Audley’s Castle is a stunning three story 15th century Tower-House which stands on a small hill overlooking Strangford Lough in County Down. It is one of a series of tower houses situated on the Lecale coast, with others at Portaferry, Quoile and Strangford. The Lecale is a peninsula in county Down, its named derived from the irish ‘Leath Cathal’ (Cathal’s half), Cathal was a prince of Ulaid around 700AD. Audley’s Castle is part of the immense Castle Ward estate. It was modelled on nearby Kilclief Castle which was built by the Bishop of Down in the early part of the 15th century. The oldest part of the castle’s history is somewhat sparse but it is named after John Audley and the Audley family who owned it during the 16th century. The castle and surrounding lands were sold to the Ward family in 1646 who set about landscaping the huge track of land, along with its artificial lake known as Temple Water.
While researching the history of this castle I can across a very troubling part of the history of the area, this being the now eradicated small village Audleystown. How little is known about these people is astonishing and gives an idea of the status of the poor Irish in this class structure as a consequence of English rule. Audleystown existed as a hilltop village of 250 inhabitants up until the middle of the 1800s, 25 of the families were tenants of the Castle Ward Estate, but today its even very hard to make out the stone walls of the houses that once existed. The fate of the people of Audleystown was sealed with the death of the Viscount Bangor who lived at Castle Ward, when he died his wife Harriet or Lady Bangor took control of the estate. The fact that she was known as ‘The Evictor’ gives some idea of her perspective on the tenants of Audleystown. She was a widowed mother of six when she met Major Savage-Nugent who she married and had four further children. Major Savage-Nugent lived on the Nugent estate on the other side of Strangford Lough. Together Nugent and Lady Bangor set about evicting the tenants of the village, some archives suggest that it was due to the Major simply not liking the people who lived in Audleystown Another school of thought was that they had decided to plant a woodland where the village was situated so that both the Castle Ward and Nugent Estate would appear to blend into one (even though the Lough does separate them at a narrow point). Whatever the reason was for the destruction of Audleystown in 1852 its inhabitants, 197 in all, were placed on a ship purportedly named the Rose, that was supposedly heading to America, however there is no record of them ever arriving in the US (however it may have gone to Canada or Mexico). Whatever happened to these people remains a mystery. There is an account of one remaining inhabitant named Audley-Savage who died in 1897 unmarried in a little cottage on the hillside of Audleystown. In a short space of time Audleystown disappeared literally off the map, the first ordnance map in 1834 shows a few clachans and stone houses on the hillside, as quickly as 25 years later the 1859 map shows one hundred acres of woodland where Audleystown once stood.
On a lighter note Audley’s Castle and the Castle Ward estate has recently gained notoriety for featuring in the series Game of Thrones and has felt a significant increase in interest and visits to this site. One word of warning to anyone driving to Audley’s Castle is that the road is very narrow with many hidden dips and goes on for what felt like an age so take your time as its well worth the wait!
GPS: 54.3795, -5.57203