Turtle Bunbury

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Above: Carlow Castle 1680. These 335 year old images of Carlow Castle were sketched by Thomas Dineley during his tour of Ireland in the latter years of Charles II’s reign. One image shows all the windows on the east wall of the castle, while the second is a much rarer perspective of the south and still extant west wall. These are among the oldest surviving complete representations of the Castle before it it fell into a state of dereliction as represented in Grose's 1792 image and its accidental demolition in 1814. Detailed information and images from "Extracts from the Journal of Thomas Dineley, Esquire, Giving Some Account of His Visit to Ireland in the Reign of Charles II (Continued)” by Evelyn Philip Shirley, Thomas Dinely and James Graves The Journal of the Kilkenny and South-East of Ireland Archaeological Society New Series, Vol. 4, No. 1 (1862), pp. 38-52, 103-109 can be found online at http://www.jstor.org/stable/25502620?seq=2
With many thanks to Paul Horan.


The following article was originally written in 2000AD for a light-hearted travel website but has been considerably updated since. My sincere thanks to Dr. Margaret Murphy, Demot Mulligan, Tom La Porte, Michael Purcell, Elaine Callinan, Michael Brennan and the team at Carlow Rootsweb for their miscellaneous pointers along the way.


Anyone wishing to know more about County Carlow should seriously consider joining the Rootsweb Mailing List at IRL-CARLOW-request@rootsweb.com



The stone castle built in Carlow 800 years ago was sited upon the remnants of an earlier fortress. This was almost certainly built in 1181 for John de Clahull, one of Strongbow’s most trusted men.

Published in 1188, Topographia Hibernica was the best-selling book about Ireland in the Middle Ages. The author Giraldus Cambrensis, or Gerald of Wales, did much to put a positive spin on the Anglo-Norman conquest of Ireland, depicting the indigenous Irish as primitive savages who needed to be tamed.

In this book, Giraldus refers to the construction of five fortresses in Leinster in 1181 by Hugh de Lacy, a highly skilled castle builder whose architectural legacy is to be found all across Meath and Leinster. According to Giraldus, one of these castles was built for ‘John de Clahull, on the water of Barrow, not far from Leighlin.’

Giraldus almost certainly meant the original timber and earth fortress that stood on the site of present-day Carlow Castle. The remnants of de Clahull’s motte and bailey structure emerged during archaeological excavations conducted by Dr. Kieran O’Conor in 1996 which uncovered evidence of late 12th century trenches, a corn-drying kiln and a well. [i]

Like its stone successor, de Clahull’s castle stood on an elevated rise at the very point where the River Burren enters the River Barrow, with a marshland to the east. The location was not only defensively sound but also economically smart, given the castle’s proximity to a navigable river system that played such a key role in the region’s medieval trade.

De Clahull was one of Strongbow’s most trusted allies and it seems likely he was granted land in the vicinity of modern-day Carlow Town after Strongbow became Lord of Leinster in 1171. Strongbow had died five years before de Clahull’s castle was built and the lordship of Leinster was then vested in his young son Gilbert de Clare. In due course, after Gilbert's premature death, the lordship of Leinster would pass to Strongbow's son-in-law, William Marshal.

In 1207, Meilyr FitzHenry, Justiciar of Ireland, led a revolt of the Leinster barons against Marshal who, having fallen out with King John, had been recalled to England. In his absence, he entrusted both his lands and his pregnant wife Countess Isabella to his loyal followers.

It seems plausible that de Clahull sided with FitzHenry against Marshal. During this time it is said that FitzHenry not only destroyed Marshal’s fledgling port at New Ross but also nearly wrestled control of Kilkenny Castle. Countess Isabella subsequently forged an alliance with the de Lacys of Meath who helped her to capture FitzHenry and suppress the rebellion.

In 1208, Marshal returned to Leinster to secure control over his lordship. At about this time, de Clahull left the area – quite possibly for north Kerry where both he and FitzHenry had lands.[ii] It may well be that Marshal confiscated de Clahull’s castle in Carlow and effectively expelled him from Leinster.

Having regained his lordship, Marshal was evidently determined to establish Carlow as the economic and administrative hub of the region. There could be no more powerful statement of his intent than to sweep de Clahull’s timber fortress aside and replace it with a mighty new limestone fortress.


William Marshal, the man who built Carlow Castle, was one of the most epic of the Anglo-Norman knights who dominated Irish life 800 years ago. A jousting champion and die-hard crusader, he survived the turbulent reigns of six successive monarchs to become the richest man in the British Isles by his death in 1219.

For the last three years of his life, he was Regent of England, making him one of the most powerful men in Western Europe. Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury, declared him ‘the greatest knight that ever lived.’

William’s father John FitzGilbert was Royal Marshal - or head of household security – to Empress Matilda of England. As a small boy, William was taken hostage by Matilda’s enemy, King Stephen, who threatened to hang the child. FitzGilbert told him to go ahead. "I still have the hammer and the anvil with which to forge still more and better sons!", he claimed. Stephen briefly contemplated catapulting the boy into the walls of FitzGilbert’s castle but ultimately spared his life.

William spent the rest of his childhood with a wealthy cousin in Normandy where he was knighted in 1166. By his early twenties, he was one of the most fearless men on the tournament scene, repeatedly emerging victorious from the “mock” battles and jousting tournaments. He later claimed to have bested over 500 knights. When Henry II's son, Richard the Lionheart, led a rebellion against his father, Marshal had an opportunity to slay Richard. Instead, ever the knight, he killed the rebel prince's horse and left it at that.

When Richard became king, he not only accepted William into his inner circle but permitted the 43-year-old to wed Isobel de Clare, the 17-year-old heiress of a massive estate that covered much of Leinster, Wales and the Welsh borders.

Isobel was the daughter of Richard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, better known as Strongbow, who was himself directly descended from Rollo, the Viking warrior who established Normandy in the early 10th century. Her mother was Aoife, daughter of Diarmait Mac Murchada, the deposed King of Leinster. The marriage transformed William Marshal into one of the wealthiest men in the realm.

By 1200, the Marshals had converted Kilkenny Castle into the capital of Norman Leinster and established New Ross as its principal port. They also founded the Cistercian abbeys at Tintern in County Wexford and Duiske in County Kilkenny, as well as the castles at Enniscorthy and Ferns.

When King John ascended the English throne in 1199, William was created Earl of Pembroke. However, the King and his Marshal had a serious fall out which culminated in William relocating permanently to Ireland from 1208 until at least 1213, during which time Carlow Castle was built.

By 1212, he was back in favour with John, whom he served loyally for the next four years. He helped persuade John to give his Great Seal to Magna Carta, a pioneering legal document that sought to limit the king’s powers and to protect the rights of his subjects.

Following John’s death in 1216, William was declared Protector of the nine-year-old Henry III. At the age of seventy, he personally led the English army to an emphatic victory over the French.

As a young crusader in the Middle East, William had vowed that he would join the order of the Knights Templar before he died. On his deathbed in 1219, he did just that. He is buried in London’s Temple Church, where his reputed tomb can still be seen today.


Carlow received its first charter from William Marshal during the tenure of Geoffry Fitz-Robert who served as Seneschal of Leinster between about 1199 and 1211. FitzRobert's greatest legacy was arguably the establishment of the priory at Kells, County Kilkenny, in 1193. His wife Basilia was a sister of Strongbow and widow of Raymond Le Gros, the Achilles of Strongbow's army, with whom she had lived at Castlemore, County Carlow.

The first documented reference to the castle comes in a charter from circa 1223, issued by Marshal’s son, William Marshal the younger, which sets out the rights, liberties and duties of the burgesses of the town – including their right to have their own hundred court to try cases arising ‘within the bounds of the borough, in the castle or elsewhere’.

The wording of the charter indicates that the borough was established during FitzRobert’s time as seneschal of Leinster; the burgage rent is certainly stated to have been fixed ‘in the time when FitzRobert was seneschal’. As seneschal, FitzRobert presided over the establishment of several boroughs, including Wexford and Moone.

It is sometimes said that Marshal named Carlow town’s John Street in honour of King John but sadly this remains supposition as there are no known medieval references to John Street. The king may have been involved with Carlow's charter but the holders of lordships were not required to get royal permission to found boroughs.


Elevated high upon a riverside knoll, surrounded by marshland that was prone to flooding, Carlow Castle was primarily a defensive structure. Constructed with a light limestone that was probably quarried nearby, the central keep rose 70 feet high and was flanked by four drum-towers. The design was almost certainly inspired by the castles in Normandy that Marshal knew in his youth.

Each tower was perfectly looped for archers to rain their deadly arrows upon any would-be invaders. There were at least two cruciform or cross-shaped loops in the tower walls, an innovative feature that Marshal pioneered on his castles at Chepstow and Pembroke, which were particularly well suited to the crossbow.

In Marshal’s time, the castle was a two-storey structure with a sunken roof, probably thatch, and mullion windows. The Great Hall, which occupied the bulk of the first floor, is where Marshal or his seneschals would have hosted assemblies of their vassals and tenants on the great Christian feast days, as well as important judicial and fiscal occasions.

The main bedrooms – or chambers - were in the towers, at least three of which had “ensuite” garderobes, or lavatories. There was also a prison in one of the surviving towers. There was also a kitchen and an Exchequer, located in separate towers.

A second floor was added, either in the late 14th century, or perhaps during the late Tudor or early Stuart period.

Entry was via low, narrow doorways, while most of the light came in via the loopholes.

As for the architect Hugh de Lacy, he was busy erecting another castle at Durrow in County Laois in the summer of 1186 when a mason with anger management issues plunged an axe into his back. I've also heard this quoted as an early example of a labour relations dispute.


In the decades that followed William Marshal’s death in 1219, all five of his sons succeeded, one after the other, as both Earl of Pembroke and Earl Marshal of England. Remarkably none of them left any legitimate sons. In 1247, two years after the death of William’s youngest son Anselm Marshal, the substantial Marshal estate was divided between William’s five daughters.

His eldest daughter Maud inherited the ‘lordship’ of Carlow, comprising of all of present-day County Carlow, along with much of County Wexford, large parts of County Laois and the manor of Ballysax in County Kildare.

The title of ‘Earl Marshal’ – and ownership of Carlow Castle – passed to Maud’s eldest son Roger Bigod, 4th Earl of Norfolk. There is no evidence of him visiting Carlow. He was most likely too busy playing court politics in England where he was orchestrated a coup d'état in 1258. When he died in 1270, his 25-year-old nephew, another Roger Bigod, succeeded as 5th Earl of Norfolk.

In 1279, the 5th Earl made probably his only trip to Carlow, following a tip off that he was being swindled by Sir Robert Cockerel, Seneschal of Carlow Castle. Upon his arrival, Norfolk imprisoned Cockerel and appointed a trusted friend in his place. During the ensuing decade, Carlow evolved into a prosperous market town, trading with other towns along the Barrow, while the lordship at large also enjoyed an economic boom.

