(Closed to visitors for the 2016 season due to conservation works)
Barryscourt Castle, with its original 13th century courtyard and three towers, is situated less than a mile south of the village, though now a considerable distance from the sea, beheld at one time the tide flowing right up to its walls.
It was built originally in 1206 by Philip de Barry, nephew of Robert Fitzstephen who came over with Strongbow and to whom was given by Henry II a large portion of territory including Barryscourt.
In this Castle too, Giraldus Cambrensis who visited Ireland with the early Normans, wrote his account of the Irish families of the district.
Philip de Barry fortified his castle so as to make it at the time impregnable. A gentleman named Hodnett built Belvelly Castle on the opposite side of the narrow channel separating the Great Island from the mainland. Hodnett became so powerful that he excited the jealousy of De Barry who gathered together his friends both Irish and English and joined by their neighbours, Roches of Fermoy, in a severe battle in 1329 took Belvelly Castle and gave the name of Barrymore to the Great Island which is still retained. The Hodnetts were then obliged to take a lease of the lands where formerly they were lords of the soil.
Gradually the Barrys lost their English manners and customs and adapted themselves to the habits of the country, in the end becoming more Irish in everything but name.
Though occasionally Lord Barrymore used to raid the “wild Irish” and though he used to have an occasional battle with his own relatives (i.e. when a Barrymore was killed by a clerical relative in 1500), still the Barrymores lived fairly peaceably until the great Desmond Rebellion in the 16th century.
The then Lord Barrymore was both cunning and brave and was indeed, according to Lord Burghley “the subtlest fox that ever Munster bred”. Lord Barrymore, with great courage and skill risked everything to help Desmond even to the extent of burning the splendid Castle of Barrymore to prevent it falling into the hands of Sire Walter Raleigh who besieged it. His cunning was further shown by the manner in which he saved his estates after the collapse of the Desmond Rebellion in 1683. through all the confiscations he never lost the smallest portion of his great estates. The Castle was afterwards rebuilt as is shown by an inscription carved on the stone lintel over the great fireplace giving the initials of the builder. A.D. 1588 D.B. ET E.R. ME FIERE FECERUNT. The tudor window and other details show that the rebuilding took place in the 16th century.
On the suppression of the Desmond Rebellion, Lord Barry became an ultra loyalist thus saving his property. Hugh O’ Neill in 1593 regarded him as one of the greatest enemies of the Irish cause, and in 1599 pillaged the laid waste his property as being that of a traitor. He was the last Catholic Lord Barry.
When he died in 1617 at this castle, he was succeeded by his grandson who having been brought up a Protestant and having become son-in-law of the first Earl of Cork, was through him created First Earl of Barrymore. Never after this period did a Lord Barry appear in the popular ranks. He was an enemy to his country and its religion as he was on the English side during the rising of 1641, he not only escaped the confiscation of his already large possessions, forfeited during the wars of the 17th Century. The title became extinct on the death of the eight Earl in 1825. It was revised as a new creation in 1902. The Lord Barrymore now deceased (1925) was the fourth son of the fourth Earl an inherited a large portion of the Barry Lands. His mansion is in Fota.
To give a brief description of the grounds of Barryscourt Castle, we learn that there were very large artificial ponds for ornament and utility. Up to within the last 50 years there were extensive survivals of ancient dense yew hedges. The Castle at present consists of a great keep with a courtyard of about half an acre. The keep is quadrangular with three flanking towers, at the outer angles. There were also three flanking towers to protect the courtyard. A domestic chapel is in the upper story.
Unoccupied since the beginning of the 18th century, it had fallen into almost a ruin. In 1988 the Barryscourt Trust, an American / Irish Foundation headed by Mr Ken Thompson, sculptor, was formed to develop the Castle as a cultural and tourist centre in line with other projects in East Cork. Under the chairmanship of Peter Barry T.D., the intention was to restore the castle under a commercial context in three stages. The other people involved in the Foundation included : Barry Carroll Chicago, Director American Ireland Fund, Rev. Dan Goold C.C. Carrigtwohill, Mr Michael McGinn Washington D.C., John Ronan, Barry Murphy and Brendan Kelleher Cork County Council. Carrigtwohill Community Council pledged full support to the project.
The old farm house built in the 18th century has been restored to include a restaurant and craft shop on the ground floor with living quarters for the manager upstairs. The interior of the castle is restored with lighting and heating installed. Musical evenings are now a regular feature in the magnificent banquet hall, art displays, historical lectures and poetry readings are now great attractions for social gatherings here too.
In 2003 one of the highlights was the first production of “The Flight of the Earls” a musical written and produced by Mary Ronayne Keane which ran for a week in the castle, afterwards it toured the country with great success.
In the early 1990’s the President of Ireland Mary Robinson and her husband visited the castle to launch the start of the project, and had a walk about on the courtyard afterwards.
To find out more information, visiting times, opening hours visit www.heritageireland.ie