Posts Tagged With: Rostellan Castle

In Search of Rostellan Castle, Part 1: Sieges, Parties & Regicides in the 16th and 17th Centuries

As a resident of Farsid, I am fortunate during our current lockdown to have Rostellan Woods within my 2km exercise area. I have written about aspects of Rostellan on the site before (see e.g. Cork’s Workhouse Children Visit Rostellan 1866-7), but I thought I would take the opportunity the crisis presents to do a series of posts that explore the history and surviving archaeological landscape of Rostellan Castle, Demesne, and Gardens. Though most of us are familiar with the woods and the Aghada GAA pitches, the fascinating history behind this location is less widely known. I hope through these posts to share some of the available information about this location’s past, and also to raise awareness of the need to take action to preserve some of surviving fragments of this landscape, which are currently degrading at an alarming rate. This first post looks at the early castle of Rostellan, and its story in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Down Survey and Castles

The parish of Rostellan (left) and the two depictions of the 17th century castle of Rostellan from the 1650s Down Survey (Trinity College Dublin Down Survey Project/National Library of Ireland)

The Fitzgeralds of Rostellan Castle

While it is probable that a medieval fortification was sited at Rostellan, it is in the 16th century that Rostellan Castle begins to make regular appearances in the historical record. In 1565 the land here passed into the hands of the FitzGeralds, an event recorded in the Patent Rolls of the High Court of Chancery:

…whereby Gerald Fitz-James McSleyney, captain of his nation in the cantred of Imokilly, and proprietor and true lord of Rostelan and Culbaine, for a certain sum of money, sold and conveyed to John Fitz-Edmond James de Geraldinis, gentleman, Cork County, his manor of Rostelan, containing 1 carucate or plowland, and a particle of land of Culbaine, with its wood…

According to R.G. Fitzgerald-Uniacke, John Fitzedmond was around 37-years-old when he acquired Rostellan in 1565. He was married to a daughter of the O’Brien Earl of Thomond, a family who would become intrinsically linked with Rostellan over the next 300 years. Rostellan was just one of John’s possessions, which he seems to have increased as he successfully navigated the Desmond Rebellions which devastated Munster. Apparently a loyal-Crown man, he was rewarded for his support of Elizabeth I with a knighthood at Cloyne in 1601. By then he had passed Rostellan Castle over to his third-son, Thomas FitzJohn Gerald, who seems to have been resident there. Thomas had become the formal owner in 1594, when he obtained “The manor and castle of Rostiellane, and all the lands, tenement, and hereditaments of Ballynamony, Cruoghane, Kayall, Cwylbane, Moynivorrin, Ballynyclassy, Ballygoyre, Ballyncattanaige, and Ballynvollin, in the territory of Rostiellane [and] Ballyknoick and Collraghe in the territory of Doungvornay” from his father.

Final Image

The Rostellan Peninsula in the 1650s (left) and today (right). The Down Survey mapping demonstrates that the early castle was certainly on the same site as the later 18th-century house. Most of the landscape changes owe their origins to undertakings in the 1700s, as will be explored in a subsequent post (Trinity College Dublin Down Survey Project/National Library of Ireland/Google Maps)

Whatever about his father’s relationship with the Crown, Thomas (perhaps as part of a family strategy) was one of those who hedged his bets during the Nine Years War (1594-1603). When Munster was ablaze in the late 1590s he seems to have taken Rostellan into rebellion, as “Thomas fitz John Fitz Edmond of Rostellan” is among a list of men who were pardoned by the Crown in 1600. Seemingly none the worse for his flirtation with Hugh O’Neill, by 1606 Thomas had been granted a licence to hold a Saturday market at Rostellan by the new monarch, James I. Thomas passed away in 1628, leaving Rostellan Castle in the hands of his son, James Fitz Gerald. When he died in turn seven years later, he left behind no children. The lack of a surviving male heir meant that the interests of most of his lands fell to Fitz Gerald relatives, who controlled the bulk of the locality. However, his widow, Mary Burke Fitz Gerald, was permitted to maintain her living at the 252 acre Rostellan Estate. According to Fitzgerald-Uniacke, Mary later wed another of the Fitz Geralds, Richard, who was son and heir of Edmond Fitz Gerald of Ballymartyr (now Castlemartyr). This was the state of play when war came knocking at Rostellan in the 1640s.


