Blackrock Castle is the ancestral seat of the Dukes of Devonshire. It stands at the top of Cork Hill, and is a famous landmark in Cork City, Ireland. The castle was built in 1365 by William de Burgh, Earl of Ulster and Baron of Connaught. It was gutted in 1690 when captured by Jacobite forces under Patrick Sarsfield during the Siege of Cork – which led to it being besieged by Williamite forces under Richard Talbot, 1st Earl of Tyrconnell. In 1702, during the War with Spain, it was damaged when captured again – this time by Spanish forces under Don Juan de Esquivel.
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History of Blackrock Castle Cork
On 22 October 1940, at the start of the Second World War, it was bombed by German planes – killing several people and resulting in the destruction of many buildings in the city. The castle was used as a military barracks until 1999. It is now managed by Cork County Council and open to the public.
A Norman Motte and Bailey Castle
Blackrock Castle is a Norman “motte and bailey” castle, dating from approximately 1365 AD. It stands on a coastal promontory overlooking Cork Harbour, and has views of Spike Island to the south east. The castle is surrounded on three sides by steep cliffs which drop into the sea; thus making an approach from these directions extremely difficult.
Who Built Blackrock Castle?
The castle was built by William de Burgh, 2nd Earl of Ulster, and first became the seat of the Dukes of Burgh when he was created 1st Earl in 1364. The castle is a fine example of a Norman motte and bailey castle – an arrangement where a “motte” (a mound) is surrounded by “baileys” (enclosed lands). It lies at strategic point on the western approaches to Cork, overlooking Spike Island.
Occupation of Blackrock Castle
Although occupied intermittently over the following centuries, it was damaged and burned twice during the 1690 Siege of Cork. On 25 August 1690 it fell to Jacobite forces under Patrick Sarsfield. On the following day it was besieged by Williamite forces under Richard Talbot, 1st Earl of Tyrconnell (later created 1st Marquis of Waterford), who blocked the entrance with a mine dug under the castle. The siege lasted only three days before it fell to the attackers.
In 1702, during the War with Spain, it was damaged when captured again – this time by Spanish forces under Don Juan de Esquivel. It remained in use as a barracks until 1899. Since then much of the castle has been restored; however, several features such as gun loops for cannon remain impressive today. It is now open to the public.
Where is Blackrock Castle Located?
Blackrock Castle is located at the top of (and partly within) a cliff, with views over a large part of Cork Harbour. It has two bays and contains parts that date back to 1300–1350 AD, showing it was built between Norman and Early English periods. The tower house was in great disrepair by 1783, when the drawing was made. An eighteenth-century depiction by Samuel Lewis shows that the castle had acquired its present-day form at this point in time: two square towers flanking a taller central round tower with conical roof.
The Castle Remodelled – 1730s
In 1730–1736 Sir Richard Everard substantially remodelled Blackrock Castle for his residence. The building was covered with grey limestone, and an extra floor was added to the three-storey south tower. The entrance to the castle was the south gatehouse, which led into a courtyard.
Inside Blackrock Castle Cork
The interior of the castle has been described as “illustrating well medieval military architecture…the principal apartments are spacious, lofty and well-proportioned, lighted by high sash windows, and decorated with chimney pieces of cut stone”.
The Great Hall roof has coved cornice with carved bosses. It contains a fireplace by James Gibbons (and later modified by James McCarthy) with Rococo carving on a large scale. The carved chimney piece depicts a head of Louis XIV, and an inscription running around the four sides names the craftsmen involved.
The room also contains a large table, used for dining during the 19th-century by Lord Muskerry – perhaps explaining its unusually large size. It is lit by two high sash windows. From this room there are views over the River Lee and Blackrock Village (including what was formerly St Anne’s Church). There is also a winding stone staircase to first floor. The Great Hall is panelled throughout in oak with carved detailing; it has a hammer beam roof which has decorative carved corbels and oak pulpit at one end of the room for morning services (these have recently been removed).
The Great Hall features a large central fireplace. The chimneypiece is by James Gibbons, who also carved the panels over the fireplace. The plasterwork ceiling has a central boss with a carving of the arms of the first Earl of Cork. The chimneypiece is supported by four pillars with carved foliages and flanking panels depicting scenes from classical antiquity, including one showing “Phaeton drawn through the sky on his father’s chariot by his horses”. At one end of the fireplace are three smaller niches; these contain carvings of Charles II, James II and William III (the last two carved in 1702), and Charles I (added in 1737). At the other end of the fireplace is a carved panel depicting emblems of the four elements. The fireplace has a stone overmantel which depicts scenes from classical antiquity and from the Ancient Roman Empire, including one depicting “Phaeton drawn through the sky on his father’s chariot by his horses”.
