30 July 2019
Lunch and an afternoon
visit to Springfield Castle
and its turrets and towers
At the weekend, I visited the churches and villages at Broadford and Dromcollogher in West Limerick. But these were added bonuses on way to and from Springfield Castle, where two of us had lunch in the Green Room Café on Saturday afternoon.
Springfield Castle is an impressive country house in a picturesque location, with extensive panoramic views of the surrounding countryside of West Limerick and north Cork.
The house and courtyard complex are the ancestral home of Lord and Lady Muskerry and occupies the site of an old bawn associated with the 16th-century tower house.
The fine Gothic Revival style gate tower provides a glorious entrance to the substantial courtyard. A large variety of outbuildings display great skill and craftsmanship with well executed rubble stone walls and numerous carriage arches helping to maintain the historic character of the site.
A curious mechanised clock controlling a mechanical calendar, lunar calendar and a bell constructed by the current owner’s great-grand uncle is a mechanical masterpiece of great technical interest.
Springfield Castle is an elegant historic Irish castle. Steeped in history, it is the ancestral home of Lord and Lady Muskerry. Their motto, Forti et fideli nihil dificile, ‘Nothing is Difficult to the Brave and Faithful,’ underlies over 700 years of family history.
The earliest castle at Gort na Tiobrad, the Irish name for Springfield Castle, is reputed to date from 1280, when one of the FitzGeralds, a junior member of the Desmond family, married a woman from the O Coilleain family, who were the Lords of Claonghlais. He later built a castle at Springfield.
Little is known of this castle, but it is said some of the ruins on the north of the present courtyards may incorporate remnants of this castle.
In their day, the FitzGeralds were patrons to Irish poets and musicians. At the gateway to Springfield Castle, a plaque on the wall commemorates Daithi O Bruadair, a 17th century Irish poet who lived at the castle with his patrons, the FitzGerald family, recording their lives and family events. He described Springfield Castle as ‘a mansion abounding in poetry, prizes and people.’
The FitzGerald family had their lands confiscated for the third and last time in 1691 after the Treaty of Limerick. Sir John FitzGerald went into exile in France with Patrick Sarsfield; he never returned to Ireland and was killed in battle in Oudenarde in 1708.
William FitzMaurice, a younger son of the 20th Lord of Kerry, then bought Springfield castle. His son, John FitzMaurice, was a nephew Thomas Fitzmaurice, 1st Earl of Kerry and ancestor of the Marquis of Lansdowne. He built a large, three-storey early Georgian mansion attached to the existing buildings, and a visible mark to the tower house represents part of the roof line of that 18th century mansion built by John FitzMaurice.
The FitzMaurices continued to live at Springfield Castle until Ann FitzMaurice, the sole heiress, married Sir Robert Tilson Deane in 1775.
The Deane family was descended from Sir Matthew Deane, who moved from Somerset to Ireland in the mid-17th century, bought lands in Co Cork, and was made a baronet in 1709. His descendant, Sir Robert Tilson Deane, was MP for Carysfort (1771-1776) and Co Cork (1776-1781). He married Anne FitzMaurice of Springfield Castle, and received the title of Baron Muskerry in 1781.
This 1st Lord Muskerry built ‘a splendid mansion’ on which he is said to have spent at least £30,000. But before it was inhabited, this mansion had ben dismantled by 1788 and ‘the materials sold.’
Griffith’s Valuation records Lord Muskerry holding extensive lands in Co Limerick and Co Cork.
Robert Tilson FitzMaurice Deane (1826-1857), grandson of Robert and Anne, married Elizabeth Geraldine Grogan Morgan of Johnstown Castle, Co Wexford, in 1847 and assumed the additional name of Morgan. She was an aunt of Lady Maurice FitzGerald who, as Adelaide Forbes, married Lord Maurice FitzGerald, second son of the fourth Duke of Leinster.
