By Gemma Grant
Castle Ross is situated within the Kenmare Estate on the edge of Lough Leane, the largest island on the lower lakes of Killarney’s National Park. Today’s castle consists of a square tower house with defensive bartizans on the tower. An impressive square bawn, adds weight to the prestige of castle living for the early inhabitants.
However, the imposing structure was insufficient in deterring the invading forces of the Crown. The best the old castle could claim was that it was one of the last castle strongholds to fall to Cromwell’s forces during the final conquest of Ireland of the 1600s.
The castle was built in the late 1400s by the Irish chieftain O’Donoghue Ross, Prince of the Lakes. Further out in the middle of the lake is Innisfallen island, where the remains of a 12th century monastery and O’Donoghue’s prison rock is located. The prison, at one time, housed the chieftain’s son, Teighe Mergach, (Angry One).
The chieftain saw fit to incarcerate his son along with the boy’s rebellious associates. The prince’s way of dealing with his unruly children!
Like every good castle, it has a story to tell. One such story surrounds the prince. Legend claims, that in an attempt to regain his youth, he turned to the black arts and the use of strange potions.
During one such episode, we are told, he conjured up several devils. In his panic, he jumped out of the castle window and into the lake, taking his books, table and horse along with him.
Apparently, every seven years on May day, the prince arises from his watery grave. For those who see him, worry not. It is a sign of great fortune to behold the Prince, as he rides forth on his silver steed, over the lakes of Killarney.
The O’Donoghue’s were eventually ousted from their castle due to their supporting role in the Desmond rebellion that began in 1569. The rebellion, led by Gerald Fitzgerald, the Earl of Desmond, against the English crown, came to an end in November 1583. The Province of Munster was devastated after the second phase of the rebellion and many people died of famine.
The lands of the rebels were confiscated and granted to ‘undertakers’ loyal to the English crown. It is claimed the O’Donoghue’s, on loosing their possessions, formed the core of the rapparees inhabiting the stronghold in the Glen of the Flesk. They became notorious as the ‘Dangerous O’Donoghues’, who constantly harassed the English colony brought into the Killarney region by the ‘undertaker’ Sir Valentine Browne, known as the Earl of Kenmare.