Thursday, 30 May 2013

New Facebook page

Just to let everyone know that I've now set up a new Facebook page. The address is The page is now in the format of a business/organisation page but will have all same notification features and image galleries as before. By' liking' the page you should receive daily updates of new blog entries. As always your support is greatly received. Don't forgot that I'm extremely greatful for comments and feedback on any of the entries. Also if you feel that you would like me feature a particular building or site please let me know and I'll do my best! 

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Strancally Castle, Co. Waterford

Located a few miles downstream from the towns of Lismore and Cappoquin, Strancally Castle sits picturesquely overlooking the glorious River Blackwater. The west Waterford landscape is adorned with many great houses, and Strancally sits comfortably amongst its contemporaries. The current castle is nineteenth century, but the estate is the site of a much older castle, dating from the Norman period. The castle is believed to have built by the Norman-Welsh invader, Raymond Fitzgerald in the twelfth century. This castle was certainly inhabited into the seventeenth century, and possibly later. By the nineteenth century Strancally had come into the hands of the Keily family. 

Like so many of the castle and houses featured on the blog thus far, Strancally can be described as a neo-Gothic style house. Built as a dwelling house, and with no serious defensive structures, the castle was erected c. 1830 by John Keily (?1765-1843). Keily had briefly served as MP for Clonmel 1819-20 but had not been returned in the 1820 election. He chose the Pain brothers, George and Richard to design his home. The house contained the usual neo-Gothic architectural accompaniments, bearing a striking similarity with Dromoland Castle, which the Pain brothers also designed. Keily not only owned the castle but also a sizeable estate, amounting to some 5,000 acres. Strancally remained in the hands of the Keily family until 1856, when it was sold to the Whitelock Lloyd family. The house is now privately owned by the Buckley-Allen family. 

Above one can see the River Blackwater with the remains of the original medieval castle to the right. Legend has it that the castle contained a famous 'murdering hole' in one of its bedrooms. This sinister device came in the form of a concealed trapdoor, which when opened would propel the victim directly to river beneath! 

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Glenarm Castle, Co. Antrim

Glenarm is situated on the stunningly picturesque Antrim Coast. Famed for its rugged beauty and coastline the county of Antrim is located on the island's far northeastern reaches. On a clear day the coast of Scotland is visible. And it is to the Scotland that this part of the country owes much of its history and heritage, Antrim having been heavily populated with Scots settlers from the late sixteenth century onwards. However, the connection with Scotland had long predated this migration; since the thirteenth century Glenarm had been home to the MacEoin Bissets, a land owning family whom had come to Ulster from Scotland. In the sixteenth century it came into the hands of another Scots family, the McDonnells. In 1636 the McDonnells rebuilt an already existing medieval castle. Unfortunately for them though the renovated castle was sacked in 1642 by an invading Scots force. The family then returned to Dunluce Castle, dubbed Ulster's 'lost town', where they remained until the mid-eighteenth century, returning eventually to Glenarm. 

In 1750 the family resettled at Glenarm, Dunluce having been effectively abandoned. The shell of the standing ruin at Glenarm was used as the base for a new Palladian mansion. Like many other existing houses in Ireland, Glenarm was affected by the growth of the Romantic movement, with substantial changes being made to its appearance in the early nineteenth century. While some houses were remodeled as neo-Gothic style castles, a few took on the appearance of Jacobean mansions. This was the case at Glenarm, where the house was given flanking towers, crenelations, and a Jacobean style porch.

