Saturday, 1 August 2020

Old Shane's Castle

Old Shane's Castle

SHANE'S CASTLE, the beautifully wooded demesne of the Lord O'Neill, not only indicates an ancient castle, though also the magnificent estate of the O'Neills which stands on the north shore of Lough Neagh, in County Antrim.

The Parliamentary Gazetteer of Ireland, dated 1846, provides us with a flavour of the demesne in the early Victorian era:-

THE DEMESNE of the 1st Earl O'Neill, in the parish of Drummaul, barony of Upper Toome, 2¼ miles west of Antrim, County Antrim.

It extends two miles along the foot or north end of Lough Neagh, and two miles northward from lough Neagh to Randalstown; and it is bisected from north to south by the River Maine.

It is freely accessible to strangers; and, in its great extent of both old and young plantations, its views of the great monarch-lake of the three kingdoms, its rich and well-kept gardens, its noble esplanade and fine conservatory, the ruins of its picturesque castellated mansion, and its profuse historical associations with the name of O'Neill.

It presents an absolute museum of interest to at once the artist, the antiquary, and the lover of rural scenery.

The princely pile of Shane's Castle, which had been for centuries the residence of the noble house of O'Neill, rose proudly from the shore of Lough Neagh, and was in fine keeping with the demesne as one of the most magnificent in the kingdom, but was burnt in 1816 by an accidental fire.

A very large party were on a visit to Lord O'Neill at the time when the fire broke out; but all their exertions and all those of the stated guests and of the neighbouring tenantry were unavailing to arrest the progress of the flames.

A superb addition to the original building was in course of erection; and this, as well as the inhabited building, was irretrievably destroyed.

Old Shane's Castle: The Battery, Vaulted Terrace and Conservatory

A large fortified esplanade, furnished with cannon, and a grand conservatory of rare and foreign plants, alone escaped without injury.

An extensive library and many valuable paintings were wholly consumed.

"From the ruins which remain," remarked a writer at the time, "it is evident that the castle was a fine, spacious building. The vaults, which are still entire, and extend to the very edge of the lake, merit the particular notice of the curious traveller, both from their spaciousness and rather extraordinary construction."

"Several towers and turrets are still standing ... a number of cannons are still mounted on the fort, which is boldly situated."

"Some of the buildings which formed a part of the out-offices have been fitted up by the noble proprietor as a temporary residence."

"We have heard with pleasure that it is his lordship's intention to erect a castle, if not the ruins of the old one, on some spot in the immediate vicinity."

The original 17th century castle took its name from Shane McBrian O'Neill, who was permitted to retain 120,000 acres of his lands following the Plantation of Ulster.

In 1607, JAMES I granted the original castle at Edenduffcarrick to Shane, whose family had possessed it at various times previously.

The Castle is believed to be named after that gentleman.

The most ancient section of the present ruins was built at the time of the Plantation of Ulster and, alas, that part was mostly destroyed after the catastrophic fire of 1816.

The estate had decreased in extent, however, to 64,163 acres by about 1870, making Lord O'Neill the largest landowner in County Antrim at that time.

This ancient building grew into a magnificent castellated mansion comprising three storeys over a basement, with a battlemented parapet, curved bows and projecting end bays.

Its main elevation was at right-angles to the lough shore.

A village existed on the lough shore adjacent to the castle; it was removed, however, shortly before 1780.

A taste of the splendour and opulence at Shane's Castle was provided by the Rev Daniel Beaufort, who was a house guest in 1787:-
"Drawing-room adorned with magnificent mirrors, off breakfast-room is rotunda coffee-room, where in recesses are great quantities of china, a cistern with a cock and water, a boiler with another, all apparently for making breakfast; a letter box and round table with four sets of pen and ink let in for everybody to write." 
"Conservatory joins house, fine apartment along lough, at end alcove for meals, from it a way to h & c bathing apartments with painted windows." 
"On other side of house, pretty and large theatre and magnificent ballroom 60 x 30, all of wood and canvass painted, and so sent ready-made from London."
Charles, 1st (and last) Earl O'Neill, succeeded his father, the 1st Viscount O'Neill, in 1798, and about a decade later consulted the pre-eminent architect, John Nash, regarding further expansion of Shane's Castle in the Gothic castellated style.

The main purpose, however, was to give the building a southern aspect.

The terrace and conservatory had been completed by 1816, when the main block of the house was completely gutted by fire (caused by a jackdaw's nest catching light in an unused chimney).

Following the fire, the 1st Earl was so dispirited that he abandoned his plans for the castle and built a small residence adjoining the stables.

First published in July, 2018.

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