A second reason for the visit of 1279 was the growing threat of Art and Murchertach MacMurrough, descendants of Diarmaid, the last Irish king of Leinster. To Bigod’s surprise, the MacMurroughs viewed him as a ‘cousin’; he was, after all, also descended from Diarmaid. He is believed to have met with the brothers and, via a combination of his charm and money, along with plenty of wine and some fine furs for their ladies, he convinced them to back down. Such diplomacy worked wonders until 1282 when Stephen de Fulbourne, the newly appointed, no-nonsense Justiciar, arranged for the brothers to be assassinated in Arklow.

Between 1283 and 1292, the 5th Earl embarked upon an extensive restoration of Carlow Castle. Some 12,000 wooden shingles were shipped up the Barrow from Dunleckney woods to cover the roof of the Great Hall. Both floors of the tower containing the Exchequer House were refurbished with 130 timber boards from Tullow. The treasurer’s office and court were at ground level, while the wooden chests of money and records were kept upstairs. The kitchen and castle prison were also given a makeover.

Lord Norfolk’s endeavors to improve and invigorate his various estates were costly. From at least 1285, he was under pressure to off-load his castle at Carlow in order to reduce his debts. In 1302, King Edward I (Longshanks) agreed to clear all his debts in return for much of his property, including the Carlow Castle. Several hundred account rolls from the Bigod archive, which survive to this day, are believed to have been transferred to the Tower of London at this time. [iii]

When the childless Earl died in 1306, his estates – including what was by then considered a ‘badly roofed’ Carlow Castle – were duly taken over by the Crown. Carlow’s glory days of the 1280s were long since passed.[iv] The land was running wild and had few tenants. Many of its mills and manorial buildings lay abandoned. The castle itself was in decay. Meanwhile, another generation of MacMurrough’s were growing ever more restless along the frontiers of the Pale.


As well as overseeing the management of the estates, the role of the Seneschal, or Steward of Carlow, was to preside over the chief court of the Liberty of Carlow and to serve as military commander of the castle. [v] In return, he was given a salary of £100 (about one seventh of Lord Norfolk’s gross annual income) and robes a plenty.

The castle’s second most senior figure was the treasurer who looked after the financial affairs and presided over the exchequer. In Lord Norfolk’s time, his salary was just over $13 a year.

The Constable was entrusted with the castle’s military defence. From his annual fee, he had to provide, pay, arm and feed a garrison of archers. Prior to 1368, his annual budget of £5 suggests a very small garrison but his money was bumped up to £20 in 1368 when Nicholas Cadewelly became constable. It is reckoned that the garrison in Carlow during the late 14th century probably comprised of the constable, a man-at-arms and no more than eight archers. Reinforcements were no doubt added in times of crisis.

Elsewhere in the castle there were receivers (or money-collectors), a sheriff, two lawyers, a chief serjeant, several clerks and various others. They would all become a little nervous whenever the auditor arrived over from England to go through the accounts. His job was also to carefully examine ways in which the castle might derive greater income from the lordship through, for instance, agricultural improvements and effective cultivation.

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Above: The cover of the book produced to mark the 800th anniversary of Carlow Castle
in 2013.


In 1312, six years after the English Crown acquired the liberty and castle of Carlow from Lord Norfolk, Edward II granted Carlow Castle to his own 12-year-old half-brother, Thomas de Brotherton. The youngster, who was simultaneously created 1st Earl of Norfolk, was to retain ownership of the castle for the next 26 years.

In 1316, the year de Brotherton became Earl Marshal, Edward the Bruce’s army ran riot across Leinster. Bruce’s army encamped at Castledermot and Gowran, and some 400 O'Toole's were reputedly slain in Tullow, but there is no evidence of Carlow itself being ransacked. Nonetheless, in such turbulent times, the castle’s prime role inevitably shifted from administrative centre to military fortress as it became a place of refuge for those living on the frontiers of the Pale.

Like the Norfolks before him, de Brotherton may have had little to do with the town. During the late 1320s, he sided with Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer, Earl of March, when they deposed and murdered Edward II. When the child king Edward III came of age, de Brotherton emerged as one of his main advisors, leading the English to a powerful victory over the Scots in the battle of Halidon Hill in 1333.

Upon his death in 1338, the lordship of Carlow passed to de Brotherton’s daughter Margaret Segrave, from whom it descended to the Mowbrays.

However, Edward III gifted Carlow Castle to his new Earl Marshal and close friend William Montague, Earl of Salisbury. Montague, who does not appear to have visited Carlow, was destined to die from wounds received in a tournament in Windsor six years later. Upon his death, ownership of Carlow Castle once again reverted to the Crown.


For most of the last half of the 14th century, Carlow Castle served as the English government’s administrative centre in Ireland. This situation was orchestrated by Lionel, second son of Edward III, who served as Governor of Ireland from 1361 until 1367. Known as Lionel of Antwerp, after the Flemish city of his birth, the King’s son was only 23 years old when he arrived.

As a boy he was married to Elizabeth de Burgh, sole heiress of the Earl of Ulster. In 1347, while the Black Death ripped through Europe, young Lionel was in turn created Earl of Ulster. He was also created Duke of Clarence soon after he took up office in Ireland.

Lionel’s brief was to halt the decline of the Hiberno-Norman Lordship of Ireland which, amongst other things, had led to a sharp decline in revenue for the Crown. This was largely blamed on English settlers having adopted the Irish law, customs, costume and language to such an extent that they had become "more Irish than the Irish themselves".

After suffering an early defeat by the O’Byrne’s, Lionel transferred his attention to Carlow. The castle had belonged to the Crown since the death of Lord Salisbury in 1344.

Within weeks of Lionel’s arrival, the Exchequer was relocated from Dublin to Carlow Castle. Accessible by both river and road, the Norman fortress was more convenient than Dublin for most treasury officials. It was also more central for the King of England’s son to wage war on the MacMurroughs, the O’Byrne and the O’Mores.

Considerable improvements were made to the Exchequer building, as well as the four towers, the Great Hall and the walls. The castle interior was considerably revamped and this was probably the period when the roof was raised and a second floor installed, thereby creating further rooms for those working in the Exchequer.

In 1362, the Court of Common Pleas (or Common Bench), which dealt with civil cases, was also moved south from Dublin and placed in a new house constructed alongside the castle.

The castle was by no means secure. In 1363, both the Exchequer and the Common Bench fled back to Dublin because Carlow town was under constant attack. However, by 1364, both the Exchequer and the Court were firmly in Carlow, where they remained for the next thirty years. Lionel set aside a large budget to wall the entire town, a project destined to drag on for many long years after his departure.

In 1366, Lionel summoned the Parliament in Kilkenny Castle that passed the Statutes of Kilkenny, a series of thirty-five acts designed to curb the settler’s enthusiasm for “going native.” Lacking sufficient resources to implement the Statutes, Lionel abandoned Ireland in a huff the following year.

In 1368, the widowed prince was married again in Italy, amid lavish festivities, to a daughter of the sadistic Milanese ruler, Galeazzo II Visconti. Some months later, the 29-year-old Duke was taken ill at Alba and died. His father-in-law is rumoured to have poisoned him. Upon his death, his son-in-law Edmund Mortimer, 3rd Earl of March – wife of his only child, Philippa – became Earl of Ulster and Earl Marshal of England. The Mortimers would ultimately sire the principal claimants of the House of York in the Wars of The Roses.

Both the Exchequer and the Common Bench remained in Carlow until 1394 despite an attempt by William of Windsor, who succeeded Lionel as Governor, to return them both to Dublin in 1372.


In 1374, young Art Mór Mac Murrough Kavanagh began his 42-year reign as King of Leinster. In 1390, he married Elizabeth le Veel, aka Elizabeth Calf, heiress of an Anglo-Norman barony in County Kildare. However, she was stripped of her lands for the crime of marrying Art, in contravention to the Statutes of Kilkenny which prohibited intermarriage between the Irish and Normans. When the barony was forfeited to Richard II – who, as it happens, was a nephew of Lionel of Antwerp - Art declared war.

Meanwhile, in 1494, the Exchequer was relocated from Carlow back to Dublin and Carlow’s importance consequently dropped down a peg or two. Walter Euere, Constable of Carlow since 1376, was dismissed from his post and the castle was granted to Thomas Mowbray, Earl of Nottingham and Marshal of England.

Art proved so capable an opponent that in the autumn of 1394, Richard II, King of England, was obliged to sail for Ireland with an army of over 8,000 men, the largest force brought to the island in the later Middle Ages. Amongst his men was a young Henry of Bolingbroke, subsequently Henry IV.

Art repeatedly lured the English into the mountains and nearly emerged victorious. On 7 January 1395, a truce was negotiated when Art and Gerald O’Byrne met with the Earl of Nottingham near Tullow. The truce resulted in the submission of a number of Irish chieftains to English overlordship including several of Art’s supporters who paid homage to Nottingham in Carlow Castle On 17 February 1395.

Richard II’s Irish expedition was one of the few great achievements of his reign. However, the victory was short-lived and shortly after the king left for England, Art renounced his fealty.

In the absence of any sons, Richard’s heir apparent was his cousin Roger Mortimer, Earl of March, eldest grandson of Lionel of Antwerp and Lord Deputy of Ireland for much of the 1380s and 1390s. In 1898, Mortimer was killed in Kellistown.

In May 1399, Richard once again sailed for Ireland to avenge his death but the mission was aborted and Richard was destined to be overthrown by Henry IV later that same year. The deposed king died in captivity in 1400.

Art died on 31 December 1416 and was buried in St. Mullins.


By the late 15th century, the Anglo-Norman family of FitzGerald was the most powerful in medieval Ireland. Gerard Mór FitzGerald, the ultra-shrewd 8th Earl of Kildare and head of the family, held the office of Lord Deputy of Ireland for nearly forty years.

Lord Kildare briefly lost power when he was implicated in Perkin Warbeck’s plot to seize the English Crown in 1495. He was arrested and dispatched to the Tower of London, while Sir Edward Poynings was installed as Lord Deputy in his place.

In response, his younger brother James Fitzgerald seized Carlow Castle and mounted the Geraldine banner from its battlements. In April 1395, Poynings sent the FitzGerald’s arch-enemy Thomas Butler, Earl of Ormond, to lay siege to the castle which was finally retaken in July. [vi]

Meanwhile, the crafty Gerard Mór persuaded King Henry VII that he was an innocent man, stitched up by ‘false knaves’. The Tudor monarch not only believed him but reinstated him as Lord Deputy, declaring that ‘if all Ireland cannot rule this man, let him rule all Ireland.’

Poyning had since entrusted Carlow Castle to two Gaelic lords, Murchadh Ballach MacMurrough-Kavanagh and Cathaoir O’Connor Faly for ‘safe keeping’. When Lord Kildare returned to Ireland, he attacked the lands of these two temporary constables who duly went to defend their possessions. While they were “out”, Lord Kildare slipped back into Carlow and reclaimed the castle. The Fitzgerald’s would retain their power until disaster struck in 1534.

