Rostellan Castle/House

since coming to the East Cork area I have always been curious about this area……..these sad trees what was built here and who walked the grounds between these trees…if these trees could talk what secrets would they hold….this story tells of graves, curses, mistresses to kings, actresses, great parties but also death, sadness and pain.

Rostellan Castle/House/Woods

As with the other houses I started to do a bit of research on Rostellan House and the people who build it and here is their story:

Rostellan House was built by William O’Brien (1694-1777) the 4th Earl of Inchiquin in 1721. He built Rostellan as a replacement of the ageing old castle.  He built this mansion for his wife Lady Anne (Anne Douglas-Hamilton) who was the 2nd Countess of Orkney.

Elizabeth Hamilton

Lady Anne was the daughter of the first Countess of Orkney – Elizabeth (Villiers) Hamilton (1657-1783) who was the acknowledged mistress of King William II & III of England and Scotland from 1680-1695.  She was the Lady in Waiting to his wife Queen Mary II. King William ended the relationship motivated by his wife’s wishes.  In 1694 a dual was fought over her affection. 25 Nov 1695 she married her cousin Lord George Hamilton and their marriage seem to be a happy one. Her first daughter Anne Douglas-Hamilton (second Countess of Orkney) married her cousin William O’Brien 27th March 1720.

William wanted to build the new residence near the site of a former graveyard, he ordered the graves to be leveled some accounts say that he ordered the gravestones to be thrown into the sea and others say he used it in the  new build. A woman who’s only son was buried here cursed the family by saying their line would die out , and that no sons would be born and that while they lived there the crows would not nest in Rostellan. At that stage of the prophesy he had four sons and four daughters, but his wife died in 1757 and before her death they lost four sons and three daughters.

Rostellan Estate overlooking Cork Harbour

The only daughter that was left was Mary who became the next Countess of Orkney. Mary was as they used to be called deaf and dumb (mute) Her father arranged for her to be married to his nephew Murrough O’Brien (1726-1808) and he became the next owner of Rostellan the 5th Earl and 1st Marquis of Thomond in 1800.

Murrough O'Brien

With the help of sign language, they were married in 1753.  She lived in Rostellan and he spent a lot of time in London. It is said that he had many mistresses and that he did not visit the marriage bed often. In 1755 they had a baby – also Mary O’Brien.

Mary O'Brien Countess of Orkney

The story goes that after Mary was born her mother came into her room. The nanny was present, she walked to the crib with a stone and the nurse stated to scream thinking that she would do the child harm but Mary dropped the stone next to the baby and when the child started screaming, Mary started crying uncontrollably.  Mary was the only child of the marriage.

Murrough is described as being a very friendly guy who was liked by everyone who met him although some said he talked to much. Polite, cheerful, and amiable would also be the way they described this Irishman. It was reputed that he was a big drinker. He had very important friends and owned many estates in England and Ireland. although very wealthy he had trouble with money.  Rostellan House was used for a lot of entertainment and then he used to show his guest an ancient sword said to have been used by Brian Boroihme, the great ancestor of the O’Briens. The sword was preserved in a small armoury of the castle.

Murrough O'Brien

After Mary’s death Murrough married Mary Palmer she was the niece of the celebrated painter Sir Joshua Reynolds.  There were rumours that Murrough had an illegitimate son from Abigail Aston who he had met at, Castle Martyr a son Thomas Carter was born no record survives of his birth. Murrough introduced Thomas as a son that was born to a poor relative in Cork.

Murrough died in a horrible accident in 1803 (mind you he was 82) He was riding his horse of Grosvenor Square when his horse slipped on the ice. Murrough fell onto the pavement, right in front of an approaching cart which ran over him and killed him instantly.

Mary O’Brien married Hon. Thomas FitzMaurice son of John Petty, 1st Earl of Shelburne.

