15 October 2020

Croom Castle, Crom Abu,
and the debts that brought
down the Croker family

Croom Castle, Co Limerick … built by the FitzGeralds on the site of an earlier O’Donovan fortification (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

During our visit to Croom, Co Limerick, earlier this week, two of us walked around the walls and ramparts of Croom Castle, standing above the bend on the River Maigue that gives Croom its name.

The castle was rebuilt by the FitzGeralds of Kildare on the site of an earlier O’Donovan fortress, and the history of Croom Castle has been inter-twined over the centuries with the history of Croom.

Croom Castle was once one of the principal residences of the Kildare branch of the FitzGerald dynasty. Their ancient rallying cry, ‘Crom a Boo,’ became the motto of the Earls of Kildare and the Dukes of Leinster.

At the bend on the River Maigue, below the walls of Croom Castle (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Until the arrival of the Anglo-Normans, the territory around Croom was the domain of the ancient Uí Cairpre Áebda (Cairbre Eva), of whom the O’Donovans were the principal family. The Ui Chairpre were a member of the larger regional kingdom of the Uí Fidgenti, once squeezed between the rival Kingdom of Desmond to the south and Kingdom of Thomond to the north.

Uaithne mac Cathail), ancestor of the O’Donovans, is said to have lived in the Cromadgh or Croom area ca 960. The O’Donovans were associated with the Croom area in the 1130s, when they are mentioned in the Caithréim Chellacháin Chaisil.

Ruaidhri, son of Toirdhealbhach Ua Conchobhair, made a great predatory attack from Thomond in 1151, when he burned Cromadh and carried away many cows.

Some O’Donovans remained in the Croom area after the arrival of the Anglo-Normans and, according to Samuel Lewis in 1837, Dermot O’Donovan built the first-known castle at Croom sometime during the reign of King John or shortly before.

Croom Castle was besieged on at least three occasions during the reign of Elizabeth I (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

According to Samuel Lewis, this early castle was built to secure the country that the O’Donovans had recently taken from the MacEnirys, their Ui Fidgheinte kinsmen.

It is believed that the tower castle was built in the early 13th century, following earlier attacks on the town.

During the reign of Elizabeth I, the FitzGeralds were besieged in Croom Castle on at least three occasions. The last of these sieges was in 1600, when Carew, the Lord President of Munster, led a force of 1,500 men in an attack on the castle. The castle garrison was commanded by Pierce Lacey,who made his escape at night under cover of darkness, and the castle surrendered the following morning.

The Countess of Kildare was living at Croom Castle in the winter of 1601 when the northern chief, Red Hugh O’Donnell, arrived in Croom with his men after their overnight march across the frozen Slieve Felim to link up with the Spaniards who had landed at Kinsale.

Croom Castle and manor were restored to the FitzGerald family by James I, but they forfeited Croom once again during the wars of 1641.

Charles II gave Croom Castle to his illegitimate son, the Duke of Ricmond (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

After the restoration, King Charles II granted Croom Castle in 1678 to his six-year-old illegitimate son, Charles Lennox (1672-1723), Duke of Richmond, who later lived in the castle for several years.

The castle was fortified against the Williamite force in 1691 by Jacobites who later took refuge in Limerick.

The Duke of Richmond sold Croom Caste to his agent, John Croker, in 1721. Later, a residence was built at Croom Castle with some of the stone and rubble from the old castle.

Autumn apples … an apple tree beneath the walls of Croom Castle (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

This attached two-storey house was built ca 1730, within the bawn of the mediaeval castle. It has rubble stone walls, square-headed windows with stone sills, and stone chimneystacks. The crenellations on the walls may date from the 19th century.

For over a century, the Croker family of Croom Castle provided the rectors and vicars in the parishes of Adare and Croom from the mid-18th until the second half of the 19th century: the Revd Richard Croker (1756-1823) was Rector and Vicar of Croom and Adare (1784-1823), the Revd Edward Croker (1787-1863) was Vicar of Croom (1823-1863) and Vicar of Adare (1824-1828), and the Revd Thomas Croker (1800-1872) was Vicar of Adare (1828-1872).

