Heritage Ireland

Tintern Abbey

Set in a Special Area of Conservation, Tintern Abbey evokes the landscape and connections to a time past in a unique way. The trip to Tintern is a journey, and the prize at the end of negotiating the roads of the Hook Peninsula is the first, teasing glimpse of the abbey that entices you down the driveway. As you follow the meandering drive the natural landscape is laid out below you, while the eighteenth century organised planting gives you a peep at the medieval abbey turned into a fortified dwelling.

Image of Tintern Abbey taken in 1902.
Tintern Abbey by A. H. Poole Studio Photographer. Published / Created: [ca. 11 August 1902] In collection: The Poole Photographic Collection

The abbey was founded by William Marshal, known to history as The Greatest Knight in Christendom, in answer to a vow made in time of tempest. Marshal and his retinue were coming towards the end of their journey to Ireland when they were caught in a violent storm. William called to his creator asking for safe delivery and vowing that, if he and his companions were saved, he would build a monastery at the location where they made dry land. The weary travellers landed at Bannow Bay and William Marshal fulfilled his vow through the foundation of Tintern Abbey, known as Tintern de Voto, or Tintern of the Vow. The abbey was founded in 1200 and was initially populated by Cistercian monks from Tintern Abbey in Wales.

The monks of the Cistercian Order, founded in France in 1098, had gained a reputation across Europe as austere, hardworking and resourceful. Self-sufficiency as far as possible coupled with a long term view allowed the monks to strive for perfection in their construction and their agricultural endeavours. The Cistercians followed the three-year crop rotation system, introduced new animal breeds and were arguably the first to introduce gothic architecture to Ireland. The monks regularly diverted rivers to provide water for use in the abbey and for sanitation and pushed the known boundaries of engineering practices. The hallmark of Cistercian church building is a simplicity that is a thing of beauty in its own right.

Tintern Abbey

All Cistercian monasteries were dedicated to St Mary and a Lady Chapel was often incorporated into the building. The Lady Chapel at Tintern is a three-bay structure with some beautiful features on the ribbed and groined ceiling. The display on view includes video footage of the earliest conservation works undertaken by the State, at a time when health and safety was not so high on the agenda.

The monastery was suppressed by King Henry VIII in 1536 and the church, cloister and associated buildings along with extensive lands ultimately passed into the hands of Sir Anthony Colclough who turned the monastery into a private dwelling. Anthony was knighted by Queen Elizabeth I in 1581 and following his death was interred in the small church situated near to the battlemented bridge, just a short stroll from the abbey and accessible to visitors today.

Tintern Abbey

Anthony had twelve children, one of whom was Thomas. Sir Thomas continued with the improvements at Tintern, one of which involved the introduction of oysters from Milford Haven to Bannow Bay about the year 1600. Thomas was twice married. His first wife, Martha Loftus was a member of the Reformed Church with whom Thomas had one son named Adam. Thomas’ second wife was Eleanor Bagenal and they had four children together, all of whom were raised as Catholics.

Adam Colclough inherited the estates in 1624 but the lands became divided along religious lines between the Protestant and Catholic branches of the family. The Catholic branch held the lands in an area known as The Duffry, situated in the foothills of the Blackstairs mountains, near to Enniscorthy. During the 1641 rebellion 200 local Protestant people took refuge in Tintern which was garrisoned by forty soldiers from Duncannon Fort situated nearby. Shortly afterwards the Catholic branch of the family laid siege to the Protestant branch who were in residence in Tintern Abbey. Dudley Colclough and his two brothers John and Anthony took control of the abbey following a two-week siege. Following Oliver Cromwell’s arrival in 1649 Dudley was banished to Connaught and he ultimately died in exile in France. The lands were re-united in that same year when Caesar Colclough inherited and he held title until 1684. For almost a century after Caesar’s death the abbey and lands were passed through complicated lines of inheritance as owners died without issue.

Tintern Abbey

The eighteenth century story of Tintern is dominated by the legendary Great Caesar. Renowned as an outstanding sportsman and athlete and a magnanimous landlord beloved by his people Caesar inherited the Duffry lands at sixteen years of age and the Tintern lands followed some years later. One action of Caesar stands in local folklore above all others when he brought a hurling team to play a challenge match at the behest of King George. The Wexford men wore yellow sashes to differentiate the teams and the story goes that the skill displayed by Colclough’s team caused the King or Queen to call out ‘Come on, the yellow bellies!’ a name still applied to natives of the county.

During the period of religious oppression under the Penal laws newly ordained priests were given employment on the Tintern estates where many worked as gardeners and farm hands and quietly carried out their ministry without fear of their landlord. In the eighteenth century the Colcloughs gave a site and a substantial donation towards the erection of the Catholic Church in Ballycullane, the family also established a non-denominational school in the locality. The period of unity and accord was not destined to last.

