Thursday, 1 August 2013

Moydrum Castle, Athlone, Co. Westmeath

A town of some 20,000 people, Athlone is best-known for being at the geographical centre of Ireland. An historic town enlarged by the Anglo-Normans in the twelfth century, it boasts a number of sites worthy of a visit. Not far from the town is a site not normally on visitors' 'to see' list: Moydrum Castle. While not as ancient as the town's Norman castle, Moydrum nonetheless has an interesting history, connected primarily with the Handcock family. Like a great many of Irish landowning families, the Handcocks came to Ireland in the seventeenth century, in the wake of the Cromwellian conquest. Although  one of the leading landowners in the midlands, they remained without a title, or peerage, until 1812, when William Handcock was created 1st Baron Castlemaine. An MP for Westmeath, this title, we are told, was granted largely as a result of his support for the passing of the Act of Union in 1801, in which the Irish parliament in Dublin was dissolved. William had already married favourably, being wed to Florinda Trench, daughter of the 1st earl of Clancarthy. 

The castle seen in the picture above was largely the work of an early nineteenth century refurbishment of an already existing house. The original house was erected c. 1750, and was most probably a typical Irish country house incorporating elements of the Classical style. As architectural tastes began to change in the early nineteenth century the house was given a Gothic appearance, changing it from a 'house' to a 'castle. This was done so around 1812, under the supervision of Sir Richard Morrison. Morrison obtained an impressive reputation for 'gothicising' houses, one of the most famous examples being Shelton Abbey in Co. Wicklow, which I featured on the blog some months back. From the images one can easily see how the the existing house was given its Gothic appearance; the turrets on the four corners, the off-centred tower with its great Gothic window, and the crenelations, all giving  it  the 'castle' feeling.

The castle remained in the hands of the Handcock family into the twentieth century. Like many country houses Moydrum was caught up in the atrocities committed during the Civil War. In 1921 the house was burned by the local IRA brigade and rendered uninhabitable. The family subsequently relocated to England with the house being left in the ruinous state that one can see today. An interesting aside is that the house was used on the cover of the U2 album The Unforgettable Fire in 1982 and has subsequently become a popular destination for the band's many fans! 

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