend the dark winter nights here in Connacht.’ Nevertheless, by the end of the following decade he had increased his landholding to over 1,000 acres, after which he sold Clonony, moved to Dublin, became a government official and was knighted in 1627, dying seven years later.
Clonony, de Renzi discovered, was not an especially comfortable residence, tall and narrow with very small windows so that little light penetrated the interior. In form it remains a typical tower house, some fifty feet high over three storeys, the greater part of each floor being given over to a single vaulted chamber. Clonony was restored as a private house in the 19th century when repairs were carried out on the bawn wall and, one suspects, larger windows inserted into the tower. The present owner has carried out further repairs and restoration, while retaining the essential character of the place. Incidentally, a 1533 proclamation of forbidding criticism of Henry VIII’s marriage to Anne Boleyn was repealed by the Irish government three years ago in July 2015.


Romantic Views


The ruins of old Crom Castle, County Fermanagh. Located on the shore of Upper Lough Erne, this was built in 1610 by Scottish settler Michael Balfour: nine years later it was described by Nicholas Pynnar as ‘a house set of lime and stone’ situated inside ‘a bawn of lime and stone being 60 feet square, 12 feet high with two flankers.’ In 1655 Crom was acquired by the Crichton family who lived here until 1764 when the building was gutted by fire. Following the construction of the present Crom Castle elsewhere on the estate in the 1830s, this ruin was embellished by the addition of long walls concluding in circular flankers on either side of the main block. During the following decade the Crichton Tower, a folly on little Gad Island (seen below) was likewise built as a romantic eye-catcher.

In Two Parts

What remains of Fennor Castle, County Meath. Situated on ground above the Boyne, the building looks north across the river to Slane village. It was constructed in two phases: that section closest to the Boyne looks to have been a tower house, perhaps dating from the 15th or early 16th century. A three-storey, six-bayed gable-ended house was added to the south-side of the earlier structure, perhaps in the late 16th or 17th century when the tower house may have been adapted to accommodate a staircase. There appears to be little information about the castle’s history: it was already a ruin when drawn by George Victor du Noyer in the mid-19th century.

A Woman of Some Importance



One of the most remarkable women of 16th century Ireland, Lady Margaret FitzGerald, a daughter of the eighth Earl of Kildare, is believed to have been born in 1473 and married in 1485 (at the age of 12) to Piers Butler, eighth Earl of Ormond: the couple would have nine children. A later chronicler, Richard Stanihurst described her as having been ‘man-like and tall of staure, liberal and bountiful, a sure friend and a bitter enemy, hardly disliking where she fancied, not easily fancying where she disliked.’ Other commentators thought her ‘a lady so politic, that nothing was thought substantially debated without her advice’ and as being ‘able for wisdom to rule a realm had not her stomach overruled itself.’ She certainly played an active role in her husband’s legal and dynastic affairs, enlarging or rebuilding many of Butler properties including Kilkenny Castle which the couple made their base. In Kilkenny she established the Grammar School in 1539 and during the previous decade brought over weavers and related craftsmen from the Low Countries to encourage the production of carpets and tapestries within their territories. In the 18th century historian Thomas Carte deemed Margaret FitzGerald ‘a person of great wisdom, and courage uncommon in her sex.’ In legend she is remembered for being on occasion extremely vindictive and cruel: many of the castles associated with her have windows or stone seats from which she is said either to have hanged her victims or watched them die. One story proposes that she ordered that seven bishops, all brothers, be robbed and killed. Another tells that while staying in one of her properties, she used to visit a nearby family, the Mandevilles and coveted their property. When they refused to part with it, she placed a curse on the Mandevilles so that all their sons died. The residence from which it is claimed she issued her malediction was Grannagh (or Granny) Castle, County Kilkenny.




Located on the northern bank of the river Suir just a few miles from Waterford city, Grannagh Castle is believed to have been built by the Le Poer family at the end of the 13th century. Around 1375 it passed into the hands of James Butler, second Earl of Ormond and remained with his descendants until seriously damaged c.1650. The early building comprised a large walled keep with cylindrical towers overlooking the Suir. Soon after taking possession of the property the Butlers seem to have erected a substantial five-storey tower in its north-east corner. Later additions included the insertion of an oriel window in the tower, and the construction of a double-height great hall adjacent to it along the south wall of the keep. The arch of a surviving window in that wall contains some carvings showing an angel holding the Butler coat of arms and the Archangel Michael wielding a sword in his right hand and the scales of Justice in his left. According to the 18th century historian and antiquary Edward Ledwich, during the Cromwellian war in Ireland, Grannagh Castle ‘was strongly garrisoned for the king, and commanded by Captain Butler. Colonel Axtel, the famous regicide, who was governor of Kilkenny, dispatched a party to reduce it, but they returned without accomplishing their orders; upon which Axtel himself marched out, with two cannon, and summoned the castle to surrender on pain of military execution. Without any hope of relief it is no wonder they submitted, and were conducted to the nearest Irish quarters.’ Thereafter the building stood unoccupied and seemingly allowed to sink into a ruinous state.



