Trick or Treat? The haunting of Castlemartyr Castle in the early Seventeenth Century

Castlemartyr Capella Hotel

Castlemartyr at dusk – the south front of the old castle consists of the tall medieval tower-house on the right and the lower early seventeenth century manor house with its three vast chimneys. The tall gable wall on the left indicates the size of the roof of the old manor house. The manor house was probably added by Edmund FitzJohn FitzGerald between 1611 and 1641.

With Halloween fast approaching there may be a tendency in Ireland to bemoan the Americanisation of the ancient Irish festival of Samhain. However this post will recount details of events in Castlemartyr that might suggest superstitions could be manipulated for other purposes, even as early as the first decades of the seventeenth century.

An Englishman travelling about Ireland in the 1620s befriended Charles McCarthy, later created Viscount Muskerry in 1628. McCarthy, a major Gaelic landowner in County Cork, and a Catholic, was the owner of Blarney Castle. He was well connected and no doubt regaled his visitor with tales of the stone built into his castle that conferred eloquence on those who kissed it. Whether it was the present Blarney Stone or not is open to question.

McCarthy may have been suspicious of the Englishman’s tour – was he a spy sent to identify vulnerable estates that could be seized by the Crown and granted to English planters? Taking the visitor on a tour, McCarthy took him first to Castlelyons to meet the young Lord Barrymore – a scion of the Anglo-Irish Barry family who had married a daughter of Richard Boyle, Earl of Cork. From Castlelyons, the travellers went towards Youghal, but with darkness approaching, they stopped at Castlemartyr for the night.

In those days Castlemartyr was the residence of Edmund FitzJohn FitzGerald, the son of the last effective Seneschal of Imokilly who had died in confinement in Dublin Castle in 1589 just before the order for his release arrived from London. Edmund was only about eighteen months old when his father died. However, despite the fact that his father had twice rebelled against Elizabeth I in the space of ten years, the family estate at Castlemartyr was not confiscated. So, when Edmund came of age about 1610/1611, he inherited his father’s estate. It was almost certainly after this time that Edmund modernised the old castle by adding a modern manor house to his tower house.

Charles McCarthy was certainly the reason why the English traveller was granted ‘meat and bed’ for the night at Castlemartyr, although traditional hospitality would certainly have seen him fed and housed for the night. Another detail would have helped – Edmund FitzGerald was a Catholic, just like McCarthy. One would give much to learn what topics were part of the dinner conversation, but one suspects that land and lineage may have been among the subjects discussed. These were normal subjects of conversation in a status conscious age. One wonders if their host recounted the tale of the execution of his grandmother, Shylie O’Carroll, who was hanged from the gateway of Castlemartyr during the Second Desmond Rebellion in an effort to persuade the Seneschal to surrender Castlemartyr. (Local legend has it that Shylie was hung from the castle gateway, but it seems she was hung in Cork.)

Following a grand meal, the guests were escorted to their chambers. Unusually, instead of being housed in the same room, the Englishman was given a room of his own, with a large window overlooking the park. Having got himself undressed, the visitor, locked the door and climbed into his comfortable bed, and extinguished his taper. A low fire in the grate was all that lit the chamber.

Some time later, the visitor’s sleep was interrupted by a noise. It emanated from the direction of the door into the room. But the door was locked but someone clearly tried to gain entry into the bedchamber. Footsteps sounded outside, departing from the door. Imagining that he was about to be murdered, the visitor cowered under the bedclothes awaiting his fate. All was quiet again for a time, the dying embers of the fire cast eerie shadows around the room.  Reassured that the door was secure, the Englishman dozed off again.

Castlemartyr scale

The scale of Castlemartyr is indicated by the size of the children in the photo. Note how the manor house has its windows on the upper floor.

It happened again…..footsteps outside his chamber, another attempt to open the door. This time more violently – the terrified Englishman was convinced now that somebody meant to do him harm. After all this was a Papist Irish household and he was a good Protestant Englishman. He cried out to the intruder but got no response. A sound of laughter, followed by receding footsteps suggested that the intruder had departed.

By now the visitor was very worried. He reached for his taper and  took it to the fire to light it from the last embers. This feeble light was to be his comfort for the rest of the hours of darkness. Wide awake now, and peeping from beneath the bed cover the Englishman contemplated his own, possibly immanent, mortality. Some time later, perhaps an hour or two, there was a noise at his window. It seemed as if someone was tapping on the glass. But that was impossible – the chamber was on an upper floor!