FOOTNOTES (1186-1534)

[i] In a lecture to the Old Carlow Society in March 1971 (which was recorded by Michael Purcell), the reputable historian Victor Hadden named Marshal as both the founder of the town of Carlow and the man who issued Carlow's first Charter in 1208. Matching the research of Victor Hadden and Dr Kieran O'Conor, Michael Purcell believes it is safe to assume that the Castle at Carlow and its keep was finally completed in 1213. Victor Hadden also credited William Marshal with the building of the stone castles at Enniscorthy, Ferns and Kilkenny and Carlow. He stated they were all built from much the same plan, the castle in Carlow being the largest, he was of the opinion that what remains of Carlow castle is the original masonry erected in the years 1208 - 1212. The castle was of immense strategic value to the Norman conquest of Ireland being located in the heart of the kingdom previously ruled by Strongbow's father-in-law Dermot MacMurrough, King of Leinster. It also afforded a strategic crossing point across the River Barrow. From here the Normans were able to control the agriculture and economic welfare of most of Leinster.

At least 93 other castles in Co. Carlow have been accurately located by archaeologists, such as Ballyloughan, Ballymoon, Clonegal, Clonmore, Tullow and Tinnehinch. In fact, it is reckoned that Carlow was once home to over 150 castles. "The origins of Carlow Castle" in Archaeology Ireland (Autumn 1997) includes a picture of the excavation works and a plan comparing the existing ruin to the overall excavation area.

[ii] John de Clahull, one of Strongbow’s barons, witnessed the Dunbrody charter of 1177. He was still alive in 1247 and when he died without issue, his estates passed to the descendants of his brother Hugh who deceased him. John de Clahull appears to have been in North Kerry by 1216 when he gave 300 marks for confirmation of his various lands including some that were inland, near Slieve Luachra on the mountainous borders of Cork/Kerry. It is to be noted that Meilyr FitzHenry owned two cantreds in Kerry There are also references to a Sir John de Clahull, Marshal of Leinster, who owned Dundrum Castle and who granted Taney Church to the Priory of the Holy Trinity (now Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin).

[iii] On Thomas Plantagenet de Brotherton's instruction, all the records, consisting of several hundred rolls of accounts were removed to the Tower of London. Michael Purcell has visited London and viewed these rolls on many occasions. Aided by a scholar in mediaeval Latin, he has also transcribed many of these documents. He hopes to publish a history of Carlow Castle in due course.

[iv] ‘The extents drawn up after Roger Bigod’s death in 1306 include the information that there were 160 burgages in Carlow. It is possible to work out from the accounts of the treasurer of Carlow in the 1280s that the town contained between 160-170 burgages.’ - Margaret Murphy, Carlow IT.

[v] His seneschals were first Sir Philip de Bocland, then Sir William Cadell and latterly Sir John de Honton.

[vi] 'According to Art Cosgrove Late Medieval Ireland (p. 68) ‘Kildare’s arrest provoked a rebellion led by his brother James Fitzgerald, who captured the royal castle at Carlow in March 1495 and held out against Poyning’s forces until the following July’. So it looks like a four month siege.' - Dr. Margaret Murphy.


In June 1534, Gerard Mór’s hot-headed grandson Silken Thomas, 10th Earl of Kildare, launched an ill-fated rebellion against Henry VIII. By the close of the year, his men had secured control of six of the major castles in Leinster, including Carlow. However, the following spring the English army overpowered the FitzGeralds and Silken Thomas was obliged to surrender. Along with five of his uncles, he was executed in London in February 1537.


In May 1537, Parliament passed the Act of Absentees by which the Crown took ownership of County Carlow – and the castle - from the Duke of Norfolk and his co-partner Lord Berkeley. Five months later, James Butler, son of the Earl of Ormond, was appointed Constable of Carlow Castle. The Butlers would retain the lease of the castle through the rest of the Tudor age until the Earls of Thomond succeeded them in 1604.


In 1567, Robert Hartpole of Shrule Castle was appointed the new Constable of Carlow Castle and provided with six armed footmen for its defence. Hartpole was heartily disliked by the citizens of Carlow who considered him a taxation tyrant. As Governor of the newly shired Queens County (as County Laois was known), he was also despised by the Gaelic Irish who held him responsible for the massacre of several hundred unarmed men at Mullaghmast in 1577.

In response to the massacre, Rory Oge O’More attacked and burned Carlow in 1578. Within months, Rory’s head was on a spike outside Dublin Castle. Upon Hartpole’s death in 1594, his son William Hartpole became constable, successfully holding it for Queen Elizabeth throughout the Nine Years War.

Amongst the records extant about Carlow Castle is a (confusing!) letter dated 1588 from Queen Elizabeth I, addressed to her "Right Trusty" the Lord Deputy in which she refers to "the Castle and lands of Catherlagh, belonging to our cousin Henry, Earl of Kildare", meaning Henry FitzGerald, 12th Earl of Kildare, a grandson of Gerard Mor and son of the famous Wizard Earl.

Upon Hartpole’s death in 1594, his son William became constable, successfully holding it for the Queen throughout the Nine Years War which began that year and lasted until 1603.



On 30th July, 1604, the manor of Carlow – or Catherlagh as it was then - was granted to Donogh O'Brien, 4th Earl of Thomond, for an annual rent of £23. Also known as the ‘Great Earl’, he was one of the most influential and dynamic of the English Crown’s aristocratic Irish supporters in the early decades of the 17th century. It is not known how much time he spent in Carlow as the family were perfectly content at their stronghold of Bunratty Castle in County Clare.

The Great Earl claimed descent from Brien Boru, High King of Ireland. Raised at Elizabeth I’s court in London, he succeeded his father in 1581. In his younger years, he became a soldier of much repute, frequently distinguishing himself during the Nine Years War. He was present when the Gaelic army crumbled at the battle of Kinsale. In return for his services, he achieved his lifelong goal of persuading the English government to transfer County Clare, where his possessions were situated, from the jurisdiction of the Connaught government to become part of the province of Munster. Lord Thomond’s arrival in Carlow may have been connected to this deal as the manor was apparently bestowed upon him ‘in consideration of his surrender of certain castles in Tipperary and Limerick.’

The grant of 1604 expressly provides that, ‘in all works made within the castle, the inhabitants of Carlow are to find six workmen or labourers daily, during the said work, at their own expense ; also each tenant and cottager to weed the demesne corn yearly for three days, and a woman out of every house in Carlow to bind the sheaves for one day; each tenant and cottager to cut wood for the use of the castle for three days in summer, and each of them having a draught horse to draw the wood to the castle for three days ; also to draw the corn out of the fields to the area of the said castle for three days; to give one cart-load of wood, and one truss of straw at Christmas and Easter.’

The terms of the grant also stated that while Lord Thomond was to hold the ‘estate in fee-simple for ever of the Manor of Catherlogh’, this was ‘reserving and excepting out of the said grant the Castle of Catherlogh’ which was described as ‘the old castle with four turrets on the east of the Barrow … with the precinct and buildings thereunto belonging.’ The grant further stated that ‘the said Donough and his son and the longer liver of them to have the Constableship of the said Castle of Catherlogh, with all the entertainments as Robert and William Hartpole lately enjoyed.’

However, his lordship was unable to take actual possession of the castle because it was still occupied by the constable William Hartpole. Lord Thomond attempted to buy out his leasehold interest. [i] When that failed, the Great Earl changed tack and charged Hartpole – who was knighted in 1608 - with treason. His most damning claim was that Hartpole had ‘kept within the Castle of Carlow, Rose O'Toole, the wife of the great rebel, Feagh mac Hugh O'Byrne, at the time when the Lord Deputy had offered a reward for her capture.’ He also claimed Sir William had ‘on various occasions supplied the rebels with arms and ammunition out of the king's stores at Carlow.’[ii] Hartpole withstood the charges and remained constable of Carlow Castle until his death on 15th April 1616.[iii]

In July 1615, Lord Thomond's son Sir Barnabas O’Brien, aka Brian or Barnaby O’Brien (who later succeeded as 6th Earl of Thomond), married Mary Fermor, youngest daughter of Sir George Fermor of Easton Neston, Northamptonshire, deceased. In the marriage settlement, Sir George's widow and her son Sir Hatton Fermor, paid £4500 to Barnaby in return for which Lord Thormond was to grant them land of equivalent value in Ireland to live on. Upon Hartpole's death in 1616, Lord Thomond thus assigned the office of constable to Barnabas and basically granted him the castle. [iv] In 1618, Barnabas O'Brien and his wife were granted a license to run several taverns in Carlow, as well as making and selling wine. Curiously, the Herald's Visitation of Northamptonshire of 1618 reports that Mary's brother, Robert Fermor of Easton Neston, had been recently slain in Carlow. It is thought Mary was also related to Thomas Farmer (Fermor / Farmar), formerly a lieutenant under Sir John Bolles, the second in command to Lord Docwra, during the Ulster campaign from 1601. Thomas Farmer later settled at Youghal and was stationed by Admiral Penn in a frigate defending Bunratty Castle when it fell to the rebels; Farmer transported the Earl of Thomond and his wife, Mary (nee Farmer), to safety in Youghal. [With thanks to Tom LaPorte].

Significant work took place at Carlow Castle circa 1615-1620 and may be connected to the Thomonds taking possession. Influenced by the Renaissance ideals sweeping through Europe, the building became considerably more comfortable, with fireplaces and chimneys installed. If the second floor was not added in the late 14th century, it was certainly in place by this time.

Meanwhile, Carlow’s first Royal Charter was granted on 29th September 1613 by James I. Twelve "good and honest men", or burgesses, were appointed to a new Corporation with John Kerton, Gentleman, as ‘the first and modern portrieve"’ (Town Clerk or recorder) of Carlow town. [v]

After the Great Earl’s death in 1624, the manor stayed in Barnaby O'Brien's possession. Barnaby became the 6th Earl in 1639 and probably only left Carlow to move to Bunratty then. The O’Brien’s still owned 1,681 plantation acres of Carlow by 1641. This appears to have been the original demesne of the manor of Carlow.

[i] Hartpole was knighted in St. Mary's Abbey on 2nd October 1608 by the Lord Deputy, Sir George Carey.

[ii] Lord Thomond’s other claims against Hartpole were:

1) That he had surrendered the important Castle of Blackford, in the Queen's County, to Owny mac Bor O'More, thereby causing the loss of lives to many of the king's soldiers.

2) That he had promised to marry Owny mac Bory O'More's sister, who is now the wife of Captain Tyrrell, and had also promised to deliver up Carlow Castle to the rebels.

Journal of the Co. Kildare Archeological Society And Surrounding Districts. Vol. IV. (Edward Ponsonby, Dublin 1905), p. 309-310.

[iii] His son Robert Hartpole, sometime MP for the Borough of Carlow, was amongst those killed by Cromwell’s men at the siege of Drogheda in 1649. Journal of the Co. Kildare Archeological Society And Surrounding Districts. Vol. IV. (Edward Ponsonby, Dublin 1905), p. 309-310.

There is a suggestion – unsure where - that the castle and bawn were granted to Sir Charles Wilmot, a croney of Thomond, in 1614. Wilmot, a former Governor of Kerry who served alongside Thomond in the Nine Years War, apparently secured it for an annual rent of 6 shillings, 8 pence. Wilmot became President of Connaught in 1616 which could explain the appointment of a new constable.

