Portumna Castle is a large semi-fortified Jacobean house, built by Richard Burke, 4th Earl of Clanricarde and his wife Frances Walsingham, the Countess of Essex some time before 1618. It has been described by Bence-Jones as ‘probably the finest and most sophisticated house of its period in Ireland’.
Richard Burke spent £10,000 on building Portumna Castle, and when it was completed it was unequalled in Ireland for elegance, style and grandeur, outshining other castles. The design is unique because it represents a transition between the fortified tower house and the country mansion, which was already popular in England. It was built as part of an extensive programme of works to consolidate the Earl’s claims to the Lordship of Connacht.
The castle is a symmetrical three-storey mansion built over a basement; two rooms deep linked by a central gallery with ornamental gables, carved doorcase and large windows. It was built for comfort and beauty with a wonderful view of Lough Derg, yet it has some defensive features including square corner towers and gun loops to protect the entrance.
The castle was accidentally destroyed by fire in 1826 when the entire contents were destroyed. The family moved to the courtyard buildings which were converted into a temporary residence. This is known as the ‘Dowager House’ and is situated near the Priory.
Dúchas – the Heritage Service has carried out conservation and restoration work on Portumna Castle and Gardens. The kitchen garden to the northeast has been recently restored. Portumna castle is a national monument and it is open to the public from March to October, 10am to 6pm daily. It is situated close to the Marina and Portumna Forest Park.
‘New Castle’, Portumna
A new Gothic mansion was built in 1862, at the opposite end of the Portumna Demesne. Designed by the architect, Sir Thomas Newenham Deane, it was two-storeys with a high pitched roof and an attic of steep gables and dormer-gables. There were small towers with pointed roofs and elaborate windows.
This ‘new castle’ was rarely lived in. The last Marquis of Clanricarde, who succeeded in 1874, was a notorious miser and eccentric who dressed like a tramp and spent his life in London. He died in 1916, leaving Portumna Castle and estate to his great-nephew Henry, Viscount Lascelles, afterwards 6th Earl of Harewood and husband of Princess Mary.
In 1917, Henry Lascelles had plans prepared for the restoration of the old castle at Portumna. These were never carried out however. The new castle was destroyed by fire in 1922.
Princess Mary, Princess Royal and Countess of Harewood (Victoria Alexandra Alice Mary; 25 April 1897 – 28 March 1965), she was the third child and only daughter of King George V and Queen Mary. She was the sixth holder of the title of Princess Royal. Mary held the title of princess with the style Highness from birth as the then great-granddaughter of the British sovereign, and later Her Royal Highness, as the granddaughter and finally daughter of the Sovereign, visited Portumna in 1928; the first time a member of the British Royal Family to come to Ireland after Independence. Later, Portumna demesne was sold, after Lord Harewood’s death in 1947. The Forestry Commission acquired the estate and it is now a Forest Park.
Nothing remains today of the New Castle only the view to the lake from its site (now the carpark in the Forest Park). Cut stone from the ruin was used to build the new Church at Portumna, which began in 1958 and was completed in 1961.