The estate was then passed on to Murrough’s brother Edwards son William (1765-1846) the 2nd Marquis of Thomond. He planted 55,140 trees in 1827. Norway spuce, Scots pine, broad leaves such as Spanish Chestnut, Ash, Oak, Beech, Maple and Cherry, Alder, Willow and Hawthorn.He had no sons and the estate went to his brother Admiral

Marquess of Thomond

Lord James (1769-1855) The 3rd Marquess, Admiral in the royal navy although married three times there was no heirs and in 1855 the Earldom of Inchiquin became extinct. Two years after his death the property was sold.

The next owner of Rostellan is Dr Wise a Scotsman who lived in Rostellan House with his spinster sister Anne untill his death in 1879. He had made his money with Indigo plantations in India. The trade in Indigo created brisk and great trade fortunes during the 1739-1742 war with Spain/Portugal and France when Royal Blue dye became scarce in  England. After his death the house content was sold in a big 4 day house auction at Rostellan. Priced possessions such as paintings of Turner, Van Dyke, Claude and Michaud. He left the estate to his brother James F.N. Wise who sold it to Sir John Pope Hennessy who sold it to C.J. Engledow and after that to MR. Rattner. In 1930 Rostellan House was leased to Cloyne China Clay co. who mined clay there and exported. Operation ceased in 1940 and the house was regrettably demolished in 1944 by the Army Corps of Engineers.

Here follow’s some personal accounts of visitors or people who passed the house on boat or even from a looking-glass from Cobh (Queenstown)

The House:

A three storey house, 5 front bays, between two-three sided bows and it has a side elevation of a 3 sided bow and 4 bays. Originally the hall was adorned by weapons and armour and the rooms contained a splendid collection of portraits. During the 19th century a gothic porch was added and also a long low gothic chapel wing, flanking the front with pinnacles and perpendicular window and ending in a squat battlements round tower. (a tiny bit of this wall is left visible)

Rostellan Castle Chapel

Garden in the front of the house:

  • Rostellan House was well-known for its luxurious gardens – accounts of expansive lawns leading down to an elevated terrace overlooking the sea on which deer grazed.
  • The castle is delightfully situated in a wooded promontory (mass of land overlooking water) commanding an exceedingly fine view of the grand and animated harbour with its beautiful shores. The demesne (area) is rich in luxuriant beauty and the judicious (discrete) manner in which the grounds are laid out speaks highly of the elegant taste of the noble owner.
  • ….a gentle tide flows to the garden wall and boats come up to the stairs. On the terrace, near the water are small cannons pointed, which upon firing render several echoes through the various hills that surround the harbour.
  • Along the waterfront near the house was a castellated terrace. (part of this wall still exists the castellated terrace looks as if it was built all around the water edge – the same pattern is followed in the bridge)
  • Cannons were mounted on these terraces, giving the appearance of a battery. Part of this feature remains today in the shape of a ship’s bow with the date 1721 carved therein.
  • The plinth of what was once a monument to Lord Hawke also remains at the waters  edge. According to the account or Sir R. Colt Hoare this statue on the terrace above the water, is a statue of Lord Hawke with its back turned to the elements where on that commander had achieved his fame. The statue was ordered by the Cork Corporation who then decided not to take it so that the Rostellan owners bought the statue and averted its eyes from the city that rejected it.

    Lord Admiral Hawke

    The Inchiquins had a long naval tradition. Edward Hawke was a British Admiral and played an important part in the aviation of French invasion in 1759. The statue’s right arm which was grasping a sword, fell of on the day the French landed on Bantry Bay in 1798. It is believed that the statue ended up in Youghal.

  • Folly tower: a circular plan folly tower was erected on the water’s edge of the coast in 1727. The 5th Earl of Inchiquin Murrough O’Brien later named the tower –  “Siddons’ Tower” in honour of the Druids lane actress Sarah Siddons who apparently visited the Rostellan House.Sarah was a British actress who was one of the first actresses that gained respectability with roles such as Lady Macbeth and held her audience spellbound. She was tall and had a striking figure, expressive eyes and a solemn dignity.

Sarah Siddon

She mixed with the elite of London Society.

