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Clonmore Castle, County Carlow

According to Carlow – trails of the saints, (date not given), Carlow tourism, p. 17, he monastery of Clonmore was attacked and pillaged by Viking raiders on Christmas Night 836. They were aware that the best liturgical vessels would be in use on that night. The native Irish were also not averse to plundering monasteries. The author also speculates that the presence of a large congregation could have led to the capture and sale of potential slaves.

The Annals of the Four Masters record for 1040 states:

‘Maein Coluimcille {Moone, Co. Kildare}, Castle Dermot, Magna Mosesnocc {Mon mohemock Co. Kildare}, and Cluain mor Maedhocc, were plundered by Diarmaitt [Dermot] the son of Maolnambo lord of Hy-Kinselagh.’ *

It is believed that stones from the monastery were used in the building of the extensive Clonmore Castle about 1180 by Hugh de Lacey. Jim Shannon’s magisterial work ‘Hacketstown – A History’ (2022) agrees that the original castle at Clonmore was built by that inveterate castle builder Hugh de Lacy whose other works in the area are said to have included the castles at Rathvilly, Tullow and Kilkea.

Hugh de Lacy as depicted by Giraldus Cambrensis.

In 1332 Sir Antony de Lucy, the new Chief Justice of Ireland, is said to have repaired the twelfth century fortress of Clonmore Castle, 10km east across the River Deereen. Born in 1283, he succeeded to the family estates in Cumberland on the death of an older brother in 1308. He fought at Bannockburn in 1314 and was with the defeated English king’s army when it took flight. As the Lanercost Chronicle records:

In like manner, as the king and his following fled in one direction to Berwick, so the earl of Hereford, the Earl of Angus, Sir John de Segrave, Sir Antony de Lucy and Sir Ingelram de Umfraville, with a great crowd of knights, six hundred other mounted men and one thousand foot fled in the other direction towards Carlisle.’
De Lucy and his fellow men sought refuge in Bothwell Castle on the Clyde, but the warm welcome they received from its governor Sir Walter Gilbertson was trickery and he promptly had them all imprisoned before handing them over to the Scots. De Lucy was subsequently released on the payment of a ransom.

He defended Cumberland against a Scottish invasion in 1318 and, three years later, he was summoned to Edward II’s Parliament under the title Baron Lucy. In 1323 he played a key role in the arrest of Andrew Harclay, Earl of Carlisle, for treason; Harclay was hanged while Lucy was appointed Governor of the Castle of Carlisle. He died in 1343. His grandson Anthony de Lucy, the 3rd Baron died fighting for the Teutonic Knights in the Northern Crusades against the Lithuanians in 1368 at New Kaunas; his extremely well preserved body was discovered on the grounds of St Bees Priory, Cumbria, in 1981, and known as ‘St Bees Man.’

As for Clonmore Castle, the four-towered courtyard fortress was captured in 1516 by Gerald Oge, 9th Earl of Kildare (father of Silken Thomas) and again in 1598 by Black Tom Butler, Earl of Ormond. It changed hands several times the following century before being taken by Cromwell’s forces under Colonels Hewson and Reynolds in 1650. They had the castle ‘slighted so as to make it indefensible.’

The Maiden’s Tower, a sixty-foot granite beauty with a winding staircase to a magnificent view, collapsed in about 1848. The stronger towers faced the wild lands of Wicklow, including the octagonal north-east tower, known locally as ‘the Six Windows.’

Archdeacon Stopford attempted some restoration in the 1860s, including a roof on the ‘Pouka’s Head Tower’ by the road, so named for a gargoyle carved near its summit. It belonged to the Howard family, Earls of Wicklow, and Baron Clonmore was a junior title.

There is a 32 page book on Google Books called ‘The Antiquities and History of Cluain-Mor-Maedhoc, Now Clonmore’ by John MacCall’ (1862).

MacCall not only decries the neglect of Clonmore Castle in 1862, but also adds this detail of the locality which I liked. Does anyone know of this “spa”?

‘Poor old Killalongford; every spot of that dear mountain is vivid in my recollection from the rugged precipices at the Blackrock over Seskin to the famed Killahookawn stone that, the old legend would have it, rolls down to Goold-brook every night to quench its thirst when it hears the cock crow, and is found in its old position back again in the morning. In the bottom of the bog adjacent to the road, and from which the little rivulet takes its name, is a beautiful spa, well possessed of many peculiar qualities for invalids which, in Baden or some continental fashionable watering place, would be the making-up of its fortunate possessor, but which in such an out of the way place as Killalongford is entirely unknown and neglected and not even thought worth the trouble of being decently cleaned out.’

With thanks to Christopher McQuinn.

* This entry was recorded on 7 August 1839 by Patrick O’Keeffe, one of O’Donovan’s team, writing from Tullow. His relationship with his colleagues was somewhat fraught as they did not accept his claims to be ill and regarded him as a hypochondriac.


Tower at Clonmore Castle.

Another perspective of the wall at Clonmore Castle.

View from Clonmore.