[iv] The actual wording of the grant was that he "granted, enfeoffed, and confirmed to the said Sir Barnaby Brian and Lady Mary his wife, the manor and castle of Carlow, the bawn, precinct, and circuit thereof, the custom of a salmon out of every net taking salmon in the Barrow running by the limits of the castle, and the demesne lands of the castle, and all the lands and tenements thereunto belonging; the services and works due out of Kelleiston, the customary services and works issuing out of Dowgaston, Painston, Johnston, and Pollardston, the customs and services due out of Johnston and other lands, buying of leather of the manor of Carlow; and also certain lands and tenements in Fothred, lying amongst the Irish, called the Cavanaghs, parcel of the said manor of Carlow, now or late being waste; the castle of Graige in the Queen's county, with courts leet, view of frank pledge, lawdays, assize of bread and beer, waifs and strays, the site of the late priory of Holmepatrick in the county of Dublin etc." June 11, 14 James I (1616). Thomond-Farmer Indenture Quadripartite (7&8 Charles I), p. 656. Calendar of patent and close rolls of chancery in Ireland, of the reign of Charles I, years 1 to 8 inclusive. Ed. J. Morrin (Dublin, 1863). With thanks to Tom LaPorte.

There are also some references to the Barnaby Brien in Clare Library - thanks to Paul Horan.

[v] The charter was ‘Granted to the inhabitants of Carlow by James the First, by the grace of God, of England, Scotland, France and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, and soforth "under our royal signet and sign manual, at our palace at Hampton Court in the tenth year of our reign of England, France, and Ireland, and of Scotland the forty-sixth year of our reign’. (With thanks to Michael Purcell).

Kerton is assumed to the same 'John Korton' who was recorded as owner of Lisnavagh on the 1659 survey. Was Korton an ally of the O'Brien family, Earls of Thomond? He was to be assisted by "the first and modern 12 free burgesses" (Councilors) named as John Bare, Esquire (Sergeant-at-Law), Sir Robert Jacob, Knight. Sir Adam Loftus, Anthony St Ledger, Peter Wright, William Greatrake, Nicholas Harman (perhaps the man involved with the 1647 siege?), John Bloomfield, John Ely, Robert Whiteacre, Robert Sutton and Richard Keating.

15. THE SIEGE OF 1641-1642

With the eruption of the Irish rebellion of 1641, many English settlers along the southern Pale sought refuge in Carlow Castle. At this time, the castle belonged to Barnabas O'Brien, 6th Earl of Thomond, who, as Lord Lieutenant of County Clare, was in that Atlantic county when the rebellion broke out. He subsequently fled to England, abandoning Bunratty Castle to the rebels.

The rebels were Catholic Confederates, an alliance of disillusioned Catholics, Irish and Old English alike, hoping to recoup the money and lands they had lost since the plantations began. Many amongst them also hoped to reestablish Catholicism at the preeminent religion. By now there was a substantial English Protestant settlement across County Carlow, primarily in Carlow Town, Hacketstown and in the north.

Shortly before Christmas 1641, a musket-wielding rebel force commanded by Sir Walter Bagenal and Sir Morgan Kavanagh besieged Carlow town. They may have offered fair quarter and safe passage to the sea if the castle surrendered but, in any event, such an offer was rejected. For the 400 or so trapped in the castle, life became a nightmare. A flood further hampered efforts to break the siege. Some women slipped out to forage for food; they were captured by the rebels and hanged in full view of their families in the castle.[i] A servant girl who was sent to fetch water was likewise shot. Within the castle, the besieged began to starve; Edward Briscoe and his wife watched seven of their nine children die ‘by want of necessaries’. It is thought most people in the castle slept in the bailey.

James Butler, Marquess of Ormond, was commander of the Crown forces in Ireland who took on the Confederates. Shortly before Easter 1642, he sent a force under Sir Patrick Wemys (and possibly Thomas Preston?) to relieve the town. As Wemys approached, the rebels burned Carlow and fled. By July 1643, the Leinster countryside was so scorched by war that nothing was growing and starvation was rife.

16. THE SIEGE OF 1647

The 1642 siege had been an old fashioned medieval siege. In the spring of 1647, things became considerably tougher when Carlow Castle underwent its first ever artillery siege. General Thomas Preston and the Confederates of Leinster surrounded the castle so effectively that when Lord Ormond sent fifty men to bolster the defence, the reinforcements were unable to get through. On 10th April 1647, Major Harman, commander of the King's garrison, surrendered the castle. It was to remain a Confederate stronghold for the next three years.


In August 1649, seven months after the execution of Charles I, Oliver Cromwell arrived in Dublin with a force of 12,000 men, a war chest of £100,000 and a large train of artillery, battering rams, wagons ‘and other vitals’.

Towards the end of July 1650, a section of the New Model Army commanded by Cromwell's son-in-law Henry Ireton headed towards Carlow Castle. The troops encamped in a field on the Graiguecullen side of the river where they constructed a bridge of ropes, hurdles and straw, over which the Parliamentarian soldiers passed in single file.

Having placed his artillery and troop in suitable locations around the castle, Ireton summoned a trumpeter to sound for a brief truce, or parley, with the 200-strong Confederate garrison. He then issued the following courteous eviction order:

To the Governor of Carlow Castle.
We have been your gentle Neighbours hitherto, doing little more than looking upon you. But the Time being come now that we are like to deal in earnest with your Garrison as effectually and speedily as God shall enable us. That I may not be wanting on my Part to save any of the Blood which may be spilled therein, I am willing, upon a timely Surrender, to give Terms to so fair an Enemy (especially if I find you inclinable to a more peaceable Condition for the Future). I thought good therefore to send you this Summons, requiring you to surrender the Castle of Carlow, with the Furniture of War therein, into my Hands, for the use of the Parliament and Common-wealth of England, to which I expect your present Answer.
Your humble servant,
H. Ireton.
July the 2nd, 1650.

Captain Michael Bellew, the Governor, replied [ii]:

For the Lord Deputy and Commander of the Parliament Forces.
My Lord,
This being your first Summons, I am not at this Instant prepared to give any Answer to it. I desire three Days' Time to acquaint the Lord Bishop of Dromore with your Lordship's Demands, and in the mean Time that no acts of Hostility he committed by your Lordship's Army, the like being observed by the Garrison ; by that Time your Lordship shall receive the Resolution of Your Lordship's Servant,
M. Bellew.
Carlow Castle, 3rd of July, 1650

Ireton accepted this offer and then moved on to Waterford, leaving Sir Hardress Waller in charge of Carlow, with directions, if necessary, to 'prosecute' the siege with ‘vigour’. Waller duly drew out two cannon, battered one of the castle towers, and then cannonaded and captured the town. Bellew surrendered the castle upon articles. They provided that the castle of Carow, with the artillery, provision, arms, and furniture of war therein, should be forthwith delivered into the hands of Sir Hardress Waller; that all manner of persons in the castle should have quarter for their lives and goods, having one month's time allowed them for removal, and passes to carry them to what places they should desire; that all officers and soldiers within the garrison should march with their horses and marching arms, and have a safe convoy to Lea Castle, and a pass for ten days' march to Athlone (one of the remaining garrisons which maintained the royal cause); that all the " musquets within the said town should be allowed to march, with each of them one pound of powder, bullet, and match proportionable ;" and that the inhabitants should have liberty to live in the town, and enjoy their corn, paying such contributions as others in their condition.

These articles were strictly observed. The garrison marched out , with the honours of war — the " musquets" with their pound of powder, bullets, and match — and the townsmen " enjoyed their corn" , as theretofore.

The garrison received a safe convoy to Lea Castle, and a pass of ten days to reach Athlone. The events as they unfolded were recorded in an officer's diary, the following details of which were also provided by Michael Purcell:

"Friday, 26th. The defeated Garrison of Catherlough marched away according to the terms of capitulation. They were in number about 200 foot soldiers. We installed part of Colonel Ewers Regiment in the castle.

Saturday, 27th. We removed our quarters to the other side of Catherlagh, about half a mile from the town towards Castledermot.

Sunday, 28th. We marched towards Athy, and established quarters at Grange Mellon, proposing to view Athy and to consider fortifying the place, and to do for it as should be convenient.

Monday, 29th. By order from My Lord we were carred and marched back towards Catherlough and passing over the new bridge we went towards Cloghgrennan which is now surrendered and garrisoned and that night we established quarters beyond Leighlinbridge.

Another account of the surrender came from General Ludlow, commander in Cromwell's army;

'The news of the defeat of the Irish in Ulster being brought to those in Carlo, who had held out in the hopes of relief from their friends in Ulster, together with a great scarcity of provisions in the place, besides the beating down of the little Castle, that stood at the foot of the bridge on the other side of the river which happened about the same time, so discouraged those within that they surrendered the place to the Lord-Deputy Ireton upon Terms; which he caused punctually to be implemented, as his constant manner was.'


[i] The Deposition of Ruth Crispe who fled, while pregnant, with her husband for the ‘saffetie of their lives with their family to the Castle of Catherlagh’. In a very graphic accout of her experiences, she estimated that there were ‘fowre hundred people in the said Castle of Catherlagh … most of them like to starve for want of food’. They would not leave the Castle in search of food for fear they might end up like some women who went in search of supplies, only to be captured. The rebels ‘forceibly brought those 4 women back within view of the said Castle, where those Rebels called with a lowd voice to the rest ... that they should see their Cuntry women hanged ... there hanged them to death accordingly and then stripping them they cast their dead bodies all together in a hold.’

Source: www.1641.tcd.ie: Depositions of Thomas Poole, Ruth Crispe, Edward Briscoe and Edward Harman.

With special thanks to Elaine Callinan.

[ii] There is some confusion over General Ireton’s role in the surrender of Carlow Castle. Ireton and Bellew’s brilliant exchange, quoted above, appeared in 'Cromwell at Carlow' by Robert Malcomson, Esq. (http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~irlcar2/Carlow_1600_3.htm). However, according to John T. Gilbert in Proceedings of the forces in Ireland under Sir Hardress Waller and Lord-Deputy Ireton by Parliamentary army officers 1650-1651, Cromwellian forces left Dublin in July 1650 – a convoy of horse and foot – and quartered near Kill. The army arrived in Carlow where Waller (Major-General of the foot) commanded in the absence of the Lord Deputy (H. Ireton) who had gone on to Waterford. On this day they began a ‘battery at Catherlagh on the Castle on the bridge’. Cromwell sent to the Lord Deputy the articles of surrender and the garrison of ‘Catherlagh marched away according to the capitulation. They were in number about 200 foote’. From there the Parliament troops quartered near Castledermot, and then marched to Athy. They were then ordered to return through Carlow where they quartered at Leighlin Bridge. The following day they marched past Jerpoint and headed to Waterford.
Gilbert suggests that Waller took Carlow (which surrendered on 24 July 1650) for the Parliamentarians (Cromwell). While Preston did manage to hold Waterford for some time in 1650, the fall of Carlow in July 1650 meant that Waterford could no longer be supplied via the river Barrow and it too would quickly fall to Cromwell’s forces.


In order to ensure the castle would never again be used for defensive purposes, the Parliamentarian army then proceeded to demolish much of Marshal’s old castle by knocking out the windows, doors and floors.[i] And so the castle remained, abandoned and unloved while the Thomonds removed to Great Billing in Northamptonshire, England, leaving the running of Carlow manor in the hands of a series of Dublin-based commissioners and receivers. In 1667, the Countess of Thomond was informed of a plan to ‘pull down her castle of Carlow’.

