Clan Castles

The sixteenth century in Europe was a time of unprecedented change. It was the beginning of the modern era, and it saw a revolution in almost every aspect of European life. The century opened with the discovery of a new continent. The renaissance in Italy was peaking and spreading north, even arriving in backwaters like England (Hale – The Civilization of Europe in the Renaissance). Life was largely prosperous for the average person, the economy was growing. The mechanisms of commerce, systems of international finance, ocean-going trading fleets, an entrepreneurial bourgeoisie, were all building a recognizably capitalist, money-based economy. Geniuses were stepping all over each other on the street corners producing scientific innovation after innovation. Technological innovations like gunpowder were changing the nature of warfare and the military caste nature of society — the cannon probably had a great deal to do with the rise of the centralized nation state as we know it. The printing press created a media revolution. It brought ideas, partisan rhetoric, and how-to manuals to the people. Most of all, it brought the Bible, in its original tongues and in the vernacular, to the masses. A spirit of inquiry, a desire to return to first principles, was blowing through the Church, which had been the unifying cultural foundation of Europe for a millenium.

The Demise of the castle as a defense mechanism disappeared with the introduction of cannons and gun powder in Ireland as in the rest of Europe by the 15th century.  Cannons by the 15th century were widespread in Europe. These cannons could do serious damage to smaller castles. In the 15th century ammunition for cannons took the form of round stone balls, however methods changed and soon cast iron shot became the ammunition of choice. Cast iron has a density almost three times that of stone and is very hard. When fired against masonry it did not shatter on impact as stone balls often did and it could cause much greater damage. Gunpowder, made a much more effective form of attack. The military aspect of the castle had utterly changed by the end of the Cromwellian and Williamite Wars in Ireland.  Now the emphasis was on the castle as a domestic home rather than a defensive fortress.

Semi-fortified manor houses with crenellations and gatehouses were the nobility’s new answer to castles and the symbol of aristocracy that they had once been. The “castles” of the later medieval era were designed to say more about the wealth and social status of the owner than the need for defense. By then Anglo Irish landlords regarded London the appropriate place live along with fellow English landlords, Bankers, Artists, and Politicians. The Renaissance was changing the way the wealthy lived. In London they were at the centre of power.  It was safe, while an agent and the police kept their Irish land protected and tenants under control.

In England out of the Renaissance grew the First Agricultural Revolution. England’s rural sociologists of the day varied in opinion on the benefits of the capitalist model of agriculture that evolved. In part, the difference stems from divergence of purpose and method. The more pessimistic interpretations of the period stress the unequal distribution of the benefits gained from commercialization, and emphasize the social and cultural dislocation which the rise in capitalism entailed. The more optimistic perspective stresses the gross gains in productivity which the new innovations provoked. The emphasis is placed upon necessary economic advance in order to achieve the modernization of medieval agriculture. The latter employs state records and agrarian change through the eyes of the ‘improvers’, the former elaborates the view from the village rather than the estate, pays considerable attention to forms of social protest and develop a ‘history from below’. John Hale in his book “The civilization of Europe in the Renaissance” sums up the situation as follows ‘We have such evidence for a desire to rationalize both the use and appearance of the land because large number of cultivated men actually took to cultivating it. The flow of aristocratic landlords to cities and courts was balanced for a good part of the year by wealthy citizens who bought country estates for prestige and profit, as refuges from the contagious diseases of towns during summer, and for a pleasure heightened by a conscious following of the example of villa-loving Romans. There was thus a new market for vernacular versions of the texts of classical authors on husbandry, like Varro and Collumella, and for contemporary works praising country life and giving advice on agricultural practice: on drainage and irrigation, on the use of animal and mineral(potash, lime) manures, mulches and compost’.

For the native Irish, the Renaissance period, was a disaster for the well to-do and landowners.  After confiscation of lands they were forced to transplant to Connacht or to Continental Europe. By 1665 Catholics held only one fifth of the land, most of this in Connacht. The new landlord was Protestant and English and invariably lived in London. With prohibitions on Catholic ownership of land during the 1700s’ only 5 percent of the land was in Catholic hands by 1778.


