Herewith the surviving fragments of the once-might Morett Castle, County Laois. It was a late-medieval tower house, built by the Fitzgerald family towards the end of the 16th century. During the wars of the 1650s the building came under attack and was then forfeited by the Fitzgeralds, although they were able to regain possession of it during the following decade. Then, in 1690, it was threatened again, this time by the O’Cahills, who claimed ownership of the land on which it stood. The owner at the time, Stephen Fitzgerald, made the mistake of taking a stroll in his garden, and was promptly captured by the attackers, who threatened to kill him unless the castle was surrendered. According to Sir Jonah Barrington (who was her great-nephew), the prisoner’s wife Elizabeth declined the offer, declaring ‘Elizabeth Fitzgerald may get another husband but Elizabeth Fitzgerald may not get another castle; so I’ll keep what I have; and if you don’t get off faster than your legs can readily carry you, my warders will try which is hardest, your skull or a stone bullet.’ She was as good as her word and the castle remained in her possession. The unfortunate Stephen Fitzgerald, on the other hand, was soon seen dangling from a gibbet: his widow did at least have the consideration to wake and bury him. Barrington recounts the sundry other attempts to seize the castle from her, all unsuccessful and ends his tale by informing readers that his great-aunt remained in occupation ‘to a very late period in the reign of George the First.’ The place must have been abandoned not long afterwards because by 1792 Francis Grose could show it in ruins (albeit with more surviving than is now the case).
Now in the middle of a busy farmyard but presumably once standing on its own, this is Clara Castle, a five-storey late 15th/early 16th century tower house in County Kilkenny. It was originally constructed for the Shortall family but in the second half of the 17th century passed into the possession of the Byrnes, successive generations occupying the building until 1905. Alas, the building does not seem to be open to visitors at present, as seemingly it has well-preserved interiors on the upper floors, including original oak beams and floorboards, no doubt due to the fact that it remained a residence into the last century.
Milltown Castle, County Louth is thought to date from the early 15th century when built for the Anglo-Norman Gernon family, who long held land in this part of the country. In many respects it is a typical tower house of the period, but made unusual by having rounded corners and a couple of semi-circular towers. Of four storeys, it underwent the usual alterations across the centuries but remained in use as a residence until relatively recently; a 19th century photograph shows buildings attached on either side, including a two-storey house, but these have since been demolished and today it stands in a farm yard (guarded by a pair of rather aggressive dogs, hence no closer pictures…)
Deerpark Castle, County Galway might be considered the Weight Watchers of Irish tower houses: has all the vertical substance of a regular one, but only half the width. Erected on a natural outcrop of rock, the building is believed to date from the 16th century when this part of the country would have been under the control of the de Burgos, or Burkes a branch of which later became Earls (and eventually Marquesses) of Clanricarde. There are protruding stones on one side of the structure, suggesting an intention – probably not realised – to enlarge it, which may explain the tower’s unusual slimness. Its present name presumably derives from a later date, perhaps the 17th or 18th century, when the surrounding land was enclosed to serve as a deer park for the Burkes; its conversion into use as a dovecote most likely also occurred at this time.
The Irish Aesthete has recently been discussing tower houses on YouTube* so here is a fine example rising above the flat landscape of County Louth. The four-storey Roodstown Castle is believed to date from the 15th century although it may be later.
The building has projecting square turrets diagonally opposite each other, one of which contained the garderobe, the other a staircase leading from the usual vaulted entrance space to the upper floors. There is a murder hole just inside the door, and formerly a machicolation outside it but this has since disappeared.
The remains of Moygaddy Castle, a small tower house of uncertain date on the border of Counties Meath and Kildare (it is inside the former). Seemingly conservation work was undertaken on the building in the 1890s after the fifth Duke of Leinster (whose then-residence at Carton lies close by) observed its poor state of repair: the land on which it stands had been acquired by his forebears 150 years earlier. Of two storeys, the tower stands just shy of 30 feet tall and is almost a square, measuring 16 feet in one direction and 15 feet in the other. Probably until the late 19th century it was surrounded by farm buildings, the wall jutting out at the south-east corner being the last remnant of these.
The tower house at Donore, County Meath. This is believed to date from the early 15th century after Henry VI had offered to grant £10 to anyone prepared to build a defensive tower to protect the Pale. Donore conforms to type, measuring 24 by 20 and a half feet at its base and rising some 39 feet over three storeys. An interesting feature is that the corners are all rounded and one has a small projecting round tower. An illustration from 1785 shows the building with a pitched thatched roof but over a century earlier, in 1650, it had been the scene of a bloody denouement after the English commander Sir John Reynolds captured Donore and killed over forty members of the McGeoghegan family.