Fàilte! It’s the country house that never quite was. No Wonder Mark Bence-Jones gives it short shrift in his 1988 Guide to Irish Country Houses: “A 19th century castle with a long two storey battlemented front, having a central polygon tower with a pointed Gothic doorway and a pointed window over, and a round tower at each end, five bays on either side of the centre.” Dungiven Castle has spent most of its life as a ruin albeit a picturesque one at that. It has forever resembled a rather grand stable block too. Despite a chequered past, this historic structure has proved itself to be truly sustainable forever being resurrecting as an architectural phoenix. Not many buildings have been a country house for a few years, a ruin for a few centuries, an army barracks, a dance hall, a hotel then an Irish language school. Sláinte!
The word “castle” is surely the most flexible in the architectural lexicon of Ireland. Doe Castle in Creeslough County Donegal is the real McCoy or at least the real MacSweeney: all medieval keep and working battlements. Keeps with Georgian houses would later become a genre. Ballymore Castle in Laurencetown County Galway is an example of a medieval tower house with an 1800s two storey house hugging it. Dungiven Castle belongs to an early 19th century Georgian gothic toy fort tradition which includes Carrowdore Castle in County Down (or at least the original one not the postmodern replacement) of 1818.
The other certainty is that an Irish castle is never quite what it seems. Dungiven Castle may have been built by Anglo Irish landowner Robert Ogilby between 1836 and 1839 but of course it goes back much much further. He died before its completion which explains an unusually speedy transition to ruinous status. The first castle was built by the O’Cahan family. It included a keep with round towers fitted with gun ports and earthworks defences. During the Flight of the Earls in 1607 the Clan Chief, Sir Donnell O’Cahan, was implicated in treason and had his lands and titles confiscated, including Dungiven Castle. Some time after the Plantation of Ulster, Robert Ogilby plonked his castle on top of the ruins of his predecessor’s.
“Timoleague, formerly spelt Tagumlag, Tymulagy or Tymoleague, derives its name from Tig Molaga (the house of Molaga,) an Irish saint who lived in 655 AD and to whom the abbey, built in the beginning of the 14th century was dedicated,” explains Tony Brehony in West Cork A Sort of History (1997). “St Molaga was a native of Fermoy and his principal monastery there was called Tulach Min Molaga… The town of Timoleague, and most of the adjoining countryside, belonged to the Hodnetts, an English family who came to Ireland from Shropshire. According to Charles Smith, ‘The family degenerated into the Irish customs and assumed the name of McSherry from whence came the name of the village of Courtmacsherry.’”
The first landmark that springs into vision along the coast road is the exquisite designed and exquisitely sited Timoleague House. Frank Keohane again, “The seat of the Travers family. Original house built circa 1818 and burnt in 1920. New house built in 1924 to designs by William H Hill Junior on a site closer to the castle. Exposed rubblestone walls. Hipped roof. Five bay garden front with a one-three-one rhythm and French windows.” Mark Bence-Jones provides some more detail in A Guide to Irish Country Houses (1996) “A square late Georgian house, built circa 1830 by Colonel Robert Travers. Burnt 1920; a new house built on a different site 1924 by S E Travers, to the design of W Henry Hill, of Cork. The new house is of stone, with a high eaved roof and a five bay symmetrical front, with modern casement windows; the ground floor windows having pleasantly cambered heads. Ruins of old Barry castle in grounds. Gardens with notable collection of trees and shrubs from all over the world.”
This is Anglo Irish country; West Britain to some. Tony Brehony lists the names of English settlers planted in West Cork. These surnames continue to be popular in the area: “Abbott, Adderly, Alcock, Atkins, Austen, Baldwin, Beamish, Bennett, Bernard, Berry, Birde, Blacknell, Blofield, Booll, Bramlet, Brayly, Brooke, Burwood, Cable, Cadlopp, Carey, Cecill, Chambers, Chipstow, Christmas, Churchill, Clark, Clear, Cleather, Coomes, Cooper, Corkwell, Cotterall, Cox, Crofte, Dashwood, Daunte, Davis, Deane, Dolbers, Downs, Drake, Dun, Dunkin, Elliot, Ellwell, Elms, Evans, Farre, Fenten, Flemming, Flewellan, Fondwell, Franck, Franklin, French, Frost, Fryher, Fuller, Gamon, Gardiner, Giles, Glenfoild, Grant, Greatrakes, Green, Greenway, Grenville, Griffith, Grimes, Grimstead, Grimster, Hales, Hammett, Hardinge, Harris, Harvie, Hewitt, Hill, Hitchcock, Hodder, Holbedyr, Howard, Hussey, Jackson, Jifford, Jones, Joyce, Jumper, Kent, Kerall, Kingston, Kite, Lake, Lambe, Lane, Langford, Lapp, Law, Light, Linscombe, Lissone, Little, Lucas, Margets, Martyn, Meldon, Moaks, Monoarke, Mowberry, Nelson, Newce, Newman, Osmond, Perrott, Peyton, Pitt, Poole, Popham, Porter, Preston, Radley, Rake, Rashleigh, Richmond, Saunders, Savage, Scott, Seymour, Shephard, Skence, Skinner, Skipwith, Smith, Snookes, Spenser, Spratt, Stanley, Sugar, Sweete, Symons, Synoger, Tanner, Taylor, Thomas, Thompson, Tickner, Tobye, Travers, Tucker, Turner, Valley, Vane, Vick, Wade, Ware, Warren, Watkins, Whaley, Wheatley, Wheeler, White, Wight, Williams, Willobe, Wiseman, Woodroffe, Woolfe.”
Ballinspittle lies 16 kilometres east of Timoleague and was the location of a very 1980s Catholic Ireland phenonomen. The location was a grotto outside the village to be precise. In the heady summer of 1985, a worshipper at the grotto reported that the statue of the Virgin Mary had moved. A host of Marian apparitions followed across the land. Along the roadside edge of the grotto, a balustrade of sky blue painted concrete letters reads, “I am The Immaculate Conception”. It’s very moving.