Whilst Moydrum castle is not one of the oldest featured on this site, its story is no less fascinating than those many centuries older seeing as it played an important part in the War of Independence. The lands surrounding Moydrum had been in the hands of the Handcock family since the Cromwellian plantations of the 1600s. In 1812 William Handcock who had served as an MP in Grattan’s Parliament was created 1st Baron of Castlemaine. With his new peerage he set about remodeling and enlarging an existing house on the site of Moydrum, finally completed in 1814. The house and lands stayed under the ownership of the Handcock family right up to the night of Moydrum’s destruction on July 3rd 1921, when it was set ablaze as an act of reprisal by the IRA.
In the lead up to the burning of the castle the Black and Tans had been carrying out searches and indeed had burnt down six houses on the night prior to the blaze at Moydrum. The GHQ of the IRA decided that the actions of the Black and Tans demanded immediate response and as eyewitness Frank O’Connor, (Captain of Coosan Company, 2nd Battalion, Athlone Brigade of the IRA) stated,“On considering the matter that it would not be equitable to burn the houses of people who had no part in either affair, it was decided instead to burn Moydrum Castle. Moydrum Castle was the residence of Lord Castlemaine who was a member of the British House of Lords and who always opposed anything which was patriotic and was really an enemy of Ireland. He had dismissed men from his employment because they would not join the British Army. British officers often stayed at the Castle and the officers from the garrison in Athlone were regular visitors there, so we might meet with a hostile reception when we got there”.
At 3:30am that night 60 IRA volunteers approached the house. Only Lady Castelmaine, her daughter and eight servants were at home when the IRA entered. They gave the family fifteen minutes to collect their belongings and leave before then house was burned to the ground. The very same night the nearby Creggan House was also torched by the IRA. The reports of the fire are interesting, showing that the volunteers had been polite enough to pull chairs from the house outside for the Lady and her daughter to wait in while the servants gathered their belongings.
The house was never again occupied and the land was redistributed under the Land Commission. Moydrum found fame one more time in its relatively short history as the castle was featured on the cover of U2’s ‘The Unforgettable Fire’ LP.
Considering how tricky it was to enter Moydrum Castle plus the amount of no trespassing signs, honking horns and shouts of passers-by sadly my time in Moydrum was brief. The Castle though covered in Ivy and rapidly decaying still holds a large proportion of its Gothic charm. I will suggest that anyone who visits this place remains aware that the structure is crumbling at an alarming pace and one block fell from a serious height during my short time at the castle.
GPS: 53.42845, -7.86449
5 thoughts on “Moydrum Castle, Westmeath, Ireland”
When you see how much overgrowth happens in less than a century, it makes you realise how lucky we are to have the surviving ruins that we do have – and what a task it must be to maintain them.
Very good post, the details about the burning, during the war of Independence are fascinating, and very fair and balanced. I’ve always resented the IRA burning many of the old houses, even though I know the background, but with the Black and Tans and Auxillaries burning down local people’s houses, it makes a lot of sense and you can’t really blame them. I am glad they did it (burnt the big house) in what you can only call a very civilsed way! (helping the women with chairs etc.) Interesting to know also this was the castle on the U2 cover too. Anyway, great piece
So I m a descendant of the family. And very pro Ireland. It may be noted that he, lord Castlemain did support the cause but was turned by the offer of being a Baron.
Hi Paul, do you have any more knowledge of the Handcock family at Moydrum? I am also a descendant of the family but am born and bred in New Zealand. Looking to make my way over to Ireland next year and want to learn as much as possible. Cheers