The room contains a large table (used for dining during the 19th century by Lord Muskerry – perhaps explaining its unusually large size) and frame chairs of c. 1730. It is lit by two high sash windows.
A large doorway leads into the chapel which occupies most of the castle’s ground floor. The floor is tiled with equally shaped stones and has a simple wooden altar (which has been removed). The chapel contains a carved late medieval pulpit which was also added in 1737, and two carved stone panels in the gable end depicting “The Crucifixion” (on the left) and “The Resurrection” (on the right).
The Great Bedchamber
The Great Bedchamber is reached from the outer turret passage via a doorway and contains another fireplace, a panelled ceiling with decorative plasterwork and an ornate carved chimneypiece with fluting. The chimneypiece is dated 1736, and the mantelpiece depicts two cherubs carrying bouquets of flowers.
This room contains a large four-poster bed (reputed to have been slept in by Lord Muskerry), another chimneypiece (with panel depicting the Flight into Egypt) and four carved stone panels on one of the walls. The pediment above them bears an inscription dedicating them to Philip Howard Duke of Norfolk who died in 1701.
Originally the castle was surrounded by a curtain wall with battlements; however most of this was removed in the 18th century. The main gateway into the castle has two large round towers with crenellated ramparts – these are connected via a barbican (a drawbridge-type structure) to an inner gatehouse. The two turrets contain continuous machicolations and gun loops in their upper levels.
The Bishops’ Gate on the north side of Castle Yard gives access to King’s Tower, built for Bishop Walsh by Richard Everard in 1735 as part of his remodelling works at the castle. It contains a fireplace and a window with curved pediment above. The Bishop’s Gate is also known as “Sarsfield’s Gate” because it was here that the Jacobite forces under Patrick Sarsfield made their final stand during the Siege of Cork in 1690. Today the gate leads into Castle Yard, also known as “Sarsfield’s Square”.
The castle contains a large gatehouse on the south side of the Castle Yard (formerly Bishop’s Gate) which was remodelled in about 1730–1736. It was later used as a gunpowder magazine by Sir Richard Everard. The gatehouse contains a fireplace and an arched doorway dating from 1712; it also has two stone panels (bearing inscriptions) which list names involved in its construction. The gatehouse was altered by James Gibbons in c. 1780.
The inner courtyard (now called the “Courtyard of the Wardens”) was used as a military barracks after being remodelled in 1726 by Richard Everard with a number of buildings within it, including the Castle garth (a walled yard), the bakehouse, two houses and a stable block. The entrance to the courtyard is through a large archway on the west side with two doors, one for horse and one for foot traffic. There are three large gun loops to the north and a small one with a broken vault on the west side. There is another break in the wall near one of the towers on the north side; this could have been a prison.
The bakehouse was built by Richard Everard in 1726; it has two fireplaces and a large oven with a chimney. It was used as a bakehouse until 1899. The bakehouse contains two large fireplaces which are both 18th-century and possibly date from 1726, although they could be later. The bakehouse also contains a bread oven with an unusual curved archway on the outside going to two flues that once led to an open fireplace on top of the castle’s gatehouse. It is in very poor condition, with the roof missing.
The smaller house (which dates from 1726) is a plain building with two chimneys. The larger house (also from 1726) contains a round-headed fireplace; the ceiling had been painted and there is a carved 19th-century fireplace. A keystone of the arch has the inscription “FROM THE EARL RICHARD EVERARDE TO THE COMMANDER OF BLACKROCK CASTLE”.
The stables were built in c.1726 and are now used for storage purposes. They contain two arched entrances on the south side, another on the east side, and a small window at ground level on west side. It contains horse stalls on the ground floor (with a hayloft above) and a harness room on the first floor, which has an arched doorway. It is in good condition and is currently used as a store for medieval artefacts from the castle.
It has been suggested that Blackrock Castle was built in the early 14th century by Walter de Stapeldon, Archbishop of both Cork and Dublin before he became Lord Treasurer of Ireland from 1303–1324. The castle was his principal residence during his time as Archbishop of Cork.
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