The royal garrison in the castle was seemingly doing great damage to the building. In 1669, the Countess petitioned Charles II for £300 to repair the damage, claiming the soldiers had taken away the lead of the battlements, allowing rain to enter and rot the timbers.[ii] It is said that Carlow Castle was sketched by Thomas Dineley when he visited the town in 1680 but I would side with those who doubt that this sketch was ever supposed to be Carlow Castle.

It is said that Garret Quigley, town clerk for Carlow under James II, removed the surviving oak timbers from the castle and used them to roof the houses at Carlow’s Market Cross.[iii]

During the wars between James II and William of Orange, which lasted from 1688 to 1691, both armies appear to have been quartered in Carlow although the castle itself had ceased to function as a military stronghold. Tradition claims that King Billy passed through the town on his march southwards after the Battle of the Boyne and stayed the night at an Inn on Dublin Street which is now home to Lamberts Newsagents.

While the 7th Earl of Thomond remained loyal to James II and the House of Stuart, his erratic eldest son Henry, Lord O’Brien, sided with William of Orange. As it happened, the 7th Earl outlived his son and so, upon his death in 1691, the earldom passed to his three-year-old grandson, Henry O’Brien.


The O’Brien’s Irish estates were considerably mismanaged during the 8th Earl’s minority by his mother and stepfather. It did not help that the boy, an absentee landlord, grew up to be a feckless, spendthrift. In 1719, the 7th Earl recruited a Dublin attorney called James Hamilton to serve as chief steward of his Irish estates, including Carlow.[iv]

The Hamiltons were a Scots-Irish family who settled in Ulster in the early 17th century. James’s father Henry Hamilton, MP for Cavan, was amongst those killed during the Siege of Limerick in 1690.

In February 1721, James Hamilton made a clandestine purchase of the 4,000-acre manor of Carlow, including the roofless and abandoned castle, from the childless Earl. Hamilton was supposed to pay £20,900 but only ever coughed up £6,000. In 1726, he was summoned before the Court of Chancery and charged with having fraudulently obtained the manor by seriously undervaluing Thomond’s estate. He somehow bounced back to become MP for the Borough of Carlow at the 1727 election, seemingly retaining the seat until 1761.

When in Carlow, he appears to have lived at the castle. However, by 1736, he had run up such debts that he fled to the Isle of Man where he lived until he was pardoned by the newly crowned George III in 1761.[v]

Meanwhile, the 8th and last Lord Thomond died in 1741 and his Irish estates passed to his nephew by marriage Percy Wyndham who adopted the name O’Brien.[vi]

James Hamilton died in 1771 and was succeeded by his eldest son Hans Hamilton, who was MP for County Dublin for thirty years. The Hamilton family’s title to the land and Carlow Castle was later confirmed to Hans who leased the property to Dr. Middleton before his death in 1822.[vii] The Hamiltons were closely aligned with the Dublin port of Skerries. Hans Hamilton’s grandson was created Baron Holm Patrick in 1897. See here for more on Hamiltons.



[i] The following lines, described by one historian as "doggerel verse of the time", are sometimes said to have recorded the effect that Cromwell's forces had on the castle, but they appear to be about the castle at Blarney not Carlow:

'Such walls surround her
That no nine-pounder
Could ever plunder
That place of strength
But Oliver Cromwell
He did pummel
And made a breach in
The battlement"

[ii] This may be connected to an order dated 16 February 1669 by the Earl of Ossory for the removal of the "foot company belonging to... Lord Howth"... out of the Castle of Carlow [In MS.: "Catherlogh"], and liberties thereof, into the town of Carlow there to remain until further order: written from Dublin Castle MS. Carte 163, fol(s). 88.

[iii] ‘Mr. Quigley may have rendered to his gracious Sovereign as chief magistrate of his adopted town ; but tradition has it that, " finding the castle of Carlow in ruins since Oliver's time, he took away the oak timber, and with it roofed the houses at the Market Cross of Carlow." Our informant upon this point, Mr. Frederick Haughton, confirms the rumour by the assurance that in his own day he remembers certain of the houses in that locality to have been re-roofed, and in every instance the timber of the old roofs was of fine oak.’ (‘ON MERCHANTS' TOKENS STRUCK IN THE TOWNS OF CARLOW, BAGNALSTOWN AND TULLOW’ by ROBERT MALCOMSGN, ESQ., M. A., p. 252.

[iv] James was recommended to the post by his uncle Brigadier Hans Hamilton.

[v] The Statutes at Large, Passed in the Parliaments Held in Ireland: From the twenty-third year of George the Second, A.D. 1749, to the first year of George the Third, A.D. 1761 inclusive, p. 883.

[vi] The 8th Earl of Thomond died in Dublin on 20th April 1741 and was buried in Limerick Catherdal.

[vii] At some point during the Hamilton era, a 7-acre plot opposite the castle was planted with tobacco and became known as ‘Tobacco Meadows’. The plot lay at the confluence of the Burren and the Barrow. If anyone knows when this was actually planted, please let me know.


At nine o’clock on the morning of Sunday 13th February 1814, many of Carlow Town’s 8,000 or so inhabitants awoke with a considerable shock as a series of explosions followed by a sound not dissimilar to an earthquake reverberated through the Barrowside town. [i]

By mid-morning, the entire town must have known. Almost six hundred years to the day since it’s completion, Carlow Castle was no more. Or, at least, the vast bulk of it had collapsed.

This unhappy situation was single-handedly brought about by a mysterious English doctor called Philip Parry Price Middleton (or Myddelton). He was almost certainly the man of that same name who was arrested in 1796 for illegally trying to ‘seduce’ an English linen weaver to move to a plantation he owned in the American state of Kentucky. Named as a merchant whose past addresses included Philadelphia in the USA and Bloomsbury Square in London, he was charged before the King’s Bench, fined £500 and sentenced to one year in a London prison. Unable to pay the fine, he languished in his cell for the next three years. He was back in court in 1807 when he sued another man for libel at the Guildhall in London.[ii]

In about 1812, Dr. Middleton took a lease on Carlow Castle from Hans Hamilton, MP for Dublin, whose father had purchased the building nearly a century earlier. He spent a considerable sum converting the castle into what Mary Leadbeater, the Quaker diarist, described as ‘a magnificent abode’ although the English topographer and novelist James Norris Brewer, writing in 1826, maintained it had been rebuilt as a private Maison de Santé, or lunatic asylum, as psychiatric institutions were known in those times. [iii.a]

Mr. Brewer’s suggestion is almost certainly a muddling of facts. At this time, Dr. Middleton was also the principal medical superintendent of the ‘Hanover Park Asylum for the Recovery of Persons labouring under Mental Derangement’ in Carlow Town’, which stood between Kennedy Avenue and Kilkenny Road, approximately where Penny’s is today. He co-founded the institution sometime before 1814 with two surgeons, Dr. Clay and Charles Delahoyd.[iii.b]

According to the Moderator of 24 February 1814, the good doctor had already succeeded in restoring ‘the noble building to more than its original splendour’ when he lost the run of himself. It’s not entirely clear what he was trying to do. Some said he was seeking to open a new street level entrance on the castle’s east side. Others believed he was trying to ‘modernize’ the building ‘by piercing new windows and diminishing the thickness of the walls’ and otherwise improving ‘the requisite light and ventilation’. Mary Leadbeater was told that he ‘made excavations under part of the foundation, and planned a garden over arches that were to form the vaulted roofs of kitchens’.

Few would disagree with the words of J. N. Brewer who scolded Dr. Middleton for his ‘folly and presumption’ in ‘confiding in his own skill’ and failing to ‘call professional knowledge to his assistance’. Mary Leadbeater likewise deduced that ‘his design bespoke great haste, but failed in the execution, probably from a want of judgement or care in the workmen.’ Francis Frederick Hayd'n (1822) added: “From the ignorance of the architect, who superintended the improvements, two of the large round towers gave way, and in a few minutes one half of this noble and magnificent structure became a heap of reckless ruins.’

That said, one must not rule out a report in the Irish Magazine of 1813, as quoted in the Carlow Sentinel of 1832, which claimed that the castle walls had been significantly endangered by a great frost that year, many months before Dr. Middleton’s experiment, which may have contributed to its collapse. [iv]

In any event, Dr. Middleton used dynamite blasting powder to create a passage beneath the castle. The explosives weakened the entire structure to such an extent that the two eastern towers collapsed, along with a large portion of the adjoining walls. As Brewer put it, the ancient pile ‘which had for so many ages derided the efforts of the battering ram, yielded to this more fearful mode of assault and more than one half of the castle fell to the ground.’

Amazingly nobody was killed or wounded. J. N. Brewer spoke with a witness who man who ‘observed that the downfall was so slow in operation that a person had sufficient time to escape from the sphere of destruction … The immense pile gradually disparted into vast masses, which broke with difficulty into fragments less mighty. Many gigantic pieces of the ruin rolled to the very doors of some humble cabins on the opposite side of a road at the base of the castle mount.’

Mary Leadbeater was told that one of the towers ‘fell so near a cabin that the wife had not power to follow her husband, who had snatched up the child and ran out … Terror held her motionless, till she saw the ruin stop within a foot of her house, when, dropping on her knees, she returned thanks to her great Preserver.’

By the time the dust settled, only the western side, comprising two of Marshal’s angular towers remained. In 1819, a prominent malter called William Mangan incorporated the stones from the ruined east wing into eight new houses and seven large corn and milling stores in the area known as Coal Market.[iv.b]

As for Dr. Middleton, he can barely have had much time to think before the next epic event of his life began. In January 1815, he discovered that a patient at the Hanover Park Asylum called Hester Hinds was pregnant. She was the wife of a Dublin attorney called John Hinds.

In terms of potential fathers, Dr. Middleton was high on the list of suspects, not least since, upon learning of her condition, he personally escorted Mrs. Hinds to the home of his friend Dr. Henry Rogers in Kiltegan, County Wicklow. He told Dr. Rogers her name was ‘Mrs Hamilton’ which may have been a nod to the family from whom he leased the castle. Mrs. Hinds had a baby boy in June who was subsequently sent to the Foundling Hospital. That same summer, Dr. Middleton himself had an accident that confined him to crutches for three months.

When Mrs Hinds’ husband arrived at Dr. Rogers house and discovered what had happened, he sued Dr. Middleton for £5,000 damages. On 14th December 1816, Dr Middleton was summoned for trial at the Court of Common Pleas before the notorious Lord Norbury. He was charged with engaging in ‘Criminal Conversation’ with Mrs. Hinds. During the ensuing court case, it emerged that Dr. Delahoyd was also a potential father as he too had an intimate relationship with Mrs. Hinds. He was also believed to have engaged in sexual relations with Catherine Connoly, the housekeeper, and Mary Ryland, the cook, who was better known as Cora. Tales of three in a bed romps with cooks and spirits and wine became the tittle-tattle of the country, not least when a pamphlet containing the juicy details of the trial went on sale.[v] Ultimately the evidence proved too conflicting for the jury to reach a verdict but the Hanover Park asylum collapsed amid the wake of the scandal. The only clue thus far forthcoming about Dr. Middleton’s later life is ‘An Essay on Gout’, published in 1827, by P. P. P. Middleton, MD, of Bath.[vi]

All this prompted a poem by a frined of F. F. Hayd'n, recorded in ‘The medical mentor, and new guide to fashionable watering places' (1822):



Those walls which in ruin now lie,

And towers fast mould'ring away,

Once proud raised their head tow’rds the sky,

With banners both gallant and gay ;

And this Hall which is silent and lone,

Once echo'd with joy and delight,

And here in mild splendour oft shone,

The Nymph, and the Bard, and the Knight.



