A Former Family Seat


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.

Entombed


The church at Dunfierth, County Kildare dates from c.1500 and is associated with the de Bermingham family which at the time was still the dominant family in this part of the country. In 1548 a tomb to Walter de Bermingham was built inside the church, and this featured a number of fine carvings.



In 1815 the de Berminghams had long since gone from the area, and the Hamilton family constructed a vaulted mausoleum inside the former chancel of Dunfierth church. This incorporated a number of carvings from the older tomb, such as a Crucifixion scene, and bands of ‘keeners’ on either side of the structure. Inside the rear wall features the carving of an armoured knight, only really visible if the natural light is sufficiently good. There are other fine pieces of work elsewhere on the site, such as this window on the south wall.

The Advantages of Generous Patronage


It is difficult to visualize today, but the mediaeval friary in the centre of Ennis, County Clare originally stood on an island at a point where the river Fergus divided. The exact date of its establishment is uncertain, but the Franciscan order is believed to have been invited to open a new house here towards the middle of the 13th century: Donnchadh Ó Briain, King of Thomond is often credited with being responsible for this shortly before his death in 1242. Thereafter the friary and its grounds became the preferred burial place for generations of O’Briens and MacNamaras, the two ruling families in this part of the country. Frequently in reparation for their misdeeds over the next three centuries they gave the friars, who had little source of income, many gifts such as vestments, chalices, stained glass and books.




The advantages of having rich and generous patrons can be seen throughout what remains of Ennis Friary. As the community expanded, so the building work continued. In 1314, for example, Maccon Caech MacNamara added a sacristy and refectory to the site. And a the start of the 15th century, the handsome cloister – only sections of which survive – was constructed along with the south transept: the belfry tower dates from around 1475.




Ennis Friary contains many fine limestone carvings, mostly dating from the 15th and early 16th centuries. One of these depicts St Francis, founder of the Franciscan order, with his stigmata on display. Another shows the Virgin and Child, and a third is an affecting image of Ecce Homo, the words uttered by Pontius Pilate in St John’s Gospel when Christ, having been scourged and crowned with thorns, was presented to a hostile crowd. One of the most interesting features in the building is a series of carved panels with scenes from Christ’s Passion dating from a late-15th century tomb erected by the MacMahon family and recycled in the 1840s for a monument to the Creagh family. Unfortunately this has been placed behind glass and spotlit – making it almost impossible to photograph. A copy of the tomb stands on the site of the original in the former chancel.




Ennis Friary, like other such establishments, was suppressed in the 16th century but seemingly members of the Franciscan order continued in residence until at least 1570, thereafter being obliged to remain secretly in Ennis. In the early 17th century, Donough O’Brien, fourth Earl of Thomond handed over the site to the Church of Ireland, and services began to be held in the old church. Other parts of the site were used for legal proceedings, the former sacristy becoming a courtroom. The Church of Ireland remained here until 1871 when a new church elsewhere in the town opened and within a couple of decades the friar’s church had lost its roof. It was returned to the Franciscan order in 1969 but is now managed by the Office of Public Works which ten years ago embarked on a somewhat controversial programme of restoration when the decision was taken to re-roof the main body of the church and, as mentioned, to place the MacMahon/Creagh Tomb behind glass.

Rags and Tatters


The remains of Ardclinis church, County Antrim, believed to have been founded in the early Christian period by St MacNissi, or perhaps St MacKenna: the present ruins are from the later Middle Ages. A crozier, called the Bachil McKenna, used to be set into the building and was used by local people for the taking of oaths and detection of false statements. However, it was subsequently acquired by a local farmer called Galvin. He and his successors, when not employing the crozier as a hook in the family home, would dip it into water being given to sick cows: in the early 1960s it was acquired by the National Museum of Ireland. In front of the ruins is a blackthorn ‘Rag Tree.’ Traditionally rags, belonging to someone sick or with a particular problem, are tied to a tree in the belief that this will resolve the issue.

A Short and Bloody Existence

‘One summer night, when there was peace, a score of Puritan troopers, under the pious Sir Frederick Hamilton, broke through the door of the Abbey of White Friars at Sligo. As the door fell with a crash they saw a little knot of friars gathered about the altar, their white habits glimmering in the steady light of the holy candles. All the monks were kneeling except the abbot, who stood upon the altar steps with a great brass crucifix in his hand. “Shoot them!” cried Sir Frederick Hamilton, but nobody stirred, for all were new converts, and feared the candles and the crucifix. For a little while all were silent, and then five troopers, who were the bodyguard of Sir Frederick Hamilton, lifted their muskets, and shot down five of the friars.’
From The Curse of the Fires and of the Shadows (1897) by W.B. Yeats.