Rostellan Castle Besieged

The most dramatic incident in Rostellan Castle’s history came in the midst of the Eleven Years War (1641-1653). Richard Fitz Gerald apparently served as a Royalist officer during the conflict, and the castle of Rostellan followed his allegiances. It was 1645 when the war landed on Rostellan’s doorstep. The man who set his sights on it was Murrogh O’Brien, Lord Inchiquin. In this complex war that was characterised by shifting allegiances and an often dizzying array of competing military forces, Inchiquin, formerly a Royalist, was now in the service of Parliament. He would become known to history as Murchadh na dTóiteán [Murrogh of the Conflagrations/Murrogh the Burner]. As a mark of the castle’s strategic importance on the eastern side of Cork Harbour, that summer Inchiquin’s forces invested the castle and prepared artillery positions in order to bombard it into submission. Rostellan promptly surrendered, and the campaign moved on. Lord Inchiquin would soon be developing a long-term association with Rostellan, but in 1645, his men’s stay would prove brief.

Rostellan Today

The location where Rostellan Castle stood in the 16th and 17th centuries. Top Left: The cropmarks of the site, largely related to the 18th century house, remain clearly visible. Bottom Left: The view from the entrance to Aghada GAA, looking directly at where the castle once stood. Right: The location of the 16th and 17th century Rostellan Castle and later house, marked with a red circle (Damian Shiels/ Google Maps)

The main opposition to Inchiquin in East Cork in 1645 were the Confederate forces under James Tuchet, 3rd Earl of Castlehaven. While encamped at Castlemartyr–which had recently been taken and burned by Inchiquin–Castlehaven hatched a plot to take Rostellan back, an operation he described some years later:

I got intelligence that Colonel Henry O’Brien (brother to the lord Inchiquin), and Lieutenant-Colonel Courtney, with several other officers, were come by boat to Rostellan, to make merry; that the tide falling, their boats were aground, and so would continue till high-water. On the certainty of this I lost no time, but sent immediately a party to seize the boats, lying more than a musket shot from the castle, following as fast as I could with the army; which being come up, I presently fell to the work planted my guns on the batteries made by my lord Inchiquin, not yet destroyed, and in the morning the place yielded on discretion.

James Tuchet 3rd Earl Castlehaven

James Tuchet, 3rd Earl of Castlehaven, who retook Rostellan Castle in 1645 (National Portrait Gallery London)

A Regicide at Rostellan?

Despite this reverse, it wouldn’t be long before Inchiquin and his family were back at Rostellan. Antiquarians state that the property was officially granted to Inchiquin in 1648, a property title that would endure into the 1850s. However, in the short-term, the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland and the victory of Parliament forced Inchiquin–who was once more in Royal service–to flee to France. Afterwards the lands at Rostellan were recorded as part of the 1650s Down Survey, the major surveying and mapping project initiated to aid the transfer of land from Irish Catholics into the hands of those who had supported Parliament. It lists that the lands of Rostellan were still held by “Richard Fitzgarrald in right of his wife”. The Survey includes a fantastic early description of Rostellan:

The soyle is Arable and good pasture and Conteineth these ensueing Denominations, viz. Rostellane, Balltnemonie, Cnockane, Ballinauwillen, Ballineclassey, Ballydeere, Lisard-Irensy, Gilkaghmore and Carrigcottie. The improvements are a Castlehouse in Rostellane standing by the sea side, a Castlehouse on Carrigcottie; a mill on Ballynauwillen, as alsoe in many places farme houses and Cabbins

What became of Rostellan Castle during the 1650s? With Inchiquin and Fitz Gerald out of the picture, it was at this juncture that another individual enters the story of Rostellan–Irishman Robert Phayre. Lieutenant-Colonel Phayre (sometimes Phaire) had previously served under Inchiquin, but subsequently commanded a regiment under Cromwell during the conquest. He had a particularly notable claim to fame, for Robert Phayre was classified as a regicide. The Irish officer had found himself in England in 1649 when the warrant ordering the execution of Charles I was issued, and his position meant that he was one of the officers to whom it was officially addressed. Given a role in Munster under the Commonwealth, according to Sidney Lee’s 1909 Dictionary of National Biography he “retired to Rostellan Castle” in the mid-1650s. W.H. Welply recorded that Phayre leased the four ploughlands of Rostellan in 1653-4, and that he was given permission to cut 100 trees for the building of a dwellinghouse and out-offices there. He presumably remained there until the 1660 Restoration of the monarchy and his subsequent arrest– luckily for him, his 1649 refusal to sign the execution warrant meant his life was spared.


