CONDONS AT CLOGHLEIGH IN 2003
NOT HAVING A family castle of my own, I found it to be rather interesting recently taking a group of Condons to see one of their ancestral castles at Moorepark, Kilworth. As we walked from the farmyard in Moorepark to Cloghleigh Castle, it struck me that there was a time when the Condons would have just walked or ridden up to the castle. Nowadays they need public liability insurance and permission from State mandarins, and very helpful ones at that, working in the Moorepark research institute, which now leases the lands around Cloghleigh from Dairygold.
The ruins of Cloghleigh (‘grey-stone’) Castle stand on a commanding rock over a ford of the Funcheon river, near Kilworth village. It also overlooks the N7, which until relatively recently was the main road from Cork to Dublin. Rapidly growing tree plantations will soon conceal most if not the entire castle from the view of passing motorists who regard it as a landmark on the road.
Cloghleigh was probably built in the early 1500s and is notable for its rounded corners - a defensive feature to prevent cannon balls from chipping bits off corners whenever the building might have come under attack. Until the late 1600s, this castle was a chief residence of the Condons who held extensive lands in the Kilworth, Araglin and Fermoy areas during that period.
As I have often explained to groups visiting this castle, Cloghleigh was at the cutting edge of warfare technology at the time of its construction. There is evidence to suggest that it was originally surrounded by an outer bawn wall (now gone). Recent pioneering research by Eamon Cotter on castles along the Blackwater valley has shown that some of this wall still survives on the nearby cliff face at Cloghleigh.
Other defensive features include its very thick external stone walls that get thinner as one rises higher in the building. Any assault on the castle would have met with one obstacle after the other. Presuming that one could smash in the front door, there were still two others to destroy before gaining entry to other areas of the castle. As if that wasn’t difficult enough, this closely confined area between the three doors, known as the ‘murder hole,’ is looked down upon by a ‘tunnel’ from which defenders could have fired arrows or boiling smelly substances.
Even if the door leading to the stairs was hammered down there were still more obstacles in the way. The immediate impression on entering the castle is its darkness and the confined nature of its stairs. A stranger (presumably right-handed) would have to take a stairs rising in a clockwise direction, thereby making it easy for another right-handed defender to use his sword to keep back the attacker. Then of course, there were the ‘trip-steps’ placed at uneven heights to cause anyone unfamiliar with the castle to stumble and fall as they attempted to dash up the steep stairs.
Comparatively speaking, taking a castle required a lot more men than defending it. Taking all of Cloghleigh’s seven stories would have been an ordeal, but not, as history has shown, an impossibility. Sometimes, taking the castle had to be achieved with subterfuge. During the Desmond Rebellion in 1587, Patrick Condon had his lands seized by the English Crown, but these were restored to him in 1590, when he received a pardon from Queen Elizabeth I. However, most of his lands remained entangled in legal disputes until the 1620s, when Sir Arthur Hyde and the Fleetwoods took possession of Condon’s lands.
Prior to 1608, with the death of the last effective White Knight at Mitchelstown, the Condons regarded themselves as arch-enemies of the Roches of Fermoy. However, with the loss of the last White Knight and resulting from the increasing influence of English power, the Condons made an alliance with their former enemy, Lord Roche of Fermoy.
The most famous series of events associated with Cloghleigh took place during the Confederate War in 1642, when Lord Barrymore (from Castlelyons) took the castle. In that year, Condon sent a ‘half-witted brogue maker’ into Kilworth with a supply of drink. He was arrested by Lord Barrymore’s men who took him to the castle. The shoemaker plied the English with drink. In the dead of night, when everyone was drunk, the brogue-maker slipped open the doorway to a secret passage which allowed the Condons to enter the castle and kill all inside.
Later, in July 1642, Sir Charles Vavasour marched into Condon Country and with a much superior English army forced Cloghleigh Castle to surrender after a stout defence by a relatively small number of men. Afterwards, the English massacred twenty men, eleven women and seven children who were involved in the defence of Cloghleigh, in a form of scare tactic employed by most armies in most wars.
Later again in 1642, an Irish army under Lord Castlehaven, retook Cloghleigh. Richard Condon, Chief of the Condons, continued to resist English domination but his death in 1671, caused by a fall from his horse, ended the Condons’ claim on the property, which subsequently formed parts of the estates of the Earls of Mount Cashell, the Hydes and the Fleetwoods.
Moore Park, in which the castle is now situated, remained the property of the Earls of Mount Cashell. Their residence, Moore Park House, was built in the park in the mid-1700s. The Mount Cashells kept the castle in good repair until debts forced the last of that family to sell the park to the British War Department at the end of the 19th century. Unfortunately, Moorepark House was destroyed in an accidental fire in 1908 and was subsequently demolished.
Cloghleigh Castle stands as a fine example of an Irish tower house. Many of its earlier features may have disappeared, but the main tower still stands to its full height of seven stories – a total height of 22 metres (72 feet). Views from the castle are simply fabulous, particularly towards the south and west along the Blackwater valley.
Two of the upper floors have survived intact, as have some of the internal floor beams of another floor. Unfortunately, Cloghleigh was more often taken over by teenagers who left its upper floors littered with dozens of empty beer cans and daubed its walls with Satanic symbols and offensive foul language. This modern-day aspect of Cloghleigh was not an impressive sight for my Condon visitors, most of whom were non-Irish and visibly unimpressed by the sight of such a glorious building. Since 2003, the dorway to the castle has been closed with concrete blocks, presumably to prevent unauthorised access. That's a pity really, because it prevents access to those genuinely interested in such places.
I know that some time ago, efforts were made to restore the old castle as a Condon visitor centre with, perhaps, some other features attached such as restaurants and parking (at a suitable distance). But more often than not, the noblest of plans come to nothing.
Keywords: Barrymore, Cloghleigh, Condon, Condon, Condons, Country, Kilworth, Moorepark, Vavasour, castle, devence, history, war
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