Oileán Chiarraighe – Castle of the Island: The Album

Castleisland contains a parish-church, the Roman Catholic chapel, a sessions-
house, a prison, several schools, two inns, a dispensary, and an old castle

– Parliamentary Gazetteer of Ireland, 1844-5[1]

Castleisland’s post-classical history begins with the most significant ‘old castle’ – Castle of the Island – which gave the town of Castleisland its name.  It was built by the Lord Justice of Ireland in about 1220 and it was an impressive structure:


Its walls were formerly surrounded by the rivulet Many, which was deepened and stagnated into a fosse, spanned by drawbridges, and protected by portcullises.  The castle was anciently esteemed a place of considerable strength.[2]


Eight centuries on, very little of the stronghold remains and its presence in its heyday is left very much to the imagination.



Remnants: 19th and early 20th century Ordnance Surveys reveal the outline and scattered ruins of the former stronghold at Castleview


Earlier cartographers illustrated a castle more intact. Above left, from ‘The description of the county of Kerry and Desmond with all the particular devisions of the Barranyes Thereof’ in the Carew Manuscripts, shows Castle of the Island with distinctive rampart simply but effectively. On the right, the castle as it appears in the 1729 ‘map of the Seignory of Castle Island’ (http://www.odonohoearchive.com/herbert-family-and-the-seigniory-of-castleisland/).  Centre, a 19th century photo of the castle taken by Thomas Wren of Castleisland, courtesy Robert McGuire


It is certain that, over the centuries, the castle formed the subject of many an artist’s pen and this album presents a small number of those available.  It is hoped to add more to this album as material surfaces.



Sketch of Castle of the Island from the literature of Colonel Reymond Hervé de Montmorency Morres (1767-1839)



It is appropriate that the first sketch of Castleisland Castle, presented above, comes from Colonel Reymond Hervé de Montmorency Morres (1767-1839), United Irishman, topographer, and descendant of Geoffrey De Marisco (died in 1245) who built the Castle of the Island.


Colonel Morres was born at Rathnaleen, Co Tipperary on 7 March 1767, son of Matthew de Montmorency Morres (Morris) Esq of Rathnaleen, co Tipperary and of Letteragh by Margaret, daughter of Francis Magan Esq of Emoe, Co Westmeath.[3]


He was baptised at Nenagh by three religious, Father William O’Mara (O’Meara), parish priest of Nenagh, Fr Cornelius McCormack, curate, and Most Rev Michael Peter McMahon, RC Bishop of Killaloe.


His father, Mathew Morres Esq (1726-1795) of Rathnaline, otherwise Rathmorres, as chief of his family, resumed the primitive name of De Montmorency.[4]


The distinguished career of Colonel Morres is well documented.[5]  He was twice married, first, in 1795, to Louisa, daughter of Wolfgang, sovereign baron Helmstadt at Heidelberg and lord of Bischoffsheim in Swabia. The couple resided at Knockalton, Co Tipperary.  Louisa died young and he married secondly to Helen, daughter of Bartholomew O’Neill-Callan of Osberstown House, Co Kildare, widow of Dr John Esmonde, hanged as a traitor in 1798.[6]


He published a number of his topographical and genealogical researches.[7]


Colonel Reymond Hervé de Montmorency Morres died on 9 May 1839 at St Germain-en-Laye, near Paris, aged 72.



Depictions of Castle of the Island by John Harden (1772-1847), Janet Harden (1776-1837) and anonymous



John Harden and two friends, George Holmes and William Sinnett, and a groom named Lyons, toured the south western counties of Ireland in 1797.  John, born at Crea, King’s County, kept a diary of his travels which was published in the Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society in 1953-1955.[8]


Jessy (Janet) Allan was born in Edinburgh on 25 February 1776, daughter of Robert Allan, banker, proprietor of the Caledonian Mercury and his wife Margaret Learmonth. Jessy Allan met John Harden, a young widower, on a boat crossing from Holyhead to Bray on 4 October 1801 and soon after, John sent her his sketch book.  From this, she painted a number of his etchings.  In 1803, John and Jessy were married and settled at Brathay Hall, on Lake Windermere where they raised their family.


Jessie Harden died at Fieldhead, near Ambleside, on 9 June 1837.  John Harden died at Miller Bridge, near Ambleside, on 1 July 1847 aged 76.  His genealogy is given in ‘Harden of Crea’ in Burke’s Landed Gentry (1847).


The anonymous sketch on the right of the image above, which dates to the late seventeenth to early eighteenth centuries, of such striking resemblance to Harden’s work, also bears great similarity to the work of artist, Paul Sandby Munn (1773-1845).[9]



‘Desmond Castle’ by Peter Robin Hill



One of the earliest known photographs of ‘Desmond Castle’ reveals past splendour before modern buildings closed in and concealed the view.  On the right, artist Peter Robin Hill captured the ruin in more recent times during his residency in Kerry.



Depictions of the ruin by Timothy ‘Mutt’ Murphy and Sister Margaret, Presentation Convent, Castleisland



The castle ruin presents a fascinating aspect for those with an artistic touch.  Castleislander Timothy ‘Mutt’ Murphy, whose work appears above left,  lived in the shadow of the ruin in the first half of the twentieth century.  The painting on the right, by Sister Margaret of the Presentation Convent, Castleisland, is testament to artistic talent.



Robert McGuire, Castleisland, whose film documenting the history of The Castle of the Island is due for release this year



UCC graduate Robert McGuire has a passion for the history of The Castle of the Island.  He perhaps more than most understands the central role of the castle in the town’s history.


