Castlefergus Lodge has been the home to international rock and film stars during film making in Ireland, and you too can rent it exclusively for your own family or group on your next trip to Ireland if you are looking for a ‘once in a lifetime’ experience.
If you’re ever wondering what it might be like next to a real castle, find out by renting out Castlefergus Lodge. After all, you can stay in a hotel or B&B anywhere in the world, but how often do you get the chance to have an authentic Irish castle right next door. You will be pleasantly surprised at how amazingly affordable it is and, in fact, can cost less per person that a hotel. Cheryl, will help you tailor your very own accommodation package to suit your particular needs.
While on holidays in County Clare in 1969, an American (Texas/Oklahoma) millionaire and oil heiress spotted the castle from a nearby hotel (the Inn at Dromoland, formerly and then known as the Clare Inn Hotel), and was so struck by it that she immediately sought out the owner and bought it from him! She was Elizabeth Phillips Irwin, granddaughter of Frank and Jane Phillips who started up Phillips Petroleum in 1917. On August 30, 2002, Conoco Inc. merged with Phillips Petroleum to form ConocoPhillips, becoming the third largest integrated energy company and second-largest refining company in the United States.
Elizabeth Phillips Irwin wasted no time in sending over some of her best engineers from their oil-rigs in Texas to oversee the reinstatement of the historic castle to its former glory, using expert craftsmen and local materials from all over County Clare. Regrettably, she stayed in it only a few times herself before selling it after her landmark divorce from her husband – her case set a precedent in New York legal history because her husband became the first husband to get alimony from his wife!
In recent years, as well as relations of the Irwins themselves, those very engineers and their families have visited from the United States to see the ‘project’ that kept their fathers away from home for up to two years, some of whom are now the owners of First National Bank in Texas and holders of high political office.
Ballyhannon Castle is one of the most renowned authentic medieval castles in Ireland. In recent years Castlefergus Lodge has proven to be a popular choice of foreign and Irish tourists alike, whether as a self-catering vacation rental with a unique backdrop in which to have your wedding or to mark one of life’s special occasions such as your honeymoon, family reunions or other milestone events.
Let’s look back a little further, centuries before 1969, to when the castle was born. It is also officially known as ‘Castlefergus’, and this name literally means ‘Castle on the Fergus River’, and was built in 1490. This period was described by the noted antiquarian, T.J.Westropp, as the “Golden Age of castle-building in Thomond” because of the high standard of construction which had been achieved by the masons at this period – evidenced by the fact that it still stands intact today, over 500 years later!
The lands on which Ballyhannon Castle was originally built were owned by the O’Brien clan, direct descendants of the High King of Ireland, Brian Boru in the 10th century, whose descendants thus carried the name O’Brien, continuing to rule the Kingdom of Munster until the 12th century where their territory had shrunk to the Kingdom of Thomond which they would hold for almost five centuries.
The Dál gCais (English: Dalcassians) refers to a Gaelic Irish tribe, generally accepted by contemporary scholarship as being a branch of the Déisi Muman, who became a powerful grouping in Ireland during the 10th century. Their genealogies claimed descent from Cormac Cas, who is said to have lived in the 3rd century. Their known ancestors are the subject of The Expulsion of the Déisi tale and one branch of their blood-line went on to rule the petty kingdom of Dyfed in Wales during the 4th century; probably in alliance with Roman Emperor, Magnus Maximus.
Brian Bóruma is perhaps the best-known king from the dynasty and was responsible to a significant degree for carving out their fortunes. The family had built a powerbase on the banks of the River Shannon and Brian’s brother Mahon became their first King of Munster, taking the throne from the rival Eóganachta. This influence was greatly extended under Brian who became High King of Ireland, following a series of conflicts with Norse and other Irish tribes, before dying famously at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014, exactly 1000 years ago! Following this the Dál gCais provided three more High Kings of Ireland; Donagh O’Brien, Turlough O’Brien and Murtagh O’Brien; but lost out to the longer established dynasties.
From the 12th–16th centuries, the Dál gCais contented themselves with being reduced to the Kingdom of Thomond. They attempted to claim the Kingdom of Desmond for a time, but ultimately the MacCarthys held it. The Kennedys also held the Kingdom of Ormond for a time. Some of the better-known septs included O’Brien, MacNamara, O’Grady, Kennedy, MacMahon and Clancy. During the 13th century Richard Strongbow’s relatives the Norman de Clares attempted to take Thomond, but the Dál gCais held firm.
It wasn’t until the 16th century, unable to be defeated militarily, they agreed to surrender and regrant their kingdom to Henry VIII Tudor, joining the nobility of the Kingdom of Ireland. Their realm was renamed County Clare, though they remained influential. In later times, remarkable figures include writer Standish James O’Grady, who is called “Father of the Celtic Revival” and William Smith O’Brien who played a leading part in the Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848. In diaspora, prominent figures have included Marshal Patrice de Mac-Mahon, President of France, as well as John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, who were both Presidents of the United States
In the year 1560, a grant was made by Queen Elizabeth I (7 September 1533 – 24 March 1603) to Conor O’Brien (c.1534 – 1581), Earl of Thomond, of Ballyhannon Castle: “To hold in tail male, by service of one knight’s fee”, meaning that the castle would pass onto his male heirs, subject to military service to the Queen.
The Cromwellian War/campaign in Ireland (1649 – 53) attempted to complete the subjugation of the native Irish, and many of our castles were dismantled by the Commonwealth forces to render them defenseless. Very fortunately, Ballyhannon Castle survived those attacks when most similar Irish castles were destroyed, and went on to become a prison for protestant prisoners in the south of Ireland under the ruling of Catholic King James II around 1685.
Ballyhannon Castle was the home of the MacNamaras for many centuries. The MacNamara family were a Dál gCais sept and, after the O’Briens, one of the most powerful families in the Kingdom of Thomond as Lords of Clancullen (a title later divided into East and West families). They were an influential clan in Thomond, building numerous castles across the region indicating their power and influence, including Knappogue Castle. Many MacNamaras migrated to Scotland, and this caused the name to be changed to McNamara.
The owners of Ballyhannon Castle and Coach house are admirably concerned and conscientious about its long term preservation, and to that end has recently completed an ambitious project to conserve it by carrying out significant weatherproofing work to protect it from the relentless elements of the west coast and the ravages of time, as well as installing a renewable energy heating system to maintain the very integrity of this special piece of Irish history – a castle of significant Irish heritage, for the enjoyment of generations to come. The castle is augmented by a 19th century Coach house (Castlefergus Lodge) in the same grounds.