BvRoute 16.1 Co. Meath // Co. Longford

Newtownforbes (Co. Longford / West)

Newtownforbes / Newtown Forbes (An Lios Breac – “the speckled ringfort”) (pop. 670) is a rural village northwest of Longford Town. The main street is attractive, featuring three old fashioned pubs and a number of traditional shop fronts, but the environs are blighted by unfinished housing estates. (Photo by Sarah777)

The English toponym derives from the family name of the local landlords, descendants of who was granted of land in the area in 1619; they changed the name of the village from Lisbrack c.1750.

Castle Forbes


Castle Forbes / Castleforbes was the name chosen for a manor comprising 1,286 acres (5.20 km2) beside the River Shannon, granted in 1619 to Captain Forbes, aka Sir Arthur Forbes, Knt, a Scottish adventurer of aristocratic lineage who was made Baronet Forbes of Castle Forbes in the  Baronetage of Nova Scotia in 1628, but died aged 42 in a 1632 duel at Hamburg, Germany, while attached to the Swedish monarch’s army.


The castle itself was first erected in 1624 by his doughty Scottish-born  wife, Lady Jane (née Lauder, widow of Claud Hamilton of Cavan). During the 1641 Rebellion she was besieged in her home for nine months; her 18-year-old son Arthur raised men for her relief, but the castle fell to the insurgents, who granted her a pass to travel to Trim, where she signed an oath in 1642.


Sir Arthur Forbes (1623–1695), 2nd Bart, fought in Scotland for King Charles I during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, and was held prisoner for two years in Edinburgh Castle. After the Restoration he served as an Irish MP, Marshal of the Army in Ireland and later as a Lord Justice of Ireland. He was created Baron Clanehugh and Viscount Granard in 1675 and Earl of Granard in 1684, when the castle was described by Nicholas Dowdal in 1682 as “a fair and spacious house with lovely gardens of pleasure“. A staunch Presbyterian, he supported the Prince of Orange against King James II in the Williamite War, and his castle was unsuccessfully besieged by Jacobite forces. He was given command of 5000 men for the reduction of Sligo, the surrender of which he secured. He was succeeded by his eldest son Arthur.


George Forbes (1685–1765) became heir to the earldom on the death of his elder brother, a captain in the Scots Royals, from wounds received at the Battle of Blenheim, and was summoned to the Irish House of Lords through a writ of acceleration in his father’s lifetime as 3rd Earl of Granard. Primarily a sailor, he took part during the War of Spanish Succession as a soldier in the 1704 Capture of Gibraltar and as a diplomat in close dealings with the Archduke of Austria and Holy Roman Emperor, Charles VI, King of Bohemia, Hungary, Croatia, etc. during his tenure in Barcelona as the last Hapsburg King of Spain. As Governor of Minorca, he abolished trials for witchcraft. It is said that the Czarina of Russia, Catherine I,  offered him command of her fleet. He rose to the rank of Admiral in the Royal Navy, as did his second son John, who famously refused to sign the death sentence against Admiral Byng in 1757.


George Forbes (1710 – 1769),  4th Earl of Granard,  a British Army General, is locally remembered for ruling that only Forbes family members could henceforth be buried in the old graveyard on the estate, long used for all the deceased of the parish. This angered a lot of people, and some even buried their relatives there under the cover of darkness. When Lord Granard found out about this he usually had the corpse thrown off the castles property and onto the roadside.


His grandson, George Forbes, 6th Earl of Granard (1760–1837),  got married at 19 and set off on a lengthy Grand Tour of continental Europe. On his return to Ireland he became noted for his liberal opinions in general and especially his views in support of the Earl of Charlemont, Henry Grattan and other nationalists. A lieut-colonel in the army, he raised the Longford militia who notoriously ran away from invading French troops at the Battle of Castlebar in 1798 (Lord Cornwallis praised his gallantry in trying to rally them!) and was present at Ballinamuck for General Humbert‘s surrender. Granard firmly opposed the 1800 Act of Union, and thereafter took little part in politics. In 1806 William Wyndham Grenville‘s national unity government of “All the Talents” granted him the lucrative sinecure post of Clerk of the Crown and Hanaper in Ireland and the title Baron Granard, of Castle Donington in the County of Leicester, in the Peerage of the United Kingdom, giving the Earls an automatic seat (until 1999) in the British House of Lords, where he supported both the Roman Catholic Emancipation and Reform Bills. Having risen to the rank of  lieutenant-general in 1813, he was made full general in 1830, but declined promotion in the peerage, as he had previously refused the Order of St Patrick. Said to have been a popular landlord in Longford, he spent his latter years chiefly in France and, having outlived his eldest son, died at the age of 77 at his residence, the Hôtel Marbœuf, Champs-Elysées, Paris.