The Death Warrant of Charles I. Robert Phayre, an Irish Parliamentarian Officer who appears to have lived in Rostellan Castle in the mid-1650s, was one of the men to whom it was addressed (Parliamentary Archives)

The Restoration brought with it the return of Inchiquin, who was now an Earl. A future post will look at the story of his family’s development of Rostellan Castle, a period when much of the landscape that still exists came into being. But there is a postscript to the story of 16th and 17th century Rostellan worth noting here. Though the 18th century would see this once defensive landscape transformed into a famous house and gardens, vestiges of its strategic past survived. In his 1861 History of the County and City of Cork, the Reverend C.B. Gibson recorded that within the part of the gardens known as the battery (which we will discuss in a later post) there were four brass artillery pieces. One was inscribed “ASSUERUS KOSTER ME FECIT AMSTELREDAM, AO. 1646” [Assuerus Koster Made Me, Amsterdam, 1646]. The other three were dated to 1786, and were likely placed there during the Napoleonic threat. As an aside, by then 19th century Rostellan Castle had also become the home of another interesting military artefact, a rare Scottish claymore sword of 16th century date that was later described by the National Museum of Ireland. Whether it had any ties to the Castle, or was simply a later purchase by the O’Briens, remains unknown.

Wright, John Michael, 1617-1694; Murrough O'Brien, 1st Earl of Inchiquin

Murrogh O’Brien, Lord Inchiquin who took Rostellan Castle in 1645, and who later became its owner (Manchester Art Gallery)


Trinity College Dublin Down Survey Project.

J.C.Q. 1936. “Rostellan Castle and Its Owners”, Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society Volume 41, Number 154, 109-111.

R.G. Fitzgerald-Uniacke. 1895. “The Fitzgeralds of Rostellane, in the County of Cork”, The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, Volume 5, No. 2, 163-170.

Reverend C.B. Gibson. 1861. History of the County and City of Cork. Volume 2.

Andrew Halpin. 1986. “Irish Medieval Swords c.1170-1600. Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy Section C, Volume 86C, 183-230.

Sidney Lee. 1909. Dictionary of National Biography, Volume 17.

James Touchet, Earl of Castlehaven. 1815. The Earl of Castlehaven’s Memoirs. 

W.H. Welply. 1925. “Colonel Robert Phaire ‘Regicide’. His Ancestry, History and Descendants (Contd.)” Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society Volume 30, Number 151, 20-26.





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Cork’s Workhouse Children Visit Rostellan, 1866-7

Rostellan Castle and demense were once among the best known “pleasure-gardens” in Cork. Through the 19th century it was a popular destination for visitors to the harbour, and was a frequent venue for excursions and concerts, including a fireworks display on the occasion of Queen Victoria’s visit. But in 1866 and 1867 visitors of a different sort made their way from the pier in Aghada across the bridge into Rostellan demesne. There were hundreds of them, and unlike those that had gone before they were not from the upper echelons of Irish society– rather they were amongst the poorest and most underprivileged in the entire county. 

The bridge and lodge at Rostellan. The Workhouse children would have made their way into Rostellan Castle from this route (Sara Nylund)

The bridge and lodge at Rostellan. The Workhouse children would have crossed here and made their way through the Schoolmaster’s Meadow en-route to Rostellan Castle and gardens. The Castle stood until the 1940s, on a site to the right of the present-day driveway of Aghada GAA Club (Sara Nylund)

On Saturday 17 August 1867, 530 children left Cork City for Rostellan. They had come from the Cork Union Workhouse (now St. Finbarr’s Hospital), and were embarking on a trip to which they had long been looking forward. Boarding the steamer Citizen at Merchant’s Quay a little after 9 o’clock, they were joined by Mr. Steele, master of the house; the matron Mrs. Steele, the school teachers, and Rev. Mr. O’Mahony, the Catholic chaplain. Another stop was scheduled for Glenbrook where the Rev. Dr. Webster, Protestant chaplain and Mr. Mullan, J.P., came aboard. As the steamer made its way across Cork Harbour, the Workhouse Fife-and-Drum band entertained the children on their way to the pier in Aghada. From there they walked to Rostellan, crossing the bridge to enter the demesne of Rostellan Castle, then in the ownership of Dr. T.A. Wise, who had given permission for the children to access the grounds for the day:

…the children were encouraged to amuse themselves in every pleasant way child nature could devise. Some went bathing; some played carious childish games; racing matches were organised…and the winning boys were rewarded…with what in the eyes of workhouse boys were splendid prizes, though consisting only of a few coppers and diminutive silver pieces.

At intervals the band would strike up, accompanied by around 50 of the children who were part of the Workhouse singing class. Among the tunes heard across the demesne were Lily of the Vale, Morning Bells, Come to the Hedgerows and Good News from Home, with the children finishing with God Save the Queen. 

An 1867 broadside of "Lily of the Vale", sung by the Workhouse children in Rostellan (National Library of ScotlandL.C.1269(166b) )

An 1867 broadside of “Lily of the Vale”, sung by the Workhouse children in Rostellan (National Library of ScotlandL.C.1269(166b) )

At 2 o’clock a dinner of roast beef, ham and bread was served, after which the children were given the freedom of the grounds until 5. Then they were given tea, coffee and bread before being addressed by the adults with remarks “of an encouraging and hopefully character” and promises of “another and even a better trip soon.”