  • The walled kitchen garden (still visible today in the Rostellan woods) also called the secret garden. Acres of kitchen gardens with complex potting and heating sheds for maintaining  fruit, vegetables and exotic flowers. Supplies for the stately home. Now overgrown with trees.
  • Ice House (also visible) cold and dark area where ice was stored in winter.
  • Milestones: 18th century milestones on the bridge.

Another feature in the area: Dolmen

On the Northern shore is a pre-historic tomb-Cromleach or dolmen called ” Carriga Mhaistin”  which is submerged at high tide. Some claim that this is where the name Rostellan comes from. Ros (headland) and dallan or dolmen.


About Annemarie Foley

I'm a house-historian that researches and documents the history of a house and the people that lived there. I bring together a snapshot of the story behind the house. This information is used by a variety of people from Historians to Architects, Estate agents, Ancestors or those generally concerned about the heritage of the property.

24 Responses to “Rostellan Castle/House”

  1. live near there. Sad should still be there

    • I could not agree more! this house could have been a treasure for tourism and the community. If one looks at how Fota house and gardens are utilised this house/gardens could have been the same. Unfortunately that was not the only big house in the area that was demolished Trabolgan, Corkbeg as well as Aghada house all followed the same lot. I am researching Trabolgan house at the moment and would post info on the house and the family that lived there soon. Thanks for the comment, Annemarie

  2. I always found the woods around the walled gardens to be quite creepy, Rostellan is beautiful though and its great to read about the people who lived there, thanks!

  3. Hi Annemarie,
    I love your page, I’v ebeen gathering information for a while & it’s greato to see it all pieced together with some other bits that I’ve never come across. I have been looking for drawings of the house myself but to no avail so far. I’m an architectural technician myself so I’m very interested in that side of it. Keep up the good Work!! John

    • Hi John
      Great to find others that are like minded! If you have any info on Rostellan house/castle, I would really love to get more info, my email is It is the house and then the people that interest me altough I have no architectural background. The Whitegate/Aghada Historical Society has a walk and talk on the Rostellan estate grounds – the last Thursday of June at 7:30 meeting at the bridge. Thank you for your support and all imput will be appreciated! The Historical society also have more photos and documentation.
      Greeting Annemarie

  4. Hi Annemarie,
    This site is a lovely find.
    I am currently chairperson of the Whitegate/Aghada Historical Society and last Thursday we held our first walkabout at Rostellan demesne. We are very interested in getting to know more about the estate and in asking people with an interest to contribute as speakers.
    Would you be willing to join us on our next outing in a few weeks time when we hope to visit the walled gardens, icehouse and bridge?

    • Hi James
      The posting of Rostellan Estate is very popular and i have had so much feedback from so many different sources.
      I would love to join you on the outing, if you like I can advertise the outing to the walled gardens and icehouse on the Rostellan posting. If you have any more info my email address is
      Greeting Annemarie

    • Hi James. I know you posted 3 years ago, but am hoping the Whitegate/Aghada Historical Society is still operating as I would like to get in touch. I am travelling to Rostellan in early August (2014) as my ancestors were tennants ot the Thomonds. It is very difficult to find much online info about them, so am hoping there might be local resources and that the historical society might know how I could access these. My ancestors were Fitzgeralds and Barrys from the Knockenamornay and Barrykilla areas and they seem to have had most of their baptisms done at St Erasmus in Aghada. Kind regards Margaret Delane (nee Fitzgerald), Perth Western Australia (

  5. hi annemarie. love this page i was born in rostellan and spent all my childhood and teens in and around the woods and lake .great memories

  6. Heya, you’ve some research done there. Any idea who has the sword now? It’s supposed to be in a private collection but I can’t find where. Here is what Andrew Halpin says about it in 1986:
    [Illustration] No. 34 was in the hands of the O’Briens at Rostellan Castle, Co. Cork, at least as
    early as 1813, but nothing is known of its earlier history. It was preserved in Clontarf Castle in Hayes-McCoy’s time, but unfortunately has since left the country and its present whereabouts are unknown to the writer. No. 34 is at present best seen as a Scottish import, rather than as an Irish version of a Scottish type. Its blade, as Hayes-McCoy (1977, 37-8) pointed out, is of Continental, probably German, manufacture; this is typical of claymores as a whole. A sixteenth-century date can therefore be suggested for no. 34, but greater precision is not possible.

