Posts Tagged With: Rostellan Castle

A Russian Veteran who Fought Napoleon Meets a Grizzly End at Rostellan Castle

*WARNING: This post contains some graphic details and descriptions drawn from contemporary newspapers that some readers may find disturbing. 

As Napoleon Bonaparte’s troops trudged away from Moscow on their long and deadly retreat in 1812, among the troops that hounded them were the Cossacks of Count Matvei Ivanovich Platov. Somewhere in Platov’s ranks there was a 30-year-old Russian, who years later, as part of an effort to make his name more comprehensible to Westerners, would adopt the pseudonym “Charles Henson”.


Count Matvei Ivanovich Platov, who supposedly commanded Charles Henson, later a body servant at Rostellan Castle (William Beechey)

The passage of a decade found “Charles” in East Co. Cork, where the Irish and British staff of William O’Brien, the Second Marquess of Thomond, learned of his story in the servant’s quarters of Rostellan Castle. By now aged around 40, Charles claimed to have borne witness to the “burning of Moscow”, shortly afterwards receiving wounds to the head which still caused him frequent pain and distress. His general demeanour certainly matched that of a man who had seen too much of the horrors of war. He was described as having a “rather sullen temper” and was “easily excited to anger”. Nonetheless, he was also regarded as being of “sober habits” and “attentive to his business”. That business was being the body servant to the Marquis, a role he had taken up around 1820, when William O’Brien had hired him in Paris.

Shortly after 9pm on the night of 15th July 1822, one of Charles’s colleagues- butler Michael Bryant- was beginning to wind down after a long day. There was always much to do when family members were resident in Rostellan. He had just sat down in his room- which adjoined the Castle’s back staircase-when the silence was pierced by a violent scream. Leaping to his feet, Michael rushed out into the passage, just in time to see the Marquis’s daughter Sarah falling on the stairs near the first landing, blood on her hand. Running to her aid, he saw her assailant fleeing through the door at the foot of the staircase, leading to the courtyard. It was the unmistakable form of Charles Henson.




Napoleon looks on as Moscow burns. Charles Henson claimed to have been present during these events (Unknown German artist)

Within moments the entire Castle was in pandemonium. As shouts and roars erupted throughout the rooms, Michael Bryant led the injured Lady Sarah to the dining-room so her wound could be examined. Charles had apparently tried to stab Sarah in the chest, but she had deflected the blow with her right hand. With his charge now safe and surrounded by fellow servants, Michael set off in hot pursuit of his Russian colleague.

The noise and confusion that swept through Rostellan Castle reached the ears of Mary Cahill, one of the maid-servants. With a lighted candle in her hand, Mary headed off along a passage leading from the rear to the front of the house to investigate. As she passed the coal-hole, Charles Henson rushed from the shadows with a knife, attempting to stab her. Luckily for her, he missed, and the lunge glided by her side. Charles seemed to be wounded, and was clutching his midriff. He dashed past Mary down the corridor.


Rostellan Castle Photograph Adapted

Rostellan Castle in the second-half of the nineteenth century

Michael Bryant and other members of the staff were now scouring the building for Charles. Eventually, they came to the Music Room. Opening the doors they finally came upon him, horrifically injured. Michael remembered that he was standing in a “stooping posture, with his belly cut in a dreadful manner, and his intenstines falling out about the floor”. The wounds had apparently been self-inflicted.

Lord James O’Brien, the Marquis’s brother (and further 3rd Marquis) took hold of Charles, who was said to be “speaking in an incoherent manner”. It was immediately apparent that he did not have long to live, and so he was carried back to his room. In the hours that followed, some lucidity returned, and on a number of occasions Charles expressed regret for having attacked Lady Sarah, hoping she was unhurt. He lingered on until 11am the next morning, when he eventually died.



The 1812 Battle of Borodino, one of the most famous engagements of the Napoleonic Wars. Charles Henson may well have fought there (Franz Roubaud)

Understandably, the incident caused a major sensation, and was reported in newspapers across Ireland and Britain. The Coroner’s Inquest reached the following verdict with respect to the case:

We find that the said Charles Henson came by his death in consequence of several stabs inflicted by himself on the belly with a case knife, of which he languised until this morning, and then he died. And we further find that the deceased was at the time he so destroyed himself labouring under mental derangement.

