June 2003

The only reference Everard Hamilton makes to Castle Hamilton states that Galbraith Hamilton, the son of Archibald Hamilton (Chap V p.15 ) was the ancestor of the Hamiltons of Castle Hamilton.  Further research makes interesting reading[1].

In 1607 Lord Chichester, the new Lord Deputy of Ireland, undertook an extensive tour through Ulster. As a result it was decided that six of the Ulster counties should be planted. In 1609, the Co. Cavan barony of Tullyhunco, which included Killeshandra, was allocated to Scottish settlers. Many Scots Presbyterians, wanting to escape from the difficulties facing Presbyterians in their native land, were keen to accept the possibility of settling in places like Killeshandra..

Under this plantation, 2,000 acres in the area of Killishandra, Co. Cavan were granted to Sir Alexander Hamilton of Innerwick in 1610.  The lands were to be created into the manor of Clonkine and Carrotubber, with 600 acres in demesne. He was also granted the advowson and patronage of the rectory of Killeshandra. and 1,000 acres were granted to his son Claud near the Leitrim border.

Sir Alexander was a cousin of William Hamilton 1st of Ballyfatton and married Christian Hamilton his cousin, the daughter of Thomas Hamilton 3rd of Priestfield and sister of the 1st Earl of Haddington.  Claud, his son, married  Jane (surname unknown) and died after 1618. They had a son Sir Francis Hamilton who married Letitia Coote (cc 1630), daughter of Sir Charles Coote of Castle Coote, Roscommon, the Marshal of Connaught.

Sir James Carew, in his report on the progress of the plantation in 1611, just a year after the grants were made, has the following to say about the Hamiltons:

'Sir Alexander Hamilton, Knt, 2,000 acres in the county of Cavan; has not appeared: his son Claud took possession, and brought three servants and six artificers; is in hand with building a mill; trees felled; raised stones and hath competitent arms in readiness. Besides there are arrived upon that portion since our return to Dublin from the journey, as we are informed, twelve tenants and artificers who intend to reside there and build upon the same'.

Before the end of the year Sir Claud sold his lands to John Hamilton, his agent. He in turn sold them to William Lawder, of Belhavel in Scotland, in 1614. William Lawder died in 1618 and his son sold the lands to Sir Alexander Hamilton, Sir Claud's father. In this way the lands made their way back into the Hamilton family.

In 1618 Sir Nicholas Pynnar was commissioned to report on the progress of the plantation. He was instructed to ascertain whether the undertakers had complied with the terms of their grants by building a strong house surrounded by a bawn and a stone wall: by settling a number of English and Scottish tenants on their lands; by making provision for defense of their lands. Pynnar found the lands of Sir Alexander Hamilton were being held in trust for his grand-son, Sir Francis Hamilton, by Sir Francis' mother Jane, his father being dead. She was living in a strong castle at Keelagh, known as Castle-Killagh (Keelagh) and there were 31 British families settled on the lands. The castle was four storeys with flankers and turrets for defense. It had a bawn 60 feet square surrounded by a wall 12 feet in height. Nearby was a town with 34 houses inhabited by British settlers. A market was held there every week.  It had three fairs in the year, on the Feasts of St Simon, St Jude and St Barnaby. This is the first reference we have to the planter town of Killeshandra growing up near Castle Keelagh and to a lesser extent around the nearby Croghan Castle. In 1631 all the Hamilton lands, a total of 3,000 acres were re-granted to Sir Francis Hamilton and created into the manor of Castle Keelagh.

The number of settlers around Killeshandra increased steadily until 1641, when the Rebellion broke out. While atrocities occurred in various parts of Ulster, it seems that the O'Reillys in Cavan showed a more humanitarian attitude towards the settlers. This may have been due to the fact that they still spoke Gallic and that they, as Scots, had also suffered at the hands of the English. After a long and heroic stand at Castle Keelagh and Croghan, the settlers surrendered and were allowed to retire to Drogheda.

