For sale: 500-year-old Clonony Castle linked to Anne Boleyn

MacCoughlan castle Clonony
Clonony Castle, Co. Offaly, 2007 (credit: © Sarah777, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons).

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Built by the MacCoghlan clan, Clonony Castle in Co. Offaly has a long rich history linked to Anne Boleyn, the ill-fated Queen of England. This tastefully restored medieval castle is now up for grabs!

Ever wished you owned an Irish castle? Now’s your chance! Clonony Castle has hit the market for €695,000.

This castle has a long, vibrant history. It was built by the MacCoghlan clan at the end of the 15th or start of the 16th century. The MacCoghlans were known locally as the “Maws” or the “Mas”. The earliest records for Clonony Castle appear in the 16th century in the Annals of the Four Masters where it is recorded under its older names “Cluana Damhna” and “Cluain Nóna” and the records indicate that it was the scene of much violence.

>>> RELATED: Full account of the history of Clonony Castle here!

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The Anne Boleyn connection

It’s widely believed that Clonony Castle was granted to Thomas Boleyn (“Bullyn”) when King Henry VIII was pursuing his daughter Anne. Thomas’ mother was the daughter of Thomas Butler, 7th Earl of Ormond – an Irish title. In English law, matrilineal descent is not valid for earldoms, but the title had fallen into abeyance as Ormond had died without a male heir. Henry strategically pressured the main claimant to renounce his claim and the king made Thomas Boleyn the Earl of Ormond in his stead. Through this newly acquired title, Anne Boleyn’s elevated status was deemed a suitable match for Henry.

“King Henry and Anne Boleyn deer shooting in Windsor Forest” by William Powell Frith, 1903 (Bridgemanart, via Wikimedia Commons, public domain).

When Anne failed to produce a male heir, she was beheaded by her husband in 1536. It is believed that sometime after her execution, some of Anne’s relatives fled to Clonony for their own safety but the details are hazy. In any case, some members of the wider Boleyn family (possibly through an illegitimate line) came to reside in Clonony and were connected with other powerful families that had settled in this region of Offaly: the Atkinsons, L’Estranges and Parsons.

>>> READ MORE: From Mayo to Buckingham Palace: the legacy of Tom Mulloy, an untrained “genius”

In 1803, some workmen recovered a large grave-slab from a quarry or cave close to the castle; it memorialized two members of the Boleyn family, sisters Elizabeth and Mary. The slab can still be viewed on the castle grounds today and its heavily weathered inscription reads:

“HERE UNDER LEYS ELIZABETH AND MARY BULLYN DAUGHTERS OF THOMAS BULLYN SON OF GEORGE BULLYN THE SON OF GEORGE BULLYN VISCOUNT ROCHFORD SON OF SR THOMAS BULLYN ERLE OF ORMONDE AND WILSHIRE.”

A report in the Irish Penny Magazine in 1833 claimed that the slab covered two skeletons. Local tradition has it that the “Bullyn” sisters were reinterred in the nearby cemetery of Gallen Priory.

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Legend has it that when Elizabeth died young, Mary was devastated and threw herself off Clonony Castle. Another tale, recorded in the Schools’ Folklore Collection in 1937, claims that Mary was thrown down the steps of the castle to her death by an intoxicated army officer.

Later occupants

The MacCoghlans continued to assert their influence in the Clonony area throughout the 16th and 17th centuries. However, much of their estate was forfeited after Cuchogrie MacCoghlan was killed in 1601 during the Nine Years War. Within a decade, Matthew de Renzi, a German-born cloth merchant, had acquired Clonony Castle and 100 acres of the forfeited estate from a government administrator. This was on the condition that de Renzi would not “receive, nor pay any Irish rent, taxes, or services, nor divide his land according to the Irish custom of gavelkind”.

De Renzi was a very unpopular character in west Offaly and there was constant fighting between his employees and the MacCoghlan family, which eventually forced de Renzi and his second wife, Anne, to seek refuge with her family the Maypowders (“Mapothers”) of Kilteevan House, Co. Roscommon.

