The Flight of the Earls
The history of Manorhamilton Castle is interwoven with the overall history of Ireland and Northern Ireland in particular.
In the early 17th century land in the Ulster area had become available for distribution by the Crown as a result of defeat of the Irish Nobles culminating in the ‘Flight of the Earls’ in 1607. This was one the most defining incidents in Irish History marking the final overthrow of the old Gaelic aristocracy. With their power broken Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone and Rory O’Donnell, Earl of Tyrconnell, together with many other chieftains fled to Europe to escape capture by the English.
Now that the Irish leaders were no longer organising resistance the English took the opportunity to consolidate their control. They quickly settled the land with loyal subjects from Britain who would not present a threat of rebellion.
Sir Frederick Hamilton
Manorhamilton Castle was built between 1634 and 1638 by Sir Frederick Hamilton, a Scotsman and British courtier, who had been granted land in this area of Leitrim in 1621.
The colonisation or ‘plantation’ was part of what is now known as the Plantation of Leitrim. Hamilton’s estate comprised of 6,300 acres of arable land and 10,650 acres of bog and waste.
Prior to the arrival of Hamilton the land had been in the hands of the O’Rourke clan forming part of the heartland of Breifne. The Plantation involved the granting of land across Ulster to colonists from Scotland and England. The Northern part of Ireland had been the most rebellious part of the Crown’s dominion and the planting of loyal subjects had previously proved successful in pacifying other parts of Ireland. The planters swore allegiance to the crown and in return for suppressing native rebellion the land was their’s to profit from in whatever way they pleased.
The Irish Rebellion
The Castle was built from granite-like stone and a contemporary source considered it “the largest, strongest and finest in the county, as well it might”. However rebellion broke out nationwide in 1641 against the new planters. Irish forces unsuccessfully tried to destroy Manorhamilton but Hamilton responded with devastating raids on the countryside and in a night attack succeeded in surprising Sligo and burning the town including Sligo Abbey (photo), killing 300 people. Subsequent Irish raids failed to remove Hamilton or destroy his Castle.
The Castle Destroyed
The outbreak of the English Civil war, also in 1641, between the royalist forces of the King Charles 1st and the Parliamentarians resulted in fighting in Ireland as well. Hamilton who sided with the Parliamentary forces later moved to Derry where he had interests and then to Scotland where he died in 1647. Manorhamilton Castle continued to be a Parliamentary outpost throughout the 1640’s but was destroyed by the Royalist Earls of Clanrickard in 1652 in one of the final engagements of the Civil War.
On the death of Hamilton his estate passed to his son James and subsequently to James’ grandson Sir Ralph Gore. Sir Ralph’s son Ralphe married into the Clements family to whom the estates passed in 1789 as he died without any direct descendents.
In 1878 William Sidney Clements, Lord Leitrim, was murdered while on his way to Manorhamilton to evict tenants. The Castle remained in the possession of the Clements family until 1956 when Robert Elliott bought the house and Castle grounds.
The Present Owners
In 1974 the Elliott family sold their interest in the Castle to Frank O’Rourke who remained in possession of the Estate until July 1993 when is was acquired by the present owners, Anthony and Maura Daly.