It was an exquisite piece of architectural and stately brilliance, but it fell victim to the activities of anti-treaty forces during the Civil War. Hannah Huxley tells the story of ‘the biggest house ever burned in Ireland’.


It is easy to associate Ireland with landmarks that draw in huge numbers of tourists each year (The Giants Causeway) or landmarks that attract primarily the elite and the wealthy (Dromoland and Adare), but what about the landmarks that have been erased from national consciousness, and are known now only by historians and local experts? Located in the pleasant market town of the same name at the foothills of the Galtee mountains, Mitchelstown Castle is the perfect place with which to start.

An exquisite piece of architectural and stately brilliance, Mitchelstown Castle fell victim to the activities of anti-treaty forces during the Civil War. Unfortunately, the shocking act of destruction went somewhat under the radar; it occurred just ten days after the death of Michael Collins, but the gaping hole it left in Mitchelstown was inescapable.

Constructed in 1823, it was the biggest neo-Gothic house to be built in Ireland, yet just 99 years later in August of 1922 it was occupied by anti-treaty troops. The troops asked the family to leave and ensured that if they obliged no harm would befall the castle. The family left and settled nearby for the following six weeks while their precious home was taken over.
At the end of the six weeks, the troops broke their promise and looted the castle and, as a final act of malice on August 12th, they burned the castle in its entirety. Overnight, the magnificent castle was replaced with mere ruins and just part of the enclosing wall that ran 10km around the property.

The 1823 iteration of the castle that the troops destroyed had been the brainchild of George King, 3rd Earl of Kingston and James and George Richard Pain (the brothers who had also contributed to the design of Adare Manor). Interestingly, George was the notoriously brutal commander of the North Cork militia during the 1798 Rebellion.

The castle had a staggering 60 principal and 20 minor rooms, a 100-foot-long gallery, three libraries, morning room, and a dining room that could seat 100 people. Near the castle was a large fishpond from which water was transported to the upper apartments of the castle by machinery of the most superb construction of its day. The total cost of the undertaking was an eye-watering £100,000.
If you had been viewing Mitchelstown Castle through the lens that the upper classes were, then you would see how it was the perfect puzzle piece to fit the North Cork landscape. In fact, J. P. Neale’s 1825 book Views of the Seats of Noblemen and Gentlemen in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland depicted the Cork landscape as “much enlivened by numerous mansions, with plantations and cultivated scenery attached to them, the roads are also particularly good”.

In the eyes of those who held the reins of power, these stately homes harmonised beautifully with the land and gave dignity to the scene that would not have been there otherwise.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own