Castletown House has always held a pretty special place in my heart and each time I visit it I get reminded of how truly splendid it is. I grew up in Kildare and the stories of the devil coming to play cards and the sheer grandeur of the Long Gallery made a massive impression on me.
Castletown is the largest Palladian style country house in Ireland. It was built for William Conolly, the Speaker of the Irish House of Commons in 1722. The building was designed to classical proportions and the designs of several notable architects were used, Sir Edward Lovett Pearce, Alessandro Gailei and Sir William Chambers. Unfortunately William Conolly died only 7 years after the completion of the house and his widow Katherine continued to live at Castletown until her death in 1752. The estate then passed to Conolly’s nephew William James Conolly, MP for Ballyshannon. On William’s death it passed to his son Tom Conolly whose wife Lady Louisa completed the remaining interior decoration in the 1770s. Louisa was responsible for the charming Print Room (circa 1765), it was the fashion at the time to paste engravings and decorative borders on to the walls, the Print Room at Castletown is the only surviving room of its type in Ireland.
Tom Conolly is the man to whom the legend of the visit from the devil is ascribed. The legend has been told in many ways but the tenets are all quite similar. One evening in 1767 Tom Conolly who had been out fox hunting on his horse invited some people back to his house for a game of cards. Conolly didn’t recognise one of the riders but invited the gentleman regardless. The legend states that at one point one of Conolly’s guests dropped a card and upon looking under the table to pick it up saw that the stranger had cloven hooves where his feet should be. Conolly was informed and sent for a clergyman. The clergyman threw a prayer book at the devil but it passed right through him and smashed against a mirror, breaking it. The stranger was suddenly surrounded by a yellow flame and disappeared into the ground, a crack appeared in the fireplace where the stranger had disappeared. The crack in the fireplace and the broken mirror remain to this day.
Castletown remained in the hands of the Conollys until 1965 when it was sold in 1965 to a Major Wilson. Subsequently in 1967 the house was purchased by Desmond Guinness to save it from vandalism and it became home to the Irish Georgian Society. The house is now in the ownership of the Office of Public Works and I thoroughly recommend a visit, tea rooms have been opened and the extensive grounds are a really nice way to relax and see a bit of nature just outside of Dublin.
GPS: 53.34912, -6.53028