The general tenor of the reporting and the statements provided by witnesses suggests that there was genuine sympathy for Charles Henson, whose acts, at least in so far as was recognisable in the 1820s, had seemingly come out of the blue. That was likely of small comfort to Lady Sarah and Mary Cahill, who both had to live with the mental scars of the attack. The pains in the head of which Charles had frequently complained were retrospectively seen as a possible contributing factor to his behaviour that night. Perhaps they were, and perhaps Charles was also suffering from what we now recognise as Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, reliving in East Cork the horrors of campaigns and battles that had occurred thousands of miles away on the approaches to Moscow.


Freeman’s Journal 23 July 1822.

The Times 24 July 1822.





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In Search of Rostellan Castle, Part 2: The Inchiquin O’Briens & Rostellan

Though it is a title and name we associate most with Co. Clare, between the 17th and 19th centuries the seat of the Inchiquin O’Briens was Rostellan Castle on the shores of Cork Harbour. As we covered in Part 1 of the series, Murrough O’Brien, Lord Inchiquin, was the first of his family to take control of Rostellan in the 17th century. In this post we will explore all the O’Briens who possessed Rostellan, with particular reference their interactions with the Castle and its demense, many of which remain imprinted on the landscape today.


Preserved as an entrance to a farmer’s field, this was once one of the principal entrances to the Inchiquin Castle at Rostellan, which stood in the far corner of the field (Damian Shiels)

Murrough O’Brien (c. 1616 – 1674), 6th Baron and 1st Earl of Inchiquin

Made Rostellan Castle his principal residence in Ireland, spending time there during the 1660s and 1670s.

Murrough, known to history as “Murchadh na dTóiteán” (Murrough of the Burnings), was the first of the O’Briens to make Rostellan Castle his home. Though his forces had briefly taken Rostellan following the 1645 siege, it was not until the restoration of Charles II that he lived there for any duration. Raised a Protestant, he earned his nickname for his ruthless prosecution of the war in the 1640s against Catholic Irish Confederates and civilians. Among his most notable victories during the conflict were at Liscarroll in 1642 and Knocknanuss in 1647, where he effectively destroyed the Confederate Army of Munster. His shifting allegiances during that period generally centred around a pursuit of his best interests and those of Munster Protestants. Though he moved to support Parliament in 1644, he maintained Royalist leanings and in 1648 he switched sides again. Cromwell’s victory in 1650 forced him into exile on the continent with other Royalists. He spent much of that decade as the French appointed Governer of Catalonia, and he converted to Catholicism in 1657. He had his son were captured by Algerian Corsairs in 1660, and the newly restored monarchy had to pay a ransom for his release. He spent much of the late 1660s and early 1670s managing his lands in Cork and Clare, the period when he was most frequently resident at Rostellan. At his death in 1674 he requested that he be buried in St. Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, long associated with the O’Briens. His infamous reputation among Irish Catholics for his actions during the 1640s have insured that he remains the most famed and notorious of Rostellan’s residents.

See John A Murhy, “O’Brien, Murrogh”, Dictionary of Irish Biography.

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

Murrough O’Brien, 1st Earl of Inchiquin, and the first O’Brien of Rostellan Castle. Painted between 1660 and 1670. (Manchester Art Gallery)

William O’Brien (c. 1640 – 1692), 2nd Earl of Inchiquin

Spent time at Rostellan Castle in the 1670s and 1680s.

Murrough’s son William succeeded to the Earldom following his father’s death (prior to which he was known as Lord O’Brien). Imprisoned in the Tower of London as a child by the Parliamentarians. He served with his father in Catalonia, and remained a Protestant after his father’s conversion. William lost an eye when he and his father were captured by the Algerian corsairs in 1660. Appointed to the Irish Privy Council in 1671, in 1674 he became the Governor of Tangier and Captain General of the King’s Forces there, a post he held for a number of years. While living at Rostellan in 1688 he decided to support William of Orange in the “Glorious Revolution”; but his attempts to raise troops in Cork against James II failed and he was forced to flee to England in 1689. There William III appointed him Governor of Jamaica, where he organised the colony to repel a French attack and put down a rebellion of some of those who were enslaved on the island. He died of disease in Jamaica in early 1691 and was buried there.