Robert McGuire is founder of the voluntary group ‘The Castle of the Island Society’, whose film documenting the history of the Desmond Castle, entitled ‘The Castle of the Island’ is due for release later this year.  The trailer, which can be viewed here https://www.castleislandcastle.com/, includes spectacular aerial shots of the ruin, one which is no longer surrounded by a rivulet, but by rooftops, stores and parked cars.


Above Left & Right: Contemporary views of surviving turret by Robert McGuire. In the centre, a photograph © retired electronics engineer, Mike Searle, Dorset


As the town has grown up around what little remains of the castle, we are left with barely a glimpse of a structure that for so long dominated the landscape.  If you take a few moments to reflect, you will see how the ruin, though feeble, stands regally amid the rush of modern life.  It tells of a history too rich and too deep to be ignored.


[1] See logainm.ie for spelling variations of Oileán Chiarraighe. The Parliamentary Gazetteer of Ireland, 1844-45 (1846), Vol I, p364.  ‘It once had a court-house for the assizes of the county; a town-house, whose front was arcaded, and had a row of Tuscan columns; and capacious and constantly occupied barracks.’

[2] ‘The old castle was formerly called the Castle of the Island of Kerry, and is said to have been erected in 1220 by Geoffrey Maurice or De Mariscis, Lord-justice of Ireland … being held out by Sir Eustace Le Poer, Sir William Grant, and Sir John Cotterel, for Maurice Fitzthomas Fitzgerald, first Earl of Desmond, it was taken in 1345 by Sir Ralph Ufford, Lord-justice of Ireland … In the reign of James I, Castle-Island gave the title of Baron to the family of Herbert; and, in 1720, it gave that of Viscount to Sir Thomas Gage’ (The Parliamentary Gazetteer of Ireland, 1844-45 (1846), Vol I, p364).

Thomas Gage, 1st Viscount Gage, of Castle Island and Baron Gage, of Castlebar.  Died 21 December 1754 succeeded by his son, William Hall, 2nd Viscount Gage and first Baron Gage, of Firle Place, Sussex and Baron Gage, of High Meadow, in Gloucestershire.

[3] Colonel Reymond Hervé de Montmorency Morres was born in Rathnaleen Cottage (otherwise Rathnalin Lodge) located in the vicinity of the ruined castle.  Nothing remains of the property, which was illustrated only on the early OS map.

The Castle of Rathnaleen (alias Rathnalin, Rathline or Rathmorres), from Rath, and Aileen (nee O’Kennedy), wife of Fulco de Marisco Morres, who in 1304 built the castle in the valley of Glaunafoucka near Nenagh. 

[4] See Debrett’s Peerage, 1822.

[5] Dictionary of National biography (1894) edited by Sidney Lee, Vol XXXIV, pp87-89. 

[6] He left children by both wives; three of his sons, Hervé, Geoffroy and Mathieu, became officers in the Austrian service (genealogy in Debrett’s Peerage).  

The colonel had a number of siblings; his sister Anne (died 1866 aged 79) was married to William Molyneux Esq of Sligo and another sister, Barbara (who died in 1853) was wife of Thomas Church Esq of Merview, Co Dublin. 

[7] A list of the colonel’s publications, which includes Les Montmorency de France, et les Montmorency D’Irlande; ou, Précis Historique des Démarches faites a l’occasion de la reprise du Nom de ses Ancêtres par la Branche de Montmorency-Marisco-Morrès, par le Chef de cette dernière Maison, avec la Généalogie complète et détaillée des Montmorency D’Irlande (1828) is given in the Dictionary of National biography (p89, ref as above). 

[8] The original diary was donated to the Royal Irish Academy in the 1950s.  The illustration of Castleisland Castle was published in Ser. 2, Vol. 59, No. 190 (1954) of the journal.  The concluding article contained a biography of John Harden (pp84-87), and the penultimate article a portrait of John Harden.

The articles were as follows: 1953: Quane, Michael ‘Tour in Ireland by John Harden in 1797’, Ser. 2, Vol. 58, No. 187 (1953), page(s) 26-32 / Quane, Michael ‘Tour in Ireland by John Harden in 1797 (contd)’, Ser. 2, Vol. 58, No. 188 (1953), page(s) 81-90 1954: Quane, Michael ‘Tour in Ireland by John Harden in 1797 (contd)’, Ser. 2, Vol. 59, No. 189 (1954),  page(s) 34-41 / Quane, Michael ‘Tour in Ireland by John Harden in 1797 (contd)’, Ser. 2, Vol. 59, No. 190 (1954),  page(s) 69-77 1955: Quane, Michael ‘Tour in Ireland by John Harden in 1797 (Contd)’, Ser. 2, Vol. 60, No. 191 (1955),  page(s) 15-21 (image Harden) / Quane, Michael ‘Tour in Ireland by John Harden in 1797 (concluded)’, Ser. 2, Vol. 60, No. 192 (1955),  page(s) 80-87. 

See also The Old Limerick Journal, ‘Visitors’ impressions: John Harden, 1797’, Vol 41, Winter 2005.

[9] The sketch is contained in an anonymous sketch book held in the National Library of Ireland, Call No: PD 1995 TX 13.  It resembles the work held there in 'Sketch book of antiquities and landscapes in various parts of Ireland' by Rev Robert Hassel Newell and artist Paul Sandby Munn (1773-1845).