Sir Frederick Hamilton was born in Scotland in the late 16th century, youngest surviving son of Claud Hamilton, first Lord Paisley. As youngest son, he was obliged to make his own way and, like so many of his fellow countrymen, saw opportunities in Ireland. Here in 1620 he married Sidney Vaughan whose father, Sir John Vaughan, was a member of the Privy Council for Ireland and Governor of Londonderry (responsible for commanding the garrison and fortifications of Derry, and of nearby Culmore Fort). Two years later he received a grant of land in County Leitrim, he and his wife gradually building up a holding of some 18,000 acres, much of which had been seized from the O’Rourke family, against whom thereafter he remained almost constantly at war. At the centre of his land, he established a town next to an existing settlement called Clooneen (from the Irish Cluainín Uí Ruairc, meaning O’Rourke’s small meadow). This was given the name Manorhamilton and here in 1634 he built a large fortified house. Come the outbreak of the Confederate Wars in the 1640s Hamilton, who during the previous decade had spent time in the Swedish army, once more found himself under attack from the O’Rourkes. In July 1642, in retaliation for their latest assault, he sacked Sligo and burnt much of the town, including the abbey (an event described above by W.B. Yeats). In 1643, after Manorhamilton was unsuccessfully attacked again, he hanged 58 of his opponents from a scaffold erected outside the castle. Ultimately in 1647 he was forced to return to Scotland, having lost hold of the land he had taken in Ireland. He died soon afterwards in Edinburgh.





Manorhamilton Castle, County Leitrim is one of six late 16th/early 17th century fortified houses considered as a group by Maurice Craig (in The Architecture of Ireland, 1982). The others are Rathfarnham Castle (A Whiter Shade of Pale, August 26th 2013), Kanturk Castle (An Abandoned Project, December 7th 2015), Portumna Castle (Jacobean Sophistication, August 2nd 2017), Raphoe Palace (From Bishops to Bullocks, July 24th 2017) and Burncourt (Burnt Out, July 4th 2016). All six display an awareness of Renaissance architecture while displaying defensive features such as a flanking tower at each corner. Manorhamilton Castle is the least well-preserved of these properties, and it had one of the shortest lifespans. As mentioned, it was built by Frederick Hamilton in 1634, soon after his return from fighting in Germany with the Swedish army of Gustavus Adolphus (one of Hamilton’s sons was named Gustavus and he would later become first Viscount Boyne). Five years after Hamilton had retired to Scotland and died, his mansion at Manorhamilton was attacked and burnt by the army of Ulick Burke, fifth Earl of Clanricarde, Roman Catholic leader of the Royalist army in Ireland. Badly damaged, Manorhamilton Castle never recovered and soon fell into ruin.

The Big Castle


What survives of Castlemore, County Cork. Standing on a limestone outcrop, this once-substantial building (caisleán mór: big castle) is believed to have been constructed in the 15th century by the McCarthys, then the dominant family in this part of the world. Towards the end of the 16th century it was held for them by the MacSwineys but then passed into the hands of the Ryes whose main seat, Rye Court, lay just a few miles away (see June 1921 II, January 26th 2019). It was subsequently owned, and occupied, by the Travers family but must have been abandoned by them because photographs of the castle taken by Robert French in the late 19th/early 20th show it as a ruin. Still, at least then it was relatively clear of vegetation and also of other properties. Today Castlemore lies in the middle of a quarry and is in very poor condition.

Relics of Auld Decency



The remains of Tober House, County Wicklow. The building is believed to date from c.1720 when constructed for a branch of the Powell family (not Power, as is often stated) It appears the house originally rose two storeys over basement but an additional floor was later added above the moulded string course. It’s curious to note that the windows on the ground floor are not symmetrically spaced: one of them on the ground floor being much closer to the entrance than the other. Parts of the slate cladding on the south wall survive, as does the handsome limestone lugged doorcase. Tober is said to have been gutted by fire at the end of the 18th century, perhaps during the time of the 1798 Rebellion when this part of the country was engulfed by violence. It has stood a ruin ever since.



Taking a Defensive Position


Charles Fort outside Kinsale, County Cork has been discussed here before (see On the Defensive, May 29th 2017). Built between 1678-83 it stands on land to the south-east of the harbor. Directly across on a promontory to the south-west is an earlier fortification known as James Fort. Both structures were named after British monarchs, Charles Fort deriving its title from Charles II, James Fort from his grandfather James I. He had succeeded to the English throne in 1603, just over a year after the combined Irish and Spanish forces had been defeated at Kinsale by Charles Blount, Lord Mountjoy. The vulnerability of Ireland’s southern coastline to invasion led the crown authorities to initiate the construction of a fortress from which any approaching ships could be seen and the occupants of which could provide a defence of Kinsale Harbour.




Work began on the construction of James Fort even while James I predecessor, Elizabeth I, was still alive. Its advantageous position meant there had already been an earlier fortification on the site; known as Castle Ny-Parke this had been occupied for a time during the Siege of Kinsale by Spanish troops before they were displaced by Sir Richard Smyth, a brother-in-law of Richard Boyle, the future Earl of Cork. But there was a concern that the Spaniards could return, and in greater numbers, hence the decision to build anew. The fortress’s design came from a military engineer Paul Ive who in 1589 had published a treatise The Practise of Fortification. A few years later Ive was praised by Walter Raleigh for his ‘judgement, invention and industry’ so it is understandable he was given the commission of overseeing the construction of James Fort which cost £675. This is four-sided fortress at the centre of a pentagonal bastion; inside the fort’s walls are various other structures to provide accommodation for troops and so forth. The remains of a hexagonal blockhouse lies close to the water’s edge.




