18 November 2020
A deserted castle by
the River Suir and
tales of a war-like clan
Going back over my photographs from my ‘road trip’ through the southern counties of Ireland as summer was fading and autumn was still in its early days, I came across some photographs I had taken of Ballynoran Castle in Co Tipperary.
Most people passing by probably pay little attention to this sad, decaying tower house by roadside, and we might have missed it too had we not stopped for lunch at the Meadows and Byrne Village on the way from Carrick-on-Suir to Clonmel.
The Meadows and Byrne Village is a fashionable place to stop, with Blarney Woollen Mills, the Linen Loft and cafés and food shops. But Ballynoran Castle is centuries older, on the opposite side of the road, close to the banks of the River Suir and the border between Co Tipperary and Co Waterford.
Ballynoran Castle is also known as Dove Hill or Duffhill Castle, and it is one of a series of tower houses built in the 15th and 16th centuries and lining the northern banks of the River Suir in Co Tipperary.
This four-storey tower is fighting a losing battle with the encroaching ivy, and it difficult both to see any defining features and to unearth anything about its earlier history. The second storey has a latrine in the north-west corner and a fireplace on the north side, while the third storey has a south-east angle loop.
The tower house is said to have been built by the Mandeville family on land once controlled by the O’More family. It was garrisoned by Sir Thomas Butler of Cahir Castle in 1542, but a century later was noted in the Civil Survey as being ‘a small castle wanting repaire.’
The de Mandeville family came to Ireland with the arrival of the Anglo-Normans. Robert de Mandeville and others murdered William de Burgh, the ‘Brown’ Earl of Ulster, in 1333. The murder reflected the disintegration of Norman rule and triggered a resurgence of Gaelic strength and power in Ulster.
Edmund Curtis repeated the claim that the de Mandeville family had prudently adopted an Irish surname, MacQuillan, in the face of the Gaelic rebellion. The story claimed that the McQuillan family is descended from Hugelin de Mandeville, with the name McQuillan derived from the Irish Mac Uighilín, meaning son of Hugelin.
Edward MacLysaght perpetuated this myth in the 1950s and 1960s in his series of Irish Families books. However, this notion has since been challenged by historians, drawing on sources that show clearly that the McQuillans and de Mandevilles were two different families.
The Clan McQuillan originally claimed descent from Fiacha MacUillin, youngest son of Niall of the Nine Hostages. The family was associated mainly with the north Antrim coast, where they once lived at Dunluce Caste and engaged in many battles with the Scottish McDonnell clan.
Another account says the McQuillans came from Scotland in the 1200s as hired mercenaries, and were the Lords of Route from the late 13th century. According to the Annals of Ulster, a bloody feud between the MacQuillan and the O’Cahan clans started in 1442.
By the 1460s, with the earldom of Ulster near its end, it is said the surviving de Mandevilles of north Antrim deserted their manors in Twescard and sold their interests to the MacQuillans who were already established there.
The MacQuillans renamed Twescard the Route, after their ‘rout,’ a common term then for a private army. Their principal residence in the Route was at Dunluce Castle, near the mouth of the River Bush.
They built their castle on the cliffs around 1500, and the earliest written record of the castle dates from 1513. The earliest features of the castle are two large drum towers about 9 metres (30 ft) in diameter on the east side, both remains of the castle built by the McQuillans after becoming Lords of the Route.
The feud between the MacQuillan and the O’Cahan clans came to end in 1559, when the MacDonnells of the Glens, once allies of the MacQuillans, turned on them. Sorley Boy MacDonnell, with the aid of levies from Scotland, launched a mass assault on the Route against the MacQuillans. The final battle of this assault was at Aura, and saw the end of the MacQuillans and the conquest of the Route by the MacDonnells.
The bloodletting, warrior lifestyles of the MacQuillans of the Route was abandoned by later generation of the family when their direct descendants became Quakers.
In Wexford in the early 20th century, Edward McQuillan claimed to be The McQuillan or head of the Clan McQuillan. He bought Slaney View in Westgate, once the Wexford townhouse of the Perceval family of Slaney Manor, and renamed the house Dunluce.
Edward McQuillan was one of the prominent Quakers in Wexford in his day and died in 1941. The former Quaker Meeting House in High Street, Wexford, dating from 1657, had closed in 1927 following the departure from Wexford of the three remaining Thompson families.