Niall C.E.J. O’Brien
Kilmacow is a townland in County Cork situated between Curraglass (County Cork) and Tallow (County Waterford) on the R628 road. It is bounded on the north by the River Bride and on the east by the county boundary. In the Archaeological Inventory of County Cork, vol. II – East and
South Cork (p. 369, no.
6380), Kilmacow castle is listed as a possible castle. We are told that on
Bateman’s map of 1716-1717, a symbol for a castle, atop a hill, is shown just a
short distance north of the Tallow-Curraglass road and some 200 meters west of
the county boundary. Charles Smith, in his History
of Waterford (1746) states that the ruins of the castle still stand but by
1750 when Smith wrote his History of Cork,
the castle had very lately fallen down. Today there is no visible surface trace
of the castle.
Location map of Kilmacow castle
What king of castle at Kilmacow?
Because the castle is no longer visible and the structure fall or was knocked down before any known images were made of it we have no idea what kind of castle it was. The assumption is that Kilmacow castle was the usual 15th or 16th century tower house type seen in many places across Ireland. Yet the castle could have been a hall house type of the 14th century – not likely – but the possibility cannot be ruled out.
Kilmacow early history
The name Kilmacow has a number of meanings. Some say it is Cill Mhochua or
Mochua’s Church while others say it is Cill
Mhac Bhuada which is Church of the son of Buadach. The early history of
Kilmacow is still uncharted and so our story begins in the 1460s. Thomas
Fitzgerald, 8th Earl of Desmond was the owner of a vast territory
which extended from Dungarvan in the east to Dingle in the west in a great arc
passing through counties Cork, Limerick and Kerry. His wife, Alice Barry,
brought the manor of Mocollop into Desmond ownership and gave Thomas five sons
to carry on the family line. After Thomas was beheaded at Drogheda
in 1467 on a trumped up charge, his sons caused a great rebellion which wasted
large parts of the country. In order to pacify the sons, great honours were
bestowed upon them but the greatest honour they got was to become Earl in their
James, the eldest, succeeded as 9th Earl and was followed by his other brothers, Maurice and Thomas as Earls. The fourth son, Sir John of Desmond was father of the 13th Earl and ancestor of all the later Earls. All this succession left the youngest son of Earl Thomas, Gerald Oge without any glory. Instead he became hereditary lord of Coshmore and Coshbride.
Kilmacow as part of Coshmore and Coshbride
This territory included the parishes of Mocollop, Tallow, Kilwatermoy and Kilcockan. The other two parishes in the district: Lismore and Templemichael were held by the bishop of Lismore and the Fitzgeralds of Dromana/Molana Abbey, respectively. At that time (c.1500) there was no set county boundary and Coshbride extended into present
and so include Kilmacow. County Cork
Gerald had four sons who succeeded to parts of this large lordship. James, the eldest, got Mocollop and the lordship of Coshmore/Coshbride title; Maurice, the second son, got Shean manor and the youngest son, John, got Strancally. The third son, Thomas, got Kilmacow and is the subject of this article.
Thomas Fitzgerald of Kilmacow
Thomas of Kilmacow, known as Thomas Oge, married the eldest daughter of John Fitzgerald, knight of Kerry (died 1595) and had children. His great-great-grandson was living in 1689.
Charles Smith, in his History of Cork, says it was Thomas’s son, John who built Kilmacow castle. The truth of this statement is a present hard to prove. It is likely that some building was erected in the late fifteenth century to accommodate Thomas and his new family. This building could have been further developed by John and hence he gets the credit for building the whole castle.
Mogeely castle and manor was until 1466 held by the Knights of Kerry. In that year he exchanged Mogeely and Aghacross with the Earl of Desmond’s property at Burnham and Clogher in County Kerry. It is assumed that the Kilmacow estate was carved out of the eastern part of Mogeely manor but this is far from certain. Manuscripts in the Lismore papers for the early years of the seventeenth century place Lisnabrin and Curraglass as part of Mogeely manor and it appears that they were formerly part of the Kilmacow estate.
Kilmacow is part of the medieval parish of Mogeely like Mogeely castle but it is possible that Kilmacow was already Fitzgerald property before 1466. It is not unusual to have a medieval parish divided by different owners. The Earl of Desmond had property interests at Tallow and Lisfinny since 1420 and possibly earlier – Kilmacow is just west of Tallow. The destruction of the archive of the Earls of Desmond and the papers belonging to the Fitzgeralds of Kilmacow and elsewhere make it near impossible to know the history of Kilmacow before it became part of the estate of Gerald Óge Fitzgerald.