  7. Great site very interesting

  8. I live in broken hill nsw australia have done for many years.But as a children we used to play
    around the ruins. this was 60 years ago,i was suprised to see the dolmen again, we used to wonder who was buried there.thanks for the memories

  9. From Sydney, Australia. Wonderful research, Annemarie, and written in such an entertaining way! My family were tenant farmers of the Thomonds, and there are remnants of a pretty garden still surrounding their crumbling farmhouse. I suppose they must have seen the lovely gardens of this estate and were inspired! Would you happen to know where I might look for a court case involving the estate where the tenant (Laurence Shanahan) sued his landlord to prevent him hunting on the fields and damaging his crops?
    I might add that the landlord used to drop in and have a cup of tea with said tenant! Based on timings, the landlord was probably a Wise or a successor as this happened in the 1880s or after.
    Thanks again for your contribution to the world of wonderful history!

  10. Great to see documents & pics of Rostellan House / Castle.
    Brian , Some of my relations on my fathers side came from Farsid, so being nosy, I’m wondering what branch of Flynn’s are you.
    my email is if you would like to reply.

  11. Ellen Cahill (nee O'Brien) Reply September 3, 2012 at 4:18 pm

    Anne Marie, Delighted to find your article on Rostellan Castle/House.
    I was born in Rostellan and lived in the Lodge at the beginning of the Avenue by the lake.
    My father John O’Brien was the gardener on the estate. He died in 1946.I have some photos of him in the walled garden.
    Would love to hear from you if you have anymore info. or photos.
    I now live in England but do go home on holiday.
    Ellen Cahill (nee O’Brien)

  12. I used to live in Rostellan. My house had a great view of the bay and I used to play there on numerous occasions. I have empathy about the earlier comment about the woods there was a slightly ‘spooky’ feeling about them. My friend Greame Eady used to talk of ‘secret passages’ there wich I tried hard to find (to no avail). I wonder why it was allowed to fall into disrepair. Very curious. I had no idea of the history of the place until now, despite living there for about 5 years. Thank you.

  13. As a native of the area, I have always had a curiosity regarding the history of Rotelllan house and Castle. I had thought to research it one day but you have made that easy, although I still have more curiosity and questions. Keep up the good work and Ill look forward to future posts.

  14. Annemarie Foley,
    Is there any mention of Col. Robert Phaire, Governor of Cork 1650 living at Rostillion Castle or other history of him?
    George Speer of San Francisco

  15. Hi Annemarie, thank you so much for this . We live in the area and have been there lately doing photographs for our photography and Design webpage. And we felt like we been at a place where the trees are trying to tell old stories through the whispering of their leafs in the wind. Thank you for telling us more. Brilliant please go on with that 🙂

  16. HI , If you wish to know about the Dundonian Wise family who owned Rostellan in the 1890’s I can give you the info. It was not Dr Wise but his brother Josiah Patrick who was the indigo tycoon who owned the house. Dr Thomas Wise did however reside there.

    • Hi, any and all information would be of interest (y)

      • If you contact the MacManus Gallery in Dundee, they can give you the email address for Hamish Johnston. Hamish has written extensively about Josiah Patrick Wise who purchased Rostellan in 1858. His brother Dr Thomas Alexander Wise lived at Rostellan until Josiah Patrick returned from India (around 1870 if I recall). At which time Dr Wise returned to Scotland.

  17. Michael Kenefick Reply June 6, 2015 at 1:14 pm

    By any chance would yoy have access to an old photo of Whitegate House?


  1. Things to do for free « Whitegate Village, East Cork - March 1, 2012

    […] 13.Find the Sarah Siddens’ Tower in Rostellan woods. Sarah was a British actress who was one of the first actresses that gained respectability with roles such as Lady Macbeth and held her audience spellbound. She was tall and had a striking figure, expressive eyes and a solemn dignity Read more…  […]

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