John Croker was the father of Captain Edward Croker married Lady Georgina Ellen Monck of Charleville House, Enniskerry, Co Wicklow, one of the 11 daughters of Henry Stanley Monck (1785-1848), Earl of Rathdown, in 1841. His father was disappointed that Edward was not marrying an heiress who might shore up the family fortunes; her father questioned Edward’s motives in marrying his daughter and was concerned about his mounting debts.

The Dickson coat-of-arms on the family vault in the Church of Ireland churchyard in Croom (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Edward Croker’s debts mounted up between 1849 and 1859, reaching close to £70,000, while the Croom Castle estate was valued at £2,158. By then the Dickson family were living at Croom Castle as agents and tenants of the Croker family. But the sale of Croom Castle was complicated and led to a lengthy legal dispute.

Samuel Dickson of Limerick was the father of the Revd Richard Dickson (1776-1867), Rector of Kilkeedy (1799-1867); Stephen Dickson, a barrister, who died in 1839 and Major General William Dickson.

General Dickson married Harriet Dallas and they were the parents of two sons, Samuel Auchmuty Dickson (1817-1870), who lived at Croom Castle, Co Limerick and Major General William Thomas Dickson, 16th Lancers, and two daughters, Mary Eleanor who was disinherited when she became a Roman Catholic nun, and Fanny Charlotte, who married Mortimer Sackville-West (1820-1888), 1st Baron Sackville, in 1847. Her nephew was the father of the English novelist, poet, journalist, letter writer and diarist Vita Sackville-West (1892-1962).

Samuel Auchmuty Dickson of Croom Castle was born in Madras, India, in 1817. After failed attempts to be elected in Co Limerick (1850), Reading (1852) and Kingston upon Hull (1854), he was elected Conservative MP for Limerick (1859-1865). He died in 1870;at the time, his brother, General William Dickson, owned 8,559 acres in Co Limerick and 513 acres in Co Tipperary.

Meanwhile, Croom Castle and its demesne were advertised for sale in February 1864. The Croker estate at Croom, including 450-500 acres, was sold for £8,000 in 1872. The Croker Estates Act 1888 was designed to settle many outstanding issues dating back to Edward Croker’s marriage settlement in 1841.

The gates of Croom House in Croom (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Croom Castle was bought by the Lyons family, descended from Denis Lyons (1749-1809) who in 1779 married Christian daughter of Thomas Casey, MP. The Lyons family were the owners of the mills in Croom and also lived at Croom House.

Their successors, Henry Lyons of Croom House and John Edward Lyons owned 1,665 and 1,329 acres in Co Limerick in the 1870s, while William Henry Lyons of Cork and later of Croom Castle, owned 388 acres in Co Cork and 1,313 acres in Co Limerick.

Henry Lyons (1828-1885) of Croom House was High Sheriff of Co Limerick in 1860 and in 1873 married Olivia Montagu (1850-1928). She was a daughter of Lord Robert Montagu (1825-1902) and a granddaughter of George Montagu (1799-1855), 6th Duke of Manchester. Lord Robert Montagu was Conservative MP for Huntingdonshire (1859-1874) and for Westmeath (1874-1880).

The descendants of Henry Lyons were still living in Croom in the mid-20th century.

Today, Croom Castle is little more than a large, undistinguished ruin. Two walls of the tower remain standing, although both have collapsed to about half their original height, with the other two walls of the tower collapsed into a very large pile of rocks and bricks.

The house at Croom Caste is of architectural importance as it remains relatively intact. It retains its archaeological significance as it was built within the bawn of the mediaeval castle. It was bought by Michael Corry in 1936, and more recently offered self-catering accommodation.

The house at Croom Caste is of architectural importance and remains relatively intact (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Croom is a colourful
place to visit, even on
a rainy autumn afternoon

Croom, Co Limerick, is colourful, even on a rainy autumn afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

On a rainy afternoon earlier this week, two of us visited Croom (Cromadh, ‘Bend in the River’) in Co Limerick. Croom is 8 km south-east of Adare, on the River Maigue, north of the point where the Camoge River joins the River Maigue after forming a loop to the south and west of Monasteranenagh Abbey.

Croom was of considerable importance from an early date. Its history dates back to pre-Christian or early Christian times, and three ringforts have been located north of the Croom-Rathkeale road, a mile from Croom.

Two single-banked ringforts were demolished in 1972-1973 when new houses were being built. When the sites were excavated, Elizabeth Shee-Twohig found human and animal remains, an iron knife, a bronze penannular ring and a bone comb side-plate. A preservation order was placed on a third ringfort nearby. In all, over 65 ring forts have been identified in the area.

