All that survives of the former Church of Ireland church in Rathconrath, County Westmeath. According to Samuel Lewis writing in 1837 the building had been erected eighteen years earlier ‘almost on the site of the ancient church’ at the cost of £738, the entire sum being provided by the Board of First Fruits. At that time the living was in the patronage of Brinsley Butler, fourth Earl of Lanesborough who had inherited large estates in this part of the country through his grandmother Jane Rochfort, a daughter of the first Earl of Belvedere, notorious for having locked up his wife for over thirty years after he suspected she was having an affair with his younger brother (who he sued for criminal conversation).
‘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.
The history of the 17th century Ulster Plantations is as contested as the land onto which settlers from Scotland moved during the same period. Prior to 1600 the northern region of Ireland had been least subject to control by the English government and accordingly most liable to resist efforts by the latter to impose its authority. The Nine Years’ War (1594-1603) which had been largely driven by the Ulster chiefs Hugh O’Neill and Hugh O’Donnell would end with their defeat at the Battle of Kinsale in 1601 and a treaty agreed at Mellifont two years later. Then in 1607 came what is known as the Flight of the Earls when both the O’Neill and O’Donnell chiefs left Ireland for mainland Europe with some of their followers and never returned. A turning point had been reached.
Even before this date, groups of Scottish adventurers, most notably James Hamilton and Sir Hugh Montgomery, had begun arriving in Ulster and settling on lands in Counties Down and Antrim. From 1609 onwards a more formal, government-sponsored settlement of Ulster began. James Stuart, who had assumed the throne of England in 1603 as James I had already long been King of Scotland (as James VI) and needed to reward supporters in his native country now that he was no longer resident there. The simultaneous desire to ensure there would be little or no further trouble in Ulster led to the plantation of Ulster. Unlike the indigenous Irish who were Gaelic-speaking and Roman Catholic, the planters were obliged to speak English and be of the Protestant faith (a large number of the Scots were Presbyterian). It is estimated that over 500,000 acres were officially granted to settlers but the figure was likely much higher. Obviously they were not welcome and many decades of unrest followed as the new arrivals fought to hold onto the land they had either been granted or seized. For this reason, the residences they built were heavily fortified.
Occupying a raised site above the west banks of Lower Lough Erne, Monea Castle, County Fermanagh stands on land previously been owned by the Maguires and confiscated from them by the crown authorities. The castle was built for a Scottish-born cleric, Malcolm Hamilton who first served as Rector of Devenish before being appointed Chancellor of Down in 1612. Eleven years later he was consecrated Archbishop of Cashel where he died and was buried in 1629. Considered the finest surviving settler castle of the period, Monea was begun in 1616 and finished some two years later: a bawn wall was added in 1622. Although essentially a rectangular tower house, the building reflects the Scottish origins of its original owner, with crow-step gables and projecting turrets similar to those found in his country during the same period. As was typical at the time, the ground floor was used for storage and utilitarian purposes, with accommodation on the two upper levels, including a great hall on the first floor. The defensive character of Monea proved necessary because in 1641 during the Confederate Wars the castle was attacked by the Maguires who killed a number of its occupants. It was subsequently returned to the family and in the later 18th century owned by Malcolm Hamilton’s grandson, the Swedish-born soldier Gustav Hamilton who served as Governor of Enniskillen during the Williamite Wars. It was later sold by his heirs and fell victim to fire in the 18th century, remaining a ruin ever since.
Located on the north-west shores of Lower Lough Erne some seven miles from Monea, Tully Castle was built Scottish settler Sir John Hume between 1611 and 1613. According to the survey of Ulster counties conducted by Nicholas Pynnar in 1618/19, Tully was composed of ‘a bawn of lime and stone, 100 ft square, 14 ft high having four flankers for defence’ and inside ‘a fair strong castle, 50 ft long and 21 ft broad.’ As with Monea, the Scottish influence is apparent in Tully’s design, not least in the steep gable ends of the castle. And once more the upper floors were used for accommodation and entertaining, the ground floor for storage and defence. Unfortunately it proved of no avail in 1641 when, like Monea, this castle was attacked by the Maguires. At the time, Sir John’s son George was away so the latter’s wife Mary was left to guard Tully, into which the residents of an adjacent settler village had crowded. Greatly outnumbered, Lady Hume negotiated a surrender that was supposed to include the safe passage of all those inside the building once it, and all arms, had been handed over to the Maguires. In the event, while she and her family were permitted to leave, everyone else (said to have been 15 men, and sixty women and children) was kept inside and massacred, after which the castle was set on fire. Like Monea, it has been a ruin ever since.
