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|A Survey of Monuments of Archaeological and Historical Interest in the Barony of Bunratty Lower, Co. Clare by William Gerrard Ryan|
Part 4: Castles and
tower houses c.1500
STONEHALL CASTLE (TOWER HOUSE?)
Nat. Grid Ref. R383629; ½” Sheet 17
For information relating to this site see above photograph and general description overleaf.
An examination of all editions and scales of the O.S. Sheets failed to find the site of the castle which, according to the College List existed in this townland in 1580 A.D. O’Donovan did not refer to it in 1839 and Frost (1893) only refers to the College List (1580). All of these points made me believe that the site had long since been levelled.
While checking locally on any tradition relating to the, supposed, former castle (tower house) I was told some interesting facts. Firstly clear trace of the site existed up to 1954 when it was finally demolished. Why was it levelled then? A short time prior to that date the land surrounding the site was purchased by Aer Rianta. The idea was that a new transatlantic runway would cover part of Stonehall townland, running north from the main Airport building. The region was fully surveyed and the survey pegs were laid out. Though the castle area would not be on the runway it was felt that the presence of a c. 16 metre high feature would be dangerous a obstacle to flights. Thus it was decided to destroy the site and this was done in 1954 while some locals were watching.
Unfortunately this site destruction has been of no use as it was decided later to lay the runway east-west rather than north-south.
Field examination found only the base of the castle but this was heavily covered by vegetation (Photo 1). Such covering made it impossible to note any associated features. Locals say the entrance area was originally from the north, via a cut-stone doorway. Descriptions given locally suggest that the ground floor windows were long and narrow with inside recesses (see comment later). The windows on the second, and successive, floors were wider.
Inside the entrance area of the original tower house ruins was the stairway which led to the various floors. Locals remember this as being of timber, suggesting that the original cut-stone one had been removed. A number of outhouses existed about the site.
We are very fortunate in one respect in relation to this site. Frost provides a copy of a 1680 A.D. drawing of the site which appeared in Dineley’s Journal. This sketch, a copy of which is reproduced below, clears up some local contradictions about this tower house. It now seems clear that in pre 1954 traces of two features survived here in relatively good condition. The older tower house later had an addition added, probably in the seventeenth century. Thus when some locals speaking of narrow windows on the ground floor and others refer to wide open features we now realise they are speaking of the different, though attached, buildings. While two very different buildings existed very little information is now available on them. This I suppose is hardly surprising as the sites were levelled 25 years ago.
By tradition Stonehall Castle (Tower House) was an O’Brien possession from c. 1700 to c. 1820’s. At this early nineteenth century date the family moved to Cratloe Woods House. A McMahon family were to occupy the castle and house up to comparatively recent times.
The above extract from O.S. Letters, Volume 2, 1839, states the builder of the site but no date is given. However can we suggest a c. 1470 for this site, based on the large number of other tower houses in the area dating to this late fifteenth century period? Dineley’s sketch shows features common to late fifteenth century tower houses.
Later occupation continued at this site. By the 1580 College List it was occupied by Teige Mac Clancy at that time.
Locals say occupation continued through the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. An elderly inhabitant of the district, Mrs Henchy, was born and lived most of her life in the site. By then it must have undergone further alterations to those shown by Dineley, though her description of it when questioned is quite vague in part.