gave the exact proportions of the castle while it was still a ruin. According
to him it was built, probably, about the middle of the reign of Elizabeth,
1580; which makes its age about four hundred years. It was built by Mac
Egan, who was a gentleman of high respectability in those days. A celebrated
school of law and history was kept in this castle in the reigns of Elizabeth
and James I, sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It was in this school
that Michael O'Clery, the chief author of the Annals of the Four Masters,
and Duald MacFirbis, the author of "Irish Genealogies", received
their early education. It was near this castle also that O'Sullivan Bere
effected a passage across the Shannon, during his historic march from
Clengariff, after the siege of Dunboy Castle in Kerry on his way to the
North. After the rebellion of 1798 the ruins of this castle became the
retreat of a celebrated outlaw, James Meany and his associates, whose
exploits are still remembered in the neighbourhood.
castle was the home of a family of Brehons and historians, who administered
law and imparted higher education in ancient Ireland and in later times.
In the Journal of the Archaeological Society of Connaught, Vol. VI. No.
1, Martin I. Blake contributes an article on the MacEgans, in which he
says: "It was some member of the family (though his name is unknown)
who at the end of the fourteenth and the beginning of the fifteenth century
(1390 A.D. to 1410) compiled the Irish manuscript book called "Leabhar
Breac Maic Aedhagain" - The Speckled Book of MacEgan. It is not,
therefore, certain whether this MacEgan lived in Anameadle in Toomevara
parish, or whether he lived in Redwood, previous to the building of the
castle, but a description of the Leabhar Breac (pronouned Louer Brac),
will be given in the history of Redwood Castle. Writing in 1840 O'Donovan
describes Redwood Castle as follows: Today this castle is but an ivied
ruin; its existence is threatened by the heavy growth of ivy which has
been allowed to surround the entire ruin; it stands in an ideally retired
spot, near the banks of the Shannon, over against Meelick in Co. Galway,
a mere relic of its former greatness. The growth of ivy on this ruin made
it impossible to give a proper illustration of the castle. Writing in
1840, O'Donovan describes Redwood Castle:
Castle of Redwood, the ancient castle of the MacEgans, is situated on
a rock, or green hillock, which rises abruptly on the east and south sides.
It is built of limestone and contained four stories. The walls are bevelled,
are in very good preservation, and are about 80 feet in height. The south
side measures 40 feet 7 inches from the western extremity to a quadrangular
tower, which stands attached to the south wall, is l4 feet 6 inches, which
being added to 40 feet 7 inches makes 53 feet 1 inch, the whole length
of the south slide of the castle. The tower projects 6 feet 4 inches beyond
the bare surface of the wall. The length of the tower attached to the
south wall is 14 feet 6 inches, which being added to 40 feet 7 inches
makes 55 feet 1 inch, the whole length of the south side of the castle.
The tower projects 6 feet 4 inches beyond the bare surface of the wall.
The length of the tower attached to the east wall is 21 feet 6 inches.
this tower projects beyond the surface 3 feet 11 inches, the length of
the tower at N.E. corner is 12 feet 2 inches. The whole extent of the
castle at east side is 43 feet 4'/2 inches. The tower at the north-east
corner projects 4 feet 3 inches. Near the tower is placed the original
doorway. It is pointed and constructed of chiselled limestone, 7 feet
7 inches high, and 4 feet 9 inches wide. It is, now, stopped up. There
are openings long and narrow near the doorway in the east wall. This doorway
admitted to the staircase and the interior of the castle. There was a
watch-tower at north-east corner at top. and another at south-west corner.
On the north wall are four large openings battered. The fourth floor rested
on a stone arch. Chambers are placed in the thickness of the north and
south walls. The stairs are accessible from the ground floor by a circular
doorway of chiselled limestone. The stairs ascended spirally. The staircase
terminates at the floor that rests on the stone-arch near the top of the
castle; this floor measures 4l feet 1 inch in length, and 25 feet 5 inches
in breadth. There is a fireplace in the north wall with a stone chimney
over it. The castle was well lighted."
