Searching for the Lost Castle of Ardmore

 

Searching for the Lost Castle of Ardmore

by John Tierney and Martha Hannon
 
 
The 'lost castle' of Ardmore is finally beginning to reveal itself.
There is abundant historical evidence for Ardmore having a medieval defensive structure large enough to contain well over 200 men, women and children plus livestock, however no physical traces of the castle survive. Or if they do, we have failed to recognise them to date. 
 
As part of a 2024 Ardmore Tidy Towns heritage project we have reviewed current knowledge about Ardmore castle while also using some new digital survey techniques to try and fill in some missing pieces of the Ardmore heritage puzzle.  Reading Siobhán Lincoln's encyclopaedic work on the village and parish, Ardmore, Memory and Story, led us to review the 1818 Grand Jury map of the county of Waterford by William Larkin. We first examined a digital version of the map and then, courtesy of Willie Fraher in the Waterford County Museum, consulted a paper copy of the map. What we initially thought were two 'round' features turned out to be a line of trees apparently delineating a property in Farrangarret. Willie pointed out that Larkin depicted demesnes (landlord's home estates) as parkland. Two such properties are indicated in Ardmore, Coghlan's demesne in Ardoginna, and more pertinently Farrengarret in Ardmore village, perhaps centred on the former Monea House. The latter area delineated by the srutháin to the north and a field boundary below the Farrengarret farm building complex to the south.
 
This prompted us to consider was Larkin's map indicating a property in Farrengarret with roots in the later medieval period? Could this property indicate the working home farm section of the medieval church manor of Ardmore,  balancing the older ecclesiastical core? Ardmore was a church manor, subsidiary to the Bishops manor in Lismore. For 400 years ownership of Ardmore manor was in legal dispute - fluctuating from secular to church ownership. MacCotter (2021) surveyed a range of historical documents relating to Ardmore manor and has identifed a number of references to Ardmore castle in various rental registrys over time. Interestingly Walter Raleigh obtained ownership of Ardmore 'manor and castle' in 1590 and he sold his Munster estates to Richard Boyle in 1602.  A Sir John Dowdall was listed as holding Ardmore castle in 1604. Dowdall was a full military tenant of Boyle's by 1610 (Edwards 2018) and may have even served as such before then. A rental registry of the Boyle's from 1660 refers to a castle in Ardmore built by 'John Lancaster son of the bishop'. John Lancaster was bishop of Waterford from 1608 to 1619 so we appear to have a reference to either refurbishment or new building of a castle in Ardmore ca. twenty years before the famous 1642 siege which tallies with Edward's main point that Richard Boyle militarised much of his tenantry from the late 1590s onwards.
 
There is a lot of local interest in the lost castle of Ardmore and for years we’ve had discussions with Des Fitzgerald about the location of Ardmore castle. Those discussions boiled down to two main questions 1. was the former castle situated where the rectory is now or 2. was the story more complicated than that? Des’s point was that historical accounts of the castle indicated that the ‘rectory hypothesis’ didn't address all of the information available and also written accounts allowed for the presence of two possible structures. Des's intuiton of the need to address all of the available evidence always gave us pause for thought. The ‘rectory hypothesis’ is strong, hinging as it does on an account of the 1642 siege saying the castle was within pistol-shot downhill of the cathedral and also anecdotal evidence of apparently older large walls and basements surviving in the rectory. (For an Ardmore historians review of the events of the 1642 siege(s) of Ardmore read Richard Harrington's interesting account published in 2022.) However, when we noticed the possible demesne property in Farrengarret shown in the 1818 Larkin map we realised we may have our first cartographic clue as to where the lost castle of Ardmore stood and it seemed to fit in with Des’s view of things. 
 