Kilmacow and the county boundary
Before the mid-16th century the land south of the River Bride was located in the medieval County of Cork. When the modern county boundary was formed in the mid-century the land of the three of the four Fitzgerald brothers was made part of County Waterford. But Thomas of Kilmacow elected to have his estate in County Cork and not be with his brothers. Did Thomas do this because he got the smallest estate and was unhappy at the way his father divided the land? It is a possibility but we cannot be totally certain.
Kilmacow in the Desmond rebellions
During the later 1560s the comfortable Fitzgerald existence in Coshbride came under treat as Sir Peter Carew petitioned the crown for the renewal of fourteenth century titles, which he claimed belonged to his ancestors. Sir Peter successfully recovered lands in
Carlow from the Butlers and they a very pro-English family.
The possible lost of Fitzgerald lands was a very real possibility.
By 1569 the pressure was such that James Fitzmaurice, a cousin of the fifteenth Earl of Desmond and steward of the earldom during the continued absence of the Earl in a London prison, launched a rebellion. Many of the Fitzgeralds along with a substantial number of
lords, both Gaelic and Anglo-Irish joined Fitzmaurice. Thomas of Kilmacow was
old and infirm and so his son, John led the tenants of Kilmacow along with
those of Mogeely. A document of 1572 says that Kilmacow and the lands adjoining
was the property of Thomas and his heirs. On the bases of this information, it
is possible that Thomas died in 1572/3.
Humphrey Gilbert, the English commander, launched a short but vigorous campaign of unrestrained terror which split the rebel ranks. Most of the lords surrendered like the knight of Kerry, the White Knight, MacCarthy Mór and O’Sullivan Beare. Many of these lords joined the English side like Thomas Roe Fitzgerald of Conna. Early in the rebellion the English captured large numbers of rebel castles including Kilmacow. Yet Fitzmaurice carried on the fight with a few remaining supporters one of which was John of Kilmacow. By February 1573 the rebellion had ran its course and Fitzmaurice surrendered.
It would be September 1574 before John Fitzgerald received a pardon along with the chief tenants of Kilmacow, Mogeely and Shanakill.
During the Desmond rebellion of 1579-83, the Earl of Ormond adopted a “scorched earth” policy in the winter of 1579-80. After passing through
Ormond proceeded to Coshmore/Coshbride in December 1579 where he burnt the
lands of Sir John of Desmond at Lisfinny. In early February 1580, Sir Peter
Carew captured Strancally castle including a large amount of cattle and sheep.
The capture of animals was just as important as taking castles because they fed
your own troops while denying food to the opposing army. Coshbride was again
targeted later the same month by Sir Thomas Morgan who burnt all the towns
there. County Limerick
Sir Walter Raleigh gets Kilmacow
After the Desmond rebellion, the vast Earldom was parcelled out to English undertakers who would undertake a plantation of the province with English settlers and so make the place safe and civilised. Kilmacow castle and land was given to Sir Walter Raleigh in 1586 along with a vast estate.
Yet, peace did not immediately follow as the 1590s saw the outbreak of the Nine Years War. Many of new plantations in
Munster were captured and destroyed by the
Irish. When the war came to Coshbride, Henry Pyne (who leased Mogeely from Raleigh) petitioned the
government to put garrisons in many of the castles on the Bride including
Kilmacow and Lisfinny. Pyne’s own castle already had fifty troops from the Lord
President of Munster.
In addition, Pyne wanted to be military commander of the Coshmore/Coshbride barony.
The government referred Pyne’s petition to the new Lord President, Sir George
Carew, to use his own judgement and lessen Pyne’s wild ideas.
Meanwhile, Sir Walter Raleigh was developing his new estates and parcelling out the land to new tenants. In 1586,
Raleigh gave Kilmacow to Richard Joke with
one ploughland adjoining. After a few years of enjoyment, the latter assigned
the property to Richard Chishull in 1593.
One of these transactions was by a long term lease as an inquisition held at Tallow
in 1604, into the extent of Raleigh’s lands, fails to mention Kilmacow. Instead
we find one of the jury members at the inquisition was William Chisell of
Kilmacow, gent. William
was likely to be a son of Richard.