Developments in fortification design, especially the construction of increasingly sophisticated star-shaped bastions following the example of those created by the French Comte de Vauban, meant Ive’s work at James Fort quickly came to look old-fashioned. Hence the decision to build the larger and more modern Charles Fort on the other side of the harbour entrance. Before then James Fort had seen some action in the 1640s during the Confederate Wars but it suffered greater damage in the Williamite Wars towards the end of the 17th century when a gunpowder store exploded. Thereafter the building went into steady decline and by the 19th century was already described as being a ruin: it has remained in this condition to the present day.

All Things Human Hang by a Slender Thread


From History of the Irish Hierarchy by Rev. Thomas Walsh (1864):
‘Athassel, in the Barony of Clanwilliam, and on the west side of the river Suir. William Fitz Adelm de Burgo founded this abbey under the evocation of St. Edmund, king and confessor, for canons regular of St. Augustine.
A.D. 1204, the founder was interred here.
A.D. 1309, the prior was sued by Leopold de Mareys and Company, merchants of Lucca, for the sum of five hundred marcs, £2,500 sterling.
A.D. 1319, the town of Athassel was maliciously burned by the Lord John Fitz Thomas.
A.D. 1326, Richard, the Red Earl of Ulster, was interred here.
A.D. 1326, Bryan O’Brien burned Athassel to the ground.
A.D. 1482, David was prior.
A.D. 1524, Edmund Butler was prior, and the last who presided over this venerable establishment. Its property in land consisted of 768 acres, besides twenty messuages, and the income of rectories amounting to £111 16s 8d, or twenty-two marcs, which would in American money exceed $550.
All this property was granted forever to Thomas, earl of Ormond, at the yearly rent of £49 3s 9d. Queen Elizabeth confirmed this grant and remitted the reserved rent.
Athassel is one of the most extensive ruins in the kingdom, and scarcely yielded to any in extent and splendor. The whole work was uniform, regular, and finished in a fine limestone.’





From The Official Illustrated Guide to the Great Southern and Western Railway by George S. Measom (1867):
‘The site was chosen with the usual taste and judgement of “monks of old”; although a few shriveled trees are now all that remains of the woods by which it was formerly encompassed, and of which there is abundant evidence. A gentle, fertilizing and productive river still rolls beside its shattered glories; and the ruins afford ample proof of the vast extent, as well as the singular beauty of the structure, when the “Holy Augustinians” kept state within its walls. To their order may be traced the most elaborate and highly wrought of all the ecclesiastical edifices in Ireland; their abbeys in that country “evincing a style of architectural elegance and grandeur but little inferior to their fabrics in England and on the Continent”.’





From The Parliamentary Gazetteer of Ireland (1846):
‘The ruins of the edifice are still extensive, and indicate its former magnitude and splendor. The choir measured 44 feet by 26; the nave, of the same breadth as the choir and supported by lateral aisles, was externally 117 feet in length; the tower was square and lofty; and the cloisters were extensive. A tolerable view of the ruins from the north-west, and exhibiting the dilapidated tower, the roofless nave, the cloisters and a roofless chapel in the south-west corner, is given by Dr. Ledwich in his Antiquaries of Ireland. “We cannot,” says that antiquary, “behold the numerous arches, walls, windows, and heaps of masonry promiscuously mixed in one common ruin, without saying with Ovid: Omnia sunt hominum tenui pendentia filo: Et subito casu, quæ valuere, ruunt.’ [All things human hang by a slender thread: that which seemed to stand strong, suddenly falls into ruin]

Ghost House


I dwell in a lonely house I know
That vanished many a summer ago,
And left no trace but the cellar walls,
And a cellar in which the daylight falls
And the purple-stemmed wild raspberries grow.

O’er ruined fences the grape-vines shield
The woods come back to the mowing field;
The orchard tree has grown one copse
Of new wood and old where the woodpecker chops;
The footpath down to the well is healed.




I dwell with a strangely aching heart
In that vanished abode there far apart
On that disused and forgotten road
That has no dust-bath now for the toad.
Night comes; the black bats tumble and dart;

The whippoorwill is coming to shout
And hush and cluck and flutter about:
I hear him begin far enough away
Full many a time to say his say
Before he arrives to say it out.




It is under the small, dim, summer star.
I know not who these mute folk are
Who share the unlit place with me—
Those stones out under the low-limbed tree
Doubtless bear names that the mosses mar.

They are tireless folk, but slow and sad—
Though two, close-keeping, are lass and lad,—
With none among them that ever sings,
And yet, in view of how many things,
As sweet companions as might be had.


Ghost House by Robert Frost. 
Crossdrum Lower, County Meath – one of the houses featured in The Irish Aesthete: Ruins of Ireland (Cico Books), now available to order from your favourite local bookshop or online from Amazon…