Most of the structures called castles in Ireland are 14th century (the 1300s) tower houses, while castles proper ie. built soon into the Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland often date to the late 1100s/early 1200s, were larger and more complex in design. West Waterford tower houses don't survive very well, but you'll see an urban tower house called Tynte's castle (Tynte was another military tenant & relative by marriage of Boyle's)  just down from Supervalu in Youghal. Is that what we had in Ardmore or was it a castle proper like King John's Castle in Dungarvan? The record of monuments and places (www.archaeology.ie) for Ardmore lists a probable tower house and bawn for the Mernin family and we're inclined to take this as the most likely type of medieval 'castle' in Ardmore. A bawn is a defensive feature associated with tower houses in Ireland, serving as an enclosed courtyard or outer defensive wall surrounding the main tower house.
 
Fortunately we do have one current means to test the hypothesis that Ardmore castle may be situated downhill of the cathedral (but not centred on the rectory). In the 2021 Community Monument Fund study we used a measured drone survey commissioned by Ardmore Tidy Towns to make a 3D ground model of Ardmore graveyard. We also had a wider area survey of the whole of Ardmore Head available to us. This survey by Dr. Paul Naessens of Western Aerial Surveys gave us a 5GB digital terrain model of the village and its environs, including the fields around the graveyard in Ardocheasty and Farrengarret. A 2021 attempt to process this big landscape model failed but we went back to it again last week (June 2024). With a better computer and better software, we have generated new ground models and new earthwork details have emerged.
 
The big curving ditches behind the rectory and below the Farrengarret farm complex are obvious in the drone survey ground models but a new feature appears to have been revealed. A possible rectangular earthwork enclosure, measuring 52m e-w x 46m, with degraded earthen banks, measuring 10m wide, can be seen in the QGIS ground models.
We haven't found a castle or a tower house yet but we have begun to better understand the combination of earthworks behind the rectory. Our current favoured hypothesis is that we may have identifed a bawn-like feature but without further tests and analysis this is speculation. It is also possible we have identified traces of whatever 'castle' John Lancaster built in Ardmore between 1608 and 1619.
 
It is early days yet but this is the first solid evidence we have seen which will allow us unravel the story of the lost castle of Ardmore. In the next year we aim to tease apart the earthworks spanning the early medieval monastic site and the late medieval church manor. We will also address the archaeology of the early modern period when a second wave of the Munster plantation, with Richard Boyle, the earl of Cork, and his broad social network, left its mark on Ardmore.
 
Here below is an unmarked version of one of the QGIS ground models. We present it for the reader to assess themselves without our interpretations being added (except for a scale bar showing the width of what we think could be a single earthwork).
Acknowledgements
Edwards, David 2018 Boyle's private army; the creation of a colonial security force in early Stuart Munster. in The Colonial World of Richard Boyle, First Earl of Cork. eds. D Edwards and C. Rynne.
Harrington, Richard. 2022 TWO SIEGES AND A MURDER: THE 1641 REBELLION IN ARDMORE History Ireland. (https://www.historyireland.com/two-sieges-and-a-murder-the-1641-rebellio...)
Kiely, J. 2021 Conservation Management Plan of St. Declan’s Ecclesiastical Complex in Ardmore, Co Waterford November 2021 with contributions by Dr. Paul MacCotter, Paul Naessens, Dave Pollock, John Sunderland and John Tierney (https://drive.google.com/file/d/1-hj2uv9gwZ-oVaiJI-nB5jP-FsP9HKFl/view?u...) This work was supported by the heritage office of Waterford County Council and funded by the 2021 Community Monument Fund.
MacCotter, Paul. 2021 Ardmore Appendix 3 Conservation Management Plan Round Tower Graveyard.
The Ardmore Tidy Towns measured drone survey of Ardmore Head (by Dr Paul Naessens) was funded by a grant from Bord Uiscigh Mhara.
 
 
These current works are part of a 2024 Ardmore Tidy Towns heritage plan and are part funded by the EU Horizon SECreTour project. SECreTour is developing good practices in sustainable heritage tourism.
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