While claims are made of 12th century origins, in its present form Lackeen Castle, County Tipperary is an example of the later Irish tower house. These defensive dwellings were built from the 15th to early 17th centuries, and it would appear that Lackeen was constructed for Brian Ua Cinneide Fionn, chieftain of Ormond, who died in 1588. Cinneide is the Irish word for ‘Helmeted Head’, it being said that the Ua Cinneides were the first people in this country to wear helmets when going into battle against the Vikings. The name was later anglicised to Kennedy and the family remains widespread in this part of north Tipperary. Although Brian Ua Cinneide Fionn’s son Donnchadh further fortified the castle, in 1653 it surrendered to English forces. Nevertheless his descendants regained possession of the property and were in occupation in the 18th century. Lackeen is of particular interest since it forms part of a group of buildings constructed within a bawn wall, considerable parts of which also survive. The tower house is of four storeys, and contains the remains of several chimneypieces as well as two flights of stairs, initially a straight run to the first floor, and then a spiral staircase to the upper levels concluding in a large open space which was once roofed and would have held the main living chambers.
As mentioned, the original owners of Lackeen had regained possession of the site by the 18th century. In 1735 John O’Kennedy who was then undertaking work on the tower house discovered an ancient manuscript hidden inside one of its walls. Known as the Stowe Missal the work was written in Latin in the late eighth or early ninth century but in the mid-11th century had been annotated and some additional pages written in Irish. By that date the manuscript seems to have come into the safe keeping of a monastery at nearby Lorrha where it would have remained until the dissolution of such establishments in the mid-16th century; most likely the manuscript was then concealed for safekeeping at Lackeen Castle. Following its rediscovery the missal entered the collection of the Irish antiquarian Charles O’Conor, the O’Conor Don. In 1798 his grandson, a Roman Catholic priest also called Charles O’Conor, was invited to become chaplain to the first Marchioness of Buckingham, and to organize and translate a collection of historic material kept at her husband’s house, Stowe in Buckinghamshire. On moving to England, the younger O’Conor brought with him fifty-nine of his grandfather’s manuscripts including the missal found at Lackeen. Along with the others, this remained at Stowe until the entire collection was sold to the fourth Earl of Ashburnham in 1849: in turn his son sold all the manuscripts to the British government which returned Irish-related material to this country. The Stowe missal is now in the possession of the Royal Irish Academy.
Adjacent to Lackeen Castle and on the edge of the bawn wall is a group of domestic buildings which look to be from the 17th and early 18th centuries: it would seem at least some of this cluster was erected in the aftermath of 1660 when peace, for a time, returned to Ireland. The most striking, and most intact, of the group is a two-storey, five-bay farmhouse, one-room deep, with a single living space on either side of the entrance hall. The latter is interesting because on coming through the front door one faces a pair of panelled doors, that to the left leading to the staircase (now in part collapsed) that to the right being a cupboard. This decorative flourish, together with simple plasterwork on the ceilings of the ground floor rooms suggest aspirations towards gentry status on the part of the earliest occupants, and make Lackeen House all the more important since such buildings are now relatively rare. In the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage, the building’s association with the adjacent tower house is described as being ‘of great importance and illustrates the development of this site for domestic use over several centuries.’ Photographs taken only a few years ago show the house unoccupied but still in reasonable condition. Unfortunately such is no longer the case: there are holes in the roof where slates have slipped, resultant water ingress has led to partial ceiling collapse, a portion of the stairs has given way and the signs are that Lackeen House will soon be just an empty shell. This is a s0-called ‘Protected Structure’ but once again the term is meaningless as no protection is being offered to the house. Time is running out fast here: unless an intervention occurs soon a nationally important collection of historic buildings is set to be lose one of its key elements.