Tuesday, 23 July 2019

A summer afternoon by
the Shannon Estuary at
the ruins of Beagh Castle

Beagh Castle and the Shannon Estuary in summer sunshine at the weekend (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

It was a busy weekend, presiding and preaching at both Morning Prayer in Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick, and the Parish the Eucharist in Saint Brendan’s Church, Tarbert, Co Kerry, and then returning to Askeaton in the afternoon for a Baptism.

But during the weekend, in the warm sunshine, two of us went for a walk along the banks of the Shannon estuary at Beagh Castle, near Ballysteen, about six or seven km north of Askeaton.

The old pier and quay on the river bank, below the ruins of Beagh Castle, look out across the river towards Shannon Airport. The ancient castle, with a chequered and colourful history dating back to the Vikings, has been bought in recent months, after being on the market for some years, and a planning notice on the site indicates interesting possibilities for a new tourism development there.

Beagh Castle stands on about 17 acres on a promontory on the south side of the Shannon, with long views stretching up and down river, and north across the river estuary to Shannon Airport.

Local people believe the castle stands on the site of a Viking settlement. According to the legend, a Viking prince returned to this point on the shore following his conversion to Christianity and built a chapel here in the 820s. Later, it is said, the FitzGeralds of Desmond built Beagh Castle in the 13th century on the site of the earlier Viking fortification.

Beagh Castle passed to the Knights of Glin, perhaps as early as 1260, and remained in their hands for three centuries. Thomas FitzGerald, the 15th Knight of Glin, was executed in Limerick in 1569. The castle was still held by Edmond FitzThomas FitzGerald, the 14th Knight of Glin, in 1573. But Beagh Castle was confiscated, and in 1578 it was handed over to William Drury.

A crumbling arch at the entrance to Beagh Castle (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

In 1657, the castle was awarded to Sir Hardress Waller (1604-1666), a prominent Cromwellian who was condemned to death three years later for his part in the regicide of Charles I. After the Restoration of Charles II, Waller fled to France, but was returned to stand trial as a regicide. Waller was sentenced to death, and while his life was spared, he remained a prisoner until he died in jail in Jersey in 1666.

A year later, his widowed daughter Elizabeth married her second husband, Sir William Petty, and she later became Baroness Shelburne in her own right. Her descendants included William FitzMaurice, later William Petty, 1st Marquess of Lansdowne and 2nd Earl of Shelburne, who was Prime Minister in 1782-1783.

Sir Hardress Waller’s descendant, John Waller (1763-1836) of Castetown Manor, was an MP for Co Limerick then for Kilmallock, when he voted against the Act of Union. In 1831, he provided the site and endowed the building of Castletown Church.

The Waller family sold their estate at Castletown in 1936, and the house was levelled to the ground in the 1940s.

Meanwhile, Beagh Castle was a defensive outpost on the Shannon during the Napoleonic Wars in the early 19th century. Later, from 1835 to 1860, the castle served as a coastguard station and five cottages were built there for the coastguard officers.

There was a proposal in 1850 to locate the Transatlantic Packet Station off Beagh Castle, but instead the choice went to the then small town of Southampton. The pier at Beagh Castle was used as a stopping point for the Shannon packet steamer in the late 19th and early 20th century.

An Italian count and his American-born wife bought Beagh Castle in 1969 as a gift for their daughter. The ruined castle remains an imposing tower house and is a recorded monument and protected structure, with the row of former coastguard cottages tumbling down the hill beside it to the entrance arch.

The castle has been on the market for some years, with an asking price of €275,000. The latest planning applications seeks permission to convert the ruined coastguard cottages on the site into five holiday homes and a management office, and to ensure that the future of Beagh Castle as a ruin is safeguarded.

Hopefully, the future of another part of the archaeological and architectural heritage of Co Limerick has been secured.

The ruined coastguard cottages at Beagh Castle (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

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