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Ballincollig Castle is a Norman castle to the south of the town of Ballincollig, County Cork, Ireland built after the Norman invasion of Ireland. In its prime, the castle was inhabited by the Barretts, who had control of the local area. The castle still stands today, albeit heavily damaged. The original keep still remains, as does most of the curtain wall and two towers set therein.
There appear to be no early descriptions of the castle. Ballincollig Castle was constructed on a limestone summit, with a clear line of sight over the low land of the Maglin Valley. Beneath the castle there is a dark natural cavern which runs into the rock and around it the remains of a moat.
Wall and enclosure
The castle consisted of a large walled enclosure (or bawn), with a tower or keep on one side of it and possibly a large hall through the middle. Most of the enclosing or outer wall remains. It is about 5 feet (1.5 m) thick and 15 feet (5 m) high. The space on top was defended by a parapet with flights of steps leading up at several points. There were two defensive towers on the wall, one at present in ruins in the south-east corner and the second on the south wall.
The enclosure is between 70 and 100 feet (21 and 30 m) across and is rocky and uneven. There appears to be evidence of a hall in the middle as one portion of the outer wall has the remains of a fireplace and chimney and a window of two lights. It is suggested that the towers on the outer wall and the hall are of 15th century making and were probably built after the sale of the castle to the Barretts.
On the other hand, the main tower or keep is of the 13th century and was used by Coll. The keep was repaired by the Wyse family in 1857 and on the east wall a shield has been inserted bearing the monogram W with the date 1857 beneath it. The keep is 45 to 50 feet (14 to 15 m) high. The ground floor is vaulted and originally had no entrance to it except by a trap door from above, so it was probably a prison. The room on the first floor had a path up to it, carried on arches. It is about 7.5 by 9 feet (2.3 by 2.7 m). A very narrow staircase leads to other stories, all of which have stone floors on solid arches. To support them the two walls on which they rest are thicker than the others. The second story has seats in the lambs of the loopholes, a drain from a lavatory and a small square cupboard in the wall over it. The upper floor of chief chamber seems to have had windows added on all sides in the middle of the 19th century. However, there are loopholes in other parts of the walls of the keep. The lack of windows and a fireplace and the fact that the small rooms occupied all the internal space between the walls suggests that the building was more of a keep for last defence than a regular living quarters.
Conquest of Ireland
The Barretts travelled from Normandy with William the Conqueror and helped him to conquer England in 1066. They subsequently received grants of land in Pembrokeshire, Wales. Some of these Barretts travelled with the Normans when they came to conquer Ireland in 1169. When Henry II parcelled out the spoils of conquest in Ireland he gave the Kingdom of Cork, stretching from Lismore, County Waterford to County Kerry, to Milo de Cogan and Robert Fitzstephen. De Cogan received land west and south of the city and the family built a number of castles on their lands including one at Carrigrohane.
The Barretts were underlords of the de Cogans. They rose in influence through service to various kings. The Barretts travelled to conquer Connacht in 1235 under John de Cogan who led the Munster contingent. Because of this they seem to have become tenants of Carrigrohane under John Barrett for King Edward II in wars in Scotland, the king pardoned Crown debts and rents chargeable on his heir, William Barrett.
During the 15th century the Barretts seem to have settled down to a reasonably peaceful existence. They were now underlords of the McCarthys to whom they paid rent of £11 a year from 1420 and later the Earls of Desmond to whom they paid 12 marks yearly after 1425, when the Desmond were granted de Cogan lands. After the middle of that century they purchased Ballincollig Castle. In the Carew Calendar, 28 November 1611, Sir Dominic Sarsfield wrote to Lord Carew, "Ballincollig is entailed and was purchased in the 8th year of Edward 4 (1468–9) from Robert Coil, a knight. Deed of entail in my own lands". This was to become the principal Barrett stronghold until the early 17th century when Castlemore Barretts seem to have had (Mourne Abbey), Garrycloyne ( both in the north of the Barony), Castleinch, Ballincollig and Cloghan McUllick about 2–3 miles south or south-west of Ballincollig. The exact location of the latter is not certain. Some historians suggest the present townland of Grange but there is some doubt about this. However, the Barretts also controlled Carrigrohane for some time.
In the 1590s a dispute arose. In July 1591 Andrew Barrett and sixty others assaulted Ballincollig Castle and dispossessed Edmund Barrett, "with swords, guns, great sledges or hammers, skenes, stones and staves". Three years later Edmund got a decree of £100 against Sir Fineen O'Driscoll, Sheriff of Cork, for refusing to execute a writ dispossessing Andrew Barrett and others who had seized the castle. In the following year, 1595, Edmund took his cousin to court. A fine of £20 was imposed on Andrew and lesser fines on two others and they were jailed.
However, early in the 17th century, the Barretts lost Ballincollig Castle. The family were driven to borrowing money to pay for court fines and dowries. They had to obtain a mortgage on the castle and lands in 1618 from the Coppingers of Cork who were moneylenders. "William Barrett of Ballincollig in the County of Cork, gent,… in consideration of £240 paid by Edmond Coppinger Fitzrobert of Corke, gent, the said William Barrett granted to the said Edmond Coppinger, his heirs and assigns for ever all that and those the castles, bawnes, towns, villages, hamlets, lands, tenements and hereditaments of and in Ballincolly…”. This mortgage was transferred to Sir Walter Coppinger, Cloghane (near Skibbereen) and in 1630 for the payment of £790 to the Barretts, Coppinger came into full possession of the castle and lands. The castle featured briefly in later history. In 1644 it was taken by Cromwell's forces and around 1689 it was garrisoned for James 2. But after 1690 it was unused and it fell into disrepair.
Today the castle is in private ownership.
- Calendar State Papers, various years
- Coppinger, W, A, History of the Coppingers
- Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society, Various years including 1892, 1897, 1906, 1908, 1910
- Pacata Hibernia, ed. S. O' Grady
- Parker, J. H., Observatories on the Ancient Domestic Architecture of Ireland (1859)
- Smith's History of Cork
- Tuckey's Cork Remembrances (1837)
- Windele, J., Notices of Cork (1835)