Colclough walled garden

After the death of Great Caesar the lands were again divided along religious lines. Ultimately Vesey inherited the Tintern lands, however his tenure heralded a turbulent time. Vesey squandered and mortgaged his inheritance while attaining fame for his illicit activities. Vesey’s son John took control after his father’s passing. John had a legal background and tried to turn the fortunes of the estate around. John was involved in the establishment of a bank in nearby New Ross and he launched a flour milling enterprise at Tintern. The flour mill was accidentally burned in the late 1800’s but the walls of the mill still survive. In addition to constructing a limekiln and a brick manufacturing industry John also established a village of Tintern. Home to artisans and craft workers, records indicate the village was home to thirty-six looms and that ‘[l]inen, diaper, check, Jane and woollens, were woven in it’, in addition a yarn market and market house were located in the village. Tintern was also home to slaters, masons, a butcher, a shoemaker and smiths. John had a keen interest in landscaping and gardening and by 1795 had established a nursery to grow seedlings for the extensive plantations he envisaged. It is John we must thank for the tantalising glimpse we get of the abbey from the entrance driveway as he created a wide lawn in front of the abbey surrounded by belts of woodland. This was a key element of the landscaping style of the period. John also levelled ditches and established defined walks around the demesne. In a letter dated to 1801 John referred to a ‘fine parcel of young fruit trees ready to be put against the walls’, another mention of ‘wall trees’ would seem to indicate that the 2.5 acre stone and brick lined walled garden had been constructed by this time.

In addition to the external improvements John’s impact on the old abbey is still plain to see. John transformed the nave into a commodious residence. The Lady Chapel was converted into the family kitchen and the large room above was used as the family library. A massive gothic window was inserted in the west end of the room and in recent years extensive conservation works were carried out on this window by the National Monuments team, based in the Office of Public Works regional depot in Kilkenny. The window was reinstated in 2011 and has become a much admired feature of the present abbey. John Colclough did not fare so well. Killed in a duel in 1806 John was shot dead by his fiancé’s brother; William Alcock. John’s body was waked for a week at the family residence in Wexford town, situated at the present entrance to White’s Hotel. John was buried at Tintern, presumably in the family vault following a funeral said to have been the largest ever seen in that part of Ireland. His fiancé died some years later and her funeral took the form of a torch-lit procession at midnight to the Alcock family mansion. John was one of four members of the Colclough family to have been killed in a duel.

Gothic window Tintern Abbey

The estate was inherited by another Caesar Colclough. This Caesar returned from political exile in France after the abdication of Napolean in 1814 and became MP for Wexford. In 1812 John Bernard Trotter, a visitor to the estate, wrote that there ‘were some signs of decay in the village’, presumably the decay worsened and looking towards improving the estate, Caesar relocated the old village of Tintern to nearby Saltmills, thus establishing the village that exists today. From about 1818 until his death in 1842 Caesar was an absentee landlord, spending most of his time between England and France. It was strongly suspected that Caesars wife, Jane Kirwan, who had come to dominate his every move, was also responsible for his death. It was believed by many that Jane had poisoned her husband and in doing so ended the male line. The Great Lawsuits ensued bringing financial demands and hardships from which Tintern never recovered. One outcome of the court proceedings was the declaration that, through the male line, the Canadian Mary Colclough was the rightful owner of the estate.

The last of the line, Mary’s granddaughter Lucie Marie, inherited Tintern in 1912 and continued to live in the old abbey but times had changed, the finances had run dry, and by 1959 the vast majority of the land had been sold to the Land Commission. Having lived in the family residence for 70 years the decision was taken to move to nearby Saltmills, the village founded by her ancestor. In 1983 Lucie Marie Biddulph Colclough, known for her quiet compassion, her music and her interest in her Church, died in Ely House, Wexford.

View of Tintern Abbey from bridge

Today the area surrounding Tintern Abbey is a haven for wildlife, an amenity for recreation and a space for quiet contemplation. The woodlands established and bequeathed by the family are managed on behalf of the people of Ireland by Coillte. The restoration of the walled garden is progressing under the management and vision of Hook Tourism. The original layout of the garden has been reinstated as it was in 1838.

About the Author

Breda Lynch is the Supervisor Guide of a number of OPW National Monument sites in the south-east. A published author, Breda was awarded a PhD in history by Maynooth University in 2008 and since then has conducted extensive research and lectured widely on Irish church history, with particular emphasis on the Cistercian Order.

Secrets of Ilnacullin, Garinish Island

John Annan Bryce MP (1844–1923), was a Belfastborn merchant and Liberal MP who had worked in Burma and Siam as an East India Merchant and held, among other roles, directorships of the Bombay, Baroda and Burma Railway Companies. He was a member of the Council of the Royal Geographical Society, the Alpine Club and the Savile Club. He was appointed to the Royal Commission on Congestion for Ireland during his time as an MP. Garinish Island was sold to him by the British War Office in 1910. Not long after that, he commissioned his friend, renowned English architect and landscape designer, Harold Ainsworth Peto FRIBA (1854–1933), to design and set out an Arts and Crafts style garden, an Italian Garden and a series of carefully conceived garden buildings and elements. Peto had previously been commissioned to design the 1st class accommodation on the Mauritania in 1907 (sister ship of the ill-fated Lusitania).