See Elaine Murphy, “O’Brien, William”, Dictionary of Irish Biography.

William O'Brien

William O’Brien, 2nd Earl of Inchiquin. Painted c. 1680. (National Army Museum)

William O’Brien (c. 1666 – 1719), 3rd Earl Inchiquin

Appears to have spent as much time as possible at Rostellan Castle, and was responsible for the early development of the estate, the impact of which is still visible on the landscape.

Surviving correspondence from the 3rd Earl places him frequently at Rostellan Castle throughout his life. He regarded it as his principal country residence in Ireland. Like his father he had declared for William III, and had served in the army for him in both Ireland and Flanders. He became Governor of Kinsale in 1693, served as a Privy Councillor, and was Mayor of Kilkenny in 1704-5. He spent considerable sums trying to improve Rostellan, beginning landscape alterations that have fundamentally altered the landscape we see today. In January 1701 he told Queen Anne that:

at a considerable expense he had prevented the tide from overflowing a parcel of land adjoining to his house at Rostellan, which would be an advantage to the harbour of Cork for small vessels and boats, if a quay was made there, and desiring her Majesty to grant to him and his heirs the said ground, containing about 150 acres; and that his manor at Rostellan might be created into a corporation, with the liberty of a Wednesday market and two fairs, on the 25 March and 15 August; free warren and park, and liberty to inclose 500 acres, paying the yearly rent of 6s 8d. The Queen complied with his request, and granting the same by patent, 20 April, 1708, he built a quay at Farset [Farsid], a place well situated for all the trade advantages of Ireland.

The works he references were the beginnings of the extensive walling and damming that created significant landscape modifications around Rostellan, most notably Rostellan Lake, which up to that point had been tidal. All this cost a lot of money. In 1708 one of his confidants and chief tenants at Rostellan wrote to Sir Donat O’Brien in Dromoland:

my unfortunate l[or]d is still ruining himself-he’ll doe it in spight of all mankinde-he has now a great house and families in Dublin, and, I am sure, the expence here [Rostellan] is not much less…

The same correspondent was similarly concerned about the vast amount of finances being put into Rostellan by the 3rd Earl in 1710:

L[or]d Inchiquin is now att Rostellan…as buesie as ever, building &c; there neaver will be an end. God help him…

The 3rd Earl died at Rostellan on 24th Devember 1719, having laboured “many years under the gout”. He was buried in Cloyne Cathedral.

See Donough O’Brien “History of the O’Briens”; John Ainsworth (ed.) “The Inchiquin Manuscripts”; John Lodge & Mervyn Archdall “The Peerage of Ireland: or A Genealogical History of the Present Nobility of that Kingdom”, Volume 2. 


William O’Brien, 3rd Earl of Inchiquin. Painted in 17th century. The modification works of the 3rd Earl ultimately created features like Rostellan Lake, and began the major process of transformation of the Rostellan estate (The Other Clare)

William O’Brien (1700 – 1777), 4th Earl of Inchiquin

Continued and improved on his father’s work on the Rostellan estate, transforming it into an extravagant demensne landscape, the masonry remnants of which survive today. He also constructed a new house on the site of the old Rostellan Castle. 

The 4th Earl spent much of his time in England, but invested considerable sums in making his Rostellan estate the fitting home for someone of his stature. In Cork, he founded the Water Club of Cork Harbour in 1720, the predecessor of the Royal Cork Yacht Club. He also served as Governor of Clare from 1741 to 1777, and was a Member of the Privy Council of Ireland from 1753. Closely connected to the House of Hanover, he was among the first to be made a Knight Companion of the Order of the Bath in 1725 when it was created by George I, and he was Lord of the Bedchamber to Frederick, Prince of Wales between 1744 and 1751. Having served in the Irish House of Lords in 1721, he held a seat as the Whig Member of Parliament for Windsor (1722-27), Tamworth (1727-34), Camelford (1741-7) and Aylesbury (1747-54). The presence of a speech impediment meant that he avoided speaking in the House where possible. The 4th Earl was also the Grandmaster of the Freemasons of England in 1740-1. He was apparently an eager supporter of the work of antiqurians and early historians, something that may have played a role in the lavish landscape works he undertook at Rostellan, replete with crenallations and follies. He died at Rostellan on 18th July 1777 and was buried in Cloyne Cathedral.

