Kinnitty (Co. Offaly / West)
Kinnitty (Ceann Eitigh – “the head of Eitigh”, an ancient princess whose cranium is believed to be buried locally) (formerly aka Castletown) is an attractive village, believed to have been largely laid out and designed by the Pain brothers at the behest of the Bernard family in the early C19th. (Photo by Sarah777)
Kinnitty is situated picturesquely near the foot of Knocknamann, a hill in the Slieve Bloom Mountains, anciently a druidical site for the celebration of the festivalof Bealtaine.
Kinnitty was the location of a monastic settlement founded in 557 AD by Saint Finian / Finan Cam, a disciple of Saint Brendan. The community was plundered by Vikings in 842 AD. Abbots included Colga Mac Connagain (d. 871 AD) and Colmain, slain at the Battle of Magh Ailbe at the beginning of the C10th.
The Old School House & Petty Sessions Court (1820) is now used as a Community Centre, where the Slieve Bloom Environment Park Exhibition is on display and a Tourist Information Point provides maps and tips for walkers in the Slieve Blooms.
St Flannan’s church (RC) was built c.1830 on a site donated by the Bernard family. The belfry was added 50 years later.
St Finian’s church (CoI), built in 1847 to replace an earlier edifice on the site of the ancient monastery, houses a curious old stone inscribed with a cross, thought to be the grave slab of a former abbot. The church has stained glass windows by Catherine O’Brien and Ethel Rhind.
Nearby is the Old Rectory, childhood home of Reginald Ingram Montgomery Hitchcock (1893 – 1950), aka Rex Ingram, the great Hollywood silent movie director who converted to Islam in 1933, and his brother Francis Clere Hitchcock, who was awarded the military cross for valour during WWI and wrote about the 2nd Leinster Regiment in Stand To – A Diary of the Trenches 1914 – 1918.
The Bernard family mausoleum, a 30ft-high replica of the Pyramid of Cheops, was erected in 1830 – 34 by Lt Col. Richard Bernard, who had served with the British Army in Egypt. It contains six coffins, the last dated 1904. (Photo by Baz In Irl)
Kinnitty Castle, aka Castle Bernard, claims to be located at the exact centre of Ireland, and has a long and turbulent history.
The original late C12th Norman edifice was destroyed in 1209 and rebuilt in 1213. Around this time an Augustinian Priory was founded, the walls of which still stand.
The powerful O’Carroll of Ely clan seized the property and remained in possession for several centuries.
William O’ Carroll’s new castle, built in 1630 adjacent the old abbey, was confiscated in 1641 as part of the plantation of Kings County, and granted in 1664 as reward for military service to Col. Thomas Winter, whose descendants sold the estate to the Bernard family in 1764.
The present neo-gothic mansion, believed to have been designed by the Pain brothers c.1811, was destroyed by Republican hooligans during the “Troubles” of the early 1920s and rebuilt in 1928; the Bernard family remained in residence until 1945. (Photo by Sarah777).
The mansion was acquired by the Ryan family in 1994; converted into a 37-bedroom luxury hotel specialising in weddings and haunted castle weekends, it has attracted mixed but mostly favourable reviews. Facilities include an impressive Library, extensive wooded grounds and the Gate Lodge Spa.
The property is currently for sale in a bid to forestall foreclosure.
The C10th High Cross shaft with figure carvings on the castle premises could be a relic of the ancient monastery in Kinnitty, or might come from Drumcullen on the north of the River Camcor, where a fragment of the head of another High Cross is on the site of a C6th monastery founded by St Barrind. Beside it is an early 13th Norman motte.
The Slieve Bloom Bar & Guesthouse is a popular and reasonably priced accommodation option.
Ardmore House, a charming Victorian residence constructed c.1840 by the Bernard family, has been described as “a walker’s paradise”. Set in beautiful grounds, it is run as an old-fashioned welcoming B&B by Christina Byrne , who also arranges guided walking tours of the Slieve Bloom area.
Fivealley is the location of the Enroute Guesthouse Bistro & Bar, a purpose-built establishment founded in 20o3 by Joe and Rita Guinan, with rave reviews on the Internet.