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Much to de Renzi’s delight, the territory of Delvin MacCoghlan was eventually planted in c.1620. Captain Thomas Webb was granted 400 acres of land, which encompassed Clonony Castle. In the aftermath of the plantation, de Renzi initiated a plan to re-acquire this land from Webb. Under the terms of the plantation, de Renzi was classified as Irish and so Webb would have lost his grant had he sold to an Irish individual. To circumvent this, the transaction was conducted in the name of de Renzi’s wife, Anne.

Around the time of the plantation, de Renzi moved to Dublin but Clonony Castle remained under his wife’s ownership until at least 1640; however, the MacCoghlans persistently contested their claim to the land.

By the early 19th century, the castle had come into the possession of Edmond Maloney, known as “Counsellor Maloney”, a wealthy barrister from Birr, Co. Offaly. He seems to have been rather unpopular in west Offaly and there were a number of attempts on his life. The barrister created an observatory in Clonony Castle and was probably responsible for some of the building’s more recent alterations.

Clonoony Castle
Clonony Castle, 2022 (© Premier Properties Ireland, via Daft.ie)

In the 1840s, following his death, there was confusion about the ownership of the castle as it seems that the learned barrister had made more than one will bequeathing his possessions to different parties. This ended up in court. The plaintiff – Mr Seymour of Banagher and Eyrecourt who had been Maloney’s medical attendant – took the case against Celia Kelly and won.

By the mid-19th century, the castle was owned by John and Thomas Murray who were leasing the building and adjacent land to Peter Callaghan. The castle suffered extensive damage during the War of Independence and in 1940, it was taken over by the Board of Works.

In the early 2000s, the Scottish novelist Campbell Armstrong (now deceased) and his wife, American ballerina Rebecca Black, purchased Clonony Castle. Rebecca has lived in the castle since she began restoration works in 2010.

>>> RELATED: Full account of the history of Clonony Castle here!

The castle structure and renovations

The well-preserved, three-storeyed tower house was built with roughly coursed limestone rubble. Original features include a murder hole, spiral stone stairs, mural passages and gun loops. Counsellor Maloney was probably responsible for widening the narrow window opes on the ground floor.

Restored Clonony Castle for sale
Bedroom in restored Clonony Castle, 2022 (© Premier Properties Ireland, via Daft.ie).

The outer bawn wall, surrounding the castle, was partly rebuilt in the 19th century, again probably by Maloney. The inner bawn wall, in front of the castle’s main doorway, could have been an 18th- or 19th-century addition. The main entrance on the west wall of the bawn is built from worked stones deriving from another structure possibly an earlier entrance. Nineteenth-century ancillary buildings surround the castle on the west, south and east sides.

Starting in 2010, in line with planning permission and the National Monuments Acts, the castle was sensitively restored by the current owner, Rebecca Armstrong Black. The first floor, which had collapsed, was replaced, while the second floor’s barrel-vaulted ceiling was very well restored. In addition, new windows and doors were fitted, a roof/deck area was added, and bathrooms and kitchens were installed. The rooms are now filled with antique tapestries, paintings, ornaments and furniture.

Clononey Castle interior
Restored barrel-vaulted ceiling inside Clonony Castle, 2022 (© Premier Properties Ireland, via Daft.ie).

Rebecca, who has lived in the castle since she began the restoration work, has used the venue to host events such as weddings, parties and festivals; she has also generously welcomed summer tourists every season (without charge!).

The castle was listed for sale previously in 2006 when offers over €695,000 were being sought – the same price as listed today. But of course, this was before the restoration works had commenced.

Important info for prospective buyers

Boasting panoramic views, Clonony Castle is sited on a limestone outcrop in undulating countryside beside the small village of Shannon Harbour. It is set on 3 acres with a moat and beautiful walled gardens that include fine trees and meadows.

The castle is laid out as follows:

  • Ground floor: entrance hallway, kitchen, large dining/reception room, side sitting area within window alcove;
  • First floor: living room with two separate alcoves – one currently used as a bedroom/study and the other as a kitchen area – and garderobe;
  • Second floor: master bedroom, bathroom, shower, study and lady’s chamber.
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The castle is BER exempt but be warned an interview with the owner in 2021 indicates that it gets very cold! Though that’s to be expected with a 500-year-old building! The castle is subject to a preservation order made under the National Monuments Acts, meaning that all future alterations are subject to approval by the Minister for Heritage. For further details on this property, please contact the agent Helen Cassidy Auctioneers at Premier Properties Ireland.

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