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Legends of Mountain Castle

A Brief History of Mountain Castle

5. Legends of Mountain Castle
Perhaps surprisingly for a castle of its antiquity, stories of ghosts and other such superstitions regarding Mountain Castle were rarely to be heard.  One such story which did exist, however, relates to a white horse which was to be seen at night travelling down the road and who would jump over the locked gates which lead into the castle.  The significance or otherwise of this particular story, I must admit, evades me.

Much more sinister stories regarding Mountain Castle are to be found in the folklore of the last century when stories of the Bean-Sídhe of Mountain Castle abounded.  The Bean-Sídhe (literaly, woman-fairy), was a much-feared forecaster of death.  The Bean-Sídhes were believed to attach themselves to a particular family and on the occasion of the imminent death of a member of such a family, the Bean-Sídhe would be seen combing her long hair and be heard to keen at the top of voice in a most terrible scream.  The voice of the Bean-Sídhe was forever dreaded by the Irish.  What is particularly interesting about the Bean-Sídhe of Mountain Castle, however, is that unlike stories of other Bean-Sídhes who remained attached to one particular family, the Bean-Sídhe of Mountain Castle forecast the imminent death of any true Irish blooded person that lived in the parish.  The following is an account of the Ban-Sídhe of Modeligo recorded by Nicolas O' Kearney in 1854:

'Even at present day, the belief in the existence of the Bean Sighe is far from being extinct, nor is it altogether confined to the lower classes of society. In the parish of Modeligo, and townland of Mountain Castle, in the county of Waterford, so late as in the begining of the present century, a Badhb, Bo Chaointe, or Bean Sighe, was in the habit of appearing just before the death of any member of the old Milesian families resident in the parish.  Her chair which was made of rough stone, was placed on an elevation over the Finnisk river, on the lands of a small farmer named Brown, and opposite the lands of Mr. Edmund O'Daly, of Farnane, on the other side of the river - and unless it has been removed very lately, the Bean Sighe's chair is still to be seen there.  There are hundreds of persons, now living, who have heard her mournful wails, and who can bear testimony to the warning by which she hearlded the death of those only who belonged to the Milesian race.'

The Irish were like all peoples extremly superstitious people and much effort was made to protect themselves from The Little People as the fairies were generally known.  One method employed to keep The Little People at bay was the use of animals' afterbirth which  was considered to hold particularly potent powers.  In what were once the stables of Mountain Castle, afterbirth can still be seen to this day hanging from the rafters in an effort to ward away such spirits as might happen by.

The Legend Of Sleady

Little could Smith (Charles Smith's Antient and Present State of Waterford City & County in 1746) have known how much his simple account of the circumstances of the building of Sleady written in 1746, which I quote here once again, would have on guide-book compilers and antiquarians of the last century:

"[It] was built in 1628, as appears from a date on a chimney-piece, with the words Philpius Mac-grath.  It is said the occasion of building the castle was a dispute between MaGrath and his wife, who would not be reconciled till he had build her a castle on her own jointure, to do which he had such contributions from his vassals, that when it was finished, he was much richer than when the work began.  A great quantity of oak was employed in this building, which is not more than a century erected."

This simple account, it would appear, inspired a Trinity student to travel to the locality to cull the story in its entirety from a local seanachaí.  It was first published in the Dublin University Magazine of 1848 and many accounts would soon follow .  Allowances have to be made for the many historical inaccuracies of the story as it must not have been possible at the time of writing to reconcile the local lore with historical fact.  In particular, the dates of confiscation as given in this story cannot be correct as we know that the lands were still held in the McGrath's name in 1654.  Contrary to this account, Phillip had indeed a son who was old enough to fight in the wars of the 1640s.   In addition references to Farnane Castle should perhaps be explained here.

As far as I am aware Mountain Castle is first recorded as being called Farnane Castle in Smith's History of County Waterford of 1746. Charles Smith, writing in 1746 states that:

"In this parish are the remains of some ancient castles belonging to the family of the Mac-Graths.........Mountain Castle, called Fernane, was one of these of which only the stump remains"

This duality of names led to the obvious misconception in later accounts of The Tragedy of Sleady - which were for the most part based on Charles Smith's account - that a separate castle existed of which by then no trace remained.  That Mountain Castle had been incorporated into the farmhouse of the O'Keeffes by the time these later accounts were written, and thus not readily recognizable only helped to further this belief. Incidentally, besides Smith's account and these later references to Farnane Castle based on his account, no other evidence exits to suggest that Mountain Castle was once called Farnane Castle.

Sleady Castle And Its Tragedy

In a secluded part of the county Waterford (in the parish of Modelligo) stands the lovely ruin of Sleady Castle, which, though unnoticed by tourists and sketchers, was celebrated in its day for a tragedy of real life, marked by features of romance and connected with the civel discords of Ireland in the seventeenth century.  It is a fragment of local history now fast passing from tradition. But the castle is not favourably situated for attracting attention, though within a few miles of the town of Cappoquin.  Its stands on a slight elevation at a short distance form a road little frequented leading from Cappoquin to Clonmel, and in an uninteresting landscape, consisting simply of ground a little undulating, a sprinkling of plantation, the shallow river Finisk winding beside the way, and the peeps of low hills in the distance.

The tall, dark, square ruin, with its many gables and high chimnneys, less resembles a castle than a bawn, as we call in Ireland a stone dwelling, strongly and defensively built, but not regularly castellated.  It is a lone and naked object; there is no graceful veil of ivy, no umbragcous tree near it.  The ediface is in the form of a double cross, a the eight limbs all of equal length, and each finishes by a tall, large gable, crowned by a high chimney.  Of these gables seven remain perfect the eight has fallen down.  The castle is places diagonally on its site - a circumstance which added considerably to its defensive capabilities.  It is of rough stone, plastered over, ...............

The interior of the castle is a mere shell, and the ground is covered with ruins and rubbish, overgrown with nettles and rank weeds; but it is still evident that there were four stories, with three floors supported on plain stone corbels. On the ground floor may be seen traces of the kitchen, with its ample fireplace, and an arched recess beside it: This apartment adjoins the machiocolated flanking tower.  Of other rooms nothing can be distinguished.  The whole building is very plain; solidity and security seen to have been the sole aim of the founder. 

The entire was surrounded (according to tradition) by a moat, furnished with a drawbridge: of these no vestiges remain. ..............

At the close of the sixteenth, and commencement of the seventeenth century, the most remarkable person in the family was Philip McGrath commonly known as Phillib-na- Tsioda (pronounced na Teeda), that is "Silken Phillip,"meaning polished or elegant.

Author: Catherine & Liam Nugent

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