Mountain Castle (1) , or as it is presently known The Castle Country House (located at Millstreet half-way between Cappoquin and Dungarvan), was constructed in the first half of the 16th Century by the McGrath family, one of the two Gaelic families that held lands in this county before the arrival of Cromwell - the other being the O'Briens of Comeragh.
One Dónal McGrath is recorded as living at Mountain Castle in 1537. He was buried in Lismore in 1548 and a magnificently carved alterstone bearing his name is still to found to this day in the Church of Ireland cathedral in Lismore. (2) It is from Dónal that the numerous McGrath families who played such a prominent part in the Desmond Wars descended.
The McGraths seem to have drifted in over the mountains from Thomond, or North Munster, where they supplied hereditary poets to the O'Briens, kings of Thomond, in the first half of the 15th century. They rented lands from the FitzGearlds of Knockmann, later the earls of Desmond, upon which they built their principal seat - Mountain Castle.
The castle itself - or more correctly the tower house - originally consisted of at least three stories. It included all the characteristics one associates with this type of structure including a circular stone staircase, cut stone quoins, batters to prevent undermining, and a cut stone entrance door all surrounded by a enclosing wall. Mountain Castle originally had two cut-stone arched entrances. One of these is still to be seen in the present day dining room. The original outer doorway collapsed during repair work during the seventies but has been reconstructed today at the entrance to the cellar. It originally stood where the door into the kitchen now stands.
Tower houses were introduced into Ireland with the Norman invasion as defensive structures to protect the livestock and belongings of the new Norman Lords. Their design was soon "borrowed" by the native Irish lords who began erecting Tower Houses in large numbers during the 15th century for reasons of their own personal safety and to show off their power and prestige. The advent of the cannon, however, soon made these structures obsolete.
(1) In Irish 'Caisléan a' tSléibhe'.
(2) According to the latin inscription, the tomb was erected in 1557 by John McGrath and his wife Katherine daughter of Thomas Prendergast, the name Dónal McGrath is also inscribed on the tomb.
Author: Catherine & Liam Nugent