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The castle (which, while immense, is not visible from the road) has an unusual round Keep with four square flankers (towers). Although the castle is in ruins, the entrance portcullis is perfectly preserved. Early references to the castle appeared in the mid-15th century, but it is believed that the castle itself predates even that. The remaining walls, at least 12 feet thick and constructed in a perfectly circular manner, suggest the sheer size of the original structure; doors, passage-ways, archways and underground chambers are visible.
The castle was aligned with the Fitzgerald family and is situated on the border between their land and that of the Duke of Desmond. It was attacked by Cromwell in the 1650s, but survived the assault.
The seneschal was the chief estate officer while the chief officer of the castle was the constable. It would appear that in the 16th century the one person held both offices at Mocollop. The family of McGrath held the office of constable through many generations. This family settled in Waterford in the first half of the fifteenth century and made the area around Slieve Gua (between Dungarvan and Clonmel)
The demesne sports a number of trees that are not common in the area, such as linden, red chestnut, copper oak and derivatives of the maple genus.
Clare Abbey in the heart of Thomond, located not too far from Islandmcgrath where our Clan originated. Another good reason to visit Ireland in 2019 for the next International McGrath Clan Gathering, hosted by the McGrath Clan of Thomond from which most of the clan worldwide are descended.
Five McGraths of IslandMcGrath were Abbots of Clare Abbey at about the time of Rory and his son Sean, when the Abbey was at the height of its glory. The McCraith Abbots had Papal ambassadorial functions. Papal letters at the time, show them making papal appointments to Abbeys under them, but more important to Abbeys outside the diocese. Several of these Abbots were later bishops of Killaloe, one was bishop of Ardagh and another bishop of Clonfert. Tadgh McCraith was witness to the renewal of the Charter of Clare Abbey in the mid-1400s. (Dr. Joseph Power, `A history of Clare Abbey and Killone)
MacGRATH’S CASTLE, ABBEYSIDE, DUNGARVAN
MacGrath’s Castle was situated at Friar’s Walk in Abbeyside, Dungarvan, near the Augustinian abbey. It was a typical tower-house of six floors, two of them supported by stone vaults. The MacGraths were based in the Slieve Gua area of County Waterford. They came from Co. Clare in the first half of the 15th century and rented lands at Mountain Castle from the Fitzgeralds of Knockmaun Castle. In the ruined chancel of the Augustinian abbey at Abbeyside is an arched recess housing the tomb of ‘Donaldus Macrat, and the inscription states that he died in the 1470s. A Donal MacGrath was living in Mountain Castle in 1537, and in 1618 a later Donal of Mountain Castle arranged for his ‘castle and other lands in Doungarvan’ to be the jointure of his wife. In 1628 his son Philip MacGrath built a fortified house at Sleady near Mountain Castle. Philip received a grant of his lands from the Commission for the Remedy of Defective Titles in 1637, and the patent included ‘a castle and six tenements adjoining in the borough of Dungarvan, in the tenure of his mother Honor ny Cragh. Early in 1642 Abbeyside castle was garrisoned by the Irish, and it is mentioned in the Rev. Urban Vigors’s account of the attack on Dungarvan by Sir William St Leger in March of that year. Vigors states that St Leger ordered his troops to bum the houses in Abbeyside as well as in the town, and ‘those that were in the castle on the other side of the Towne had quarter to depart only with their lives and wearing cloathes’. The Civil Survey of 1654 has the following details on the castle:
The premisses is bounded on the east with the heighway leading through the strand to Dungarvan; on the north with Hores-Iand; on the west with the heighway called stradnemrahir. There is on the premisses a small castle formerly called MacCragh’s Castle which is strong and defensible and now possessed by Capn James Oldfield in pursuance of an order graunted by Lt. Collonel Francis Foulkes, then Gournor of Dungarvan, grounded upon direcons from Collonel Sankey, confirmeinge a lease made by Mrs Ellin Boyton Alias MacCragh of the premisses for 7 years onto the sd Captain Oldfield.