Leaving Rostellan at 6 o’clock, by 7 the children were back aboard the steamer heading for Cork, receiving a final meal of buns before returning to the Workhouse–and reality– at 9.

The Workhouse officials were true to their word, and only a few months later, on 11 July 1868, the children were once again making their way to Merchant’s Quay and boarding the Citizen. The excursion was reported in the Cork Examiner:

The expeditionary party was composed of the pauper children of the Cork Workhouse…a repetition of the experiment of last year, the event far exceeded it in the amount of enjoyment it yielded to the poor children, and its marked success in every respect was worthy even of the holy cause of humanity and benevolence in whose name it was undertaken.

The money for the trip had been raised through public subscription, and this time the main party consisted of 236 boys and 180 girls, all between the ages of nine and fifteen and accompanied by their Workhouse teachers. There were also 153 infants and 78 children from the hospitals, the grand total for the excursion being 650 children and 33 adults. The Workhouse Fife-and-drum band were also back. These children were representing the Workhouse, and so were dressed accordingly. The boys wore “smart grey suits” and the girls “blue dresses, white pinafores and light cotton sun-bonnets.” The Examiner correspondent noted that the children looked a lot healthier than they had on their previous visit to Rostellan, adding somewhat condescendingly:

Amongst both boys and girls there [are] many pretty, intelligent, and interesting children– indeed the entire aspect of the band, as it set out, was utterly at variance with the conventional estimate of the workhouse children.

Milestones in place on the bridge at Rostellan, with Rostellan Lake in the background, and the main site of the former pleasure gardens at left (Damian Shiels)

Milestones in place on the bridge at Rostellan, with Rostellan Lake in the background, and the main site of the former pleasure gardens at left (Damian Shiels)

This second visit also left behind a description of the set-up aboard the steamer Citizen: 

The quarter-deck, sheltered by an awning, being assigned to the girls and infants; and the steerage or forward deck to the boys. Amidships were several large hampers, baskets and barrels…two of the largest baskets contained 750 parcels of meat, consisting of ham and beef, roast and boiled; two or three other baskets also contained meat; there were 2,000 loaves of bread, besides six barrels of biscuits; seven large cases of lemonade; three large casks of fresh water, iced; a hue basket of ripe cherries, & c.

Stops at Glenbrook and Monkstown brought aboard Reverend Webster and Felix Mullan J.P., the latter armed with two large hampers of gooseberries, footballs for the boys and smaller balls for the girls. On arriving at Aghada at 11 o’clock, the boys:

Headed by their band, they marched to the strand, and a curious scene followed. There was a simultaneous flutter of garments–the grey gave place to white linen, and that was as quickly discarded for nature’s own covering. A simultaneous rush into the sea ensued, and for the next half hour, nearly three hundred boys were gambolling boisterously in the flood.

Meantime the girls were all to taken on a trip to East Ferry, with both groups making for Rostellan demesne afterwards. After playing in the woods for a few hours, the feast began “beneath the pleasant shade of the trees”:

The boys were arranged on one side, the girls on the other; and the infants formed a separate division in the background…the several officers present, served out the food to the children according to age. All did ample justice to the viands, of which there was more than sufficient. Dr. Wise kindly added a large supply of new potatoes, hot from the kitchen of Rostellan Castle. After dinner, the girls sang a number of songs with great sweetness and singular accuracy as to time. The boys’ band also came into effective service, and two hours more having being passed in a variety of pleasant ways, the party returned to Aghada in high delight.

As the Cork Examiner noted, it does need much imagination to realise how strongly excursions such as those to Rostellan demesne “contrasted with the ordinary routine of a workhouse child’s life.” In an era when the poor were viewed as either “deserving” or “undeserving” depending on their circumstances, Workhouses were intentionally made to be unpleasant places lest the “lazy” try and exploit them. It was usually left to benevolent societies or individuals to offer additional assistance, such as raising the funds to allow for the trip to Rostellan. Visitors to the demesne today can still view the tantalising remnants of this once extravagant landscape, which in 1866 and 1867 offered Cork’s least fortunate children a few hours respite before a return to the hardship and toil that was the reality of their everyday existence.

Remains of an icehouse at Rostellan, with surviving traces of the walled garden beyond (Sara Nylund)

Remains of an icehouse at Rostellan, with surviving traces of the walled garden beyond (Sara Nylund)


Cork Examiner 19 August 1867

Cork Examiner 13 July 1868


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