Glin Castle County Limerick
Glin Castle, home of the Knight of Glin, his wife Madam FitzGerald, stands on the banks of the River Shannon in county Limerick amidst a 500 acre demense.
Visitors are welcomed to stay between March and November, and at other times by special arrangement.
There are 15 individually decorated bedrooms each with its own private bathroom, these can be reserved on an individual basis. The entire castle can also be rented as a fully staffed unit for events such as small weddings, family reunion or corporate events. Glin Castle is a Member of Ireland's BlueBook.
Background to the Family
The romantically-titled Knights of Glin, a branch of the great Norman family, the FitzGeralds or Geraldines, Earls of Desmond, were granted extensive lands in County Limerick in the early 14th century by their Desmond overlords.
The Desmond family were all descended from the Norman Maurice FitzGerald, a companion-in-arms to Strongbow. Maurice was the son of Gerald of Windsor and his wife the Welsh Princess Nesta, Gerald having settled in Wales. She was famous for her many children including, among others, a son by King Henry I of England. As a result she became known as 'the brood mare of the Normans'.
The FitzGeralds came to Ireland from Wales in the 1170s as mercenaries, at the request of King Dermot MacMurrough, to help him with his wars to subdue his subjects.
Three of the cadet branches of the Desmond lordship were known as the White Knight, the Knight of Glin and the Knight of Kerry. These strange titles are anomalies and are more akin to Gaelic Chieftainships, demonstrating the Gaelicisation of this Norman sept.
The last White Knight, Maurice Og Fitzgibbon, died in 1611 and the title is now, sadly, extinct or dormant, although there have been several claimants to it.
The Earls of Kingston descend in the female line from Maurice Og - his niece married Sir John King, 1st Lord Kingston. A full-length portrait of the 1st Lord Kingston in armour hangs on the left hand wall of the hall. Just beyond it hangs a portrait of Lord FitzGerald and \'esey, another claimant to the title.
The Knight of Kerry now lives in England. Maurice's son, Thomas FitzMaurice FitzGerald, was granted Shanid in West Limerick in 1197 where he built a polygonal keep, on a motte, in about 1200. 'Shanid Abu' translated means 'Shanid for ever' and was always the Desmond Geraldine's' war-cry.
Their war-cry can be seen on the back of the hall chairs on the coat-of-arms on the ceiling and on the many pieces of silver in the house. The Knights of Glin were granted the barony of Kenry bordering the banks of the Shannon, near the great Desmond castle of Askeaton. In the Middle Ages the holder of the title was often known as 'the Knight of the Glen' or 'the Knight of the Valley', indicating their extensive lands along the valley of the river Shannon between Limerick and the sea. They owned a number of tower houses in this area including Beagh, Shanpallas, Castletown, Ballygleaghane (Holly Park) and Cappagh near Rathkeale. The lands around Glin on the Kerry border made up another defensive area marching with those of the Gaelic Chieftain the O'Connor Kerry to the west with their great castle of Carrigafoyle.
The Glin Fitzgerald's survived the Elizabethan, Cromwellian and Jacobite wars where they were invariably on the losing side, fighting against the English with their kinsmen The Earls of Desmond. 'Desmond' means 'South Munster', where Glin is situated. During the Desmond Wars Thomas FitzGerald, heir of the then Knight, was hanged, drawn and quartered by the English forces in Limerick, in 1567. His mother, legend has it, seized his severed head, drank his blood, and walked, surrounded by a vast keening concourse, carrying his dismembered body to be buried at Lislaughtin Abbey.
One of the Knights of Glin's castles in Co. Limerick, the old Glin Castle (now a shattered ruin in the village of Glin), was dramatically besieged by Queen Elizabeth's forces in July 1600, during the later uprising of the 'Sugar' or 'Straw' Earl of Dcsmond. Before the siege Sir George Carew, the Lord President of Munster, captured the Knight's six-year-old son and, tying the child to the mouth of a cannon, threatened to blow him to bits if the Knight did not surrender. The reply, in Irish, was blunt: 'the Knight was virile and his wife was strong and it would be easy to produce another son". The Knight managed to hold on to the last portion of his estates which consisted of some 15,000 acres, the castle and manorial court of Glin, despite the highly complicated confiscations, regrants and legal machinations which took place during the turbulent 17th century. Indeed, the Desmond Rebellion against Queen Elizabeth, alone saw the confiscation of over 30,000 acres of the Knight's land in Kerry
The History of Glin Castle
The present castle of Glin is really a plain Georgian House with later castellations and many windows - locally they used to say there was a window for every day of the year!
It was originally built in the late 17th century as a long thatch house when the knights moved in from the old castle a half mile to the west. This is incorporated into the long west wing of the present house.
It is probable that this long house was turned into a T, with an extension facing east, in the first half of the 18th century as the present secondary staircase, the dining room and smoking rooms have a basement beneath them. However, some large rooms must have been built during this period as the full length portrait of the Duellist Knight, Richard FitzGerald, which dates from before 1736, must have hung somewhere. Richard Fitzgerald's nephew, Colonel John FitzGerald, who eventually succeeded in 1781, made a larger block of the house in the 1780s by adding a hall, a grand staircase and two more reception rooms - the drawing room and library. The 1780s was a stirring optimistic time in Ireland and this prompted the building of Glin. In a letter to Edmund Sexton Pery, the Speaker of the Irish House of Commons, in May 1779, Thomas FitzGerald warned that a French naval invasion was expected off the coast, amid rumours that the American privateer, Paul Jones, had sailed up the Shannon to Tarbert after he had defeated an English ship in Belfast Lough, in the summer of 1779. By that date, France and Spain had declared war on England and were supporting the American colonists in the war of Independence. Panic spread among the gentry and nobility of Ireland in case the country should be left unprotected in the face of an invasion. And so, the Irish Volunteer Regiments were raised between 1778 and 1783: 40,000 men were enrolled by 1779 and 100,000 by 1782.
