Carrignacurra Castle - A Description

Carrignacurra Castle is built on a rock outcrop on the south bank of the River Lee about one mile east of Inchigeelagh.  It stands four storeys high and has the appearance of a square tower house. However, it is not a regular rectangle as the walls are of different lengths, (north wall 37ft, south wall 38ft, east wall 27ft, west wall 25ft).  Only two corners are square, the NE and the SW. The NW corner is obtuse while the SE is acute, possibly to aid defence of the castle, as a "redan" (a hollow triangular projection like a buttress) built on the SE comer, enabled the occupants within to guard the south and east walls; on the NW corner a "bartizan" (a  rectangular projection from the wall at high level for a short way either side of the corner) allowed the occupants to protect the north and west walls. Further protection was provided on the east wall by a "machicoulis" (a small square projection from the wall at high level) from which missiles could be dropped onto anyone attacking the entrance doorway below. There were also battlements (now missing) on top of the  walls, which stand about 50ft high from the ground floor level (the ground drops away  on the north and west faces). The walls have a base batter (an outward splay at the  bottom) which, as well as giving greater strength to the walls, enabled missiles dropped from the battlements to bounce off the wall onto the attackers. The stones at the base of all four corners have been knocked out (probably in an attempt to weaken the structure so it would fall). A gable, 15ft high, stands on the east wall (the west gable having fallen), and a large rectangular chimney stack, l5ft high, stands west of centre of the north wall.

      The castle is entered at ground level by a doorway (entirely robbed of its stone surround) in the east wall. The lobby gives access to a small guard room on the left  and a main chamber straight on (approx 23ft 6in x 17ft) which has a small narrow window in the west wall. This ground floor chamber would probably have been used for stores or even to house livestock. On the right of the lobby is a spiral staircase, which gives access to the first, second and third floors.
   Over the entrance lobby is a guard room (approx 12ft x 5ft 6in) with a "murder hole" in the floor through which a defender could fire missiles at anyone who had forced entry through the main door.  In the east wall is a small angled window (surrounds missing) to enable a defender to fire on anyone attacking the east side of the redan, access to which is gained from this guard room through a short passage. Inside this small wedge shaped space are three narrow slit windows ("gun loops"), one  covering the south wall, one the east wall and one in the point of the spur. Adjacent  to the guard room doorway is the doorway to the main chamber (23ff 6in x 17ff). This would have had a timber floor (now missing) supported by four large corbels in the  north and south walls. There are four narrow windows, one in the centre of the north   wall. one in the centre of the west wall, one at the west end of the south wall, and one  (surrounds missing) at the east end of the south wall set at an angle to enable a defender to protect the south wall of the redan.  This first floor chamber would  probably have been a store room and/or living area for the family entourage.

   Above is the second floor main chamber (23ft 6in x l7ft), which again would  have had a timber floor supported by corbels. This room has a pointed vault ceiling and the impression letf in the mortar by the wicker work used to form the vault can
clearly be seen. The room has only one narrow window in the west wall, and a wall cupboard. On the north wall is a fireplace, but much of it is missing and only the side jambs remain.  This second floor chamber would probably have been the kitchen and/or living area for the family entourage. There is some evidence that there may be   a secret chamber within the east wall. Next to the doorway to the main chamber is  another doorway to a passage set within the thickness of the north wall.  Part way along on the right is the "garderobe" (toilet) followed by seven steps going up to a
  short passage that leads into the bartizan. There is a small window in the north wall  over these steps, which are situated behind the fireplace (the back of which is missing).  In this draughty room, which projects over the NW corner of the castle, there are five gun loops in the walls and two long openings in the floor, which enable the north and  west walls, including the comer, to be defended.
  In the main third floor chamber (29ft x l5ft 6in) the floor is solid, being over  the vaulted ceiling below, but any finish of stone or wood is missing. There are three windows, a narrow one to the east end of the south wall; the second, at the west end
of the south wall, was probably a wider window but is missing along with much of the  surround, and it has a recess underneath with a stone seat on each side. The third window is on the north wall to the west end, and is in the same condition as the on  opposite but without the seats. In the centre of the north wall is a fireplace. The lintel and some of the wall above are missing, as is the left-hand side, revealing the flue from the fireplace on the second floor. In the west wall are two small cupboards and  in the east wall one small cupboard and a large recess that was possibly a larg cupboard. To the right of the fireplace on the north wall is a short passage leading to a "slop stone" (an opening in the wall for disposing of dirty water). To the right of this a doorway leads up a flight of stairs to the NE comer providing access to the attic room and the wall walk (battlements). This third floor chamber would have been theprincipal living room of the chief and his family.

   Not much remains of the attic room. The doorway is directly over the third floor doorway. Ten holes in the north and south walls would have housed wooden  beams to carry the floor. The east gable still stands and has a small window; the west  gable has gone but there is evidence in the form of two side jambs of there having been  a fireplace on this wall. On the south side of the chimney stack on the north wall are  the remains of some roof stones indicating a gable roof coming off at a right angle to the main gable roof running west to east. It may have been covered in stone slates or   thatch. This attic room would probably have been the sleeping quarters for the chief   and his family. Access to the "alure" (wall walk) is via a doorway at the top of the stairs on the NE corner. This opens onto the north wall facing west and provides an almost unobstructed route around the top of the walls, as the gable ends and chimney  stack rise on the inner side of the walls. The walkway proceeds anti-clockwise around  the walls and on reaching the centre of the east wall it rises (approx 4ft) up steps to a  turret above the stairs in the NE corner. The parapet walls, usually crenellated, are missing.
  Several features within the construction indicate that the castle was built in the  16th century; these are the redan, gun loops and built-in fireplaces.

Rodney O'Leary

September 1996