Above is an image of the gatelodge, or barbican as it was commonly known. The lodge was built as part of the renovations of the early nineteenth century, erected in 1826 by the countess of Antrim. The McDonnells were granted the title 'earl of Antrim' in 1620 by James I. Although receiving favour, the family were looked upon with some suspicion, especially in the tumultuous seventeenth century, as they had had remained Catholic, resisting efforts to conform to Protestantism. The title is still in use to this day, Alexander McDonnell being the fourteenth earl of Antrim. The castle is now a major centre for tourism and culture, with many events promoting cultural ties with Scotland.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Clifden Castle, Co. Galway

The picturesque town of Clifden is a popular destination for visitors. Dubbed the 'capital of Connemara', Clifden is a town of some 3,000 people. Its history, however, is not as venerable as one might expect, founded only in the early nineteenth century. The town was the brainchild of local landowner, John D'Arcy. The D'Arcy family originally hailed from the parish of Athenry, Co. Galway but prospered thanks to to the 1652 Act of Settlement, when they received a sizable amount of land in Connemara. While the D'Arcy's family seat was at Kiltullagh House, Athenry, to crown his new town, John decided to erect a suitable and fitting home for himself. This became known as Clifden Castle. Construction commenced c. 1815, in the Gothic Revival style, so popular in that century. However, because it was one the earlier Gothic Revival houses, it differed considerably from what followed throughout the later 1800s. Clifden Castle was more fanciful in appearance, and did little to genuinely imitate the castles of the medieval period. In reality it had more in common with the late eighteenth century Strawberry Hill Gotick than it did with many of its successors. It was nonetheless adorned with a series of turrets, flanking towers, crenelations, and pointed windows. 

The D'Arcy estate and the town of Clifden flourished originally. When the Famine broke out in 1845 the town possessed two noble churches, up to 200 houses, a courthouse, and a number of other civic buildings. The town's prosperity had much to do with the construction of a thriving harbour. However, this initial prosperity was not long lived, and tragedy struck with onset of the Famine. The estate's population suffered mortalities and a high rate of emigration. Rental incomes subsequently plumated, resulting ultimately in the D'Arcy's bankruptcy. In 1850 the estate was bought by the Eyre's, an English family, who originated in Somerset. The Eyre's were not resident landlords, and only infrequently occupied the castle. Upon the death of John Joseph Eyre in 1894, the castle and the estate were placed in trust. The castle subsequently fell into a state of disrepair. 

The image shows the castle in the early stages of dereliction. The castle is now roofless and abandoned but the outer walls are still in place. The estate was subsequently broken up by the Irish Land Commission in the 1930s, when its land was sold in smaller lots to local farmers. 

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Waterford Castle, the Island, Waterford

A castle has stood on this site since the medieval period. The owners, the Fitzgeralds were a Norman aristocratic family, and had arrived in Ireland as part of the Norman conquest of the twelfth century. A small Norman style keep was built on the island, but this was abandoned by the sixteenth century. It seems it remained in a state dereliction until the nineteenth century, when the castle we now have today took its form. The then owner, John Fitzgerald, carried out the initial restoration in 1849, which was enhanced in the 1870s and 90s by Gerald Purcell-Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald employed the English architect W.H. Romaine-Walker (1854-1940) to oversee the restoration. 

The image above shows the castle as it essentially looks today. The wings to the east and west of the central section were added as part of the nineteenth century restoration. The central section contained the remaining traces of the original Norman keep, which were harmoniously adapted with the new designs. The 'new' castle did not have a polished stone exterior like many of the neo-Gothic buildings erected in the period, but rather an unrefined stone finish, giving it more of a 'medieval' feeling than many of its contemporaries enjoyed. Battlements, crenelations, and even gargoyles were included to add 'authenticity'. 

Waterford Castle sits peacefully on Little Island. The island measures just over 400 acres, and is located on the River Suir, less than five kilometers downstream from the city's bustling quays. The island remained in the hands of the Fitzgeralds for centuries, until the twentieth century, when it was bought by a family from Rhodesia, the Igos in 1958. They transformed the island into a horticultural centre, erecting large glass houses, growing flowers and crops. The island then became a dairy farm before eventually being turned into a luxury hotel in 1987. Much of the island is now in use as an eighteen hole golf course. 

The Fitzgerald family at the castle's main entrance 

The image above shows a small steamboat transporting the family to the island. In more recent years a car ferry now brings residents and golfers across the channel.