The tapping stopped and all was quiet again. By now the taper had burned very low and soon it would go out.  Then a shadow appeared on the ceiling, a figure seeming to reach into the chamber to open the door from inside. By now the taper was extinguished and the only remaining light came from the dying embers of the fire.  Once again footsteps sounded outside, this time very faint. Once again the door rattled as someone tried to gain entry.

It was too much for the petrified visitor, who spent the rest of the hours of darkness crouched under the bed, wrapped in a sheet. As soon as it was daylight, he got out, dressed quickly and opened the door to head out. The household was about to have breakfast, but the Englishman begged Charles McCarthy to depart with him immediately and speed on to Youghal. Despite McCarthy’s protests, the Englishman’s fears prevailed and they left at once…..

Witch Hunt

Brutal witch hunts seem to have been more common in Scotland, England, and the Continent than in Ireland. Religious disputes and land ownership were the principal concerns in Ireland, although Florence Newton of Youghal was prosecuted as a witch on September 11th 1661!

This strange tale was recounted some years ago at a lecture  given in the Hunt Museum, Limerick. The lecturer suggested that a number of factors made the tale interesting. A Catholic Irish gentleman escorted a Protestant visitor to the home of a long established Catholic gentry family with a rebellious lineage. This was a time when the Plantation of Ulster was under way. The Elizabethan Plantation of Munster was still fresh in Irish minds, and the English adventurers, like Richard Boyle, Earl of Cork, were known for their rapacious acquisition of land – from whatever source. Families like the McCarthys of Muskerry and the FitzGeralds of Imokilly were wary of these interlopers. Was there a ghost in Castlemartyr that night?

Blarney Castle

Blarney Castle was the seat of Charles McCarthy, who may have recounted the tale of the stone that granted eloquence….

It seems likely that, with or without the prior knowledge of Edmund FitzGerald, members of the household at Castlemartyr tried to frighten the English visitor and discourage him from giving a good account of his visit, thereby discouraging any possible ‘claims’ by an English planter on the Castlemartyr estate. The ‘haunting’ of Castlemartyr by a poltergeist that night seems to have been a defensive mechanism by the household. In an age of superstition, when women were persecuted in large numbers as witches, this was a highly successful strategy by the FitzGeralds of Castlemartyr. It is interesting that this tale appears to be the earliest example of ‘trick or treat’ known in an Irish context!

Happy Samhain….or Halloween .

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The Bloody Hounds – a public lecture on the Fitzgeralds of Imokilly

The latest public lecture in Midleton Library will be a survey of the history of the Fitzgeralds of Imokilly from 1177 to the early 20th century.

It will cover the early Fitzgeralds in Imokilly to the 1280s, the intervention of the 4th Earl of Desmond in the 1300s, and arrival of Sir Maurice Fitzgerald. Knight of Kerry, before 1400 followed by the arrival of his sons in the decades following. The Seneschals of Imokilly have a starring role as does the Elizabethan loyalist Dean of Cloyne, Sir John FitzEdmund Fitzgerald of Ballymaloe. The lecture will then follow the fortunes of the Fitzgeralds of Ballycrenane and of Corkbeg – the latter being the last of the Fitzgeralds descended from Sir Maurice to have kept their estates in the area.

The lecture will take place on Saturday 28th May at 12.00 noon.

It’s free and all are welcome!

 

Tony Poster

The ‘last’ of the Imokilly Geraldines.

Castlerichard, near Killeagh, was formerly known as Inchinacrenagh. It was one of the principal seats of the Fitzgeralds of Imokilly and stands overlooking the Womanagh River, near the place that Diarmait MacMurrough is said by some to have left for England to seek help - thus bringing the Anglo Normans to Ireland, including the Fitzgeralds. Inchinacrenagh may have been the first seat of the Seneschals of Imokilly.

Castlerichard, near Killeagh, was formerly known as Inchinacrenagh. It was one of the principal seats of the Fitzgeralds of Imokilly and stands overlooking the Womanagh River, near the place that Diarmait MacMurrough is said by some to have left for England to seek help – thus bringing the Anglo Normans, to Ireland, including the Fitzgeralds. Inchinacrenagh may have been the first seat of the Seneschals of Imokilly.

This post is dedicated to a lady in Australia who is a direct descendent of the Seneschals of Imokilly.

