/Curragh Castle

Curragh Castle

Curragh Castle
Currach: a marsh

The McAuliffe Castle at Curragh, near Kanturk, of which little trace now remains …


the Liscarroll Castle ruins: which give some indication of what earlier ‘Curragh’ ruins may have looked like …

Ordnance Survey 23:10:3 (388,279) Castle (Site of) (1937) Ordnance Datum 200-300 feet 13819, 10404 :  In level pasture, on East bank of Allow River. Heavily overgrown area with earthen bank visible (Height .04 metres) curving North East to South East; remainder of area inaccessible owing to overgrowth. No visible remains of castle. According to Bowman(The Placenames and antiquities of the barony of Duhallow. Unpublished these UCC 1934 p.188), Egmont House, c.75 metres to West across river, is built on site of castle. Healy (The Castles of County Cork. Mericer Press. Cork 1988, p.325) was informed locally that road between river and house was built on castle site. Castle of the Mac Donagh Mac Carthys (O Murchadha, D., Family names of County Cork. Glendale Press. Dun Laoghaire 1985, p.63)
Locally pronounced ‘Craw’, Curragh appears to have been an earlier castle of the MacAuliffe Clan in this part of the Duhallow country of North Cork … before being taken over by the McDonagh MacCarthys in the 16th century.

The McDonagh MacCarthys made Curragh their main castle near the town of Kanturk before Dermot MacOwen MacCarthy began to build the towering Kanturk castle, which is now a ruin just south of that town.

Curragh is on the road from Kanturk to Freemount, about a mile north of the town, in the grounds of what is now O’Callaghans removed house, formerly the ‘Bolsters’, and originally built by Neptune Blood early in the 19th century. This is on the west bank of the River Allow and the Curragh castle-site seems to have been over the river, slightly to the northeast of the present house.

The Four Masters mention that the castle of Ceann Tuirc was taken by Gearoid Mor MacCarthy when he moved into Cork in 1510 AD. Curragh is obviously meant since there was no other castle near Kanturk at that time. Sir William Pelham mentions that he was entertained at Kanturk Castle by MacDonagh and his wife in 1580 AD. This would appear to have been Donagh MacCormac MacDonagh MacCarthy whose family held Curragh. Owen MacDonagh was imprisoned by the English and died in Limerick gaol (‘jail’) in 1581 AD. In the year 1592, Donagh was complaining to the Lord Deputy that while he had officially recovered the castle after the Desmond rebellion it was in fact occupied by his turbulent cousin the other Dermot, son of the above Owen.

It was the latter Dermot who built the ruin known as Kanturk Castle, south of the town, already referred to.

From ‘Family Names of County Cork’ :  Page 63: “In 1604 when hostilities ended, Dermot MacOwen was released, and a royal letter authorised acceptance of his ‘surrender and regrant’. Dermot’s next project was the erection of a new residence. The previous castles of the MacDonogh MacCarthys were at CURRAGH, Lohort, Dromiscane, and Kanturk. CURRAGH is in the parish of Kilbrin, and no trace of its castle remains.

In July 1638 Cormac, son of Donagh MacCormac, mortgaged Curragh with other lands to Francis Perceval for £500 and 99 years lease. Two years later Sir Philip Perceval made an outright purchase of Curragh for £760. He leased Knocknacolon, at the other side of the river to Cormac at a nominal rent. There is little reference to the castle as a residence after that time, or as to how it was used during the Confederate War, but the claim of Dermot Oge, son of Cormac, was set aside in 1641.

In 1677 Perceval’s son Philip the younger said of Curragh: ‘There is a good strong castle there, but in need of repair’. And in a survey made by Thomas Moland 25 years later he refers to ‘Corra’ as having ‘an old castle out of repair’ on it. In a further survey in 1751 by the Earl of Egmont (the Percevals having received that title) the castle of ‘Corrah’ is simply described as ‘ruined’. A similar description is given in 1765. Smith in his history of 1750 does not refer to it, beyond saying that ‘the MacCarthys also had a castle at Curragh, a little to the north of Kanturk’.

