Castle Mary, County Cork

J. Stirling Coyne & N. P. Willis
c. 1841
Volume I, Chapter IV-4 | Start of chapter

In order to reach Cloyne, I took a boat to Saleen, a small inlet about four miles from the, latter town, on the eastern shore of the harbour. The boat was pulled by a crew consisting of four young athletic men. I thought as I watched them bending to their oars, their sinewy arms and ample chests fully developed by the motion of their bodies, and their honest countenances, bronzed by exposure to the sun and air, beaming with health and good-humour, that I never beheld four finer or more resolute-looking fellows,—-just the sort of daring spirits for boarding a frigate or storming a fort that a Nelson or a Wellington would have chosen. The course we took was under the shores of Rostellan, the seat of the Marquess of Thomond.

The castle is delightfully situated on a wooded promontory, commanding an exceedingly fine view of the grand and animated harbour with its beautiful shores. The demesne is rich in luxuriant beauty, and the judicious manner in which the grounds are laid out speaks highly for the elegant taste of the noble owner. The present mansion is a modern erection, built on the site of an old castle of the Fitzgeralds, Seneschals of Imokilly. An ancient sword, said to have been once wielded by Brian Boroihme, the great ancestor of the O'Briens, and the monarch who defeated the Danes at the memorable battle of Clontarf, is preserved in a small armoury of the castle, and shown to strangers as a genuine relic. The depth of water in the little creek into which we glided after passing Rostellan, does not permit boats proceeding more than a mile from its entrance; I therefore landed, and commenced my walk to Cloyne, distant about two miles from thence. The path, which at first leads along a thickly-planted shore by the water-side, is extremely beautiful; by a sudden turn it brings us to the sweetly secluded little hamlet of Saleen, half hidden amidst clustering hawthorns, and presenting such a picture of quiet pastoral beauty, that one might easily imagine Goldsmith had it in his mind when describing the beauties of the Deserted Village

"Where smiling Spring her earliest visits paid,

And parting Summer's ling'ring bloom delayed."

The house and demesne of Castle Mary, contiguous to the village, form a prominent feature in the landscape; but the chief interest which attaches to this spot, is the existence of a huge Cromlech [13] or Druidical altar, standing in a field at a short distance from the house. It is an immense mass of limestone of an oblong shape, [14] one end resting on the ground, and the other extremity supported by two large upright stones.[15] Adjoining this great altar is a smaller one of a triangular shape, and, like the other, it is supported by two uprights in an inclined position. It is supposed that this lesser stone was used for the purposes of common sacrifice, while the greater altar was probably reserved for occasions of extraordinary solemnity. The incumbent stone or slab of the cromlechs is sustained in some cases by rows of upright pillars; in other instances the table is supported by two or more large cone-shaped rocks, but on none of the stones used in the construction of these altars can the mark of any tool be discovered. Numerous other cromlechs are known to exist in the county of Cork, [16] but the description of this one may suffice to give an idea of all the others.


[13] Cromlech.—I have already spoken of the gobhláns or pillar-stones, so frequently found in Ireland. Like these, the Cromlech owes its origin to the idolatrous system of worship which, there is every reason to suppose, pervaded a great portion of the world before the existence of profane history; in its appearance, however, the Cromlech is totally different from the pillar-stone.

[14] The length of the incumbent stone is about fifteen feet, its breadth between seven and eight feet, and its thickness three and a half feet.

[15] The Irish and British word. Crom-leach, which signifies a crooked or bent stone, it is supposed, was applied to those rude altars from their inclining position; although it is equally probable that they derived their name from being the stones on which sacrifices to the god Crom were offered. An ingenious conjecture has been advanced, that they were placed in an inclined position to allow the blood of the victims slain upon them to run off freely.

[16] Mr. Windele states that there are as many as twenty-four.