Sunday, 26 July 2015 is the ninetieth anniversary of the death of Dr Richard Fitzgerald of Midleton.  A graduate of Queen’s College Cork, now University College Cork, he completed his medical studies in Glasgow and Edinburgh before returning to his native town as a doctor in general practice and as dispensary doctor attached to Walshtownmore East dispensary. He was held in high regard by all, especially the poor of whom he seemed to take special notice. Dr Richard was the son of Maurice Fitzgerald, who had managed the Munster Bank, later the Munster and Leinster Bank, in Midleton. Dr Richard Fitzgerald was unmarried and was survived by two sisters – one was Sr Mary Francis Fitzgerald of the Mercy Convent in Kinsale, and the other was Ms Charlotte Fitzgerald of Midleton, who was strangely omitted from the notice of his death. Richard Fitzgerald was buried in the family grave in Tallow county Waterford on Tuesday 28 July 1925. Richard’s father, Maurice had possession of a coloured stone known as the Imokilly Amulet. Strangely the present author saw another coloured stone in Glin Castle, County Limerick, some years ago. This stone was also known as the Imokilly Amulet. The late Desmond Fitzgerald, the 29th and last Knight of Glin, said it came into his family when an eighteenth century ancestor married Mary Fitzgerald of Imokilly, who brought the amulet with her to Glin. It seems odd that in the late 19th century the amulet was said to be housed in a bank in Midleton, presumably Maurice Fitzgerald’s bank. It is possible that there were TWO amulets linked to the Fitzgeralds of Imokilly.

Old Bank House on Main Street Midleton is the former premises of the Munster Bank, later the Munster and Leinster Bank, managed by Maurice Fitzgerald, the father of Dr Richard Fitzgerald. This is where the Imokilly amulet was said to have been kept.

Old Bank House on Main Street Midleton, is the former premises of the Munster Bank, later the Munster and Leinster Bank, managed by Maurice Fitzgerald, the father of Dr Richard Fitzgerald. This is where the Imokilly amulet was said to have been kept.

Why does this matter? And for that matter, why was Dr Richard referred to as the ‘last of the male line of the Imokilly (Castlerichard) Geraldines’?  The word ‘Geraldines’ refers to anyone with the name Fitzgerald. Clearly there were plenty of Fitzgeralds in Imokilly at the time – including the Penrose-Fitzgeralds. The reference is to the office of Seneschal of Imokilly, created in the fifteenth century.  The medieval office of seneschal was that of a governor of detached lands belonging to a monarch or feudal lord. The manor of Inchiquin in Imokilly and other lands had become the source of some legal disputes in the later 1300s. The Butlers of Ormond were one of the claimants, as were the Fitzgeralds of Desmond. But the Crown also had claims of inheritance, as did other parties. The whole matter was fraught with expense and offered serious potential for strife. By creating the office of seneschal the authorities could govern these debatable lands with some profit, whilst avoiding further disputes. Thus the term ‘Imokilly Geraldines’ goes back to the 1420 when James Butler, 4th Earl of Ormond, and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, created the post of Seneschal of Imokilly for his cousin, James FitzGerald, 4th Earl of Desmond (also called ‘the Usurper’). Shortly after this the Earl of Desmond made over this post to his kinsman from Kerry, Richard FitzMaurice FitzGerald. Richard’s older half-brother, Edmund, had already moved to Rathcoursey and Ballycrenane in Imokilly, which he inherited from his mother, Marjorie de Courcey. Richard FitzMaurice FitzGerald was now officially the most powerful layman in Imokilly. Where he settled is debatable – but it is suggested that his base was at Inchinacrenagh or Castle Richard as it is now called, from a later descendant. In theory the post of seneschal should have been granted to someone else on Richard’s death, but it went to his son Maurice and thereafter became hereditary. Effectively this put the FitzGeralds of Imokilly on a par with the hereditary Knights of Kerry and of Glin and the White Knight (FitzGibbon). These hereditary knighthoods were unusual, indeed unique to the Desmonds, but did not carry the title ‘Sir’. They were a form of Gaelicization of English titles – the Fitzgeralds of Desmond were clearly going native. During the next century, Richard FitzMaurice’s descendents spread rapidly through Imokilly acquiriing estates and building tower houses.

The sad ruins of Ballyoughtera Church near Castlemartyr house a tomb that was the burial place of the Fitzgeralds, Seneschals of Imokilly.