Bryce and his wife Violet (1863–1939), née L’Estrange, cousin of Constance and Eva Gore-Booth of Lissadell, Co. Sligo commenced the transformation of Garinish Island to Peto’s design in 1911, employing more than one hundred men between 1911 and 1914. Work continued apace until the outbreak of the First World War. By this time, many of the Italianate Renaissance-style buildings along with a two storey gardener’s cottage, constructed of local stone with green slate roof in an Edwardian picturesque style, had been completed. Peto brought a collection of Architectural stone carvings purchased in Italy, Spain and France, to display in the gardens and intended to integrate them into a new grand house on the island. The palatial seven storey house was never executed due to the collapse of the Russian market in 1917 which brought with it the decline of the Bryces’ financial fortunes. However, hundreds of species of exotic plants had been introduced to the island by this time.

Image of Violet L’Estrange Bryce’s Bedroom
Violet L’Estrange Bryce’s Bedroom

Following the death of her husband in 1923, Violet Annan Bryce took up permanent residency in the gardener’s cottage. By this time the cottage had been extended to include an extension to the drawing room. In 1925 the gardens were opened to the public to generate income, thereby creating a relationship between the island and the public.

In 1928 Scottish Gardener, Murdo Mackenzie, was appointed by Violet. Much of Peto and Bryce’s early planting had perished in a series of storms. Mackenzie began the planting of new shelter beds of Scots and Monterey Pine and the gardens began to flourish.

Violet’s son, Roland L’Estrange Bryce, joined her in 1932. Shortly afterwards, in 1940, the cottage was remodelled and extended into an Edwardian middle class home; 2 storey over basement, with 6 bedrooms and separate quarters for the owners and guests and for the staff.

On the death of Roland in 1953, Garinish Island was gifted to the Irish people and entrusted to the care of the Office of Public Works. Mackenzie continued to tend the gardens until his retirement in 1971, and lived and worked there until his death in 1983. The Bryce’s housekeeper Margaret O’Sullivan lived and worked there from 1926 up until a few years prior to her death in 1999.

Following this the house was entirely vacant and as a consequence deteriorated significantly. But there remained, miraculously, evidence of a way of life forever gone, still visible in the fragments that had been left behind. A project team was established by the OPW and its goal was to open Mrs. Annan Bryce’s family home to the public and share its stories and secret life in a museum and exhibition style presentation, and to make the house, garden and unique features universally accessible.

Statue of Mercury – The Lily Pond
Statue of Mercury – The Lily Pond

Orchestrating the transition from private residence to public building, while all the time trying to retain and protect a delicate and fragile story within its walls, proved to be the real challenge. The cataloguing of the contents of the house yielded a treasure trove of items that illustrate the ‘story’ of Garinish Island and the Bryce family. This inspired the creation of an exquisite and thought-provoking exhibition. Architectural interventions included: a reception room, conservation works to the existing building fabric, installation of a lift, hard landscaping and environmental and infrastructural improvements.

Archway & New Entrance
Archway & New Entrance
House & Patio Area
House & Patio Area

The official opening was performed on the 9th September 2015 by Minister Michael Ring T.D., Minister of State for Tourism and Sport. In attendance were Claire Spencer and Marianne Tudor Craig, descendants of John Annan and Violet Bryce.

The hope is that Garinish Island will continue to inspire and enchant a whole new generation of visitors, like it has been doing for over ninety years.

The storm has passed – the wind now gently lulls
The waves, so lately on destruction bent,
Firm Garnish stands, while round it sweep the gulls,
Magnificent in every element.

Extract from Glengarriff and Garnish (sic) by Nigel Erskine Bryce (November 1892-February 1910), Eton, 4 December 1909. Nigel was the youngest son of John and Violet Annan Bryce.

Interior – Staircase & Hall
Interior – Staircase & Hall

Margaret O’Sullivan – Last resident on Garinish Island (IInacullin)

When Margaret O’Sullivan (1908–1999) first arrived at Garinish Island to work for the Bryce family in the 1920s, little did she think that she would spend her life here and eventually become mistress of the house! The youngest of 12 children of a farmer from Bocarnagh, three miles from Glengarriff on the mainland, she was a teenager when she went to work in place of her sister who had emigrated to America.

Margaret served as housekeeper first to Violet Bryce and later to her son Roland, forming with him and Murdo MacKenzie a remarkably hospitable trio. During her lifetime, she had the distinction of serving tea to almost all the Irish Presidents and was photographed with President Seán T. O’Kelly and his party in the 1940s. One of her favourite memories was the visit of Roland’s friend, Dr. Douglas Hyde, who conversed with her in the Irish language. Known as An Craoibhín Aoibhinn, Hyde was a leading figure in the Gaelic revival and served as the first President of Ireland from 1938 to 1945. After Roland’s death in 1953, Margaret continued to live and work at Ilnacullin, as resident hostess, showing the same generous service to the Irish State as she had to the Bryces. Over her lifetime, she welcomed hundreds of native and foreign dignitaries, and thousands of sightseers, charming everyone that she met with her easy manner.