Robert and Elizabeth were the parents of Hamilton Matthew Tilson Fitzmaurice Deane-Morgan (1854-1929), who succeeded his grandfather as 4th Baron Muskerry in 1868. In the 1870s, Lord Muskerry owned 3,161 acres in Co Limerick, 742 acres in Co Tipperary, 912 acres in Co Wexford and 28 acres in Co Clare.
His wife, Elizabeth Grogan Deane Morgan, owned over 350 acres in Co Waterford in the 1870s as well as extensive estates in Co Kilkenny and Co Wexford.
Springfield Castle was burnt in 1921 during the War of Independence. At the time, the IRA claimed the Black and Tans were going to convert the buildings into a garrison.
The castle was rebuilt in 1929 by Bob Muskerry, Robert Matthew Fitzmaurice Deane-Morgan (1874-1952), when he succeeded as the 5th Lord Muskerry. He built the current house in the Gothic Revival style of the 19th century, with pinnacles and turrets at the house and the main entrance. The castellated entrance towers with tooled stone forming the main fabric of the turrets and a grand entrance door greatly enliven the façade.
When his brother, Mathew Chichester Cecil FitzMaurice Deane-Morgan (1875-1964), 6th Baron Muskerry, died in 1964, the title, Springfield Castle and the estate passed to a cousin, Matthew FitzMaurice Tilson Deane (1874-1966), 7th Baron Muskerry. Hastings FitzMaurice Tilson Deane (1907-1988), 8th Baron Muskerry, was a consultant radiologist in South Africa and in Limerick.
Robert Fitzmaurice Deane, the present and ninth Baron, lives and works in South Africa, and is funding a restoration project that started in 2006 with the renovation of the East Tower. The Tower house is being restored as venue for events and functions. Lord Muskerry’s sister Betty and her husband Jonathan Sykes run Springfield Castle today with their family.
Springfield Castle is an attached Gothic Revival style country house with a courtyard complex, commenced ca 1740, comprising attached an eight-bay, two-storey country house, rebuilt in 1929, having single-bay three-stage entrance tower.
An earlier, two-bay, three-storey wing on the east side has a single-bay, three-stage gate tower with an integral camber-headed carriage arch. To the rear, a two-bay, two-storey, double-pile over basement block to the rear, on the north, incorporating a possibly earlier three-stage tower at the north-west.
The enclosed farmyard complex behind the house follows the plan of a bawn wall, incorporating earlier 16th and 18th-century tower houses. The wall-mounted clock on the side of the central gate tower was designed as a mechanical calendar, with a lunar calendar controlling the bell to the roof.
There is a two-bay, four-stage, 18th-century tower house at the north end of the east range, with a parapet wall and a bellcote.
The ruinous remains of an 11-bay single-storey outbuilding form the north range of the courtyard with a ruinous central tower.
A two-bay, single-stage 18th-century corner tower stands at the west end of the north range.
The three-stage rectangular 16th-century tower house has the ruins of a circular turret associated with original bawn wall.
The central lawn area in the enclosed yard has a tooled limestone column mounted on pedestal surmounted by later render figurine of a monkey and a timber gazebo.
Springfield Castle and the drive leading up to it are entered through a free-standing Egyptian style gateway built ca 1900. However, another local tradition says the gateway was inspired by a Maori tradition that Lord Muskerry came across while working in Australia and New Zealand.
The Deane family motto engraved above the gate, Forti et Fideli Nihil Difficile, means ‘Nothing is Difficult to the Brave and Faithful.’
A plaque at the gateway commemorates Daithi O Bruadair, a 17th-century Irish poet of the Bardic tradition who lived at the castle with his patrons, the Fitzgerald family.
An underground tunnel was said to link Springfield Castle and Springfield Church, a chapel of the FitzGerald family that later became a Church of Ireland parish church. The church is now in ruins and is surrounded by Springfield Graveyard, which includes a tomb of the FitzMaurice family, who acquired Springfield Castle after the Jacobite and Williamite wars.