And here was a struggle for fame,

Here victory beam’d on the brave,

And the last spark of liberty's flame,

Its warmth to each warrior gave,

Oh! It fired their bold hearts with the deed,

That immortal’d their names in the land,

For blest are the heroes who bleed,

When their Country the tribute demand.



But past is the hour of its grandeur,

The spirit of chivalry's flown,

And the strains so endearing and tender,

To Catherlock’s tow'rs are unknown;

Should a Bard of poor Erin appear,

To notice the spot passing by,

The tribute he pays is a tear,

And the music he breaths is a sigh.



After the death of Hans Hamilton in 1822, the custodianship of Carlow Castle presumably passed onto his heirs and from them to the Barons HolmPatrick. If anyone has further details of this era in the castle’s history, the author would be much obliged if they would make contact.

After the collapse of the eastern towers, the people of Carlow effectively turned their back on the castle, surrounding it with houses designed so that the with back yards rather than the front view beheld the old Norman ruin.

By the mid-20th century, access to the castle was through Corcoran’s Mineral Water Factory. When he expanded this factory, providing much needed employment, Michael Governey took in much of the ground on the west and south sides of the castle. Corcoran’s employees simultaneously turned the area adjacent to the ruins into a market gardening enterprise, planting cabbages, potatoes and such like. When Dr. Kieran O’Conor embarked upon his archeological excavations in 1996, he proposed that the ensuing decades of soil clearance was the reason why he could not find any remnants of the crockery, utensils, weapons or cannon balls that generally emerge from such digs.[vii]

For much of the 20th century, visitors to the castle had to make their way via Corcoran’s, where they collected a key. More nimble-footed youngsters preferred to climb the outer walls. The castle yard made for an ideal playground and occasionally yielded a gem such as a canon ball.

It is assumed that, following the Anglo-Irish Treaty, custodianship of Carlow Castle passed from the Crown to the Irish Free State who then assigned it to the Office of Pubic Works. I contacted the Crown Estate in October 2013.

Carlow Castle took a hiding in Storm Ciara on 9 February 2020, during which part of the foundations of one of the two remaining towers collapsed. The part that fell had been restored in the 1950s, evidently not very well.



[i] J. N. Brewer givs the time of the explosion as 9am.

[ii] In the London Gazette, printed by Andrew Strahan, he is referred to as ‘Prisoner in the King’s Bench Prison in the County of Surrey – Second Notice - Philip Parry Price Middleton, formerly of Philadelphia in the United States of America, and late of Bloomsbury Square in the County of Middlesex, Merchant’. Details of his prison may be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King's_Bench_Prison His London address appears to have been 9 Bloomsbury Square. It is to be noted that the writer Isaac D'Israeli lived at No. 6 Bloomsbury Square from 1817 to 1829 and for part of that time his son, the future Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli lived with him. What connection was the PM to D’Israeli of Bough? "

On Wednesday the 18th, Philip Parry Price Middleton, Esq, was indicted for unlawfully contracting with, and seducing and endeavouring to persuade, one John Miles, an artificer, to leave this kingdom and go to America, against the form of the statute. It appeared that Mr Middleton was a person possessed of a large property in America, and that he had come over to this country for the purpose of engaging as many artificers as he could to emigrate there. He was found guilty. The penalty is 500l. and one year's imprisonment." (The Monthly Magazine, Volume 1, 1796) Further details of the case can be found here.

PPP Middleton had a plantation on the Ohio River in Kentucky which had joined the Union in 1792. He appears to have been trying to 'seduce' fellow Englishman to come over and work for him, in return for pattern tokens of silver and copper. These were minted for him by Matthew Boulton’s private Soho Mint, with dies almost certainly engraved by Conrad Küchler. According to: Http://www.pcgscoinfacts.com/Hierarchy.aspx?c=839&redir=t, his one year sentence lasted over 3 years, when he was finally able to pay the £500 fine and gain his release. His Kentucky plantation ended in ruin and his tokens are now exceedingly rare collectors items.

See also an article about the rare 1796 Myddleton tokens at http://coins.ha.com/c/item.zx?saleNo=1114&lotIdNo=231023#Photo

[iiia] See: ‘The trial before Chief Justice Sir James Mansfield and a special jury of Merchants, at Guildhall, between Philip Parry Price Myddelton, plaintiff, and Francis Hughes, defendant, for slander’, Printed by J. Drewry, and sold by A. Morgan, [1807] and available via http://www.worldcat.org/title/trial-before-chief-justice-sir-james-mansfield-and-a-special-jury-of-merchants-at-guildhall-between-philip-parry-price-myddelton-plaintiff-and-francis-hughes-defendant-for-slander/oclc/506051914

‘Crim. con: a full and impartial report of that most extraordinary and interesting trial, with speeches of counsel and judge's charge, in the case wherein J. Hinds was plaintiff, and P.P. Middleton, defendant, in an action for damages for crim. con. with the plaintiff's wife, tried in the Court of Common Pleas, Dublin, on the 14th and 16th December, 1816.’ [Crim con is the abbreviation for Criminal Conversation, trials usually connected to divorce...but not actual divorce trials.]

[iiib] Charles Delahoyd of the parish of St Marylebone in London was married by license on 7 Dec 1797 to Ann Phillips of St James Piccadilly Middlesex. There is a reference in http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/A2A/records.aspx?cat=074-sun_2-0-413&cid=-1&Gsm=2012-06-18#-1 dated 7 June 1799 to Sun Fire Office insurance policy of Charles Delahoyd, 37 Mortimer Street, Cavendish Square, surgeon and apothecary

He subsequently left his wife and children in England (Swansea) and moved to Carlow, settling on Byrne Street. I have been in touch with an Australian lady called Lyn <genielynau@bigpond.com>
who is seeking further information on Delahoyd. She writes: ‘My 3 x great grandfather Dr Frederick BEAVAN was apprenticed to [Delahoyd] at some time prior to his admittance to the Royal College of Surgeons in 1809. Frederick was born about 1785 but I don't know where. His family was living in Swansea from at least about 1802 and I suspect he was an assistant Naval surgeon in 1804 from the Naval List as oral tradition does indicate a time in the Navy at the time of Trafalgar. I am trying to ascertain his place of birth so if I can locate Charles DELAHOYD's whereabouts I might be a little closer. DELAHOYD seems to be a rare name. I searched the Cambrian online index, The Times, the 17th and 18th century Burney collection and Free BMD for a death with no luck. Has anyone any other ideas? Regards, Lyn in Oz.

[iv] The Carlow historian Michael Purcell may also have come across some vital clues as he explained. ‘One day when I had completed my research on the history of Carlow Castle I was in the local history section of Carlow County Library reading the Carlow Sentinel newspaper dated 1832 when I read the following article from The Irish Magazine of 1813 claiming that it was a severe frost that brought down the castle in 1813 ?. I had not seen this account before and as I had already completed my research I decided to include it here, without checking the story, in the hope that others may do some research on it. Is it possible that the frost of 1813 weakened the structure to such an extent that it was responsible for the total collapse the following year when the refurbishment was being carried out ?’

3rd March 1832

The following lines were written for the Irish Magazine of 1813. – The hopes, expressed by the author, of the Castle being again inhabited, were short lived, for the frost of the above year caused the fall of half the old edifice; the whole of the new additions; and of the authors fond anticipations.

The evening was clad in a mantle of grey,
The silver moon play'd on the breast of the lake,
The gates of the castle were closed with the day,
And the Warder alone on his watch was awake.

"Twas now the still hour when with hearts light and gay,
The night birds accustom'd their revels to hold,
In the gloom of the hall where in happier day,
Loud echo'd the deeds of the Chieftains of old.

"Twas now, as was usual, the screech owl awoke'
All is dream to the mournful bird of the night,
His mansion of joy where merriment spoke,
No more will he view with a heart of delight;

His nestlings unfledged in a prison must dwell,
Whom, heart broken-thought! he must never see more;
And alas! More hard, he must list to the knell,
While his consort his ogue to Elisium is bore.

O'Moore! mighty Irish Chieftain, tho' narrow thy tomb,
Thy deeds and thy glory will still strike the ear,
And the lyre new strung will be heard in the gloom,
For to Erin thy country thou'lt ever be dear;

That the ramparts you trod will again seem to rise,
Remembrance will cherish the thought with a smile,
And the song of the bard as it mount to the skies,
Will sooth the gone Chief of the "Emerald Isle."

Then Carlovia rejoice that again you'll behold,
The glory of Catherlough rise on the lake,
While the harp now aloud strikes an anthem so bold,
That the Chiefs of the tomb will in ecstasy wake.

Then long may her head be erect in the wind,
And the pride of her greatness ne'er sink in decay,
But many time in the womb of futurity find,
Her banners still high in the sunshine of day.

From The New Monthly Magazine, Volume 1 (Feb 18-March 18) at

[iv.b] Thanks to Michael Purcell.

[v] 1815 “Hanover Park Asylum for the Recovery of Persons labouring under Mental Derangement” 8vo Rd. Price. See http://books.google.ie/books?id=Ua0uAAAAIAAJ&q=carlow+%22+hanover+park%22+delahoyde&dq=carlow+%22+hanover+park%22+delahoyde&hl=en&sa=X&ei=SgspUu7oI8rB7AbBkYGYBA&ved=0CC0Q6AEwAA

Sotheran's Price Current of Literature 1912:

For more, see my own saved articles, as well as http://books.google.ie/books?id=3TMwAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA298&dq=%22DR.+Middleton%22+CARLOW&hl=en&sa=X&ei=HusoUqmhAuih7Aacz4D4Dw&ved=0CEMQ6AEwBA#v=onepage&q=%22DR.%20Middleton%22%20CARLOW&f=false and any fresh details at http://newspaperarchive.com/anti-gallican-monitor/1816-12-22/page-6

[vi] ‘An Essay on Gout in which its actual Predisponent Proximate and Exciting Causes are clearly denned and its preventive and curative indications fully demonstrated upon new pathological principles, to which are added Observations on the Modus Operandi of Bath Waters in Gouty Habits” by PPP Middleton, MD, Author of a “Treatise on the Diagnosis Prognosis of Diseases Clinical Reports of Select Medical Cases and a New System of Pulmonary Pathology’ (Fourth Edition, Bath Geo; Wood and London, Baldwin and Co, 1827 8vo, pp 97). According to the 1827 edition of ‘The Lancet’ (Vol 12, p. 534): ‘The object of Dr. Myddleton's book is to recommend the Bath waters, as well as an oxygenated bath, or fomentation, in the treatment of gout, in which he informs us that he has employed the latter with surprising advantage.’