Macroom Castle – South West Co Cork


It appears to owe its origin to the erection of a castle, which, according to Sir Richard Cox, was built in the reign of John by the family of the Carews. This castle subsequently became the property of the McCartys, and was repaired and beautified by Teigue McCarty, who died here in 1565. The MacCarthys established the town as a centre for markets and fairs, and in 1620 a market house was built to the east of and facing the castle. 1650, a major battle was fought at Macroom between Cromwell’s forces led by Lord Borghill and those, under the command of Bishop Mac Egan, loyal to King Charles. The Cromwellian forces were victorious, the Bishop was captured and hanged in nearby Carrigadrohid. Six years later Macroom Castle was handed over to Admiral Sir William Penn.  He retired to his Irish estates – the castle and manor 1660, the year of the restoration of the English monarchy. Later under the direction of Charles II Lord Muskerry McCarthy got back Macroom Castle and Admiral Penn received Shanagarry Castle in County Cork in compensation. (In the Williamite Wars of the 1690’s Macroom & Blarney Castles were once again confiscated from the McCarthy’s and this time sold by auction to the Hollow Sword Blade Company of London.  Similar to the East India Trading Company or the Hudson Bay Trading Company, they were a merchant company who made financial investments in colonial expansion. They eventually sold their interest in the castle to the Bernards of Castle Mahon in Bandon (future Earls of Bandon) who, in turn sold on to the Hedges family. In 1766 Jane Hedges Eyre married Simon White from Bantry House, and the strength of this alliance led to their son, Richard, becoming Earl of Bantry in 1816. By the turn of the century the castle was in the ownership of the glamorous Lady Ardilaun, sister of the last Earl of Bantry, and wife of Arthur Edward Guinness MP, heir of the brewing family. They moved in exciting circles, being friendly with Yeats, AE and the Laverys, the people that were responsible for developing the Anglo-Irish literary movement.  When Macroom Castle was burnt (for the fourth time) during the War of Independence Lady Ardilaun sold the remains to the Irish people.


The Ruins of Dunboy Castle and Beara Landscape – former stronghold of the O’Sullivans

Two miles outside Castletownbere, on the Bera Peninsula in South West County Cork are some very impressive ruins. These are the ruins of Dunboy Castle. Dunboy Castle (Caisleáin Dún Baoi) was built in the early 1500s. It was the home of the great Irish Chieftain – O’ Sullivan Bere. It is from this family that Castletownbere gets its name. O’ Sullivan Bere and his family were said to be very popular rulers of the local Irish peasants as they were meant to be very fair and kind. At this time, however, Ireland was in turmoil. The British were slowly taking over the country by getting rid of the original Irish chieftains and then taking their land. The Irish chieftains tried to stop the British at the Battle of Kinsale in 1601, but they failed. O’ Sullivan Bere was one of the chieftains who oraganised the Battle of Kinsale. As a result, the British decided to eliminate him. Queen Elizabeth sent one of her best generals, Sir George Carew, to Castletownbere to get rid of O’ Sullivan Bere and his troops in 1602. O’ Sullivan Bere had 143 men defending his castle. Carew attacked the Castle with 5000 men. Amazingly, the 143 men managed to defend their castle for almost 11 days. However, the castle was soon over-run when Carew started to use cannons. Most of the O’Sullivan Bere clan, including O’ Sullivan Bere himself, were killed. The British were in control of the Beara Peninsula, including the Caha Mountains from that point on, and they maintained a heavy naval presence until 1943.


Dromagh Castle


It is situated off the Road between Mallow and Killarney Road, close to the river Blackwater, and Kanturk.  The O’Keeffes’ had to move from Glanworth – north East Co. Cork up the valley of the River Bride and Blackwater to Dunbulloge, Dromagh and  Cullain ui Caoimh (Ballydesmond) in North  West Cork-East Kerry border. According to James N. Healy on the Castles of Co. Cork Book “It does emerge that Art O’Caoimh (O’Keeffe) built it”. The Dromagh O’Keeffes did take part in the Confederate War and so did have an involvement in the battle of Knocknaclassy where the last spark of hope for the confederates was quenched in 1651. The Castle and lands were taken over by the family of Leader.  The Leader dynasty owned it along with 5632 acres right up to the 1900s’. Presently the O’Leary family own the Castle and the surrounding lands.


O’Callaghan Castle – Dromaneen Mallow, Co. Cork.

It was one of the three main castles of the ancient O’Callaghan clan; Dromore and Clonmeen being the others. The ruin is that of an early 17th century Jacobean fortified mansion, rather than a true castle, and it is said to have been built by Caher O’Callaghan circa 1610. It was built to replace an older-type fortification, which had probably been in the style of a tower house. It was here that the Papal Nuncio, Rinunicci was entertained in 1642. The castle was destroyed in 1652 during the Confederate wars following the battle of Knocknaclashy which took place nearby. During the Confederate War no effort was made to defend it and it was apparently occupied by Sir Richard Herrill, and Tynte of Youghal after which period it was passed, with other O’Callaghan land to Sir Richard Kyrle. Kyrle sold to Richard Newman. The castle, or mansion, was apparently damaged in that time.


