Unique Legacies ...
Belle Isle Castle
One of the great Celtic castles Belle Isle has been inhabited since the 12th century. Originally called Ballymacmanus, it was home to the MacManus and Maguire family, including one of the compilers of the Annals of Ulster, Cathal Og Mac Manus. The Annals are now in the Bodleian Library in Oxford and Trinity Library in Dublin.
In the early 17th century, an eminent soldier, Paul Gore, came into possession of Belle Isle. His descendant, Sir Ralph Gore built the first house on the island. His grandson, who was born at Belle Isle Castle in 1725, and was also named Sir Ralph Gore, extended the house and created a magnificent garden that reached to the lough shore. Sir Ralph was created Earl of Ross in 1772.
He died in 1801, leaving Belle Isle to his only surviving child, Mary. She married an Englishman,Richard Hardinge, who sold Belle Isle in 1830 to Rev. John Porter for Â£68,000. The Porters expanded the castle and added the tower. The coach house was built in 1856, along with the estate offices and farmyard. Porter’s grandson expanded the castle again in 1910, adding the gallery, more bedrooms, and the porch. In 1991 the Duke of Abercorn bought Belle Isle Estate from Miss Lavinia Baird, the last member of the Porter family.
Clontarf Castle became a significant location in Celtic castle history and in Irish History, more than a century before the castle was built. Brian Boru, the High King of Ireland, and the famous Battle of Clontarf, on Good Friday, 23rd April 1014, will always be associated with and be central to the history of the Clontarf area.
At the time of The Battle of Clontarf, the Clontarf area was wooded with a river flowing by. Many of the rivers in the history of Dublin no longer flow through the same area, as they were re-routed when the city was walled.
It all began when Mael Morda, King of Leinster, began to plot against Brian Boru. Mael Morda made an alliance with Sitric, the Viking King of Dublin, who was assisted by the Vikings of the Orkney Islands and the Isle of Man. Brian Boru marched against them and the great battle was fought at Clontarf. It ended in victory for Boru’s army. However, on the night of the victory, Boru was praying in his tent, surrounded by five men, who were guarding him. A small group of Vikings, who were retreating from the battle through a wooded area, close to the site of what is now Clontarf Castle, came across the guarded tent. Realizing who was being protected; they killed all five guards and went on to kill Brian Boru, who by now was 72 years of age.
Dalhousie Castle is steeped in Celtic Castle history and there are fascinating reminders of its rich and often turbulent past. For example: the 15th century Well, which still yields drinkable water, and the forbidding Bottle Dungeon, a ten-foot square windowless chamber where prisoners had to be lowered by rope.
Built over 800 years ago by the Ramsays of Dalhousie, a noble Scottish family descended from Simundus de Ramseia, who in about 1140 followed King David I to Scotland from the Huntingdon village of Ramsay.
The castle has remained in possession of one family longer than any other in Scotland and now stands peacefully amongst the rolling Midlothian countryside.
William de Ramsay joined forces with King Robert the Bruce and was present at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. The Ninth Earl George, a close friend of Sir Walter Scott, fought at Waterloo before being appointed Governor of Nova Scotia in 1816. His son, James, became the youngest ever Governor General of India at the age of 33 – the castle’s India bedroom celebrates his significant work.
Dalhousie Castle has, over the centuries, played host to kings, queens, diplomats, politicians and famous authors – the splendid rooms named after them remain as a fitting tribute to the castle’s unique history.
Earliest records indicate that in 1155 in the reign of King Malcolm IV, Malleville was an estate in the ownership of an Anglo-Norman Baron called Galfrid de Malleville, who was Sheriff of Edinburgh and Governor of Edinburgh Castle. It remained in his family until the time of King Robert II in 1371 when, through marriage, it passed to Sir John Ross of Halkhead. The Celtic castle continued as the seat of that branch of the Ross family for many generations.