Margaret was a very independent woman by all accounts, rowing herself to the mainland in her own boat. Every Sunday, regardless of the weather she rowed across to attend Mass there accompanied by her dog! As the island’s last permanent inhabitant, Margaret lived alone in the house during the 1980s and early 1990s, coping admirably with the challenges of island life. In 1992, she was honoured by Glengarriff Tourism and Development Association for her contribution to tourism in the locality. Margaret died in 1999.

Roland Bryce, Margaret O’Sullivan & Murdo MacKenzie
Roland Bryce, Margaret O’Sullivan & Murdo MacKenzie

Murdo MacKenzie – Award winning gardener (1896–1983)

Murdo MacKenzie was born in 1896, in the north east of Scotland. Murdo MacKenzie served in the Seaforth Highlanders in World War I and worked as a forester before he moved to Ireland in 1928.

When Murdo MacKenzie arrived on Garinish Island, it was totally devoid of soil except for a few pockets of marshy bog and there was no shelter from the frequently ferocious prevailing winds.

Murdo MacKenzie overcame these obstacles by his single-mindedness and experience. Shelter belts were created and the slow process of creating soil from compost. Gradually a suitable environment for the reception of rare, delicate and exotic plants and shrubs from tropical climates took shape. Plants from Australia, New Zealand, Africa and Europe were carefully planted and nurtured and the evolution of Garinish Island progressed.

In 1953, the Bryce family bequeathed Garinish Island to the State and the Commissioners of Public Works. The Commissioners were exceptionally pleased to have acquired such a rare and beautiful natural gem. They quickly recognised the contribution of Murdo MacKenzie and acknowledged that he was an integral part of the Island. Consequently, he was employed by the Commissioners to continue his labour of love. In 1966, Murdo MacKenzie was awarded the Royal Horticultural Society of Ireland’s Medal of Honour, for conspicuous service to horticulture in Ireland. In February the following year Murdo MacKenzie was made an “Associate of Honour of the Royal Horticultural Society of the UK” in recognition of his services to horticulture and was presented with a Gold Medal.

During the 1980s, he was recognised by the Irish Tourist Board (Bord Fáilte) for his outstanding contribution to the creation and care of Ilnacullin – Garinish Island for 43 years.

He continued to work and live on the island even after his retirement. He died in January 1983 aged 87.

Murdo MacKenzie receiving his Royal Horticultural Society-of-Ireland’s-Medal-of-Honour-from-Lord & Countess of Rosse
Murdo MacKenzie receiving his Royal Horticultural Society-of-Ireland’s-Medal-of-Honour-from-Lord & Countess of Rosse

New Findings on the Buildings in the Middle/Lower Yard at Ormond Castle

Ormond Castle is located on the banks of the River Suir in Tipperary. The earliest reference to a castle at Carrick is in 1315, when Edmund Butler (d.1321) was granted the castle and manor of Carrickmagriffin by King Edward II. After Edmund came to Carrick he had a castle built on the south side of river in Carrick-Beg. In 1336 James Butler, 1st Earl of Ormond, granted this castle to the Franciscans. Part of this friary church still stands and is used today as St Molleran’s parish church. A new castle was built on the north side of the river in the south east corner of the medieval walled town. This consisted of a D-shaped enclosure with a watergate that fronted directly onto the river. The dilapidation of the castle started in the 17th century when it was attacked by Oliver Cromwell. How seriously the castle was damaged it is not known but in 1661 Elizabeth Butler, then Duchess of Ormonde, wrote to her agent that ‘the house at Carrick is in a ruinous condition’. By 1743 Ormond Castle is described in the following terms ‘Here are the ruins of a fine old house that did belong to the late Duke of Ormond’. The Butler family abandoned Ormond Castle in the 18th century and it was let to various tenants. Unfortunately, at some point probably around 1816 Mr Wogan, a solicitor, stripped out most of the core buildings in the middle/lower yard.

Ormond Castle View from the East
Ormond Castle View from the East

The castle was placed in state guardianship in 1947. Conservation works started in the courtyard in 1951 prevented any further deterioration. The surviving elements of the castle include two 15th century towers and the 16th century north range. Following archaeological investigations carried out during the recent restoration works remarkable details of previously unknown buildings in the middle and lower yards have been uncovered. This information provides a unique insight into the development of the site from the 14th century onwards.

