Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Towers, Ballysaggartmore, County Waterford

I have to thank my friend Louise of the superb blog Pilgrimage in Medieval Ireland for letting me know about this fantastic site. The 'Towers' is one of the best examples of a nineteenth century folly existing today in Ireland. The Towers were commissioned by Arthur Kiely-Ussher in around 1835. He had inherited over 8,000 acres of land in the area, and quickly gained a reputation for being a harsh and cruel landlord. It is said that his wife had become deeply envious of Strancally Castle, built by Arthur's brother John Kiely, and hectored Arthur to build a residence to outshine that of his brother.
Plans for an extravagant mansion were drawn and work began on the long and winding carriageway, with an ornate gate lodge (see above). They then constructed the elaborate bridge over a small stream, with large towers flanking each side of the bridge. However their grandiose ambitions quickly outstripped their funds and they ran out of money soon after completing the bridge and their dreams of building a huge mansion were never to come true, they spent their days living in the now demolished Ballysaggartmore House, and must have felt despair as they travelled along their stunning carriageway, that it would never lead to the mansion they had so desired. An account at the time deriding the extravagance of some of the gentry in Ireland at the time noted that

"...the crowning folly of them all, at Ballysaggartmore in Waterford, huge gates, then an even larger bridge, then for economy a smaller bridge and then at last, no house for there was no more money, the derelict demense lies heavily overgrown, enclosed and silent..."

However it is hard to feel too much sympathy for the Kiely-Usshers. Arthur was reputed to have been a cruel and avaricious landlord during the Great Famine, evicting large numbers of tenants who could not pay their rents. He demolished their homes and replaced them with livestock who could bring in a better revenue. A reporter from the Cork Examiner in May 1847 reported on Keily-Ussher's estates that:

The interior of one of the towers
"I found twelve to fourteen houses levelled to the ground....and groups of women and children still hovered around the place of their birth..."

As the tenants became ever poorer and more desperate, a group tried to assassinate him, they failed in their attempts and a number were sentenced to be transported to Tasmania in 1849. The Famine was one of the most catastrophic events in recorded Irish history. In this area around Lismore alone, the population fell by over 50% between 1841 and 1851. To spend so much money on an extravagance like the Towers while the country starved gives a good indication as to the nature of the Keily-Usshers.

Despite its unjust and sad history, today the site is a wonderful place to walk. It has a real fantasy feeling when you finally encounter the Towers, they reminded me of something from the HBO show Game of Thrones!

The woodland walks alone are worth the trip, and you can find a diverse range of trees like horse chestnut, holly, hazel, ash, oak, sycamore and spruce. The main avenue is planted with poplars and rhododendrons, with a number of benches to take a load off and enjoy nature, it must be a really wonderful place to walk on a bright summers day, or perhaps even better still when the leaves turn golden in autumn.

The site is pretty easy to find, just take the R666 from Lismore heading towards Fermoy (signposted left after the bridge past Lismore Castle). You'll find the Towers after about 3–4km well signposted on the right hand side. A fairly large carpark and a number of interpretative panels are on the site, I recommend when you arrive to follow the path up the slope to the right and loop around to the Towers that way, first entering by the Gate Lodge.

There are a number of other sites nearby, and Lismore town itself is a wonderful place to spend an afternoon with plenty of great cafes to stop and refuel as well as a number of heritage sites.

I hope you enjoy this blog, we're trying to cover as many sites as we can across Ireland. If anyone has any suggestions about sites you'd like us to cover please do leave us a comment. If you enjoy information and images of Irish heritage sites then do follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Google+ If you'd like to support us then please consider downloading an audioguide to one of Ireland's wonderful heritage sites. They are packed with original music and sound effects and are a great way of experiencing the story of Ireland. They only cost €1.99 and are fun whether you are at the site, or listening from the comfort of your own home. If you enjoy stories of the turbulent medieval period in Ireland try our guide to Viking and Medieval Dublin, visit us at for free previews and to download your free audioguide to the Rock of Dunamase  or the free audioguide to the wonderful heritage town of Kells in County Meath

All photographs © Neil Jackman /