BALLyheeny castle: A STRONGHOLD OF the desmonds
The only remaining castle ruins standing in the parish of Clashmore today are that of Ballyheeny Castle which sits high on the banks of the River Lickey just a few hundred yards west of Ballyheeny Bridge. Its location on the river bank gave it direct access upstream by boat from the expansive River Blackwater. Today only the south-facing wall survives and being fully camouflaged in ivy it is quite difficult to pick out of the landscape from a distance, especially in summer-time.
A survey of antiquities carried out as part of the Ordnance Survey of Ireland by John O’Donovan in July of 1841 recorded that the “…remaining wall was thirty five feet in length, seven foot and six inches in thickness and about forty feet in height and well grouted…” so we can certainly deduce that it was of an impressive scale. It was separately recalled that the “castle was built by mortar and blood. It was a four-storey building…” and at this time some medieval castle walls were indeed purported to have been built with mortar made from a mixture of sand, lime, horse hair and animal blood.
The history of the structure is vague but it is generally thought to have been a Tower House built by the Geraldines in the 15th century. Tower Houses were defended residences or castles built by the gentry class in many parts of Ireland in late medieval times. But the structure was also reputed to incorporate parts of an earlier 10th c. fortification built by a person known as Sineach Ruadh (The Red Fox). The real history of this fortification probably lies in the townland name which O’Donovan translated as Baile Uí hĺnidh (or Shuibhne) which means O’Heeny’s (or Sweeney’s) Homestead, both names of which have Ulster origins and are not traceable in this area. The townland has been known though by various other disambiguations over the centuries including Ballyhenny or Ballyhennie in the 16th c. which can translate as Baile Uí Shionnaigh and could well offer a more plausible link to the aforementioned Sineach Ruadh.
Regardless, we do know that by the mid-16th century, the so-called Ballyhennie Castle was under the ownership of Gerald (or Gerrot) Fitzgerald, third son of Gerald Fitzgerald of Dromana, 3rd Lord of the Decies. The latter Gerald saw this title pass to his two brothers Maurice & John and then to his nephew (another Gerald) in 1581, but we can presume that he had died himself by 1598 as his own son (Sir) John Fitzgerald became the 7th Lord of the Decies by early 1599.
Around this time, we believe that the Ronayne family of D’Loughtane, who had been forced to forfeit their estate to Roger Bluett Esq. after he acquired it from Sir Walter Raleigh, became residents of Ballyheeny Castle for a period of time. Ronayne family history has it that John Ronayne recovered the forfeited lands after he married Catherine Bluett, the daughter of Roger, in 1603 and hence the Ronaynes regained their D’Loughtane seat which they had previously held for almost two centuries (In reality it was leased back and full ownership wasn’t returned until 1628).
Ballyheeny certainly remained in the hands of the Dromana Fitzgeralds until at least 1640 as mentioned in the Down Survey of 1654 when they were recorded as being in the possession of the majority of Clashmore Parish, but after this time we are not able to track any later residents of the castle. Anecdotally it was said that it was later destroyed by Cromwell, which if true may have taken place in late 1649 when he marched through this area from Dungarvan, taking Knockmaun Castle on his way, before finally settling in the safety of the garrison town of Youghal for the winter.
Local Seanachaidhe told of a legend that the castle of Ballyheeny was once owned by an O’Heeny woman who, for her fortune, left a daughter an old horse’s skin and as much land as it would cover or enclose. The quick witted daughter cut the hide into thin strips of which she made a rope long enough to enclose the entire townland of Ballyheeny, which thereupon became her property, all 381 acres of it!
References1. Antiquities of the County Waterford (O’Donovan, 1841, p.80)
2. Journal of the Waterford & South-East of Ireland Archaeological Society (1901, Vol VII)
3. The Civil Survey A.D. 1654-1656 County of Waterford Vol V1 (Robert C Simington, Irish Manuscripts Commission)
4. Place-Names of Northern Ireland (Hannan R. J. ,1992, vol. 2 p. 221)
5. Ballyhealy Castle Photo (Morris, Samantha, Twitter Post, Aug 5th 2017)