Monkstown Castle was built in 1636. Dame Anastasia (Gould) Archdeacon had the castle built for her husband, John Archdeacon, while he was 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.
It is believed locally that the castle cost only four pence (4d.) to build. Dame Archdeacon was a lady of remarkable business acumen whose family were merchant princes of Cork. While she would have had considerable wealth herself, wages at the time were low, the large estate associated with the site could produce any food that the workers needed and limestone and timber for the construction was available on the land. It is said that she gave her workers food and lodgings, the price of which she deducted from their wages. She also ran a shop, believed to be mid-way in Castle Terrace, from which her workers were expected to buy all their additional requirements. When the castle was finished, she added up the cost of the building, took away the profit she had made in the shop and the result was that the castle had cost only 4d.
Magnificently situated on the side of a steep glen overlooking the south entrance into the West Passage of Cork, Monkstown Castle is a square building built of local sandstone with lime mortar. It has four outflanking portions and covers about 21 metres by 21 metres. It had two storeys in the main square of the building, with three storeys and an attic in each of the four corner structures. Each tower has a bartizan on the outside corner supported by five elegantly tapering corbels. Entrance doors are to the north west and north east, each with an elliptical arch and hood moulding overhead. The door to the north east was clearly the main entrance, leading to the main hall on the ground floor. The first floor was of similar layout to the ground floor, but was accessed from an exterior staircase leading to the north west door. All of the windows had square or rectangular lights. Originally, there were nine square chimney stacks.
Inside, at ground floor level in the central block, there was a large fireplace in the centre of the west wall. This had a cut stone surround with an elliptical arch and a prominent keystone. Above it, at first floor level, was a more elaborate fireplace and the date 1636 standing in shallow relief on a mantle with leaf and branch carving. Above the console were inscribed the initials “B.S.” and the year 1814. These marked the re-roofing and repair of the house by then owner Bernard Shaw. There were two galleries running each end of the main hall connecting the rooms across in the floors above. These were accessed by staircases in each of the four corners. It is here the bedrooms were located, one in each storey. We are told that they were fine-sized rooms, each with a fireplace.
The castle was surrounded by a courtyard and the entrance would have been from the old Monkstown – Cork road to the east of the building.
It is said that when John Archdeacon returned home, he hated the castle. However, after some time, he came to appreciate its grace, solitude and grandeur of location. However, his pleasure was not to last for long. 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.
John Archdeacon and his wife, Anastasia, lived in the castle until John died in 1660. Anastasia died in 1689. Both were buried in the old Monkstown graveyard just below the Castle. Their delight and pride in their home is evident from the inscription of John Archdeacon’s tomb:
“Sic Saltus, sic transit honor. Eu! Aula supera Non portuit dominos hic retinere suos. Corpora Marmor habent, animas celestia regna, Proh! Dolor ut tantos haes habet urna viros. Adjacent eo loco Domini, Castillis, capella Condidit hoc Triadi; templlum divessque parenti Delicis hortus, hospitibusque domum Cujus sideres gaudet mens aequa sacello Terra colit famam, marmore membra permunt.”
“Thus the leaf! thus honour passed! Behold, The superb hall was not able to retain its Masters here Their bodies posses the marble, the celestial regions their souls, Oh, what grief that the sepulchral urn must contain such men. Adjoining this place are the castle, the chapel and the gardens, He built this temple to the Trinity and to His Divine parent; The gardens for pleasure, and the home for hospitality, Of him the just soul now enjoys the heavenly sanctuary, The earth cherishes his fame, this marble contains his body.”
Monkstown Castle served as a military barracks during the Peninsular War, 1808 - 1814. It could accommodate 450 soldiers. Thereafter, the castle and townlands were held by the Shaw family for about 60 years. During this time, the estate was developed considerably. The family lived in the adjacent Castle House, which Bernard Shaw had built. These Shaws were the ancestors of George Bernard Shaw, the eminent playwright and author.
Monkstown Golf Club used the castle as its clubhouse from 1908 to 1971. The avenue up to the castle was in constant need of repair because of all the traffic and, in 1925, work was carried out on a proper approach to the castle for motor cars. Electricity was installed in the castle in 1938. The kitchen was small and ill-equipped. There was no ceiling on the dining room. The walls were bare stone and the heating was an antiquated stove. After World War II, the Golf Club undertook a major refurbishment, installing proper heating and lighting. In November 1958, Monkstown Golf Club purchased the castle from the de Vesci estate.
Since the Golf Club left to take up its new premises in 1971, Monkstown Castle has lain vacant. It is now in ruins, with the floors and roofs collapsed and most of the artefacts removed, although the walls still stand to full height. Monkstown Castle is listed in the Record of Protected Structures and is a National Monument.