George John Forbes (1785-1836), aka Viscount Forbes (an invented courtesy title still used for the heir apparent), was probably in residence when the castle was partially destroyed by fire in 1825;  the inhabitants were saved by Pilot, a dog called  whose barking woke everyone inside.


The castle was restored and redesigned by John Hargrave from Cork as an imposing structure of cut limestone, remodelled and extended c.1870 by the great church architect JJ MacCarthy, and is now softened by a coat of ivy.


George Arthur Hastings Forbes (1833 – 1889), 7th Earl of Granard, became a lieut-colonel and was made a Knight of St Patrick in 1857. A convert to Roman Catholicism, he filled his home with religious images (the Earl of Longford referred to the Forbes as ‘heretics’ after visiting their castle in 1868), served as President of the British Order of Malta from 1875 until his death, and was made a Knight Grand Cross of the Papal Order of St Gregory the Great. He was also a member of the Senate of the Royal University of Ireland. His second wife Frances (née Petre) had eight children, of whom the youngest, Fergus, was killed in France in August 1914 shortly after the outbreak of  WWI.


Bernard Arthur William Patrick Hastings Forbes (1874 – 1948), 8th Earl of Granard, succeeded his father at he age of 14, served in the Boer War from 1900 to 1902, rising to the rank of Captain in the Scots Guards, and went on to  serve as a Liberal politician, holding several government posts in Britain and Ireland. An officer in the Royal Irish Regiment during WWI, he was Military Secretary to the Commander-in-Chief of the Salonika Forces from 1917. Admitted to the Irish Privy Council in 1918, he was a member of the short-lived Senate of Southern Ireland in 1921 and of the Senate of the Irish Free State from 1922 to 1934. He was also on the board of Arsenal FC. He lived between Castle Forbes, 73 Rue de Varenne, Paris and Forbes House, Halkin Street, London.


The last complete refurbishment of the castle was completed in 1909, following the marriage of the 8th Earl  to Beatrice, daughter of wealthy American businessman Ogden Mills of Staatburg, New York. She and her twin Gladys were famous Society beauties, and their brother Ogden L Mills became the 50th United States Secretary of the Treasury.


Arthur Forbes (1915 – 1992), 9th Earl of Granard, was a director of Texaco, the Nabisco Group Ltd. and Martini & Rossi. His wife was Marie-Madeleine Eugenie, Princess of Faucigny Lucinge. He died at his home in Morges, Switzerland at the age of 77, survived by two daughters, Moira and Georgina, two sisters, Eileen, Lady Bute of Scotland, and Moira, Countess Rossi of Switzerland, and two grandchildren. As he had no male issue, his titles passed to his nephew Peter Arthur Edward Hastings Forbes (b. 1957), the current 10th Earl of Granard.


Castle Forbes’ present châtelaine, Lady Georgina Forbes, owns only the land within the demesne (1,346 acres, down from the 1876 total of 14,978 acres spread across two counties). An accomplished horse breeder, she currently lives in France, and only occasionally uses the castle,  which remains strictly private. There is no public access to the grounds by land or from Lough Forbes on the River Shannon.


The entrance gateway of the castle demesne is a French style structure in the centre of the village, about a mile from the castle itself.

Although Newtownforbes has always lain in the metaphorical shadow of Castle Forbes, it cannot be regarded as an estate village. The few houses that the Forbes built for their workers near the demesne entrance were among the first homes in Ireland to have flush toilets.

St Paul’s church


St Paul’s church (CoI), founded c.1694 to serve the parish of Clonguish (Cluain geis – “Meadow of the Swans”), is located near the centre of Newtownforbes, to the west side of the main street.


Rebuilt c. 1829 to designs by John Hargrave under the patronage of the Forbes family and the Achmuty-Munster family of Brianstown House, the current edifice retains its cruciform plan and  crow-stepped gables, unusual features for a Church of Ireland edifice. The vaguely Scottish Baronial parapets, parallelled at a stable range at Castle Forbes, may have been inspired by the landlords’ Scottish heritage. (Photo –


The interior features fine decorative wooden fittings, including a tall pulpit and timber family box pews said to be the last of their kind in Ireland, plus a collection of memorial monuments to the Forbes family, many of whom lie in the church vault.