View of Ormond Castle from the river Suir
View from the river Suir
Middle/Lower Yard Ormond Castle
Middle/Lower Yard Ormond Castle

The west side of the middle/lower yard at Ormond Castle is better understood than the east side. Here, the shells of three medieval buildings can be seen. The middle and southern bays had a vaulted ground floor and chamber above. The vaults were aligned east/west but one of these was switched 90 degrees to accommodate an oriel window at first floor level. This would have lit the dais end of the great hall. Historically, the dais was a part of the floor at the end of a medieval hall, raised a step above the rest of the room and was where the top table was located. This block was linked to a watergate with a curved curtain wall which would have allowed access for goods etc. from the River Suir. The ruin of the watergate still stands today over an arched entry. From the height of the arch we can be confident that the entry was for boats. A sudden drop near the watergate suggests the building probably had a central dock and a quay on one or both sides. There is no slot for a portcullis but hanging eyes for a pair of doors or gates can be seen on the inside. The east side of the middle/lower yard has the preserved limb of an unusual early building. It is likely that this block was also linked to the watergate with a curved curtain wall. This symmetry was later abandoned with the addition of an L-shaped, two storey block in the southwest corner of the castle. This block, with an elegant ogee window likely predates the 15th century west tower.

Aerial view of Ormond Castle from the North-East.
Aerial view of Ormond Castle from the North-East. The Elizabethan manor house c.1565 (A) is attached to the north of two 15th century houses (B & C). The large open courtyard (D) is all that remains of the 14th century castle. The watergate (E), marooned over time by receding waters, fronted the river on the south.

It is unclear how the north side of the early castle was enclosed. No wall of sufficient thickness has been found. The 14th century castle yard may have continued north.   The outside wall on the east side was originally town wall or a castle enclosure wall which met the town wall further north. Carrick’s town walls were mentioned in the Ormond Deeds in 1324 and it appears that by 1344 at least half the town was enclosed. Following two attacks on the town in the early 1400’s a murage grant by Parliament in 1450 paid for the town to be fully walled on the northern side of the river Suir. Approximately 150 meters of the town wall remains upstanding in the north-western corner of the castle park.

A view of the two 15th century towers (1951)
A view of the two 15th century towers (1951)

The smaller tower (c.1450) on the eastern side is five stories high. Built in two stages, it was added to an L-shaped building already standing two storeys high. The vault at the bottom of the tower is intact. An ogee window on its west face suggests it is contemporary with the L-shaped block in the southwest corner. It is likely that the second tower with a turret on its southwest corner was added on the west side towards the end of the 15th century. Now a shell it is also five storeys high. Several stages of building can be seen. In contrast to the east tower there is no vault over the ground floor. Both towers have been altered extensively over the centuries. The north range was too small to have functioned as a self-contained building and great care was taken to integrate the two towers into the north range in the 16th century. This process involved inserting fashionable fireplaces and large windows and doors were broken through.

A view of the East Tower from the lower courtyard (1951)
A view of the East Tower from the lower courtyard (1951)

These discoveries in the middle/lower yard immediately challenged the current understanding of Ormond Castle. As part of a wonderful new interpretative exhibition commissioned by OPW Heritage Services with the support of Fáilte Ireland visitors can now view for the first time a detailed 1:90 scale model of the castle at its height. These findings have prompted many questions and will hopefully provide the basis for continued research in the future.

About the author

Emma Collins is Head Guide at Ormond Castle. She holds a BA in Economics and Politics and an MA in Politics from UCC. With the OPW since 2008 she has also worked in Cahir Castle and Kilkenny Castle. She has particular interest in women’s history.

Derrynane House


Derrynane House is the ancestral home of Daniel O’Connell, the 18th century MP for Clare and champion for Catholic emancipation. Today, the house and the surrounding National Park are managed by the Historic Properties division of the Office of Public Works, and are open to the public between April and October each year. The house contains many artefacts associated with Daniel O’Connell and his family, including a family portrait collection, and much original furniture. Four main rooms are open to the public: the dining room and study on the ground floor, and the drawing room and library on the upper floor, as well a coach house which accommodates the chariot constructed for O’Connell’s triumphal return home following his release from Richmond Prison in 1844. Visitors can also visit a small theatre with an audio-visual presentation on O’Connell’s life, as well as the tea rooms; and many use the house as a base for exploring the historic gardens, the wider National Park, and the adjacent beaches and coastline.

Newly refurbished courtyard
Refurbished and landscaped yard, with new paved paths, ramps, steps, planting and lighting

Project background and objectives

Historically, a number of issues had been identified in relation to the accessibility of the site, with access for people with impaired mobility limited to the ground floor of the house, and many facilities, including the reception area, restricted in size. There was also stepped access into the audio-visual room, and into the main visitor toilets. Externally, the courtyard surface of grass and crazy paving presented further difficulties to less able bodied visitors.

Until 2006, part of the existing house was used as a caretaker’s apartment, and when this became vacant, the opportunity arose to revise visitor access and extend accommodation into this part of the house. The main project objectives focussed on accessibility: both the physical accessibility of the house and site, as well as increased accessibility of the collections, through enhanced presentation and interpretation.

