Leitrim Folklore: Castles

According to historical documents there are remains of 18 castles in Co Leitrim. Some big, some small, some from 13th century and others from the 17th century. Few remain intact but there are ruins dotted around the county. One of the most famous castles in the county which has many stories published about it is Rossclogher Castle or McClancy’s stronghold. We take a look at two different descriptions of the legendary home and two different names for the owners!

According to historical documents there are remains of 18 castles in Co Leitrim. Some big, some small, some from 13th century and others from the 17th century. Few remain intact but there are ruins dotted around the county. One of the most famous castles in the county which has many stories published about it is Rossclogher Castle or McClancy’s stronghold. We take a look at two different descriptions of the legendary home and two different names for the owners!

Rossclogher Castle

On the southern shore of Lough Melvin are the ruins of Rossclogher Castle and church. Their ruins on this side form a striking memorial of the heroic deeds and pious labours in the days when the Mac Clancys of Dartry fought for the lands their souls adored. Rossclogher Castle stands on a rocky crannog of a circular shape about forty feet in diameter and less than thirty yards from the shore. Unfortunately “times Iron Hand” has dealt so rudely with the castle that only detached portions of it remain; but even these are majestic and picturesque enough to give an idea of what must have been the strength and beauty of this edifice in its good days.

The masonry was of a peculiarly durable character; when one sees the larger and well cut stones, the thick walls and causes to try his power in demolishing the extremely hard and durable mortar, Rossclogher Castle has withstood the western storms for over six centuries and for several times rolled back the tide of war. Local tradition has it that when at one time small pox was ravaging in the district, Mac Clancy becoming alarmed for the safety of his daughter got this castle built on from the mainland that she might be safe from all infection. The disease reached her however inside the strong walls of Rossclogher and she died.

Such is the legend but it cannot be regarded as fact, for it is added to the story that the family castle stood on the adjoining shore but no such traces appear and it is most not probable that the child’s castle would leave no traces of itself behind. Besides the “castle upon the crannog” is mentioned in our annals as the scene of many a sturdy fight; and its situation so admirable for purpose of defence and its massive strength clearly prove that its founder was possessed of a military genius of no mean order. The ancient territory of Dartry corresponded nearly with the present barony of Rossclogher. Its hereditary chiefs were the Mac Clancy. In 1642 they were completely conquered and it was then they lost the Mac. They are only a few of this name now in the district, one in Stracomer, Kinlough, on the southern shore of Lough Melvin and a few in Gortnasillagh.

It is locally believed that when a Clancy dies a bit falls from the Blue Rock, a mountain overlooks the ancient territory of Mac Clancy.

Collected from Buckode NS, Rossinver from Bernard Mac Gowan, Aughaderrard, Kinlough. Told by Owen Meehan, Shanachie 76 years old from Buckode, Kinlough.

Mc Glancy’s Castle

When the Spanish Armada was wrecked off the coast of Sligo in the time of Queen Elizabeth some of the ships escaped. In one of those was a man called Ouellar, a Spaniard. Ouellar went to some of the Queen’s enemies to see where he could hide from her soldiers. He was directed to O’Rourke’s Castle in Glencar. O’Rourke was a great Irish Chieftain but when Ouellar got there the former was not at home. Then some one told him about McGlancy’s Castle on Lough Melvin. He built his castle on a crannog in Lough Melvin. McGlancy received them gladly. Ouellar tells us about the Irish at that time. They were dressed with goats skins and wore their hair long. They only took one meal a day and that was at night. Their chief food was buttermilk and oaten meal bread. They lived in huts of straw.

Ouellar lived happily with McGlancy until one day he heard the Queen’s soldiers were coming to capture him. McGlancy said he would go to the mountains where he kept all his cattle. Before he went he brought all his treasures out of his church on shore and laid them in the castle. He gave Ouellar a large amount of ammunition and provisions, and he told him not to give over the castle until death. The Queen’s soldiers hanged two other Spaniards, then they fired shots at the castle, but Ouellar would not surrender. At last there came a terrible snow storm and the soldiers had to leave. McGlancy came down from the mountains and was ever so thankful to Ouellar. He offered him his sister in marriage is he would stay with him. But Ouellar wished to see his own people and his own country once more. A few days after Christmas he and his few followers started on their homeward journey.

Collected from Scoil Ceann Locha - author unknown.

Leitrim School’s Folklore archive (1937-38) is available in Leitrim Library and is the property of the National Folklore Collection UCD.