The churchyard contains numerous upstanding and recumbent grave markers, some with elaborate cast-iron railings, and a freestanding mausoleum to the north, where Countess Beatrice of Granard was buried in 1972. A pathway to the west previously connected the church to Castle Forbes.

Minard House, built c. 1765, was long the home of the Percival family, and more recently the headquarters a local radio station.

St Mary’s church (RC), erected in 1861 by the Earl of Granard on the site of a thatched chapel dating from Penal Law times, was largely reconstructed in 1973 in an oddly hangar-like style and has recently been restored. One of the new west windows, made by Joe Sheridan of Kilkenny, shows Saint Elither, a local holy man, building the first Christian church in the area.

Newtownforbes Convent was built c.1874 together with an Orphanage, Industrial School, Laundry and Girls Primary School by Sisters of Mercy from Longford, invited by the Earl of Granard to work among the poor in the area.  Many of the orphans had been abandoned. In the Industrial School the girls were taught knitting, sewing, painting, embroidery, lace-making and crafts. The laundry was technically not one of the notorious Magdalene institutions. In 1951 a flourishing Secondary Boarding School was opened. The boarders resided in a large building opposite the Convent, formerly a Novitiate and now a Nursing Home. A new Secondary School was built in 1992. The Girls’ Primary School was amalgamated with the nearby Boys’ School in 1994.

 Casey’s Pub was the last public house in the Midlands to stop the practise of bottling Guinness for the brewery and labelling it. Michael Collins drank here from time to time.

Newtownforbes is

Brianstown House  is believed to have been founded  c. 1640 / 1654 by Captain Arthur Achmuty (c.1600 – 1698), a Scotsman who assisted the defence of Castle Forbes during the 1641 Rebellion; the property was inherited in 1712 by Samuel Achmuty, who (re)built the house in 1731. It was the childhood home of  Col. Arthur Achmuty (1729-93), East India Co. Governor of Dynapore (who married Ursula de Cruz in 1766 at Calcutta, and had 9 children) and of his siblings and several more generations of the AchmutyAuchmuty / Musters family, whose menfolk had varied careers in the Church of Ireland, the British Army, the Royal Navy and the law. The house was gutted by fire in 1922 and reconstructed minus its top floor in the 1930s. (Photo © National Inventory of Architectural Heritage)

The River Camlin splits into two navigable arms that provide alternative access for Shannon River water traffic wishing to by-pass Termonbarry Lock via the Royal Canal. The northern mouth opens into the Shannon south of Lough Forbes, while the southern arm takes the form of the Cloondara Canal / Lock just south of Richmond Harbour.

Cloondara (Co. Longford / West)

Cloondara /  Clondra (Cluain Dá Ráth – “pasture of two ringforts”) village grew up around Richmond Harbour.

Richmond Harbour is where the Royal Canal meets the River Shannon. Completed in 1817, and named for the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland from 1807 to 1813, Charles Lennox,  4th Duke of Richmond, who was present at the opening of the navigation, it is still in use today for the mooring of boats from the Shannon via the River Camlin. One of many structures in Cloondara created by the Royal Canal Co, it is framed by the dry dock, lock and keeper’s house to the north, the former canal offices and manager’s house to the east, and Richmond Bridge to the south. After over 50 years of disuse, ceremonies were held here in June 2o10 to mark the reopening of the full 145.6km length of the Canal from Spencer Dock in Dublin.

The Richmond Inn, a former flaz mill (1821) converted into a pub in the 1930s, has been run for over 20 tears by Des & Frances McParland as a charming Guesthouse, with live music and entertainment frequently hosted downstairs.

Cluan-a-Donald church (RC), historically aka St Brendan’s church, was erected in1835 by Rev Richard Farrell, who also built the St Patrick’s church, Killashee: their simple and relatively unadorned form, typical of early post-Emancipation Roman Catholic churches in Ireland, is relatively rare today, as many have been altered over the years. Cloondara’s church is especially notable for surviving features such as its early timber windows with intersecting tracery and a timber gallery with decorative carved timber parapet. Several stone grave markers in the grounds are of interest; one of the oldest is dated 1726, although there are also remains of earlier stone artefacts (including two medieval cross-slabs and a bullaun stone) associated with the ruinous medieval church to the south, known locally as  ‘Cromwell’s church’ – actually the remains of a monastery, thought to have ceased to exist by 1323.

Cloondara is

Next: Termonbarry (Co. Roscommon)


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