History

12 facts about Ballyportry

  1. Ballyportry is almost half a century older than Trinity College, Dublin. It was built in the decade of Christopher Columbus' voyage to the Americas.
  2. The best restored tower house in the country, and the most intact to be offered for rental.
  3. Fullest evocation of late 15th century castle atmosphere of any Irish buildings.
  4. The late middle ages in Gaelic Ireland was a time of active culture, of intrigue, aristocracy and poetry.
  5. The late 15th century Gaelic chiefs would have lived lives of privilege, culture, politics and warfare. It was a time of shifting political alliances.
  6. Ballyportry castle was a home of the late medieval Gaelic chieftains, the O’Briens, who sprung from an ancient Celtic sect whose most famous king, Brian Boru, was High King of Ireland.
  7. The year 2014 was a year of remembering Brian Boru as it was 1000 years since the most famous battle in Irish history, when he was the leader of the Irish forces against the Vikings. He decisively defeated the Vikings at the bloody battle of Clontarf, but lost his life.
  8. Restored by the American architect Bob Brown who, although without obvious Irish roots, fell in love with Ireland and it’s castles in the late 1960s.
  9. Sympathetic restoration and subsequent researched conservation programmes have achieved the best example of medieval stone building conservation anywhere in Ireland.
  10. Located at the edge of the finest surviving archaeological landscape in the west of Ireland.
  11. Ballyportry Castle is between Kerry and Connemara, and inland from Galway Bay. It is beside the Burren National Park, well known for its range of plants and flowers and creviced sheets of limestone rock left formed by the Ice Age. Co Clare is a peninsula surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, which is about 45 minutes away by car from Ballyportry Castle.
  12. Ballyportry castle is the finest habitable tower house in the south or west of Ireland, possibly in the whole country.

The Atlantic West coast of Ireland has always had trading links with NW France and Spain.

There was a continuous wine trade between Bordeaux and Dublin from the early 13th century and probably back to the late Roman period.

The wealth that created the tower houses of Munster in the south west of Ireland came from this trade with the continent. It could be that fortunes were made when the North Sea shoals of herring decided to swim around to the west of Ireland for a while and the salted herring was then exported along with cattle and leather to the continent.

The O’Brien clan held most of the territory of Clare in the 15th Century.

Ballyportry castle was one of a series of castles and churches built by the O’Briens, Gaelic aristocrats of the Middle Ages in Ireland.

The O’Briens were descendents of the famous Brian Boru, High King of Ireland.

Ballyportry was enjoyed by the O’Briens for little more than a century before the 1603 defeat of Gaelic Ireland at the Battle of Kinsale. The fortunes of the Gaelic Irish leaders continued to decline throughout the 17th century until they reached their nadir at the 1691 Treaty of Limerick, which spelled the real end of Gaelic Ireland.

The merchants, leaders and aristocratic classes of Gaelic Ireland left for continental Europe and were made welcome by the Spanish King and other Catholic Empires. This exodus is known as the Flight of the Earls.

Those who fled were called the Wild Geese. It was a term used on a ship’s manifest as it returned to France from the South and South West coast of Ireland, and describes recruits for the Irish brigades in the service of the French King. The exchange would have brought brandy and wine to Ireland, which came back with the Wild Geese. Their nobility, their sacrifice, and their love of Ireland, is celebrated in Gaelic poetry and song from the 18th century, and in English from the 19th century onwards.

The large scale migration to the Continent is akin to the similar emigration from Ulster to 18th century colonial America. Most of the Wild Geese did not return, but some kept up their connection and traditions and records of their family lineages. A record of anti-English activity in Ireland was an advantage to them and many were granted titles of Comte as a courtesy in France, and were admitted as full citizens in the Spanish Empire. In 1843 M. J. Barry wrote:

‘The wild geese the wild geese, ‘tis long since they flew, O’er the billowy ocean’s bright bosom of blue.’

The O’Briens of Clare served with distinction leading Clare’s Dragoons in the great and decisive battle of Fontenoy in France between the Catholic and the Protestant forces of Europe in 1745, the same year as Culloden in Scotland when Jacobite hopes for the return of Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Stuart monarchy were dashed.

The poem ‘Fontenoy’ by Emily Lawless is recited to this day in memory of this battle. The flag of the Irish Brigade lies in honour in the National Museum of Ireland at Collins Barracks. It describes the love of Clare that the men of the Clare brigade had. It finishes with the sighting of a ghostly ship sailing by the coast of Clare after the battle with the ghosts of those who died on it. The leader of the Clare’s Dragoons in the battle of Fontenoy was an O’Brien. He was honoured and made a Marshall of France in recognition of his leadership.

The O’Brien connection with the wine trade was through Nantes in Northern France.

Other famous wine labels associated with the Wild Geese are Hennessy brandy, Chateaux Lynch Bages, the Dillon and Barton families of Bordeaux.

Some lines from ‘Fontenoy’ by Emily Lawless:

Oh, little Corca Bascinn, the wild the bleak, the fair!
Oh, little stony pastures, whose flowers are sweet, if rare!
Oh, rough the rude Atlantic, the thunderous, the wide,
Whose kiss is like a soldier’s kiss which will not be denied!
The whole night long we dream of you, and waking think we’re there,—
Vain dream, and foolish waking, we never shall see Clare.

The wind is wild to-night, there’s battle in the air;
The wind is from the west, and it seems to blow from Clare.
Have you nothing, nothing for us, loud brawler of the night?
No news to warm our heart-strings, to speed us through the fight?
In this hollow, star-pricked darkness, as in the sun’s hot glare,
In sun-tide, in star-tide, we thirst, we starve for Clare!

View the owner's sketch of the castle »

View the owner's sketch of the castle »

Not precisely a castle, rather a Gaelic "tower house" from the 15th century, rising like an extravagant silver boulder above the surreal moonscape of The Burren, it's been restored to full Medieval majesty, with vast peat fires flickering against walls of naked stone. All it lacks is a bard to sing as you swing in the rooftop hammocks....