Part 14 in a series featuring sites I visited in Ireland while researching my second novel, The Prince of Glencurragh. See previous posts listed at the end.
Massive and beguiling, the ruins of Mallow Castle claim a grassy rise above the Blackwater River, about a 30-minute drive north of Cork City on the N20. Misshapen now from centuries of decay, it still resonates with legend and power. I found it on a dark rainy day, but another photographer captured it in the sunlight that highlights its beauty.
Bearing signs of Tudor architecture over the remains of an earlier fortress, one source has the great castle passing from the Roche family to the FitzGeralds of Desmond at the end of the thirteenth century. The Tudor structure most likely was built by the 14th Earl of Desmond, James FitzGerald, the Lord High Treasurer of Ireland who died in 1558.
The castle stood three stories high with octagonal corner turrets at the front, one in the middle for the entrance, and another for the stair. It has large mullioned windows, loopholes for muskets, and fireplaces in each room that stir the imagination. Who once warmed their hands or dried their clothes there, and what did they think about?
In The Prince of Glencurragh, Mallow Castle is the English-owned and pivotal meeting place where in 1634 Faolán Burke pleads to the Earl of Clanricarde for marriage to Vivienne FitzGerald and an appropriate settlement of her inheritance. Clanricarde is visiting the castle to hunt the famed herd of unusual white fallow deer (a gift to the castle park from Queen Elizabeth years before). At this time, the castle belongs to English General William Jephson.
Two Desmond Rebellions
In 1584, however, the castle belonged to the 15th Earl of Desmond, Gerald FitzGerald, and was inhabited by his brother John, military leader of the clan. The Desmonds, who had long enjoyed distance and autonomy under England’s rule, rebelled against the exertion of control by King Henry VIII, a policy furthered and fortified by his daughter, Elizabeth I.
Elizabeth had imprisoned both Gerald and John in the Tower of London for an illegal quarrel with her cousin, Thomas Butler, the Earl of Ormonde. In their absence, a military leader James FitzMaurice FitzGerald led a bloody rebellion in the province of Munster that succumbed to English terror and scorched earth tactics led by Sir Humphrey Gilbert in 1573.
When Elizabeth released the FitzGerald brothers from the tower allowing them to restore their devastated territories, resentment grew across the land under England’s brutal suppression tactics. Another rising erupted in 1579, complicated by famine and plague. In 1583, Gerald was hunted down in the mountains near Tralee and murdered. But before that, John was killed as a result of betrayal.
An excerpt from The Prince tells the story:
Faolán reined his horse, stopping in front of us. “Vivienne, Lord Cork has withheld from you your own history. Mallow Castle once belonged to the FitzGeralds. Sir John lived here. It was he, the Earl of Desmond’s brother, who led the men into battle during the great rebellion.”
“What became of him?” Vivienne asked.
“He was cruelly betrayed,” he said. “The FitzGeralds fought the English for control of their own clansmen and lands, and John was known for uniting the clans against them. One day he set out on this very road, but he and his men were surprised by a band of English horsemen. They tried to escape, but one man among the English—once Sir John’s own servant—recognized Sir John and shot him in the throat. He died as they carried his body back to Cork, and they chained it to the city gate.”
Vivienne turned pale, her lips parted. “And what of the earl?”
Faolán jutted his chin at me. “Tell her, Aengus.”
“He was betrayed as well. A local farmer took a thousand silver pieces in exchange for the earl’s location in the mountains near Tralee. When the English soldiers found him, crippled and broken in the corner of an old cabin, they murdered him and sent his head to London as a trophy for the queen.”
“Aye, and that’s not the end of it, Aengus,” Faolán said.
I nodded. “On a dark November night in the glen where he was killed, you’ll see a company of horsemen and the great earl, wearing his silver brocade and riding a white horse. And if a lad asks to shoe his horse, the earl will toss him a purse with a thousand silver pieces.”
Vivienne sat stiffly, looking toward Mallow. “Now I’m afraid to enter this castle.”
Faolán shook his head. “On the contrary, love. You are a FitzGerald. The Desmond spirits will rise up and rejoice when you set foot on the stones. It is just.”
A new rebellion and Irish Confederate War started throughout Ireland in 1641. Mallow Castle withstood attacks by Lord Mountgarret in 1642, but it was severely damaged after being captured by Lord Castlehaven in 1645. In 1689 the castle burned. The Jephson family built a new 12-bedroom manor house on the foundation of the old castle stables. In 1928 the castle became one of Ireland’s national monuments. The last Jephson, Commander Maurice Jephson, sold the castle to the McGinn family of Washington D.C. in 1984.
Thanks to http://www.britainirelandcastles.com, Ancient Castles of Ireland by C.L. Adams, Wikipedia and various other sources. Interior image of castle by The Speckled Bird, Creative Commons. Gilbert image is public domain. Other images belong to the author.
Part 1 – Kanturk Castle
Part 2 – Rock of Cashel
Part 3 – Barryscourt
Part 4 – Ormonde Castle
Part 5 – Lismore Castle
Part 6 – Bandon, Kilcolmen
Part 7 – Timoleague Friary
Part 8 – Castle Freke, Rathbarry, Red Strand
Part 9 – Coppinger’s Court
Part 10 – Drombeg and Knockdrum
Part 11 – Liss Ard, Lough Abisdealy
Part 12 – Skibbereen
Part 13 – Baltimore
An heiress, a castle, a fortune: what could go wrong?
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