ByRoute 2.2 Co. Kilkenny (S) // Co. Cork (E)

Castlemartyr (Co. Cork / East)

Castlemartyr (Baile Martra) (pop. 800), a photogenic village on the artificial River Kiltha, lies in the historic area of Imokilly, known for its ring forts, monastic sites, ruined castles and other antiquities. There are several good pubs, eateries and shops in the village and nearby.

Castlemartyr History


The Barony of Imokilly took its name from the tuath Uí mac Caille, an offshoot of the Uí Liatháin branch of the ruling dynasty of Munster, the Eóganachta. Some say the related MacCarthaigh clan were involved in a terrible massacre here in 1169, just before the Norman invasion.


With King Henry II‘s authority, Robert FitzStephen parcelled out land among his friends and kinsmen in accordance with the Anglo-Norman system of feudal tenure, and the Fitzgeralds and the Carews held Imokilly as foefees.


The Fitzgeralds of Imokilly were traditionally known as the Madraí na Fola (Dogs of Blood) because of their ferocious disposition. One of the clan was said to have single-handedly slain a wild boar that had been terrorising the vicinity during the C15th, and the animal’s head was thereafter incorporated in the family’s coat of arms.


Castle Martyr, named for some holy relics once kept there, reputedly by the Knights Templar, was probably built by the Carews, but the ruins visible today date from 1450 when, like most castles in the area, it was held by the FitzGeralds, under whom it became the principal local centre of economic, social and military activity. (Photo by dericksworld)


It was attacked and captured during the First Desmond Rebellion by Lord Deputy Sir Henry Sidney, who clearly relished this victory over the Geraldine who had “boasted that he would keep the castle of Ballmartyr against me“.


The Second Desmond Rebellion saw the Geraldine League, formed by James FitzGerald, 14th Earl of Desmond,  and most of the other southern lords of Anglo-Norman stock, severely defeated by Crown forces under Thomas Butler, 10th Earl of Ormond, who overran Imokilly in 1581. At Castlemartyr the aged mother of seneschal John FitzEdmund was hanged from the wall of the castle. FitzEdmund eventually submitted to the Earl, but was arrested in 1585 and died the following year in Dublin Castle.


The lands around Castlemartyr were confiscated and included in the grant of land to Sir Walter Raleigh, passing in 1602 to Richard Boyle, the Great (1st) Earl of Cork.


The Wars of the Three Kindoms began in Ireland with the 1641 Rebellion, when Castle Martyr was besieged and captured by Lord Inchiquin, and the town was thereafter frequently plundered and partally destroyed. The legend that Oliver Cromwell shot at the castle from a nearby hill seems highly unlikely.


It was taken over on behalf of the Parliamentarians in 1650 by the Great Earl of Cork’s son Roger Boyle, Baron Broghill, who was in fact a Royalist sympathiser, and from 1657 worked for the restoration of the Stuart monarchy. In May 1668 he had Charles II proclaimed King in Cork City, and as a reward was further ennobled as Earl of Orrery and made President of Munster, a post he held until 1672. He restored the manor, and in its broad outline the Demesne owes its origin to him.


In 1675 King Charles II raised Castlemartyr to the status of Royal Borough with the right to send two members to the Irish Parliament, and granted the right to hold fairs and markets. The municipal Mace can still be seen in Cork Museum.


The Williamite Wars of 1688/91 saw the old castle initially taken by General McCarthy‘s troops, and possessed thereafter by both sides, with heavy fighting. Badly damaged, it gradually fell into dereliction and disuse.


After Orrery’s death his titles passed to his eldest son, whose nephew Henry Boyle, famously dubbed by Robert Walpole as “the King of the Irish House of Commons” became Chancellor of the Irish Exchequer and Lord Chief Justice of Ireland, and upon his dismissal in 1756 (for opposing the transfer of the Irish tax surplus to Britain) was compensated  with the titles Baron Castlemartyr, Viscount Boyle, and 1st Earl of Shannon. He built the eastern portion of the present mansion house. His son, Richard Boyle, 2nd Earl of Shannon, carried out some major extensions and improvements to the family property, including the excavation of the artificial River Kiltha.


The Great Famine and its aftermath took a terrible toll on the area around Castlemartyr. The effects of starvation and emigration in the area appear from figures recorded by the Roman Catholic Parish of Imogeela: in the years up to and including 1844 there were an average of 55 marriages per year, while in the decade immediately after 1847 the figure had been halved and by the late C19th had dropped still further to an all time low of two weddings in the year 1888. Similarly, baptismal figures for the years 1836 – 1840 indicate a young and expanding population, but by 1888 numbers had dropped to less than a quarter of what they had once  been; the decline is particularly stark in the years immediately after the Famine.


The War of Independence also affected Castlemartyr. On 9th February 1920 the IRA captured the local RIC barracks, a strongly built edifice on the main street, having kidnapped several of the eight-man garrison before their assault. On the evening of 27th November 1920, an exchange of gunfire resulted in the deaths of an RIC officer and an IRA driver; an inscribed stone monument to the memory of the latter was unveiled in Castlemartyr on 23rd May 1971. (Details of these incidents are available at

Castlemartyr Resort (Photo by dericksworld)

Castlemartyr House, originally built between 1733 and 1764, was until 1905 the seat of the Earls of Shannon, who over the years extended it into a rambling mansion. The ballroom ceiling by the famous stuccadore Robert West is said to be exceptionally lovely.

The reduced estate, used as a Carmelite Monastery / College from 1929 to 2003, was converted with modern additions into a “6-star” Capella resort hotel / health & fitness centre, recenty reopened as the Castlemartyr Resort with full luxury hotel, bar, restaurant, spa, gym and self-catering accommodation facilities.

The once beautifully landscaped grounds, now predictably marred by a golfcourse, feature an artificial lake, the old castle ruins, a historic chapel,  the tomb of the 4th Earl and a pleasant area known as Mitchell’s Woods. (Photo by dericksworld)

Castlemartyr Wood, part of the old Demesne, is attractively located on the banks of the artificial River Kiltha. Look out for the ruined Ice House and remains of the old estate walls.

Castlemartyr is not far from Middleton on ByRoute 1.

Ballyoughtera, originally a monastic settlement, is now a ruin with an interesting old graveyard; and was itself a ville of some note during the Middle Ages, later aka Lepers’ Town due to a local Leper House.

Lough Aderra is very popular with birdwatchers and fisherfolk.

There are several forests in this area suitable for walks and picnicking, notably Ballyedmond with its lovely views.

Ladysbridge is a small village with a couple of good pubs, surrounded by pleasant rolling countryside.

Ladysbridge is linked by the R633 to Ballymacoda on ByRoute 1.


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