The 4th Earl’s lengthy absences from the Rostellan estate are indicated by documents such as his 6th September 1723 lease to Andrew Nason of Rostellan, which also includes an extremely extensive early description of the area:

Lease by William, Earl of Inchiquin, to Andrew Nason of Rostellan in the barony of Imokelly, Co. Cork, gent., of the following lands and tenements: the demesne lands of Rostellan, bounded on the W. with that part called “the long meadow old towne & Garetone,” S. with Jackson’s farm, E. with the Whitewell Middleton road, and N. with “the slobb or channell”; “the Millbog” lately held by Michael Gould, esq., bounded W. by the said road, S. by the lands of Ballymoleene, E. by that part of the bog now held by John Longfield, esq., “where the new road was designed to be made,” and N. by the said road; another part of Rostellan lately held by Goold, bounded S. with the channel or slob, E. by the said road, N. by the road from Rostellan masshouse to a gate on James Brooke’s land, and W. by a ditch leading from the said gate to the slob (reserving to Inchiquin the house in which William Coursey lives, the mill with the miller’s house and garden, and a house held by Jeremy Cashman); certain meadows and other lands, part of Rostellan, now held by Nason, bounded W. with James Hamilton’s holdings, S. with the Crocane road, E. with John Longfield’s holding, and N. with the Cloyne road (reserving “all the houses and gardens scituat hereon only one house wch. stands in the middle of this land and the house or houses lately built by the said Andrew Nason” and a small meadow at the back of the tenants’ gardens); the marsh or slob called “the Fossett land” taken in from the sea, bounded W. with the dam or bank, S. by the lands of Knockanemoney, E. by a ditch from Rostellan wood to Mrs Jackson’s holding (reserving that part of the marsh between Mrs. Browne’s house and the Lough). To hold Posset’s lands and the other lands to the E. of James Hamilton’s house for 20 years; the remainder for 20 years if Inchiquin or his heirs do not come to live in the mansion house of Rostellan, otherwise for 13 years. Rent £122.10., with 12d. in £ receiver’s fees, and a fat mutton or 5/- at Michaelmas, a couple of fat capons or 2/6 at Christmas, and 7 labourers and 7 horses “wth. proper carriages” or 7/6 yearly; these duties, except the last, to be at Inchiquin’s election. Nason to do suit and service at the manor courts of Rostellan; to give notice of making any ditches; and to pay £5 for breach of any covenant in the lease. Inchiquin to have the option of finishing the avenue begun on the lands, allowing in this case 1o/- to Nason for every plantation acre taken from him; and to keep in repair the dam or bank on the Fossett lands.

Maintaining the dam begun by his father at the “Fossett Lands” [presumably Farsid] is a direct reference to the dam (now road) which created Rostellan Lake.

See John Ainsworth (ed.) “The Inchiquin Manuscripts”; John Lodge & Mervyn Archdall “The Peerage of Ireland: or A Genealogical History of the Present Nobility of that Kingdom”, Volume 2. 

4th Earl

William O’Brien, 4th Earl of Inchiquin. He built on his father’s efforts to improve the estate, and constructed a new house on the site of the old Rostellan Castle. (Attributed to Hogarth, from History of the O’Briens)


The dam which the 3rd Earl had begun as a bank sometime around 1700, and which was significantly improved upon during the time of the 4th Earl in the 1720s. It ultimately created what is today known as Rostellan Lake (Damian Shiels)

Murrough O’Brien (1726 – 1808), 5th Earl of Inchiquin, 1st Marquess of Thomond

Reportedly added further to the Castle. He appears to have resided predominantly in England, visiting his Cork estates periodicially. 