O'Donovan has been quoted as the man who put the date of around 1580 on
Redwood, there is quite an amount of evidence to show that this is in
fact a very late date and probably refers to a later reconstruction of
the building. There was certainly a castle here pre 1200 A.D. This wooden
Norman structure was destroyed by the O'Briens in 1207. The Normans rebuilt
it, stronger and stayed in it until 1350 when the O'Kennedys evicted them.
By Joseph J. and Mary Joan Egan
castle and its townland, called in Irish Coillte Ruadh (Redwood), apparently
took their name from the neighbouring wood of Brosnach, although it is
possible that the original Irish designation meant 'the Wood of Ruadhan',
after the sixth-century saint who founded the monastery in Lorrha village
nearby. The present castle probably began as a Norman stronghold, erected
about 1210. After they drove the Normans from the area in the mid-fourteenth
century, the O'Kennedy lords of Ormond turned the Redwood property over
to the MacEgan family in payment for services as brehons, or legal experts,
and hereditary ollaves, or professors in history and literature.
descendants of a common ancestor, the MacEgans (name in Irish is MacAodhagain,
from the diminutive of Aodh, meaning 'fire' and anglicized Hugh) were
the most important of the Brehon families in Ireland. They began as a
prominent sept in County Galway, under the O'Kellys. From perhaps the
twelfth century on, they became dispersed, attending to the legal affairs
of such chiefs as the O'Conors of Connacht, O'Conor Faly, MacCarthy Mor,
O'Carroll of Ely, Fitzpatrick of Ossary, O'Farrell Buidhe, and, after
the Hibernicisation of the great Norman lord, MacWattin and the Clanrickard
Burke. The branch of the Clan Egan that will concern us here, that of
Ormond in North Tipperary, grew in influence under the O'Kennedy patronage
and by the fifteenth century at least was, in the words of George Cunningham,
"perhaps the most notable learned family in all Ireland".
acquiring Redwood Castle, the MacEgans enlarged it. Later, about 1580,
the family again renovated the building, a circumstance that has misled
some into believing that it dates only from Elizabethan times. The MacEgans
continued in occupation until the Cromwellian confiscation; the Civil
Survey (1654-56) gives the owner of the castle in 1640 as Conly MacEgan
'of Keiltirou, Irish Papist'. By the time of the Survey itself, Redwood
was 'an old ruined castle the walls only standing.'
Castle the MacEgans kept a renowned school of law and letters, together
with a house of hospitality for scribes, poets and musicians. Undoubtedly,
several of the surviving Irish law tracts and parts of An Leabhar Breac
('The Speckled Book' of the MacEgans), a compendium in Irish and Latin
of the early fifteenth century, were written here. Eugene O'Curry, who
had an abiding interest in the manuscript, asserts that the Leabhar Breac
is 'the most important repertory of our ancient ecclesiastical and theological
writings in existence'. Echoing his view, Dermot Gleeson calls this largest
Gaelic manuscript by a single hand 'one of the great testimonies of all
time to Irish scholarship'.
were drawn to Redwood and its sister academy at Ballymacegan from all
corners of Ireland. Duald MacFirbis, the seventeenth century Sligo genealogist
and historian, author of Chronicum Scotorum, studied under the MacEgans,
as did Brother Michael O'Clery, Chief of the Four Masters, the team who
produced the noted scholarly work 'The Annals of Ireland'.
