Carn Tower and Castle

Saints and Sinners History tour

Carn Tower and Castle

County Mayo Ireland

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Carn Tower is a small defence look-out tower, probably built during the Jacobite wars, around 1689. It consists of a round stone structure ringed with gun loops for muskets, and a (now disappeared) second level with two lookout windows. The conical roof was fashioned using an 'upside down' wickerwork dome, upon which the stones were set. The remains of the long vanished wickerwork may yet be seen in the lime plaster inside the tower. Carn tower or 'Túrchoid Carn' was built upon the remains of an early castle, the last fragment of which is located on its side beside the tower. The earthworks beneath, along with the orientation of the ancient Carn road, may delineate the original defences of this castle.

The nearby ringfort on the top of the hill, to the south, was known as Dubh-Lios and likely to have been the seat of the Gaelic lord of Bredagh before the invasion of the Normans in the early thirteenth century. Carn castle was thus built near the site of the fort, and became known as Lynott’s castle after the family who owned it. The castle survived to the 17th century, but was in ruins when the tower was built, which likely defended a fortified house to the north in the field opposite. The large vacant house presently there is made of cut stones which indicated their original site was in this house and even from Carn castle itself.

Carn castle was also the site of the incident which inspired Sir Samuel Ferguson (1810–1886) to write his epic poem 'The Welshmen of Tyrawley'. The poem tells of an ancient story by Duald MacFirbis, the last Gaelic historian in North Mayo. It tells of a battle between the Barretts and Lynotts for control of the Castle of Carn and its lands. Both families derived from the Welsh-Norman invaders of the early thirteenth century in Connacht. The Lynotts were granted Moygownagh and its environs, by the Burke overlords but the Barretts had a rival claim. At a time of weakness in the Burke's protection, the Barretts seized their chance and antagonised the Lynotts so much, the Carn men killed an obnoxious rent collector. On a pretext of revenge, the Barretts overthrew the Lynotts and in a warning to all others, forced the survivors into a choice of two punishments; to have the men castrated or blinded by needles. Choosing the latter, they were then forced to cross the stepping stones over the nearby Dubh Abhainn river which was in flood. Anyone who made it over safely was subjected to a second plucking just in case. The crossing is known as Clochan na nDall or the Stepping Stones of the Blind (they do not have public access). The Barretts success was short lived and were forced by the Burkes into a humiliating surrender of most of their Tyrawley lands, but in turn all the 'Welshmen' and Gaels alike were dispossessed shortly thereafter by Oliver Cromwell.

The poem by Ferguson is long but this verse was the best known:

O'er the slippery stepping-stones of Clochan-na-n'all
They drove them, laughing loud at every fall,
As their wandering footsteps dark
Fail'd to reach the slippery mark,
And the swift stream swallow'd stark,
One and all,
As they stumbled
From the vengeance of the Welshmen of Tirawley.

This point of interest is part of the tour: Saints and Sinners History tour


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