The term ‘hidden gem’ is most certainly overused in the modern age and I am at pains to use it myself but in regards to historical sites in Dublin, Drimnagh Castle is truly that. Most Irish people haven’t heard of the castle, and considering its status as the only castle in Ireland with a moat in some ways its hard to understand. Its positioning is interesting and something I discussed with John, a volunteer, who showed me around the site. The castle is to the rear of the 1950s built Christian Brothers School, its quite telling that during the schools construction, in the post colonial extremely religious De Valera’s Ireland of the time, that this 13th century Anglo-Norman structure was set back behind the school. I imagine if a school was built on this site today the castle would serve as the centrepiece of any construction or in a different area it may have served as the focus of a four star hotel!
The castle was built in the 13th century and the earliest recorded owner was Sir Hugh de Bernivale. De Bernivale, a Norman knight who arrived in Ireland with the infamous Strongbow, was granted the lands of Drymenagh (Drimnagh) and Tyrenure (Terenure) in 1215 for his family’s support in the Crusades and the invasion of Ireland. At the time the land was granted to De Bernivale Drimnagh was an area of vast forest stretching up into the Dublin mountains. In fact Drimnagh as an area is only a very recent development, documents from the 18th century show a population of only 11 in the surrounding area! Over the centuries the de Bernivale family became known as Barnewell or Barnewall, and though the castle was built in the 13th century the main remaining structures date to the early 15th century. The great hall dates from this period, when the earlier sleeping and living quarters were remodelled, and the attached tower from the 16th or 17th century. There is also a large early 20th century building attached to the castle which was used as a coach house, a stable and a ballroom during its lifetime. By the time of Samuel Lewis’ Topographical Dictionary of Ireland (1837) the castle was said to be an “irregular pile” and the “property of the Marquess of Lansdowne…occupied by Mr E. Cavanagh“.
In the very early part of the 20th the castle was bought by Joseph Hatch (born 1851) of 6 Lower Leeson Street, Hatch was involved in dairy and also was a member of Dublin City Council. He bought the castle to provide grazing land for his cattle, and restored it as a summer home and for other family events such as marriages. After Joseph’s death the castle passed into the hands of his son Joseph Aloysius who alongside his brother Hugh managed the dairy farm. Both brothers died within a year of each other in 1950/51. The castle remained occupied by the Hatch family until the mid 1950s. The castle was bequeathed to Dr. P.Dunne, Bishop of Nara, who sold it for a nominal sum to the Christian Brothers, initially the Brothers lived and ran the school inside the old I until 1956 when they moved to the new school. The castle was briefly used by St James Gaels GAA as a clubhouse during the 1970s but fell into ruin by the mid 1980s. In 1986 Peter Pearson, an artists working with An Taisce (the National Trust for Ireland), set up a local committee and with the help of FÁS to set about restoring the castle. It was completed and opened to the public in 1991.
As with many castles there is reportedly a ghost, that of Eleanora Barnwall. Eleanora was betrothed to her cousin Edmund through arranged aristocratic marriage. Before the marriage Eleanora met Sean O’Byrne at a social gathering at a friends in the outskirts of Dublin and immediately fell in love. O’Byrne was a member of the strong O’Byrne family from Wicklow, a Irish Clan very much ay odds with the Anglo-Norman’s like the Barnwalls, however she was still to be forced to marry Edmund, a man she didn’t love. On the day of their wedding while on the way to St Patrick’s Cathedral in the centre of Dublin their coach was attacked by the O’Byrnes and Edmund was killed, however Eleanora’s uncle and his guards managed to kill several of the O’Byrnes including Sean, Eleanora’s love. Due to the controversy around what Eleanora had done and the death of her cousin her uncle Hugh forbade her to leave the castle. After a number of days of mourning Eleanora somehow freed herself from the castle and made her way to Sean O’Byrne’s grave in the Dublin Mountains. She was distraught and lay on the grave until the cold and the snow led to her death. She is said to still haunt the castle to this day.
GPS: 53.32504, -6.33258
I highly recommend a visit to this truly unique and somewhat forgotten site, it has had an increase in visitors due to the great hall and castle being used in the filming of BBCs ‘The Tudors‘ amongst other series and film. The castle is open Monday through Thursday 9am-3pm and Friday 9am-midday, please note card is not accepted, cash only. Lastly thanks to John for showing me around and Amanda for organising.