In 1542, owing to the death of her father, King James V, Marie Stuart became Queen of Scotland when she was only six days old. Because of political and religious unrest in Scotland, she was to spend her early years in France with her mother, Marie de Guise, adopting much of French culture, and controversially, the Roman Catholic faith.
In 1561, after the death of her husband King Francis II, Marie Stuart exchanged the culture and splendour of the French court and returned to Scotland, a nineteen year old widow. She had been Queen Consort of France for a year. Though the Scottish Royal Court was established in Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh, the malodorous city persuaded the Queen to settle her French retinue a few miles to the south, in an area which is known, even today, as Little France. After much speculation she chose to marry her Catholic cousin Lord Darnley, a disaster from which her later problems sprang. Her future life was to be etched in blood.
The Queen, a fine horsewoman, became a frequent visitor to the nearby Melville Castle, invariably in the company of her Italian secretary and close companion, Seigneur David Rizzio. This close friendship caused jealousy and hatred in the mainly Protestant Scottish Nobles. In an attempt to raise Rizzio’s standing, the Queen tried to persuade Lord Ross to give the Lordship of Melville to Rizzio.
Though it was not to be, Rizzio nevertheless took apartments in the castle. The castle became known to the local people as Rizzios house. This further incensed the Nobles. On one of the Queen’s visits he planted a tree as a token of his love for her. The tree, a majestic Spanish Chestnut (castanea sativa), survives to this day by the stable block, some 450 years later. The Queen responded by planting 5 trees along the drive, which also survive to this day.
Thirlestane Castle History
The history of Thirlestane Celtic Castle dates back to at least the 13th century, when a large Border fort was built on the site to defend the approach to Edinburgh from the south.
The central part of the present castle was completed in 1590, remodelled in the 1670s, and then again in the 1840s.
Throughout its long history, Thirlestane belonged to the Maitland family, one of the most ableand famous in Scotland. The Maitlands came to Britain from France with William the Conqueror in 1066, and settled in Northumberland. In about 1250, Sir Richard Maitland married Avicia, the daughter and sole heiress of Thomas du Thirlestane. It was this marriage that brought the lands of Thirlestane and others into the ownership of the Maitland family. The ruined remains of one of the family homes at that time can still be seen, two miles from the castle off the A697.
Through military service and their contributions to law and the arts, the Maitlands gained increasing influence and power. In 1590, John Maitland became Lord Chancellor of Scotland. His son was created 1st Earl of Lauderdale and his brother, William Maitland, was Secretary to Mary Queen of Scots.
John Maitland, 2nd Earl of Lauderdale, was one of the most important and controversial Scottish figures of the late 17th century. As a leading royalist, he was a confidant of King Charles II and spent nine years in the Tower of London under sentence of death. After the Restoration, he was appointed Secretary of State for Scotland. As such, he was virtually the uncrowned King of Scotland, and wielded unrivalled power and influence.
On his second marriage to the Countess of Dysart, he was created Duke of Lauderdale and began transforming Thirlestane Castle into a fitting palace from which to direct the affairs of Scotland. He employed Sir William Bruce to undertake the remodelling of the castle. Bringing Renaissance influences to the Scottish Baronial style, he introduced the two front towers and the grand staircase and oversaw the transformation of the interior, the most remarkable feature of which is the rich plasterwork of the state rooms.
By 1679, Lauderdale had lost his ability to influence the Scottish Parliament and to keep order in Scotland as the Covenanting insurrection spread. The Duke of Monmouth was successful in restoring order. James, Duke of York (later James VII), took up residence in Edinburgh, whilst Lauderdale remained in office as Secretary. Early in 1680, he suffered a stroke. In October that year he resigned, retiring to Tunbridge Wells, to take the waters and died there in August 1682. The Dukedom died with him and his brother, Charles, became the 3rd Earl of Lauderdale.
By the 19th century, Thirlestane’s role had evolved in more peaceful times to that of a Scottish country mansion for the Earls of Lauderdale. The social use to which the castle was now put required more space, so in 1840 the Edinburgh architects, David Bryce and William Burn, were employed to design two large wings flanking the central keep.