The site was visited in 1982; and it would have been approximately on the position of the present road, which was not in existence in Blood’s time. The road to Freemont was built later – initially following the track or path he had made from Kanturk to his house. There is a narrow passageway running between solid walls between the house grounds and the present road at the north-north-east of the house. This ends in a well at the left side and a quite splendid archway at the other side which runs under the road to the River Allow. This is certainly built of castle type stone and may have been a) an entry to the castle from the river b) a Liscarroll type of fortification over which there may have been a tower of some kind. This is merely speculation but the impression gained is that this, and the wells, were part of the castle area. Some of the outbuildings towards the house are also of old origin, and the castle was probably just to the north of these.

Kanturk Ord.Survey 23:21-137 ½ – 104 ½


… from a visit to the site of Curragh Castle on 24 September 1982, the speculative impression gained was that it may have been “a Liscarroll type of fortification over which there may have been a tower of some kind”



Liscarroll Castle


In the hope of better understanding what Currah Castle may have looked like, during the days of the Old Gaelic Order, before it ‘disappeared’ without leaving much physical evidence, please consider some of the characteristics of Liscarroll Castle.



The castle at Liscarroll is founded upon an outcrop of rock which projects into swampy ground lying immediately north of the village of Liscarroll. Currah Castle was built to the north of the town of Kanturk, on the east bank of the Allow River.

Liscarroll Castle was built in the 13th century possibly by David Oge Barry. It has the remains of three round flanking towers and the base of a fourth.

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There is a large rectangular gatehouse in the south wall with a small square tower in the middle of the opposite wall.

The gatehouse has the channel for a portcullis and the flanking towers have good narrow defensive slits set within deep recesses.

The tower in the NW corner has a mural stairway leading up from the first floor.
A spiral stairway leads to the first floor of the gatehouse and a straight stair leads to the second floor.


Another spiral stairway leads up to a garderobe with a good latrine chute and to a room at the top which has a small corner fireplace.
There are some slopstones at this top level.

The wall of Liscarroll Castle : enclosed a quadrangular but not perfectly rectangular area measuring 204 feet (62.2 metres) from North to South and of an average breadth of 201 feet (61.3 metres) at the center. At the North side it is some 6 feet (1.8 metres) wider while along the South wall it measures 6 feet (1.8 metres) less than the average dimension.
The ‘curtain walls’  of Liscarroll Castle : now stand to an average internal height of 25 feet (7.6 metres) – are between 5 feet (1.5 metres) and 5 feet 6 inches (1.7 metres) in thickness at the interior ground line but have strong batters below this level at the base, extending at 2 feet (0.6 of a metre) outwards from the rock foundation which is exposed in a number of places. Externally the average height of the walls from this rock surface is about 28 feet (8.5 metres), but the quarried rock itself has faces from 3 feet (0.9 of a metre) to 8 feet (2.4 metres) high in several places giving the walls a greater apparent elevation. Four cylindrical towers projected at each of the towers of the castle.

A ‘curtain wall’ is the defensive wall surrounding the Bailey (a large fortified tower, or Keep, built within the castle; it was the lord’s fortified residence, used as a refuge of last resort should the rest of the castle fall to an adversary). It can also be a defensive wall between two bastions of a castle. In earlier designs of castles the curtain walls were often built to a considerable height and were fronted by a ditch or moat to make assault difficult.
The well tower of Liscarroll Castle and the other southern tower were of similar dimensions : 25 feet (7.6 metres) in external diameter above the base-batter with walls 8 feet (2.4 metres) thick. The North-West tower is a foot greater in diameter but its walls are only 7 feet (2.1 metres) in thickness while the fourth tower, that at the North-East angle measures but 22 feet (6.7 metres) overall and has walls 5 feet (1.5 metres) thick. All of these towers had a basement of two upper stories with the main entrances on the first floor levels, the floors being of timber. Circular stairways rose from these entrances to the upper floors and the wall-walk or allure which appears to have been about the same level as the present wall tops. Each of the remaining towers has three narrow loops set in wide internal embrasures at the main floor level and the presence of corbels near the top of the South-West tower externally indicates that the walls were once crowned by parapets projections in places. This tower was roofed between four gables within the allure and all the towers rose a story in height over the curtains.

