EVEN in Ireland, you will struggle to find a building that was both besieged by a confederate army and then turned into a cinema. But it is this rich, diverse and always interesting history of Newcastle West’s Desmond castle and banquet hall that will be celebrated by a series of events in the coming days to mark Heritage Week 2013.
From lectures on local history to lively performances of traditional music and dance, the events taking place at Desmond Hall from this Sunday, August 18, will cater to a variety of tastes. Entry to every event is free.
Padraig O Ruairc, manager of Desmond Hall, said that the Heritage Week events will cap a hugely successful tourist season which has seen over 5,000 people visit Newcastle West.
“We’ve had a great tourist season so far. It’s not just American tourists too: we find a lot of people being dragged in by their kids, or showing visitors around, and when they get in they’re captivated by the place. When people think of the castle, they think of Norman Knights and the Earls of Desmond. But from the 1500s right up until 1922 the castle was almost continuously used for military purposes. It was used for other purposes even more recently - from 1941 to 1969 it was the town’s cinema”.
The events begin this Sunday when Limerick historian Tom Toomey will give a lecture titled ‘The War of Independence in West Limerick’ at 7.30pm. On Wednesday August 21 at 7.30pm author Joseph Lennon will give a presentation on medieval castles in county Limerick, while next Friday, August 23 at 7.30pm Dr John O’Callaghan of the University of Limerick will give a lecture on the Civil War in Limerick.
On Saturday, August 24 at 4pm award winning uilleann piper Mikie Smith will play traditional airs, jigs and reels, while at 4pm the following day the week will be brought to a close with a traditional singing session led by the West Limerick Singing Club.
The original castle was built by the FitzGeralds in the 1200s, the future Earls of Desmond. However, the castle along with most of the Desmond holdings were confiscated by the crown following the failed rebellion of the late 1500s. Control of the land was granted to the Earls of Devon, the Courtenay family.
The castle was subjected to a one-year siege by Confederate forces during the Cromwellian war of 1641 and during the Williamite war 50 years later it was held by Jacobite forces.
During the War of Independence, the Black and Tan troops who carried out the burning of Cork City had been stationed in the castle grounds ten days beforehand, while during the civil war it was occupied by anti-Treaty troops, three of whom were shot in Newcastle West on August 14, 1922.