Colourful pubs and shopfronts near the river in Croom (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Although the River Maigue is now tidal only as far as Adare, it was once tidal as far as Croom, making it a transit route for the Viking ships in the ninth and tenth centuries. Traffic and commerce along the Maigue River involving Danish Vikings and the Ui Donnabhains provide an insight into the alliance between these two groups in the late tenth century.

The earliest mention of Cromadh in the historical annals is in 1151, when ‘a great predatory excursion was made by Ruaidhri, son of Toirdhealbhach Ua Conchobhair (Rory O’Connor), into Thomond; and he carried away many cows, and burned Cromadh.’

However, Croom did not develop as a town until the castle was built. The town was walled in 1310, and over the intervening years both town and castle often shared the same story. Croom was an important crossing on the River Maigue, giving access to Connello and West Limerick.

Croom was the principal base in Munster of the FitzGeralds of Kildare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

For a time, the FitzGeralds of Kildare had a Munster base in Croom. They owned extensive lands in the Maigue valley, including lands at Croom and Adare, while their rival kinsmen, the FitzGeralds of Desmond, owned much of the rest of Co Limerick.

Although Maynooth later became the principal seat of the FitzGeralds of Kildare, they retained their Maigueside lands and castles by the River Maigue adopted Crom Abu as their motto.

The Countess of Kildare was living at Croom Castle in the winter of 1601 when the northern chief, Red Hugh O’Donnell, arrived in Croom with his men after their overnight march across the frozen Slieve Felim to link up with the Spaniards who had landed at Kinsale.

The civil survey in 1654 after the Cromwellian wars found that in Croom ‘there is a broken bridge on the river of Maigue near the castle.’

The grave of Sean O Tuama in the Church of Ireland churchyard in Croom (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Ten years later, Daibhi O Bruadair, one of the last the great Gaelic poets in Co Limerick, wrote, ‘now Croom itself is a misery, scattered little town, which is situated on the banks of the Maigue, and the beer of that village has no strength in it, except, indeed, that I hear that good minister of the place has a fine old brew which is delightful to drink.’ The rector of Croom at the time was Canon John Lillys.

Although Daibhi O Bruadair did not speak favourably of Croom, apart from its rector, some Gaelic poets who lived there in the 18th century warmly sang its praises. Indeed, Croom owes much of its later fame to the school or court of Gaelic poetry, Scoil Eigse or Cuirt Eigse that flourished there in the 18th century.

The poets who frequented the school were known as Fili na Maighe, the Poets of Maigue. They included Sean O Tuama (1709-1775), owner of the pub where the poets met and who is buried in the Church of Ireland churchyard.

Other poets in Croom included Aindrias Mac Craith, a hedge-school master from Kilmallock, who was known as An Mangaire Sugach or ‘The Merry Pedlar.’ The Maigue poets wrote love songs, elegies, drinking songs, patriotic songs. Slan le Maigh (‘Farewell to the Maigue’) by Aindrias Mac Craith is the best-known of their poems.

The mills at Croom date from the 18th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The Lyne or Lyons family, who were living in Croom by the early 18th century, are associated with both Croom House and Croom Castle. There is a ruined mill along the banks of the River Maigue and a newer mill built by Henry Lyons in 1788 and a working mill until 1927.

A workhouse was built in Croom in the early 1840s to house the destitute. It became a general hospital serving Co Limerick in 1924, and in 1956 it became a Regional Orthopaedic Hospital.

Croom railway station opened in 1862. It closed to passenger traffic in 1934, to goods traffic in 1963, and finally closed in 1967. The town has been by-passed by the N20 Croom Bypass since 2001.

The Maigue Poets celebrated in Croom (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

A new Civic Centre opened in Croom in 2014 and includes a restaurant, library, public computers and function hall.

Today, the well-preserved ruins of Croom Castle lie hidden from view behind high walls.

It was a rainy afternoon, and with the Covid-19 restrictions there was nowhere to get a coffee. But Croom was still a colourful pace to visit, and two of us went off in search of Croom Castle, the two parish churches, and the Round Tower and church ruins at Dysert Oenghusa.

Colourful cottages near the churches and the castle in Croom (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)