Wardtown Castle, Donegal, Ireland

Wardtown Castle is the remains of a magnificent 18th century house situated on an elevated site northwest of Ballyshannon, with beautiful views over Wardtown Strand and the estuary of the River Erne to the south. Its construction began in 1739 under the direction of General Folliott and was completed by 1740. The winter of 39/40 had been very severe, with a frost lasting 108 days and the knock on effect of food shortages and increased mortality rates. The building of Wardtown was commenced in an effort to employ the distressed classes of the area, as Hugh Allingham states in Ballyshannon: Its History and Antiquities (1879), ‘The remuneration they received during the progress of the work was sixpence per day and their food. Considering the value of money in those days, this was a liberal allowance’.

The Folliotts had resided in the area of Ballyshannon since the late 16th/early 17th century, the first to come to Ireland being Henry Folliott (born 1569) who is listed as serving in army in Donegal in 1594. Over the last twenty years of his life he began to accumulate property and in 1620 was created first Baron Folliott of Ballyshannon by the crown. After the first Baron’s death in 1620 the estate passed to his nine year old son Thomas, and later to Henry Folliott the third and last Baron Folliott, he died in 1716. He died without an heir and so some of his properties were divided between his five sisters and the rest going to his cousin Lieutenant-General John Folliott. When he died without a male heir it passed on to another cousin John Folliott. John Folliott’s family owned a huge amount of property in Sligo and was his main place of residence.

It is uncertain who designed Wardtown but it must have been a person of vision and skill. The south/front elevation is notable for the almost full-height tower like bowed projections to the centre and at either side, a further bowed projection is at the rear of the house, these are the earliest example of such an architectural feature in Irish country houses. The exterior of the building is symmetrical and this symmetry continues throughout the interior of the house also.

The Folliotts sublet the house from the late 18th century onwards, and in 1824 Dr Simon Sheil is listed as the resident of the house. It was then let to the Likely family from 1835 right up until 1916 when its last resident, Ellie Likely left. The building then fell into ruin during the 1920s and the estate was broken up by the Land Commission.

As always I do like to look to the Schools Collection of the early 20th century to see if any mention is made of the places I visit and Wardtown is no exception. Obviously the collection is local folklore/knowledge and cannot be verified but I was intrigued to see that the tragic tale of the Colleen Bawn (Cáilín Bán) has been ascribed to the Folliott family and to Wardtown castle, I have found at least five mentions of this in the records. There are also tales of pots of gold in the lake near the house protected by a dragon and of the many who drowned in their efforts to find it! The ruins of the castle now stand beside an open farm and activity centre for children.

GPS: 54.51415, -8.23764

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