Sir Richard Boyle gets Kilmacow
Two years before, in 1602, Raleigh sold his Irish property to Sir Richard Boyle. In the deed of transfer we are told that half the towns and villages of Templevalley, Curriglass, Lisnabrin and the Parson’s Close passed to Boyle. These lands formerly formed part of Kilmacow estate as Samuel Lewis, in his Topographical Dictionary states that the Croker family of Lisnabrin once owned the site of Kilmacow castle and if so this would suggest that both townlands were once part of the one estate of Kilmacow.
In a schedule of deeds accompanying the sale we are told that Mr. Lechland, merchant, held 400 acres of Templevalley and Curriglass in fee farm for ever from
Raleigh while John Barbisher,
merchant of London
held two ploughlands in the same two townlands. In another place we find that
Denis Fisher, gent, rented the Parson’s Close and Lisnabrin.
The Chishull family were the owners of the unsold half of Kilmacow estate. The
Fitzgerald family stayed on as tenants of the new owners just as they had been
tenants of the Earls of Desmond. In 1617 Thomas Fitzjohn Fitzgerald leased some
land at Kilmacow to Giles Smyth.
William Chishull was old by 1611 and it was his son, William Chishull, junior who attended the military review at Tallow in that year. By May of 1612, William senior had died and his son agreed to sell half of Kilmacow, and the fourth part of the ironworks situated in the townland, to Richard Boyle for £218 7s. Thomas Ball of
purchased the other half of the property for slightly more than Boyle’s
The story of the Kilmacow ironworks is for another day. Instead we move this story forward thirty years to the 1640s. A report, carried in the Topographical Dictionary of Ireland (1837) by Samuel Lewis, says that during the Confederate War when in 1644, the Irish seized the castle from Sir Philip Perceval. Shortly after, the castle was restored to Perceval by the Supreme Council at Kilkenny because it was seized during a period of truce. Lewis called the castle Ballymacow and said it referred to Kilmacow castle. Other writers continued the association but G. O’Connell Redmond questioned its correctness.
Redmond says that Percival had a castle near Churchtown in north Cork called Ballymacow. This townland of Ballymacow had its name changed to Egmont and gave the title of Earl of Egmont to the Percival family. The Percival family did have association with Kilmacow when the great grandson of Sir Philip, Rev. Charles Perceval, lived at Springdale House, Kilmacow, which is located a short distance south-west of the castle while serving as rector of Mogeely from 1759 to 1785.
A more sure statement about Kilmacow during the Confederate War comes from a letter of Dean Naylor of Lismore to the Earl of Cork. He reports that soldiers, and English tenants from Camphire, robbed the Earl’s Irish tenants along the Bride River. Following this assault, Irish rebels came to robbed more tenants. At the start of March 1642, an English army passed through the area which quieted matters for awhile. But they were no sooner gone than the Irish tenants of Kilmacow and Lisfinny castles sallied forth to rob more of the earl’s Irish tenants. Dean Naylor spent two days in Camphire, Lisfinny and Kilmacow where he only recovered some of the stolen goods. Later, in the summer of 1645, it was captured by the Earl of Castlehaven for the Irish side. On that occasion, the Earl captured all the English castles on the Blackwater and Bride before coming to a halt before the walls of Youghal. Following an unsuccessful siege, the Irish withdrew north of the Blackwater and Kilmacow was retaken by the English.
Castle site, marked by umbrella, and Springdale House in the background
The Civil Survey of Irish property in 1654 has not survived for east Cork and so we get no picture of Kilmacow following the years of war. The taxation poll of 1660 says that there were thirty-three adult tax payers in Kilmacow townland of which five were of English extraction. This would give a total population of about seventy. No Fitzgerald was listed in the numeration of the principal Irish surnames in the Kinnatalloon barony.
The Earl of Cork remained the owner of Kilmacow through successive generations and was succeeded by the Dukes of Devonshire in the 18th century. Kilmacow remained with the Devonshire’s until the Land Acts of the late 19th century when the land was parcelled out to the tenants as the new owners. In 1895 John Murphy of Tallow purchased the castle farm at Kilmacow for five hundred pounds.
Kilmacow castle in the 18th Century
It is possible that the castle was in ruins by 1660 and its stone was used to construct other buildings in the area. This practice, may have contributed to rapid collapse of the castle, in the next century. It is the opinion of the landowner that the castle was knocked down in about 1745-1750 to provide stone for the building of Springdale House and its outbuildings as short distance to the south-west. A mound of earth and stone marked the site of the castle until the 1960s with a hen house on top. In an era of land ‘improvements’ the mound was flatten and the material pushing into a deep ditch to the north of the site. The castle site is now flat with no visible evidence of a structure although some walls maybe still under the surface.