 

 

An Unforgettable Fire


The ruins of Moydrum Castle, County Westmeath. The former seat of the Handcock family, an earlier house here was described in Neale’s Views of Seats (1823) as being ‘nothing more than an ordinary farmhouse, contracted in its dimensions, mean in its external form and inconvenient in its interior arrangements.’ By that date work was already underway to transform and enlarge the building into a neo-Jacobean castle designed by Richard Morrison suitable as a residence for William Handcock, raised to the peerage first as Baron and then Viscount Castlemaine. The completed work was described by Samuel Lewis in 1837 as ‘a solid castellated mansion with square turrets at each angle beautifully situated on the edge of a small lake and surrounded by an extensive and richly wooded demesne.’ This is what remains of the east-facing façade, the entrance resembling an immense gate-tower. Moydrum was burnt by members of the IRA in July 1921 and has remained derelict ever since: in 1984 a photograph of Moydrum by Anton Corbijn was used on the cover of U2’s album The Unforgettable Fire showing members of the band standing in front of the ruins.

What’s Left


The remains of Rattin Castle, County Westmeath, a substantial four-storey tower house that was built in the 15th or 16th centuries. During this period the land on which it stands, formerly under the control of Hugh de Lacy, was in the possession of the d’Arcy family. The last member, Nicholas d’Arcy, forfeited the castle in the 1640s during the Confederate Wars and it seems to have fallen into ruin after that: a source from that period claimed the building originally had several towers and no less than 500 rooms.

On the Fringes of Europe


The name Ballinskelligs derives from Baile an Sceilg meaning ‘Place of the craggy rock’ and refers to a coastal village on the Iveragh peninsula in County Kerry. On the western fringe of Europe, this has always been a remote and none-too affluent part of the country, which is likely why early Christian monks, in search of solitude settled on Skellig Michael, one of two islands some miles off the coast, where they lived in bleak isolation: some of their beehive huts and oratories can still be seen by visitors prepared to make the boat journey. Eventually in the late 12th or early 13th century, the monks moved to the mainland and took up residence in Ballinskelligs, where evidence of their buildings remains, along with another historic property.





Ballinskelligs Castle is one of the many tower houses that can be found throughout Ireland. As so often, it is impossible to date the building precisely but the consensus seems to be that it was constructed in the 16th century by the dominant MacCarthy family, ancient Kings of Desmond. The tower stands on an isthmus at the western end of the bay but much of the surrounding land has been eroded over time and it is most easily accessible at low tide. Presumably it was built as an observation post for all vessels coming into this part of the coast and to keep an eye on the arrival of potential pirates. Originally of three storeys, the tower has lost its upper section but corbels to support a floor survive. Following the dissolution of the Kingdom of Desmond at the end of the 16th century, and the loss of the MacCarthys’ authority, the building passed to the Sigerson family but later in the 17th century was reduced to being used as a pilchard-curing station as part of Sir William Petty’s fisheries enterprise.





Ballinskelligs Priory, at the other end of the long beach, was an Augustinian house likely established after the abandonment of Skellig Michael as a religious settlement: certainly the priory retained control of the island until it was in turn shut down during the 16th century Dissolution of the Monasteries. The present collection of remains dates from the 15th century and has been extensively – and perhaps rather too rigorously – conserved in recent years: a certain sterility now pervades the site. But, as with Ballinskelligs Castle, the views are outstanding. In the case of the priory, it is better to be inside looking out rather than outside looking in.

