Monivea Castle is a former O’Kelly tower house that dates back to the early 16th century. Located near the village of Monivea in County Galway, the castle was once the home of the Ffrench family, one of the fourteen Tribes of Galway, who were influential landlords and politicians in the region. The castle and its surrounding lands have many interesting features and stories to tell, from the medieval tower house to the majestic mausoleum and the beautiful woodlands.

The oldest part of Monivea Castle is the tower house, which was built by the O’Kelly clan, who ruled over the area of Soghain in Connacht. The tower house is a typical example of Irish medieval architecture, with thick stone walls, narrow windows, and a spiral staircase. The tower house was designed for defense and protection. The tower house was also a symbol of status and power, as only the most wealthy and influential families could afford to build such structures.

The tower house was acquired by Patrick Fitzrobert Ffrench from John Crosach O’Kelly in 1609, as part of a land deal that involved 1,000 acres of land and 60 cows. The Ffrench family were originally from Normandy, France, but settled in Galway in the 13th century. They became one of the most prominent families in Galway, holding various offices and titles, such as Mayor of Galway, High Sheriff of County Galway, and Baronet of Castle Ffrench. The Ffrench family also intermarried with other notable families, such as the Blakes, the Lynches, and the Persses.

The Ffrench family developed the tower house further, adding a mansion to its north, west and south walls in the 18th century. The mansion was a more comfortable and spacious residence, with large windows, fireplaces, and elegant rooms. The mansion also had a library, a dining room, a drawing room, and a billiard room. The mansion was decorated with paintings, furniture, and artifacts collected by the Ffrench family over the years.

One of the most striking features of Monivea Castle is the mausoleum, which stands in a clearing in the woods near the castle. The mausoleum was built by Kathleen Ffrench in honour of her father, Robert Percy Ffrench, who died in 1896. Robert Percy Ffrench was a distinguished diplomat and traveller, who served as British Consul in various countries, such as Japan, China, Brazil, and Morocco. He also wrote several books about his experiences and observations in these countries.

The mausoleum was designed by Francis Persse, who was Kathleen’s cousin and the younger brother of Lady Augusta Gregory, a famous Irish writer and patron of the Irish Literary Revival. The mausoleum took four years to complete and cost £10,000 (about two million in today’s economy). The mausoleum is made of rough-granite blocks quarried in Wicklow and resembles a small castle with crenellations and a turret. The mausoleum has a gothic-archway entrance with an oak door and stained glass windows depicting religious scenes. Inside the mausoleum is a marble altar with a Maltese cross and a memorial sculpture of Robert Percy ffrench lying on his deathbed.

The mausoleum is not only a monument to Robert Percy Ffrench but also a place of worship. In 1914, Kathleen Ffrench obtained an indult from Pope Pius X that allowed mass to be celebrated inside the mausoleum on special occasions and under special circumstances. The mausoleum is still used for this purpose today, especially on April 22nd every year (the anniversary of Robert Percy’s death).

Another attraction of Monivea Castle is the woodlands that surround it. The woodlands cover about 400 acres of land and are home to various species of trees, plants, animals, and birds. The woodlands were planted by the Ffrench family over several generations as part of their landscaping and conservation efforts. Some of the trees are over 200 years old and include beeches, oaks, chestnuts, firs, larches, birches,
and hollies.

The woodlands are open to the public and offer many opportunities for recreation and relaxation. There are several walking trails that lead to different parts of the woodlands, such as the lake, the castle, the mausoleum, and the ice house. The ice house is a stone structure that was used to store ice in the winter for cooling purposes in the summer. The woodlands also have picnic areas, benches, and playgrounds for visitors to enjoy.

Monivea Castle and its woodlands were then owned by the state, after Kathleen Ffrench left them to the nation in her will. She died in 1939, without any heirs, and was the last of the Ffrench family to live in the castle. The castle and its contents were auctioned off in 1945, and the castle fell into ruin over time. However, the woodlands and the mausoleum were preserved and maintained by Coillte, the state forestry agency.

Monivea Castle is a place of historical and cultural significance, as it reflects the lives and times of the Ffrench family and their impact on the region. The castle, which is now private property, is not open to the public and can only be seen by the roadside or with the landowner’s permission.


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Monivea Castle



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