Library with new exhibition cases.
Daniel O’Connell’s Library and study, with new exhibition cases for display of the collections
Image of new reception area
New entrance area with reception desk, seating, exhibition, link to audio visual room, and access to new stairs and lift
New exhibition space

Description of works

A new accessible visitor entrance and reception space was located in the area previously used as the guides’ room and former caretaker’s living quarters. This space also provides a new internal link to the audio visual room, and gives access to the new lift and stairwell whereby visitors can reach a new exhibition space at first floor, and also visit, via a ramp, the existing drawing room and library, formerly only accessible by the existing stairs. This brings the first floor into use by people with wheelchairs or buggies for the first time. Existing doors and floors, as well as emergency lighting and alarm systems throughout the buildings, were upgraded to meet current fire safety standards.

A new exhibition concept presents the material in a more accessible way, and to a wider audience, including new exhibition cases, multi lingual exhibition texts and guidebooks, and an induction loop facility for visitors with hearing impairments. The house and its collections can now be seen to their best advantage, with a coherent narrative allowing visitors to learn about Derrynane and Daniel O’ Connell in an engaging and authentic manner.

Externally, the surfaces of both the entrance courtyard and the tea room courtyard were re-laid using a mix of stone paving and an accessible permeable gravel surface. Two universal car park spaces and a drop off area were also provided, and levels adjusted to provide level access to all external doors. Where required, external doors have been increased in width to accommodate wheelchairs.

Inside the drawing room at Derrynane House
Dining Room at Derrynane House

Design approach

There was a limited amount of new work carried out, with a focus on minimising intervention to the protected structure, and re-using, or re-inhabiting existing spaces. Internally, existing structure, fabric and finishes were retained wherever possible, and new materials and finishes chosen to complement these. Floor finishes, where new, are limestone and oak boarding. There was an emphasis on high quality joinery and studwork inserted within the existing building shell, like a finely crafted jewellery box, with integrated seating and exhibition areas.

The approach to the works conformed with best conservation practice and was guided by the principles of minimum intervention, repairing like with like, and the reversibility, where possible, of new intervention works.

The works were partfunded by Fáilte Ireland, and designed and project managed by the architectural, engineering, quantity surveying, and project management teams of the Office of Public Works, assisted by our colleagues in OPW Heritage Services (Historic Properties and Visitor Services). Construction was carried out by Tralee-based building contractors Eamonn Costello (Kerry) Ltd., and completed in May 2014 for the summer season.

A Great Kitchen revealed at Aughnanure Castle

Following the results of aerial surveys carried out over the course of the extremely dry summer of 2018, remarkable details of previously unknown archaeological monuments became visible for the first time as crop marks on the Irish landscape. The majority of these monuments were located in the parched fields in the tillage-rich areas of Meath, Dublin, Kildare, Wicklow, Kilkenny, Laois and Carlow. These discoveries received global attention, the details of which were unprecedented and offered a rarely seen insight into prehistoric activity in Ireland. However, one discovery in the west remained out of the spotlight, in the shadow of its more celebrated counterparts.

Aughnanure Castle, near Oughterard in west Co. Galway, revealed its own secret last July when mysterious ground marks appeared adjacent to the late-fifteenth century tower house, revealing traces of structures that once stood beside the castle. Photos taken from the roof of the castle immediately identified what appeared to be two rectangular buildings (figure 1), one sitting parallel and one perpendicular to the south wall of the tower house, built at various phases of the castle’s long and turbulent history. This discovery immediately challenged the current understanding and interpretation of the tower house and led to many questions regarding the chronology and use of these structures within the late medieval landscape.

Figure 1: The ground marks that became visible at Aughnanure Castle in July 2018 clearly identify the traces of two buildings.

Nineteenth Century House

The most recent of these structures appears to have been a house that was built directly onto the south face of the tower house during the mid-nineteenth century and likely belonged to Edmund O’Flaherty – a local landlord, innkeeper, farmer and postmaster. Edmund was a descendant of the once powerful O’Flaherty family who had ruled the medieval lordship of Iarchonnacht for nearly four hundred and fifty years as Gaelic warrior lords. Aughnanure Castle was the jewel in the crown of the O’Flaherty network of tower houses, built along the coastal fringes of their remote western territory and along the shores of Lough Corrib. Following their final loss of Aughnanure in the eighteenth century, it had gradually fallen into disrepair and stood empty and broken, a mere shadow of its former self.

Over the succeeding centuries, Aughnanure Castle fell into the hands of several owners including Captain James O’Hara of Lenaboy Castle in Galway, while his tenant, Edmund O’Flaherty, originally from nearby Gortrevagh, Oughterard, utilised the ruinous castle and lands as a dairy farm during the late nineteenth century. A two-story, three-bay stone building was added to the castle during this time. The Tuam Herald dated February 26th, 1870 reported Edmund O’Flaherty being “of Aughnanure Castle” when announcing the marriage of his son George Edward to Emilia Sayers, suggesting that he may have been living in the house attached to the castle at the time. By 1873, Edmund held a total of 2,091 acres of land around Oughterard and Ballyconneely.