[vii] There is a story of some soldiers kicking a football in the castle grounds, in the 1840s and uncovering a box of silver and coins which they walked away with. [story via .Michale Purcell]


One of the earliest reports appeared in the very first edition of The New Monthly Magazine which wrote: "That venerable relic of antiquity, the castle of Carlow, has been levelled with the dust, in consequence, as it is said in the Irish prints, of the proprietor having undermined the foundation in order to make it a more convenient residence.’[i]

The Moderator 24th Feb 1814 published the following report:

‘From Carlow we are informed that that magnificent piece of antiquity, Carlow Castle, fell on Sunday morning last; fortunately there was not a single soul hurt, though the noise terrified the neighbourhood almost as much as the shock of an earthquake. This accident was occasioned by the gentleman who has lately become proprietor of the castle, having undermined the foundation for the purpose of making it a more convenient residence. There had been a large sum laid out lately on the supposed improvement of this venerable edifice; but, alas! all is now levelled with the dust. This castle was the residence of Sir John de Vallier [? – ed.], a little before the usurpation of Cromwell, who during his visit to Ireland, attacked it, and after a spirited resistance from Sir Thomas Longfield [wrong? – ed.], then Governor, it was obliged to surrender to the potent arm of the renowned Oliver Cromwell, and has since been in a dismantled state, until Dr. Middleton, by expending a vast deal of money on it, within these last two years, had restored the noble building to more than its original splendour.’

The following account is recorded in ‘The Annals of Ballitore, A Memoir of Mary Leadbeater’ by the Ballitore-born Quaker who was born Mary Shackleton:

‘Though not in our immediate neighbourhood, we lamented the fall of great part of the castle of Carlow on the 13th of February. Doctor Middleton, lately come thither, rented it, and expended some thousands in attempting to make that noble pile not only habitable, but a magnificent abode. He made excavations under part of the foundation, and planned a garden over arches that were to form the vaulted roofs of kitchens; and a poor mechanic remarked that he was making a Babel. His design bespoke great haste, but failed in the execution, probably from a want of judgement or care in the workmen. Providentially it was on the first day of the week that the two towers which had been undermined fell; they fell so near a cabin that the wife had not power to follow her husband, who had snatched up the child and ran out, Terror held her motionless, till she saw the ruin stop within a foot of her house, when, dropping on her knees, she returned thanks to her great Preserver.’

In ‘The Beauties of Ireland’, published in 1826, James Norris Brewer included a section called ‘THE DEMISE OF CARLOW CASTLE’ in which he recorded:

‘This noble pile was constructed on a slight eminence upon the west side of the town overhanging the river Barrow. It was of a square form flanked with a circular tower at each angle. The doors were remarkably low and narrow and the apertures for the admission of light consisted chiefly or entirely of loop holes. From the grandeur of its proportions, and the favourable character of its situation, which allowed a free view of its massy towers and rugged sides from the various roads which lead to the town, this august pile constituted a feature of peculiar magnificence in the architectural display of Carlow.
But folly and presumption have recently deprived the pictorial examiner and the antiquary of an object so well calculated for their gratification. The manor of Carlow including this noble monument of antiquity passed in consequence of an unredeemed mortgage from a late Earl Thomond to the family of a Mr Hamilton, his Lordship's law agent, who are the present proprietors.
By this family a lease of the castle was granted in the year 1814 to a physician named Middleton who had formed the project of establishing in a Maison de Santé for the reception of lunatics and who speedily commenced operations with a view of rendering the building amenable to his purpose.
As the loop holes in the walls were not sufficient to give the requisite light and ventilation, and as the thickness of the walls contracted undesirably the space of the rooms, this person, confiding in his own skill, undertook to enlarge the windows and diminish the thickness of the walls without calling professional knowledge to his assistance. For the latter object he laboured by a process rather new in practice, namely that of blasting the walls with gunpowder.
He had proceeded far in his improvements when the pile, which had for so many ages derided the efforts of the battering ram, yielded to this more fearful mode of assault and more than one half of the castle fell to the ground. Only the western side, comprising two of the angular towers is now remaining.
This tremendous downfall occurred at the hour of nine in the morning, a time at which the workmen had suspended their labour, and happily no life was lost.
The huge masses of ruin incumber the whole of the mount, except the west side, and mix with cottages at its base, which are inferior in size to many of these ponderous fragments. A man who was a witness of this unusual accident described the spectacle to the present writer in very lively terms, and observed that the downfall was so slow in operation that a person had sufficient time to escape from the sphere of destruction (as was the case with himself) after viewing the portentous and amazing nodding of the towers. The immense pile gradually disparted into vast masses, which broke with difficulty into fragments less mighty. Many gigantic pieces of the ruin rolled to the very doors of some humble cabins on the opposite side of a road at the base of the castle mount.

From “The beauties of Ireland: being original delineations, topographical, historical, and biographical, of each county’, Volume 2, by James Norris Brewer (Sherwood, Jones, & co., 1826)


Canny, Nicholas, Making Ireland British 1580-1650 (Oxford, 2001).
Clarke, Aidan, 'The Old English in Ireland' (Worcester & London, 1966).
Gilbert, John T., 'Proceedings of the forces in Ireland under Sir Hardress Waller and Lord-Deputy Ireton by Parliamentary army officers 1650-1651' in 'A Contemporary History of Affairs in Ireland', Volume 3, part 2, (Dublin: Irish Archaeological Society, 1880), pp 218–263 (see UCC.ie/CELT).
Jarvis, Ann M., 'Carlow Material - Petworth House Archives'
King, Thomas, 'Carlow: the manor and town, 1674-1721', Issue 12 of Maynooth studies in local history” (Irish Academic Press)
Lenihan, Pádraig, Confederate Catholics at War (Cork, 2001).
Malcomson, Anthony P, 'The Pursuit of the Heiress: Aristocratic Marriage in Ireland 1740-1840', Ulster Historical Foundation, 2006)

The Six Bs
Over the course of the 18th and 19th century, the borough and county of Ireland were largely represented in parliament by a member of the "Six B's", that is one of the six main landowning families in Carlow whose name happened to begin with B. These were the Brownes, Bruens, Butlers, Bagenals, Beechers and a particularly caddish clan called the Bunburys.

Another family of prominence was the Kavanaghs, descendents of the McMurrough Kings of Leinster of whom their most celebrated member was The Incredible Art Kavanagh, a man born without limbs who nonetheless managed to travel the world and represent Carlow in Westminster Parliament. Despite the inevitable turbulence which flared up across Carlow - particularly during the 1798 Rebellion, the rise of Daniel O'Connell and the election of 1841 - Carlow Town enjoyed a period of relative prosperity during this era.

Like many an Irish town, Carlow had a booming industry in the export of woollen yarn to England. Notable buildings erected in the early 19th century included a grand Catholic Cathedral, the Greek Revival Court House (complete with Crimean canons and decorative pikes on its railing), the Sisters of Mercy convent (which established the order in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) and a handsome train station to greet the Great Southern & Western Railway. Carlow became the first town outside Dublin to have electric street lighting when the Alexander's of Milford successfully creating a water-generator on the Barrow.

Battle of Carlow, May 25th 1798
When the rebellion broke out in the spring of '98, the Carlow United Irishmen were headed up by a young brogue-maker named Mick Heydon. He succeeded to the leadership when his commanding officer, Peter Ievers, was arrested with several other influential United Irishmen at Oliver Bond's house in March of that year. By the midde of May, the British authorities had become deeply alarmed by the sudden and ferocious outburst of rebellion across Leinster. Almost every garrison had retreated from the Pale to the headquarters in Naas. Only the garrisons of Athy and Carlow remained where they had originally been stationed. Heydon had been having a hard time keeping his men inspired during the dark months before the uprising. He now saw an opportunity to give the lads a big morale booster. He split his 4000 strong volunteer force into three different columns and called in a fourth from across the Barrow in Queen's County (now County Laois). The pikemen were then instructed to meet up in Carlow's Potato Market for a big fireworks display round about 2:00 am on the 25th May.
Heydon seems to have been under the impression that the yeomen, officers and citizens of Carlow would be pleased as punch to see thousands of pike-wielding rebels storm their town. Such was not the case. The inhabitants of Carlow remained loyal to the Dublin Government. Worse still for the rebels, the alert garrison commander in Carlow was well prepared for an assault and had placed his forces - two companies of militia, several yeomanry corps and a posse of the Ninth Dragoons - in strategic positions around the town.
At 2:00am on the 25th May, the rebels jubilantly marched straight into an ambush. The ferocious racket of musket fire resounded across the town's rooftops and down its many alleyways, compounded by the screams of dying men and women. The optimistic pikemen were rapidly converted into a mound of corpses. More than 500 men were killed before a devastated Mick Heydon sounded the retreat. A further 200 were later executed. Witnesses said the stench was only unbearable, made worse by the fact half the town was on fire. Some 3000 rebels managed to escape and headed east past Rathvilly to the small village of Hacketstown. Here a brave loyalist garrison somehow managed to hold the fort and keep them at bay. The remains of 417 of the rebels killed in the Potato Market were buried across the River Barrow at Graigue in a site known as the Croppie's Grave.

Carlow Court House
Built in 1830 by the Clonmel based architect William Vitruvius Morrison (1794 - 1838), Carlow Court House is considered one of the finest Neo-Classical buildings in Ireland. The Neo-Classical movement in Ireland gained much ground during the 19th century, particularly under James Gandon (who designed Dublin's Four Courts). The buildings were essentially Roman, and later Greek, in inspiration, based on notes made by individual architects during field trips to Italy and Greece or on the etchings of the great Piranesi and publications such as Antiquities of Athens by Stuart & Revett (1762, 1790). Morrison's father, Sir Richard Morrison developed this Neo-Classical style during the Napoleonic Wars, along with his arch-rival, Francis Johnston.
By the 1820s, the Greek Revival movement had taken a hold throughout Europe and the United States. The 1820s was a decade when minds were serious, sober and - if you ask me - downright glum. Maybe everyone was just plain exhausted by the previous 40 years of bloody revolution and warfare. At any rate, architects decided to reflect the new thought by designing structures to be … well, serious, sober and downright glum. Buildings were stripped of all unnecessary distractions or embellishments. Every aspect was clearly distinguished. There was no room for messing about. The net result was a heap of brand new, rather imposing buildings, generally Court Houses and Prisons, that wagged a stern finger at any who dared to mock or snort or chuckle without permission.
Carlow Court House was modelled on the Greek Parthenon. It is built in the more graceful Ionic style with 12 free-standing columns supporting the roof. Morrison was also responsible for the Court House in Tralee, County Kerry. Neither of these buildings are quite as stern as other Greek Revival structures, although they are no less imposing for this.
I got to know Carlow Court House quite well when summoned for jury service in the closing weeks of the 20th century. The case was to be a highly complex and tedious fraud issue. 200 potential jurors were imprisoned in the Court House for close on two days before the lawyers managed to swindle a dozen of us into volunteering. The main hazard of being a juror is that your company is meant to carry on paying your wage regardless of how many weeks you have to remain in court. I secured my freedom from such obilgations by reasoning that I was self-employed and, should the court case last longer than a week, I would be left with no alternative but to resort to fraud.

