The two opulent buildings known as the Ballysaggartmore Towers and Gatelodge though magnificent in their splendour disguise the feelings that must have been aroused in the local peasantry when these incredibly gothic and ornate structures were built. As is the case with all histories, an understanding of the time and place in which a structure is built can have varying connotations depending on our interpretation. The towers at Ballysaggartmore stand as a testament to brotherly rivalry, and how differently two people brought up in the same household can view the world and their place in it.
The story of Ballysaggartmore begins in the late 18th century when 8,500 acres of land was purchased by John Kiely from a George Holmes Jackson. When Kiely died in 1808 his lands were split between his two sons, his older son – also called John – inherited the larger share of the estate and the area of Strancally, further south along the Blackwater River. John proceeded to build a lavish castle constructed by the revered brothers George and James Pain. When Arthur Kiely returned from the Napoleonic War he built a house in the grounds of Ballysaggartmore. The house was large but didn’t really hit the heights of Strancally castle and so prior to his planned rebuild of the house he ordered the building of the entrance tower, bridge and gatelodge that stand at Ballysaggartmore today. Arthur’s building plans were always rumoured to have been stoked by his wife who was jealous of John’s fortune.
The ongoing construction work came at a considerable cost and with further improvements planned Kiely began clearing the existing tenant’s cottages. The famine of the 1940’s did not deter Arthur from his building plans and unlike many landlords he did not reduce or suspend their rent. On the 3rd of May 1847 a journalist from the Cork Examiner who was reporting on famine relief projects in the area and the ongoing work with the destitute and orphaned was shocked by what he came across at Ballysaggartmore,
“Arriving at Ballysaggartmore an awful sight was before my eyes, I found twelve to fourteen houses levelled to the ground. The walls of a few were still standing but the roofs were taken off, the windows broken in, and the doors removed. Groups of famished women and crying children still hovered round the place of their birth, endeavouring to find shelter from the piercing cold of the mountain blast, cowering near the ruins or seeking refuge beneath the chimneys. The cow, the house, the wearing apparel, the furniture, and even in extreme cases the bed clothes were pawned to support existence. As I have been informed the whole tenantry, amounting with their families to over 700 persons, on the Ballysaggartmore estate, are proscribed.’”
A report in the same paper from January of that year couldn’t have shown the more stark difference between the two brothers any clearer,
“Far different indeed is the conduct of John Kiely Esq. of Strancally Castle, whose liberality to the poor of his parish is commensurate with his extensive property. He has, at present and for the last season, employed the people, is busily and solely engaged in diffusing comfort and plenty among them, so that there is no one in the parish of Knockanore who can say that he is hungry or distressed at the present moment. To evince his feeling still more, he has killed three of his best cows and distributed them among his labourers…with plenty of vegetables of all kinds…this gentleman has between Poor Relief Committees and incidental employment, expended £1,000 for the last 9 months.”
It is more than logical that Arthur’s behaviour caused unrest amongst the locals and agrarian societies and an attempt was made to shoot him, luckily for Arthur he escaped on foot. Seven local men were tried, found guilty and deported to Tasmania. However Kiely’s short-sightedness led to his ruin, without tenants he had no income and by 1854 Ballysaggartmore was being offered for sale through the ‘Encumbered Estates Court‘, but there were no buyers, Arthur Kiely died in 1862.
In 1861 the house had been bought by a William Morton Woodroofe who later sold it to Hon. Claud Anson. In 1922 Ballysaggartmore House was destroyed by a fire, however one of the gatehouses remained occupied until the 1970s.
GPS: 52.14684, -7.96691