Inspired by, the success of the Americans, and buoyed up by their own success in having the trade restrictions abolished in 1778, and with the strength of the Volunteers behind them, Henry Grattan and his Patriot Party demanded legislative independence for Ireland from Britain. Thomas FitzGerald died in 1781 and was succeeded by his son Colonel John. A portrait of Thomas FitzGerald wearing a red coat, is on the right of the drawing room door. Colonel John FitzGerald was about 20 when he formed the Glin Cavalry in 1776. This Militia Regiment became known later as the Royal Glin Huzzars whose colours hang on the staircase. The Royal Glin Artillery was his main regiment and even boasted a musical band of 10. The portrait of Colonel John, which hangs over the Portland stone chimney piece in the hall, shows him wearing the uniform of this regiment and proudly pointing at his cannon. His Volunteer enthusiasm took him to all the reviews and parades until November 1783 when he attended the national Volunteer Convention at Rotunda in Dublin. Many of the reforms presented there were rejected and the movement lost some of its impetus but carried on until it was suppressed eventually in 1793. After that, Col. John's regiments became corps of yeomanry. The ivory handled sword, with its elaborately chased blue-gilt blade by Read of Dublin, which hangs under his portrait in the hall, was presented to him by his regiment, the Glin Cavalry, in 1800 for keeping the peace during the 1798 rebellion. A volunteer cream ware jug with the Irish harp 'tun'd to Freedom for our Country' commemorates these stirring times and stands on the hall chimney piece.
The new prosperity of the country was reflected in a great upsurge of public and private building together with extensive landscaping and tree planting - all deemed to express the pride of Ireland's ruling classes in their newly won national independence - a short-lived independence which was shaken by the French Revolution and, finally, shattered by the Rebellion of 1798 and the ensuing Union with England in 1800. Colonel John supported this Union, though his faith in King and Country had faltered temporarily under the joint influence of his brother, Gerald, and his kinsman Lord Edward FitzGerald who were both United Irishmen. [Lord Edward is said to have stayed at Glin during the 1798 Rebellion.] Colonel John did much to keep the peace in the area during the Rebellion. Indeed, after his death in 1803, General Payne, the English military commander in Limerick, in a letter to Samuel Marsden, the under secretary in Dublin Castle, commenting on the death of the Knight, wrote that "he [the Knight] had kept all that wild country in his neighbourhood in very good order, enforced obedience to the laws from all classes and by his humanity and enforced obedience to the laws of the classes - and by his humanity and benevolence attached his tenantry to him".
Colonel John had no political influence as all the local boroughs were in the hands of the new English settler families. This meant that, unlike so many of them, he did not spend money on a large Dublin house and thereby concentrated on cutting a greater dash at home. In 1789 Colonel John had married his beautiful English wife Margaretta Maria Fraunceis of Forde Abbey, Dorset, the daughter of a rich West Country squire. Her coat of arms is impaled with his on the hall ceiling, which suggests that the house was still being decorated at the time of their marriage. A house, in those days, could take 7 or 8 years to build, decorate and furnish. Unfortunately we have no direct information about who designed the house or the identity of the craftsmen who styled the superb woodwork such as the mahogany library bookcase with its concealed secret door, the inlaid stair-rail, the flying staircase, or the intricate plaster ceilings. This is because many of the family papers were burned by the so-called 'Cracked Knight' in the 1860s.
Tradition tells us that the stone for the house was brought across the hills from a quarry in nearby Athea, on horse drawn sleds, by a 'strongman' contractor called Sheehy. This is the only name connected with the building of the house that has come down to us.
It seems likely that Colonel John started his house sometime in the 1780s as he obviously used the same masons and carpenters as were used for two houses adjoining each other in Henry Street, Limerick. One was built for the Bishop of Limerick, later Lord Glentworth, and the other for the Bishop's elder brother, the Speaker of the Irish House of Commons, Viscount Pery. These Limerick houses were finished by 1784 and it is not unlikely that they are the work of a good local carpenter/builder. Colonel John may well have been his own architect working with the excellent craftsmen that Limerick could obviously produce. It is possible that this Limerick builder may have been trained or at least influenced by two men - the Italian architect Davis Ducart (fl. 1765-1780s) who built the cut-stone Limerick Custom House between 1765-69 and who specialised in elaborate 'imperial' or double staircases, and Christopher Colles (c. 1730-1816), an engineer and architect, who supervised Ducart's work there. The double flying staircase may well be a Ducart inspired flight of fantasy, although Robert Adam's earlier bifurcating example at Mellerstain, in Berwickshire, of the late 1770s might have been a prototype. The flying-staircase led up to what was originally a large drawing room on the first floor. Colles remained as an architect in Limerick until 1771 as he is known to have supplied designs for a Bishop's Palace in that year. The Palace was not built until mid 1780s. In 1771 Collis emigrated to America where he made a name for himself as an inventor and engineer. An early visionary, he designed plans for a navigable waterway linking the Great Lakes to the Hudson river. Colles's family had a famous water-powered marble works in Kilkenny which supplied door cases, chimneypieces and architectural detailing for many Irish buildings of this period. The Doric front door case at Glin and at least one chimneypiece are made of this fossilised shell-
The Castle Gardens provide an environment in which visiting gardeners can investigate and examine the flowers, plants and trees. The walled garden has fresh fruit and vegetables for the kitchen, and there are opportunities for walking, croquet and tennis. Glin Castle welcomes horticultural groups and societies.