The castle stood on one acre and the proprietor was ‘Philip McCragh, Irish papist, of Curragh nesledy, deceased’. He also had 83 acres of land nearby called MacCraghs Land of Burgery.
The ‘census’ of 1659 gives James Oldfield as owner of the Abbeyside lands, and the Books of Survey and Distribution note that by the late 17th century the lands of Abbeyside, consisting of 407 acres, were divided between Matthew Hoare (45 acres), John Nugent (120 acres), and Sir Richard Osbome (242 acres). The Osbome portion included the castle. By the mid-18th century the castle was still in a good state of preservation and retained its roof. Charles Smith writing in 17467 had little to say of it except in relation to the Augustinian Abbey: ‘The persons who endowed it are said to have been the McGraths, by whom the adjacent castle, with some lands contiguous were given’. More important is the engraved plate of Dungarvan which Smith included in his book . The engraving depicts the south and east sides of Dungarvan sketched from Abbeyside. MacGrath’s castle is also depicted, with its roof and two large chimneys on the east and west sides. The parapet remains but without its crenellations. We don’t know if the castle was used as a residence at this period. John O’Donovan in his Ordnance Survey Letters of Co. Waterford (1841) gives a more detailed description of the castle:
It is a lofty square building measuring on the outside 38 feet from east to west and 31 feet 6 inches from north to south and its walls are well grouted and eight feet in thickness. It is six stories high and had two stone arches supporting two of its floors. The quoin stones are chiselled sand stones and all its windows are narrow and quadrangular and formed of chiselled sand stone. Its east side is destroyed to the ground, but the other sides are in good preservation and not less than 90 feet in height.
The following entry appears in the minute-book of Dungarvan U.D.C. for 1 May 1885:
Ordered that the borough surveyor serve the necessary notice on the owners of the land at Abbeyside on which the old castle stands, to take down the portion of the wall at the top of the castle which is in danger of falling at any moment.
Fortunately several photographs of the castle were taken early this century by local photographers such as Edmond Keohan and Richard Edward Brenan. A postcard view by Keohan shows the ruins after the collapse of January 1916, with only the south wall left standing. In 1916 Edmond Keohan published a booklet on the castle. The publication was prompted by the collapse of most of the castle on the night of 17-18 January 1916. He noted that ‘the day before, Mr John McGrath, Acting Engineer to the Urban Council, reported that the castle was in a dangerous condition. On the following night, Mr M. F. Lynch, V.S., who lives close by, heard during the early part of the night a rumbling noise, and in the morning he saw the cause of the rumblings in the ruins of the fine old castle. Now all that stands is the south wall.’ He adds that a coin dated 1133 was found in the ruins. ‘The young lad that found it exchanged it for sweets and now it is not to be found. Many of the Abbeyside and even the Dungarvan people have carried home pieces of oakwood found in the debris, and these they will keep as souvenirs.’ Keohan states that the east wall had largely collapsed about thirty years earlier. He has some further comments on the building: the front or east wall ‘was connected with a portion of an ancient wall that now lies in a leaning position beside the roadway. The entrance to the castle lay by a doorway resembling a chimney, and situated some feet from the ground. A circular stairs led from the base to the top; the staircase has long since fallen away.’ He also says that the castle was used for the celebration of notable events: ‘Bonfires blazed on its summit to celebrate the victory of Frank Hugh O’Donnell over Henry Matthews. And again, when there were universal illuminations for the declaration of doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, the Abbeyside boys were not backward, for they had tar barrels blazing on the summit, a favourite feat of daring on such like occasions. ‘
Fragments of the walls remained up until the early 1960s, but unfortunately these were removed and now there are no remains visible above ground. Keohan’s words were prophetic when he ended his booklet with the following comment: ‘It may not be long until it is wholly demolished and when it is gone, one of the most striking landmarks of the Harbour will have passed away.’
Thanks to Wm Fraher, Waterford County Museum for this article, which appeared in the booklet for the unveiling of the plaque which marks the site of the Castle.