of the history associated with Redwood has been chequered. Not far from
the castle in 1602 Donall O'Sullivan Beare made preparations to cross
the Shannon during his hazardous march from Glengariff to Breffini in
Co. Leitrim after the Irish defeat at Kinsale. His rearguard was attacked
by Donough, son of Cairbre MacEgan, owner of Redwood Castle and high Sheriff
of Tipperary, who himself fell in battle after a bloody skirmish, his
garrison being routed with many losses. In the venerable ruins of the
castle, the outlawed James Meaney, the Bold Captain, sought refuge after
the 1798 Rebellion. His place of concealment, a small chamber high in
the thickness of the castle wall, can still be seen today. At one point
Redwood even served as a racing stable and according to local tradition,
produced a Derby winner. As late as 1976, the ground floor of the castle
was being used as a cow byre.
restoration began with the construction of a slate roof. Twelve hundred
tons of stone - Liscannor, Kilkenny rock face, Tullamore limestone - have
gone into the castle, which is nearly ninety feet high and has walls measuring
as much as nine feet in thickness. Nine-foot high crenellations in the
Irish style surround the roof; the five storeys beneath are now floored
and plastered and the new windows have diamond-shaped leaded panes. The
old fireplaces have been made serviceable. On the south side of the hall
is the minstrel gallery; on the other is a balcony leading to three bedrooms
and a bathroom. The beams of the hall are old Wicklow oak obtained from
a Russian emigre in Dublin. Indeed, Irish oak has been used throughout
the castle. The second floor now houses a small oratory. Floodlights encircle
the castle, so that at night it can be seen for miles around.
Canon Ryan discovered on the front gable of the castle under the newly
constructed Roman arch, a Sile-na-gCioch, that is, a carved stone female
of grotesque appearance, reputedly possessing talismanic powers. Redwood's
Sile, a fine example measuring two feet long by one foot wide, had been
long hidden by overgrowth. Michael Egan chose his profession as lawyer
because he wanted to maintain a continuity between himself and his Brehon
ancestors. When he first saw Redwood Castle it was an ivied ruin; but
he had a vivid sense of the vitality of all that had happened within its
walls and a vision of its restoration to dignity and purpose.
revived Redwood's reputation as a house of hospitality. The first function
held in the castle in over three hundred years was a luncheon for Mayo
lawyers on 14 June, 1981. On 1 May, 1982, Redwood was the setting for
the launching of a reprint of Father John Gleeson's History of the Ely
O'Carroll Territory (I915), a valuable account, long out of print, of
the area where the castle is located. Finally, on 7 August, 1982, Michael
Egan hosted the first Clan Egan gathering held in modern times, when approximately
three hundred of his kinsmen elected him their chief.
Castle, situated on a hillock near the Shannon, in Lorrha Parish,
County Tipperary, is unique because it again belongs to a member of the
family that held it until the mid-seventeenth century. The ancient mansion
of MacEgan as John O'Donovan calls the tower house in the Ordnance Survey
Letters. Redwood is now the home of Michael J. Egan of Castlebar, County
Mayo, and his wife, Eithne Moran Egan. ln 1972 Egan bought Redwood, then
roofless and overgrown with ivy from the late Michael Kennedy, the owner
of the surrounding farmland, and began to restore the castle as a private
residence for his family. In charge of the renovation was Patrick J. Egan,
cousin of Michael Egan. By 1981 Redwood was once again more habitable—now
with central heating, electricity and running water.
MacEgans have been in occupation of many castles down through the centuries.
The following are some examples:
Castle - Northeast of Tuam, Co. Galway.
the family housed an extensive library and a school of law. Passing
out of Egan hands in the seventeenth century. The castle is now in ruins.
- Northwest of Portumna, Co. Galway; was in use up to the end of the
Castle - Near Tuam, Co. Galway.
property passed into the hands of the Lally family in the early seventeenth
Castle - Situated on a hillock near the Shannon, in Lorrha Parish,
Castle - Near Borrisokane, Co. Tipperary.
Castle - Now ruined.
Castle - Lower Ormond near Toomevara.
Castle - Lower Ormond in Rathnaveoge Parish, Co. Tipperary.
Castle - In Co. Tipperary.
Castle - In Honeymount, near Dunkerrin.
Castle - Near Lorrha.