Monday, 24 March 2014

Year Three: Monea Castle, Co. Fermanagh

We are in the third and final year of the Ulster Scots Archaeological Project and this year we will be investigating Monea Castle in Co. Fermanagh. The castle is located within the Castletown Demesne lands c. 860m east of Monea village and 9km WNW of Enniskillen. It stands at the bottom of a steep hill on a small plateau above a lake which contains a crannóg (FER 191:062). Excavations in the late 19th century found the crannóg, ancient site of the Maguires, to be composed almost entirely of timber. Excavation on the shore of the site revealed the remains of a conical iron helmet associated with animal bone and iron slag. The surrounding landscape has been occupied since the prehistoric period, as indicated by c. 11 burnt mound sites and 8 raths or enclosures within a 1km radius of the castle.

Site Location - Monea Castle
The castle comprises one of the best known and best preserved examples of a plantation era building. The lands of the proportion of Derrinefogher were granted to Robert Hamilton by King James in 1610. Building commenced on the castle (not the bawn) in 1616 by the Rector of Devenish, the Reverend Malcolm Hamilton. 

Monea Castle, facing north-east
In 1619, the castle was described by Pynnar as "a strong castle of lime and monea castle stone being 54 feet long and 20 feet broad". The castle is oblong in plan and three storeys high. From the angle of the west end rise two semi-cylindrical towers with box-like turrets, both of which have spiral staircases. The bawn, comprising "a wall 9 feet in height and 300 feet in circuit" was added in 1622/3. It was noted by Annesley and Perrott in 1622 that the castle was thatched (SMR record). At this time it is recorded that a market was held upon the Monday of each week, in the ‘village of Castleton, in the proportion of Dirrefogher’ (Belmore 1895a, 207).

Plan of the castle (Jope, 1951)
The castle was taken by the Irish, led by Captain Rory Maguire, during the 1641 Rebellion but was later reclaimed by planters. Following the hostile takeover of nearby Tully Castle all occupants were ordered to flee to Monea Castle or ‘Iniskellin’ (Belmore 1895b, 258). Monea does not appear to have been badly damaged at this time.

Extract from the Down Survey Map of Magheraboy Barony showing Monea Castle
By 1688 the castle became the residence of Gustav Hamilton (grandson son of Malcolm Hamilton) who by then was the Governor of Enniskillen and Fermanagh forces (Belmore 1895b, 260). Following 1704 Gustav’s eldest son, William, appears to have sold/granted the Manor of Castletown to Hugh Montgomery (of Derrygonnelly, Co. Fermanagh) and Robert King (of Lissenhall, Swords). King appears to have taken Castletown, (alias Monea), with the house and customs, together with the fairs and markets (Belmore 1895b, 264).

King's share of the estate appears to have descended to his daughter and heiress, Mary, who married William Smyth of the Drumcree family in Westmeath. Smyth served as High Sheriff of Fermanagh in 1736 (ibid., 265). A record in the SMR states that the castle was burnt in c. 1750.

Belmore (1895b) considered it is likely that the estate changed hands from the Smyth to the Brien family. John Brien from Tyrone built a house in the demesne after 1790 (SMR record) and ‘Monea Cottage’ is shown on the first edition OS map c. 400m north of the castle.

Extract from the First Edition 6-inch OS map showing Monea Castle
A geophysical Survey has been undertaken within the grounds of the scheduled area and the results will be shared in a blog post next week. We hope to undertake a research excavation during May 2014 to investigate the early-mid 17th century tenants settlement associated with the plantation castle. Any updates will be posted here in future weeks.

Belmore 1895a Monea Castle, County Fermanagh, and the Hamiltons. Ulster Journal of Archaeology, 1 (3), 195–208.
Belmore 1895b Monea Castle, County Fermanagh, and the Hamiltons. With Some Notes on the Hume and Cathcart Families (concluded). Ulster Journal of Archaeology, 1 (4), 256–277
Jope, E.M. 1951 Scottish Influences in the North of Ireland: Castles with Scottish Features, 1580-1640. Ulster Journal of Archaeology, 14, 31–47.

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