The 4th Earl died without a survivng male heir, and so his title-and Rostellan Castle-passed to his nephew Murrough. The 5th Earl divided his time between Rostellan and his London residence, 39 Grosvenor Place. Born in 1726, he had reportedly held a commission with the Grenadier Guards in Germany and fought at the 1747 Battle of Lauffeld. Having served in the Irish House of Commons in the 1750s and 1760s, he was returned as Member of Parliament for Richmond in 1784. In 1783 he had become one of the first Knights of the Most Illustrious Order of St. Patrick. He was created 1st Marquess of Thomond in 1800, and Baron Thomond in 1801. He was apparently close to King George III- the following incident demonstrates the seriousness with which he took royal etiquette:

An unpleasant occurence took place on the 2d of August [1807], as their Majesties were walking on Windsor Terrace. The company was not so select as usual; many persons were turned off, being in a state of intoxication. The Marquis of Thomond, who was walking near their Majesties, seeing a person not uncovered while the King was passing, stepped up to him, and took off his hat; the man struck the Marquis and kicked him. He was immediately secured by the police officers, and kept in custody till their Majesties went off the terrace, when he was examined by Colonel Desbrow. He stated, that he had taken his hat off while his Majesty passed, and did not put it on again till his Majesty had retired ten paces. He was reprimanded and set at liberty.

The Marquis’s brother, Edward O’Brien, who served in the Royal Navy, died at Rostellan Castle in 1801 and had apparently been “brought up there”. He had joined the Naval service in 1747, and reputedly endured wrecking four times: off the coast of India, off the Cape of Good Hope (twice) and with HMS Darmouth in action. The Marquis’s himself passed away on 8th February 1808, a result of a fall from his horse in London.

See Donough O’Brien “History of the O’Briens”; Edward Holt “The Public and Domestic Life of His Late Most Gracious Majesty, George the Third”, Volume 2.


Murrough O’Brien, 1st Marquess of Thomond, wearing the Order of St. Patrick. Painted by Henry Bone (Bonhams)

William O’Brien (1765 – 1846), 6th Earl of Inchiquin, 2nd Marquess of Thomond

Predominanty resident in England, but undertook high-profile visits to his estate at Rostellan throughout his tenure. Atttempted to update elements of the Castle in the gothic style. 

The 1st Marquess having died without a living male heir, the title passed to his nephew, William O’Brien of Ennistymon. He beame a Privy Councillor and Knight of the Order of St. Patrick in 1809, and Baron Tadcaster in 1826. Though the 2nd Marquess spent the majority of his time in England, he continued to visit Rostellan for periods throughout his life, occasionally hosting grand events. On 13th October 1830 The Morning Post reported one such occasion, when the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, the 3rd Duke of Northumberland, stayed at Rostellan:

We announced in our last number that his Excellency the Lord-Lieutenant, the Duchess of Northumberland and suite, had arrived on the preceding day at Rostellan, the seat of the Marquis of THomond, where he was waited on by the Mayor and Sheriffs of the City, to congraluate him on his arrival, and to invite him to receive the address of the inhabitants, to which his Excellency graciously assented, and fixed this day for his visit.

On Thursday morning, Admiral Sir Charles Paget’s state barge, manned by the best of seamen, and commanded by Lieutenant Charles Witham, first of Semiramis, procceded to Rostellan Castle, where the Vice-Regal party embarked, amidst a royal salute from the batteries, and the Semiramis, Orestes, and Pike, vessels of war. Shortly after the Vice-Regal barge bore up the bay, amidst the cheers of thousands assembled on the hills and on the beach at Cove…The entire of yesterday was also spent in sailing about the harbour and river…In the evening the party returned to Rostellan Castle.

During much of this time the Rostellan estate was left in the stewardship of Alexander McNab, a Scotsman who farmed several hundred acres of the demesne. He held  traditional Scottish Harvest Home celebrations for his workers during the 1840s. The Marquess’s agent lived in Maryland House- in 1848 that was Joseph Haynes. Despite the hardships the country was experincing during the Great Famine, reports of visits by the Marquess to his Rostellan holdings attempted to paint a portrait of an overjoyed tenantry, only too eager to come out and perform for their landlord. The Warder and Dublin Weekly Mail of 2nd September 1848 reported one such scene at Rostellan:

