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McCarthy Mór Tower House

Ballinskelligs Castle

 

This 16th Century Tower House was built by McCarthy Mór in order to protect the bay from pirates, and possibly in order to charge a tariff on incoming trade ships. These Tower houses were built all around the Cork and Kerry Coasts by the McCarthy Mór. A very good example of a larger McCarthy Castle is Ballycarbery Castle over the water in Cahirsiveen.

 

A more romantic version of the history of Ballinskelligs Castle is that it was built much earlier, during the 12th and 13th century when battles took place between the Gaelic King of Desmond, McCarthy Mór who ruled South Kerry, and the Geraldine Earl of Desmond, who ruled North Kerry. 

 

Ballinskelligs Castle also had some association with the nearby Priory, Ballinskelligs Abbey. 1538 saw the dissolution of the monasteries by King Henry V111. It is possible that the Priory was in McCarthy Mór hands in the mid 16th century and possibly housed a garrison. In 1620 the Abbey came into the possession of Christopher Sigerson. The Castle was also the Manor, which the Sigerson family occupied in the early seventeenth century.

 

Local Folklore, through local writer Michael Kirby, says that at a point between the priory and the McCarthy Mór Tower House a hole opened up after a storm which exposed skeletons and skulls, each of the latter cut in the front as if by a sword or axe. It is said that these were the remains of the monks of the Abbey.

 

Excavations were undertaken at the castle in 1988 and 1991 by John Sheehan and Anne O’Sullivan, following the erosion of a large area of land at the S & E sides. The original ground floor, formed of large paving slabs was revealed beneath a considerable build up of storm material.

 

The entrance is on the SE or seaward side and features a doorway of punch dressed sandstone. There is a hole running through from the doorway to a mural chamber on the NE side to allow for a chain to operate the grille. There is also a space for a draw bar on the inside of the door. Above the door on entering can be seen a murder-hole.

 

The building was originally a three-storey structure, and the corbels for these floors still exist Access to the first floor level is by way of a mural stairway in the south corner. The stairway does not seem to have gone any further than the second floor, so it is possible that access to the roof by gained by a ladder. There is no evidence of what type of roof the structure had.

 

There is evidence in the form of old photographs and a line of beam sockets on the outside of the NW wall that there was some sort of structure on the outside of the main structure. It is possible that the sockets were for the purpose of supporting press beams used in 17th century Pilchard-curing stations. It may be that this was one of those fisheries set up by Sir William Petty. Most of the finds on the site were of post-medieval date (Sheehan 1989,20-21 1992,P23) Archaeological Survey of South Kerry 1996.

 

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