Below can be found information on just some of the Midlands' many historic sites. Please note, all information is accurate to the best of the author's knowledge as of August 2006. It is strongly advised to check any prices, opening hours or contact details with the relevant site.
Thurles, Co. Tipperary
30 April - 1 June, 23 September - 19 October
Monday - Friday: 9am - 1pm, Saturday - Sunday: 2pm - 6pm
The construction of Lisheen Castle is recorded as having been started around 1808 by the local landlord, Frederick Lloyd. However, it may have actually have began later than this, as the first official record of the building does not appear until 1827. Further work on the castle was recorded on the castle in correspondence from around 1841. It was in a revivalist style, just like Charleville castle outside Tullamore, although Lisheen itself was not as elaborate as some of the other fortified homes built in the early nineteenth century. Its owners were heavily involved in the local Public Works Committees which attempted to create employment during the famine. A combination of building costs and the effects of the famine left the Lloyds' estate impoverished, and many members of the family emigrated in the mid-1800s. Charles Lloyd took over as the local landlord between 1856 and 1887, and came into conflict with the Land League when he started to extort his tenants to precipitate evictions. One of the prominent local Land Leaguers was a man named Michael Everard, who was evicted by Charles Lloyd. Ironically, it would be Everard’s great grandson, Michael, who would later buy the vindictive landlord’s castle and restore it. There was an attempt by the local workers to boycott Lisheen, and although it was mostly unsuccessful, they did finally gain fair rents with the Land Act of 1881. In 1887, Lisheen was left to Charles Edward Lloyd, who aimed to solve its problems by emigrating to Australia and finding his fortune. Charles Edward would never return, and a Thurles agent gained the castle and began to rent it out. Much of Lisheen’s estate was sold off in 1905, although the Lloyds continued to rent the castle and a smaller amount of land until 1918. Then, it was bought by a William Bray O’Brien, husband of another Lloyd, and he later passed the castle on to his only daughter, married to a John Francis O’Meara. On 29 June 1921 the castle was burned by local IRA activists, who later claimed that they worried that British forces would occupy the building. The O’Mearas were later compensated. In 1960, the Land Commission seized much of the remaining land around Lisheen and divided it up. The castle itself remained derelict until 1994, when it was bought by Michael and Joan Everard. Restoration work took place between 1996 and 1999, and the castle was opened to the public the following year.
Boris-in-Ossory, Co. Laois
Ballaghmore Castle was built in 1480 and is sited on 30 acres of land. It was the seat of the Fitzpatricks, an Irish family whose roots stretch back to 500BC. They were the Lords of Upper Ossory and defended the region from their castle which was strategically placed on the old Irish road which ran across the width of the country. It is believed to have been destroyed by Cromwell’s forces, before being partially restored by a Mr Ely in 1836. He claimed to have found some gold on the land, but was renowned as a harsh landlord and was shot by an angry tenant before he could complete the work at the castle. The castle was derelict for another century and a half, finally being bought by its present owner, Graínne (Grace) ní Cormac in 1990. The castle was restored and furnished, and is now open to the public. One of its more noticeable features is the Sile-na-Gig on the walls, an ancient fertility symbol. Ballaghmore can be rented for all occasions, such as weddings and private parties, and can be booked with staff or for self-catering.
Birr Castle Demesne
Birr, Co. Offaly
March - October: 9am - 6pm
November - February: 10am - 4pm
Birr Castle was originally a stronghold of the O’Carrolls, and is now renowned for its gardens and scientific displays. The castle itself is the private home of the Parsons family, and is not open to the public. However, the gardens stretch across 120 acres and contain 4,000 rare species of trees and shrubs. In addition, they contain the Great Telescope, built in 1845 as the largest of its kind in the world, a title it would retain for more than seventy years. The Historic Science Centre celebrates the work of the Parsons in the nineteenth century, including their role in the invention of the steam turbine and the development of photography. Their achievements in the fields of astronomy and gardening are also examined. A Gift Shop and Coffee Shop are located on site, while guided tours are available by appointment.
Portumna, Co. Galway
April - October: 10am - 6pm
Portumna Castle was built sometime between 1610 and 1618 by Richard de Burgo (Burke), 4th Earl of Clanricarde, who died in 1635. It occupied an enormously important strategic position at the northern tip of Lough Derg. It is believed to have been the first building in Ireland to have incorporated the Renaissance styles which had become so popular in continental Europe. The castle was eventually gutted by fire in 1826, and work has been taking place periodically over the last three or four decades to restore it Only the ground floor of the mansion is open to the public at the present time. Exhibitions can be found here and in the Gate House, while access is also extended to the gardens to the north, flanked by Lough Derg and the Forest Park.