The former St Matthew’s church in Kilcar, County Donegal. Dating from the second half of the 1820s (it was consecrated by William Knox, Bishop of Derry in Sepember 1828) the present building replaced an earlier one erected in the 17th century. As so often, funding was provided by the Board of First Fruits, resulting in what Samuel Lewis in his Topographical Dictionary of Ireland described as ‘a small handsome building.’ The architect is unknown but the church conforms to type, composed of a two-bay hall with a tower at the west end. Closed for services in the 1960s, the building subsequently lost its roof but what remains has recently been cleared of encroaching vegetation.
The east window of the old church in Dromiskin, County Louth. This was the site of a monastery founded in the late 5th/early 6th century by Lughaidh, son of the first Christian King of Munster and a disciple of St Patrick. In the mid-7th century it came under the authority of St Ronan who died of the plague in 664: in 801 his relics were placed in a richly decorated shrine. But inevitably the monastery’s wealth made it vulnerable to attack, and during the 10th and 11th centuries Dromiskin was plundered by both Irish and Viking forces. Eventually the monastery was abandoned and fell into ruin, although the church continued to be used for services (this window is 15th century) until replaced by another in the early 19th century (now also no longer in use). Looking west through the window, one can see the stump of a 9th century Round Tower (the cap on it was added in 1879).
Looking north across the Boyne almost mid-point between Slane and Navan, one sees the impressive remains of Dunmoe Castle, County Meath. Sitting high on a bluff above the river, the building presents a high, near blank face (there are a few window openings towards the top) flanked by circular towers. From this position, it is easy to imagine the rest of the building being equally substantial. But the notion quickly proves erroneous. Despite putting on a good front, Dunmoe is the Potemkin village of Irish castles: nothing lies behind its fine façade.
It is believed the original castle at Dunmoe was built in the 12th century by the Anglo-Norman knight Hugh de Lacy. However, by the mid-15th century when the present building is thought to have been constructed the land on which it stands had passed into the hands of another family of Norman origin, the d’Arcys. Much intermarried with other local families like the Plunkets, Nugents and St Lawrences, their main residence was elsewhere in the county at Platten but by the 16th century Dunmoe belonged to the descendants of a younger d’Arcy son. Inevitably they were caught up in the troubles of the Confederate Wars, Dunmoe being taken by the Irish forces in 1641 and later fired at across the Boyne by the passing Cromwellian Army. Following the restoration of Charles II, in 1663 Thomas d’Arcy was declared ‘an innocent Papist.’ It was he who is said to have entertained James II at Dunmoe on the night before the Battle of the Boyne, and the victorious William III on the night after. This is supposed to have inspired the couplet, ‘Who will be king, I do not know/But I’ll be d’Arcy of Dunmoe.’
The d’Arcys remained at Dunmoe for much of the 18th century, converting what had been a fortress into a more comfortable house. The last of them to occupy appears to have been Judge d’Arcy (his first name deriving from the surname of his mother, Elizabeth Judge). Dying young in 1766, he left an infant heiress Elizabeth who would later marry Major Gorges Irvine of Castle Irvine, County Fermanagh (for the unhappy fate of this house, see A White Elephant, October 3rd 2016): thereafter that family were called the d’Arcy-Irvines. As for Dunmoe, it survived until the end of the century before being largely destroyed by fire during the 1798 rebellion (presumably around the time of the Battle of Tara Hill on May 26th of that year). It has since fallen into the present ruinous state so that only one of the four outer walls remains, and only two of the equivalent number of corner towers. To the immediate west inside a low walled enclosure are likewise the remains of an old church and graveyard containing what had been the d’Arcy mausoleum.
The shell of Summerhill, County Mayo, a house that retained its roof within living memory. Summerhill is believed to have been built in the 1770s for the Palmer family its five-bay façade centred on a pedimented breakfront with first-floor Venetian window. The site on raised ground was chosen to provide a view down towards the Palmerstown river beside which stand the ruins of the Dominican Rathfran Friary. Today the two complexes rival each other in decay.