Conna Castle, situated on a limestone outcrop overlooking the River Bride, is a beautiful and interesting ruin. Considering its later construction date of 1554AD it nevertheless has quite a bloodied and turbulent history. The castle was built by the Fitzgeralds, Earls of Desmond, over a ten year period, but they only occupied the site for five years before the Desmond Rebellions began. The rebellion started in 1569 when the Fitzgerald dynasty and the Geraldines, their allies, rose up against Elizabeth I, in hopes to attain impendence as lords. However this was also the time of the Reformation and the catholic Geraldines were astutely fearful of the Protestant English state. The Desmond Rebellions failed and the colonisation of Munster with English Protestant settlers followed, the lands at Conna were granted to the English explorer Walter Raleigh. The then owner of the castle James FitzThomas made the trip to London to try and insist on his heirship to the Fitzgerald estates, he hadn’t taken part in the rebellion, but he was unsuccessful and became known as the Sugán or ‘Straw’ Earl.
In 1598 Hugh O Neill launched his rebellion in Ulster, and achieved a great victory at the Battle of the Yellow Ford. the Straw Earl saw this as an opportunity to regain his lands and launched his own rebellion. FitzThomas with the support of O’Neill troops began attacks on English settlers in Munster. In 1601 he was betrayed and caught by the crown forces and taken to the Tower of London, it was while imprisoned there he went insane and died. Subsequently Conna passed into the hands of the Earl of Cork, Richard Boyle. In 1645 the castle was captured by Irish Confederate troops led by Lord Castlehaven. By 1650 Oliver Cromwell reached Conna and set up camp nearby on “Gallows Hill”, it was here he executed the captured rebels and launched cannon attack on the castle, however he could not take the castle. Just three years later a fire at the tower culminated in the death of three of the castle steward’s daughters. In the middle of the 19th century the castle passed into the hands of the L’Estrange family and was eventually willed by them to the state in 1915.
The tower of the castle is all that remains today, but in itself is a fantastic ruin with a very imposing approach, unfortunately the access door is welded shut and only open on specific occasions like Heritage Week.
GPS: 52.09452, -8.10165
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