Cornerstones of Springdale House that could be from the castle
Anon, Conna in History and Tradition (Conna, 1998)
Ball, S. (ed.), Calendar of Lismore Papers at the National Library of Ireland (Dublin, 2008)
Brewer, J.S., and Bullen, W. (eds.), Calendar of Carew manuscripts at Lambeth (6 vols. Liechtenstein, 1974 reprint), vol. 1 (1515-1574)
Burke’s Landed Gentry of Ireland, 1899
Grosart, Rev. A., The Lismore Papers (London, 1888), 2nd series, volume V
Hajba, A.M., Houses of Cork, volume 1 – North Cork (Whitegate, 2002)
Hayman, Rev. S., The hand-book for Youghal (Youghal, 1896)
McCormack, A., The Earldom of Desmond 1463-1583: the Decline and Crisis of a Feudal Lordship (Dublin, 2005)
Redmond, G. O’Connell, ‘The castles in North-East Cork and near its Borders’, in Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society, vol. 24, no. 11, pp. 1-6
Redmond, G. O’Connell, ‘The castles in North-East Cork and Near its Borders’, in the Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society, vol. 24 (1918), pp. 62-66, at p. 62
Redmond, G. O’Connell, ‘The castles in North-East Cork and near its Borders’, in Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society, vol. 24, no. 11, pp. 145-151
Pender, S. (ed.), A Census of Ireland circa 1659 (Dublin, 2002)
Power, D. (ed.), Archaeological Inventory of County Cork, vol. II – East and South Cork (Dublin, 1994)
Fiants of Queen Elizabeth, no. 2471
End of post
 Denis Power (ed.), Archaeological Inventory of
vol. II – East and South Cork ( Dublin,
1994), p. 369, no. 6380
 Redmond, G. O’Connell, ‘The castles in North-East Cork and near its Borders’, in Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society, vol. 24, no. 11, p. 2
 Anon, Conna in History and Tradition (Conna, 1998), p. 15
 Redmond, ‘The castles in North-East Cork and Near its Borders’, in the Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society, vol. 24 (1918), pp. 62-66, at p. 62
 McCormack, A., The Earldom of Desmond 1463-1583: the Decline and Crisis of a Feudal Lordship (Dublin, 2005), p. 116
 Brewer, J.S., and Bullen, W. (eds.), Calendar of Carew manuscripts at Lambeth (6 vols. Liechtenstein, 1974 reprint), vol. 1 (1515-1574), p. 417
 McCormack, The Earldom of Desmond 1463-1583, pp. 118-25
 Fiants of Queen Elizabeth, no. 2471
 McCormack, The Earldom of Desmond 1463-1583, p. 150
 Brewer and Bullen (eds.), Calendar of Carew manuscripts at Lambeth, vol. 2 (1575-1588), p. 452
 Brewer and Bullen (eds.), Calendar of Carew manuscripts at Lambeth, vol. 3 (1589-1600), pp. 477-8
 O’Connell Redmond, ‘The castles in North-East Cork and near its Borders’, p. 150
 Hayman, Rev. S., The hand-book for Youghal (Youghal, 1896), pp. 19-20
 Anon, Conna in History and Tradition (Conna, 1998), p. 23
 Hayman, The hand-book for Youghal, pp. 17-18
 Ball, S. (ed.), Calendar of Lismore Papers at the National Library of Ireland (
2008), p. 104 referring to manuscript MS 43,156/4
 Brewer and Bullen (eds.), Calendar of Carew manuscripts at Lambeth, vol. 6 (1603-1624), p. 90
 Grosart, Rev. A., The Lismore Papers (London, 1888), 2nd series, volume V, p. 250
 Anon, Conna in History and Tradition, p. 23
 Redmond, ‘The castles in North-East Cork and near its Borders’, in Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society, vol. 24, no. 11, pp. 145-51, at p. 150
 Hajba, A.M., Houses of Cork, volume 1 – North Cork (Whitegate, 2002), p. 158
 Burke’s Landed Gentry of
, 1899, p. 362 Ireland
 Grosart, The Lismore Papers, 2nd series, volume V, pp. 16, 17
 Pender, S. (ed.), A Census of Ireland circa 1659 (Dublin, 2002), p. 234
 Hajba, Houses of Cork, volume 1 – North Cork, p. 335
 Interview with the landowner, John Paul Murphy on 16th April 2017