"The rebellion opened on October 23 in 1641 and within a week the County came under the control of the O'Reilly tribe once again. Two garrisons held out longer. Locked away in two castles at Croghan and Keelagh were garrisons of English troops. English and Scottish settlers from Leitrim and West Cavan had become fugitives, many taking refuge. There had been some provision for this but not for the presence of a further seven hundred refugees seeking asylum.  Myles O'Reilly had sent his father Edmund to take the two castles near to Killeshandra town but it was a disaster from the start. Sir Francis Hamilton was a canny foe and obviously kept his ear to the ground. He gained advance warning of the rebellion and not only fortified the castles for a bitter struggle; he burned the town of Killeshandra to the ground, removing any accommodation for the marauding band of insurgents.

Hamilton had two hundred infantry and some cavalry. With three barrels of powder and provisions for six months at Keelagh alone, he must have been sure of drawn out victory. The extra seven hundred refugees must have come as something of a shock though. His trump card had to be the difficulty of laying siege over winter in the open now that the town was destroyed.

There was another twist in this tale. Old enemies had alleged themselves to the common cause. A force of O'Rourke's from Carrigallen and Ballinamore had joined Edmund making a force totalling two thousand men. It is doubtful if Hamilton had quite expected that either. During a Skirmish near to Keelagh Castle, Edmund was repulsed. Loughlin and Brian O'Rourke were taken prisoner. The Protestant Bishop Bedell and his son-in-law were soon traded for the two O'Rourke's.

Hamilton had had the wit to burn away the country for a three-mile radius around the castle, which removed cover for any attack. This left the attackers out in the open and when Father O'Rourke, a Friar, led such an attack, he was killed in his habit while two important leaders of the rebel cause were captured and immediately seized as hostages. The two were Owen O'Rourke and Philip O'Reilly.

Myles was not impressed by his fathers' failure and withdrew from the siege at Drogheda and marched on Cavan. Although three hundred men of Robert Nugent's from Westmeath and men from Leitrim joined his force, the rebels failed again in a skirmish near to Cavan at Windmill Hill and Myles was now livid with the failures. His response was not worthy of a great leader.

There was a settlement of sixty English people who had been allowed to stay in the town of Belurbet. Myles had them thrown off the town bridge over the River Erne. It was detestable murder and Hamilton's response was even more despicable though under the circumstances, not unexpected.

At Derewilly on the Leitrim border, some sixty Irish folk were sheltering in the woods. Hamilton, with a force of one hundred infantry and thirty cavalry, raided the camp killing twenty-seven. He then hung fourteen others. The rest escaped but were cut off by Sir James Craige, the owner of nearby Castle Croghan, who killed ten more and hanged four.

The artillery made a strong case for not storming the castles. The easy option was to stick it out and hope for starvation to quickly bring a surrender. By March the following year, 1642, both castles were suffering from a lack of supplies. They had realised by now that all hope of help arriving was in vain. They were on their own and to compound things, Sir James Craige died on April 8 and disease was rife in the cramped and unhygienic conditions. One hundred and sixty died from hunger or disease and the remainder were not well enough to defend the castle and so responsibility fell on Hamilton's shoulders to defend both castles.

Each day he sent some men over to Croghan Castle to defend it but they did not dare stay there because of the rampant disease. One man named Barlow, escaped from Keelagh and sought asylum with the insurgents. He informed them of the terrible plight of the defenders and a decision to raid the castles was taken.

Philip Mac Hugh O'Reilly led a force of two thousand men to the two castles and promptly fouled the water supply by throwing a dead dog and a man's body into the well that was the source of the Croghan Castle supply. Thirst added to the misery. Things were little better at Keelagh.

Hamilton had Keelagh well prepared which gave them some extra time. They eventually depended on their milch cows for meat but this could only give short term relief. Soon, hungry eyes turned to the horses and even the dogs. As the hope of rescue died, so too did the food supply. The defenders were eventually reduced to eating the hides of the animals that had fed them.

Mutiny was inevitable. A small group ran away to join the insurgents who must have felt a grand surge in confidence. By now, even Sir Francis Hamilton himself was sick. It was time to negotiate.

