Dromore Castle: How it came to be built

DROMORE Castle is doomed.

The demolition squad have moved in, and in a short time another ruined castle will be added to the many thousands that cover our countryside. But there is this difference, the other castles were destroyed as a result of bloody conflict, this castle is being destroyed as a result of a departmental resolution. One of the principal reasons advanced for the destruction of Dromore is that it lacks a historical heritage. Thank God, human beings are not castles! And it lacks historical heritage they say because of its recent origin. There is a smug snobbery behind the words "recent origin." Is nothing to be considered historical in this country unless it bears the savage imprint of Cromwell? In order to enable readers of the "Leader" to judge for themselves, here is an account of the building of the Castle and the people who built it. For of all the castles around, Limerick City people should be most interested in Dromore, because it was built solely out of the rents paid by their ancestors.

Up to the middle of the last century, the residence of the Earls of Limerick was in Henry Street, Limerick, now occupied by St. Munchin's College. They owned considerable property in the country along the line of the Shannon, and were about to erect an extensive shooting lodge near Dromore, Pallaskenry, when the second Earl died in 1866 and was succeeded by his grandson, William Hale John Charles Perry, Viscount Glenworth.


It was a time of feverish architectural activity and the new Earl was a patron of architecture. In addition there was a strong building tradition in his family. Had not Edmond Sexton Pery, one of his ancestors, extended Limerick City outside the old walls, and helped to erect the City we know today. The new Earl quickly abandoned the shooting lodge and instead decided to erect a new residence.

The first requisite for any building is to get a competent architect and the Earl's choice fell on Edward William Godwin, the leading English Architect of his day. Godwin was a complex creature, and a genius. He was ahead of his generation and his advanced ideas gave rise to the aesthetic movement that threw up Wilde, Whistler and many other exotics. It is not easy to sum up an artist in a sentence or two. The Architects before and during Goodwin's times were wont to place emphasis on the structural basis of their design. But Godwin "stressed instead the effect to form and colour upon the mind as apprehended through the eye, and his outstanding gift was the ability to awaken interest through form, which faculty he employed in the arrangement of material in building. His fellows could apprehend, when it was expressed, a message they could not voice themselves." Dromore Castle, when it was completed, was the perfect embodiment of all Goodwin's theories.


Godwin came to Ireland in August 1867 for the purpose of inspecting, on the spot, possible sites for the erection of the residence, and the Earl himself spent many weary and apparently useless days looking for a site. Then one day when they had almost despaired of success the Earl brought Goodwin to the top of Dromore Hill, just to see the precipitous drop to the lake below. When they arrived at the top the beauty of the scene almost took their breath away. On one side rippled the hills of Clare, bordered by the silvery ribbon of the lordly Shannon winding westwards to the sea. On the other side, the great broad plain of Limerick, mellow with Autumnal fruitfulness, shimmered in the setting sun. To quote from Godwin: "It was a dreamlike situation on the edge of a wood, overlooking a lake, which would reflect the castle one hundred feet below".

It was decided that the new building would be a Castle and that it should incorporate everything that was good in existing Irish Castles. Money was no object and the Earl gave Godwin a completely free hand. Godwin had an infinite capacity for taking pains, and before he started any work on the drawings for the building, he visited and measured innumerable castles in Ireland. In this way he analysed the construction of roofs and porches, observed the joining of stonework; by re-assigning the means that had stood the test of time and weather, wear and tear for years, he could not go far wrong. When he had completed these studies and thought he knew something about the construction of Irish mediaeval Castles, he made his design, based on his lifelong precepts that it was always advisable to utilise the traditional notions of accommodation, material and construction.


While Godwin was completing his design for the Caslte, the Earl was faced with difficulty of getting clear possession of the site. Dromore was occupied by a number of families, who naturally did not want to give up their homes, even to please the Earl. Negotiations ensued and eventually suitable compensation was agreed upon, satisfactory to all parties. Dromore passed to the Earl. The families settled elsewhere in the locality, and their relations with the Earl and his successors, remained on the most cordial and friendly basis.

Everything was now ready. The contract was let to an Englishman, and work started on the building in 1868, under the supervision of a resident Clerk of Works. The clearing of the site and the laying of the foundations with the walls from three feet to six feet thick, was a colossal undertaking. A regular army of workmen, in addition to considerable numbers of stone-masons, carpenters and other skilled tradesmen, were engaged. Any local man with a horse and car found ready employment drawing stones from 7 a.m., to 7 p.m., at four shillings a day. The stone was drawn from the quarries in Foynes. It was a weeping stone. The contract must have been a "time and materials" one, because from the very start the work was "dead slow." In illustration of this, there is a story told that two of the masons had a wager as to which of them would take the longest time to put up a corner stone each. They spent a week cutting and facing and preparing their respective stones. And then one of them won because his stone broke, and he had to set about the work again with a new stone. Two or three years passed in this fashion, and then the job got tedious, and the contractor got a contract for the building of a church in Co. Clare and in no time they finished the castle. But all in all, it cost the Earl from 80,000 to 100,000.


The gateway leading to the entrance and thence to the Courtyard was a striking feature. It was twenty-three feet long, thirty feet wide and thirty-six feet high and was incorporated in the main building. The principal apartment was the banqueting hall, which was fifty-six feet long, thirty feet wide and thirty-six feet high. When the castle was finished the profusion of turrets and chimneys and gables, crowned by a pointed turret gave the impression of a giant fairy palace. The architect was well pleased with his labours saying that "he had seen it by moonlight, seen it from the road at a distance from every angle, and the silhouette was about as charming a thing as ever he saw in his life". And to the present day, everyone with eyes to see re-echoes that opinion. But it was best seen at a distance, and it reminded sea-faring folk plying the river of one of those Landgraves castles that cling to the steep sides of the Rhine.

Godwin gave as much attention to the interior of the castle as to the exterior. The walls of the principal apartments were decorated by M. Marks, A.R.A. with figures in outline, filled in with plain, unshaded colours. Over the mantelpiece, a peacock provided the theme of decoration in anticipation of things to come. And when the decorations were finished Godwin designed all the furniture and fittings.


The Perys were delighted with their new residence, little heeding that in time its prohibitive cost would beggar them. The Earl's ambition had been realised and his dream castle had been transmuted and changed into a reality before his very eyes. An amusing defect became apparent soon after he moved into residence. The gateway to the court was built to suit medieval forms of transport. When the first four-in-hand arrived the passengers on top had an uncomfortable time trying to gain entry. Thereafter they had to pull up outside the walls and make the rest of the way on foot.

But the walls, even though six feet thick, were not able to resist an enemy that in course of time penetrated to the inmost recesses of every room – dampness! It ruined the decorations by Marks and the Earl had the desolating experience of seeing the beautiful decorations contracted for at forty shillings a square foot, melt before his outraged eyes. It wasn't the first time a stranger was beaten by the humid climate of Ireland, and it is one of the first things an architect should study and come to terms with when building near the Irish west coast.


But the dampness was only incidental, and the Earl and his family settled down in their new home, and lived happily there until his death in 1896. The fourth Earl was an army man and he hardly ever visited Dromore. His wife and children stayed there sporadically, and when World War 1 came closed up the castle altogether. Then in 1939 the fifth Earl sold Dromore to the present owners, and today it is in the hands of the demolition squad.


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