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. 

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