Sir Francis knew he had lost but he also knew that he had to protect the people in the castles. Talking was the sensible option and so talk they did.

To the authors knowledge the official record of the mediators is incomplete and any recording must only have been done on the English side. Other than the Irish party being formed between the O'Reilly's and the O'Rourke's, I have no reference. The English party is well documented as Sir Francis Hamilton, Sir Arthur Forbes, Masters Bedell and Price. An agreement was reached that complete surrender of the castles would be offered on the understanding that the garrisons would be free to leave and travel unharmed to Drogheda.

And so on June 15 1642 the English forces were lead from Keelagh Castle by Sir Francis Hamilton enroute for Drogheda. They marched proudly, torches burning and to the beat of drums with full colours flying. The O'Reilly's kept their word and escorted them unharmed to Drogheda

Hamilton, a Scot, must have earned himself serious respect since today Keelagh Castle is known as Castle Hamilton."

Coote in his Statistical Survey of County Cavan (1801) describes Killeshandra as a good market-town with a flourishing linen market at which coarse linens to the value of £1,500 are sold weekly. He says that the town itself 'is engaging, being neat and clean, and industry and its rewards are very conspicuous, everything appears comfortable, a good market and a brisk trade'. In the neighbourhood of the town was Castle Hamilton ( 1 and 2 ) with its beautiful wooded and watered demesne owned by Col. Southwell. The mansion itself, was newly built and very spacious.

In 1846 Killeshandra was described as occupying "a romantic site on a gently rising ground environed by a chain of interesting lakes; and consists of a spacious and well built street in the centre of which is a well arranged, neatly constructed market house"(See left). At this time it was flourishing and had one of the best markets for linen in the county with many of the local population employed in its manufacture.

Castle Hamilton was then the seat of R. H. Southwell, for many years the MP for Cavan. By 1856 James Hamilton, a wine merchant from Dublin, had purchased the estate. James (See Chap V) was descended from William 4th of Ballyfatton, via Williams 2nd, 3rd and 4th of Ballyfatton, Archibald and Galbraith Hamilton, and thus extraordinarily the Castle returned to ownership of the Hamilton family of this book, after a long period of time.

By the late 1850's the prosperity of Killeshandra was evident. There were numerous cornmills in the parish and a flax mill in the vicinity of the town owned by James Hamilton. There were two forges, one in Church St., and one in Yewer Lane. There was a total of 141 houses in the town, 83 on Main St., 29 in Castle Lane and 29 in Yewer Lane. There was a police barracks, a courthouse, a market house, a butter market and a dispensary.

Castle Hamilton was burned accidentally in 1911 when a heater in one of the chicken houses was overturned and the resultant fire quickly spread, not only to the other chicken houses, but also to the estate house itself.

I have been so far unable to discover what became of the castle between the time of the rebellion and the ownership by Col. Southwell in 1801.  However, Sir Francis fell foul of the monarch and was indicted for treason in …….  It seems he may have forfeited his lands at that time as he in known to have made a claim for their return in………..  

The big house that replaced the estate house that was burned in the fire is now owned by Joseph Fletcher.  His father, Charles, bought it from the Hamiltons.  The land and the remains of the castle out-houses are owned by a man called Alan Kells.  He has tourist apartments in the old buildings and he keeps cattle on the land.  He also runs a market gardening and landscaping business. Guy Hamilton was the last of the Hamiltons to live in Killeshandra. 

Interestingly, in the neighbouring County of Leitrim, a distant cousin of Sir Francis' was undergoing similar trauma but reacting rather more robustly.  Sir Frederick Hamilton, the grandson of James  2nd Earl of Arran was granted land and built Manorhamilton in 1638.

"The rebels also attacked Manorhamilton, capturing 500 cows and burning the winter supply of corn. Having taken Sligo, they were savagely attacked by Sir Frederick Hamilton, and Sligo was burned.

