The Lough Cutra Castle Story
Lough Cutra Castle and Estate has a long and varied history. The countryside surrounding Lough Cutra contains much evidence of a history dating back to the Tuatha Da Danaans. Evidence of old churches, cells and monasteries are prolific in the area and a number of the islands on the lake contain the remnants of stone altars. The history of the estate can be traced back as far as 866 A.D. when the ruined church of Beagh on the North West shore was sacked by the Danes and war raged through the district for nearly 1000 years. In 1601 John O'Shaughnessy and Redmond Burke camped on the shores of the lake while they plundered the district.
In 1678, Sir Roger O'Shaughnessy inherited from Sir Dermot all the O'Shaughnessy's Irish land - nearly 13,000 acres, and this included Gort and 2,000 acres around Lough Cutra and the lake itself. Following the revolution during which Sir Roger died of ill health, the Gort lands were seized and presented to Thomas Prendergast the head of one of the oldest families in Ireland. Sir Thomas came to Ireland on King Williams's death in 1701 and lived in Monaghan. The title to the lands was confused, but was in the process of being resolved when Sir Thomas was killed during the Spanish Wars in 1709. His widow, Lady Penelope let the lands around the lake and the Islands. On these Islands large numbers of apple, pear and cherry trees were planted, and some still survive today. The O'Shaughnessy's still tried to lay claim to the lands that had been taken from them by King William. In 1742 the government confirmed the Prendergast title, but it was not until 1753 that Roebuck O'Shaughnessy accepted a sum of money in return for giving up the claim.
Following Sir Thomas's death John Prendergast Smyth inherited the Gort Estate. It was John who created the roads and planted trees, particularly around the Punchbowl where the Gort River disappears on its way to Gort and Coole. John lived next to the river bridge in Gort when in the area - this area is now known as the Convent, Bank of Ireland and Glynn's Hotel. When John died in 1797 he was succeeded by his nephew, Colonel Charles Vereker who in 1816 became Viscount Gort. The estate at this time was around 12,000 acres and he decided to employ the world renowned architect John Nash to design the Gothic Style building known as Lough Cutra Castle. Colonel Vereker had visited Nash's East Cowes Castle on the Isle of Wight and was to taken with it that he commissioned the construction of a similar building on his lands on the shore of Lough Cutra. Nash also designed Mitchelstown Castle, Regents Park Crescent, his own East Cowes Castle, as well as being involved in the construction of Buckingham Palace
The Castle itself was built during the Gothic revival period and is idyllically situated overlooking the Estate's 1000 acre lake. The building of the castle was overseen by the Pain brothers who later designed and built the Gate House at Dromoland. The original building included 25 basement rooms and the cost of the building was estimated at 80,000 pounds. While the exact dates of construction are not known the building commenced around 1809 and went on for a number of years finishing at some point in 1818.
The Viscount Gort was forced to sell the Castle and Estate in the Late 1840s having bankrupted himself as a result of creating famine relief. The Estate was purchased by General Sir William Gough an eminent British General. The Gough's set about refurbishing the Castle to their own taste and undertook further construction work adding large extensions to the original building, including a clock tower and servant quarters. Great attention was paid to the planting of trees, location of the deer park, and creation of new avenues. An American garden was created to the South west of the Castle. The entire building operations were completed in 1858 and 1859.
In the 1920s the family moved out of the Castle as they could not afford the running costs. Some of the stables in the Courtyards were converted into a residence for them. The Castle was effectively closed up for the next forty years, although during WWII the Irish army was billeted within the Castle and on the Estate. The Estate changed hands several times between the 1930s and the 1960s when it was purchased by descendants of the First Viscount Gort. They took on the task of refurbishing the Castle during the late 1960s. Having completed the project they decided to sell up. At that time it was bought by the present owner's family.
In more recent years another refurbishment programme to the Castle and the Estate generally has begun. In 2003 a new roof was completed on the main body of the Castle, with some of the tower roofs also being refurbished. There has been much done also to the internal dressings of the Castle bringing the building up to a modern standard. Around the Estate there has been reconstruction and rebuilding works in the gate lodges and courtyards. There has also been extensive works to some of the woodlands in order to try and retain the earlier character of the Estate.
Lough Cutra itself is a 1000 acres in size and is the largest privately owned lake in Europe. It plays host to some of Ireland’s native birds including the Teal, Cormorant and Widgeon - the names given to our three children’s races.