There are many stories and legends surrounding Sir Frederick Hamilton and his Castle.
These tales have been passed down through the generations amongst people in Manorhamilton and its environs. The Castle had a short history but made a great impact on North Leitrim whose people had never experienced anything like the turmoil which ensued before – or since!
In 1621 Sir Frederick Hamilton, a Scots Presbyterian, was granted land by the English government in North Leitrim as a reward for his military service. The land had belonged to the O’Rourke clan and their kinsmen. He evicted the native Irish to take control of the lands and as a result made many enemies.
Hamilton built the Castle in Manorhamilton and brought his own soldiers and tradesmen from Scotland to settle the area. He defended his estate from the dispossessed Irish who continuously rebelled against him. He was to become infamous for his brutality and total disregard for the suffering he inflicted in asserting his dominance.
Hamilton left Ireland in 1642 and never returned - dying in Scotland in 1647. The Castle was burned and destroyed by the Earls of Clanrickard in 1652.
Frederick Hamilton became feared and despised for the ruthless way in which he dealt with his enemies. A nearby rise became known as Hangman’s Hill. It was here during the siege of the Castle that Hamilton hanged scores of captured Irish rebels, including O’Rourke’s sons, in full view of the Irish forces who could see the hill from their positions.
Hamilton used such unprecedented acts of tyrannical cruelty as a method of instilling fear, whilst demonstrating his resolve and dispiriting his attackers.
One remarkable legend tells the tale of how a local rapparee (rebel bandit) led a company of Hamilton’s troops to their doom. The incident occurred after the burning of Sligo town by Hamilton’s army in which it is reported 300 of the townspeople perished.
After carrying out the slaughter Hamilton’s troops began retreating towards Manorhamilton. However when passing through the mountains of Glencar a heavy mist descended and Hamilton’s army, who were unfamiliar with the terrain, lost their way.
The main body of mounted soldiers wandered aimlessly in the fog becoming increasingly frustrated. However just as desperation was setting in they were met by a stranger on a white horse who agreed, for payment, to guide them through the mountains to Manorhamilton.
The man, who unknownst to them was Murty McSharry, a rapparee, led the horses through the mist towards a high pass in the mountains. Once through the pass McSharry urged his horse into a gallop, signalled for the soldiers to follow, and disappeared round a rocky outcrop.
Hamilton’s soldiers galloped after him believing they were now out of the mountains. However, when they rounded the outcrop the horses and riders suddenly plunged over a hidden cliff face to their deaths on the rocks far below.
From this incident grew the legend of ‘Mad’ Murty McSharry who went on to achieve further nortoriety as a rebel hero in many other daring escapades.
Tunnels & Dungeons
It was always believed locally that a secret tunnel linked Manorhamilton Castle to the early Protestant Church on the Commons land in the town. Rumour has it that it was through this underground passageway that Hamilton made his escape from the Castle during a siege, disguised as an old woman, just when the stronghold seemed on the verge of being overrun.
Tales also persist of dungeons under the Castle where prisoners were starved and tortured. Many prominent Irish rebels were reputed to have been held there – some of whom were lucky enough to have escaped.
The tunnels and dungeons have not been uncovered in recent excavations although further work may, in the future, reveal their location!