Location – OS: N 052 216. The castle is on the R357.
Longitude: 7° 55' 19.55" W
Latitude: 53° 14' 41.17" N
Latitude: 53° 14' 41.17" N
Description and History – This well preserved tower house is a perfect example of this style of castle. Standing at roughly 15m in height the castle has all the basic features of a tower house such as; machicolation, murder hole, base batter, mural passages, spiral staircase, gun-loops, garderobe and bawn. The first floor has collapsed but has been replaced in recent restoration works. According to the Archaeological Inventory of County Offaly the spiral staircase has partially collapsed preventing access to the upper floors. However, according to the present owner, these stairs were deliberately destroyed to prevent people accessing the castle when it was derelict. This is certainly a case of ‘official vandalism’ in Ireland which has happened all too often. This castle also boasts a wonderful barrel vaulted ceiling making up the second floor which has been very well restored.
The history of this castle is equally as interesting as the building itself. It was built by the MacCoughlan clan the late 15th century and was the first place in Ireland to practice musketry but was then ceded to Henry VIII in the mid 16th century. The castle passed into the hands of the Boleyn family. It was given as a gift to Thomas Boleyn by Henry as he wanted to marry Anne Boleyn. In fact, cousins of Anne are buried in the grounds underneath a hawthorn three. The writing on the stone has eroded away but may still be recovered with a rubbing. The inscription reads: "Here under leys Mary and Elizabeth Bullen, daughters of Thomas Bullen, son of George Bullen, son of Thomas Bullen, Earl of Ormond and Viscount of Rochford." Luckily this castle escaped the campaign of Cromwell and is in relatively good condition. The castle did become ruined but the excellent renovation work of the present owner is slowly restoring this castle to its former glory.
Again, as will Charleville castle, the fact that this castle has not been left to ruin is due to its being in private ownership and not in the hands of the OPW. Too many times I have arrived at an OPW site to find it overgrown and close to collapse. Not even basic conservation work is carried out on many sites and they are left to collapse or disappear into the undergrowth. In fact, damage is often deliberately done to sites in the name of safety as it is cheaper than carrying out the proper work. The owner told me about the difficulties of renovation in Ireland due to the strict laws and the red tape that has to be got through. These laws are too strict and make it impossible for even basic conservation to be done, let alone restoration work. I would urge you to support this castles restoration with donations when you visit here – and do visit here as you get a real glimpse of what a functioning tower house would have been like.
Difficulty – This site is not difficult to find as on the side of the road on the R357, not far from Clonmacnoise.
Links – The official website of Clonony Castle can be seen here.
The upper floor supported by the barrel vault internally.
The worn tombstone of the Boleyns.