The workmen on his lordship’s estate erected triumphal arches in the demsne, under which the marquis and marchioness were to pass. The gateway was ornamented with laurels and flowers, and over this “the Union Jack” proudly waved. Under the flag-staff was the motto, Cead mille failthe. At the hour appointed, several hundred of his lordship’s tenantry arrived and formed in procession along the demesne two deep. They were a remarkably respectable body of men, many of them highly intelligent and wealthy farmers, of whom any nobleman might be proud. At half-past twelve o’clock, the marquis entered his demesne, accompanied by the marchioness, Mrs. Haynes, and Mr. Haynes. On the arrival of his lordship and lady, the procession opened, and his lordship passed through, the tenantry saluting. Reaching the castle gate, the horses were taken from the pheaton, and her ladyship, accompanied by Mr. Haynes, Mrs. Haynes, and Miss Gillespie, took their plances on the handsome balcony over the entrance to the castle. The Rev. J.P. Pyne, Rector of Inch, came forward, and presented a grateful and loyal address of congratulation, to which his lordship returned an appropriate reply and promised to give 100l. to the poor of Aghada and its neighbourhood. The business of the day having been brought to a close, her ladyship called for Mr. McNab, the steward, and directed him to procure music that she might see some Irish jigs and reels. Instantly the piper was procured, and he lilted up the “Wind that shakes the Barley” to which two young women and a young man gaily danced away. No person could have enjoyed the merry scene with more pleasure than her ladyship. After several dances, the marquis called for a “horn pipe,” when a strapping, handsome lad, about six feet high. perdormed the dance with singular eclat. The marquis and marchioness, having again expressed their thanks for the compliment paid to them, drove from the demesne and through the village.


William O’Brien, 2nd Marquess of Thomond, painted between 1809 and 1826. By Samuel Freeman. (National Portrait Gallery)

See Donough O’Brien “History of the O’Briens”.

James O’Brien (1769 – 1855), 7th Earl of Inchiquin, 3rd Marquess of Thomond

The last of the O’Briens of Rostellan Castle. 

James was William’s brother, and succeeded to the title-and to Rostellan-when William died in 1846. He had spent his career in the Royal Navy, entering as a Captain’s Servant aboard HMS Hebe in 1783. He served as a Midshipman aboard the frigates HMS Pegasus and HMS Andromeda off North America and in the West Indies between 1786 and 1789, under the command of Prince William Henry, later King William IV. He was promoted to Lieutenant and next saw service on HMS Valiant in the Channel fleet. There followed stints on HMS London, HMS Artois, HMS Active, and HMS Brunswick; on the latter he fought in the 1795 naval engagement known as “Cornwallis’s Retreat” off Brittany. From the HMS Indefatigable he was given command of the sloop Childers, and in 1799 the Thisbe. From 1800 to 1804 he commanded HMS Emerald in the West Indies, and in 1803 captured the French schooner L’Enfant Prodigue. He next briefly led HMS Diadem, then between 1813 and 1815 HMS Warspite. He was made a Rear-Admiral in 1825, a Vice-Admiral in 1837, full Admiral in 1847, and Admiral of the Fleet in 1853. He had become Lord of the Bedchamber in 1830 when his old Captain, William IV, ascended to the throne.

When the 3rd Marquess had come into possession of Rostellan in 1846 he decided that he would not make it his home, and immediately delcared his intention to sell the estate and stay in England. However this sale didn’t go ahead; Irish newspapers in 1848 reported on the celebrations when he and the Marchioness visited his Irish estate. However, the long O’Brien assocation with Rostellan Castle did come to a close on with his death in 1855. With no heir, both the Marquessate of Thomond and Earldom of Inchiquin became extinct, and the Barony of Inchiquin devolved to the O’Brien Baronets of Dromoland, Co. Clare.

See William Richard O’Byrne “A Naval Biographical Dictionary”; Donough O’Brien “History of the O’Briens”


James O’Brien, 3rd and last Marquess of Thomond. His death in 1855 brought the O’Brien connection to Rostellan to an end. (History of the O’Briens)

Future posts will tell the story of Rostellan’s final owners from 1855 onwards, and explore some of the fascinating stories of the high-born women of Rostellan. In addition, there will be a detailed examination of the remaining fragments of this once impressive demensne landscape.

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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 later moved to Grange near Ovens, and was arrested in Cork following the 1660 Restoration of the monarchy. Luckily for him, his 1649 refusal to sign the execution warrant meant his life was spared. He died in Grange in 1682.


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, though it does at some point appear to have been associated by its owners with Brian Boru.

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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