Lorrha, Co. Tipperary
Lackeen Castle is a four storey Towerhouse which belonged to Brian Ua Cinneide Fionn, Chieftain of Ormond. It stands in the ruins of a walled courtyard, known as a bawn, which may have housed some smaller buildings but was mostly used to protect cattle from raids. It has a vaulted third floor and some old manuscripts were found hidden in its walls after the castle's destruction. This occurred in 1653 when Cromwell's troops arrived, forcing Donnchadh Ua Cinneide Fionn to forfeit his family home.
Birr, Co. Offaly
Kinnitty Castle is of gothic design and is linked to the famous O’Carroll lineage, set in a 220 acre estate. It has been renovated to accommodate 37 en-suite bedrooms and two restaurants, one of which is the “Monks’ Kitchen”, and has a medieval theme. Activities include clay pigeon shooting, falconry, horse riding, hill walking, hunting and spa treatments. The High Cross of Kinnitty can be found in its grounds, dating from the 9th century and a fine example of early Christian art.
Tullamore, Co. Offaly
Charleville Castle was constructed between 1798 and 1812 by the Frank Johnston School of Architecture. It is situated in some of Ireland’s most ancient oak woods (one tree is over 700 years old), and was constructed on the former site of the sixth century monastic site of Lynally. It was at the focal point of the midlands’ plantation, and was constructed to celebrate the defeat of the revolutionary uprising of 1798. It is Ireland’s greatest example of gothic revival architecture. The castle was vacated in 1912 and remained so throughout the war of independence and the long period of economic instability which followed. Restoration work began back in 1971 by Michael McMullen, before a trust was set up which has overseen the restoration to this day.
Lusmagh, Co. Offalywww.cloghancastle.com
Cloghan Castle was built around 1239 by the O‘Madden chieftains, to command major crossing points over both the River Shannon and the River Brosna. It was seized by the Lord Deputy Sir William Russell in 1595, at which point its defenders were thrown over the walls to their deaths. Garrett Mór was a descendant of Ruaidrí Og Mór, Chief of Leix, and was granted the castle in the reign of Charles II. His grandson was later to marry the daughter of Richard de Burgo, the sixth Earl of Clanricarde. Its restoration was undertaken by a local man, Michael Burke, in 1973. He aimed to recreate the experience of living in medieval Ireland, but with a few more modern amenities added in. He aimed initially to turn Cloghan into a family home, but when enquiries started to be made regarding the hiring of the castle for private events, these plans soon changed. The castle now hosts over one hundred weddings and other private parties every year, whilst guided tours are also available to enable guests to explore the castle and its eventful history.
Leap Castle was constructed in the fifteenth century as an important military stronghold of the O’Carrolls. Although it is a visually impressive example of a medieval Irish towerhouse, Leap Castle is more famous for what cannot be seen by its guests. It is reputed to be the most haunted building in Ireland, home to an “elemental”, that is: a ghost with a strange smell. The O’Carrolls were famous for their violent feuding and brutal methods, and it is believed that three cartloads of human bones were removed from its dungeons in the early 1920s. “One-Eyed Teige O’Carroll” is believed to have once murdered his own brother as he knelt in prayer in the castle’s chapel. Many passers by have often claimed to have seen strange lights from this same chapel at night. The castle was extensively burned in 1922.
Roscrea Castle, Damer House and Gardens, Castle Street
Roscrea, Co. Tipperary
Tel. +353 505 21850
Fax. +353 505 21904
Last admission 45 minutes before closing
Damer house stands inside the walls of the Norman castle constructed around 1280, consisting of a gate tower, curtain walls and two corner towers. Its rooms are furnished and house a number of varied exhibitions. The mansion itself was constructed in the early seventeenth century. Disabled access is limited to the gardens. Guided tours are available on request. Toilets are on site, and there is a car and coach park located nearby.
Holycross, Co. Tipperary
Tel. 0504 43281
Fax. 0504 43357
Farney Castle was built in 1495, with later work taking place in 1800. The original structure on the site dates back even later, as the present day round tower was built on the site of a timber structure dating back to 1185. Farney Castle was part of the defences of the Earls of Ormond, the Butler family. It remained in their hands for five hundred years, although it was seized temporarily by the crown on three occasions in its history. One such seizure was undertaken by Henry VIII, although he later returned it when he married Anne Boleyn, daughter of Thomas Butler. At other points it the castle’s history it was seized by Cromwellian troops and Captain William Armstrong, a Cavalier who fought against Cromwell. Eventually the castle was purchased by its present owner, Cyril Cullen, a famous Irish designer in the fields of porcelain and knitwear. Many of his products are sold in the castle’s gift shop. Daily tours of the castle are available, whilst musical recitals by the “Cullen Harpers” are available on appointment. Snacks are available in the coffee shop.