Lismore Castle, County of Waterford

From the Dublin Penny Journal, Volume 1, Number 43, April 20, 1833

Lismore Castle, Waterford

Lismore, or properly Lios-mor, the great habitation, (translated Atrium magnum in the ancient life of St. Carthagh) a town now chiefly remarkable for the beauty of its situation, and its magnificent castle, was anciently a city of considerable distinction, and eminent above most others in Ireland for the splendour of its cathedral, the celebrity of its college, and the great number of its religious houses.

As the history and antiquities of this celebrated and truly interesting place will furnish us with matter for more than one article, we shall confine our notices in the present number to the immediate subject of our present illustration, which is characterised by an accomplished English traveller, Sir Richard C. Hoare, as presenting, in every point of view, a bold and imposing object, and affording the best subject for the pencil of any building he had seen during his Irish tour.

This fine castle was originally founded by the young Earl of Moreton, afterwards King John, in the year 1185, and is said to have been the last of three fortresses of the kind which he erected during his visit to Ireland. In four years afterwards it was taken by surprize and broken down by the Irish, who regarded with jealousy and fear the strong holds erected by the English to secure and enlarge their conquests. On this occasion the garrison, with its commander, Robert Barry, were put to the sword. Being afterwards rebuilt, it became for a considerable period an Episcopal residence, until the celebrated Miler Magrath, Archbishop of Cashel and Bishop of this See, sometime before his resignation in 1589, by the consent of the Dean and Chapter, granted to Sir Walter Raleigh the manor and other lands of Lismore, at the yearly rent of 13l. 6s. 8d. From Sir Walter, the estate and castle passed by purchase into the hands of Sir Richard Boyle, afterwards Earl of Cork, who considerably beautified it as a residence, and added thereto many buildings, some of which were afterwards destroyed in the rebellion of 1641. At the commencement of this unhappy civil war, the castle was closely besieged by 5,000 Irish, commanded by Sir Richard Beling, and defended by the young Lord Broghill, third son to the Earl of Cork, who by his conduct and bravery obliged the Irish to raise the siege. It was on this occasion he wrote to his father the letter which has been so often quoted with admiration and applause--a feeling in which we should not be disinclined to concur, if the character of the writer had been as eminent for humanity as it unquestionably was for courage. It runs as follows:--

"I have sent out my quarter-master to know the posture of the enemy; they were, as I am informed by those who were in the action, 5,000 strong, and well armed, and that they intend to attack Lismore; when I have received certain intelligence, if I am a third part of their number I will meet them to-morrow morning, and give them one blow before they besiege us; if their number be such, that it will be more folly than valour, I will make good this place which I am in.

"I tried one of the ordnances made at the forge, and it held with a pound charge; so that I will plant it upon the terras over the river. My lord, fear nothing for Lismore; for if it be lost, it shall be with the life of him that begs your lordship's blessing, and styles himself your lordship's most humble, most obliged, and most dutiful son and servant,


The town and castle were again attacked by the Irish with a superior force, in 1643, of which the following circumstantial account is given in a manuscript diary of the Earl of Cork, now preserved in the Castle:--

"1643, July 10. This day the rebel Lieutenant, General Purcell, commanding again in chief, in revenge of his former defeat received at Cappoquin, reinforced his army to 7,000 foot, and 900 horse, with three pieces of ordnance, and drew again near to Cappoquin, and there continued four days, wasting and spoiling the country round about, but attempted nothing of any consequence. And when the 22d at night, that the Lord Viscount Muskrie came to the Irish army with some addition of new forces, they removed from Cappoquin in the night before my castle of Lismore, and on Saturday morning the 23d July, 1643, they began their battery from the church to the east of Lismore-house, and made a breach into my own house, which Captain Broadripp and my warders, being about 150, repaired stronger with earth than it was before, and shot there till the Thursday the 27th, and never durst attempt to enter the breach, my ordnance and musket shot from my castle did so apply them. Then they removed their battery to the south-west of my castle, and continued beating against my orchard wall, but never adventured into my orchard, my shot from my turrets did so continually beat and clear the curteyn of the wall. The 28th of July God sent my two sons, Dungarvan and Broghill, to land at Youghal, out of England, and the 29th they rode to the Lord of Inchiquins, who with the army were drawn to Tallagh, and staid there in expectation of Colonel Peyn, with his regiment from Tymolay, who failed to join, but Inchiquin, Dungarvan and Broghill, and Sir John Powlett, the Saturday in the evening (upon some other directions brought over by Dungarvan from his Majesty,) he made a treaty that evening with Muskrie and others, and the Saturday the 30th, they agreed upon a cessation for six days. Monday night, when they could not enter my house, they removed their siege and withdrew the ordnance and army --two or three barrels of powder--two or three pieces of ordnance of twenty-three pounds, and killed but one of my side, God be praised."