Some possible evidence of Edmund’s activity from this period was also uncovered during the course of the summer when one eagle-eyed guide came across clay pipe and pottery pieces while simply walking the grounds of the castle. The extremely dry conditions caused the grass to thin and the soil to dry and crack to such an extent that objects became clearly visible on the ground’s surface. Three clay pipe pieces and four ceramic fragments were discovered (figures 2 & 3). One of the clay pipe fragments appears to date to a much earlier period, possibly the later half of the seventeenth century. The bowl is thin, slender and undecorated and is probably contemporary with the Earl of Clanricarde’s temporary occupation of the castle after 1640. Aughnanure Castle had temporarily passed into the possession of the 5th Earl of Clanricarde, Ulick Burke, following the extension of his lordship as a result of the Acts of Settlement of the 1650’s.

Figure 2: Clay pipe pieces uncovered at Aughnanure Castle during the course of summer 2018
Image of Ceramic fragments uncovered at Aughnanure Castle during the course of the summer of 2018
Figure 3: Ceramic fragments uncovered at Aughnanure Castle during the course of the summer of 2018

However, the two remaining clay pipe fragments appear to have come from the same pipe and are marked with “O’GORMAN GALWAY” on the bowl. These two fragments can be dated to the late nineteenth century and were produced by a maker operating at Mill Street in Galway from at least the second half of nineteenth century. This pipe is more than likely associated with Edmund’s occupation of the house at Aughnanure Castle during this period. The smoking of clay pipes became popular in Ireland before the introduction of cigarette smoking in the twentieth century and they played an important role in everyday life and custom, especially in rural communities. The growth in popularity of clay pipes was generated from their association with cultural traditions and as a result, they were mass-produced throughout the country. It is highly likely that Edmund O’Flaherty smoked one of these clay pipes. The ceramic fragments are likely from plates and one displays the popular blue and white willow pattern. Ceramic pieces like plates, mugs and bowls were in everyday use during the nineteenth century but were highly valued for their decorative function. We can only presume that ceramic pieces like these took pride of place on Edmund’s family’s kitchen dresser.

A photo of Aughnanure Castle from the Lawrence Collection (figure 4), taken just before the turn of the twentieth century show that Edmund’s house had been abandoned and was in a semi-ruinous condition. Later photos from the 1940s (figures 5 & 6) reveal the house had dilapidated even further. The photos did indeed confirm that a house, presumably Edmund’s, stood in the exact location of some of the ground marks revealed last summer. Scars of the roofline left behind on the south wall of the tower house reveal the only remains of that house today (figure 7). However, this was not the full story. There were still other ground marks that remained unidentified. What did these marks correspond to?

Aughnanure Castle and Edmund O’Flaherty’s house in the late-19th/early-20th century.
Figure 4: Aughnanure Castle and Edmund O’Flaherty’s house in the late-19th/early-20th century. Photo: The Lawrence Collection
The remains of Edmund O’Flaherty’s house in 1945.
Figure 5: The remains of Edmund O’Flaherty’s house in 1945. Photo: OPW
Figure 6: The remains of Edmund O’Flaherty’s house in 1945.
Figure 6: The remains of Edmund O’Flaherty’s house in 1945. Photo: OPW
Aughnanure Castle from the south. Note the scars of the roofline on the face of the castle wall.
Figure 7: Aughnanure Castle from the south. Note the scars of the roofline on the face of the castle wall.

The Sixteenth Century Kitchen

It is possible that Edmund’s house was incorporated into a much earlier structure, potentially associated with the building of the banqueting hall in the second half of the sixteenth century. This was a later phase of building at Aughnanure following the initial construction of the tower house and bawn at the end of the fifteenth century.

During his work as a draughtsman with the Topographical Department of the Ordnance Survey of Ireland, William Wakeman, who had studied under Victorian archaeologist and antiquarian, George Petrie, produced pencil sketches and plans of the castle when he visited in the summer of 1839 (figures 8 & 9). He included a rectangular building almost parallel to the south of the tower house in his plans, corresponding exactly to the other previously unidentified ground marks. But what was this building’s function?

William Wakeman’s plan of Aughnanure Castle, 1839
Figure 8: William Wakeman’s plan of Aughnanure Castle, 1839
George Petrie’s sketch of Aughnanure Castle, 1839. Note the chimneystack of the great kitchen in the centre of the image
Figure 9: George Petrie’s sketch of Aughnanure Castle, 1839. Note the chimneystack of the great kitchen in the centre of the image

The answer came from two highly descriptive accounts of the castle, both dating to the nineteenth century. In 1840, the writer for the Irish Penny Journal recorded additional buildings surrounding the O’Flaherty tower house:

His house, a strong and lofty tower, stands in an ample courtyard, surrounded by outworks perforated with shot-holes, and only accessible through its drawbridge gateway-tower. Cellars, bake-houses and houses for the accommodation of his numerous followers, are also to be seen.

