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19th-century painting of the former castle
|Location||Mitchelstown, County Cork, Ireland.|
|Built for||3rd Earl of Kingston|
|Architect||James and George Pain.|
15th to 18th century
White Knights, Dark Earls is to date the most extensive published account of Mitchelstown Castle, which was the biggest neo-Gothic house in Ireland. A castle was first built at Mitchelstown Castle in the 15th century by the White Knights of Mitchelstown, from whom, through marriage, it passed to the King family, Barons and Earls of Kingston. James, 4th Baron Kingston, extensively refurbished and modernised the castle in the 1730s. After his death in 1761, the castle passed to his granddaughter, Caroline Fitzgerald. She married her cousin Robert King, Viscount Kingsborough, who was, from 1797, the 2nd Earl of Kingston. The Kingsboroughs demolished most of the old Mitchelstown Castle in the 1770s and incorporated what remained into a new Palladian mansion, described as a 'house with wings'.
In 1823, after his succession, their son, George, 3rd Earl of Kingston, demolished the Palladian house and replaced it with a new castle designed by James and George Richard Pain. It had 60 principal and 20 minor bedrooms, a 100-foot-long (30 m) gallery, three libraries, morning room, dining room (which could seat 100 guests at one sitting) and various other facilities.
Mitchelstown Castle was the biggest neo-Gothic house in Ireland, cost £100,000 to build and became the 'fashion statement' of its time. It inspired other major Irish castles, such as Strancally Castle (County Waterford) and Dromoland Castle for Lord Inchiquin. But the 100,000-acre Mitchelstown estate ran into considerable financial difficulties, which, after the Great Famine of 1845–1851, forced its owners to sell 70,000 acres (280 km2) in the Landed Estates Court. Further difficulties arose as a result of internal family squabbling, legal disputes and the Land War of the 1880s, in which the estate played a prominent part.
In June 1922, the castle was forcibly occupied by the Irish Republican Army. The then owner, William Downes Webber (second husband of Anna, Dowager Countess of Kingston), his relatives and servants were 'evicted' to houses in nearby King Square. Over the next few weeks the castle was held by the Republicans, who appeared to be preparing it for some kind of siege. However, in early August, the contents of the building were stolen by the Republicans. Among the items stolen were paintings by Thomas Gainsborough, William Beechey and Conrod, as well as silver, furniture, wall hangings, and mantlepieces. On 12 August 1922, Mitchelstown Castle was burned on the orders of a local Republican leader whose father and grandfather had been middlemen on the Kingston estate. At the same time, the military barracks at Fermoy, Mallow, Mitchelstown and Kilworth were burned, as well as the military hospital in Fermoy, Mitchelstown workhouse, Mitchelstown RIC barracks and the railway viaduct in Mallow.
Afterwards, William Downes Webber sought compensation from the Irish Free State totalling £149,000 for rebuilding and £18,000 for contents. He intended to rebuild if sufficient compensation was provided. After his death in 1924, Colonel W.A. King-Harman pursued the claim in the Irish courts. Judge Kenny, in the Irish High Court in 1926, stated that the destruction of Mitchelstown Castle had been an act of wanton destruction which had no military purpose. He awarded £27,500 for the building and £18,000 for the contents. Most of this was used to build houses in Dublin as King-Harman decided that it was too small a sum for a rebuilding.
The stones of Mitchelstown Castle were subsequently sold to the Cistercian monks of Mount Melleray Abbey, County Waterford, who used them to build a new abbey. In the 1940s, Mitchelstown Co-operative Agricultural Society built a milk processing factory on the site of the castle, which it had purchased together with some of the demesne lands that surrounded it. The site is now owned by Dairygold Co-op. The coats of arms of Mitchelstown Castle are now held by a local writer and will be erected in Mitchelstown's new public library, which will also have a special section devoted to local history and especially Mitchelstown Castle and its owners.
Famous guests at Mitchelstown Castle included George Bernard Shaw, Mary Wollstonecraft, Arthur Young, Elizabeth Bowen and Prince Hermann von Pückler-Muskau. The King family also produced several important figures, including Viscount Kingsborough, who was the author of 'The Antiquities of Mexico,' and Margaret, Countess Mount Cashell, to whom Percy Bysshe Shelley dedicated his poem 'A Sensitive Plant'.
- Preston Neale, John; Thomas Moule (1825). Views of the seats of noblemen and gentlemen, in England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. Sherwood, Jones and Co.,. pp. (no page numbers). Retrieved 17 October 2009.
- Samuel, Lewis (1837). A topographical dictionary of Ireland. S. Lewis,. p. 373. Retrieved 17 October 2009.
- Leland, Mary (1999). The lie of the land: journeys through literary Cork. Cork University Press. p. 164. ISBN 978-1-85918-231-4. Retrieved 18 October 2009.
- Johnson, Claudia L. (2002). Claudia L .Johnson, ed. The Cambridge companion to Mary Wollstonecraft. Cambridge Collections Online. Cambridge companions to literature. Cambridge University Press. p. 18. ISBN 978-0-521-78952-3. Retrieved 17 October 2009.
- Christensen, Lis (2001). Elizabeth Bowen: the later fiction. Museum Tusculanum Press. p. 31. ISBN 978-87-7289-624-3. Retrieved 17 October 2009.
- Bill Power. White Knights, Dark Earls: The Rise and Fall of an Anglo-Irish Dynasty. pub. Collins (2000)
- Bill Power, 'Another Side of Mitchelstown', Mitchelstown 2008.
- Bill Power, 'Images of Mitchelstown, stories and pictures from my own place,' pub. Mount Cashell Press, 2002.
- Anthony Lawrence King-Harman. The Kings of King House
- Janet Todd, The Rebellious Kingsborough Sisters and the Making of a Modern Nation Ballantine (2005).
- Claire Tomalin. The Life and Death of Mary Wollstonecraft. (1992). This biography of Wollstonecraft, a former governess to the King family in the late 1780s, provides some general information about the house, mainly in footnotes.