23 July 2019
After a busy weekend, and another busy round facing me this week, I took a day off in Dublin today [23 July 2019], and went for a walk on the beaches and along the harbour in Skerries in north Co Dublin.
For many years, while in I was living in Dublin and working in the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, Skerries was one of my favourite places for a walk on the beach at the weekend, along with Bray, Greystones and Kilcoole in Co Wicklow , Bettystown and Laytown in Co Meath, and Donabate, Portrane, Rush and Loughshinny in north Co Dublin.
It was almost seven months (29 December 2018) since I had been on a walk on the beaches in Skerries, and even that visit came after an absence of two years (December 2016).
There was a strong breeze, but the temperatures were in the high 20s, and there was a holiday atmosphere in Skerries, with families taking shelter on the grassy areas above the sand, children picking their way through the rockpools, teenagers hiring kayaks at the harbour, long queues for ice cream outside ‘Storm in a Teacup,’ and all available space taken or booked in the cafés, bars and restaurants lining the harbour.
On the walk around the headland, there were clear views of the Skerries rocks and the islands, and the Mourne Mountains in the distance, sweeping down to the sea.
I could hardly visit Skerries and not stop in Gerry’s for the newspapers and a bottle of wine – I have long extolled the taste of the wine buyers in Gerry’s.
Later, two of us lingered over lunch and summer wine in the summer sunshine in the garden at the back of the Olive Café on Strand Street.
All around us, people were talking about the election of Boris Johnson in tones that showed they were somewhere between being aghast and disgusted.
But at least the summer sunshine is a promise that life goes on, and it brings too the hope that he may wither away by winter.
We returned through Loughshinny and Rush, with clear views of Lambay Island in the distance, and passed the cricket club at Kenure, recalling with pride how Eoin Morgan embodies so many of the positive gifts Ireland has to offer England.
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.
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.