Finally, however, it was taken by Lord Castlehaven, in the year 1645. Major Power at that time defended it with 100 of the Earl of Cork's tenants, who, according to Cox, before they surrendered, killed 500 of the besiegers, till all their powder being spent, they capitulated upon honorable terms.

On the restoration of peace, the castle was again repaired and inhabited by the Boyle family until in 1753, on the death of Richard, third Earl of Burlington, and fourth Earl of Cork, the most considerable part of that nobleman's estates, both in England and Ireland, devolved upon his daughter, Lady Charlotte Boyle, who married in 1748, William Cavendish, fourth Duke of Devonshire, in the possession of whose descendant, the present Duke, it now remains, by whom it has been greatly restored and beautified, and made a truly princely residence for the agent for his Grace's estates in Ireland.

Among the distinguished persons who received hospitality in Lismore Castle at different periods, may be noticed, the Earl of Clarendon, who in his progress through Munster, in 1686, passed a night here--King James II., who dined in it in 1689, and of whom it is related, that on going to a window which overlooks the river, he started back, appalled at its fearful height--and lastly, in 1785, the Duke of Rutland, then Lord Lieutenant, who held a council here. But the castle derives but little interest from such visiters, in comparison with that of being the birth-place of the celebrated philosopher, Robert Boyle.

In conclusion, we shall add the following correct description of the present state and appearance of the castle, from the Rev. Mr. Ryland's excellent History of Waterford:--

"The castle of Lismore is one of the most magnificent of the ancient Irish residences, and is seen to great advantage from being built on a very elevated situation on the verge of a hill, the river Blackwater running close to the foundation.

The circular towers which flank the northern front are partly concealed by trees, which seem to grow out of the river, and which throw into shade large intervals of the rocky base of the building these remarkable objects, combined with the abrupt position of the castle which is seen hanging over the dark and rapid stream, compose a romantic and striking picture, which has scarcely ever been adequately represented. The first door-way is called the riding-house, from its being originally built to accommodate two horsemen, who mounted guard, and for whose reception there were two spaces which are still visible under the archway. The riding-house is the entrance into a long avenue shaded by magnificent trees, and flanked with high stone walls; this leads to another doorway, the keep or grand entrance into the square of the castle. Over the gate are the arms of the first Earl of Cork, with the motto, "God's providence is our inheritance." The castle and its precincts were regularly fortified, and covered a large space of ground, the bounds of which may still be traced by the existing walls and towers. It is highly interesting to examine the various parts of the defences so minutely and vividly represented in the first Earl of Cork's diary. 'My orchard, and my garden,' and 'the turrets, which did so continually beat and clear the curteyn wall,' all are religiously preserved, and have been recently brought into view and cleared of the obstructions which time and neglect had accumulated about them.

The great square of the castle has rather an unfinished appearance, and, from the introduction of modern doors and windows, offends against all the rules of uniformity and architectural consistency. The sombre appearance of the building around the square is admirably contrasted with the interior of the castle. The rooms are fitted up with all the convenience of modern improvement; the doors are of Irish oak of great thickness and beauty, and the windows, composed of large squares of glass, each pane opening on hinges, combine accommodation with harmony of appearance. The drawing-rooms are ornamented with tapestry, and contain some good oil paintings. One of the towers is still retained in its rude and dilapidated state, serving as a contrast to the modern adornments, as well as showing the great ingenuity and taste which have been displayed in combining the luxuries of the present day with the romantic beauties of so ancient a building.

An anecdote which is told of James II. who is said to have visited the castle, and dined in the great room, has given one of the windows the name of king James's window. It is said, that on looking out of this window, the monarch was so struck at perceiving the vast height at which he stood, and the rapid river running beneath him, that he started back with evident dismay. To look unexpectedly upon the river immediately under the apartment, is indeed a startling prospect, and might naturally excite surprise from the great depth of the rear of the building compared with the level ground at the entrance. From King James's window, and more particularly from the flat roof of the castle the view is magnificent and beautiful. The eye embraces a vast extent of country, and receives the impression of a splendid picture, realizing all the vivid colouring, and all the variety and contrast, which the imagination of a painter only can conceive."

Under the castle there is a very extensive salmon fishery.