A Man Famous for Wickedness


‘As it is right that these holy and glorious men who attained by their merits the highest praise on earth and eternal happiness in heaven should be celebrated in books and records, so on the other hand the wicked and abandoned men should not be passed over in silence, in order that not only might the living justly condemn them, but also that posterity might execrate their name. And so Miler [Magrath], a man not as exalted in birth as famous for wickedness, entered into religion in which he conducted himself in a very irregular way and with very little of the manner of a religious. Consecrated a priest and endowed by the Pope with no little power and authority, he set out from Rome to Ireland as if he were going to denounce the new dogmatic errors of the English, but, perhaps, thinking otherwise in his mind; for from the time he reached England, I am informed, he used to carry the apostolic letters in a large and beautiful pyx or locket which hung openly from his neck and was obvious to everyone, for no other purpose but that he might betray himself and his calling. Being arrested by the ministers of justice, he was brought, together with the apostolic letters, before Queen Elizabeth or her council, and deserted with little unwillingness the Catholic religion, readily embracing the Queens’ sect and bribes before he performed the least duty. Then made pseudo-bishop of Cashel, he right away in unholy union wedded Anna (Amy) Ni-Meare. She upon a Friday would not eat meat. “Why is it wife,” said Miler, “that you will not eat meat with me?” “It is,” said she, “because I do not wish to commit sin with you.” “Surely,” said he, “you committed a far greater sin in coming to the bed of me a friar.” The same woman asked by Miler why she wept: “Because, “said she “Eugene who was with me to-day assured me by strong proof and many holy testimonies that I would be condemned to hell if I should die in this state of being your wife, and I am frightened and cannot help crying lest this be true.” “Indeed,” said Miler, “if you hope otherwise your hope will lead you much astray, and not for the possibility but for the reality should you fret.” Not long after Anna (Amy) died consumed with grief. This Eugene who then, as at many other times, had endeavoured to bring her back to a good life was (O’Duffy), a Franciscan friar, some of whose rather incisive poems, written in Irish against Miler and other heretics, are extant. Well, the wicked Miler married a second wife, and now lives sinning, not in ignorance but willingly. He does not hunt priests nor endeavour to detach Catholics from the true religion. He is now nearly worn out with age.’
From Philip O’Sullivan Beare’s Catholic History of Ireland, originally written in Latin in 1621 but portions of it published in English in 1903.




‘The foundation of this castle, according to popular tradition, is ascribed to the celebrated Malmurry, or, as he was usually called, Myler Magrath, the first Protestant Bishop of Clogher; and there is every reason to believe this tradition correct. The lands on which the castle is situated anciently constituted the Termon of St. Daveog of Lough Derg, of which the Magraths were hereditarily the termoners or churchwardens; and of this family Myler Magrath was the head; so that these lands properly belonged to him anteriorly to any grant of them derived through his bishopric. He was originally a Franciscan friar, and being a man of distinguished abilities, was advanced by Pope Pius V to the see of Down; but having afterwards having embraced Protestantism, he was placed in the see of Clogher by letter of Queen Elizabeth, dated 18th May 1570, and by grant dated the 18th September, in the same year. He remained, however, but a short time in this see, in which he received but little or nothing of the revenue and in which he was probably surrounded by enemies even among his own kindred, and was translated to the archbishopric of Cashel on the 3d February the year following. He died at Cashel at the age of 100, and was interred in the choir of that ancient cathedral, where a splendid monument to his memory still exists, with a Latin inscription penned by himself.’
From the Irish Penny Journal, December 26th, 1840.





‘The castle of Termon Magrath, or Termon as it is more usually called, is situated at the northern extremity of Lough Erne, about half a mile to the west of the pleasant little town of Pettigoe, county of Donegal. Like most of the edifices of the kind erected in the sixteenth century, it consisted of a massive keep, of great strength, with circular towers at two of its angles, and encompassed by outworks. During the Parliamentary Wars it was besieged by Ireton, who planted his batteries on the neighbouring hill, and did it considerable damage. According to popular tradition, its foundation is ascribed to the celebrated Malmurry, or, as he is usually called, Myler Magrath, and Dr. Petrie says there is every reason to believe this tradition correct. The lands on which the castle is situated anciently belonged to the Termon of St. Daveog of Lough Derg, of which the Magraths were the hereditary termoners, or custodians of the church lands. Of this family Myler Magrath was the head. He was a churchman of distinguished abilities, and according to a tradition among the peasantry, was the handsomest man in Ireland of his day. He died at Cashel, of which see he was archbishop, in the year 1622, at the age of 100, and was interred in the choir of that ancient cathedral, where the monument to his memory still exists, with a Latin inscription penned by himself. The scenery in the immediate vicinity of the Castle is very beautiful, the shores of the lake being fringed with the plantations of the glebe of Templecarn, and those of Waterfoot.’
From the Illustrated Dublin Journal, November 9th, 1861.

On the Orders of the King

From across the river Shannon, a view of the castle erected on the site of an earlier Viking settlement in Limerick city during the opening years of the 13th century. Built at the order of King John, its purpose was to protect this part of the country from incursions by Gaelic clans to the west. This part of Limerick, King’s Island, accordingly came to be known as ‘English Town.’ In the mid-18th century an infantry barracks was installed inside the castle, resulting in the demolition of its eastern side so that more accommodation could be constructed. In turn, during the last century the local corporation demolished the barracks and erected municipal housing inside the complex. In turn this was pulled down and the inevitable glass-box ‘interpretative centre’ installed in its place.