Monday, July 20, 2015

Moygara Castle

Moygara Castle, Co. Sligo
Moygara Castle dates mainly from the late 16th or early 17th century. Lough Gara and the nearby castle are named after the O’Gara family who ruled the area around the lake since 1285 AD. The O’Garas built three castles in the area, the main one was at Moygara built on the NW corner of Lough Gara.

It is a square-walled structure with a tower at each corner. The main gate and remains of the portcullis are located on the west wall. The four corner-towers are similar in plan and layout but the SW tower stands to three storeys high whereas the other three are only two storeys. All the door and window frames and lintels were made of wood although none of these survive today. The oldest part of the castle is a ruined rectangular structure which may have been an earlier tower house. The walls are recessed 11 feet from the face of the towers and stand 15 ft. high and 4 ft. thick and are loop-holed for the use of firearms.

The original territories of the O’Garas consisted of part of the Barony of Leyney in Co. Sligo. They were driven out of their territory by the Anglo-Norman families of the Nangles (later Costelloe) and the Jordans. Later, they moved to what was known as the Sliabh Luagh district of Co. Mayo. This area included the parishes of Kilkelly, Kilmovee, Kilbea, Kilcolman and Castlemore. The O’Garas finally settled in Coolavin.

In May 1169, Anglo-Norman mercenaries landed in Ireland at the request of Diarmait Mac Murchada (Dermot MacMurragh), the overthrown King of Leinster, who had sought their help in regaining his kingdom. This military intercession had the backing of King Henry II of England. Pope Adrian IV - the only English Pope - had authorized Henry to conquer Ireland as a means of bringing the Irish church into line. In the summer of 1170, there were two further Anglo-Norman landings, led by Richard 'Strongbow' de Clare.

In October 1171, King Henry landed a large army in Ireland to establish control over both the Anglo-Normans and the Irish. The Norman lords handed their conquered territory to Henry. Many Irish kings also surrendered to him, in the hope that he would curb Norman expansion.

The largely successful nature of the invasion has been attributed to a number of factors. These include the Anglo-Normans' alleged military superiority and programme of castle-building; the lack of a unified opposition from the Irish; and the Church's support for Henry's intervention.

An early drawing of the castle (1786)
In the 16th Century, Moygara Castle was the home of Fergal O’Gara. He is famous as the patron of Fr. O’Cleary and his colleagues who compiled “The Annals of the Four Masters”. He died sometime around 1660 and is said to have had at least three sons, John, Cian, Charles and, possibly, a fourth named Bernard. John O’Gara’s son, Fergal’s grandson, Oliver, held the rank of Lieutenant in Viscount Montgomery’s Regiment of Foot in 1686.

Oliver had hoped for the restoration of his lands under James II. He raised a regiment known as “O’Gara’s Infantry” and served with distinction at the Battle of Aughrim. Following the defeat of the Jacobite cause and the Treaty of Limerick, Oliver left for the continent. He rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the French army and was appointed Governor of Montega in Spain in 1705. He died there some years later. Another grandson of Fergal’s, Charles, settled in Co. Mayo. He had at least two sons, Bernard and Michael, both of whom became Archbishops of Tuam, Co. Galway.

Moygara Castle - Corner Tower
In 1538, Manus O’Donnell, having captured the Castle of Sligo and savaged Moylurg, took the Castle of Moygara. As his army was approaching the walls a ball fired from inside the castle killed his son. In 1581, the Castle was the scene of an even greater tragedy. A body of mercenary Scots in the service and pay of Captain Malby, Governor of Connaught, burned the building and Diarmuid Og, son of Cian O’Gara, was put to death.

The Anglo-Norman invasion was a defining moment in the history of Ireland, marking the beginning of more than 700 years of direct English and, later, British involvement in Ireland. Today, the ruins of Moygara Castle stand as testament to a turbulent time in Irish history.

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