Carrigrohan, County Cork

J. Stirling Coyne & N. P. Willis
c. 1841
Volume I, Chapter III-8 | Start of chapter

On the summit of a steep rock overhanging the river Lee, stand the picturesque ruins of the Castle of Carrigrohan. It consists of two distinct piles; one, the more ancient—built in the early feudal times, when the security of the chieftain depended on the number of his followers and the strength of his castle walls—is now a mere heap of ruins, whose massive architecture, narrow, gloomy chambers and vaulted dungeons, show that it must formerly have been a place of some importance. The other building, which is in better preservation, belongs to that era when the ancient castle began to assume the more peaceful characteristics of the modern manor-house. Its form is oblong, and three of the original high-pitched gables, surmounted with clustering chimney-shafts, still remain; which, with the ornamental projections at the angles, and the Tudor label mouldings over the windows, give a picturesque appearance to the building. The McCarthys are said to have been the founders of the ancient portion of this castle; from one of whom, surnamed Rohuin or the Nobleman, the name of the fortress, Carrigrohan (the Rock of Rohan), is derived. It is mournful, while wandering through this part of southern Ireland, to meet everywhere the crumbling relics of the greatness of this once powerful family, whose very memory is now nearly forgotten, or remembered only by those to whom they are endeared by the traditions of the country, or who find a sad pleasure in turning over the pages of ancient Ireland's eventful history. While viewing those mouldering ruins, I could not forbear picturing to myself, that, perhaps within these very walls the ancient kings of Munster—the proud McCarthys Mor—sate surrounded by warriors and statesmen, bards and chieftains, receiving embassies from foreign princes; though it may be said of the last of this noble race, that—

"In the fields of their country they found not a grave."

Carrigrohan was destroyed in the great rebellion, though the ruins were afterwards occupied by a Captain Cape, the notorious leader of a band of robbers, who infested this part of the country, and were the terror of the neighbourhood for a long time.

I remember it was after a day spent in wandering through the beautiful scenery which embellishes the banks of the Lee, that I was attracted by the sounds of music; guided by them I proceeded along a by-road until I came to a sheebeen, or small public-house, in front of which a number of persons of both sexes were assembled; the younger portion of the company were seated, some on the grass and others upon deal forms arranged around a small reserved space, in the centre of which an active, clean-limbed young fellow was dancing with an indefatigable energy that put every muscle and fibre of his frame in motion, opposite to a pretty modest-looking girl, who, with her eyes fixed upon her shoestrings, footed it, less vigorously perhaps, but with no less determination, to the popular jig tune, The Rakes of Mallow, perpetrated by a blind piper, who had been planted by the "boys" on an upturned cleave [10] on which a bundle of fresh straw had been laid by way of a cushion. A churn-dash stuck into the earth supported on its flat end a cake, which was to become the prize of the best dancer. The contention was carried on for a long time with extraordinary spirit; at length the competitors yielded their claims to a young man, the son of a rich farmer in the neighbourhood, who, taking the cake, placed it gallantly in the lap of a pretty girl, to whom I understood he was about to be married. The victor, to show his generosity, ordered a large supply of whiskey to be distributed to those present; and as this acknowledgment is always expected from the dancer who gains the cake, it is generally conceded to him who is considered to be best able to pay for the honour.


[10] Cleave.—A large kind of basket, carried by the peasantry on the back.