The sad ruins of Ballyoughtera Church near Castlemartyr house a tomb that was the burial place of the Fitzgeralds, Seneschals of Imokilly.

Maurice, the second Seneschal of Imokilly, settled at Ballymartyr, now called Castlemartyr. This move westwards was probably to ward off the encroaching Barry family, who held the next barony of Barrymore. It is likely that Maurice built most of the castle that gives the village its modern name. This location placed the Seneschal in a position from which it proved easier to dominate the whole barony. Maurice was succeeded by his son Edmund. Edmund upset everyone by getting his son, John, appointed Bishop of Cork and Cloyne, to the chagrin of the Earl of Desmond and the opposition of the MacCarthy clan. Thus began the clerical line of the FitzGeralds of Imokilly. Edmund was succeeded by his son Richard as fourth Seneschal and Richard was succeeded by his son Maurice. Maurice’s son Edmund became the sixth seneschal, who probably died before 1565, for his son John FitzEdmund FitzGerald was then assisting the Earl of Desmond at the Battle of Carrigaline. This John FitzEdmund FitzGerald was one of the key figures involved in the two Desmond Rebellions, being a key ally of the ‘Archtraitor’, James FitzMaurice FitzGerald, who had instigated the rebellions. Pardoned after the first rebellion, FitzEdmund was very quick to join the second revolt. Narrowly failing to kill or capture Captain Walter Raleigh at Chore (now Midleton) in 1582, John FitzEdmund was besieged at Castlemartyr by Thomas Butler, Earl of Ormond and Raleigh. The Seneschal’s mother, brother and infant son were executed by the Crown forces in front of his eyes at Castlemartyr, a gesture that, one presumes, is unlikely to have encouraged his loyalty to Queen Elizabeth I. (Bizarrely, the Castlemartyr Resort Hotel, which stands next to the castle where this took place, now provides clients with Lady FitzGerald’s Afternoon Tea – I have been reliably informed that this is a reference to Lady Arnott, née Fitzgerald, who bought the estate in 1906. It has nothing to do with the poor woman who was so brutally executed.) Eventually, in 1583, reduced to just twenty-eight men, John FitzEdmund FitzGerald, Seneschal of Imokilly, surrendered. Allowed to retain his lands and behaving himself, the Seneschal must have been surprised to be imprisoned by Thomas Norris in 1587. He was held in Dublin Castle while the Crown and various ambitious planters and officials argued over the division of his estate of thirty-six thousand acres. But before he could be released with most of his estate restored, the last real Seneschal of Imokilly died in his prison in 1589.

Castlemartyr Castle was the principal seat of the FitzGeralds, Seneschals of Imokilly.  Called the 'Madrai na Fola' or Hounds of Blood for their savagery.  The towerhouse  at the right is the most authentic FitzGerald structure. The great chimneys come from the manor house later constructed within the walls of the castle by Edmund Fitzgerald in the early 17th century..

Castlemartyr Castle was the principal seat of the FitzGeralds, Seneschals of Imokilly. Called the ‘Madrai na Fola’ or Hounds of Blood for their savagery. The towerhouse at the right is the most authentic FitzGerald structure. The great chimneys come from the manor house later constructed within the walls of the castle by Edmund Fitzgerald in the early 17th century. The castle was confiscated under Cromwell and given to Roger Boyle, Lord Broghill, whose descendents held it until the twentieth century.

John FitzEdmund FitzGerald’s young son, Edmund, was just a year and a half old when his father died. Granted to Captain Moyle as a ward, Edmund was eventually restored to most of his father’s estate in 1609. He is credited with adding the large  and domestic range on to the tower house built by his ancestors. However, although Edmund was called Seneschal locally, even by Richard Boyle, Earl of Cork, he was not officially recognized as such, the post being deemed to have died with his father. With improved government control in County Cork the Crown felt it no longer required a seneschal in Imokilly. The involvement of Edmund’s son, Colonel Richard Fitzgerald, in the rebellion of 1642 threatened everything. Much of Imokilly was controlled by the Protestant army of Cork, controlled by Lord Inchiquin and Lord Broghill. When Cromwell’s forces overran Ireland. Edmund went into exile in Brussels where he died in 1654. Colonel Richard returned from exile with Charles II and was restored to some of his father’s lands at Glenageare and Inchinacrenagh, but Ballymartyr or Castlemartyr was now securely in the hands of Roger Boyle, Lord Broghill.

hic Jacet Geraldi de Imokille - here lie the Geraldines of Imokilly. The tomb of the Fitzgeralds of Imokilly in Balloughtera church.