Hamilton, who had been granted lands around Manorhamilton by James I in the 1620s, proceeded to devastate the whole countryside of North Leitrim. The MacClancy castles were destroyed and murder and destruction were the order of the day. Such was the terrible legacy of Hamilton in North Leitrim in the period following the rising that his name is vilified to the present day. The O'Connors managed to maintain a shaky foothold in Sligo until 1645, when Sir Charles Coote (the father-in-law of Sir Francis) with an army of around 5,000 English and Scottish marched from Tyrone through Dartry to Sligo and captured the town. The rising was effectively over.

Not only had the rising resulted in the destruction of the MacClancy fortresses but it also marked the beginning of the end for the chiefdom. The Down Survey map of 1654/5 records all the Loughside, formerly MacClancy lands, as belonging to Sir Frederick Hamilton.

    We thus have an eyesight into the relations between the owner of Manor Hamilton and his
 neighbours of the Irish clans in this year of 1641, during the October of which the Irish Rebellion
 and Massacre broke out. The Diary already referred to begins with mention of the setting on fire
 and burning of the "Iron Works called the Garrison," Co. Fermanagh, by the MacLaughlins and
 MacMurrays of the County Leitrim, and that seven or eight score of the sufferers, most of them
 English, wounded and robbed, fled to Lady Hamilton for relief.
   "This day by our Colonell's command a gallowes was erected upon the top of an hill neare the
 castle, and having about 24 prisoners in the castle, he caused eight of them to be hanged up
 which had been at the burning of Ballyshannon, in the county of Donegall, and at the burning
 of the iron works in the county of Fermanagh."
    The gallows was kept busy, for we find that a number of men were tried by and executed
 under martial law since the beginning of this Rebellion, whose names are given as below:-
   The names of such as have been Hanged at Manor Hamilton, by
   Martial Law since the beginning of this Rebellion,
Dec 3.   Turlogh Mac Clevor                         Cormack O'Hay's wife, neare
         Neale Mac Cluan                              kinswoman to O'Connour
         Manus O'Gallogher                            Hugh O'Hart
         Manus O'Hay                                  O'Donnell O'Hart
Dec 12.  Phelemy Duff Mac Cob           Granny ny Kewe (Grace McHugh)
Dec 18.  Gelpatrick O'Kan                             Phelomy Mac ka Naw
         Brian O'Moriice                                    Gilpatrick O'Mullane
Dec 20.  Turlogh O'Cally                                Laughlin O Degannian
Jan 2.   Brian O'Cannan                               Call boy Mac Garty
         Con O'Rourk, the Colonell's                  Donnogh O'Hart
         brother                                                 Hugh O'Flin
Jan 8.Connour Mac Shane Glasse         James Roch, the chief Murtherer
         MacLoughlin, the chief                       of the British at Sligo
         of his name.                                          Donnell O'Clery
Aug 23.  Owen Mac Garraghy                        Hugh O'Cullen
         Cormack O'Cornan                             Glany O'Regan
Aug 31.  Shane Mac Skerrie                          James Wytherspin
         John Spence                         July 12  James Halfpenny
Sept 10. Capt. Con O'Connour                 July 26  Hugh O'Fay
         Credagh Mac Derno                  Nov 4.   Captain Charles Mac Guire
         Cor Mac O'Hay, had                  Nov 26.  Phelomy Mac Peirce
         been a minister                     Dec 22.  M Gwyre
         Teig Mac Goane.                     Jan 7.   Edmond MacGawran
Sept 1.  Brian Mac Diffit                             Turrogh Beagh O Moretelan
Sept 17. Donnogh O'Dowde                              Brian O'Cuer
Sept 19. Patrick O'Neale                     Feb 3.   Cormack O'Cuer
Feb. 2.  John Wytherspin                              Cormack O'Quillan
Feb 11.  Donnogh boy O'Bane                  Feb 18.  Kahill Mac Kan 
         Mewe Mac Loughlin                            Donnell Mac Glanaghy
Fe 22    Owen Mac Thomas                         William Mac Roregan
Feb 26   Ferrall Mac Regan
         Tutmultagh Mac Garraghy,
         subsheriffe deputy of Donegall





[1] Much of the information above is taken from the Killishandra website for which I am grateful to Gerard Alwill, Esq.   C.F.B.H.