In a similar account in an article written in 1859 for The Dublin Builder, the writer again describes several buildings in the immediate vicinity of the tower house including:

the great kitchen, with its enormous fireplace, its huge cellars and culinary offices, with accommodation for numerous retainers surround the dwelling.”

It is entirely possible that the structure to the south of the tower house that Wakeman included in his plans was this “great kitchen” in almost the exact spot that would later occupy Edmund’s house. The tower house itself does not show any evidence of large-scale cooking being carried out therefore it is reasonable to suggest that a separate kitchen building was constructed to perform culinary functions. This becomes even more credible with the addition of a large and spacious banqueting hall during the late sixteenth century, which would have undoubtedly necessitated the need for a large kitchen in order to prepare and cook food for the typical lavish feasting rituals of a Gaelic lord. The kitchen building is therefore likely contemporary with the second phase of construction at Aughnanure along with the banqueting hall and outer bawn wall (figure 10). The placement of additional buildings between tower houses and halls is not unusual, and a similar arrangement can be seen at Kilcolman Castle in north Co. Cork where a “parlour” was added between the tower house and hall (figure 11). Similarly, at Donegal Castle, a kitchen is placed centrally between the earlier tower house and later manor house (figure 12).

Suggested plan of Aughnanure Castle c. 1600
Figure 10: Suggested plan of Aughnanure Castle c. 1600
Digital reconstruction of Kilcolman Castle
Figure 11: Digital reconstruction of Kilcolman Castle (http://core.ecu.edu/umc/Munster/gallery.html)
Donegal Castle plan
Figure 12: Donegal Castle plan (OPW)

The Kitchen Disappears

By 1867, Sir William Wilde had published Lough Corrib – It’s Shores and Islands and during that time it appears that a more modern structure occupied the site of the great kitchen i.e. Edmund’s house. Wilde visited the castle and recorded the site of the great kitchen:

Nearly parallel with the great tower and in connection with the western angle of the round house, there existed some years ago the remains of another building, 23 and a half feet wide, but this has been for some time removed; and its site is at present occupied by a modern structure.

Did Edmund actually remove the “great kitchen” or did he incorporate it into his house? Perhaps he had such a strong desire to live in the shadow of his ancestors and to perpetuate the family name there that he did indeed retain some vestiges of the great kitchen in his home. Edmund was a descendant of the Moycullen branch of the O’Flahertys and appears to have felt a strong connection to his ancestral home. He had become a successful landlord himself, yet felt a need to lease Aughnanure Castle from another landlord and build a residence there, even though the tower house had long fallen into ruin. An amateur antiquarian, during his lifetime he discovered some archaeological artefacts around Aughnanure Castle and its immediate vicinity and presented them over to the National Museum of Ireland. These included a Neolithic log boat, a late medieval iron key, a lead musket ball, cutting blades, hooks, knife blades, a crucible and several glass fragments. These objects are currently in storage in the National Museum. In 1843 Edmund even went to the trouble of planting several young yew trees at the castle in memory of the placename Aughnanure, from the Irish “Achadh na Iúr” or “Field of the Yews”. One of these still survives and can be see at the entrance of the castle today.


The Future?

While it is tempting to speculate that Edmund did indeed incorporate his home into the great kitchen of his fore-bearers, especially given his background and apparent interest in his ancestry, it is impossible to say without any evidence or further investigation. No upstanding traces of these structures remain on the grounds of Aughnanure today but we are fortunate that last years exceptional conditions offered an opportunity to glimpse into the castle’s long and diverse history and reveal a secret or two of its past.

Furthermore, this new information provides fresh and unique insights into the development of the late medieval landscape and society of the O’Flahertys at Aughnanure Castle and offers an extraordinary glimpse into the domestic architecture of a Gaelic lord. It reinforces the remarkable level of use of the landscape around the tower house during its second phase of building and has the potential to transform our understanding and interpretation of the site. The kitchen, visible only fleetingly as ground marks during the dry summer, clearly forms a deliberate structure of significance built in the shadow of the O’Flaherty’s most prominent castle. This discovery raises many questions and will hopefully provide a basis for a solid and refreshed research framework to be implemented in the future.


  1. Wilde, William R. (1867) Lough Corrib – It’s Shores and Islands: With Notices of Lough Mask. McGlashan and Gill, Dublin.
  2. Petrie, George. (1840) The Castle of Aughnanure. The Irish Penny Journal. Vol. 1 No. 1.
  3. Anon. (1859) The Castle of Aughnanure, Connemara. The Dublin Builder. Vol. 1 No. 7.

About the Author

Jenny Young holds a BA in Archaeology & Geography and a MA in Landscape Archaeology from NUI Galway. She works at Aughnanure Castle and has developed a passionate and broad interest in medieval Gaelic settlement and society. She is currently undergoing research into the medieval Gaelic lordship of Iarchonnacht for a future publication.

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