William Vitruvius Morrison
Born in Clonmel in 1794, William Vitruvius Morrison was the second son of Sir Richard Morrison, the Cork-born workaholic who designed so many of Ireland's houses, villas and public buildings in the early 19th century. [EG: Fota Island (Co. Cork) and Castlegar (Co. Galway)]. In contrast, W.V. Morrisson appears to have been rather a delicate, sensitive sort of soul, prone to depression, perhaps on account of his father's persistent refusal to regard him as anything more than a snivelling nuisance. At the age of 15 he produced a plan for Ballyheigue Castle in County Kerry. He studied abroad in England and later in Paris and Rome. It was in England that he came to admire the elegance of the Tudor and Jacobean styles, which he later adopted when his father finally allowed him on the designs of Kilruddery House (1820) in Bray for the Earl of Meath, Ballyfin (in Co. Laoise) for the Cootes and Fota Island (1825) in County Cork for the Earls of Barrymore. Of his own accord, W.V. Morrison was the architect responsible for Glenarm Castle (in Co. Antrim) for the Earl of Antrm, Mount Stewart (in County Down) for the Marquess of Londonderry, Baron's Court (in County Tyrone) for the Duke of Abercorn and Borris House (in County Carlow) for the MacMurrough-Kavanagh family. His public buildings include the County Court Houses of Carlow and Tralee, both completed in 1828, and the Ross Monument, Rostrevor, Co. Down (1826), a massive obelisk on an Egyptianizing base, considered one of the noblest memorials in Ireland.WV Morrison died aged 44 in 1838. His works were completed by his father, Sir Richard Morrison, who became first President of the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland founded in 1839.

St. Patrick's College
One of the oldest Catholic seminaries in Ireland opened in 1795 to educate priests following a relaxation of the Penal Laws against Catholic education.

Carlow IT

The college has about 8000 students and almost 750 staff, full or part-time, as of 2018.


Carlow Cathedral
The Carlow Nationalist had a bit of craic a few years back when they published a photograph of the town's mighty Gothic Revival Cathedral (built between 1828 and 1833) with the famous spire carefully airbrushed out. It was April 1st and the story ran that the spire had been knocked down by a helicopter. Apparently certain old and devout readers of the paper damned near died of a heart attack at the news. And even the Vatican was on the blower protesting that this was all in very bad taste.
The Cathedral was one of the first Catholic churches to be built after Daniel O'Connell's success in securing Catholic Emancipation in 1829. The perpendicular semi-Gothic design is by Thomas Cobden, and indicates the beginning of a new age in Gothic Revival architecture set to sweep the British Isles on the eve of Queen Victoria's accession.

Sir John Macneill & Carlow Train Station

The station was built in 1846 to the design of Sir John Macneill (1793 - 1880), the Louth born civil engineer who had erected the massive passenger shed at Kingsbridge (Heuston Station) in Dublin a year earlier. A lieutenant in the Louth Militia from 1811 -1815, John Macneill had gone to England at the close of the Napoleonic Wars to find work as an engineer. He soon chanced to become one of Thomas Telford's principal assistants during that man's phenomenal era of road and bridge building in Scotland and England during the 1820s. Macneill has set himself up as a consultant engineer in 1834, with offices in London and Glasgow. His skill and application encouraged the House of Commons to commission him to undertake a survey of northern Ireland for the railways. Moving into the family home at Mount Pleasant, County Louth, he duly completed the Drogheda - Dublin line (later the Great Northern Railway) and, on the completion of the Kildare section of the Great Western & Southern Railway in 1844, he experienced the pleasure of having Her Majesty Queen Victoria gently attempting to slice his ears off and make him a knight.
He was 1st Professor of Civil Engineering at Trinity College Dublin from 1842 to 1852 and was later created a Fellow of the Royal Society. During his later years he went blind and retired. He died on 2nd March 1880 at Cromwell Road in South Kensington, London.
The station was built to welcome coal-faced passengers off the new Great Southern & Western Railway which arrived in Carlow in 1846. Macneill's penchant for Jacobean stepped gables are still in evidence today. Ain't it a crying shame that they don't make train stations, or indeed trains, like they used to.

Carlow Museum
Located on Centaur Street off the Haymarket and to the rear of the Town Hall, the museum contains a fine smattering of bits and bobs from Carlow's past including furniture, crockery, clothing, folk instruments and the trapdoor last used for public hanging outside Carlow Gaol in 1820 when 20,000 people came to watch him die! And you thought Reality TV was bad. Open May - Sept, daily.

Local Heroes
John Tindal: This is the man who worked out why the sky is blue. I don't know what his answer was, but he did considerably better than a Finnish contemporary who wrote a long thesis maintaining that the sea level fell because there was a hole in the bottom of the ocean. There is now a pub called the John Tindal in his honour.
George Bernard Shaw: The connection may be tenuous but GBS's aunt and mothers' family came from Carlow. The Nobel Laureate also donated over a dozen proprieties to Carlow. Over the past 60 years, the income generated from these properties has generated funding for numerous projects undertaken by voluntary organizations, including the erection and maintenance of a Christmas Crib on the Court House steps in Carlow town. On a national scale Shaw and his wife donated funds and legacies (worth millions today) to various projects in Ireland (the Irish National Gallery being a major recipient). One of the houses he donated during his lifetime was the premises in Dublin Street, for use as educational / training facility for the youth of Carlow. For many years, the Technical School was housed on the premises and it later housed the Carlow County Library. A plaque by his aunt's house on Tullow Street describes Shaw as a "self-styled world betterer". He was, after all, the man who said all this "struggling and striving" to make the world a better place was well and good but then pointed out that "struggling and striving" is the wrong way to go about anything at all.
Ardattin schoolgirl Saoirse Ronan was nominated as best supporting actress in both the Oscar and Golden Globe nominations 2007 for her pivotal role in the Ian McEwan adaptation, 'Atonement'.

Siucra, Athy Road
Smells are amazing things for transporting one back to the mysterious freedom of childhood. Musty old books. Chlorinated swimming pools. Fresh mown lawns. And, for me, sugar beet. About 15 miles from my home stands Carlow's "Siucra" Factory which has been churning up sugar beet since 1926. Napoleon Bonaparte invented sugar beet as a two-fingered gesture to the English who, following his conquest of Spain, had barred the export of sugar from the colonies to ze French Republic. A home grown sugar beet industry meant the French didn't have to import sugar in order to drink sweet café.
In 1926, Carlow businessman Edward Duggan spear-headed the establishment of the Irish Sugar Manufacturing Company in Carlow. The Most Rev Dr Patrick Foley, Bishop of Kildare & Leighlin, turned the first sod on the site where it stood until its closure in March 2005. You can watch him do so on Pathe news, with Edward Duggan beside him, an excellent website. Although it was a sugar factory, it was always just called the beet factory. Construction was completed in record time and processing of that first sugar beet commenced in mid-October. This was the work of the Moravian genius Franz Schwatshke, Electrical Engineer with the Irish Sugar Company from 1926 until his retirement, father of the eminent artist John Schwatshke. At the end of that first harvest - or campaign, as it was known - in Jan 1927, the beet factory had produced 13,400 tonnes of sugar from 86,000 tonnes of beet. The beet was brought to the factory on horse and cart and by canal boat from farms all over the counties of Carlow and Laois. It sounds like damned hard work, working long hours with your bare hands, children with sacks tied around their legs, thinning the beet and battling with thistles and scotch and chopping the leaves off. Alas, they closed the factory down in 2005.
Another useless piece of trivia: Patrick and Emmet Bergin's father worked here during the 1950s and 1960s. He was an actor himself and got highly involved with the very first Eigse Arts Festivals. Emmet was a household name in Ireland for many years, playing silver-tongued Dick Moran in Ireland's long-running agri-soap "Glenroe". His brother Patrick stalked Julia Roberts in "Sleeping With the Enemy" before going head to head and losing against Kevin Costner in the summer of 1990 when two huge Robin Hood movies were released at the same time.

The great big murky green toaster shaped building you see approaching Carlow from Dublin is a Braun manufacturing plant.

Carlow Brewing Company
Ireland is not yet famous for its micro-breweries. This is perhaps because Guinness has a rather bullying habit of buying them out the second they start looking like a threat. That said, the Carlow Brewing Company has survived and prospered in its decade of existence. O'Hara's Stout. Molings. Curim. They win awards at all the right shows and they are all very, very drinkable.

Browne's Hill Dolmen
Built as a royal burial place some 5000 years ago, this massive granite dolmen boasts the largest and most impressive capstone in Ireland at 100 tons. In fact, this is possibly the largest single manmade Neolithic formation in Europe.
I know its entirely irrelevant but the Browne's Hill dolmen is the reason why I became involved in "tourism". I was working for Carlow Tourism one summer many years back, assembling information on local historical curiosities. I particularly loved the dolmen, this mystical, inexplicable monument standing on its own surrounded by disinterested cattle and yawning sheep. Then I went away for a year. When I got back, the powers that be had stuck a pair of ugly Bruscar litter bins beside the dolmen, fenced it off and hammered a dreadful signboard depicting how life might have been for stone age dwellers beside it. I realised that this country requires guidance and so, five years later, I joined Trailblazer. Now I require guidance too.
As you walk to the dolmen, keep your eyes peeled for the famous "Carlow Fencing"- granite posts, V-shaped at the top, with granite slabs laid across, a common feature of the Carlow landscape in the 19th century.
Located 3km outside Carlow on the R726 Hacketstown Road.

Duckett's Grove
This majestic Gothic Revival ruin was originally home to the Duckett family, prosperous landowners of Cromwellian stock. The house was built in the mid-Georgian period but substantially modified and gothicized by Thomas Cobden into a Gothic Revival Castle later on. William Duckett died in 1908 leaving quarter of a million pounds which is roughly the equivalent to being able to purchase four stealth bombers and a Black Hawk in the modern age. Alas his widow Georgina Duckett became increasingly deranged and fearful of a Catholic conspiracy to kill her. She fell out with her only child, a daughter named Olive, who was then cut out of the will save for what was known as The Angry Shilling. The IRA occupied the house in 1922, after which it was sold to a conglomerate of local farmers. It burnt down in 1933. In 2005, the demesne was purchased by Carlow County Council who stabilizeed the house and restored the gardens and stables. (Although the house really does make for a spectacular ruin).


A huge thanks to all those who took the time to help advise on this supplement including: Cllr. Eileen Brophy Cathaoirleach of Carlow Town Council and the Members of Carlow Town Council who commissioned this history; Michael Brennan, Town Clerk; Michael Brennan Carlow County IGP website (www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~irlcar2/); Ally Bunbury; Elaine Callinan, Carlow College; Dan Carberry; Gary Cavanaugh; Joe Connolly, the late Philomena Connolly; Dr. Linda Doran; Kevin Down; the late Victor Hadden; Ann Jarvis; Hugo Jellett, Eigse Carlow Arts Festival; Thomas King; Dermot Mulligan, Carlow County Museum; Dr Margaret Murphy, Carlow College; Dr. Tom McGrath, Carlow College; Martin Nevin, Carlow Historical & Archaeological Society; Dr Kieran O'Conor, NUIG; Pat O’Neill, President of the Carlow Historical & Archaeological Society Eileen O’Rourke, Carlow Tourism, Peter Walker & Michael Purcell.

See also "The History Ring of Carlow".