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Our Ancestral Castles


O'Donovan 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.

This 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:

"The 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."

Although 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

The 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.

All 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".

Upon 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.'

At Redwood 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'.

Students 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'.

Some 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.

The 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.

In 1978 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.

He has 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.

Redwood 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.



The MacEgans have been in occupation of many castles down through the centuries. The following are some examples:

Park Castle - Northeast of Tuam, Co. Galway.

Here 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.

Duniry - Northwest of Portumna, Co. Galway; was in use up to the end of the sixteenth century.

Tullinadaly Castle - Near Tuam, Co. Galway.

This property passed into the hands of the Lally family in the early seventeenth century.

Redwood Castle - Situated on a hillock near the Shannon, in Lorrha Parish, County Tipperary.

Cloghkeating Castle - Near Borrisokane, Co. Tipperary.

Drumnamahane Castle - Now ruined.

Annamaidel Castle - Lower Ormond near Toomevara.

Behamge Castle - Lower Ormond in Rathnaveoge Parish, Co. Tipperary.

Kilnalahagh Castle - In Co. Tipperary.

Ballynamoe Castle - In Honeymount, near Dunkerrin.

Derrymacegan Castle - Near Lorrha.




Speckled Booklet

Mythology, and the origin of the Clan MacEgan Family Coat of Arms.
Our Scribes, Artists and Poets
In ancient Ireland there were three learned orders: the Druids, the Bards and the Brehons.
Religion and Politics
Egan contribution to Religion and Politics.
Irish Kinsfolk
Various tales of Egan's from Ireland, during various times.
Emigrant Kinsfolk
Various stories of our Irish emigrant Kinsfolk...
Egans of Today
What are Egans up to now?