Monivea Castle

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Monivea Castle from the North East showing the original Anglo-Norman tower house to the right. The later mansion was built up against its north, west and south walls.

Monivea Castle
Monivea, County Galway, Ireland
Coordinates53°22′00″N 8°41′00″W / 53.36667°N 8.683333°W / 53.36667; -8.683333
TypeTower house
Site information
Open to
the public
Site history
EventsCommemorative Mass in Mausoleum, 22 April, annually (anniversary of Robert Percy's death)

Monivea Castle is a former O'Kelly tower house, located near Monivea in County Galway, Ireland.[1][2] It was acquired by the ffrench family, one of the fourteen Tribes of Galway, who developed it further, enhancing the lands and building the Monivea Castle—all increasing the fortification around the original Norman tower.[3][4][5][6][7]

Monivea Castle in its prime in 1876, occupied 10,121 acres of land, including the features of the tower house ruins, Monivea Castle itself, the ffrench Mausoleum and Monivea Woods.[8][9] The demesne lands surrounding Monivea Castle were worked directly for the benefit of the landlord.[10] Further outlying lands were rented out for farming.[10][11] Estate farmers and domestic servants lived in the surrounding region, the town of Monivea taking shape from this initial population, homes and servicing merchant posts.[10][11][12]


Monivea Castle[edit]

Monivea Castle resides in the midst of extensive woodlands, encompassed by a stone fence and five rows of enormous beech trees.[13] Monivea Castle has two gate-lodges, one to the right of the main gate entry, where staff screened or welcomed visitors.[8][10][14][15]

ffrench Mausoleum[edit]

The Ffrench Mausoleum, Monivea

Set in a clearing amidst the trees of Monivea Wood, the ffrench Mausoleum and chapel was commissioned by Kathleen ffrench in honour of her late father, Robert Percy ffrench.[9] In 1914, the Pope granted an indult, permitting official mass celebrations on special occasions and under special circumstances.[8] Designed by architect Francis Persse (younger brother of Augusta Gregory), the mausoleum took four years to construct, at a cost of £10,000 (near two million in today's economy).[8][10] Built of rough-granite blocks quarried in Wicklow, the structure resembles a small castle, approximately 25-feet-wide by 30-feet-high, with crenellation along the roofline, and featuring a back, left turret.[9] Stone steps lead up to a gothic-archway and heavy oak door secured with decorative rod iron hinges.[16]

Entering into the ffrench Mousoleum, strategically placed stained glass windows provide the only source of light and create a serene atmosphere.[8][16] The building has no electricity.[16] A central window, depicting the Resurrection, is set into the stone wall, behind the black and white marble altar bearing a carved Maltese cross.[8][16] The east-facing triple-lancet stained-glass window is positioned so the rising sun lights upon the memorial sculpture.[8][16] On each side wall, Munich-style stained glass windows illustrate twelve of the fourteen Tribes of Galway.[8][16] All of the intricately designed windows were created by Franz Mayer & Co.—a famous German stained glass design and manufacturing company based in Munich.[8] Mayer of Munich, still in business today, was the principal creator of stained glass for Roman Catholic churches constructed during the nineteenth and early twentieth century, including St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.[17]

Paired granite pillars guard the entrance to the barrel-vaulted chancel, four black marble pillars provide structural support.[8] The mausoleum's high-vaulted ceiling and granite gothic arches shelter a life-size cararra marble effigy of Robert Percy ffrench lying in state.[8][16] Francesco Jerace, a Calabrian sculptor, created a true likeness of Robert ffrench, lying on his back, feet to door, covered by white, rhythmically draped carved marble with an inscribed Maltese cross.[8] On the side of ffrench's effigy is carved: “Il lui sera beaucoup pardonne car il a beaucoup aime.” He will be forgiven much because he has loved much.[6][16]

Monivea Woods[edit]

Situated 17 miles east of Galway city, north of Athenry, the estate of Monivea, once mainly bogland, has been reclaimed as useful land through the careful handling by successive generations of the ffrench family.[2][9][18] Lime and sheep carcasses integrated into the soil provide nutrients to plants and trees, encouraging growth and subsequently stabilising the soil.[9][18] Robert Percy ffrench continued to develop the estate by acquiring more land, and planting an extensive parkland surrounded by five rows of large beech trees.[13] Monivea Woods provided a forest home for wildlife, including fox, hare, squirrel and migratory birds.[19][20] It was the site for regular hunts with the local Galway Blazers.[13][19][21] Kathleen, who inherited Monivea Castle from her father Robert ffrench, enjoyed the excitement of these events, as well as walks and recreation in the peaceful woodlands.[8]

Under the stewardship of the ffrench family, the property continued to flourish, and today, Monivea Woods is known for its unique flora and archaeology.[22] The broadleaf forest offers a natural habitat for Irish wild fungi, lichens, bryophytes and native plants.[23][24] The trees provide nesting sites and song posts for birds, encouraging the habitat of larger species of birds such as Wood Pigeons, Sparrowhawks and Jays. Lower shrubs provide shelter for small mammals. Seed-bearing plants and forest insects supply an easy food source. Monivea Woods is regarded now as being one of the most environmentally diverse and vulnerable parts of East County Galway.[25]