Hic Jacent Geraldi de Imokelly – here lie the Geraldines of Imokilly. The tomb of the Fitzgeralds of Imokilly in Balloughtera church. Note the boar crest at the top – this seems to have been adopted as the specific crest of the Seneschals. The design of the tomb and the lettering suggest a seventeenth century date of construction.

Colonel Richard Fitzgerald gave his estate at Inchinacrenah to his younger brother Maurice, while Richard’s son Edmond inherited the main Glennageare estate. Although he supported the Catholic King James II, Edmund managed to hang on to some property, which was inherited by his son John in 1699. John moved to Ballinacorra and conformed to the established Church to retain his estates under the Penal Laws.  Appropriately, John Fitzgerald, the would-be Seneschal of Imokilly, even became MP for Castlemartyr in 1727, but died the next year leaving only a sister, Mary, to inherit. She married Thomas FitzGerald, the Knight of Glin, and is said to have worn the trousers in the marriage, being known as the Bean Rídere or Lady Knight. She is also credited with bringing to Glin Castle the amulet that the present author saw there. With the death of John Fitzgerald MP in 1728 there ended the direct line of descent from John FitzEdmund FitzGerald who died as the last effective, and real, Seneschal of Imokilly in Dublin Castle in 1589.

The Imokilly Amulet was a 'luck' or charm that was claimed to protect the Fitzgeralds and their property from harm.  One 'Imokilly Amulet' was seen by the author in Glin Castle County Limerick, but where did Maurice Fitzgerald's amulet end up?

The Imokilly Amulet was a ‘luck’ or charm that was claimed to protect the Fitzgeralds and their property from harm. One ‘Imokilly Amulet’ was seen by the author in Glin Castle County Limerick, but where did Maurice Fitzgerald’s amulet end up?

But what of the descendents of Maurice who inherited Inchinacrenagh from Colonel Richard?  Maurice died in 1699, being succeeded by his son Richard, who died in 1735. This Richard inherited from his cousin, the MP John Fitzgerald, any claim to the title Seneschal of Imokilly. Richard was succeeded by his son Richard who actually changed Inchinacrenagh to Castle Richard, the name by which it is known today. Hence the reference to the Castlerichard Geraldines in the death notice of Dr Richard Fitzgerald of Midleton. However this Richard Fitzgerald did not inherit everything – the Penal Laws required that the estate be split if the heirs were Catholic – so the townland of Carrigrostig was inherited by his younger brother, Dr Thomas Fitzgerald of Youghal, On Richard’s death his estate was inherited by his son, Richard Óg (Richard the younger), while the younger son, Dr Maurice Fitzgerald of Killeagh, inherited his unmarried uncle Thomas’s lands of Carrigrostig. The Penal Laws were no longer in force so it was now possible to pass on the full inheritance. Richard Óg’s son, John Fitzgerald, ran into financial difficulties in the 1850s and sold Castlerichard. Thus ended the Fitzgerald connection to one of the finest tower-houses in Imokilly. But the claim to the title Seneschal of Imokilly did not die with John – for the descendents of Dr Maurice Fitzgerald inherited the claim, although they no longer held any of the land. Thus, Dr Richard Fitzgerald of Midleton was a direct descnedent of Dr Maurice Fitzgerald of Killeagh and Carrigrostig, who was himself a direct descendant of John FitzEdmund FitzGerald, Seneschal of Imokilly, who died in Dublin Castle in 1589. Apparently this is what the Cork Examiner was referring to when Dr Richard was called ‘the last of the male line of the Imokilly (Castlerichard) Geraldines.’  It happened exactly ninety years ago.

Sic transit gloria Geraldi de Imokelly

Link (death notice of Dr Richard Fitzgerald of Midleton, published in the Cork Examiner 28th July 1925):- DrRichardFitzGerald. .References. Paul MacCotter: ‘The Fitzgeralds of Imokilly’ in The Book of Cloyne, edited by Pádraig Ó Loingsigh, Cloyne Literary and Historical Society 1994. ‘Pedigree of Ftizgerald, Knight of Kerry; of Fitzgerald, Seneschals of Imokilly; and of Fitzgerald of Cloyne,’ in Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland Vol 4, no 27, 1876.