Ballintubber Castle - History & Conservation Plans
Ballintubber Castle is a heritage site and a powerful symbol of the medieval history of Ballintubber and surrounding areas. The castle is believed to have been built at the very start of the 14th century by Richard de Burgh, Earl of Ulster and one of the most powerful and influential men in Ireland at that time. Its construction marks a significant step forward in the progressive settlement of Connacht by Anglo-Norman interests and the context of the castle complex is interlinked with the construction of the Royal Castle of Roscommon from 1269 some 20 km to the south and another de Burgh castle a little to the north at Ballymote which was also built in the early 1300's. Richard de Burgh's interests remained strong and the castle was the centre of a profitable manor within his much larger estate but not for long.
By the 1360's, Ballintubber fell to O'Connor hands and in 1385 it becomes the homestead of the O'Connor Don line who remained in residence more or less continually until the O'Connors abandoned the site in the 1700's for their new residence at the demense in Castlerea - 10km to the north. During the 300 - 400 years of its occupancy, Ballintubber was an active settlement and served as a backdrop to the wider political movements that swept across Ireland. In 1598, O'Donnell bombarded the castle with cannon fire as he returned from hos victory over Royal forces at the battle of the Curlews.
In 1585 O'Connor Don died at Ballintubber and was buried at Roscommon. In the same year, the castle and its adjoining lands were surrendered to Queen Elizabeth by his son and heir Hugh O'Connor Don, who received them back under patent of the queen with lands amounting to 120 acres. Elizabethan attempts to conquer the province led to much disruption during the ensuing 9 years war (1594 - 1603). Sir Richard Bingham's governorship was particularly brutal. In 1596, Ballintubber castle is listed amongst other castles, forts, abbeys and houses taken by rebels and burnt and defaced. In 1598, the English led an expedition north with Irish support to defeat O'Donnell but the expedition failed at the Curlews some 35 km north of Ballintubber. The English leader Sir Conyers Clifford was killed there. O'Donnell sought to drive home his victory and attacked Ballintubber. He placed a large gun on Ballyfinnigan hill (the gun was a gift from Spain) and battered down the castle forcing O'Connor Don to surrender.
Despite the turbulent political climate when Roman Catholic interests continued to be regarded with deep suspicion by the Protestant power base, Hugh O'Connor Don's estate appears to have been secure and opulent. Sr Hugh's son became the next O'Connor Don and also resided in Ballintubber although his reign was short (he died in 1634). The castle features a place where Catholic lobbies met before the civil war of 1641 and Charles' son Hugh was appointed Colonel of the Catholic Regiment.
In 1642 the castle was the backdrop for one incident during the civil war when parliamentary forces intent on tackling the Catholic forces stopped short of attacking the castle for fear of being overwhelmed. The castle remained in O'Connor hands until 1652 when ownership was taken back by the crown. In 1657, two years after Charles O'Connor Don died, his widow Mary O'Connor was given 5 townlands close to the village amounting to 700 acres and the castle was given to Lord Kilmallock.
The lands were restored to the O'Connors through Colonel Hugh O'Connor who sought recognition of the restoration under Charles 2nd but this did not transpire until 1677 at which point the Colonel had died and his son Hugh succeeded him to the claim. By 1677 the estate was dispersed to the west and north of Ballintubber and was formerly sold to the Mahon family of Strokestown House in 1790. The castle returned to O'Connor ownership following publication of its archaeological study by the antiquarian Charles O'Connor Don who purchased it from Mahon.
The purpose of the conservation plans for Baliintubber Castle is to define its heritage significance, outline threats to its significance and provide measures to mitigate those risks. Work is ongoing to develop a conservation plan under the charters of the International Committee of Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) and Department of Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht conservation guidelines to ensure best conservation practices. These policies aim to:
Protect the heritage value and character of Ballintubber castle. The decay issue posses a threat to the significance of the castle.
Enhance the site through informed conservation and carefully considered, low impact interventions to allow for a self sufficient and sustainable future.
Establish a regular maintenance and management plan to observe the building and avoid future deterioration.