Garron Castle from the northeast

Garranmaconly Towerhouse Co. Laois (LA021-013001) located approximately 5km SW of Borris-in-Ossory. Garrán Mhic Connla in Irish translates to the “grove of the sons of Conla”, Connla being a name borne by several figures in Irish history and legend.

Garron Castle from the northeast
Garron Castle from the northeast

Garran Castle is situated in what was a heavily fortified zone with a number of castles and fortified structures located in the immediate area. Originally the Castle was in the territory of Upper Ossory under the Earldom of the Fitzpatricks or Mac Giolla Phádraig’s but by letters patent on 21st July 1600 Upper Ossory was formally transferred to Queen’s County.
The Castle was likely built in the time of Brían Óg Mac Giolla Phádraig (Barnaby) 1st Baron Upper Ossory, in the mid-1500’s. Lord Deputy Sidney in 1575, is quoted as saying of the Barony; “Upper Osserie is so well governed and defended, by the valor and wisedome of the Baron”. Barnaby in his younger years was sent to London and formed part of the Tudor Court, having close ties with Queen Elizabeth. The Castle was built during the period of the Laois Plantation when incursions into Upper Ossory a territory loyal to the crown, were made by Laois Clansmen.It was in Upper Ossory where Rory Oge O’More met his end in 1578, with his head sent to Dublin Castle. The area was also disputed by the Earldom of Ormonde, Black Thomas.

Down Survey Map of Garronmaconly showing the castle 1656-1658
Down Survey Map of Garronmaconly showing the castle 1656-1658

In 1601 it was occupied by John Fitzpatrick and by 1665 a “Peter Buckley” paid hearth tax on the building. By the 1640’s the castle was owned by another Barnaby Fitzpatrick, “the Irish Papist”. We see from the Down survey maps during this time that the lands were fortified and a castle is depicted. After the Cromwellian conquest (1650) the castle passed into the hands of the Villars or Vicars family (Carrigan 1905, vol. 2, 138). A depiction by Austin Cooper from the 1790’s which featured in Beranger’s views of Ireland, shows an almost intact structure. However in 1863 Carrigan states that the “north and east walls collapsed to the foundations”, leaving the remaining walls we see there today (ibid, p138). The 1790’s image depicts the castle surrounded by a low (likely robbed out bawn wall). The rubble from the collapsed walls and bawn wall was likely made use of in a later limekiln located approximately 500m to the northwest of the castle. Also in the Cooper image, which was sketched whilst facing the castle to the North West, we see an intact garderobe tower, or plainly speaking the castle toilet!! This is still visible on the exterior of the north wall today.

Austin Cooper 1790's sketch of Garron Castle
Austin Cooper 1790’s sketch of Garron Castle

What survives is a fine example of a four storey (with attic) Tudor period Towerhouse with a number of defensive features still visible. A double machicolation is visible on the southern corner of the west wall with a bartizan spanning the north-western corner of the upper walls. These would have provided defensive cover against attackers on the entrances ways to the castle. Such structures were used to provide the defenders with cover as they hurled stones and projectiles onto would be attackers. The interior of the tower contains a number of fireplaces at each of the floor levels situated within the interior of the northern wall; one of these is decorated with a flat Tudor arch (which helps us date the building). Evidence for a spiral staircase is also visible on the north-western corner of the castle (mainly collapsed) which would have facilitated access to the various floors. There is also evidence for a base batter on the west wall which provided structural support to the castle as well as being a defensive feature minimising the impact of ramming devises.

Interior of the castle taken from the southwest
Interior of the castle taken from the southwest
The West Wall at Garron Castle
The West Wall at Garron Castle
The defensive barizan spanning the upper reaches of the northwestern corner
The defensive bartizan spanning the upper reaches of the northeastern corner

Garran Castle would have been a relatively small but well defended structure in its day. The upper floors would have been quiet commodious for the clan members of the Fitzpatrick which lived here. Rectangular twin light windows are clearly visible and would have provided the Lord and Lady with panoramic views of the rolling countryside. Rooms would have been well heated in the upper floors with turf and timber being used as fuel from the surrounding area. The ornate Tudor Arched fireplace would have acted as the courtly room where feasts and disputes took place between the lords and their vassals within the area. It is likely the castle was attacked and few into disrepair in the latter half of the 17th Century as records become scant from this period onwards.

Northeast corner of the towerhouse showing the remains of chambers and the spiral staircase
Northwest corner of the towerhouse showing the remains of passageways and the spiral staircase

Further Reading

Carrigan: History and Antiquities of the Diocese of Ossory 1905

Archaeological Inventory of Co. Laois

The Castles & Tower Houses of County Laois Survey 2014 Gertie Keane

Antiquates of Laois Philip I Powell 2014

Post Author: Laois Archaeology

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