Castle Bernard:

In 1788 Francis Bernard, who became the 1st Earl of Bandon demolished much of the old O’Mahony castle on the site, and built an 18th century castellated mansion in front of it and slightly to the east. The old O’Mahony castle had been renamed Castle Bernard in 1715 by “Judge” Bernard. The new building was not strictly a castle, but rather an elegant castellated residence even though it continued to bear the name of a castle in the fashion of the time. James Francis Bernard (nicknamed Bucksot Bandon), the 4th Earl of Bandon (1850-1924) was a British Deputy Lieutenant in Ireland and Representative Peer. Lord Bandon was a cousin of the Earl of Middleton – the head of the Southern Irish Unionists at the time of the Anglo-Irish War (1919-1921). Castle Bernard became known as one of the most hospitable houses in Ireland and the house parties held by the fourth earl and his wife were legendary. In an early morning raid on 21 June 1921 during the days of the Black & Tans, a party of IRA under Sean Hales called. They intended to kidnap Lord Bandon, but Buckshot Bandon and his staff had taken refuge in the cellars. Apparently disappointed in the first object of their call the IRA decided to burn the house. Lord Bandon owned 40,941 acres in 1906, most of which was bought out by the Government of the day.


Donegal Castle

Donegal Castle situated in the centre of Donegal town, County Donegal in the northwest of Ireland. The castle was the stronghold of the O’Donnell clan, Lords of Tír Conaill and one of the most powerful Gaelic families in Ireland from the 5th to the 16th centuries. The elder Sir Hugh O’Donnell, wealthy chief of the O’Donnell clan, built the castle in 1474. At the same time, he and his wife Nuala, built a Franciscan monastery further down the river. The castle was regarded as one of the finest Gaelic castles in Ireland. This was indicated by a report by the visiting English Viceroy, the Lord Deputy of Ireland, Sir Henry Sidney, in 1566, in a letter to William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley, the Lord High Treasurer, describing it as “the largest and strongest fortress in all Ireland“, adding: “it is the greatest I ever saw in an Irishman’s hands: and would appear to be in good keeping; one of the fairest situated in good soil and so nigh a portable water a boat of ten tonnes could come within ten yards of it”. In 1607, after the Nine Years war the leaders of the O’Donnell clan left Ireland in the Flight of the Earls. In 1611 the castle and its lands were granted to an English Captain, Basil Brooke. The keep had been severely damaged by the departing O’Donnells to prevent the castle being used against the Gaelic clans but was quickly restored by its new owners.


Rathfarnham Castle 1794

Rathfarnham Castle was not built primarily to defend the Pale, but as a comfortable country residence for an ambitious Yorkshire clergyman, Adam Loftus. Loftus quickly rose to become Archbishop of Dublin in 1567, Lord Chancellor of Ireland in 1581, and was closely involved in the establishment of Trinity College Dublin in 1582. He died in 1605 and the Castle remained in the family until 172 when William Conolly bought it. Conolly was born in Ballyshannon Co Donegal in 1662, the son of a local innkeeper. From such humble origins, he rose to become the wealthiest most powerful politician in Ireland. The Conolly family were presumably of Catholic Irish background although it is likely they had converted sometime before William’s birth. He trained as an attorney in Dublin, where he practiced law in the 1680s. His career, however only took off following the Williamite war of 1688-91. In 1689 Catholic James II of England fled to Ireland following the ‘glorious revolution’ which swept his son in-law William of Orange to power in Britain and Ireland. King William pursued his rival to Ireland, where decisive battles were fought at Derry, the Boyne, Aughrim and Limerick in 1690-1. Conolly proceeded to make the most of the opportunities created by the Williamite victory in Ireland. William of Orange confiscated the lands of James’ Catholic supporters and it was through dealing in these forfeited estates that Conolly established his fortune. By 1703 he had spent over £10,000 acquiring over 15,000 acres spread across 7 counties. By any standards he had generated an immense fortune in a remarkably short period of time. In 1723 he acquired Rathfarnham Castle in Co. Dublin although neither he nor any of his descendants ever lived there. By his death he owned over 100,000 acres and enjoyed an annual income of almost £17,000 a year making him the wealthiest and the most powerful politician in Ireland.


O’Driscoll Castle 


O’Driscoll clan comes from County Cork in the south of Ireland, particularly the area around Baltimore and Skibbereen. They were part of the Corca Laoighde tribal grouping which was descended from the Érainn or Fir Bolg, Celts who settled the area before the arrival of the Gaels. During the early Middle Ages the O’Driscolls were Admirals who comanded the fleets of the Kings of Munster. They also controlled a huge territory encompassing all of Bantry, Carbery and Beara baronies; an area co-extensive with the diocese of Ross, Around the close of the 12th century, pressure from the O’Sullivans drove them eastward, and they settled in the vicinity of Baltimore. Further encroachment by the O’Donavans and the O’Mahonys reduced the septs holdings to a narrow strip of seacoast. around the Bay of Baltimore.  After the Battle of Kinsale in 1602, the O’Driscolls were dispossessed of their lands and Baltimore was settled by immigrants from England.  In 1631, the village was attacked by Algerian pirates – reputed to have been organised by the O’Driscolls. One hundred of the village’s townspeople were kidnapped and dispatched to Algeria as slaves, never to return.  Oliver Cromwell army in 1649 took the castle as a garrison for his troops after his departure it ran into a state of disrepair over many years. The McCarthy family restored the building in 1997.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.