Gemma Grant continues her series on the castles of Ireland

Described as ‘stunning, luxurious and steeped in a long and bloody history’, Ballyseede castle reaches back to the original owners, the Fitzgerald family, the earls of Desmond and builders of numerous castles.

Actively involved in the Desmond Rebellion, that sought to halt the encroachment of further English advancement over Ireland, the Fitzgerald lords were to the forefront of the uprising.

During the second wave of rebellion, the Rebel Earl, Gerard Fitzgerald, 15th Earl of Desmond, was decapitated in 1583 by the soldier, Daniel O’Kelly. O’Kelly was rewarded by Elizabeth l for his services “in consideration of his having slain the traitor Desmond.”

The earl’s estates became the spoils of war and were up for grabs by adventurers of the Crown.
Elizabeth was vexed at the amount of money spent in suppressing the Desmond Rebellion and doubted if she could ever recoup the losses from the confiscated, devastated, Desmond estates. Gerald’s widow, Eleanor, and children, were left destitute when their estates were confiscated. Eleanor was reduced to begging in the streets of Dublin with no help forthcoming from the Crown, or, from many of those who knew her.

Facing debtors’ prison, she persevered until granted an audience in 1588, with Queen Bess at St. James’s Palace, where she pleaded her case. By the end of the 1500s, Eleanor managed to secure a small pension from the Crown, not quite in keeping with her previous status as the Countess of Desmond.

So harrowing was her financial position, that Eleanor, aged fifty plus years, began looking for a suitable husband for herself and her daughters. At this juncture she had been widowed for some 14 years. In 1597, Eleanor and her daughters returned to Ireland with hope on the horizon. Eleanor married the chieftain, Donogh O’Connor of Sligo, that helped elevate her position somewhat.

Eleanor’s forfeited estates were given over to the ‘undertaker’ Edward Denny. In 1587, returning to Ireland with a military command, Denny received some 6,000 acres in Kerry in the hope that he would develop the estates and settle them with English colonists.

He complained that, “no persuasion would ever win over the Irish and that justice without mercy must tame them.”
Denny, a soldier, courtier and colonist, previously sojourned through Ireland in 1581. He led an expedition against the O’Tooles and returned to Dublin with the head of Garret O’Toole, for which he received the thanks of Elizabeth l.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own