During the 17th century, the Passage West and Monkstown infrastructure looked very different from that of today.
Before the construction of Dock Street and the R610, Church Hill was the main road linking Passage West to Cork City. At the bottom of Church Hill, one turned right along Beach Road to access the ferry at Ferrypoint. Beach Road was thus named because during the 1600s, it was a very popular local bathing spot. Due to the subsequent construction of the Royal Victoria Dockyard, Beach Road is now removed from the water.
Passage West and Monkstown were quiet places. Local fishing was the principal activity. In 1691, Gerald O’Connor of the Irish Brigade noted the extreme peace of the West Channel of Cork Harbour:
“Our transports dropped slowly down the stream of the Lee, its shores stretching in desolute plains for miles. We reached ere long a magnificent roadstead capable of being a haven for many scores of warships, but now with hardly a fisher’s skiff on its waters.”
The Earl of Marlborough noticed the value of Passage West as a safe haven for ships, landing some 80 ships at Passage West for the Siege of Cork on 23rd September, 1690. Tradition tells of the sailors of the fleet hauling the guns up Church Hill and on towards Cork. Marlborough shared command of the Williamite army with the Dutch commander, Wurtemberg. The forces encamped in the vicinity of the Lough. They attacked from the south side of the Lee, while the opposing forces under the command of Scravemoer attacked from the north. Warships sailed beyond Passage up the river and on 28th September, the Williamite army had sufficient support to attack from both sides of the river. Situated as it was on low-lying ground surrounded by high ground to the north and south, Cork City stood little chance. Recognising that the situation was hopeless, Roger MacElligott, commander of the garrison in Cork, agreed to hand over Elizabeth Fort and to surrender the city on the following day.
The main road from Monkstown to Cork was over what is now known as the Glen. Castle Square, once known as Washerwoman’s Square because of its laundry industry, marks the end of the old main Cork road.
Also here was the original entrance to Monkstown Castle. Monkstown Castle, a magnificent house in the Elizabethan style is situated on the high side of the Glen in Monkstown, dominating the old road. Mrs. Anastasia Gould had it built in 1636 for her husband, John Archdeacon, while he was in Spain working as an officer in the wars of King Philip of Spain. There is a story told that when John returned, he thought the castle had been built by the enemy and fired a cannon at it. Towards the end of the 17th century, John Archdeacon became involved with some of the leaders of the Catholic Association and fell into disfavour with King Charles II. He was dispossessed of his lands and the Castle was taken over by the Commonwealth. It is said that Captain Thomas Plunkett, a commander of one of the ships of the Parliamentary Navy, occupied the Castle some time thereafter. Later, Colonel Huncks, an officer who had been selected to witness the execution of Charles I in 1649, obtained a short tenancy. Then in 1685, the tenancy of all John Archdeacon’s rights were handed over to Michael Boyle, Archbishop of Armagh.
Some histories tell us that John Archdeacon was acquainted with Michael Boyle and obtained Monkstown Castle back for a short period when James II came to power in 1685. However, he is thought to have lost it again in 1688. The Archdeacon family is buried in the old graveyard adjacent to the Castle and history therefore surmises that the family either remained in the Castle as tenants or returned to it as such. Either way, Monkstown Castle was passed down to the son of Michael Boyle, Viscount Blessington. On the death of Viscount Blessington, it went to Michael Boyle’s daughters. Finally, it came by descent and marriage into the joint possession of the Earls of Longford and Viscount De Vesci, names associated with Monkstown to this day.