The south wing, constructed around a central courtyard, housed new kitchens, pantries, laundries and servants’ accommodation. The exterior remodelling highlighted the earlier features, with the new towers designed to match the outer towers of the keep. The interior work also remained sympathetic to the work of Sir William Bruce, introducing the comforts of the Victorian age, while retaining the magnificent features of the Baroque.
Killahara Castle, set among the hills of Tipperary, is a recently restored tower house, offering the best in Celtic castle design and tranquility within its ancient walls. It has a large fully equipped kitchen, a lounge with a huge fireplace and seven bedrooms (five double and two single) plus two additional camp beds for overflow. The three bathrooms, tucked away within the old garderobes, provide showers in a unique setting. In addition, the penthouse suite with views across all of Tipperary through its glass end gables, contains a claw footed bath.
The ancient spiral stairs, unchanged for hundreds of years, and trodden by the likes of Black Jack Fogarty, take you up through the five floors of the castle. Killahara Castle, a place of legend and beauty, provides an ideal getaway for family reunions, birthday celebrations with a difference,weekend retreats, hill walkers or honeymooners who want to shut the world out for a few days. Come to Killahara and experience an Ireland lost in the mists of time.
An Irish Ghost Story; The Banshee of Dunluce castle
There are many tales of ghosts that roam the dark brooding fortress of Dunluce Castle (Irish Gaelic – Dún Libhse). This famous Celtic castle stands on a rocky crag on the northeast coast of the island of Ireland in County Antrim. Parts of the castle, which was the headquarters of the Clan MacDonnell, date back to the fourteenth century. First built by the Irish noble Richard Óg de Burgh in the thirteenth century, the earliest documented records from 1513 show that at that time it belonged to the MacQuillan family before being taken by the MacDonnell’s. However, the outcrop on which it stands has a history of human involvement that goes back many centuries to ancient times. The site has been seen as significant both spiritually and strategically and has often been fought over.
Many people have met their deaths on this rock that stands high above the sea with sheer dropson all sides. Now the ruined castle on its summit can only be reached by a narrow bridge from the mainland. Within its cold grey stone walls there have been reports of ghostly sightings and apparitions for hundreds of years. One such story is that of Maeve Roe, thought to be the only daughter of Lord MacQuillan. Defying his wishes to become betrothed to Richard Oge, MacQuillan had her held in the north eastern turret of the castle. Maeve had given her heart to another, Reginald O’Cahan and every day and night she looked out of her prison in the hope that he would come for her.
It was a dark and stormy night when Reginald O’Cahan did eventually come to the castle to rescue his love. With the wind whistling through the battlements and beating against the thick stone walls the couple secretly fled the fortress. Into the cold night air they descended to a large cave that opened in the rocks below Dunluce. Their spirits high the two lovers set out in a small boat to cross the turbulent seas towards the seaside settlement of Portrush (Irish-Port Rois). Fighting against the white topped waves the small boat was tossed mercilessly by the cruel sea. Pushed in all directions, this way and then that, the little vessel eventually succumbed and wasthrown against the rocks. Maeve Roe and Reginald O’Cahan clung together as they sank down into the cold salty depths.
It is said that the body of Maeve was never recovered from her watery grave. Although her earthly remains have gone forever, the story of the love of Maeve Roe can never be forgotten. For her spirit haunts the dark wind swept ruins of Dunluce Castle. On dark stormy nights visitors to the castle come back with strange stories of disturbing heart rending wails and screams coming from the Northeast Tower also known as MacQuillan’s Tower. Those that know the history of the castle will be able to tell them exactly the source of these frighteningly sad cries. Lamenting her lost life and love, it is the ‘Banshee of Dunluce Castle’; Maeve’s sad and troubled soul forever looking out across the sea from her prison tower in a haunted Celtic castle, searching for a rescue that will never come.