According to a 2002 report funded by Ireland's Department of Environment and Local Government, "Only 9% of Ireland has any forest cover at all today and less than 1% of the surface of the island contains forest established before 1600."[26] Monivea Woods is not only an ecological achievement but a resource for continued development of Ireland's biodiversity.[24][26]


Upon the death of Kathleen ffrench in 1938, with no heir apparent, she bequeathed Monivea Castle, including the estate to the Irish Nation.[27] Kathleen's Will states:

"I give devise and bequeath to the Irish Nation the demesne of Monivea with the Castle including Kilbeg and Currendoo, the bogs, reclaimed lands and plantations, on condition that no parcel of these remains of my former estate shall ever be sold or the old trees cut down unless they fall to pieces."[28]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ County Galway Guide. "Monivea Castle". Retrieved 10 January 2011.
  2. ^ a b NUI Galway. "Estate: ffrench (Monivea)". Retrieved 10 January 2011.
  3. ^ Pine, L.G. (ed) (1958), Burke's Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Landed Gentry of Ireland. 4th ed., London: Burke's Peerage, pp. 272–273CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  4. ^ Thom, Alexander (1852), Thom's Irish Almanac and Official Directory, 1852, London: Alexander Thom, Printer and Publisher, Library of Harvard, p. 555
  5. ^ Burke, C.B., LL.D., Sir Bernard (1871), A Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Landed Gentry of Great Britain and Ireland, London: Library of Princeton University, Elizabeth Foundation, p. 471CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  6. ^ a b O'Laughlin, Michael C. (200), County Galway, Ireland, Genealogy & Family History, Ireland: Irish Genealogical Foundation, pp. 92, 93, ISBN 978-0-940134-82-9
  7. ^ Melvin, Patrick (1996), The Galway Tribes as Landowners and Gentry. In MORAN, Gerard (ed) Galway: History & Society, Dublin: Geography Publications, pp. 319–374
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Lombard, Jean (2010), Irish Woman in Czarist Russia, Dublin, Ireland: Ashfield Press, pp. 105, 108, ISBN 978-1-901658-78-1
  9. ^ a b c d e French Family Association: The Official Website of the Surname French. "Chart #IREH, ffrenches of Monivea Castle, Co. Galway, Ireland". Retrieved 10 January 2011.
  10. ^ a b c d e Genet, Jacqueline (1991), The Big House in Western Ireland: Reality and Representation, Kerry, Ireland: Brandon Book Publishers Ltd, pp. 21, 24, 48, 50
  11. ^ a b Young, Arthur (2000), A Tour in Ireland: with General Observations on the Present State of that Kingdom: made in the Years 1776, 1777, and 1778. And Brought down to the End of 1779: Volume 2, Adamant Media Corporation, pp. 80, 154, ISBN 978-0-543-88692-7
  12. ^ Burke, Sir Bernard (1912), BURKE, Sir Bernard. A genealogical and heraldic history of the Landed Gentry of Ireland, London: Harrison & Sons, p. 223
  13. ^ a b c O'Brien-ffrench, Conrad (1979). Delicate Mission, Autobiography of a Secret Agent. Skilton and Shaw (Fudge and Co. Ltd), London. ISBN 0-7050-0062-1.
  14. ^ Bence-Jones, Mark (1988), A Guide to Irish Country Houses. Revised ed., London: Constable, p. 208
  15. ^ Glin, Knight of, Griffin, D.J. (1989), Vanishing Country Houses of Ireland. Dublin: Irish Architectural Archive/Irish Georgian Society, Ireland: Irish Architectural Archive/Irish Georgian Society, p. 76
  16. ^ a b c d e f g h Boland, Rosita (2010), A Secret Map of Ireland, USA: New Island Books Ltd, pp. 1–6, ISBN 978-1-934848-27-2
  17. ^ Franz Mayer of Munich, Inc. "History". Retrieved 10 January 2011.
  18. ^ a b Cronin, Denis (1995), A Galway Gentleman in the Age of Improvement: Robert French of Monieva, 1716–1779, Dublin: Academic Press, pp. All
  19. ^ a b Mchale, Bernard (1989), Menlough Looking Back, a parish and sporting history, pp. 78–79
  20. ^ The Galway Hunt. "The Galway Hunt". Retrieved 11 January 2011.
  21. ^ The Galway Hunt. "History of the Blazers". Retrieved 10 January 2011.
  22. ^ County Galway Guide. "Monivea". Retrieved 11 January 2011.
  23. ^ Government of Ireland. "Ireland: 4th National Report to the Convention on Biological Diversity, 2010" (PDF). Retrieved 11 January 2011.
  24. ^ a b Government of Ireland. "National Biodiversity Plan" (PDF). Retrieved 11 January 2011.
  25. ^ The Woodland League. "Monivea Woods". Retrieved 10 January 2011.
  26. ^ a b Telling It Like It Is: 10 years of Unsustainable Development in Ireland, Dublin, Ireland: Earth Summit Ireland Ltd., 2002
  27. ^ The Irish Times (2 February 2010). "An Irish Woman's Diary". Retrieved 9 February 2010.
  28. ^ ffrench, Kathleen (1937), The Will of Kathleen ffrench of Monivea, Harbin, China: British Consulate General Harbin