Carrignacurra Castle was probably built around 1575 to defend a ford across the River Lee about 1.5 km east (downstream) of Inchigeelagh village and seemingly to house the O'Leary clan tainiste.
It complimented an earlier ringfort type structure which housed the local (O'Leary) chieftain and his retainers and which was probably at the northern end of the Lee bridge at the southern end of the village. This ringfort seems to have been in a populous area, at that time known as Mannen or Manynge, a name still surviving as a surname in the area.
The name, Carrignacurra, probably comes from Carraig na Choradh - Rock of the weir. There was an eel weir on the River Lee here in 17th century.
Carrignacurra although often called a "Castle" is in fact a Tower House. It was lived in by a family, and defence was only a second consideration. In 1602 it was the home of Tadhg Meirgeach O'Leary, first cousin of the reigning chieftain, Donnchadh an Ghaorthaidhe of Mannen. Also in residence would be his two known sons, Conchobhar and Dermod, and probably other children we do not know about.There used to be a small garrison of soldiers also living in and around the Castle.
Continued below gallery.
West side, The redan can be seen on the left.
The main entrance, 'quarried' for it' dressed stone lintel and surround.
Second floor vaulted ceiling. Pattern of woven willow left in plaster.
Ground floor, probable used for livestock or supplies.
The 'murder-hole' in the ceiling of the entrance lobby. This allowed objects or fire to be directed against intruders.
New stone door head on second floor, from stair.
View of ford from upper storey.
The 'redan', allows covering fire of the entrance and southern aspect.
View from river bank, S-E.
First floor loophole covering redan.
Third floor quarters of the chieftain's family.
Composite showing castle and ford (to right of footbridge).
Thus in 1584 when pardons were issued, we learn that Carrignacurra was garrisoned by Art MacDermod and Fearganainm O'Leary, two of Tadhg's brothers, and a force of 21 soldiers who are all named. They included men called Moynihan, Healey, Ring, Sullivan, and no fewer than four Cronins, one of whom was a Piper. All these surnames are still common in the parish. This was probably fairly typical of the garrison normally available.On the 20th. August 1602 it was reported that Donal Cam's Army had crossed the border at Leap and were advancing into Carbery.
They reached Carrignacurra the next day and made preparations for a siege. The garrison put up a small show of resistance, but their hearts were not in it, and their real support was for the Irish cause. They had been loyal to their liege lord, Cormac, but since he was now imprisoned, there was no longer any need to pretend. After some parleying, and no doubt much sabre rattling, the doors were opened and the garrison joined Donal's Army. A new landlord called Masters bought Carrignacurra from the Hollow Sword Blade Company about 1723 and built a dwelling house nearby calling it Castle Masters. The Hollow Sword Blade Company, an English company engaged in the manufacture of edged weapons for the Crown, were often granted lands in lieu of cash payments, and so acquired the greater part of the forfeited lands of Muskerry in 1703.
The house was enlarged in 1777 by a Jaspar Masters. His only son Stephen was killed when attempting to ride his horse into the stable and striking his head on the arch. The house passed to the Pyne family through the female line and was used into the twentieth century.
It was later demolished, but some outbuildings remain. Many old castles were demolished (the term "knocked" is used here) after this time as being an easily accessibly source of building stone. Even Carrignacurra was not spared by the vandals, and there was serious demolition of the four corners of the castle done during this period probably in an attempt to cause the castle to fall, and profit to accrue from the sale of stone. Luckily this failed because of the immense strength built into these structures. Note that the stone facings of the main entrance were removed at some period for just this purpose.
In 1999 Mr. Derry Kelleher sold the castle to Maxim Gormanov, an archeologist and Co. Cork resident for 16 years. Work of reconstruction began, but the work was halted by the Local Authority, Cork County Council.
Shortly after this Mr Gormanov died suddenly and unexpectedly. Further work was halted until the probate processes were completed. Both the O'Leary clan and local community groups have an interest in the future of this last remaining O'Leary stronghold. In 2010 the castle for sale again.
Renovation work already undertaken
The first task was to save the building from collapse by building up and strengthening the four corners which had been undermined. Then followed the installation of three timber sub-floors at the second, third and fifth levels. More recently the old Loft has been restored, and with it its slated roof. In addition there has been considerable rebuilding of loops, windows, door surrounds, the murder hole and other details. The whole effect is quite remarkable. All has been done in good taste and to a high quality. The original structure has been faithfully followed, and there have been no new or more modern designs introduced.
We understand that Maxim Gormanov planned that the building would eventually be restored to allow its use for residence, and this would require a few departures from the original to bring the living conditions up to modern requirements. The sub-floor construction would permit pipes and wiring to be concealed, and there would be use of electrics, water from a well, sewage and storm water disposal and central heating.
There is also much to do in the garden areas surrounding the Tower House, and a start has been made in building a low wall where the "bawn" wall originally stood.
An excellent article detailing the structure of Carrignacurra Castle by Rodney O'Leary of Bristol was published in the 1998 edition of the Ballingeary Historical Society Journal.