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Castle McGrath (Termon Castle)

There are numerous castles attributed to the Clan McGrath across Ireland, however one of the finest is the Ulster castle situated  on the north west shore of Lower Lough Erne.  The castle is within the modern county boundary of Donegal and lies approximately one mile from Pettigo village. The castle possesses some wonderful Elizabethan period military and domestic features, including fashioned gun loops in the lower ground floor and ornate window frames in the upper floors. The gun loops indicate the transition from blade to gunpowder during the mid 16th century.

Construction commenced in the late 16th century under James McGrath, Chief of the Termon and son of Archbishop Miler McGrath.  The castle was a hugely important symbol of the status of the Clan McGrath in the area.

As hereditary Corabs or Termoners of Lough Derg the Clan McGrath were in a unique position of influence and power in the region.  The grant and title of Queen Elizabeth I and repeated again later by King James I, warranted a suitable residence for the Clan McGrath. The result is the impressive fortification we see today.

In the power struggles of the early and mid-17th century the Clan McGrath were in the thick of things. The demise of the castle and the power of the clan came during the Irish Confederate Wars (1641 -1653).  In 1641, having sided with the rebels, the Clan McGrath and their castle came under siege by a northern militia known as the Lagganers.  The castle was largely destroyed during the siege and following the 1641 rebellion and the subsequent Cromwellian campaign in Ireland,  the lands of the Clan McGrath eventually passed into the hands of others.

Today the castle is situated on private land, however there is public access.
A representation of the castle also appears on the shirts of Pettigo GAA club of which there are many McGrath clansmen and women among its playing members.
The Clan McGrath will return to Termonmagrath and the ancient Clan territories of Donegal, Fermanagh and Tyrone for the International McGrath Clan Gathering 2020.

Lismore Castle, Lismore, County Waterford

It was in the period of Miler McGrath’s Archbishopric of Cashel that he acquired Lismore Castle as his residence becoming the centre of the Ulster McGrath power, now transplanted to the lands of Tipperary and Waterford under the patronage of Miler.

Archbishop Miler’s move to Cashel afforded him the opportunity to protect his assets from this ancient and formidable fortress. However in 1589, Lismore was leased by Miler to the Elizabethan adventurer Sir Walter Raleigh. Raleigh was not best pleased with the deal he received from Miler and complained bitterly to Queen Elizabeth of the dealings he had with MIler. However Raleigh’s complaints were to no avail and like many other power players of the period, Miler outlived Raleigh. Lismore was sold by Raleigh during his imprisonment for High Treason in 1602 to colonial adventurer, Richard Boyle, later 1st Earl of Cork.

Since 1759 Lismore Castle has been the Irish home of the Duke of Devonshire. Rebuilt in the gothic style in the mid-nineteenth century by the 6th Duke of Devonshire, Lismore Castle remains a potent reminder of the importance of Waterford in the medieval period and is perhaps the finest example of a McGrath seat still in use today. 

Castle McGrath, Dungarvan, County Waterford

In the 14th Century a dynastic struggle ensued amongst the O’Brien’s Princes of Thomond resulting in the deposing of Turlough O’Brien by his brother Mahon O’Brien. Turlough and his McGrath supporters moved into the Waterford area settling in Dungarvan, an area with a strong port, refuge and place to do business. Occupying the site of an earlier Dun or Fort, the McGraths built a castle and founded an Augustinian Abbey on an adjacent site. The O’Briens and the McGraths became the protectors of the Abbey and to this day the area is known as Abbeyside.

In the grounds of the ruined Abbey and under a door lintel is the grave slab of Donal McGrath who died in 1400 AD. This wonderful relic of our past bears a latin inscription that reads: Hic jacet Donaldus Macrath qui obit xvii die mensis Marcii anno do MCCCC septuagesimo.  Here lies Donal McGrath who died on the 17th March 1400 aged 70 years.

Following the Cromwellian conquest the castle, which had remained occupied from the fourteenth century, fell into decay. A large section of this formidable tower house collapsed in 1916. By 1960 the building was condemned and eventually demolished.

Mountain Castle, Cappoquin, County Waterford

Mountain Castle was constructed in the first have of the 16th Century by the McGrath family. One Donal McGrath is recorded as living in the Castle in 1537. He is buried in a magnificent stone tomb which can still be seen today in Lismore Church of Ireland Cathedral. The tomb was erected by John McGrath in 1557 in honour of his father and bears John’s name and the name of his wife Katherine, daughter of Thomas Prendergast. Both are buried here. It is from Donal that the McGraths who played such a prominent role in the Desmond wars descended. 

The Castle itself originally consisted of more that three stories and consisted of all the features one would associate with an Irish Tower House of the period include circular cut stone staircase, enclosing wall and cut stone entrance door. Today much of the remains of the castle have been incorporated into a modern house and until recently was popular holiday bed and breakfast accommodation. The remains of the castle and the house are in private hands. Pictured above is the tomb of Donal McGrath in Lismore Cathedral.

Sleady Castle, Dungarvan, County Waterford

In 1628 Philip McGrath, the fourth in descent of Donal McGrath of Mountain Castle moved to the nearby fortified house of Sleady Castle. Has legend has it, this castle was built for Philip’s new wife, the daughter of Lord Waterford who refused to move in with him until Sleady Castle was constructed. 

We can date the completion of the castle accurately because of an inscription carved on a chimney breast which reads Philipus Mac Grath 1628. This new castle was a symbol of the change in the Irish political landscape and instead of a defensive tower house, this castle represents a Jacobean stately home.  The McGraths were also major landowners in the area and a survey of 1654 shows Philip in possession of 800 acres of land. Today Sleady Castle is on private land and makes up part of a farm complex.

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