There are two other towers both of rectangular form. The smaller projects outwards from the centre of the North ‘curtain’ and its walls which are very thick surround a rectangular well-like space locally called the Hangman’s Hole. This curious feature is difficult to account for since there is no certainty whether there was a doorway to it at the ground level where now only a ragged gap remains. If there was such an entrance the space it have been used for hoisting munitions to the wall-walk level, but if it were absent, then the space was in all probability a dungeon entered only from the top. The upper part of the tower contains a single barrel-vaulted room and a mural stairs leading to the roof platform over the vault : its walls are from 3 (0.9 of a metre) to 4 feet (1.2 metres) thick and their masonry is certainly later in date than that of the tower below. Doorways in the East and West sides lead to the wall-walks of the ‘curtains’.
The largest and most important of Liscarroll Castle’s towers is the gate building in the centre of the South ‘curtain’ wall. It measures 40 feet (12.2 metres) from North to South by 23 feet (7 metres) in width and projects about 7 feet (2.1 metres) southwards from the ‘curtains’ East and West of it. The said ‘curtains’ are not in line with one another, a fact which my indicate that they were built subsequently to the gate-tower the obliquity being possibly due to the practical difficulty of laying out walls truly in line on each side of an existing structure. However this may be the lower part of the gate-building. Though altered in some respects, it is typical of the similar rectangular erections belonging to the first half of the thirteenth century before the wide twin-towered gate-houses came into fashion. The entrance is by way of a vaulted passage rather less than 9 feet (2.7 metres) in width for the greater part of its length. It appears to have had an external gate set in the deep outer recess and was certainly provided with a portcullis at a point 22 feet 6 inches (6.9 metres) inwards from the exterior face. Six feet (1.8 metres) behind the portcullis was a second strong gate, opening inwards one hinge stone of which remains. It is not now possible to say, on account of modern alterations, if there was a counter-balance draw-bridge, but it seems not improbable that there was an apparatus of the kind between the outer gate and the portcullis.

At Liscarroll Castle a heavy barrel vault covers the main passage but the inner and outer vaults are segmental and rise to a higher level, doubtless to afford space for the tops of the wooden gates when they were opened back and outwards. Two ‘murdering holes’ pierce the main vault just in rear of the outer gate.

While the lower part of Liscarroll Castle’s gate-building is ancient, the blocking wall of the inner archway and the whole upper part of the structure appears to be not earlier than about the year 1500. It is carried up as a tower of two storeys in front over the outer gate, the first storey being covered by a barrel vault and the highest apartment by a timber roof which was gabled behind the parapets, to the East and West. This room which contains an angle fireplace of interesting form with a stone hood or breast. It has a small chamber off it at a slightly higher level and communicates with the floor below by a stairs, partly circular and partly straight, ingeniously contrived in the West wall. This stairs gives access to a garderobe chamber and the wall-walk surrounding the lower part of the gate-building. This is occupied by a large apartment, perhaps the castle hall, 29 feet (8.8 metres) in length and nearly 13 feet (nearly 4 metres) wide, which forms the whole first-floor section of the building. A circular stairs in a turret at the North East corner connects the room with the ground while a mural stair rising from the embrasure of its north window leads to a small turret chamber over the stairs. The three remaining windows of this hall have wide embrasures and ogee headed lights, single on the North side and double towards the East and South. The rear-arches of the embrasures of the two first named windows are semi-circular but that of the South window and the doorways to East and West are semi-elliptical form: lintels rather than arches. The other window openings in the upper part of the building are narrow lights which have ogee or square heads. There are some small traces of buildings in the South ‘curtains’ on each side of the gateway and it is evident that the external walls were raised here to gain an extra storey. These structures were apparently still in existence during 1750, but there is no record of any other buildings against the ‘curtains’. It would appear that some did exist however: the fact that the main doorways to the four angle towers are at a higher level, and that the tower staircases began their ascent at the same Point, indicates that there must have been raised timber galleries at least, and possibly more permanent buildings, all round the interior. No traces of these now remain except rough beam-holes in the walls but the small garderobe turret near the North end of the West curtain – which seems to have been balanced by another similar projection at the South end of the same wall, here there is now a large gap – which affords another indication of existence of internal buildings.Circular Stairs

Apart from the window dressings etc., there are no carved features except two much weathered heads in sandstone which are inserted in the South face of the gate-tower above the outer archway on each side of the central window.

The works carried out at Liscarroll Castle in 1936 by the national Monuments staff were mainly of remedial character and included, besides removal of ivy, etc. The building of supports in the extensive gaps of the West wall and the securing of all loose and defective masonry. The two illustrations Liscarroll Castle were received from County Library. In the two drawings there is a ravelin in front of the main gate. Even though now non-existent, it is established that this did exist, as it was mentioned in a letter from Raymond to Percival.

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