The Treaty of Limerick 1691 marked
another great defeat for the Catholic cause in Ireland. The Tudor Plantations
and Cromwellian confiscations had ensured that much of the land passed from
Irish Catholic ownership to English protestants, who were rewarded with large
estates in Ireland. Ever after the Williamite confiscations, Irish Catholics
still owned about 14% of Irish land. However, Penal Laws introduced at the
beginning of the eighteenth century forbade Catholics to buy any land at all or
to take leases for longer than thirty one years. By 1778 scarcely five per cent
of Irish land was left in Catholic hands. Therefore, by the end of the
eighteenth century a new class of protestant ascendency were flourishing in
Ireland. There were many examples of such landlords, with their large demenses
and houses in this area.
One of the largest estates belonged to Hon. Waller O'Grady, Lord Guillamore, who resided in Castleguard House. The estate contained about five hundred acres, some of which he farmed himself and the rest was leased to tenants at between £1 Is and £1 10s per acre. The "great house" was "an ancient castle belonging to the Earl of Desmond, enlarged and restored in baronial style, with a lofty keep and ramparts". (Lewis Topogr). The castle, it is said, was built in 1198 by the O'Briens and has a head of Brian Boru carved in stone over the main entrance. There is a tradition that there was a four mile long underground passage to another stronghold of the O'Grady's at Toher, which is now in ruins. Burke's Guide to Country Houses describes Castle Guards as "a sixteenth century tower house, modernised in 1820 and a lower castellated wing added to it by Waller O'Grady, son of eminent lawyer Standish O'Grady, afterwards 1st Viscount of Guillamore, probably to the design of James and George Richard pain. At the same time the old castle lawn was restored and given battlement and castellated gateway. The drawing room has 19th century Gothic pannelling in dark oak and slightly vaulted ceilings".
Another large estate was centred in Kilmoylan. The "great house" at Kilmoylan was owned by Newport White of the famous family in Cappawhite, who were an English family who settled in Ireland in the 13th century. The nineteenth century, however, finds the lands of Kilmoylan in the hands of Daniel Barrington, Esq. who had it let to Minor Laurance Marshall who in turn sub-let to seven tenants at between £1 17s and £2 per acre.
Toomaline House was built in 1829 by the Marshal family on the site of the old priory. William Bennett, Esq. was resident here in 1839.
A large estate of 847 acres in Bilboa belonged to Lord Stradbroke and was let to 17 tenants at between £1 and £1 8s per acre.
In the centre of the demesne once stood a majestic house, known far and wide as Bilboa Court. It was built by the Reverend Dean Story between 1690 and 1700. Story was a Colonel in King William's army who settled here after the Siege of Limerick. He is reputedly buried at a place called Quoneen, "little burying ground" in the middle of the estate. A Colonel Wilson resided here later and still Lord Strabroke. The house was built "wholly of brick from Holland" and was "three storeys high in square form, about 60 ft. each side and chiefly brick work, except for the corners, doors, windows, etc. which are of cut stone. It has about forty windows, besides numerous and spacious vaults and cellars with the remains of orchards and other works".
Lord Stanley had a large estate at Cooga of 600 acres. This was leased through his agent Thomas Bolton, Esq. in farms of 26 to 10 and 21/2 acres at £1 per acre. In his generosity, he donated two acres free of charge to erect a chapel and a school house in 1837. "The shell of the edifice is nearly completed at the expense of £1,000 to the parishoners" Lewis 1837.
A Mr. G. Hodges, Esquire, owned a large house and estate at Glengar, while the local protestant clergy resided in Glebe House, Knocknacarraige. This was a fine mansion complete with billard room and a walled in orchard. It was built around a courtyard with stables on one side and the family quarters on the other. This like many of the other great houses was burned during the War of Independence and all that remains today is a blackened ruin with burnt oak timbers sticking out here and there.
The largest landowner in Cappamore parish was the Rev. Richard Lloyd. He held a total of 1,948 acres in the townslands of Tower Hill, Portnard and Dromalta. Of this he worked 206 acres himself and the rest was leased to tenants. His residence was a large mansion known as Portnard House. The dinner bell which was used to call the workers to dinner can still be seen in the yard. Lloyd reclaimed a lot of land in the area and planted a lot of trees.
Other landowners in Cappamore were Sir John Ribton, who had fertile lands in Killuragh and also Turagh, which included the village of Cappamore. Thomas Lloyd who had 145 acres at Connygavale and 297 acres at Pallasbeg. Sir John De Burgo who had 507 acres at Dromsally and Drumclogher and William Stawell who had 194 acres at Tinnaterriff.
Many of these landlords throughout Ireland were "absentees", who lived in England and their affairs handled in Ireland through their agents. It is little wonder then that affairs such as the poverty of the tenants, the unjust rent and the many cruel evictions went unnoticed and unheeded.
SOME STORIES CONCERNING THE GREAT HOUSES
Castleguard House, seat of Sir
Waller O'Grady, now inhabited by the Thompson family is reputed to be the oldest
inhabited castle in Ireland and is the focus of an amazing ghost story. Patrick
Byrne in his "Book of Irish Ghost Stories" writes:
"A twelfth century castle tower near Pallasgreen, Co. Limerick is haunted by a ghost who glides up and down the winding stone staircase in a gown of rusting silk". The Evening Herald in January 1955 continues, "I was sleeping in the third bedroom in the tower at the time", said Mrs. Thompson. "I was awakened at about one o'clock to hear a sound like the swish of silk on the staircase. The rustling continued for a time as of a person moving up the stairs. Then it stopped and though I lay awake all night I heard nothing else. I heard no footsteps, nothing except the rustle of silk".
There was no explanation for the noise except the ghost that haunts the tower. No one knows the full story of the lady in silk, but legend links her to the infamous "murder hole" in the castle. This consisted of a door leading off a third floor corridor. The door opened into a man made chism. The unsuspecting guest who entered the doorway fell fifty feet to the bottom of the murder hole.
A bedroom at the top of the tower also has an eerie tale to tell. Mrs. Thompson says that once on a perfectly calm night she was entering this room carrying an oil lamp when a gust of wind arose from nowhere and extinguished her lamp. Both rooms have remained vacant ever since.
Mr. Thompson, however, states that he doesn't believe in ghosts and reckons there is some logical explanation. He goes on to say that there is only one historical record of a murder at Castleguard, when an Elizabethan General swooped on the castle and cut off the head of the aged owner.
Another quite amazing story is told concerning the Whites of Kilmoylan. The mother of Newport White, died and was laid to rest in the family vault in Toem churchyard. A local thief entered the vault the night after the funeral intending to "relieve" the dead lady of her jewellery or any valuables she may have. Being unable to take a gold ring from her finger, he produced his penknife, intending to take finger and all. However, on applying the knife to her flesh, blood spurted forth. The poor man nearly died of shock, realising that the woman must be alive. He grabbed her in his arms and ran back to Kilmoylan with her. It is reputed that he got a substantial reward for his efforts.